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Aug 3 17

“The Forecast Meeting”

by David Brock

A friend and I were sharing our experiences in forecast meetings.  Each of us has participated in hundreds of these, there seems to be a consistent pattern:

Sales Manager:  “Are the deals you’ve committed to the forecast going to come in as forecast?”

Sales Person:  “Sorry boss, this $1M (fill in your amount) deal with X corporation is going to fall out….”

Sales Manager:  “We need to backfill that $1M, we have to make the number, what do you have to backfill the $1M you just de committed to?”

Sales Person:  “Well boss………”

Sales Manager:  “We need to backfill $1M, what can you bring in to make up the gap?”

Sales Person:  “Well……  I guess I can bring in the deals with Y and Z.  That would cover us….”

Sales Manager:  “Make it happen, I’ve locked you in for that number!”

Sound like the forecast meetings you’ve sat in–either as the manager or sales person?

But there are at least 3-4 huge problems with what has happened in this very short exchange, can you identify them?

Here’s my take:

  1. What happened to the deal with X corporation?  There is absolutely no discussion about what happened, there’s no discussion of any kind of recovery strategy with that deal, and why are we seeing there is a problem with this deal in the forecast meeting?  Shouldn’t we have had some visibility about the exposure when it arose–particularly since it had already been forecast, so it should get high attention.  The total absence of discussion and development of a recovery strategy is a major error.
  2. What about the deals that were brought in to the forecast–Y and Z?  Why weren’t they in the forecast anyway?  If the sales person felt confident enough to commit them to the forecast in this review, what’s changed, why couldn’t they have been committed earlier–for a much better overall number?  Our job as sales people is to do everything we can to compress the sales cycle and accelerate our ability to generate revenue.  It doesn’t make sense to hold things out of the forecast, to defer the order if we have good confidence we can bring in during this period.
  3. Yeah, some of you disagree with 2, perhaps there’s another explanation, the poor sales person felt bullied by the manager and just folded, committing 2 deals to the forecast to get the manager off her back.  There’s no chance the deals will come in, so the forecast will be missed–but she’ll deal with that next month.  Hmmm, what happened to forecast accuracy?  We don’t to ourselves or the company any favors by committing to numbers we have no chance of making.  We have to be honest with ourselves and management about what is really going to happen.  And managers can’t bully people into making bad commitments.
  4. Maybe things will go down as agreed in the forecast.  The sales team is high-fiving about pulling it off and making the forecast number.  But this could create havoc within the company.  Let’s imagine that $1 M deal was for a lot of “purple widgets.”  In their planning, manufacturing made sure they would have the supply and manufacturing capability for $1M of purple widgets.  But the two deals the sales person committed to replace that $1M deal aren’t for widgets!  The manufacturing plan has been turned upside down.  They have parts and have scheduled for purple widgets and may not have the parts or manufacturing capacity for the orders that are in the revised forecast.  It might create extra effort (read cost) to solve that problem, or there may be shipping delays which will defer revenue recognition, not to say, upset the customer.  The rest of the company depends on the accuracy of our forecasts.  It drives resource planning, procurement, manufacturing, and so forth.  Let’s imagine these are professional services deals.  The original $1M was for people with CRM skills.  The two new deals may be for people with HRM skills.  Now we have a huge problem.  Those CRM people are now on the bench and their utilization plummets.  There may be no HRM people available to deliver the project–we might have to go outside to contract more expense people, or slip our project commitments to the customer.

It seemed like such a simple discussion, but so much was wrong with it!

The forecast isn’t just about hitting a number.  It’s about managing the business as effectively as possible—whether it’s managing our deals and deal flow aggressively, or helping the rest of the company plan and fulfill the orders we have gotten.

What else went wrong in this discussion?  How often have you lived through just this scenario.

Forecasting isn’t easy, but we have to be responsible to ourselves, our management, our company and our customers.

 

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Aug 2 17

“We Need To Do More To Help Our Sales People!”

by David Brock

It seems everywhere I turn, there is a huge urgency around “helping” our sales people sell more.  Clearly, the data on sales performance is startling, though not new.  The percent of sales people meeting or exceeding their plans is declining.  The percent of organizations not making their plans is staggering.

