Sales Management: Selling to Your Sales Team

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a Business Marketing Association (BMA) lunch where John Maples, vice president, sales, PepsiCo/Quaker Foods and Snacks spoke about Pepsi’s business-to-business sales and marketing efforts. It was an interesting talk and insightful to hear how their business-to-business efforts with convenience stores, Starbucks and sports franchises are coordinated with their direct to consumer marketing. After listening to John for a while one could hear that there was a definite trend in the way Pepsi approaches its businesses sales, which is to say that they do NOT leave it up to the power of their brand, but they do a lot of what John described as “a best practices spreading” approach.

Each instance of this “best practices spreading” had a similar plot line. Pepsi had a goal and some ideas for achieving that goal, one example might be selling oatmeal through convenience stores. The next step was to find an outlet that was willing to work with Pepsi. With this partner, they could test the idea and measure the results. Only after there were measurable, quantifiable results, could the real selling begin. Armed with these results Pepsi then shared the results with other outlets to explain the benefit of the new program and concept, in this example, increasing sales by having oatmeal beside the juice and coffee. In this way, Pepsi was able to test each concept and scale quickly because they had the insight and the facts to support their proposition.

Not only is this a great example of using data in business-to-business sales but it is a great example of how to approach transformation of a sales organization, whatever you are trying to get your team to do.  When I work with sales teams, I am frequently working with sales managers, or those outside of sales who are entirely frustrated with trying to get the sales team to change their stripes.  When I have been successful it has been from following a plan very similar to Pepsi’s.  Start by understanding how your change is going to impact the sales team.  How is it going to help them with their goals?  Find somebody, or multiple somebodies, to test the concept on. Measure the results.  Learn from the process and make adjustments if you need to.  Then and only then, when you are armed with the results, go out and ‘sell’ the new approach to your team.

Is There Innovation In Sales?

“Is there innovation is sales?” This question came up last week when I was downtown meeting with a group of sales executives and business owners. Actually, the question was “Why isn’t there innovation in sales?”  In this day and age of social media and digital marketing the question shocked me. There are profound changes happening in the way people gather information to make decisions. Of course there is innovation in sales.

For starters, I would argue that any good sales person will innovate and is innovating all the time.  Last week my blog was about process and perhaps these sound like two different arguments.  They are not.  The sales process encourages innovation.  As an artist has a process for creating a work of art (sketches are created, colors are tested, before the final piece is created).  A sales process enables a salesperson to innovate. What innovation will improve the results I get? Does it work better to call, to email, to do it within 24 hours, within 48 hours? A good sales person, a good sales team, and a good sales manager is following a process and is always looking for the innovation which will make a difference in what they do.

Now, to give the person who asked this question credit, I had another conversation with a senior sales executive recently that illustrated why so many people have the perception that the sales team is only interested in quarterly quotas and only capable of executing tactics. Here we are sitting in December, getting ready for a new year, and when asked about his goals, all this executive could share was his sales goals.  He had no plans for improving the level of performance of his team, nor could he identify any road blocks – technology, skills, sales process or methodology – that needed to be addressed. I was amazed that as a leader in his organization he was not thinking deeper or harder about how to move his team, and the company forward.

I may be in the minority on this but I view marketing and sales as partners on a continuum of how companies connect with and communicate with prospects and customers in order to generate revenue.  The marketing function works on branding, building awareness with the purpose of generating leads. Once a lead is generated, the sales function works on nurturing that lead through the sales pipeline to close the opportunity.  With this view, any company who believes that sales doesn’t have to worry about what is going on with social media and digital marketing is putting their revenue at risk.  As more individuals use the internet to gather information and build relationships with companies and organizations, this will impact the role that the sale team has, it will impact the sales process, it will impact how customers relationships are nurtured.

Sales needs to innovate.  Some companies are innovating their customer relationship process.  Companies that do not innovate their sales process are gambling their future.

Great Conversation on Sales Process

The need for a sales process is a topic that I have commented on here and I am sure will continue to comment on in the future.  Today, I would like to link to a couple of other blogs that have touched on the subject in the last week.  Both of which I thin make some good comments.

The first blog was written by David Brock, ‘But We Have A Sales Process”. To quote David, “Without a process, selling is like taking a random walk through the forest—you never know where you’ll end up. A well-defined sales process provides a clear roadmap of the most effective and efficient means to facilitate the customer in their buying process.” I don’t want to steal all his thunder but the blog is worth a read and make some good points.  If you think you have a sales process, assess if your sales team is actually following the process. If you are using the process that came embedded in your CRM system, have you adapted it to the specific needs and lessons learned by your sales team?  If you want it to be a relevant and meaningful process, make sure it fits your needs.

