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Jun 17 19

I Hate Prospecting!

by David Brock

I know how unfashionable it is to say this, but I hate prospecting. We’re supposed to love it. According to many pundits/sales experts, it is the secret to sales success. We are supposed to love and revel in prospecting.

I get it, if our pipelines are empty, we have to find new opportunities and we do this through prospecting. But my news feeds are dominated with things like “the Joy of Prospecting…” There are battles about which prospecting techniques are alive or dead, which is best. Is it social media where all the cool prospectors hang out, is it hitting the phones, is it email, or even door to door–which one of my B2B clients exploits very well?

I know, I suppose I am violating some secret code of “sales bloggers,” but I hate prospecting. I just can’t excited about all the stuff I read, even from close friends.

But since I have to do it, I set about trying to figure out how to do the least amount of prospecting possible–yet still make my numbers.

To figure this out, I had to start at the bottom of the pipeline–actually with my wins and losses. I had to focus on, who, where how I won and what types of situations to avoid so I didn’t lose.

This led me into analyzing what I do during the buying process and how to maximize our wins in that process. I figured, if I doubled my win rate, I would only have to prospect half the opportunities I’d normally have to do to hit my numbers. As a result, I really tuned what we do in managing opportunities in the pipeline. One of the biggest levers in that was to do a better job of disqualification.

Just by doing this, I could significantly cut down on my prospecting.

But that wasn’t enough, remember I really hate prospecting. I decided, “What if I double the size of our average sale?” That meant, I would only have to chase half the number of opportunities, yet still make my number. And again, it meant that I would have to prospect 50% less to find the opportunities necessary to make my number.

So let’s reflect on it. If right now I have to prospect 100 people/companies to make my numbers, and my goal is to reduce that as much as possible:

  • If I double my average sale, I only have to prospect 50 people to make my numbers. That’s a big improvement!
  • If, next, I increase my win rate, let’s say I double it (yeah I know that’s hard, but it makes the math easy), now I only have to prospect 25 people to make my numbers! I’ve reduced my prospecting by 75 people!!!!!
  • Interestingly, by doing this, I free up a lot of time so that I can actually improve my win rate–doing a better job with those opportunities I have qualified, or get more (higher sales) from those.

Bottom line, if I get much better with selecting the right opportunities and managing them very well, I can hit my numbers and reduce what I hate the most in selling–prospecting! I still have to do it, but I can hit my goals and do much less.

As I reflected on this, getting much more effective in managing the opportunities I do qualify, winning more, freeing up lots of time because I don’t have to prospect as much, I got greedy. I realized I could overachieve my number. I might not have to prospect as much as I do now, but I could close a lot more business.

In the end, my greed won out, I actually chose to keep up with the same amount of prospecting, but am selling a hell of a lot more! That’s a personal choice.

OK, it’s time for me to come clean. I’ve been fooling you. I actually like prospecting, I’m curious, I love talking to people and seeing how I might help them.

But I wanted to make a point that I think is missed in 90% of the “You must prospect” conversations I read. We don’t prospect just for the sake of prospecting and it’s the current hot topic among all the “sales gurus.” We prospect to find enough opportunities to win to make our numbers.

But we are squandering our prospecting results, if we don’t, at the same time, get much better at handling the prospects we do qualify.

The goal is not really more prospects, the goal is making the most of every prospect we get, enabling us to achieve our numbers.

Whether you like prospecting or not, try this exercise. Figure out what it takes to reduce your prospecting to the absolute minimum–yet still make your numbers.

Go through the analysis of what it takes to be better at all aspects of selling, not just prospecting. Once you’ve done that, and mastered the practice of that, you have choices–you can do the minimum and make your numbers, or you can do more, growing your numbers. But at least then you are making the most of every prospect you touch.

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Jun 16 19

“It’s All About Execution,” Easily Said

by David Brock

I’ve been obsessed with failure recently. More specifically, I’ve been pestering close friends and mentors with the question: “If we know what we should be doing, if we know how to do it, if we know how important it is to our results, why do we consistently fail to do those things?”

