Triple the Effectiveness of Your Best Sales People

This week’s blog is from Ben Bradley, Managing Director of Macon Raine, Inc., who also blogs on marketing, sales technology and just about everything else at BenBradley.net.

When did the job of selling get lumped in with everything else? Asking a great sales person to clean CRM data, lick envelopes and turn over rocks looking for prospects is not a good use of skills, time or money.
Maybe this is why CSO Insights reported that only 52% of sales reps met their quota in 2009? 

Selling is the management of a very complex business process. It is complex because customers aren’t predictable, they don’t always act reasonably. They need sales because they value the continuity of contact.  Customers can’t have a relationship with your brand; they need a person to have a relationship with. 

Do the math, a top closer with a $2 million annual quota creates value worth $1000 per hour ($2,000,000/2000 hours=$1000/hour). Asking your top relationship managers to turn over stones looking for leads and updating CRM is costing your organization big. Prospecting is expensive.

In the 2010 Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study, fewer than one out of five study participants reported they use a prospecting plan. Yet, a full three quarters of top-performing sales organizations said they are consistent in this activity.  There is a disconnect somewhere.

At some point, as your sales organization grows, you’ll find it more cost effective to insert specialists into the process rather than ask your closers to manage the entire process. To triple sales, instead of tripling the size of the sales organization, the smart money looks for ways to triple the effectiveness of the best closers.  �
So how should you do this? What is the fastest way to break away from the old habits and build new, scalable, repeatable and affordable processes for creating new sales opportunities for your best closers?

  • The first task is the task of definition: Don’t fight it anymore. Go ahead and ignore the marketing purists who believe sales and marketing are different. For you, now, as you think about taking the next step in the evolution of your sales organization and as you try to stretch your very limited budget, the job of marketing is to create new opportunities for sales.  Period. The end.  The job of sales is to carefully manage those opportunities and relationships until they are ready to become customers and provide feedback on ways to streamline and improve the marketing activities.
  • Get on the same page. Get on the same page with what a customer actually looks like… less than a third of Miller Heiman’s study participants agreed that their sales and marketing organizations are aligned in what their customers want and need.
  • Decrapify your marketing: a January 2009 Customer Experience Panel conducted by IDC Global asked “which of the following is the #1 thing a rep can do to improve the value of your relationships with the sales team and the vendor they represent?” More than 40% of respondents said: “Put aside the generic sales pitch.” This means – it is okay to go ‘off message’ or off-brand as you help your people build sustainable relationships with your customers. 
  • Give sales people time to do what they do best: It is easy to under-estimate the amount of work required to convert a qualified lead into a sale. From justifying ROI, recruiting and coaching an internal champion, managing expectations and competitive positioning, the skills required for successful selling are very different from the skills required for successful prospecting. Expecting the same person to excel at both is unreasonable.
  • Lead generation must become a core competency: Cold calling, tradeshows, advertising and other big marketing tactics still work for lead generation. However, the time is not far away when a consistent program of long-tail content, SEO and word of mouth marketing will become your primary source of leads.  The time is now to start understanding this reality and begin preparing your organization for the inevitable.
  •  Simple data matters: In B2B, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to know that you can’t sell something to someone unless you know their email, title, mailing address, company affiliation, title and phone number. In other words, you can’t sell something to someone unless you know who they are. Getting the right data, keeping the data clean and cultivating the contact data until the prospective customer is ready to have a conversation matters more than most think.  If you love your data, your data will love you back.
  • Slightly more complex data is even better: once your data is clean, you are then ready for the big time with lead scoring and modeling “online body language” by tracking a prospect’s visits to the website, webinar attendance, downloads and other behavior to determine the best times to enage the sales team.  You can’t do the fun stuff until you get your data under control.
  • How many net new names did you add to the CRM each month?  Don’t be content with the existing database. Every month there should a concerted effort to bring new names into CRM.  Even if you have a huge flow of inbound leads into your website each month, the acquisition of new names ensures your marketing remains proactive as you hunt for new key accounts.

