revenue growth

Sales Lessons From The Hot Tub

by Karen Jackson | on Apr 12, 2016 | 12 Comments

Our hot tub died in late February. An untimely death given we were still in the clutches of winter, but my family enjoyed 20 soothing years from it so I couldn’t be terribly annoyed.

“Karen, why are you telling me this story?” you ask. Because of what happened when I went to replace it! There are important sales lessons to be learned. Take a few moments to consider the buyer journey….

I immediately called the store that sold us the tub 20 years ago and that has been servicing it all along. After determining that the repair cost was 50% of the original price, it seemed prudent to purchase a new one, so I asked for a quote to replace it. The sales person emailed me a quote and brochure for the model that was effectively the 20 years later version of the original tub. Then there was silence – no follow up call or email.

Without a conversation or email exchange, he’d left me alone to ruminate…. “Do I really want the same thing? If I’m going to fork out the cash, ought I think a bit grander in terms of features and functions? Yes, this brand was reliable for 20 years. But it was pretty basic in terms of features, with a minimal number of jets and few customizable settings. Surely other options exist.”

But the salesperson hadn’t asked me any questions about my needs or desires, didn’t probe about my priorities or my budget parameters. He already “knew” me and offered a solution based on my need profile of 20 years ago. He also took literally my request for a “replacement” hot tub.

Like a watching a B-quality horror movie, I hope you’re already recognizing the signs of disaster for the salesperson.

Much had changed about me as a buyer in 20 years: My body aches more after skiing – hell, after sitting; I have more discretionary income; I now spend more on services and products that bring me peace, joy or time. Equally important, when I bought my first hot tub, I’d just finished building the house it resides at. I was financially stretched after the investment and went for basic, basic, basic on the hot tub. My needs and desires today are entirely different.

Left alone, I decided to research alternatives, and walked into another local provider. Hot tubs are a luxury item and this salesperson understood that completely. (That’s why 20 years later, they’re referred to as “spas.”) “Tell me about….” He said. And then he began to explore my pain points, desires, ideal outcome. He asked me questions, offered product choices that mapped to what he’d heard from me, and relayed a couple of purchase stories about clients similar to my profile. An hour later I walked out with a purchase order and he held my deposit.

It’s a B2C story but it applies to B2B purchasing decisions. In B2B, while the “B” represents business, business buyers are real people with emotional needs and personal agendas. Did you spot the mistakes made by the sales person? These are the important takeaways for your sales people:

• Beware of making assumptions about current customers, especially when selling products / services that are not high frequency transactions. You may think you know them, but things change and they won’t always share.
• Always probe for what has changed in the buyer’s universe since their last purchase.
• Don’t assume their request is what they really need or want; probe for pain points, desires and ideal outcomes just as one would for a new customer.
• Cost is rarely the leading decision factor, unless one is competing in a hyper commoditized space.
• Use closing questions to clearly understand concerns or objections, potential new competition, and the vision match between your solution and the customer’s desired result.
• Gain commitments for next steps. Always.
• Never leave a customer alone with a proposal for an extended period of time. There’s no firm rule on timeline, as scenarios differ based on complexity of solution, but anything longer than 1 week is a mistake.
• Follow up is an important element of the sales cycle, both to retain control of the process and make the buyer feel cared for. If you don’t pay appropriate attention to the customer, another vendor will.

If this seems basic to you, reevaluate. I witness sales people for multi-million dollar companies make these mistakes regularly. The good news is that there’s a solution. The development of sales process and play-books that leverage best practices, combined with training and coaching of the sales team, ensures that your company won’t lose the next hot tub – sorry, “spa” – sale.

P.S. I love my new spa. 🙂

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When Accountability Is Elusive

by Karen Jackson | on Feb 02, 2016 | 5 Comments

Even the most casual sport fan heard about the recent firing of Cleveland Cavaliers’ head coach David Blatt. The move was a big surprise given the Cavs’ standing at the top of the Eastern Conference Central Division. In an awkward and rather opaque TV interview the following evening, Cavs general manager David Griffin stated, “We need to be accountable to one another.”

Accountability. Most would agree it’s worth striving for, if not outright demanding it. Yet accountability is elusive in too many organizations, despite the common understanding that it’s a virtue. Why is that so? I can’t speak to professional sports teams, though ego and outsized pay checks are surely factors. But for companies, these are the most frequent reasons I observe that make accountability difficult to master.

