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Tony Cole

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Hit Sales Growth Goals and All Other Problems Go Away

Posted by Tony Cole on Thu, May 02, 2019

Disconnect in the business world is pretty common. But, that doesn't mean it should be. Specifically in sales, your job as a leader is to create a model that benefits both the company and the salespeople that work there. So, how do you do this?

This article will provide you with a list of questions to ask yourself, and your producers, when your sales team is underperforming and improvements need to be made.

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I recently met with a firm that was struggling with its sales team hitting sales goals. Sound familiar? And talking to the president, she shared with me her frustration over this and the various attempts taken to correct the problem, and nothing seemed to work. The most recent strategy was to change the compensation payout on one of the products being sold. Keep in mind there wasn’t a change to the amount being paid out, just the way the payout would occur. 

You would have thought that she was reducing the comp schedule by 50%, changing the 401K match and eliminating the contribution schedule to the employee health insurance plan all in a 24-hour period. The reaction from the sales team was negative and swift. For days, salespeople were focused on:

  • Why is the company doing this?
  • This isn’t fair, I’ve always been paid within 30 days of the sale.
  • Is this a punishment?
  • This doesn’t motivate me to sell more!

As I’ve been thinking about this for the last week or so I wondered...

  1. Would any of this be a problem if in fact the sales people had hit their sales goal in 2018 and so their payouts would be consistent with their personal financial needs?
  2. Would this be a problem if year to date each of the sales people was on track to hit their goals for 2019?
  3. And finally, if the 2019 sales goals were being met, and cash flow met the requirements of the business plan, would the president have been put in a position to do something in an attempt to light a fire under the pants of the sales team?

I believe the answer to all of those questions would be no.

Dealing with sales problems within an organization is no different than dealing with a specific sales opportunity that is stuck in the pipeline. Too often a sales person attempts to put pressure via constant emails and calls inquiring about "Where are you in the process of making a decision to move forward with this”?  This is the wrong end of the problem in sales. If a sale is stalled or is not made, the sales person with the help of the sales manager has to work the right end of the problem. The right end is examining what happened or failed to happen at the beginning of the milestone centric sales process that the company developed as part of the sales enablement and CRM strategy?

  1. Was there a compelling reason to act?
  2. Was the incumbent eliminated from the process?
  3. Was the capacity to invest time, money and resources discussed and agreed to?
  4. Was there an agreement for the prospect to pay more if required?
  5. Did the sales person fully understand the buyer’s buying journey / process and what stage they were in?
  6. Was the sales person in front of decision makers: users, implementers, finance, IT etc.?
  7. Was there urgency?
  8. Was there an agreement to decide at time of presentation?
  9. Was the company in a position to solve the business problem for the prospect based on the prospect’s selection criteria and priorities?
  10. Was the prospect given several opportunities to back away from the discussions?
  11. Did the sales person ‘own the room’ when they made the presentation?
  12. Was the presentation compelling and designed to lead to an obvious conclusion to buy?

These are just a few examples of steps in a milestone centric sales process as described in this audio blog – A Suspect Remains a Suspect Until.

Back to our president and the company. The challenge here is to ask the sales team the questions I asked above. Get to the right end of the problem and you can avoid many problems closing opportunities and growing sales in your company.

Topics: closing more sales, reaching sales goals, motivating salespeople, sales opportunity

March Madness Thursday and Selling

Posted by Tony Cole on Thu, Mar 21, 2019

The sales process, albeit its own animal, shares certain similarities with the monster that is March Madness.  From prospecting, qualifying, taking the big shot, closing, assessing the opportunity to win, and much more, selling and sport's greatest tournament are linked in more ways than meets the human eye.

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This might be the biggest stretch ever in the history of my blog. How can I possibly tie the NCAA Basketball Tournament (also known as March Madness) to selling? Honestly, I’m not sure…so I will be making this up as I go. Let me begin by setting the stage for selling and how I see it is similar to the event of March Madness.

  • Prospecting > Games that are played by all Division I teams throughout the year.
  • Qualifying > Selection Sunday – based on performance of the teams, 68 teams qualify to make the tournament.
  • Assessing the Opportunity to Win > Selecting your teams from the ‘brackets’ that you think have the best chance to win OR the teams you want to win OR the teams you think will be the upset and give you a chance to win the office pool.
  • Presenting > The Madness begins on Tuesday and Wednesday night in the "First Four" games.  On Thursday, the real fun begins, with a full slate of 16 games where the participating teams play their hearts out, and let the ball bounce where it may.
  • Closing > In some cases, the game is over before it begins (or so it seems that way).  In other games there are more questions that need to be answered (Overtime) before a victor is declared.  In some cases, an unexpected outcome – an upset – a 16 seed beating a 1 seed (looking at you - UMBC - and you, Virginia!)
  • Get a decision > The loser goes home while the winner savors the victory before facing the next big challenge.

And as Paul Harvey used to say, “And now… the rest of the story.”