Everyone is recognizing the changing customer.  First they are becoming impossible to reach (perhaps an intended or unintended consequence of the deluge of prospecting emails/calls).  Second, more buying decisions end in “no decision made,” so they struggle to buy.  Our sales people need help in more effectively engaging these struggling customers.

Sales people are struggling under the weight of ever expanding product/solution portfolios.  They are struggling to compete in a world of global competitors and new business models disrupting entire industries.

It seems everyone in the organization recognizes the challenges our sale teams have in achieving their goals.  The new mantra seems to be, “We need to do more to help our sales people succeed!”

Thousands of technology driven tools/apps are coming to the market, with hundreds of new ones being launched every month.

Marketing has gotten the message and is aligning themselves with sales–sharing many of the metrics/goals.  They are on a mission to help sales and our customers, overwhelming us with content on the web, seminars, webinars, downloadable content, new marketing programs, blogs, thought leadership, influencer programs, account based marketing, MQLs, SALs, XYZs.

Sales enablement is on a parallel path, looking at training, tools, systems, programs, content.

We’ve a new vocabulary to describe how we are leveraging technology to help our sales people.  No conference is complete without every speaker talking about the value and virtues of their sales and marketing stacks.  Recently, I heard one proud executive talking about their stack of 19 applications/programs to help sales people!  Sometimes, it seems like locker room boasts of “mine is bigger than yours.”

We’re adding new functions to the sales organization to help our sales people–often offloading them of prospecting responsibility to SDRs, or we have overlays/specialists to help deal with product complexity.

Increasingly we recognize we and our sales people can’t go it alone, so we recruit partners to help and collaborate in solving the customer problems.

The sheer volume and velocity of the things we are doing to “help” our sales people is mind numbing.

The recipients of all this help—our sales people are reeling.  I imagine at some point there will be a sales person breaking down in the middle of the office, shrieking, “Stop The Insanity!!!”

Too many of the sales people I meet today are simply exhausted and overwhelmed.  They are well intentioned, they want to do better, they want to perform, but they are becoming so distracted by the help we are offering–also well intentioned–they don’t have time to spend with the customer selling.

The results are tragic.  We do audits/assessments of organizations.  We are seeing time available for selling plummet.  In large, successful organizations, we typically measure it at 9-22%!  We see voluntary attrition skyrocketing, often in the 30’s-40% range, in one very large organization it was 72% in the first year of being hired!

In virtually everything we see, while we are doing more to “help” our sales people, we aren’t seeing the results we expect.  And much of this is the result of our well intentioned efforts to do more.

Perhaps we need to rethink our approaches.  Rather than continuing to pile more and more stuff onto our sales people–training, tools, programs, support, content, systems……  Perhaps we should first focus on simplification, on eliminating and stopping some things.

I know it’s terribly unfashionable, but the simple concept of business process re-engineering is something I seldom hear sales management, sales enablement and others talk about.  Perhaps it’s implicit in what many are doing, but maybe we need to make it front and center for all our sales performance improvement efforts.

Before we do more for our sales people, the question we need to be asking ourselves is, “What should we be stopping, how do we simplify?”

Complexity will be the single biggest issue (if it isn’t already) impacting the performance of our sales teams in the coming years.  Front line sales people are at the nexus of the complexity our customers face and the complexity of their own organizations; the complexity of our expanding product/solutions offerings; the complexity of our expanding partner ecosystems; and the complexity of getting things done within our own organizations.

No other part of the organization faces the overlapping and often opposing  areas.

Perhaps the best way to help our sales people is to stop trying to be so helpful by giving them more.

 

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Aug 1 17

What’s Your One Goal For Each Person On Your Team?

by David Brock

Too often, as managers, if we do coach, our coaching is ineffective.  One of the key reasons is that we are unfocused on what we are trying to achieve with each person.

What happens is that we see skills that need to be developed, new habits that need to be solidified, behaviors we need to change.  In our coaching, we try to achieve all of these things with the sales person.

We may do this in a single one on one, deal review, call review, or whatever conversation we have.

Our intentions are good, we are trying to help our people learn, discover, improve, and grow, but we inundate them with too many things.

They become confused.

