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The 6 Questions That Great Sales Leaders Ask

Getting results out of your sales team is still the goal but the days of beating the Viking drum are over except for those lucky few that still work in a pirate culture where beatings will continue until moral improves.  These are the companies and bosses that only care about how many calls you made, how many leads you found, and how late you are working this Saturday when you come in.  Most socks in your dresser drawer have a longer life than the sales team members and sales managers in these types of cultures.

Today’s sales leaders don’t yell down from upstairs, ask questions that are meant to make you look foolish in front of your peers, threaten to take accounts away if you don’t make your numbers, or force their teams to sit through sales training from the bosses networking friend that only addresses perceived organizational problems.

Today’s sales leaders are characterized by the following:

  • They work with and support their teams in the field
  • They work hard to make sure their teams have the resources and training they need
  • They make sure post-sales support is in place
  • They make sure that marketing is aligned with target markets and generating leads
  • They make sure that goals have been developed together, plans are in place, and that activities are aligned with meeting the goals.

They also keep their teams focused by asking these 6 simple questions of their sales team members on a weekly basis:

  1. What went great this week?
  2. What got in the way?
  3. What is your plan for next week?
  4. What does success look like next week?
  5. What changes do you need to make for that success to happen?
  6. How can I help you?

Today’s sales leaders get their team members to become autonomous and self-directed like independent business units that independently have a unique set of skills. These questions are asked in a one-on-one setting where individual hurdles and constraints can be solved like using a personal trainer versus the traditional drill instructor that we see in movies.

Results still matter at the end of the day but so does how you get them.  Provide your sales team members with the resources and training they need and make sure they have a personal trainer to help them.

We’ll end with a quick quiz.

Q: What do typewriters, asparagus tongs, horse plows, beta cassettes, Polaroids, and 1950 sales management tactics have in common?

Feel free to contact us if you need help with the answer.

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Developing Your Execution Plan for Next Year

In our previous posting, we identified that most companies forget to build any “execution” into their business plans, financial plans, marketing plans, and sales plans.  Most sales and marketing professionals are very good at telling others what they want to do and hope to do, but terrible at telling others what they are going to do and when it is going to be completed. So, let’s develop your execution plan to merge with your other plans for next year.

Including Others: Nobody likes having a list of things handed to them to do and being given goals that seem unachievable.  You need to include the people that will be completing the necessary activities in this planning process.  It will help you understand what their capabilities are, identify the potential skills gaps are for you to invest in training or hiring another person, and it will help everyone understand what you are trying to accomplish and what their roles will be.

Setting Goals: We will start with the end in mind by first setting a goal of what exactly needs to be accomplished. What does success look like when we look back at the end of the year? Do you have a financial goal or a non-financial goal for next year? Are you targeting a specific sales goal (as an organization or individually) or do you want to launch a new product/service, hire a key employee, buy a new piece of equipment, build an inbound marketing function, enter a new market, on board a number of new customers, or break ground on your new building?  It does not matter what the goal is, but you need one, upon which, to align all of your resources and activities.

Reverse Engineer Success: Picture the instructions you laid out in front of you this past weekend to assemble that new TV stand, mount the stand alone wine rack, or install that kitchen sink faucet.  What are the key things that have to happen in order for you to get this done? What are the milestones that have to be met and what are the deadlines?  What tools do you need? What needs to happen step by step to get the job done?

Example 1: Let’s use an example of gaining 10 new clients next year: If your close ratio is 10%, you will have to pitch to 100 targeted prospects. If only 50% of your prospects let you pitch to them, then you will need 200 targets to meet with.  If only 50% of targets meet with you, then you will need 400 targets. If only 50% of prospect turn into targets, then you will need 800 prospects……See where this is going? You will need to look deeper then at how many leads you need, where those leads are going to come from, and how you are going to reach them. You also may want to look at the quality of leads you are chasing to be more efficient.

Example 2: How about hiring that new key employee as an example.  We will assume that you are not going to hire someone first and then start to find business to keep them busy and pay for them.  Define how much additional business you need for that position to add value to your efforts and then plan the steps that it will take in reverse order to get there.

Assign Duties/Accountability: Go back to our goal of gaining 10 new clients.  We now understand how many leads we need and maybe where they are going to come from. But however, we have not created the plan to contact them and convert them into clients. What are those key activities that need to be completed? How are we going to market to these leads? Who is going to contact these leads? How are we going to contact them?  When are we going to contact them? What happens if we don’t contact them? What is going to prevent us from contacting them?  Having your sales team develop their own plans will help keep them focused on what they need to do and help identify what support will be needed to keep them doing the right activities.

