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Develop Your Sales Pipeline to Increase Sales

Posted by Jack Kasel on Mon, Jun 01, 2020

Sales pipelines are similar to the story of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears. " This one is too fat, this one is too skinny, and the rarest one of all; this one's just right. 

Why does this happen with pipelines and what should leaders be doing about it?  In today's blog, we discuss developing better pipelines to improve your coaching skills, increase sales within your organization, and to build better habits in 2020 and beyond.

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Fat Pipelines

This usually results from the overly optimistic salesperson.  They call on a prospect and come back thinking some iteration of this, “We really hit it off . . . They really liked what we can do . . . We have a LOT in common”. 

Another cause for a fat pipeline is that it feels like comfort food.  Their pipeline has $X amount in it and they feel pretty good about it.  I mean, come on, some of it has to close doesn’t it?  This type of thinking gives them great comfort.  Pipelines need two things:

  • The proper amount given their ability to win business (close ratio)
  • It must be properly staged

Here is where your leadership plays a critical role.  Your skills at asking great questions are absolutely essential.  Tone and tonality are of paramount importance, AND they must be fierce and helpful.  Questions like:

  • What did you hear the customer say that leads you to believe they would be a great customer for us?
  • When you asked them the impact of not fixing this problem, what did they say?
  • Who else in their organization will be impacted if they switch providers?
  • What did they say when you asked about their decision making criteria (not process, criteria, there is a difference)
  • When is the last time they chose a supplier that wasn’t the lowest cost?
  • How much is in their budget to make this problem go away
  • When asked them “How do you envision working with us”, what was their response?
  • How did they choose their current provider?

Never EVER ask, “How’d the call go?” It’s a waste of time.  Be great at asking questions.  By asking great questions, you are coaching your salespeople.  The questions listed above are the type of questions they should be asking the prospect.  Your coaching session is nothing but a sales call.  Be curious and when you coach, simply keep this in mind when meeting with your team, “Am I asking questions or am I making statements?”

Also, by asking great questions to your team, you find out where your people need to be coached.  If you hear your salesperson say, “I didn’t ask that question” during your pipeline discussions, you need to find out if they are unable to ask those questions (they need more sales training) OR if are they unwilling to ask those questions.

Skinny Pipelines

There are two main reasons that a salesperson might have a “skinny pipeline”.  They are getting beat up if something doesn’t close, or their activity isn’t where it needs to be.  My question to you as a leader is, “When a piece of business doesn’t close, what does your lost business conversation sound like?” 

There is no sin in losing a sale, the only sin that occurs is if nothing is learned from it.  Don’t let one loss beat you twice.  A couple of quick questions “What did you learn?” and “How will you get better because of it?” 

The other reason for a skinny pipeline is activity.  What are you measuring, how frequently are you measuring it (you need to measure weekly), and are you allowing excuses for poor effort?  Salespeople fail for two reasons:  Lack of Effort and/or Lack of Execution.  You need to know which it is. 

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Just Right Pipelines

These types of pipelines are the rarest of all because they require the salesperson and manager to have a great and open relationship, while staying committed to their sales process and understanding the metrics needed to win business.  For the salesperson, they need to understand what is their late-stage (close in 30 days) win ratio?  If their late-stage win ratio is 50% and their monthly goal is $100,000, they need to have a minimum of $200,000 in late-stage opportunity each month.   

The only reason a “Just Right” pipeline is possible because the salesperson is finding opportunities all-the-time.  They understand prospecting is an all-the-time thing.  They are constantly making calls, asking for introductions, and networking.  

It’s healthy to have a pipeline “flush” on a regular basis.  An opportunity moves through the pipeline or moves out of the pipeline on a regular basis.  If a salesperson wants to cling to an opportunity, and want to defend keeping it their pipeline, is probably because they have nothing else to take its place.   Coach them, encourage them, challenge them.