Think about some of the outcomes of the presentations you’ve made where you were the top seed, or where you were the one in the game with all the right things in place to help you win the business. You have the talent, bench strength, great coaching, and preparation in place.  You have presented to the prospect what you said you would present but then… in the final seconds… someone throws up a “buzzer beater” and there goes your sale.

What happened?

  • The prospect let the incumbent come in and they matched my price.
  • I couldn’t get underwriting to change a covenant.
  • They took it to the decision maker and that person didn’t want to change
  • They said it was too expensive
  • They are thinking it over
  • Etc. etc. etc.

And just like in the ball game, it’s easy to point to the last play in the game that seals the upset – RJ Hunter’s 3 pointer with less than 2 seconds left to win the game for Georgia State comes to mind:

But, when the losing coaches review the game tape with their team, they point out to their players that there were several opportunities that, if the team had performed better ordifferently, the outcome would not have come down to the last shot.

The same is true in selling. It hardly ever comes down to the last shot when determining if you will win or lose the game:

  • Matching price – You should have uncovered earlier who was going to win a price tie.
  • Changing covenants – You should know beforehand the exact specs you need to get the deal done and, if you cannot meet those specs, you don’t present.
  • Decision making – You should know the decision making process before presenting.
  • They said it was too expensive – Why didn’t you know the budget before you presented?
  • Think-it-overs – You must eliminate this as an option when discussing the decision making process.
  • Other – Uncover in advance what can go wrong and deal with those things prior to attempting to present and close.

As the sales manager/sales executive, it is your responsibility to:

  • Put the best possible team on the court.
  • Make sure you have provided your team the resources they need to win.
  • Prepare them with a solid strategy to win.
  • Practice what you expect them to perform.
  • Debrief after they perform so you can help them change behaviors and improve skill

Once you do your job, and you do your best to make sure they are doing their job, then get them on the court and see where the ball bounces.

Additional Resources:

Sales Management Environment – Building the structure to improve your chances for winning.

Sales Talent Acquisition Routine – Hire Better Sales People - get the right people to come to your team to play and WIN against the opponents in your market.

Goal Setting and Business Plan Development – Build a foundation so that your team has the required internal motivation to win in all market conditions.

Topics: Selling, sales prospecting, closing sales, march madness

5 Commonly Overlooked Sales Tools

Posted by Tony Cole on Wed, Feb 13, 2019

In a business world filled with an abundance of technologically advanced CRM tools, there are 5 tools that salespeople must use and sales managers must implement throughout their day-to-day activities and agendas, in order to be successful.

They include:

  1. Effective Personal Goal Setting
  2. The Ideal Week
  3. Sales Process
  4. Huddles
  5. The Success Formula and the 10% Difference

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Do you have all the sales tools you need to succeed? If yes, then forget about this article and go to The Truth About Prospecting.  If you feel you don’t have the tools, or the tools you have are not getting you to your desired sales results, then read on.

I was first introduced to sales tools when I was recruited into the Life Insurance business by David Zimmerman. That tool was the One Card System developed by Al Granum of Northwestern Mutual Insurance. Al’s process of tracking and holding insurance agents to a formula for success is legendary in the Life Insurance industry and is the basis for most CRM strategies used today. Simply stated, Mr. Granum’s research identified that an agent needed 10 leads (suspects) to generate 3 prospects (who will participate in a full fact-finding meeting) to get 1 client.

Over the years, I have seen many variations of this but ultimately the objective is the same. Help a salesperson understand exactly what they need to do to hit their objectives. But this tool by itself is not nearly as effective as when combined with other tools.

Despite all the fuss with sales force automation, lead generation and pipeline management, we know the following to be true: 

  • 33% of the production team is responsible for over 90% of sales results
  • 67% of the team is responsible for less than 10% of the sales results
  • None of the 67% were hired NOT to succeed

So, what is the problem? Why the variance of performance when all these tools purchased and implemented were supposed to fix sales? Here are the 5 commonly overlooked tools that salespeople must use and sales managers must implement.

#1: Effective Personal Goal Setting- Too often companies establish goals for their sales people and then 3 months later the argument ensues about ‘whose goal it was’.  Goal setting must be a personal activity. This is what drives internal motivation and it is internal motivation that keeps your people focused on shareholder value. Spending a day with your people with a thought-out plan to help them focus on personal goals and a corresponding work plan is the bases for the other 4 tools. 

#2: The Ideal Week- We conduct a full-day session on helping companies drive internal motivation and eliminating the excuse of - “I don’t have time”. The reason salespeople don’t have time to do the required and necessary lead generation activity is because they don’t control their business. They sacrifice pleasing outcomes for pleasing behaviors. In other words, instead of sticking to their schedule and making calls at 10:00, they take the inbound customer service call.

#3: Sales Process- Our data shows that over 85% of elite sales people (only 7% of all sales people) use a milestone-centric sales process. The first step in the journey is to get a name, the last step in the journey is to get a decision. Everything else in the middle must be identified as a step and measured.