  • Accountability is not a core value.  Successful companies articulate their core values in such a way that one can visualize and distinguish precisely what these values look like in the context of their workplace. Values provide guard rails for behavior and a common language to guide internal and external interaction, hiring, firing and rewards. When accountability is not elucidated in a company’s core values, it is no longer obligatory. Rather, it becomes simply an ideal that no one is on the hook for. Integrity is accountability’s close relative: doing what you said you would do, when you said you would do it, to the best of your ability.
  • Too few employees have defined roles, goals, or metrics to measure success.   Accountability is amorphous because we too rarely tell people precisely what is  expected of them and what success looks like. Job descriptions, measurable goals, key performance metrics – these are the constructs for accountability that remove subjectivity. The chasm between many managers and employees is interesting. The former agonize, “I pay them well; they should know what to do” as if their employees read minds. The latter bemoan, “I have no idea what they want from me, what my priorities are, what success looks like.”     When responding to my Organizational Health questionnaire, on a scale of 1 to 5, most companies I begin work with have an average score of under 2.7 on the question, “I understand my accountabilities and have metrics to measure progress.”Sales reps are typically accountable in the form of that thing we call quota, yet a revenue number by itself is insufficient. They are at risk of missing their numbers because they rarely understand the sub-set of accountabilities that, if met, will get them to that goal. As a result, the annual quota is a number they’ve no confidence in attaining, nor can management count on.
  • Top producers are exempt.  Among the rumors surrounding the firing of Cleveland’s coach was that Blatt didn’t hold LeBron James, the team’s #1 player by far, accountable. This exemption for top producers exists in many companies. The thesis that a top producer is too valuable to lose – “We can’t make him; he’ll quit” – causes leaders and managers to look the other way when that individual doesn’t live up to her obligations or selectively follows the rules. This is particularly true when it comes to behavioral accountabilities. Selective exemption is a culture wrecking phenomenon that leads to pernicious results: poorly functioning teams, process breakdowns, low morale, apathy, and a blame vs. solve world view – certainly not the stuff of high functioning organizations.
  • The C-suite doesn’t lead by example.  Modeling accountability is essential if we want our employees to follow suit. We must demonstrate that it’s an organizational covenant, irrespective of one’s place on the org chart. Last week, I facilitated a cross-functional project meeting for a client. Everyone had an assignment to complete in advance. The managing partner arrived – late no less – without having completed his assignment. He had allowed ad hoc work and interruptions to take precedent over his commitment to the team. “Sorry, it was a super busy week” was met by a “you have to be kidding me” look in everyone’s eyes. As if their weeks hadn’t been busy, too. Afterward, people expressed resignation. “Same old story; he says he wants change but it’s BS.” Unspoken, but in the air, was the sentiment that people weren’t going to do the heavy lifting for a boss that wasn’t willing to do it along with them. They are destined to maintain the status quo, instead of realizing growth, if it continues to happen

Accountability is elusive. We all know it’s a good thing, but too often we avoid the hard work required to institutionalize it. It’s simple – not always easy – to solve:

  • Make accountability a core value
  • Qualify and quantify what it looks like
  • Allow for no exemptions
  • Model the behavior

What do you think? What other elements are at play that make accountability elusive? Please share the ways that you’ve successfully institutionalized accountability in your organization. Missteps and blunders are instructive, too.

 

 

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Driving (or Losing) Revenue Through Customer Experience

by Karen Jackson | on Oct 29, 2015 | No Comments

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz famously said the company’s success was not about its coffee, but rather, “It’s about the experience.” These simple words are profound. People (whether in the form of an individual consumer or a business) buy from companies that create a delightful experience. Schultz knew that in any given town or city there was little demand for another coffee shop. But he understood there was a demand for creating a community experience that involved coffee.

The recipe for Starbucks phenomenal growth was in large part due to its focus on the ingredients needed for delight: well-trained and personable staff, wi-fi, music, comfy chairs, attractive display cabinets with fresh food, consistent quality and seasonal menu offerings. Customers came, returned, and increased their spend across product lines – and bought gift cards for friends and family, increasing the number of delighted customers in the most organic way possible.

