Are You In Group 1, 2, Or 3?

(Note:  If you happen to be a mentor or sales manager, please do your “mentee” or team a favor and pass this along.)

Sometimes, stating the obvious is nothing more than that; merely verbalizing what everybody in the audience already knows.  Sometimes, something is obvious to the speaker/writer, but is genuinely a novel concept for the audience.  Sometimes, everybody already knows, but only a few actually practice the best practice.

Plan every sales call in writing.

Are you in group 1, 2 or 3?  Most are in group three.  If you’re a seasoned veteran, humor me, and plan the next few calls in writing.  The exercise of creating a call plan that can be read and revised is a valuable, BIG deal.  No…  The exercise of creating a call plan that can be read and revised is a valuable, HUGE deal. Something written, can be revised and improved.  Something written screams to be revised and improved.

Following  is a simple outline.  (Right click here and “save link as” for an MS Word version.)

August 30, 2010 (today’s date)

  • Who: The attendee(s) of the meeting)
  • What: (In general, what the meeting is – e.g., First call, status meeting, etc.)
  • When: (Day, start time, end time, extra slack time available before and/or after)
  • Where: (Location & setting – e.g. prospect’s office, conference room, restaurant, etc.)
  • Why:
    • My objective – What I want the other person to agree to do
      • The best than can happen
      • The worst that can happen
      • The most likely outcome
    • Each of the above must be a brief, clear declarative statement – one sentence max
    • This is the most important component of the Call Plan
  • How: (e.g., Verbal only one-on-one call, PowerPoint presentation, review documents/proposal, fill out a questionnaire, etc.)
  • Major Points: (Normally should be limited to a maximum of three major topics all of which contribute directly and substantively to the “Why” of your call plan)

Simple outline?  Yes.  Easy to do?  Most times, yes.  Sometimes, no.  Now and then, a real challenge.  When completed, a  powerful contributor to a better call?  Always.  JUST DO IT!!!

The Weapon

There is always a danger in focusing on the tools used to get a job done. (We all know the cliché about the six-year old with a chain saw…) That said however, a robust CRM system just might be the most powerful tool a sales team can have.

A highly functional CRM system is not the only tool required by a modern sales team (or more precisely an effective, modern sales team), but it is certainly the most central. Without one, it’s not really possible to get the most out of the other core sales tools or the professionals using them. Thinking about your CRM as “The Weapon,” that is, the key supporting infrastructure for a sales team’s process, metrics, knowledge, skills and experience can have a dramatic impact on results produced – both short and long term.

Consider the accompanying diagram starting with reports “The Weapon” can produce using “Open Opportunity” data combined with year-to-date actual performance. (down & left from The Weapon in the diagram) With that information, a valid, supportable forecast can be developed. That forecast will tell me in a heartbeat if I do or do not have enough in my funnel to reach my targets.

If I don’t have enough to get there, the “A” items in my Prioritized Action Plan will be aimed at finding more opportunities. If I do have enough, those actions will be focused on advancing deals through the pipeline.

Concentrate on those 4 boxes at the top. (Do it!) Think through and follow your work flow. Seems like exactly what the mythically ideal sales rep/manager/executive should be doing every day doesn’t it? What the heck else could be more important? (…except, of course, actually executing the action plan!)

Well OK, that takes care of the tactical stuff, but what about the more strategic & long term issues? With other reports from “The Weapon,” a sales manager (or conscientious rep) can quickly and clearly identify skill deficiencies and use your Sales Knowledge Mine to help plug those gaps. (You do have a keyword-searchable Sales Knowledge Mine that stores all of the “tribal knowledge” accumulated by your sales pros over the years, right?)

Concentrate on those 3 boxes at the lower left. (Do it!) Seems like a no-nonsense, disciplined approach to self-improvement and sharing best practices, doesn’t it?

And of course your regularly conduct Opportunity, Territory, Win and Loss Reviews to beef up action plans and peg down what works and what doesn’t. Everything you learn from these reviews – the good, the bad and the ugly – gets translated into action and also stored in the Sales Knowledge Mine. The actions that “sound great, but don’t work” get avoided and the “counterintuitive gems” get implemented again and again. Concentrate on those 3 boxes around the lower right hand corner. (Do it!) Removes all the fluff from the concept of “coaching,” doesn’t it?

At the risk of going too “liberal artsy intellectual,” I’ll quote Oliver Wendell Holmes. “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” I think this flow chart qualifies as one that made it to “the other side of complexity.”

