3 Ways to Get Strategic Planning Right

By  Mashhood Beg
During Q3 of every year, sales leaders spend a large amount of time on strategic planning to establish Sales’ mandate for the next year and focus reps on high-value activities that align with corporate objectives. This is typically followed with a company-wide meeting where the sales plan is unveiled.

Oftentimes though, the frontline fails to execute on these sales plans.

Without a clear sense of how top line goals link to sales activities, reps either resort to doing what they’ve always done or acting on their own interpretations of the strategic plan. In fact, reps typically view the plan as another check-the-box activity that has little utility in the day-to-day functioning of the sales organization.

So then, how do progressive companies get buy-in for and drive action on their sales plan?

In our conversations with members, we’ve uncovered three best practices that help organizations get the strategic planning process right:

1.Create a Goal Cascading Process:  Seagate conducts an annual goal alignment workshop that provides transparency and accountability at all levels of the organization. Sales executives are asked to develop and map their goals to corporate-level objectives, which are further cascaded down to the front line so they can draft their own goals. The process ensures reps have visibility into Sales’ strategy and understand how their goals align with corporate strategy.

2.Make Strategy Assumptions Explicit:  While cascading goals helps drive corporate and rep goal alignment, it offers little visibility into the beliefs and assumptions that went into creating the top-level goals in the first place. Eli Lilly solves this by documenting and communicating the underlying assumptions that corroborate its strategy. Reps are invited to challenge the underlying assumptions and inform the goal formulation process, periodically suggesting course corrections based on trends they observe in the market.

3.Institute a Shadow Cabinet:  In order to provide the front line with ongoing opportunities to monitor the progress on corporate strategy, Anheuser-Busch creates a Shadow Cabinet that provides high-performing sales employees with the opportunity to learn about and participate in the creation and monitoring of the firm’s strategy. The Shadow Cabinet mirrors the roles and responsibilities of the firm’s Executive Strategy Committee, and helps reps develop a firm-wide perspective and appreciation of the company’s strategic issues.

What has your experience been with strategic planning in your organization? Are there other strategies you have found effective in creating buy-in for the strategic plan?

Lubricating Your Sales Engine By Building A Sales-driven Culture

By Brian Geery

One of the many roles that sales operations professionals play is that of liaison between sales and other departments. This role serves a vital sales operations goal: lubricating the sales engine by reducing interdepartmental friction.

What are some best practices in this area? In addition to the classic sales operations approaches of aligning processes, coordinating metrics, and facilitating timely information flow, attention should also be paid to corporate culture. The challenge boils down to this question: “How do we get sales and other departments to view and interact with each other in a manner that promotes sales productivity?”

Here’s an answer that gets to the heart of the matter…

Sales professionals must treat people in other departments with respect and gratitude and people in other departments must treat sales professionals with trust and urgency.

Let’s break this statement down and discuss how we can make it happen.

When a sales professional says they need something quickly, it’s important that other departments be able to trust that there is a valid reason. The eagerness that other organizations often experience from salespeople is because they are trying to respond to a prospective customer’s request. The maxim that time kills all deals is why a sense of urgency is required to proactively support sales.

This trust can be broken, however, by sales professionals who have poor time management skills. It’s an unfortunate fact that some salespeople seem to light a fire every day, treating every request as urgent. These individuals need some quality coaching from their managers. More broadly, sales professionals must show respect for other people’s needs and the time scale on which other departments operate.

For some requests, advance warning is absolutely mandatory if you’re not going to tick people off or interfere with their department’s operational processes. Showing gratitude is, of course, a great way to build positive relationships and entirely appropriate given how much successful selling is a team effort.

Anything that sales operations can do to help other people understand the challenges that sales professionals face can go a long way toward justifying the need for timely responses to their requests. The perception that salespeople are overpaid or spoiled can be checked by reminding others that a notable portion of their income relies on their ability to achieve sales goals. More importantly, other departments need to recognize that failure to achieve those goals can put everybody’s job at risk.

A few other considerations:

Sales professionals are typically the ones who spend the most time in direct conversation with the people we want as customers. As such, they are getting first-hand feedback from prospects. Other departments should trust that sales has important information to share if we want to be truly customer focused.

