You don’t understand, we’re different

rantEver have a customer tell you some version of, “You don’t understand, we’re different?” You respond, I’m sure, with some version of, “Of course, your organization is unique, that’s why I would like to understand more about how you handle the XYZ issue here.”

What you really want to say (and which is accurate!) is, “Oh, bull%&@$”

Shocking as it may seem, many sales managers and professionals tell me that the metrics produced by a Sales Process Engineering effort don’t apply to their company or their territory because they’re “different.”

  • The number of opportunities in my funnel vs. the number of opportunities in some other territory’s funnel is not relevant because I’m different
  • The total $ value of opportunities in my funnel vs. the total $ value of opportunities in some other territory’s funnel is not relevant because I’m different
  • The sell cycle time in my territory vs. the sell cycle time in some other territory is not relevant because I’m different
  • The close rate of opportunities in my territory vs. the close rate in some other territory is not relevant because I’m different

You know what? All four of the above statements are bull%&@$

Frankly, if somebody else can juggle more opportunities simultaneously than I can, I want to know how they do it. If somebody else can manage a funnel with a great $ value than mine, I want to know how they do it. If somebody else has a shorter sell cycle than me, I want to know how they do it. If somebody else has a higher close rate, I want to know how they do it.

I don’t care if they’re in a different state or different company or different industry or if they’re more or less experienced than me or have weaker or stronger support resources or whatever. I want to know! I’ve got to know! I must learn!

So don’t tell me you’re different. Don’t let your customer or boss or subordinate tell you they’re different. They are unique! …just like everybody else.

Your competitor is NOT “the competition”

Two giant competitive changes in the selling environment have already happened. Either one by itself blows your traditional sales process out of the water. Both have to do with your competition.

  • Competitor #1 – The customer who can learn
  • Competitor #2 – No Decision

Let’s take a look at each and then take a look at what we can do. (The good news is, there is a fairly straightforward strategy!)

Competition in the Sales ProcessCompetitor #1 – The customer who can learn:

How many of your customers and prospects have the ability to learn? Let’s go with a low-ball estimate and say 99.99%.

Brent Adamson, co-author of “The Challenger Sale,” has stated, “Your Number One competitor today is your own customer and their ability to learn on their own.I believe him!

Adamson has also cited more recent “Challenger Sale” research indicating that 57% of the decision process is done before a buyer contacts any seller. You have certainly seen %-of-the-decision process numbers in the 50%-70% for several years now. Who really cares if it’s 50% or 70% or whatever HUGE %??? The fact is, most of the decision process is over before your sales rep even enters the fray.

Those crazy customers actually think they can learn enough to make an intelligent decision without your help!

True, but focus on what they most certainly don’t think. They don’t think they can learn enough to make an intelligent decision without any help. They all have their sources. They all have their research processes.

If they do a Google search and happen to find useful insight published by someone who supplies stuff similar to yours, who do they think has expertise? You? I don’t think so. If Brand X, Brand Y and Brand Z have supplied all the customer’s education for the first 57% of the decision process, who gets invited to participate in the other 43%? You? I don’t think so.

Competitor #2 – No Decision:

The one-person “decision team” is pretty much extinct. Business processes are complex. The problems associated with them are also complex. The root causes of those problems originate from a wide variety of internal and external forces. Deciding how to address the problems therefore, involves multiple people from multiple departments; each of whom probably has a unique knowledge base and learning process.

Even if one of the players really does have the best solution, nothing can happen until the other (typically 3-5) other players become equally educated.

So what’s a sales leader to do? As noted above, the strategy is pretty straightforward. (Notice that I didn’t say, “quick and easy to implement!”) It’s a two-step process that needs to be smoothly integrated into the early stages of your sales process. We call it Sales Process Media.

  1. Create a digital library that educates customers and prospects soup to nuts
  2. Make it hard for a conscientious decision team member to avoid your digital content. Be everywhere!

Step one, while not difficult, DOES take considerable time and effort. Simply (and I use that word tongue-in-cheek…) embed the core knowledge of the sales team in a collection of text, images, audio and video.

Step two IS difficult. Fortunately, there’s an interim baby step that is really easy! The hard part is developing and implementing a killer SEO strategy. The ridiculously easy and surprisingly effective baby step is to point every customer to a relevant bit (or bits) of your digital content in every conversation, e-mail and voice mail. EVERY ONE!

More to come on how to deal with the “21st Century Competitor,” so please consider subscribing. Also:

…and since I referred to one of my favorite sales management books early, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation

A fool’s errand for the Sales Manager

fool's errand, Sales Management Development, Sales ManagementNobody can manage achievement of the top line sales number. NOBODY!!!

Not you. Not your boss. Not the greatest Sales Manager who ever lived.

Trying to manage a result is a fool’s errand. (Ummm, you’re not a fool are you?)

The guts of your job as a sales manager is to identify the specific actions that produce desired results. And that consists of identifying a never ending hierarchy of deeper and deeper sets of causes and effects.