Develop Leading Indicator Metrics: Most sales management efforts are still like using a rear view mirror to drive forward.  Just tracking the activity from last week is not going to help you but looking at the results from last week will….and make them public for all to see! Again, go back to our goal of gaining 10 new clients.  Everything sales people do should be focused on growing their sales funnels and moving opportunities through their sales funnels…..that’s it!  Anything else needs to take a back seat, be automated, or be delegated to a support role.  With this in mind, how many meetings does the sales person need to have with “new” prospects per week?  How many new opportunities do we need to identify per week?  How many pitches do we need to make per month?  Focus on the metrics that will guarantee success based on your numbers.  If they are not met, then you can start asking questions about what is not happening based on best practices/training and what needs to be changed (coaching 101).

Release the Hounds:  No time like the present.  One useful line I remember from one of my coaches was “Every day that passes is an opportunity lost”.  So there is no time like the present to start focusing on what you need to do today to ensure your success in the future.  If you have a 6 month sales cycle and you do nothing today to grow or move opportunities in your funnel, guess what you can guarantee six months from now?

Execution will be the key to achieving your goals next year and following years.  If you need help developing an execution plan or if you would like a copy of our Integrated Sales and Marketing Calendar to help keep everyone on task and on time, please contact us and we’ll get a copy of it to you.

What is your 1% Sales Activity to Drive Future Business Success?

Do you know where to focus your sales activities to get to the next level?

Most companies were successful in the beginning because of one or two main clients that represented 80% of their sales.  Their second stage growth then came from employers from those first two clients that moved to other companies and pulled that company with as a supplier.  But what happens when that organic growth stops and your company has to go find new customers to achieve that third stage of success?  Would you be able to develop a plan, create new habits, and commit to the right sales activities that drive your sales funnel growth and sales funnel movement?

For every sales effort, there is an identifiable key sales activity that drives the growth and movement of the sales funnel.  It is that one activity that if you repeat it over and over, success will follow.  Example of 1% sales activities would include:

  • Presenting to ideal prospects and key strategic partners about value you can add to their business
  • Having lunch with key centers of influence to understand how they integrate with clients
  • Speaking at a business networking event full of people representing businesses that are in your wheelhouse
  • Meeting with a new ideal prospect to learn about their business and understand where you might be able to help them add value to their clients
  • Making introductions for others to help grow their business
  • Writing blogs to share your experience with the world

I refer to these activities as the “1%” since when they are completed, the other 99% of activity follows automatically. My personal 1% is having 3 meetings per week; One meeting with a business owner to learn about their business, one meeting with a center of influence or a service partner in the market to learn about what their challenges are, and one meeting where I am introducing two people that I know should be working together.  If I have those three meetings per week, I know that my sales funnel will stay full through referrals, and that I will be scheduling meetings with potential clients to learn where I can help their business.

When was the last time you reverse engineered where your sales success comes from? Do you know what your 1% activity is? Do you know who you need to perform that 1% activity with? What do you need to clear from your schedule to make sure that 1% happens every week?  Please feel free to contact me if you need help identifying what your 1% is and creating the right habits to make sure it happens.

Benefits of Being a Market-Oriented Organization

To be competitive in the market place today, you had better be a market-oriented organization.  Your sales team may be increasing the number of potential clients they present to and, ultimately, increasing revenue, but if the whole organization isn’t aligned with delivering what the client wants, you may soon be seen as replaceable by your customer.

Being a market-oriented organization means that every employee in every department is focused on the customer with constant two-way communication between the organization and the customer at every touch point.  By being market- oriented, the organization is better able to gather information about customers and competitors, more able to analyze the information that is collected, and thus more able use the knowledge gained to guide current and future strategies.  

Market-orientation is actually quite rare, so organizations that take the initiative to become market-oriented will have a significant resource for sustaining a competitive advantage which leads to several benefits being realized:

  • Better Marketing Programs: Because the organization has multiple opportunities to gain feedback from clients about their needs and about what competition is doing, marketing programs are able to be tailored to clients and market needs instead of a general approach that focuses on the product only.
  • Increased Client Retention:  Because the customers now have the ear of the organization on multiple levels, the customers receive faster responses to their needs and thus feel like they are receiving the attention they deserve.  This makes it much harder for competition to gain your customers’ attention and makes it much harder for the customer to entertain the competition.
  • Stronger Strategic Relationships:  As the relationship between the organization and the customer becomes more involved, values become shared, strategies co-develop, and mistakes tend to promote a two-way dialog on how the problem can be solved together.  The intangible value that is delivered by being market-oriented allows the organization to become a partner rather than just a vendor.

To become a market-oriented organization, marketing can no longer be thought of as an activity to just facilitate the selling of goods or services to a potential customer.  It must now turn to a customer-centered set of values and activities that focus on the organization’s mission to provide superior value by delivering what the client wants.