Sales professionals need to understand that their viewpoint is often constrained by their particular set of customers. Marketing professionals, for example, are looking at target populations more broadly and may well have good reasons for not agreeing on how a product or promotion should be executed. To avoid appearing overly self-interested, salespeople need to respect these differences and act accordingly.
The respect that sales professionals should demonstrate also come from an understanding that other people have their own jobs to do and are inconvenienced when they must drop everything to respond to a request. When others respond with a sense of trust and urgency, sales professionals should express gratitude. They need to say a sincere “Thank you,” send a note of thanks, relay a positive comment to their manager, and most importantly – give credit where credit is due when a deal is won. Patiently articulating the need for timeliness and showing abundant gratitude when other people are responsive isn’t just common courtesy, it’s good sales practice.
As sales operations leaders, we are uniquely positioned to lead this cultural transformation. To make it happen, we need executive support and a shared conviction that this is a critical path to sales success. Meeting with key department heads, coaching first-line sales managers, and selling them all on the value of this approach will allow you to lead the creation of a sales-driven corporate culture. A well-oiled sales engine will be the welcome result.

About the author:

Brian Geery is Managing Partner and lead sales management consultant at Sales Productivity Architects. As a consultant focused on sales management challenges, Brian’s expertise has been tapped by CEOs, Sales Executives, and Sales Operations professionals at over 100 technology and service companies.

He is passionate about the importance of developing a corporate culture that is sales driven, where all employees are focused on customer acquisition. Brian helps his clients assess their existing corporate culture and lead the process of re-architecting process, automation, and personnel to increase per rep productivity. Brian can be reached at bgeery@salesproductivityarchitects.com

Selling is all about “lowering risk”…

By John Hirth

Selling is all about getting people to change and change always involves risk. Generally, when given a choice, most people will always choose to not change. People are creatures of habit and change requires them to break old habits and create new ones. What makes selling difficult is the fact that it requires you to work against human nature by getting people to change (and you thought this was going to be easy!).

If you think about it, much of the resistance (objections, stalls) you will encounter in sales is a function of risk. Most people will resist change if they believe that the risk they take to change is greater than the risk they will experience by deciding to not change. The old belief “better to live with the devil you know, than the devil you don’t know” is what makes it difficult to create the inertia you need to get people to change. It is a powerful force that we will all have to deal with.

So, how do we lower risk, or at least lower the perception of risk, to get more people to take the risks they need in order for us to sell. Two critical strategies come to mind for us to consider:

Identifying and clearly understanding your prospects problems will lead them to believe that through your understanding, it is less likely that you will sell them a solution that will not work. Asking questions that give you a full understanding of their situation will help to alleviate their fear of risk.
Helping them to understand that the “discomfort” that exists now (consequences, circumstances of staying the same) will be diminished by their willingness to go through the “discomfort” of change. Again helping them to overcome the perceived risk.
The first strategy requires us to be good at “information gathering” questions. Questions like:

Tell me more about the problems that you are experiencing?
How long have you had this these problems?
What have you done to try to solve them?
How did that work?
Specifically, what impact or consequences do they have on you and your company?
Do the problems cost you/your company any money?
Are there any other solutions that you are considering now?
What happens if you don’t fix them?
As you gain information you create the belief that through the information you have gained it is more likely that you will deliver a recommendation that will work…hence, lowering risk (you may also find this is a good strategy that helps to differentiate you from your competition).

The second strategy requires us to ask “consequence” questions. Questions like:

What happens if this doesn’t get fixed?
Is this something you can live with?
How would not being able to solve the problems affect you personally?
Who else is affected by these problems?
Maybe it’s something you really don’t need to worry about?
These questions help the prospect understand that not solving the problem may actually be a bigger risk then the risk they will need to take to change. They are often exactly the questions that you need to create the inertia for change.

Your ability to ask both of these types of questions will help you and your prospect understand and limit the risks involved in changing. Lowering risk is one of the keys to being successful in sales!

Action Step:Add these questions to your sales process. Until you can establish that the risk of “not changing” is greater than the “risk of change” the result will be “no sale”!

Five Techniques to Bridge the Marketing-Sales Chasm

by Janet Spirer
Much has been written about the Marketing-Sales chasm. And, we’ve made contributions to that oft-told theme, too. That’s why I was struck by a post by Christine Crandell in the Forbes blog on how Marketing and Sales can gain alignment.

In that post, four techniques were offered to assist in aligning the Marketing and Sales effort.