#4: Huddles- Think of huddles as a communication system that allows the user and manager to collect real time information so that real time feedback can be given, or realized, and real time coaching and instruction can take place.

#5: The Success Formula and The 10% Difference- This is simple math based on the theory of Mr. Granum but a little more granular. 

Topics: development of sales, predictable sales growth, sales motivation, no excuses, sales skill, sales acceleration, salespeople

The Two Truths and a Lie of Prospecting

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, Jan 11, 2019

Prospecting for salespeople is often a struggle due to varying factors including their ability to stay committed to the process and overcome rejection.

In this article, we cover the dreaded,  but mandatory, task of sourcing and creating new sales opportunities.

deceive-1299043_1280Salespeople have to prospect – that’s the truth. Salespeople can find their prospects through a variety of different avenues, including; introductions, direct mail, internet offers, networking, internal referrals from business partners, cold calling, campaigns, association memberships, and business networking groups. 

What is also true is that, no matter how a sales person gets a name, the next step is to contact them. You can contact them by mail (email or snail mail) or by phone (the most common method). If you are going to have any chance to schedule time to talk with them about their current situation to determine if they are a prospect for you, you must have contact. That’s the truth.

Prospecting is FUN! Now, that’s a lie. Prospecting isn’t fun. It’s not intended to be fun. Anyone that says it’s fun is lying. If you are a manager, don’t tell your people to “just pick up the phone and have fun with it”. They will know you don’t know what you are talking about.

They’ve had fun before: Water skiing, swimming, hiking, going to a play or the opera, having a picnic, watching a ballgame, getting a promotion, a raise, or recognition for a job well done. All FUN! However, facing rejection, not talking to anyone, having people curse or hang up on you, having people who schedule appointments and then cancel or don’t show up?  ZERO FUN.

If prospecting isn’t fun, then what is it? Back in the day when I was still trying to figure out how to be successful in selling, my coach told me this:  “You don’t have to like it; you just have to do it!” And that is prospecting.  It’s called work and not play for a reason. It is work. You have to put a lot of preparation, emotion, intellect and skill into being successful at prospecting. David Kurlan from Objective Management Group has found that the single biggest contributor to sales success is the ability to be rejection-proof. Even with all the skill, techniques, scripts and preparation, if you cannot handle the rejection and emotional roller coaster of prospecting, then you will struggle, be inconsistent and fail more than you succeed.

The bottom line is that this isn’t about making it fun. It’s about getting the job done so you have solid appointments that turn into solid opportunities that turn into closed business. THAT’S where the fun is!

Topics: Prospecting, introductions, Cold Calling, sales management, commitment, networking, salespeople, overcoming rejection

Go for the "No" Early in the Sales Process

Posted by Tony Cole on Thu, Dec 20, 2018

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One of the keys for more effective selling is going for the ‘no’ early in the sales process. I learned this concept years ago especially when I was vulnerable to ‘think it overs’ (TIO). I would get ‘think it overs’ at several stages in the sales process and maybe you get them as well:

  • On the initial phone call when you’re trying to get an appointment – “Let me think it over, give me a call next week.”
  • At the end of your initial meeting – “This sounds really good and something I should consider. Let me think it over and I’ll get back to you in the next couple of days.”
  • When you finish your presentation and you ask for the sale. “You made a very compelling presentation and we are impressed with your depth of knowledge and your very creative solutions to our problems. Let us meet as a group and go over this one more time and crunch some numbers.  Let’s plan on talking next week.”

Sound familiar?

Of course it does and these ‘think it overs’ are what is keeping you from being more effective in your sales process. That’s nice to know or consider but the question becomes, “What do I do about it?” (click here to listen to a 3-minute audio clip on eliminating TIO)

As I learned early on is to get ‘no’ as soon as you can. What is important to understand about getting ‘think it overs’ is the mindset of your potential buyer. Your potential buyer will tell you that they need to think it over because:

  • They really don’t intend on making any changes but you impressed them with some information that they want to take to their current provider and see if they can do what you can do.
  • They have a need for approval and instead of telling you they are not interested they want to let you down easy. Telling you they want to think it over gives you hope and get’s them off of the hook until the next time you talk.

To fix the problem, eliminate ‘think it over’ as an option. Let your prospect know that when you finish the next meeting, next conversation, the final presentation, they will have everything they need to make a decision. You can tell them that you will be prepared to answer all of their questions and when you are finished, they will be in a position to make a decision- yes or no. Then simply ask what objections they have to that process.

This one key will help you close more business, more quickly at higher margins.

For more tips on how to uncover a prospects real reason for wanting to ‘TIO’ watch our Sales Guy Unplugged video on the “Question Behind the Question”.

Topics: Sales Process, effective selling, effective sales process, think it overs

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    About our Blog

    Founder and CLO Tony Cole has been working with financial firms for more than 25 years to help them close their sales opportunity gap.  He is a master at using science based data and finely honed coaching strategies to help build effective sales teams.  Don’t miss his weekly sales management blog insights.

     

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