For those of you who have followed this blog for some time, you know this is the time of year I ask you for money. For the past 3 years, I’ve sponsored campaigns through Charity:Water to provide wells and potable drinking water to 10’s of thousands of people in Africa, India, and Southeast Asia.
You’ve been very generous in your support and in your giving. Not just to this campaign, but I get notes from dozens of you on your own efforts. For some it’s providing meals for the homeless in your communities. Others it’s contributing time and money to help in animal shelters. For many it’s a walk, run, ride swim for cancer, veterans, MS, or some other worthy cause. Still others are contributing in schools and literacy programs.
Thinking of and giving to others is what makes us great. It’s where Each Of Us Can Make A Difference.
Please find some time during the Holiday Season and throughout the coming year to find a way to give. What we get, in the process, is very precious.
I’d love to have you support this campaign. Charity:Water is a fantastic organization and has made a great impact. 100% of your donation goes to providing wells and potable water to those who struggle to live every day. As with previous years, I will match your donations up to $2500.
Please take one more step in giving. Forward a link to this post to friends, family, and colleagues to ask them to join us in Making A Difference. Tweet this post, put it in Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +. Collectively we can have a huge impact.
Thanks for your contributions and support this year. Thanks for Making A Difference.
PS, the video below helps to explain the crisis and the impact of your contributions. It’s worthwhile to view.
I had a fascinating conversation with Gerald Vanderpuye today. He shared what many of us would think as the Nightmare To End All Nightmares.
He was working a huge deal, it was important to the company’s ability to make their numbers for the quarter. Deals like that get a lot of visibility all the way to top management, so as expected, top management in his company wanted to do a deal review. He updated his deal strategy, sent it to all the key managers to prepare for a discussion during the review of what he was doing to win the deal. In the process he made one of those “Mistakes.” You know the kind I’m talking about, you inadvertently copy a customer on a piece of communication that was intended to be purely internal.
Yes, he did it–he accidentally copied his key customer on his strategy to win the deal. I’m sure, immediately after sending the email and realizing the customer was on the distribution list, his whole life (or at least his prospects for this deal) flashed before his eyes.
He was horrified, his managers were horrified.
But the customer had a completely different reaction, the customer actually called Gerald, thanking him for the document. His comment was the plan helped him crystallize what they were trying to do in their buying process!
As Gerald shared his story, I had this huge “Aha!” moment. I thought, “How brilliant, what if we actually started sharing our Deal Strategies/Plans with our customers ?” (Or call plans or account plans for that matter) What if we made them part of our planning process? The corollary to this would be that we would become part of their Buying Strategy/Planning Process.
As we talk about “collaboration” with our customers, one of the easiest ways to collaborate is to share our deal strategies with them, making sure what we are doing is aligned with how they are buying.
Think about the things in our deal strategies and the value the customer gets from seeing the deal strategy.
- Our deal strategies highlight things that we have to get done–both with our customers and with others to help the customer move through their buying process and to close by a certain date. The customer has the same thing, there are a number of activities they have to undertake with us (and our competition), as well as internally to move to a decision. What if we started aligning our activities and managing them with the same rigor we do with milestones. Having an agreed to “projected close date,” is critical to our selling process, but also critical to the customer in making a decision and beginning to realize the return/benefits the expected to achieve in solving a particular problem.
- Our deal strategies highlight the customer decision making process–who’s involved, their roles, their own priorities and agendas. One of the toughest parts of buying is aligning differing priorities, needs and agendas. Helping the customer understand how to organize themselves to make a decision, how they should align agendas and priorities is critical to their ability to make a decision. Sharing our work will help them make sure they have the right people involved and helps them develop a process to align goals and objectives.
- Our deal strategies highlight the competition and alternatives the customer is considering. Typically, we look at our strengths, weaknesses, and differentiation. We develop plans to address our weaknesses — usually by educating the customer about what we do and why we feel our approach is superior to the alternatives. That’s important for the customer too understand! Customers are pragmatic, they recognize alternatives are different, with different strengths and weaknesses. But properly approached we can take that assessment, create great value by educating the customer about why we’ve made the solutions choices we have and what it means to them.