•Ride-Alongs – Marketing leadership, demand generation, product marketing, sales enablement, business development, and product management should each go on at least 6 sales calls a quarter.  Make sure the sales calls are with different sales reps, in different territories and industries, and at different stages in the sales cycle.
•Joint Territory Planning – Regional sales leader, demand generation, and sales enablement should sit down every six months and do three things: Analyze the revenue potential for the territory, evaluate past marketing/sales activities and develop/update marketing plans, and set joint targets/metrics.
•Common Vocabulary – Too often people assume everyone is using the same definition when the complete opposite is happening.  The best way to develop a common vocabulary is to have a small joint working team develop a common vocabulary with documented definitions and publish it.
•Working Teams – Set up joint working teams of 3-5 people made up of quota achieving sales reps and marketing members who meet monthly on key touch points that impact the pipeline.  The charter of these teams is to understand what’s working, the root cause of what isn’t and fix it, monitor organizational compliance, and measure the impact on the pipeline.
In addition to the suggestions in the Forbes post, a fifth alignment idea, and an easy one to start with, is Sales Training.  The first step is to invite marketing to sales training.  Too often they don’t even get an invitation.  This is a missed opportunity.

A particularly high payoff situation is when the sales training is focused on a new product.  This is when Marketing usually does get invited to participate in sales training – to “educate” the sales force about the product to be sold.  The result most often is “one way” learning where Marketing serves as a “product expert” providing go-to-market information (such as competitive product advantages, prospect profiles, and value propositions) and fielding questions from Sales. In return, Marketing might hear some initial reactions from Sales.

While sharing this information is important, the “product expert” role does little to close the chasm and in some cases can even degrade whatever Marketing-Sales alignment exists. True synergy can be developed when Marketing participates in sales training programs on a more equal footing – as a participant. For example, we’ve seen “lights go on” when Marketing and Sales participate in sales simulations – both parties learning directly from one another … and beginning to develop a common vocabulary. Training programs designed to foster “mutual learning”, like sales simulations, can have both short and long term payoffs.  If you want people to play as a team – train as a team.

The lack of alignment between Marketing and Sales is pervasive – occurring in many companies, including market leaders. It can extract a significant price. Yet it’s a price which needs not to be paid – there are several approaches with proven track records for creating alignment.

When the customer can’t be consoled, console the employee

By Carol Doane

“I can hear the frustration in your voice,” said Sarah, to an upset customer. “And I’m not sure what else to say.”

Sarah, a sales representative who worked for me, plopped down in my office to relate a frustrating phone call she had just concluded with one of our customers, Darren.

The experience had left her drained, and she needed to update me, in case Darren decided to take the conversation up a notch and call me. Sarah also needed to process the experience and troubleshoot if she could have done something different, done something better, uncovered the trigger that drove the customer to phone in the first place.

It was an exasperating experience.

As I listened to the retelling, I wondered how the customer kept up his griping gyrations in the face of such calm and respectful treatment. Sarah was a pro. She didn’t give up and she didn’t go for platitudes that often annoy.

But she couldn’t get Darren past generic grievances.

There are times when we would like to move a conversation out of complaint mode and straight into resolution. We’re presented with a problem. We believe we have an answer. We want to offer our input and reach resolution, but the other party isn’t quite there, yet.

This exchange wasn’t even at the ‘here is the problem’ stage.

On each issue the customer raised, Sarah acknowledged how he felt and offered feedback to illustrate she understood his concerns. Momentarily, he would calm, but the most consistent piece of the conversation was the customer rejecting any piece of information that Sarah offered that might reassure him.

“Every time I responded he escalated,” Sarah sighed.

Sarah found herself stumped. Our company was doing what we said we would do, but the customer wasn’t happy. Unsure what the customer really wanted she felt almost out of options.

“Please help me understand what you need from me,” Sarah asked.

Darren didn’t really have an answer.

Now, it was time to put the issue back in his lap. Very gently she asked, “What would you like to do at this point?”

There was a brief moment of silence, then the customer replied, “I’m not sure.”

We don’t always get the outcome we’re hoping for.

Desperate to reach some sort of conclusion, Sarah asked, ‘Have we covered all the things you want to cover?’”

Then they hit pay dirt.

“I don’t mean to come across harshly or abusive to you, I’m very concerned about what I’ve spent my money on,” said Darren.

Sarah scrambled to calculate how she should respond, but before she could take a breath, Darren said, “Have a nice day.”

Some problems we can’t solve. The customer wanted something he couldn’t easily articulate. But he wanted something. He expected something. The something to combat how the competition had changed, combat how his business model had changed, how our business model had changed. He wanted the illusive ’something’ that would make things perfect in an imperfect world.