This experience-centric approach is not exclusive to the B2C world; B2B companies such as Salesforce.com, American Express and Constant Contact leverage customer experience for competitive advantage. They understand that robots aren’t making purchasing decisions in B2B, people are. The context of the company doesn’t eliminate the fact that emotion is a key buying factor.

But too few companies understand the importance of customer experience and its correlation to revenue generation. Companies focus on their sales team’s impact, but not on the myriad of other touch points their firms have with the customer, both pre- and post-sale. And often, when sales people bring back experience issues to operations, they’re met with deaf ears. Ignorance is not bliss, for when the customer experience is ho-hum, difficult, or blatantly negative, there is no incentive for their loyalty, much less to rave to their colleagues or friends about their experience. The door is open to a competitor who offers delight. As Gary Vaynerchuk drives home in his book The Thank You Economy, business leaders better “care – about your customers, about your employees, about your brand – with everything you’ve got.”

A few of my own recent vendor interactions illustrate what goes wrong when leadership forgets (or doesn’t care about) the customer experience:

  • Landscape company’s voice mail greeting: “Your call is very important to us but we’re not in the office right now, so please call back tomorrow.”
  • Empty restaurant at lunch time where the host seated me and my guest at a small table next to the wait staff’s station.
  • Doctor’s office A/R voice mail greeting: “Sorry, the person who takes payment information is out this afternoon; please call back tomorrow.” That was after the invoice instructed me to, “Call the office to pay by credit card” instead of providing an easy mail in form or web payment option.
  • Letter from my credit card company’s fraud department asked me to call but provided the wrong department’s phone number. For good measure, the person I reached gave me the correct number but couldn’t transfer me and said I must re-dial.
  • Countless supplier websites where it’s difficult to find the information I seek.

These experiences send a variety of subliminal messages, among them:

  • “You’re just not that important to us.”
  • “We’re super sloppy about our work.”
  • “Our financials are shaky and we had to cut back on staff.”
  • “We run our business based on our needs not yours.”

A customer who experiences this lack of caring may stay on, but with few recurring transactions and no referrals. At worst, and more often, they run screaming to another provider who understands the power of customer experience.

CEO’s should be up at night with the fear that their customers and prospects are having these experiences. Excluded are companies with rock bottom pricing as their value proposition; the customer consented to give up service in exchange for price performance. But few businesses operate on that model and probably not yours. More likely, you couldn’t afford to sell your product at a price low enough for the customer to forgo the experience. The damage shows up as an inability to convert prospects, low customer retention, inability to upsell and negative reviews. It’s not too hard to find a new landscape company, doctor, restaurant or credit card provider. Or, accountant, cloud services provider, architect, IT consultant, etc. There’s always another game in town.

How do you solve? Begin with an audit of your organization, all departments included, not just those that are customer facing. After all, incorrect invoices reduce the quality of the customer experience. Scrutinize processes and systems to understand their impact on the customer. Review practices and scripts for all customer facing positions. Identify the customer experience you provide before the buyer has even converted from prospect to customer. Ask these questions:

  • In what ways are we hard to do business with?
  • How complicated is it to engage with our people, processes and materials (website, shopping carts, marketing collaterals, forms, etc.)?
  • How closely do we fulfill on our promises? Are we saying we’re one thing but being another?
  • Have we created a culture of caring and are we hiring people with the DNA to act accordingly?
  • Is the customer experience integrated into our values statement?
  • Does everyone in the organization understand their impact on the customer?
  • Have we established and trained everyone in standards of performance?
  • Does everyone that touches the customer have the training and the authority to solve a problem?

Get your entire workforce involved in this inquiry. Empower (and reward) teams to find the issues and solutions. Ask your customers for their perspectives. Make Schultz’s mantra, “It’s about the experience” a core element of your business strategy. You can close the gap between customer fail and customer delight. Revenue growth depends on it.

 

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The Simplest Way to a Forecast You Can Trust

by Karen Jackson | on Feb 19, 2013 | 8 Comments

When I work with B2B sales teams struggling with profitable revenue growth, there’s always one person seemingly outside the biz dev process who wants in on the conversation: the CFO. Inevitably I get asked for a few minutes in private, and when the door is closed, s/he’ll plead, “what can you do to get me a forecast I can trust?”

