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Sales Effectiveness

January 27, 2012

Football & Opportunity Management

Missed Kick

Death threats!

A dropped ball and a missed kick led to death threats. Last week during the title matches that produce the participants for the Big Game in American football, two players suffered season-ending miscues. As a result, two teams went on vacation. Those with a stake in the outcomes were devastated, and a tiny fraction displayed their contempt in a seriously anti-social manner. With so much at stake and such great visibility, it is not a big surprise that these high-profile bungles received so much attention.

So my question is, what happens when your sales guys fumble? My guess is that they don’t get death threats if they drop the ball on an opportunity. I am fairly confident that most dropped balls go unobserved.

I don’t think it is unfair to compare your sales team to a football team. The selling process is often discussed in sports metaphors, particularly hunting – the thrill of the chase, and all that. In fact, it would be pretty interesting if sales SVPs could pick their fantasy sales team and compete with each other on a weekly fantasy forecast.

But, getting back to botched plays, it would be great if sales reps were monitored with as much visibility as football players. In fact, the concept of Moneyball, borrowed from the statistical analysis performed by some baseball teams, makes even more sense when it comes to sales as a sport. It would improve overall sales performance if we could track more information about sales activity and compare that to results. We don’t need to see the sales rep up on the Jumbotron in slow motion replay, but it would be better if we knew more about what happens along the way.

It is possible to make progress when it comes to improving sales rep performance. I believe it starts with a formal approach to opportunity management. Deals should be tracked and the activities that go into moving deals along should be tracked as well. Opportunity stages should be defined, and key activities for advancing deals should be outlined. Sales managers need to enforce the discipline of this method, primarily by measuring and reviewing results.

All of this gives us a better chance to coach, another sports metaphor. When a sales rep does make a misstep, it is best to know what went wrong, and what will make it right next time. It is much harder to self-correct than it is for a sales manager and a sales rep to work as a team to make improvements. This is why teams review game video footage – the equivalent of tracking sales activities by opportunity stage and discussing once or twice a month.

What we need is more visibility into fumbles, but what we don’t need, however, are death threats.

August 26, 2011

Hunters versus Farmers

Berry season is just wrapping up for me and while I was out in the patch for what may be the last harvest I got to thinking about paleontology. I seem to recall different articles, probably from National Geographic, or perhaps maybe the History Channel, where there is discussion about ancient civilizations being hunters and gatherers or advancing to farmers. I guess according to the experts farming was a sign of a more advanced society with more understanding of natural cycles and the process of cultivation. There I was out gathering berries and wondering if this meant that I was not very advanced. However, I convinced myself that I was OK because, even though my berry patch is comprised of wild black raspberry and wild blackberry, I actually cultivate the patch, performing a number of things like brush clearing to encourage growth. It was a weak argument but it satisfied my self esteem.

Having overcome that small internal crisis I then moved on to thinking about the concept of hunters versus farmers in the corporate world. It is amazing how the mind wanders while you are in the process of pulling little round purple things off of a branch and dropping it in a plastic container. Sales hunters and sales farmers started to drive my cogitation. The interesting thing to me about this while I was out in the patch that day was that according to the paleontologists the hunters were the more advanced cultures, but according to today’s corporate cultures, the sales hunters are the more revered species. Those that go out and bring in the big game are more highly rewarded than those that just keep the annuity flowing.

I don’t get that. I think the paleontology-minded view of this is more accurate.

Hunters don’t attract the glory, perhaps because their actions are invisible and because their corporate contribution is too steady. Landing a big account and with a big up front sale has big numbers attached to it – rhinoceros and elephant kind of stuff. A steady stream of beans and corn just pales in comparison, although that is what keeps the village alive during the long spells between the big deals.

As our culture moves toward a greater volume of social-based buying, driven through social marketing programs, we will become even more farmer-like. How will this be perceived? Will this drive a bigger chasm between sales and marketing? Will the value of the hunter finally be recognized in our corporate culture?

My advice is that we need to embrace farmers, recognize their contribution, celebrate the fact that they keep us fed. Let’s reward those who drive loyalty, who ensure contract renewal, who do the cross-sell. Perhaps more importantly, we need to make sure that the hunter-type selling is done correctly. Do you have the role defined? Do those how farm have clear direction or does this conflict with another element of their role. I often see that this is the case with many of the organizations I work with. Hunters are not only more regarded, farming is often performed on the side, by people who are tasked with something else as their primary focus.