 

Topics: sales force development, Sales Coaching, hiring better salespeople, hiring top salespeople, consultative selling, banking sales training, consultative sales coaching, corporate sales training, sales force performance management, sales training courses, insurance sales training, 5 keys to sales coaching, sales force performance evaluation, consultative sales coaching cincinnati, consultative selling cincinnati, banking sales training cincinnati, corporate sales training cincinnati, sales coaching cincinnati, sales management training cincinnati, sales productivity tools cincinnati, sales training programs cincinnati, sales training workshops cincinnati, train the trainer cincinnati, hiring sales people cincinnati, increase sales cincinnati, professional sales training cincinnati, sales candidate assessment cincinnati, sales effectiveness training cincinnati, sales force performance evaluation cincinnati, sales performance management cincinnati, sales training cincinnati, sales training courses cincinnati, sales training seminars cincinnati

Talent is the Key to Winning Sales Growth Teams

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, Apr 24, 2020

In this blog article, we discuss the similarities between the NFL Draft and hiring better salespeople and increasing sales.  Like the draft, sales managers must do their best to discover if their potential candidate is a fit not only for the particular sales role, but the organization
as well.

What tests must your next recruit pass to excel on your sales team? What are you doing to ensure that your sales candidates have what it takes to become a top performer? 

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Last night, the first round of the NFL draft took place and here are a few important facts about the event:

  • There are only 224 out of 16,000 eligible draft players
  • Roughly $1.3 Billion in contracts will be negotiated and signed
  • They must participate and attain a certain score in the following;
    • 40-yard dash
    • Bench press (225 lbs x reps)
    • Vertical and broad jump
    • 20 and 60-yard shuttle
    • 3 cone drill
    • Position specific drills
    • 60 interviews in total at 15-minute intervals
    • Physical measurements
    • Injury evaluation
    • Drug screen
    • They Cybex test
    • The Wonderlic test

Not only must the player submit to these evaluations, but keep in mind that their entire college career, has been videotaped.  Statistics on yards, catches, passes, tackles, rushes, etc. are kept and used by professional scouting organizations to determine the likelihood of an athlete having what it takes to make and succeed on an NFL Football Team.

What tests must your next recruit pass to excel on your sales team? What are you doing to ensure that your sales candidates have what it takes to become a top performer?  How much data do you collect, and how reliable is it?  How much interviewing do you do?  And finally, is it consistent enough to eliminate variability in data, thus eliminating variability in hiring and eventually in performance?

In the coming months, I’m guessing that the following are going to happen:

  1. The sales talent pool will be flooded from many industries that suffered partial or complete shut down and had to let people go.
  2. A lot of unqualified salespeople will be hired only to be let go within the following 12 months.

What should you do?

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Take some pointers from the NFL playbook on drafting talent:

  • Know EXACTLY what role you are looking to hire for
  • Know EXACTLY what a candidate has to do in order to succeed in that role
  • Create the ideal job attraction post of the candidate that will execute the role
  • Assess ALL candidates before your interview them for their will to succeed in selling and sales DNA
  • Interview them for most the critical characteristics like:
    • Phone skills
    • Relationship-building
    • Qualifying
    • Closing
  • Have these candidates audition through roleplays and their ability to demonstrate success, recover from rejection and ask questions while listening intently
  • Implement a consistent vetting process that is managed and inspected
  • Prepare them to make a decision when you offer them the position
  • Onboard them as if they are new to the industry and role

I’ve talked to several people today.  All of them told me that they are on a hiring freeze and the companies they work with are also on a hiring freeze. That probably includes you. But this will not last. When it is over, you need to be prepared to act rather than wait until it’s time to start the process all over again. 

Here are some resources to help you hire the best people to be successful in your company:

  1. Access to a free trial of the highly predictive pre-hire sales assessment
  2. Objective Management Groups SmartSizing tool that will help you evaluate who to keep on your team and in which roles

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Topics: upgrade the sales force, increase sales, assessing sales talent, recruiting sales talent, top sales performers, eliminating variability, hiring top salespeople, building sales team

How Do I Hire a Sales All-Star?

Posted by Tony Cole on Mon, Jun 17, 2019

Hiring an elite salesperson is tough work.  It's not easy to find a sales all-star and it's even harder to keep them on board if you do hire them.  

In this article, we provide 8 reasons why hiring elite salespeople is difficult and the exact steps needed to hire them in your organization.