Great question, particularly for companies with complex products / services and long sales cycles. In small to mid-size B2B companies, so much gets done on an ad hoc basis within the sales organization that forecasting deal closure is way less about reality and way more about emotion, ego, politics and culture. For example, in some companies it’s better for a sales rep to project they’ll close a deal than to admit its improbability; in others, it’s better to sandbag and then have pleasant surprises.  Under either scenario, missed forecasts wreak havoc on a company’s health and future.

There is a simple way to creating a forecast you can trust. Follow these four key steps:

1)      Identify each stage of your sales process and the milestones completing each stage that tell you when you’ve moved to the next

2)      Estimate the average length (in days) of each stage of the process

3)      Approximate the average percent of deals that close at each stage of your process (i.e, deals that make it to Stage 3 have a 60% likelihood of closure)

4)      Hang every deal in your pipeline on a weighted forecast spreadsheet that maps the dollar value of the opportunity to its stage, and therefore to its probability of, and date until, close.

The results will be eye-popping. And that’s a good thing, even if what you learn about your pipeline isn’t. Because that’s when the fixing can begin.

Many resist the exercise because they lack data to tackle these steps with precision. Many resist for fear of what they’ll learn. Don’t let either stop you. Yes, I’d prefer you have a CRM. Yes, I’d prefer you have hard, accurate data. Yes, I understand you haven’t yet created a culture of accountability around these metrics. Like many things in life, it can be hard to pick a place to start. But, the truth is, there is plenty of anecdotal, historical information in the organization that will get you close enough to create your first forecast based on reality vs. a crystal ball. I’m not suggesting there isn’t both art and science to sales, but the more we avoid the science, the harder it is to do good art.

Ultimately, the true value is in identifying the underlying problems in your revenue engine. You’ll begin figuring out answers to the thorny problems like:

  • Where in the process do we fail most often? (Failing early vs. failing late helps diagnose what we need to repair.)
  • Where are the opportunities to increase our sales velocity?
  • What accountability metrics directly impact accomplishing our goals?
  • How might we better qualify opportunities throughout the sales cycle to increase close ratios?

Tackling those questions leads to refining your process which leads to a tightened forecast. Your best sales reps will be elated; they’ll see clearly where / how they should spend their time, and they’ll get straight to the fix. Your mediocre reps will squirm, a solid indicator that it’s time for them to seek other employment. Your head of sales can shift from task management to coaching. And, your CFO will actually crack a smile.

If you need some help thinking about how to apply this to your business, please ping me at karen@jacksonsolutions.com.  As always, I appreciate any additions to this conversation with your comments, insights, suggestions.

Here’s to a forecast you can trust.

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Scoring From The Red Zone (Or, Why Can’t We Close?)

by Karen Jackson | on Nov 15, 2012 | 6 Comments

I’m hearing a persistent lament from B2B CEO’s. Their sales reps aren’t closing deals. They’re not talking about a lack of deals in the pipeline; they’re talking about the deals they’d forecast to close, but then died. Often they lost to the competition; just as often they lost to the status quo, that all-too-common state where the prospect decides to stick with their current situation and not purchase at all. Like an NFL football team that can’t score from the red zone, the rep couldn’t close the deal.

The CEO’s frustration is palpable and rightly so. Naturally the finger-pointing is squarely aimed at the reps. “Do they have the skills to close? Are they working hard enough? Do we have the right people on this team?” The answers are unknowable – equally important, unsolvable –because the root causes of the problem are hidden from view.

Thanks to years of conducting deal post-mortems, I’ve discovered common mistakes that impact a rep’s ability to close deals from the red zone. Yes, sometimes it is lack of effort, skill, or the inability to “wear well” with their prospects. (The latter point is not to be underestimated; many customers say their experience with the sales person was as important to their decision as the product or service.) More often, the deal didn’t close because it was never going to close. Its forecast was wishful thinking; the deal was lost long before the actual purchase decision. Here are the most common reasons why I see get reps blindsided:

  • It was never an opportunity in the first place – it was merely a lead
  • The rep failed to continuously qualify & gain commitment at each step of the sales cycle
  • The prospect didn’t trust the rep’s ability to deliver on the promised outcome
  • Engagement and commitment from the true buyer(s) was never gained
  • The rep didn’t understand the buyer’s perception of risk
  • The prospect’s real needs were never uncovered or resolved

The common denominator for companies that experience these problems regularly?  Lack of sales process. CEO’s would never consider running their operations and financials without process, but astonishingly few establish process for their sales reps. Sales process makes it possible to identify a check list of strategies, tasks and milestones that, when accomplished, significantly reduce these common mistakes. Process creates a series of interim “closes” such that when the client is actually at the final decision point it’s a natural conclusion to say “yes.”