Think about it…

How many metrics does a sales manager need?

As a group, sales managers are not big on “managing by the numbers.” Only a very few use more than a half-dozen or so measurements to monitor the quality and effectiveness of sales performance. Most rely on two, revenue and profit. They are the ultimate indicators of success, right? Why would anyone need to know any more?

Consider this… Assume that you just “volunteered” to manage a little league baseball team. One of the first things you need to do is come up with a batting order. Lacking any information, your only choice is to list the names in random sequence. In other words, the success of your first management decision will be based purely on luck.

Now assume that you find a list of each kid’s batting average from last year. You now have a metric and can make a better batting order decision. For example, put the kid with the highest average first, second highest second, etc.

Next assume you also find each kid’s on-base percentage from last year. (This is different than batting average. In addition to actually getting a hit, a batter can get on base by drawing a walk, getting hit by a pitch, or due to error made by a fielder on the other team.) You can now make an even better batting order decision.

For example, put the kids with the three highest on-base percentages up to the plate first, second and third. Put the kid with the highest batting average up fourth. Doing so increases the odds that your best hitter will go to bat with three runners on base, thus increasing your odds of scoring more runs. One metric yields a better decision than no metrics. Two metrics yield a better decision than one.

The scenario can continue to change. What if you also knew each player’s stolen base percentage, runs-batted-in, extra-base-hit percentage, etc., etc., etc… Each additional metric enhances the manager’s ability to make a better decision.

Shift gears and look at the big leagues.  Since the Oakland Athletics pioneered the use of metrics and statistical analysis back in 1999, their use has skyrocketed.  Over a 7 year period from ’99 through’05, Oakland won 658 games.  That’s 22 fewer than New York Yankees over the same period – essentially equivalent results.  In the same time frame, Oakland paid out a total of $295 million in player salaries.  The Yanks?  $965 million!!! Each win cost Oakland $448K.  Each win cost New York $1.4 million.  For the math challenged, a win for the Athletics cost 1/3 of what win cost the Yankees.  No wonder every Major League Baseball team now has a statistician on board.

Maybe there really is something to this managing by the numbers stuff… Maybe it even applies to sales… Maybe my competitors will continue to mange like little leaguers…  Sadly, maybe you will continue to manage like a little leaguer.

Think about it…

It Frustrates You And Annoys The Pig

As a guy who helps organizations design, implement and execute a sales process, I hear it all the time; “Don’t tell me how to do my job.”  It’s a hoot to watch the reaction when I reply, “I have no intention of even trying to do so.”

There’s no way an outside consultant, or even a VP of Sales for that matter, can tell an experienced rep how to do his or her job.  It’s like the old joke about trying to teach a pig to dance.  It frustrates you and annoys the pig.

Start with “what” and continuously improve the ‘how.”

There’s a better way to approach implementing a consistent sales process across an entire sales team and constantly making it better.  Start by defining the “what.”  It’s surprisingly easy to get a group of fiercely independent, strong ego sales types to agree on it.  It takes two or three serious debates, but group after group in industry after industry agrees on the same basic core process:

  • Identify An Opportunity – Identify a specific individual in a specific account that might maybe someday buy something from me
  • Gain Attention – Get some sort of meeting or conversation scheduled with that individual
  • Earn Interest – Maybe you’d prefer to call it “qualify.”  Earn enough interest in your stuff to convince the prospect to actually do something to help advance toward an possible purchase
  • Conduct Discovery – Learn, learn, learn.  Clearly define and quantify the customer’s objectives and/or pain, and understand the decision process and criteria.  Paint the “Before” picture.
  • Recommend – Tell ‘em what you recommend they do, why and the $$$ impact.  Paint the “After” picture.  (I used to call this “Propose,” but that’s another story.
  • Close – Get the order

The terminology might be different and maybe there are a few more or less steps, but what needs to occur is fairly universal.  It’s the reps themselves that fill in the blanks about how.  Stated differently, “how” is the set of best practices to accomplish each “what.”  These practices vary a lot more from company to company and industry to industry, but usually not as much as folks expect.

In fact, the degree of uniqueness really doesn’t matter.  What matters is measuring the effectiveness of each “best” practice. Over time the pretender best practices get dropped and replaced with better ones.

This continuous improvement of your sales process thing really is that simple.  The hard parts are getting started and sticking with it.