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8 Reasons Why Hiring Elite Salespeople is Difficult:

  1. It's hard to find qualified candidates - only 7% of salespeople fall into the “elite” category (What elite sales people do differently)
  2. You have other responsibilities
  3. If things are “okay”, you don’t look for someone… until you have an opening and then you feel desperate to fill the seat
  4. Elite sales professionals – those with excellent sales skills – often are not actively looking for new jobs
  5. The resumes all look the same
  6. Personality and behavioral tests tell you how they like to be managed but don’t have any predictive validity for sales success
  7. Your HR (talent-acquisition partners) really don’t understand why hiring salespeople is different than hiring anyone else for a company
  8. It’s not your go-to skill set.

how to hire top salespeople

Step 1: Make sure you know and identify exactly what sales skills make your elite salespeople ELITE salespeople. 

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We just completed a Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis (SEIA) for the private banking segment of a regional bank.  This is what we know separates the top performers from the bottom performers:

Distinguishing skills and sales traits of top performers

  • Hunter
  • Possess over 50% of required sales skills
  • Strong at getting introductions
  • Get past gate keepers
  • Maintain a full pipeline (convert activity – prospecting – into opportunities)
  • Reach decision makers
  • Develop trust and confidence early in the relationship
  • Present product proposal at the appropriate time
  • Keep prospects from buying too early in the process
  • Not reliant on ‘”educating” the prospect or presenting to get the business
  • Love competing against others

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Sales Assessment Sample

We evaluate over 125 different data points when using a pre-hire sales skills inventory assessment and what we have found over the years is that there are usually between 20 and 30 variables that separate the best from the rest. THIS is the first step in making sure you are interviewing candidates with sales skills needed to succeed in your organization.

 

Step 2:  Interview for fundamental skillsOnce you’ve received an application or some notice of interest in your available career opportunity, you send the candidate a notice letting them know you’ve received their information and that, in order to move forward in the process, two steps will take place:

  1. They will be asked to complete the online sales skills inventory assessment.
  2. If the assessment findings indicate that their sales skills match what you are looking for, then a 10-minute phone interview will take place.

 

Why The Phone Interview

At Hire Better Sales People (White Paper), this is the beginning of Step #2.  In the 23 years of our sales consulting practice, I cannot recall a single client where phone skills were NOT critical to the success of the salespeople being hired.  With that in mind, it stands to reason that the first thing you should look/screen for are their phone skills.  Most of the time, our clients outsource that to us. The reasons for that are:

  • Consistency
  • Lack of a bias towards any candidate

In the phone interview, you want to make sure that this person can conduct themselves on the phone like you would expect them to when talking to prospects.  In order to do that, you must create a similar environment that the candidate will have to react to: 

  • No bonding and rapport done by the interviewer
  • Create time pressure so that they have to react and attempt to take control of the phone call
  • Challenge them on their answers to questions (certainly, prospects will ask them questions on the phone – wouldn’t you want to know how well they react as well as what they say?)
  • Let them know that you will be making a decision about who will go on to the interview step and see if the candidate attempts to “close” for that opportunity. If they fail to close for the next step, they will probably fail to close a prospect for an appointment.

 

Step #3 – Use the data from the resume, the application and the pre-hire skills assessment.

Top salespeople hunt for opportunities, reach decision makers, quickly establish confidence and trust, love to compete against others, have strong desire and commitment to success in selling, take responsibility for outcomes, are highly motivated for success in sales, and have a high figure-it-out factor.  Here’s some ideas for assessing these traits in potential candidates:

  • Make the candidate bring their calendar for the next 30 days and make them count the number of new business appointments they have scheduled
  • Make them establish the bonding and rapport. Tell them to take a seat, tell them that you’ve scheduled 60 minutes, but it may only take 30, and see what they do next.  If bonding, rapport, confidence and trust are important, see what your candidates do to make that happen.
  • Ask about competitions they have won
  • Tell them to describe in detail situations where they did everything possible to succeed at something especially when they had to change, overcome a difficult challenge and they overcame despite terrific odds.
  • Ask them to tell you about a situation when they faced failure at accomplishing something personally or professionally. (Hint – they need to say “I failed…”)
  • Give them a test of any kind and see how long it takes for them to figure it out or…
  • Create a role-play scenario out of thin air, give them a couple of minutes to figure out how they want to go about the role -play and then role play.