Unless you are brand new to sales, your name is Rip van Winkle, or you are absolutely clueless, all of us know what we should be doing. We know we have to:

  • Prospect
  • Qualify
  • Engage in a disciplined selling process, aligned with our customers’ buying process.
  • Keep a full, high integrity pipeline
  • Create value for our customer in every interaction
  • Be customer focus.
  • Be disciplined in our use of time, avoiding distractions, blocking time.
  • Grow our share of account/territory
  • Constantly learn and improve
  • Leap over tall buildings…. (Oops)

As managers we know we have to:

  • Hire, onboard, develop, retain the very best talent.
  • Maximize the performance of each person on our team.
  • Coach and develop each person on the team.
  • Assure our team is executing our corporate priorities.
  • Remove barriers and get the support our people need.
  • Leap over taller buildings…..

Every experienced sales professional I know can describe, to varying degrees, the things we know we must do to drive success.

Most of us even know how to do those things. We’ve been through endless training programs, we go to conferences, we read books and blogs. While there are many different ways of doing these things, and there are endless discussions about which method is better, virtually everyone I know, has at least some level of knowledge about how to do these things.

We invest billions in tools, systems, programs, content, to help us do those things better. We have playbooks, templates, mobile tools, content, success stories, references, tutorials.

But at the end of the day, we consistently fail to do the things we know we must do and how to do.

We know it’s about execution, but what keeps us from executing, particularly when we know how? Somehow, I think all of us treat this far too lightly.

The people I work with, for the most part, are extremely successful, wickedly smart, well intended. Yet they struggle with this very issue every day. One thinks, “How can people who are so successful and so smart, fail so miserably?”

It is not a trivial issue, it’s at the core of everything we do, we cannot afford to treat it lightly or prescribe trivial solutions/success stories to something that is very complex. (Unfortunately, too many experts/guru’s treat this far too trivially.)

Frankly, I’m struggling with the answers to this issue–it is the issue that stands before all of us.

Certainly, it’s about change and managing change. But I think there is something deeper, so we can’t treat this as “just a change management issue.”

I believe, at the core of this issue, there is a complex interplay between commitment and fear. Both organizationally and personally. We cannot address these issues logically, or with a structured problem solving approach.

Individually, we know how difficult it is to change our own personal habits–exercise, eat healthy, lose weight, stop smoking, work-life balance, ……

I do think some of the solutions can be found in the science of habit formation. For those of you interested, I suggest you start studying this, I know I am.

One learns you can’t change habits by yourself, when you study, you hear of things like “accountability partners.” Which brings us to how do we do this organizationally.

The wonderful thing about addressing these issues organizationally is that we have a built in “accountability ecosystem” that, should we choose to, we can leverage to drive organizational performance. Unfortunately, too often, we fail to recognize this in more than lip service.

I believe much of Peter Senge’s work helps us understand and address these issues, organizationally. It really starts with a leadership team. their commitment and building learning organizations. His principles:

  • Personal mastery
  • Building a shared vision (underlying this, I think are having a “purpose,” and a culture)
  • Team learning
  • Mental models
  • Systems thinking (which recognizes simplistic thinking does not work)

It is hard work, there are no shortcuts. It is about commitment and developing that shared commitment in the organization. It is about having the courage to recognize and confront our individual and shared fears. It is recognizing there are no easy answers-there may be no answers and we have to discover them for ourselves. It is rejecting “miracle cures,” and the charlatans claiming to have them.

I’m obsessed by this challenge and will be sharing more ideas. But more importantly, I’d love to start a conversation to hear your views.

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Jun 13 19

What Is The Most Important Part Of The Sales Process?

by David Brock

Recently, someone posed a question on LinkedIn: “What is the most important part of the sales process?—–Prospecting, Discovery, Closing?”

We see versions of this question all the time, with everyone staking out various positions (often supporting what they sell). Some of the discussions drill down into an issue, for example the endless battle of social and other selling (would one call this anti-social?). Others look at skills like questions, objection handling, and so forth.

Whatever the version of the question there is the continuous exploration of “What is most important?”

These questions always present us a false choice. The reality is we have to do it all, we have to do the whole job!

What these questions/discussions fail to recognize is that each part of the sales process requires expert/successful execution of all the other parts of the sales process.

If we focus on prospecting, but fail to convert the majority of those great prospects into wins, our prospecting prowess is wasted.

If we focus on closing, we empty our pipelines and have nothing left to close.