But most of all he wanted someone to listen.

I learned a few things from this discussion. When I’m knee deep in a conversation that’s coming fast and furious and I feel like I’m not understanding what is being asked of me, I’ll pose a couple of questions. They can be a quick quip when the other person takes a breath, such as, “Is there a question in there?” Or, if I’m completely confused, I may ask,  “Are you asking me to do something?”

That’s the pivotal moment when I learn what their hopeful outcome is.

If I hear, “I just need to vent.”I know exactly where we are in our exchange and what my role is. It’s their way of saying, “Please listen to me.”

Who is someone you can always count on to listen to you?

About Carol Doane

Hot pursuit of a career in advertising landed Carol Doane a job in one of the largest newspapers in Washington State. She sold print and online ads, managed the retail and classified sales teams and knows just about everyone in Clark County. She left the newspaper world and currently is the General Manager at a new community website, couv.com.

How to Write a Sales Territory Plan

Today’s post was written by Ron Snyder, president of Plan2Win Software. Plan2Win Software provides territory and strategic account planning apps that run in SalesForce.com. Ron has helped companies improve results in competitive, high-value, complex selling environments.

What are the critical steps in writing a successful Sales Territory Plan?

You may be wondering, “Where do I start?” The key is asking the right questions to harness the insights you need to create a winning plan. Use this checklist as a guide.

1.    Analyze Your Territory/Business

Start with what is going on in your territory/vertical market.

o What are the key trends in your geography/market?
o Who are your top prospects and customers?
o What are customers buying?
o Based on your conversion rates, how much business do you need in your funnel?
o What is the gap between what you need in your funnel and what you have now?

2.    Understand What Drives Customers to Buy

You must understand why they are buying or not buying your products.

o What are the characteristics of your high-payoff customers/prospects?
o Are there verticals that you are winning in more than others? Why?
o What “pain” or business issues do you solve?
o What compelling events drive the purchase?
o Are there specific products/services that you are selling more than others? Why?
o Why do they not buy your products/services?

3.    Clarify Your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT)

Conduct a SWOT analysis that examines the following:

o What Strengths will you build upon (for example, a unique business model or capabilities)?
o Which Weaknesses do you need to respond to? This includes the strengths of competitive and alternative solutions.
o Which Opportunities in your marketplace will you take advantage of? How do you uniquely meet your buyers’ compelling needs?
o What Threats in your selling environment will you defend against? Consider competitive moves, changes in technology, industry and regulatory standards.
o What is your unique selling (value) proposition

4.    Determine Your Objectives

Consolidate the above trends into a few powerful objectives. Write specific, measurable goals (i.e. “I will add 5 new accounts in this vertical market”).

o Which vertical markets or geographies will you focus on?
o Based on the characteristics of your high-payoff customers/prospects, which accounts/opportunities will you concentrate on?
o What products/services/capabilities do you need to highlight in your plan?
o At your average selling price, how many opportunities do you need to add to your funnel?

5.    Develop Strategies to Accomplish Your Goals

Generate the top strategies to succeed.

o How will you further penetrate current accounts?
o What is your strategy to leverage current successes?
o What will you do to generate new leads?
o How will you improve your conversion rates?
o Where do you need to improve your selling process?

6.    Engage the Resources You Need

Enroll the people and gather the knowledge you need.

o Which internal resources have the skills/connections you need?
o Who inside the account can help you win?
o Are there external resources who can support you (partners, people “in the know”)?
o What additional product/industry information do you need? What sources can provide it?
o How could you improve your selling and territory/account management skills?

7.    Create an Action Plan

List the key tactics.

o What are the high-leverage actions?
o Which resources are needed for each task?
o What are the due dates and key milestones?

8.    Work Your Plan

Use your plan as a guide to proactively produce your intended results.

o Do you take action and fine-tune the plan on a regular basis?
o Are you engaging your management, internal and partner teams?

“It’s not the will to win that matters…everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”

–Paul “Bear” Bryant

Creating and implementing a well-thought-out plan greatly improves your probability of success!

The Ultimate Guide To “LinkedIn Today” & How To Optimize Your Presence On It

by Greg Finn
In March, LinkedIn launched LinkedIn Today, which was dubbed as a news source from your connections and peers in the industry. It has quickly grown to drive massive amounts of traffic to popular content. This service works by aggregating news from industries, connections and sources that you follow, then displaying stories in a visually appealing news format.

Meet LinkedIn Today