There is certainly no guarantee for any new hire.  You still have to consider cultural and team fit.  Is there synergy between the new hire and the hiring manager?  How about their technical and professional credentials? 

We’re just talking about sales skills here, but, to be clear, it’s rare that someone fails to succeed in selling because they lacked the required technical or professional expertise for the field they were in.  Nope… people normally fail because they fail to generate sales!

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Topics: hiring, hiring better, hiring salespeople, find salespeople, hiring top salespeople

Why is It So #%&@ Hard to Solve the Sales Growth Problem? – The 5 Constraints to Growing Sales – Part II

Posted by Tony Cole on Mon, Jan 23, 2017

In the previous post, I identified 8 clues that would indicate that your sales organization has a sales growth problem (CLICK HERE to read the article and review the 5 clues).  In that article, I identified (in some detail) 2 of the 5 constraints to sales growth:

  • Weak or lacking performance management
  • In-the-moment coaching rather than coaching that changes behavior and improves skill.

I received some feedback that the previous article was tooooo long and so, instead of covering the 3 remaining constraints here, I will present them one at a time (and hope I keep you coming back for “the rest of the story!”).

Constraint #3 - Hiring salespeople based on the wrong criteria with the wrong processes and systems

hbsp logo cut.pngTo Hire Better Salespeople, you have to have a better way to attract better salespeople and a better way to eliminate those 90% that will not do 100% of what you need them to do.

As in the previous article, let’s first determine “IF” there is a problem (check all that apply):

  • You have trouble finding enough candidates to choose from
  • The candidates you interview all look and act the same
  • When you interview candidates, you…
    • Spend time establishing rapport
    • Sell them on the company, the position and the opportunity
  • Your turnover rate of salespeople that don’t work out is at least a 6-figure problem or 2-comma problem (#,000,000)
  • When you evaluate the performance of the current sales team, there are people in the middle of the bell curve that are not performing like you thought they would or expected them to
  • You feel desperate to fill seats
  • Your recruiting is usually reactive

If you answered honestly and have 3 checks or more, then let’s agree there is a problem.

Several years ago, my son, Anthony, and a good friend of mine, Dave Zimmerman, went with me to NYC to watch the Bengals play the Jets.  We were guests of then general manager, Terry Bradway.  We met up with Terry the evening before the game just to catch up and introduce him to Anthony.  While we were in his hotel room, I asked him what was the most difficult part of his job. Without hesitation, he replied, “Player personnel - that’s the most difficult part of the job.”

He went on to discuss how he and the scouting staff spent Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays all over the country watching college games. Sometimes they attended two games a day just to find the talent they needed to compete and win on Sundays.  Unfortunately, Terry lost his job with the Jets in 2015. Terry is a great guy and a personal friend, but I cannot imagine the pressure and small window for success in drafting NFL players.

In the 2016 NFL draft, there were 256 players drafted.  There are roughly 15,588 student athletes playing on college campuses through out the US.  Two hundred and fifty six is 1.6% of all the college seniors.

I’m not suggesting that your hit percentage should be the same, but Geoff Smart, author of Who and Topgrading, suggests that it be at least 1 out of 20, or in other terms, 5%.

You may or may not notice the intentional use of the phrase “a better way to ELIMINATE those 90%” in the opening paragraph, but one of the keys to hiring better is to get better at disqualifying candidates!

In our approach to helping companies hire better salespeople, we find that it is critical to first change the mindset of the process and then change the process. The mindset that has to change from “find candidates that qualify” to “disqualifying candidates.”  If you work hard at disqualifying, then those that are left are more likely to be successful candidates.  Using this approach to hiring - in conjunction with using a predictive sales success assessment - will help you eliminate hiring mistakes!

I won’t go any further into the details about the process of eliminating mistakes here today except to mention one critical component – scorecards.  You should have in your possession a scorecard to evaluate talent based on the competencies that are required to succeed.  Specifically, that means the competencies, skills and behaviors needed to complete 100% of the job at an extraordinary level. The challenge here, of course, is to sort through the 90% of candidates that are incapable of executing what you need done 100% of the time.

Additional Resource: 

Download our free eBook - How to Hire Bankers Who Will Sell

Topics: hire better salespeople, find salespeople, predictable sales growth, hiring top salespeople, sales management responsibilities

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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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