- Our deal strategies talk about our value propositions. What a great way to understand what customers value and how we are aligned with what they value. Does the customer understand it? Is it relevant to them? Are we missing things?
- Our deal strategies talk about our pricing strategies. Hopefully, our pricing strategies are based on the value we create and not just “discount to beat the competition.” What better way to tie our value creation/delivery to “this is how we are justifying our pricing,” then providing them the basis to justify the investment in ways that are impactful to them?
I’ll stop here, but there is virtually nothing I can think of in a deal strategy that there isn’t some kind of parallel issue the customer is considering in developing and executing their buying strategy. Rather do these things separately, aren’t we and the customer much more effective when we develop these plans collaboratively?
So maybe to start the process, next time you and your manager consider a deal review, maybe consider inviting the customer to participate. Perhaps the outcome of that meeting is a collaborative plan with shared goals, objectives, and urgency.
Perhaps we could start sharing our call plans as well–planning the meeting with the customer, setting an agenda, making sure the right people are participating and we are both prepared to achieve the meeting’s goals?
What about account plans?
(By the way, Gerald is taking his “mistake” and developing some interesting ideas for collaborative solutions for sales and customers. He has ideas that are certainly worth exploring.)
I’ve been writing a short series on Hacking Selling–(Hacking Selling, Hacking Selling Part 2). As with the prior articles, I get huge numbers of requests from sales manager to help Hack their jobs. “What are the short cuts?” “How do I manage my time better?” “How do I get things done more easily?”
As with the other articles, most of the hacks are very well known. Every year there are hundreds to thousands of articles about them, there’s lots of data that speaks to the impact these hacks have. Yet, somehow, too many people don’t use them–for reasons that are unclear to me. It seems to be too hard to do what data shows us works. Somehow, there must be something easier…… It’s hard to understand.
Having said that, here’s a few of my favorite hacks to sales management.
- Hiring the right people: There’s nothing more draining on people’s time than having to deal with poor performers. Bad hire can end up having an adverse impact of millions. To hire the right people, great managers have a strong competency model in place (Email me for a free Sales Competency Model Starter Kit).
- Strong onboarding: Once you’ve hired the right people, getting them productive as quickly as possible is critical. Without a strong onboarding process/model, this is impossible. Great managers invest time here, getting their people off to the right and fast start reduces the potential performance challenges that drain management time in the future.
- Having a strong sales process and making sure the team is using the process: This is a cornerstone to maximizing the performance of each individual and the team. The sales process is designed to maximize the win rate, minimize the sales cycle, and maximize transaction size/margin. In addition to leveraging the process for a strong deal strategies, the process is the cornerstone to developing a high integrity pipeline.
- High integrity, high velocity pipeline, strong pipeline metrics: Without a high integrity/high velocity pipeline, it’s impossible to know whether the team is going to make the number. Too often managers waste huge amounts of time trying to figure out what’s happening with the business and whether the team will make the number. The high integrity pipeline, understanding key metrics enables the manager and the team to quickly and accurately diagnose and correct performance issues.
- Having a strong sales process and making sure the team is using it: Yes, I am repeating myself–but there is good reason. If there is no process in place, it’s impossible to know the state of the business or have a pipeline that has any integrity. The only way a manager can have any sense of what’s going on is to review every deal every sales person is working on, all the time. It’s impossible–let’s look at some simple numbers. Say you have 10 people who have 10 deals each. That’s 100 deals. To know what’s going on, without a strong process, you have to review every deal. If you spend only 15 minutes per deal, that’s 1500 minutes or 25 hours! Even if you aren’t doing this weekly, this is a huge time drain. Now, I’ve taken really low numbers, so the reality is the time to make sure your business is in control, without a process is huge–simply unmanageable. The magic about having a process is that you can now focus on reviewing a few key deals with each person. If they are using the process effectively in those deals, you can safely assume they are doing the same with other deals. Consequently, you can have good confidence in their pipelines.
