Recently, I wrote, Predictable Revenue. It’s about sales process, in the article I made a statement which is suddenly making the rounds on social media. I said, “While the concept of the sales process is very simple—do what works, don’t do what doesn’t work, recognize the patterns for success, repeat, repeat, repeat.”
The concept, Do What Works, Don’t Do What Doesn’t, really applies to everything we do.
Some of you are getting pissed off, thinking “Dave you are stating the obvious, do you take us for idiots?”
Well, no, but…..
Too often I see organizations committed to doing what doesn’t work. Perhaps we get so focused on activity and velocity, we don’t examine what we are doing, or we do what we have always done.
We know we need to have a sales process, but too often we don’t, or we don’t use it.
We know we are supposed to hire the right people, but too often we settle for what we get.
We know we are supposed to coach, but we don’t find the time or we don’t train our managers in how to coach.
We know we have to have clear performance expectations and our people need to own the accountability for achieving them, but we don’t take the time to engage our people in these discussions.
We know training by itself is unsustainable, that it needs to be reinforce with coaching, integrated into our processes, tools, programs, and methods.
We know our prospecting messages have to be personalized, relevant, and focused on what the customer cares about, but it’s easier to paper the world with spam, hoping enough are foolish enough to respond.
We know we have to understand our customers, their business and drivers, to engage them on terms meaningful to them. Yet we spend know time on business acumen, we don’t leverage our research tools as we should.
We know we should create value in every interaction with the customer, yet we focus on pitching our products (which the customer already knows through their self-educations).
We know we aren’t supposed to sell on price (unless our differentiation is based solely on price), yet we lead with price and start discounting before the customer asks.
Too often, we know what works, and what doesn’t, but we don’t have the courage and discipline to do what works or stop what doesn’t. It is easier to repeat the same old stuff, even if it isn’t producing the desired outcomes.
But sometimes we don’t know…. Then we have to figure it out. We can pretty easily figure out what doesn’t work. We can learn, experiment, talk to others–maybe our customers, to start learning what does work. It takes some time, we make some errors, but eventually we figure that out. After all, figuring out what works and executing it consistently is our job.
We have to be cautious, things change. What worked yesterday, doesn’t work as well today, and won’t work tomorrow. So we have to be attentive, What Works is constantly evolving. If we stop paying attention, What Works no longer works….but we keep doing it, failing to produce results.
Hundreds of books, thousands of posts are published by guru’s every year. Cutting through the 100’s of thousands of words written, fundamentally what they are saying is, “This is what works…” We still have to be cautious, it’s what works for them, but may not work for us. We have to adapt that advice, figuring out What Works for us.
In addition to What Works always changing, we also know that What Works is that it is different for each organization. So it’s our responsibility to figure it out. If we copy our competition, or someone else, or what a guru says, we are only doing what works for them, not what works for us.
But with all that said, producing results consistently isn’t magic, Do What Works, Don’t Do What Doesn’t.
Recently. I read an article in which the position was put forth, “Inside sales does not have the responsibility for creating pipeline, only the responsibility for selling. They should never pick up the phone and make a prospecting call!” Many of you can imagine what my knee jerk reaction was to this statement. But for a moment, I managed to contain myself. The speaker was clearly smart and had been very successful in selling, perhaps there was something I misunderstood.
As I got into the article, the question was posed, “Who is responsible for developing pipeline?” The response was, “Someone else….”
The article went on, I realized the speaker was arguing for a very high degree of specialization within the sales function. Specialization makes sense—where it makes sense.
Specialization has been around for decades. We’ve long had product line specialists, organizations where sales is oriented around different product lines, each sales team responsible for the sale of a specific product line. A terrific strategy for driving product line growth. But then the questions come, Who is responsible for the customer relationship? Who is responsible for maximizing our share of customer? What experience do we want to create, how do we want the customer to “think” of our company? Where product lines are very diverse, with different and unrelated buyers within the account, this issue may not be important (But I’m still driven by my mantra, “It’s our God-given right to 100% share of customer and territory…”). But as buying teams start to overlap, this issue becomes critical.
Enter the realm of account management/territory. Often, the way we solved the inherent challenges of a product oriented sales force, is we shifted to account/territory management, with sales people responsible for selling the entire product line to their customers. There are some clear advantages to this, but also limitations—particularly if you have a large, diverse, and complex product line. No one person could be expert in each.