There’s a tremendous appeal to finding “the ONE THING,” hopefully, it’s the one thing we really like or excel at doing. Even if it isn’t the implication is that we don’t have to do the other things.

The reality is we have to do all of it all the time. We have to do it in balance–continually finding new opportunities, continually moving them through the buying process, continually making sure we are pursuing enough quality deals to achieve our goals, continually engaging the right customers in impactful, value based conversations.

We don’t serve the sales profession or our customers in this continued quest to determine the One Thing.

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Jun 12 19

Hacking Sales

by David Brock

“Hacking” is a hot word. We read constantly of hacking–both in good and bad contexts:

  • We’re terrified of people/organizations hacking our passwords, ids, accounts, systems, and so forth. In this case, hacking is breaking in and stealing something.
  • We’re fascinated with computer hackers. Both terrified of those hacking for bad purposes, and envious of those that figure out how to get things done in clever ways.
  • People like Tim Ferris, make millions in helping identify “hacks” or shortcuts to all sorts of things–whether it is learning a language, traveling, learning a new skill, making money, getting fit. We’re enthralled to learn the shortcuts to success.
  • We identify “hacks,” as “cheap, mediocre, second rate practitioners,” often incompetent.
  • Hacks are often “jury rigged” or temporary solutions.

Hacking sales/marketing is the subject of countless blog posts and books. Every pundit seems to have some sort of magical short cut to success, stating, “all you have to do is this simple thing….”

We invest huge amounts of time and energy in trying to “hack” sales/marketing success. We seem to be obsessed with finding short-cuts, ironically, not focused on helping us get better, but more focused on avoiding doing the work.

We mistakenly think these sales hacks make us better. I’m no different from you, I’m not a masochist, I want to find better/easier ways of doing things.

I think we confuse “hacking” with “simplification.” Both appear to have similar objectives–perhaps making us more effective or more efficient, or to make things easier.

But the way we achieve these objectives is very different, and our ability to continuously achieve those goals is very different.

The process of finding hacks is usually focused on short cuts. It’s typically very narrowly focused on just one thing. For example, “How can I avoid all the tough work in prospecting?” We usually come up with very narrow solutions, optimized just to that. For example, hacks for prospecting might be: It’s marketing’s/SDRs job, I’ll let them do it, it’s not my fault if they can’t find enough. I’ll just focus on inbound. Or, “Targeting is too much work, I’ll just send a few thousand more emails and see who responds.” Of course, technology is our friend in coming up with hacks, we have the ability to scale what we do virtually infinitely, at no or low incremental cost. So, too often, we leverage technology to hack selling.

Hacks work until they don’t, usually they work for a short time, but I’ve never seen a hack that produces sustainable results.

Simplification is different–simplification is not simple, in fact it’s hard work. It means we have to really understand what’s happening, and why. In prospecting, we have to understand, “Who’s most likely to respond to our outreach, why do they respond? How do we find them? How do we engage them in the most impactful ways?”

At the same time, in our simplification process, we recognize that what we do is impacted by other systems, processes in the organization, and we impact other systems and processes. We don’t treat the problem in isolation, but try to understand the interconnections. So we might work with marketing to see what they might do that can help improve our ability to prospect, or to make sure we understand if anything we might be doing might have an adverse impact on what marketing is doing. Likewise, we would look downstream from those prospecting activities to understand how what we do impacts others that might be involved. Then we would look at how we do it effectively and efficiently, producing the best possible outcomes in the best way possible.

You may be thinking, “this is entirely too much work, it’s just so much easier to find a hack……” But then the reality is our hacks aren’t working. If they were, we wouldn’t see:

  • Continued year over year declines in sales performance.
  • Continued customer avoidance and unhappiness with sales engagement.
  • Active customer dis-engagement.
  • Increases in dis-engagement among our people.
  • Increases in voluntary and involuntary turnover.

Organizational and Individual Performance is driven by obsessive learning, relentless execution, continuous improvement, deep understanding. There are no shortcuts, we have to do the work.

We can’t hack our way to success. We can create some “sugar highs,” but without deep understanding, it is impossible to sustain.

And we’ve known this all the time, but too often choose to ignore this. After all, the dictionary is very clear: Hacks are cheap, mediocre, incompetent practitioners. Hacking something is only a temporary, jury rigged solution.

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