The 3 Types of Selling Activities That Lead to Sales Success

Great sales people are not a mystery, they are just able to commit their time to the right selling activities and best practices that the rest of us do not.  They could be rain makers for a pharmaceutical firm or they could be a start up business owner that has to sell his own product or service.  Regardless, most sales people are only able to sell 20% of their time because of the non-selling activities that they get involved in.  What would your sales look like if the non-selling activities could be delegated and more time could be committed to selling activities?  How many sales have you lost because the non-selling activities took up too much time?

Let’s take a look at the three types of selling activities and the specific selling activities that you need to start or improve upon to get the results of a great sales person.

Funnel Filling Activities: These are the activities that are going to fill your sales funnel with a higher qualified volume of potential opportunities.  Notice how these are “in-person” selling activities or will lead to other “in-person” selling activities regarding conversations about new business.

  1.  Attending networking events relevant to your potential clients and referral partners interests.
  2. Sponsoring seminars and speaking engagements that attract potential clients and referral partners.
  3. Setting appointments with potential clients that meet your ideal client profile regarding their needs.
  4. Setting appointments with referral partners to help target opportunities to work together.
  5. Meeting with current clients to further understand their business and where you can add value.
  6. Always helping others grow their networks or improving their business when you have the ability and time to do so.

Funnel Accelerating Activities: These are the activities that are going to move your potential opportunities through your sales funnel to become a client and remain a client.  Notice how all of these are meant to move potential clients to a next step.

  1. Understanding who your potential client really is, what they really want, and how they buy.
  2. Presenting as a team with your technical expert to qualified potential clients.
  3. Providing your potential client with two closing options.
  4. Overcoming objections and put-offs that arise unexpectedly.
  5. Giving your potential client all of the information they need regarding integration and delivery.
  6. Making sure that everyone in the organization understands the potential client’s expectations and what their role will be in the integration and delivery phase.

Focusing Activities:  These are the activities that will improve yourself and help you keep your time and energy focused on the Funnel filling and funnel accelerating activities listed above.

  1. Making sure you have a plan for what you are attending, who you are meeting with, and who you are talking to about new business for next week before you leave this week.
  2. Making sure all of relevant customer information is updated in your CRM where others can find it when they need it.
  3. Delegating non-selling activities to the proper support people so you can stay focused on the selling activities.
  4. Taking time to grow your knowledge about business success and industry innovations.
  5. Taking time to grow your skills, capabilities, and belief in yourself.
  6. Unplug once in a while to focus on your personal life.

Notice how nothing has been said about Process and Systems.  That is because I am assuming that you have defined processes and systems in place for you,  your sales people, and your support functions to focus on the right activities for the duties assigned.  Considering that every minute you spend in the non-selling activities is a potential lost opportunity or even potential lost revenue, how much more do you have to lose before you start to integrate some of the right selling activities into your daily and weekly routine?

Please feel free to contact me if you need help on where and how to integrate any of these activities to help you become a great sales person.

Do you measure activities or do you measure what can make a difference?

How many times have you wanted your sales teams to just make more calls thinking that is the best way to increasing sales?  Organizations that fail to deliver real-time intelligence to their sales team fail to maximize their efforts and hence get hung up on “making more calls” as the solution.

While most sales managers and owners love reports that measure their sales team’s activities in order to forecast sales, they may be missing opportunities by not focusing on reports that provide necessary information that would allow them to create a better strategy to begin with. Their current strategies and tactics are based upon dated information that could be months old and hence are often useless to make a difference quickly.

So if what gets measured gets managed, what information should you be measuring and delivering real-time to your sales team to be more agile in the field to increase sales?

  • Sales of customers by demographic segments
  • Profitability of customers by demographic segments
  • Sources of new leads by demographic segments
  • Dollars in each stage of the funnel
  • Conversion rates for each stage of the funnel
  • Average value of each opportunity in each stage of the funnel
  • Achievement % to budgeted sales and profitability
  • Market share % and industry trends
  • Distribution by product line and products by demographic segments
  • Customer attrition rates
  • Customer satisfaction rates
  • Production forecasts
  • Delivery and project completion progress

Now more than ever, sales managers need to provide their teams with more timely insight and detailed sales analytics that can deliver a competitive advantage to their sales team, allow better forecasting by the sales manager, and increase sales for the company much faster than they would be able to if they were only tracking activities.

4 Critical Questions to Answer for a Fast Marketing ROI

Your marketing funds are decreasing, your usual marketing efforts are producing fewer sales, your marketing message has not changed in years, and your client base is shrinking.  You need a marketing makeover that will produce results quickly.

A quick exercise with your executive team can produce fast results by answering four questions about your business.

  • Who are your ideal clients?
  • What do they want?
  • How do they buy?
  • How do they want to be communicated with?

Answer these four critical questions and you will be able spend your marketing funds more efficiently and realize a higher return on your marketing investment because you are reaching your targeted audience with a specific value proposition that will call them to action.