Organizations solve this by creating hybrid/overlay sales organizations. Perhaps account/territory managers for core product lines and managing the overall customer relationship, with specialists for the more complex product lines. The idea here is for the account/territory people to work collaboratively with the specialists. The concept of “team selling” arose. Variations started being introduced as partners and channels became part of the go to customer model.
Then, the idea of specialization by simple/transactional versus complex sales arose. We started segmenting the sales process with people focused on the simpler/transactional sales (usually inside sales) and those that focused on complex sales (usually the field/territory people and specialists). There were still challenges from the customer point of view (if it wasn’t for those pesky customers worried about their experience and how they want to buy), but this specialization was another turn of the crank in making the sales organization very efficient. Often, the idea being, inside sales was a lower cost of selling than field sales, they could more cost effectively handle the transactional/lower margin product lines.
As selling becomes more complex (though I think at least in B2B, it’s always been complex), sales executives have always been confronted with the issue of “How do we become more efficient? How do we reduce the cost of selling?” Oddly, they don’t ask the question, “How do we become more effective, how to we align ourselves to buy the way the customer wants to buy,” very often.
Over time, we continue to slice and dice what sales people do—all in the name of efficiency. We’ve sliced and diced the sales process, getting people expert at one thing–prospecting, qualifying, discovering, proposing, closing. Each expert at doing their job and only their job, each waiting for others to do their jobs.
We have SDRs, they have further been segmented by inbound/outbound, BDMs, Sales Executives. We have Account SDRs, BDMs, managers/executives. We have inside/outside/partner/channel sales people. Based on the argument of the person I cite at the beginning of this diatribe, we need to further be segmenting by having people–but not sales people–prospecting and generating pipeline. We have marketing generating pipeline–or at least a marketing pipeline–which always seems different from the sales pipeline. We have organizations that have “closers,” only focused on the final steps of the sales process.
In our quest for optimization and efficiency, we’ve created a giant assembly line, passing the customer from specialist to specialist. Each specialist doing their job, then passing the customer along to do the next part of the job, then the next.
(We, also, have to recognize, that we are driving increased levels of complexity into our business (managing the transitions is a challenge), as well as huge levels of complexity for our customers in doing business with us.)
Wait a minute, haven’t we seen this model before? Oh, yes, it’s the manufacturing line made so famous by Henry Ford. The job of building cars was segmented down to minute steps, each performed by a specialist, with hundreds of specialists doing their thing–perhaps tightening a bolt, installing a door. But there were problems with the approach. Back ups/problems in one area would shut down all the other functions–upstream and down stream. Quality became an issue. Each person doing their job, but no one responsible for overall quality–so by the time the product got to a customer, it didn’t work. (In engineering, we call it the “stack-up problem—each part fits it’s specs, but taken together they don’t.)
Toyota did huge amounts to address this with the Toyota production method. A fundamental principle is to eliminate all variability (Hmmmmmm, works well with inanimate objects, but what about people?)
Soon many manufacturing organizations started looking at the issue from the “whole,” not the “pieces/parts.” They started clustering work, reducing the number of specialist, building teams, empowering them to change the process (but they are still doing inanimate parts).
You get the picture. Specialization works–where it works. But sometimes specialization sub-optimizes the entire process. Focusing on the efficiency of the pieces-parts may not create an overall efficient or effective end to end process.
But the most important thing lost in this discussion is the customer and their experience!
Efficient manufacturing works because we can design out variability. It works because we are dealing with objects that have no emotions, that have no fears, that aren’t learning, growing, or changing their minds. It works because we’ve broken down what may be complex and made it simple–but that’s not how our customers work–they are in the world of the complex (6.8 decsionmakers involved in the consensus decision).
Perhaps, in our quest for our own efficiency, we are solving for the wrong problem. What if we focused on the customer–their efficiency and effectiveness in their problem solving process? Perhaps, in solving for this problem, we discover how we might become more efficient and more effective–for them and for us.
No, this post is not about Aaron Ross’ book, at least directly. It’s about the challenge each sales person and leader faces in achieving their sales goals. How do we create “Predictable Revenue?”
This issue is at the core of most conversations I have with sales people. They are struggling to make their numbers, they face more competition, it’s more challenging to access customers, things seem to be tougher.