It’s kind of like a friend that tried to coach me on my golf swing, “Keep your head down, tuck your elbow in, take a full back swing, rotate your hips, don’t forget the follow through…..”  There were so many things wrong with my golf swing, trying to be helpful, he was seeking me to improve everything at once.  The result, nothing changed, in fact I may have gotten worse.  I was so confused by his coaching—I was trying to do everything he suggested, but ended up doing nothing that was helpful in improving my swing.

I decided to pay a professional, he slowed things down, figuratively and literally.  First, he focused on one thing, I needed to slow down to smooth out my swing.  He coached me on slowing the motion down, which ended up smoothing the whole swing.  With a little practice, it started becoming very natural and repeatable.  Then he went on to the next thing, then the next…..

Rather than trying to correct everything at once, he focused on one thing at a time.  He coached me, I practiced, he wouldn’t move on until I had mastered that one thing.

The other thing, I noticed was what he chose to coach and the order he chose.  He could have started anywhere, with my head bobbing, dipping my knee, by back swing, my elbow sticking out in the wrong place, by follow through, the position of my feet.  Instead he chose the one thing that was most important–and which would influence everything else he needed to coach me on.  He focused first on my swing speed or tempo.

Ironically, by slowing things down, focusing on one thing at a time, I suspect my swing improved much more quickly than I would have by following my friend’s coaching.  First, the ball started going the direction I wanted it to go, then it started going further on the drives, or the right distance on my approaches and chips.  The professional got me to improve my stroke very quickly by simply focusing on one thing at a time, and focusing on the foundational things first (Think Covey, “First things first.”)

In coaching our people, often, there are lots of things they need to change or improve to improve their effectiveness.  We confuse them by trying to do too much at once, “You need to do more prospecting, you need to improve your qualifying skills, your questioning isn’t as effective as it should be, you aren’t demonstrating value in each meeting, you need to……..”

We aren’t doing them, ourselves, our customers, or our organizations any favors by trying to address all these things at one time.  Instead, we need to focus on one area at a time.  We need to coach them on that one area until they have mastered it.  Then we move to the next, then the next, then the next…..

We need to be careful about getting first things first.  What’s the most important or foundational area to start with?  In the example above, if the person needs to do more/better prospecting, better qualifying, better questioning, improve their ability to demonstrate value, where would we start?  Perhaps questioning.  If we improve their ability in questioning–asking the right questions at the right time with the right people, engaging them in higher quality conversations–then perhaps other things will improve along the way.  Their prospecting will improve, their qualifying will improve, and so forth.  Once they master questioning, then we can start tuning their prospecting, then the next, then the next.

Think about each person on your team.  What is the single most important thing you should be coaching them on right now?  Focus on that in every coaching session, make sure they master it before moving on.

It’s amazing how fast performance improves with this simple change in how we coach.

 

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Jul 31 17

Putting Yourself In Your Customers’ Shoes

by David Brock

As sales people, we need to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes.

Organizationally, we need to understand their business, markets, industry, key strategies/drivers, key challenges, how things get done within the company, and more.

Individually, we need to understand what makes them tick, what they worry about, what their personal goals/ambitions are, how they are measured, how they spend their days, and more.

The better we are at connecting with them–where they are, the more effective we will be in identifying how our products and solutions might help them achieve their goals.

We want to be able to mirror their experience, sharing ideas and engaging them in relevant conversations about them and their organizations.  The more we understand and can be empathetic, the more effective we will be in engaging them in meaningful ways.

But how do we do this?  How do we do this fast?

Yes, experience helps.  When I ran an organization that sold engineering and manufacturing systems, I used to hire people who had actually been design  or manufacturing engineers but could sell.  Their experience, having “been there/done that.” enabled them to engage their counterparts–our customers with greater credibility.

But we can’t afford to take the time to gain the insights of having been in those roles.  As a young person, roughly 30 years ago, I was expected to call on “C” level executives, engaging them in conversations about how to improve their businesses–yet I had never had the experiences they had, or been in the roles they had been in (I don’t think being president of my college class counted as a “C” level job).  How do we fast track our learning process?  How do we compress years of experiences into much shorter periods of time?