The second blog that I would like to bring to your attention is one by Dave Stein, “More Excuses For Not Doing The Right Thing About Sales Effectiveness”.  Dave starts by giving us a definition for the sales process which is NOT synonymous with your sales methodology.  A sales process does not stifle creativity!  A process will actually enable and support creativity. Think of the most creative members of our community – painters, musicians, actors.  They almost all follow a process when creating great works.

Use your sales process.  Keep it simple and embrace it.  It will help you take the mystery and unpredictability out of your work.

Transforming Your Sales Team – It Is Hard Work

A few weeks back I attended a great discussion and presentation sponsored by the Kellogg business school alumni titled “Selling Strategies In A Challenging Environment”. The event included a panel discussion with four sales executives who answered questions about their efforts to evolve and transform their sales organizations. During the course of the conversation, a couple of  question came up about turnover – how much was there? had these sales leaders worked to reduce turnover?

Across the board, these executives had experienced turnover within their organizations, and a lot of it. Turnover in each case had exceeded 50%. I don’t think this is the answer that any of us wants to hear but I think it is realistic and a challenge that sales leaders who want to transform their organizations will need to face sooner or later.  It is not that individuals are or intend to be cut throat or malicious to successfully transform their organization, but change is hard and not everybody is going to make it. Consider:

The willing but incapable: Perhaps your transformation requires a different style of selling, a different market or product, a different level of executive conversation.  There is probably at least a few in your organization that may have the right attitude but just cannot, for whatever reason change their skills to fit in the transformed organization.

The capable but unwilling: These exist in every organization as well.  Skilled individuals who are not willing to make the change that the organization has asked them to make.

Right-sizing the sales team: Many transformation efforts include changing the structure of the sales organization.  Does an inside sales team need to be added? Is the size of the each managers sales team changing? Are two organizations merging and redundancies need to be removed?

A couple of conversations last week with family business owners, again caused me to reflect on how hard transformations can be. A third generation business owner shared his journey from running the family business to selling that business to an investor and to becoming professional management for another business owner. He shared how it had been impossible to layoff the overpaid, under-performing employee as the business owner but could recognize the need and take action when he was hired management. Transformation is hard, necessary perhaps for continued success but very, very hard.

This morning I read a blog posted by Buckley Brinkman about how difficult transformational change is.  He is in the process of making career changes and moving to a new city which has caused him to reflect (again?) on how hard change is. Buckley is a “Change Catalyst” and in the business of making change happen for companies that he works with.  Yet even this master of change, has to dig a little deeper to find the benefits that make the pain of change worth going through.

Read Buckley’s Blog Post on Change.

How have you managed challenging transformations within your sales team?

Assess Your Sales Organization – 8 Questions

I just read a GREAT blog post by Melissa Raffoni on the HBR Now blog. I have long believed that many organizations are leaving money on the table because they do not have a clear sales strategy or an effective sales organization to execute the sales strategy.  Too often as I talk to executives about sales and what they are doing to improve sales the extent of the work being done is to consider training or compensation and there are so many other elements that can to be considered and leveraged to improve the sales team effectiveness. Melissa in her blog considered the question of sales effectiveness and by asking good questions suggests some of the opportunities that are out there for companies to capitalize on.

Here are Melissa’s questions. Can your organization answer these questions?

  1. “Okay, tell us again, what’s your value proposition? Why should customers choose you over the competitors?” It’s so basic, isn’t it? Yet, I continue to be amazed at how difficult it is to answer this question well. With the constantly changing competitive landscapes and customer needs, every company should take a second look at what they are pitching and why it still resonates today. I’m sure, for most, the value proposition needs a face lift.
  2. “What is your sales process and how does your organizational structure map to it?”
  3. “Do you think your overall cost of sales is where it should be? What makes you think that? Are you comparing to an industry standard or mapping to a projected financial model?”
  4. “What key measures are you using to track sales effectiveness? Do you have a sales dashboard?” Is it cost of sales as a percentage of revenue, close ratio, sales person productivity? Something else? You can’t really optimize if you don’t know which lever you want to move.
  5. “If you believe there are two ways to drive sales–increase the funnel and/or increase the close ratio–what are you doing to achieve those increases?”
  6. “Is sales compensation driving the right behaviors?” Is there enough of a variable compensation component to make a difference?
  7. “It’s a new world, how are you taking advantage of it?” Partners are willing to talk, new talent is on the street, customers are looking for high ROI offerings, social media is changing how people communicate. Are you experimenting?
  8. “Do you have the right people?”

Check out Melissa’s entire blog post here: Eight Questions To Assess Your Sales Organization

Building Relationships and Selling

“Lets be clear.”

A colleague recently forwarded to me some insights from his CEO about selling at the executive level. Selling your product or service and building a trusting relationship with an executive are not always compatible goals. Since so many of us are trying to do both and to balance the sometimes contradictory goals, I thought I would also share the observation with you.

“I met recently with John Doe, CEO and Chairman of a Fortune 500 company.