With process in place, there are far fewer:

  • poor leads chased & wrongly forecast to close
  • assumptions left un- validated
  • risks misunderstood and unmitigated
  • ghost stakeholders with unmet needs
  • last minute selection criteria to sabotage the deal

Do a post-mortem on your deals that died in the red zone. Did your team make any of these common mistakes? If so, get serious about implementing sales process. It will allow you to diagnose your deals throughout the cycle, make the necessary adjustments and increase your close ratio. You won’t win them all, but you’ll win a lot more. And with solid data in hand, you can now answer the original questions about the skills and commitment of your reps.

What other mistakes do you see that sabotage the close? Have you implemented sales process? Did your close ratio go up? Please share your experiences for others to learn from.

If you found this post helpful, read my previous blog post “Surprising Reasons Why Sales Process Matters” for other ways that sales process can positively impact your sales results.

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Surprising Reasons Why Sales Process Matters

by Karen Jackson | on Jun 04, 2012 | 8 Comments

Last week I was talking with the CEO of a small software company struggling with driving revenue. Looking for a possible solution, she wanted my thoughts on where in the sales engine she might zero in. When I mentioned lack of defined sales process as a typical culprit for lagging revenue growth, she remarked, “I don’t see that as an issue for us. I’ve hired very experienced sales people; they certainly ought to know what to do.”

Uh-oh.

Many small-biz CEO’s, particularly those without sales backgrounds, perceive sales process as little more than lowest common denominator management. The rationale is, if they hire seasoned sales people (hard in itself but that’s a different conversation) then they shouldn’t need to create a sales process. After all, isn’t the purpose of creating a sales process really just for baby-sitting?

The answer is no.

At its most basic level, creating and following a sales process does ensure that everyone is following a best practices approach to sales. It also creates a method, particularly if a CRM or other reporting tool is utilized, for sales people to organize themselves, and for management to track and measure activity. All well and good and valuable. But, if that’s the only rationale, then this CEO may be right to think she can do without.

When B2B companies ignore sales process, here’s what they’re really choosing to live without: data. Data to inform any number of strategic and tactical decisions, to identify trends, to help us answer questions like:

  • How well do we really understand our clients’ buying process?
  • Where in the sales cycle are we having difficulty closing?
  • Is there something we could do differently to push our prospects into the next stage?
  • Are we jumping stages therefore finding it hard to close?
  • What’s the quality of our pipeline?
  • How predictable are our forecasts?
  • What danger are we in of elongated sales cycles?
  • Where can the cycle be shortened?
  • Are we chasing the wrong leads?
  • How efficiently are we deploying sales and support resources?
  • How can we refine our tactics for better results?
  • What customer stakeholders are we failing to convince / convert?
  • Do we understand the key moment when a prospect will become a customer?
  • Have we become “proposal happy?”
  • What skills training do our reps need right now?
  • How quickly can we bring new hires up to productivity levels?

Top-performing sales engines utilize well-structured and repeatable sales processes that leverage best-practices and identify true milestones in the buyer’s journey. The process isn’t a baby-sitting tool, though it’s true that the process helps each of us stay focused and disciplined. Rather, it’s because the process provides key data that elevates the performance of the sales person and the entire organization. If you can’t answer the questions above, it’s time to start thinking process.

 

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6 Places To Look When Your Business is Stuck

by Karen Jackson | on Feb 21, 2012 | 8 Comments

Each day I have the privilege of working with business owners who’ve decided they want something more. Something more than that feeling like they’re running on a treadmill, expending a ton of energy, muscling their way through the hard parts, but not exactly arriving at the destination in mind. And it really is a privilege, because it’s not easy for CEO’s to ask for help, to set aside ego, to reveal that perhaps we don’t have all the answers, or have gotten too close to the issues to see them objectively. I know. I’ve been there myself, and confess that there were days I’d gladly swap jobs with the UPS guy. continue reading »

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