The type of person comfortable cleaning data, that understands key account selling and is happy being the guardian of data is very different from the type of person happiest in front of customers. It may be the best qualified person for this role is not a sales person at all – but rather a specialist that understands the tools and techniques of marketing AND selling.

Why Salespeople Are Leaving

Endless cold calling leads to frustrated salespeople, reduced profits, and wasted time. Then why do we drain the energy and enthusiasm of our new employees by forcing them to focus on such an outdated sales technique? Joanne S. Black feels there is a better way. Knowing who to contact and how to contact them is an invaluable skill for all new salespeople to learn.

LinkedIn Is a Waste Of a Sales Person’s Time!

There are many misconceptions about LinkedIn. It’s not just for job searches or networking. It is a unique lead generation platform.

Lee Salz continues to be amazed by the number of sales people who feel that LinkedIn doesn’t provide any value to them. Yet, these same people spend countless hours on Facebook telling people what they ate for breakfast, are leaving for work, or entering YouTube links. How is that a benefit to your bank account?

Lee’s feelings about LinkedIn are not theoretical and he’s not a paid advertiser of it. He is a beneficiary of this social media/marketing platform, and has personally used LinkedIn to build two businesses with this website as the primary lead source. Just last week, Lee was speaking to a skeptical sales team about LinkedIn and the opportunity it provides. Two minutes before he was going to demonstrate how to use this medium, he received an email from a president of a company interested in hiring him for sales management consulting who had found him through an article published on LinkedIn. Rather than start the LinkedIn discussion with a demo of the technology, he put the email up on the screen and the skepticism evaporated.

LinkedIn provides sales people with a unique lead generation opportunity. However, the operative word is unique which means that the approach needs to be geared toward this medium. Imagine having prospects coming to you rather than you chasing them. It can be done if you have the right social media strategy when using this tool. This is marketing’s job, right? Wrong! It is a co-shared responsibility. They have the global responsibility for positioning your company, but there is a role for sales people to play as well.

Make Winning Follow-Up Calls That Turn Prospects Into Clients- By Keith Rosen, MCC

If you’re calling on a prospect with the intent to follow up with them rather than calling on them cold or for the first time (example: following up after sending them a brochure, press kit, product/service information, an initial conversation at a networking event, etc.), consider the following points:

1. Deliver Value in Every Call. When following up, don’t simply call to “follow up.” In other words, stay away from calling with the intention to see if they’ve received your information or to “check in” to ask if they have any immediate needs for your product/service. Take some extra time and weave in a compelling reason for your call. How can you deliver value to them? Is there something timely that you can share with them about your product/service or about their industry? Is there something newsworthy that you can discuss that applies to them? Perhaps a success story with a client you’ve worked with?
Below are some examples that you can use when making follow-up calls:
• ”After reflecting back upon our conversation, I have some new ideas that I’d like to share with you regarding how our [product/service] may actually complement and enhance what you’re currently doing, especially when it comes to [state benefit/end result they could realize].”
• ”I was thinking about another client who was in a similar situation as yours and thought that you might be interested in hearing about how we were able to eliminate the challenges they had, such as [state some problems your product/service could eliminate].”
• ”We’ve made some interesting changes to our [product line/service/programs/packages] and thought of you and the results you were looking to achieve. There may be a great fit here worth exploring in more detail so that you can [state compelling benefit].”

2. Bridge Each Conversation. Bridge any previous conversation or contact with your follow-up call. Refer back to your initial conversation and remind the prospect why they need to continue that conversation with you. What initially piqued their interest? Use phrases like, “I’d like to continue the conversation we began about …”; “Let’s continue our discussion about how we can …”; “As we discussed last week when we met, let’s see if there’s a way for us to …”; or “Based on our prior conversation, I’m calling to continue our discussion about ….”
If you happen to send them literature, rather than asking if they received it, weave it into the intention of the call. For example: “Let’s take a moment to discuss what I had sent you and see if it makes sense for us to proceed further/explore working together.”