John started the meeting off by observing that we both had something to sell to each other, and that when we were in sales mode, we should just be clear and declare that’s what we are doing. Although we spent most of the meeting exchanging views on leadership, each of us did take some time to switch into sales mode, and we made it clear when we were doing so. John’s opening made it safe for both of us to do that. It also made it easier for us to have a useful and productive exchange of views on other issues because the overhang of sales was removed.

My takeaway: there is great power in simply declaring the obvious. Whether it’s asking for the business, delivering a tough message, highlighting a difference of opinion – these are all situations that call for great transparency. Too often, it feels easier to be opaque and indirect – John’s approach reminded me just how much frankness and candor can be the lubricant of a great conversation.”

Frankness and candor a great ingredients for building a relationship.  How do you use them?

More On Measuring Sales Performance

I wish I could just tell my clients what to measure. It would make life easier for me and certainly for them, but companies are not cookie cutter images of each other and therefore the critical metrics they need to measure are necessarily different too.

My first question after seeing one company’s proposed metrics was to wonder what their strategic goal was. As a company what are they trying to achieve and how will they measure success? Jim Collins in his book “Good To Great” discusses the importance of distilling down to a single metric what a company does and what has the most significant impact on the company’s performance. Agreement on one or maybe a few key metrics should then be able to be cascaded down to each division and department to their own metrics that support the overall goal. Hopefully the metrics for sales and marketing are aligned with the corporate strategy and then the metrics for the sales process and the sales reps will align to these overall strategic goals as well.

Regarding metrics for the sales team, I would keep it simple. It never ceases to amaze me, the ability of sales reps to game a system and get into a mode of ‘checking the box’ to get management off their back. You want to try and avoid creating that culture of ‘checking the box’.

“You cannot manage what you cannot measure.” Find some basic way to define the ‘business development’ (from marketing all the way through closing a sale) process so that the company can start measuring and find out where the choke points are in the process. Start building the closed loop management system so you can do continuous improvement. Define the process, measure what is going on, build hypothesis for improvement, test improvement, deploy to rest of organization. There will be a limit to how much you can change at one time based on the capacity of the organization for change. Remember, this is a journey; the most important thing is to keep moving forward whatever the pace.

Are reps following up on leads quickly enough? Do you know how quickly is quick enough? Case study: individual applies for insurance from 2 companies, both companies indicate they will follow-up within 1 week but company A follows up within 24 hours and company B follows up after 4 days. Even though Company B ‘exceeds’ what they promised, they underperform the competition. Calculate your metrics with an understanding of what customers expect and what the competition is doing. Measure the results of different activities to figure out what the best practice is. Then instead of just handing sales reps an arbitrary requirement, you can explain and show them how it helps them be more successful.

Where in the process are deals being lost? Can reps get first meetings but not second meetings? What is the close rate on written proposals? Case study: Ohio manufacturing company stopped responding to blind RFPs, when they discovered that the close percentage increased 5x if they mandated a meeting prior to submitting a proposal.

Sales Leadership Lessons From Geese

Last week one of my friends sent me a link to a video on YouTube called “Leadership Lessons from Geese”. It is a somewhat sappy video that extracts lessons in leadership and teamwork from the behavior of geese.

The first observation in the video is the role of aerodynamics to enable the geese to fly farther using less effort.  When the geese fly in the familiar “V” formation, they are able to fly 71% further. The lift generated by the goose in front is passed back to the geese that follow. The lesson to be learned: we will go further through teamwork than if we “fly solo”.

Okay, for a lot of sales people this is probably a good reminder, but reducing it to just teamwork is over simplifying. It is the force of the aerodynamics in conjunction with the teamwork that gives the group 71% lift. So the challenge for a sales leader is to figure out what is at her disposal that will increase by orders of magnitude the ‘lift’ and ‘distance’ her team flies? To get the multiplier effect, sales leaders need to work with their teams to build out the sales process and sales playbooks. The goal is to find efficient and effective ways to share best practices across the sales team, thereby ‘lifting’ the performance of the entire team.

One-on-one coaching and mentoring doesn’t give you 71% lift. There are only so many hours in the day. If the only way to share information, ideas and what it takes to close a deal is by a sales manager riding along, the capacity to raise the team is limited. There is no scalability in this model. To go back to our geese analogy, instead of the team in a “V”, you have a series of paired geese. And with only two geese instead of a whole flock there isn’t much aerodynamic advantage being created.
On the other hand by defining, documenting and standardizing your sales process, you start to create a system that can lift the whole team. Take a portion of the time you spend coaching under-performers to talk to your stars.  What are they doing differently?  Capture it and share it with the whole team.  Now we start to get lift across the whole team not just with one individual.

This is perhaps oversimplified as well. The task of standardizing a sales process and sharing it effectively is not to be underestimated. Where do you start?  You start by having the vision of what you are trying to achieve. Then you take one step at time.