Need more booked orders? (Don’t we all…) “Managing” your team by telling them to “Sell more!” is not going to help. Think instead in terms of causes and effects. Think, for example, in terms of the “Four Major Sales Manager Levers.” Yanking on any one or more of which can result in more sales:

  • Work on a larger number of opportunities
  • Increase the average $ value of opportunities
  • Move opportunities through your sales process in less time
  • Move a greater % of opportunities through each stage of your funnel

Asking your team to “do” one or more of the above is vastly more specific than, “Sell more!” (It’s also vastly less likely to elicit an eye roll from your reps.) It also creates an environment for deeper conversations.

Working on a greater number of opportunities, for example, might well increase the time required to move each one through the sales process. Should the focus be more on cycle time reduction or increasing the number of opportunities in the funnel? What do you think, Rep #1? (…and/or Rep 2 and/or team?) And if it’s cycle time reduction, how exactly do we do that? (Notice the one-step-deeper you’ve now gone into your sales process.)

The above sample conversation, by the way, is called coaching!

Hash it all out! Poke and prod at using various combinations of the “Four Major Sales Manager Levers.” Experiment with different tactics to accomplish those that are 2 and 3 and 4 levels deep. Measure the impact of each. Share and discuss the data with your team. (Ummmm, there’s that coaching thing again…)

Here’s a tool that can help with analyzing the impact of various actions. (Call me at 678-429-7452 if you need help with how it works.)

Don’t work at the fool’s errand of “Sell more!” Work at the Sales Leader’s errand of identifying the never ending hierarchy of deeper and deeper sets of causes and effects that generate more sales.

Your customers are making lousy decisions

right-decision“As anyone who has ever seen groupthink in action knows, any number of otherwise intelligent people can come to agree on nonsense.”

According to the above quoted recent article in the Harvard Business Review, “… almost three-quarters of companies have no formal corporate-wide approach to making major, complex decisions.” In other words…

Your customers are making lousy decisions.

In yet other words, most decision-makers have gotten as much training in making decisions as you in your role as sales manager have gotten in managing a sales team –  Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah.

So there’s an opportunity here to differentiate – to increase the value of doing business with you.

Chevron, for example, tweaked a major project. By eliminating the sexy, high tech aspects, they realized 50% of the original expected value of the project at 25% of the cost. (Stop and think about that for a minute… They doubled the Return/Cost ratio!)

Would a sales pro become a hero with an account by doubling the Return/Cost ratio for a customer? Of course. Is it easy to learn, and then teach a customer decision team Decision Quality/Decision Analysis?” No! It’s hard. Realy hard. And it takes time. Lots of it.

That’s why nobody but you and your team will get the competitive advantage from doing it.

Think through these basic “must haves” of good decision-making:

  • An appropriate frame, including a clear understanding of the problem and what needs to be achieved.
  • Creative, doable alternatives from which to choose the one likely to achieve the most of what you want.
  • Meaningful information that is reliable, unbiased, and reflects all relevant uncertainties and intangibles.
  • Clarity about desired outcomes, including acceptable tradeoffs.
  • Solid reasoning and sound logic that includes considerations of uncertainty and insight at the appropriate level of complexity.
  • Commitment to action by all stakeholders necessary to achieve effective action.

Read about and study decision-making. Start with a web search for Decision Quality (DQ) and Decision Analysis (DA). There’s a ton of stuff out there. Initiate discussions with customer executives about your fascination with DQ & DA. Build credibility. Sell more!

Effective Sales Capacity – The only Sales Management tool you’ll ever need

SalesCapacityIf you can get the collective brain of your sales team wrapped around the concept of Effective Sales Capacity, you’ll have taken a massive step toward effectively measuring and continuously improving sales performance. In fact, if you don’t get the collective brain of your sales team wrapped around the concept of Effective Sales Capacity, you’re opting for dumb luck as your continuous improvement strategy.

And, frankly, it shouldn’t be hard to do so.

The logic is straightforward. Sales closed is a function of four factors:

  1. The Number of opportunities being worked at each stage of the funnel
  2. The $ Value of those opportunities
  3. The % Advanced to the next stage of the sales process
  4. The Cycle Time for each stage of the sales process

Right now this instant, your sales team has A opportunities in the funnel, potentially worth $B in sales, since C% of those deals will close in D days. With a decent CRM (that’s being effectively used!) it’s a simple matter to calculate your current sales capacity.

It’s even easier to figure out with this Effective Sales Capacity Calculator.

Plug your own numbers into the tool, then begin to ask the obvious questions:

  • Should we be working more opportunities? (Or will that cause us to get bogged down trying to juggle too many deals?)
  • Should we be focused on increasing the size of the opportunities we’re working? (If so, how? Will bigger deals take longer to close? Or should we focus on winning smaller deals really quickly?)
  • Should we be focused on advancing more deals to the next stage of our sales process? (Or should we concentrate on qualifying opportunities and getting more dead weight out of the funnel sooner?)
  • How can we do everything faster? (Why does it take so long to get an opportunity through Stage X of the funnel?)

And so on…

The discussions (and thinking!) prompted by these sorts of questions and the many others like them, is an exceedingly great way to identify the genuine “Sales Best Practices.”

Or you could rely on dumb luck.