Some thoughts—but the most critical requirements are incessant curiosity and a drive for constant learning:

  1. Learn the industry!  Subscribe to blogs, newsletters, magazines that your customers subscribe to.  Ask them what they read, who they pay attention to, who they think are the “thought leaders” in their industries.  If you can, attend some of their trade shows.  Learn the structure of the industry, key participants, key issues, key threats.  Learn their “language,” and how they measure themselves.  For example, in semiconductors/electronic components, you won’t understand much until you understand Book/Bill.  In retail, consumer products you need to understand inventory turns and profit per cubic foot (for stores).  In telecom you have to understand what ARPU is, and in SaaS companies the same concept is ACV or ARR–but if you use ACV in telecom, you won’t connect.  If you deal with aeronautical engineers, you will talk about aerodynamics, but the same concept in automotive body design is expressed by flow lines.   But if you talk about flow lines to an aeronautical engineer, they will think you don’t understand them, you don’t care about what they care about.   If you can’t talk your customer’s language and know how they measure success, you won’t connect with your customers.
  2. Learn the companies you are working with, particularly if you are doing anything that’s account based.  What are their goals, strategies, priorities?  How are they perceived in the markets, how do their customers perceive them, how do their competitors perceive them?  How are they organized and structured?  How do they work and get things done?  What’s their culture?  What are their KPIs?  What’s their performance?  Are they leaders, laggards?
  3. Talk to your customers’ customers.  Find out why they buy your customers’ products, what they look for, what separates one supplier from another, how they create value with the  customers.  Understanding what drives your customers’ customers enables you to engage and create much better value with your customers.
  4. It’s hard to understand things from your customer’s point of view if you’ve never been in the role.  How can you understand the way “C” level people think/act if you’ve never been one?  It’s actually much easier than you might think.  Find every opportunity you can to meet these people with no agenda other then getting to know them, learn how they think, learn how they spend their days, learn what drives them in their roles.  A great way to do this is look within your own company.  Never met a CPO?  Go meet the CPO in your own company.  Spend time asking him about the role, how she prioritizes her time, how she is measured, how she establishes goals.  Ask her questions, like, “What do you expect of a sales person who’s trying to reach you and arrange a meeting?   Who do you respond to?  What do you see great sales people doing when they meet with you?”  Do the same thing for every  key persona you are expected to call on.  It’s in the self interest of the people holding those roles in your organization to spend time helping you understand those people better.
  5. Go to some of your current customers, those you already have relationships with.  Ask them, “Why did you buy from me?  What was it that I/we did in the sales process that resonated with you?”  They may be tempted to say you had the right solution at the right price, but probe them.  Talk about their buying process and their perception of how you engaged them.  What did they like, what didn’t they like?  What have they seen others do that resonated with them?  Go beyond the sales process talk about them and their role.  What are their goals and ambitions?  How do they spend their days?  How is their performance measured?  While it’s unfashionable, what keeps them awake at night?  Understand them in their “role” in the company, as well as personally–as human beings.
  6. Where you can, “hang out where your customers hang out.”  When I sold to banks/brokerages in NYC, they hung out at place like Harry’s at Hanover Square.  I’d go there, meet them, listen, learn, build relationships.  The lessons I learned there, enabled me to engage my customers much more effectively.  Today, many of your customers are “hanging out” in discussion groups or other online venues.  Listen to the discussions, learn, ask questions.
  7. If you are in sales enablement, help your sales people do these things at scale.  Provide them playbooks, content, training, and tools to help them understand the industries, companies, and people.  Try to get the stories and communicate them in a meaningful way.  Something as simple as a “lunch and learn” with your own CFO helps your sales people better understand what drives CFOs.  Give sales people the chance to ask the 10,000 questions they always wanted to ask CFOs but were afraid to ask.  Make a video of the session and keep it available for people to review.  Add interviews with key customers.  Focus less on why they bought your products, but on who they are, what drives them, what they are trying to achieve.

This process never stops.  Top performers have an insatiable curiosity about their customers–the markets/industries, the enterprises, the individuals.

One of the interesting by products of doing this is the perception of your customers.  Learning about them, what drives them, how they work, how they get things done shows that you care.  That’s often the most important thing to customers, just knowing that you care about them and their success.

 

 

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