- Setting strong and clear performance expectations, making sure each person owns them: This would seem simple enough–but in reality, this is done pretty poorly by too many people. Consequently, people don’t know what to do, or are faced with constantly changing priorities. Without strong expectations that are clearly communicated to the people, managers could waste a lot of time. When people know what’s expected of them, if you’ve hired the right people, they can manage their own time pretty effectively with minimal management supervision.
- Realizing your job is to get things done through your people: No manager can have their fingers in every deal and drive them to close (look at the numbers in 5 above). So playing “Super Salesperson,” is impossible from a time point of view. Add to this, sales people don’t feel empowered, consequently they shift responsibility to the manager–the manager clearly cannot survive.
- Coaching (If I have to explain this, you shouldn’t be a sales manager).
- Having strong Deal, Pipeline, Territory/Account, Call Review processes. Too often, we do bad jobs of conducting these meetings. Each has a different objective, each is critical. Effective managers leverage the review process to both understand the state of the business and as coaching opportunities. Doing these in a structured disciplined manner has tremendous impact and enables both the manager and sales person to leverage the time most effectively.
- Having strong development plans in place: Retaining and growing top performers is critical. Making sure each person has a development plan that enables them to achieve their full potential is critical to retaining people, growing them.
- Addressing performance problems immediately: Too often, we don’t address performance issues on a timely basis. Instead we do nothing–either because we aren’t paying attention or are in denial/avoidance mode. The longer performance issues linger, the more impact they have on the organization and management time. Nip performance problems in the bud–don’t let them linger.
- Managing up the food chain: Great managers manage their managers. They communicate clearly, recognizing the needs their managers have to know what’s going on. They fight for their people, getting the resources, support, tools needed to make their numbers. They protect their people and their team from the organization robbing sales time away from the people.
- Using the tools: Using the tools to help maximize personal productivity as well as team productivity maximizes the ability for managers to leverage their time.
- Spend time in the field with customers and their people: You can’t manage performance from behind a desk. You have to get out in the field and work side by side with your team. They learn by the example you set, you see how they work–overall it’s a great investment of your time.
- Set an example: Want your people to be top notch performers, set and example in your own performance. Whether you realize it or not, you are a role model to your team and others in the organization. Are you setting the right example?
- Continually learn, improve and develop your own capabilities.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously, lighten up, laugh, be human!
I’ll stop here. Sales management (particularly first line management) is tough! There are endless numbers of people needing your time, there are endless time drains. Hacking sales management is pretty simple. The ideas above are a great start, but the best use this as a start and grow from there.
What are some of your favorite sales management hacks?
As I mentioned in Hacking Selling, sales people and managers constantly ask me for short cuts. They are looking at ways to make selling easier, ways to help them win more business. In Hacking Selling, I said the easiest way to do this is to hack the customer’s business, focusing on what they need, rather than what we sell.
I got a lot of messages on the post. People wanted more short cuts, so I’ve put together a list for sales people. I’ll follow this with another post for sales managers.
Most of these hacks have been around a long time–for some reason people don’t do them. I’m constantly amazed. They are proven with lots of market research, and have had thousands of posts, hundreds of books written about them. So here’s a non exhaustive list of sales hacks that really work:
- A sales process that is aligned with the customer buying process: A great sales process is unique to your organization. It’s based on your company’s best experiences on winning business. So it amazes me the number of companies that don’t have a sales process or sales people that don’t use one — or resist it. If we want the most assured way of winning business, why wouldn’t we use a sales process? Why would we want to resist and choose another approach or just do a random walk through the sales situation? The single best hack in the world, but one of the least applied is a sales process that’s aligned with the customer buying process.