3. Keep the Fire Alive. If you let your dinner sit too long, it’s bound to get cold. The same rule applies to your prospects. Even the warmest of prospects who initiate first contact can turn to ice. If you don’t continually remind the prospect why they are investing their time in talking with you (WIIFM? — “What’s in it for me?”) and why this is a priority, something else will always take precedent.
This process must continue all the way up until the point when the prospect can finally realize the benefits on their own. This only occurs after the sale is made and the prospect (who has since become a client) is actually using your product or service. Now, they don’t need any additional prompting, since they get to experience the benefits firsthand rather than hearing about them from you.

Favorite Sales Manager Sayings and Clichés

Basically, at the end of the day when it is all said and done we need to take a big picture customer-centric approach at the 30,000 foot level to organically grow the business so we’re all on the same page working together as a team during these tough times. Having said that and to be perfectly honest, it’s not rocket science to think outside the box and reach out to customers to drive revenue via win-win relationships even when they tell us to talk to the hand so to speak. We should agree to disagree and find a better way to not take no for answer because we are working twenty-four by seven to make the number. With this in mind, Steve W. Martin shares a lighthearted look at all-time favorite sales manager sayings, catch phrases, and clichés.

The White Elephant in the Room—Divorce and the Sales Career

I recently met with a candidate for a sales leadership position who was unable to move out of state due to the child custody agreement he and his ex-wife had entered.

For this gentleman, relocation was simply not an option. And the same is true for a significant number of professionals on the job market today.

At the center of these relocation woes are child custody laws. Though different in each state, it is widely accepted that parents who have primary or shared custody of their children are not legally able to leave the state without written consent from the non-custodial parent and/or the court.

While few would argue that these laws are designed with the best interest of the children in mind, the reality is that with unemployment rates high, such geographic limitations are making a bad situation even worse. They can also limit the potential for career growth.

In fact, it has become the elephant in the room:  Despite its widespread impact, few are open to acknowledging the hardship that the inability to relocate can cause a sales professional in today’s tough economic times.

 In search of some feedback on the issue, I introduced the topic to my colleagues on LinkedIn and got some interesting responses. 

One sales recruiter had this to say: “When recruiting candidates, this is usually one of our first questions. Can you relocate, would you relocate, when could you relocate? These are important things to know and can impact career progression. As stated, people hire a field sales person for their local knowledge. Moving up the ladder, however, may very well require relocation to the company headquarters.” 

This is a hard truth in the world of sales. In these difficult times, flexibility is key to finding a job. With the talent pool far outnumbering available positions, an inability to relocate may very well prevent even the most qualified candidate from landing the job.

What’s even worse is that there are few viable solutions. One suggestion was to work virtually. However, despite its popularity, this isn’t always an option, particularly for leadership positions that require close interaction with the executive team.

Notes one respondent: “I submit that most salespeople, myself included, work virtual these days. A vast majority of our time is spent in the field visiting with clients and prospects. The exception is usually senior level sales leadership positions working closely with the executive leadership team out of a central office.”

My hope is that, by pointing out the very large elephant, we can open a dialog that may ultimately yield solutions to a difficult situation.

I would love to hear your feedback on this issue. What do you think?

What Drives Your Best Salespeople

Few of us ever planned to work in sales. It was a way to get in the door, a quick stop before moving into something sexier. Back then, we saw it as a necessary evil, ambiguous and messy, requiring pandering, compromise, and (gasp) humility. Years later, many of us still find ourselves in sales. Maybe we were passed over, or amassed a mortgage and dependents.

More often than not, though, we grew to love it.

You see, we live for the chase, craving that euphoric validation from the close. Sure, we endure complaints and condescension every day. Sometimes, we invest months building relationships at bistros and ball games, only to finish second. Yet, we dust ourselves off to hit the pavement again. Like all rebels, we sneer at the status quo, always knowing the odds are stacked against us.

And every day, we bear a terrible burden: If we don’t close, our peers don’t work.

To understand what motivates your top performers and improve how you manage them, consider veteran salesman Jeff Schmitt’s advice.