These sales people are struggling, trying anything they can to find opportunities, qualify them, move them to closure. Often, it looks like “bumper cars,” at a carnival–events or circumstances push them one way, other things push them another. They are trying to make things happen, there is a lot of activity, but, in reality, they are not making progress to their goals. Or at least not enough deals are progressing in a systematic way to enable them to achieve their goals.
Inevitably, as they describe their circumstances, I ask, “Tell me about your selling process…….”
Their reactions are predictable, they roll their eyes, sigh, and respond, “Dave, let’s not talk about this sales process BS, we need to produce results, we need a regular cadence of business! What do we do?”
The problem is, we know the answer to predictable revenue, but we don’t have the courage and discipline to do the things that produce predictable revenue.
Generating the right revenue stream is not rocket science. It’s understanding how to find and qualify the right customers. It’s understanding the critical activities they undertake in their buying process, and the critical sales activities we need to execute to help the customer through their buying process. It’s understanding the levers that enable us to maximize our ability to win, compress the buying cycle (so customer realize value sooner), maximize deal value/margin (enabling customers to “buy into” our value creation).
We do this at scale by looking at the common patterns across our business. Who are the right customers? Why would they be compelled to change? Who is involved in buying? What activities do they go typically go through? What do we need to do to be most helpful in choosing us?
Of course every situation is nuanced and different, but we recognize common patterns and activities in deals where we have achieved success. We see different patterns and activities in deals where we fail.
Pretty soon, we get it, “Do what works, don’t do what doesn’t work!” (People pay me a lot of money for that observation.)
Yes, already you know what I’m talking about. As much as you don’t want to admit it, the secret to predictable revenue is your sales process!
The sales process is simply the collection of your organization’s best practices of doing what works/avoiding what doesn’t work.
We’ve known this for decades. We see top performers doing this all the time–they may call it their system, they may not even be able to articulate it. But watch them, they do the stuff that works all the time, deal after deal after deal. And that’s what makes them top performers.
We know what drive predictable revenue. It’s simple, do what works all the time.
I suspect we resist that. It gets boring, doing the same thing deal after deal. We want to take short cuts. We’re consumed by wishful thinking. We get distracted by the latest shiny object or advice from some self proclaimed guru. We look at others, copying theirs, rather than recognizing that what makes us successful is different than what makes anyone else successful. Our sales process is unique to us, copying someone else’s is what causes them to be successful, but not what causes us to be successful.
While the concept of the sales process is very simple—do what works, don’t do what doesn’t work, recognize the patterns for success, repeat, repeat, repeat; executing the sales process rigorously is tough. We have to do the work. We have to be deeply engaged with our customers, doing the right things with the right people at the right time.
Whether what we sell is a subscription service the customer pays $100/month for, or capital equipment costing $100s of thousands, or professional services costing millions, we can drive predictability into our revenue streams. It’s about understanding our selling process and executing it rigorously.
We’re doing some renovations in our home. These include changes in the Master Bedroom and Master Bath. As A result, my wife and I have temporarily moved to a guest room and are having to use a guest bath. It’s been interesting–and a little embarrassing — at least thinking of what we’ve put past guests through.
There wasn’t anything glaringly bad about the guest bedroom and baths, just a whole series of little annoyances—bad lighting in one room, inconvenient switches and outlets in another, the bed was a little soft in another. In the shower, something was up with the faucet. It was easy to get extremely hot or cold water, to get something in between, you couldn’t move the faucet handle more than a quarter of an inch.
A couple of weeks living where we put guests was eye opening! Without the renovation, we never would have discovered these annoyances. We never would have had reason to stay in any of the guest rooms, so we would have continued to be embarrassed by these little annoyances (and, at least so far, our guests have been far too polite to mention anything.)
Too often, we subject our prospects and customers to similar things. We never experience what we put them through. Whether it’s our marketing campaigns, the way we sell, or the experience we create in doing business with us. We seldom actually experience what we inflict on our prospects and customers.
Generally, we design our demand gen, marketing, sales and customer experience approaches based on the most efficient and effective ways for us to work, forgetting what the customer experiences in the process. Inadvertently, rather than really creating great customer experiences, we are doing the opposite.
As much as you can, put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Visit your company’s website, looking at it as a prospect might. Sign up for your own newsletter, or white papers to see what happens in the process. Call your customer service desk with a problem, see how it’s handled. Talk to your customers, get their feedback on every interaction they have with you.
Use these opportunities to learn what you are taking your customer through, use them to learn how you might create the customer experiences you intend to create.