- Focusing on our “sweet spot:” Our sweet spot is similar to our sales process–it’s the customers that are the best fit for our products and solutions. Focusing our efforts on our sweet spot makes everything much easier and faster. Our solutions have a great fit for customers in our sweet spot. We have great experience in selling to them, great references, and great understanding of the value our solutions create. We can most effectively engage customers in our sweet spot. The further we venture outside our sweet spot, the less likely we are to be successful, the longer and more difficult the sales cycle; consequently wasting both our the prospect’s time. Focusing on the sweet spot is a great short cut to producing results, particularly when our pipelines are lean.
- Vicious disqualification: To often we waste our time on the wrong customers. They are outside our sweet spot or have no need to buy/urgency. Disqualifying all opportunities that don’t fit, or where there is no need to buy enables us to build a high quality pipeline. Our win rates and sales cycles for those customers are the highest, so it seems easiest if we do a great job at disqualification.
- Pre-call/meeting planning and research: We want to maximize our impact on each call, accomplishing as much as possible in every meeting with the customer. It’s pretty simple to do this if we spend a little time researching and planning what we hope to achieve. We’ve conducted research on the number of calls sales people make to close a piece of business. People make as many as 50% more calls needed to close, primarily through poor planning and execution. They don’t have the right people participating, they don’t have a strong plan for the call, they aren’t prepared, they walk out of a meeting and on the way back to the office remember all the things they forgot to ask. Just a few minutes of research and planning before each meeting has a huge impact on improving results and reducing sales cycles.
- Pre-published meeting agenda: Related to the previous point, agendas that we agree upon with the customer improve the results both we and the customer produce. Just as we research and prepare for meetings, we want our customer prepared for the meeting. Nothing does this better than agreeing on the agenda and participants in advance.
- Facilitating our customers’ buying processes: Our customers don’t know how to buy. Over 45% of forecast deals end up in No Decision Made. A lot of this is differing agendas, interests, and priorities in the buying group. Helping our customers develop and execute a plan to buy reduces the possibilities of ending in No Decision Made. Additionally, it enhances our connection with the customer, helping create far greater value.
- Focus on differentiated value creation: We can’t create value unless we are totally focused on the customer and what they want to achieve. Often, this is challenging the customer, introducing them to new ideas, new possibilities, providing leadership in helping them achieve their goals. This is, perhaps, the ultimate hack, because it creates great urgency for the customer to change. Deals don’t stall when the customer realizes they are missing opportunities or losing money for every day they wait.
- Use the tools: There are many tools that help improve our productivity, making us both more effective and more efficient. Great sales people leverage these tools to their utmost, not because management wants them to use them, but they help them sell more faster.
- Solid, high quality pipelines: We maximize our ability to achieve our goals by having high integrity pipelines. This means we only let good deals into our pipelines and we develop strong deal strategies to move them through the pipeline as effectively as possible.
- Continuous learning, skill development and improvement: The highest performers know they increase the value they bring to customers and their own organizations by continuously learning and improving. They constantly look for the edge to more effectively engage their customers, to OutSell their competitors. They realize knowledge, new skills, keep them ahead of everyone else, making it easier for them to win more deals more quickly.
- Vicious time management: Hacking time is all about not wasting it–for ourselves, our customers or others. It’s about not letting others waste our time–so we make sure we are chasing the right deals, we make sure our customers are prepared, we make sure others in the organization recognize time is valuable.
I’ll stop here, there are many more hacks I can identify. I’ll save some for later, or better, perhaps you can share some of your favorite hacks.
Some of you in reading this may feel cheated. “Where are the tricks, techniques, short-cuts? How do we avoid working?”
But there are huge amounts of data supporting the hacks I’ve outlined above. People who do these things consistently sell more, faster, and at higher margins—and isn’t that what hacking selling is all about? Isn’t hacking selling really about producing the best results possible in as short a time as possible?
If tons of research prove the things I’ve outlined above enable sales people to do that, then wouldn’t we be foolish not to exploit (hack) these as much as possible?