One tangent we might ponder, continuing with the metaphor, is how the social CRM trend will impact sales as a function. Interestingly, I think one thing that might happen is that we may see hunters become more like ranchers. Too bad ranchers and farmers have never been all that good at getting along.

Stay tuned.


Prairie Dog Squirrels

August 12, 2011

Who's Calling The Plays?

While watching a baseball game the other night, the discussion between the two announcers during a lull in the game turned to the concept of game pace. Obviously the pace of the game was resulting in the lull and, interestingly, the MLB administration wants to speed up the game. What most of us might not know is that the pitcher, according to the rulebook, is supposed to make the next pitch within 12 seconds of receiving the ball. This rule has been in place for some time, but the desire now is to start living by that rule. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have not sat through many innings where the time between pitches is that fast. Count to 12 when you are watching your next game and see for yourself.

What is happening here is that the playbook is stronger than the rulebook. For some teams, every pitch starts in the dugout. A sign is flashed to the catcher who then relays it to the pitcher. The pitcher may have the right to disagree, in which case the catcher has to flash a second sign. Pitchers sometimes shake off 3 or 4 signs from the catcher before the ball is thrown toward the plate. This whole cycle of silent communication requires seriously more than 12 seconds.

Until the rulebook gains more credence than the playbook, baseball is going to be a slow going source of entertainment.

We also have an analogous situation within the world of CRM. The concept of the playbook is one of the hotter topics right now for those who follow sales force effectiveness. In theory, the sales playbook is intended to outline selling scenarios and provide actions (or plays) for the sales professional to follow. This can include topics such as the right product messaging for the situation, how to overcome objections, which buying role should be prioritized, and what steps to take to reach the close.

As a concept, the playbook is a great idea. It should provide sales folks insight into selling new products or within new situations. The problem is this: playbooks are typically developed by individuals who don’t sell, nor have they been in the situations for which they are designing the plays. The playbooks are typically written from the perspective of the product and jammed full of untested sales theory.

The last playbook I encountered with one of my clients was written by folks from marketing. It conflicted with the sales methodology in use, did not match well with processes built into the SFA tool, and was written with so much detail, that the few pieces of useful guidance were drowned in endless PowerPoint slides.

During the 5th inning of a typical game, the dugout has good intelligence. The coaches have monitored what pitches worked against each previous batter in the earlier innings. While a player is at the plate, the coach can indicate that the smartest pitch to get the desired infield grounder or strikeout for example, will be at the outside corner. The pitcher most likely does not have the means for remembering every batter’s weak spots. Those signals coming from the dugout are based on good intelligence and drive up defensive performance.

Likewise, the sales playbook could be based on intelligence. They can be built with content that outlines competitive differentiation or scenarios for effective action based on CRM analytics. Sadly, I have not seen this as a common practice, even if it is a best practice. So, if you are from marketing, this means that a good playbook is one based on evidence, rather than theory. Otherwise, your playbook will eventually be ignored. While I have not seen any comprehensive studies yet, the anecdotal evidence indicates that a significant percentage of playbooks are not developed based on successful experience driving the plays.

So, my open questions are, who’s calling the plays, and, are they being developed through CRM analytics or simply product management hunches? Are the playbooks written by people who actually sell or just someone developing product collateral? Your best chance for playbook adoption and effectiveness will be to create this new tool from the perspective of the sales professional rather than the product manager.

Let’s play ball.


1918

November 19, 2010

Trust Me

I was very skeptical about it at first, when my wife proposed this solution. We adopted a German Shepherd and although he was just a puppy, we knew he would eventually grow into his bear-sized paws. This breed and the size that Bodhi (short for Bodhisattva) would eventually reach would be intimidating. For purposes of liability we would need to keep him safely within the confines of our yard. Our previous pets had enjoyed more freedom, which was my preference. My wife proposed an electronic fence, but I doubted that it would work. No mild shock was going to contain him if a pack of deer were to saunter past (a frequent probability for us). He would simply be incapable of not chasing after them.

Yet, it did work. A couple of zaps and he very much began to respect our expectations of confinement. The three deer that visited last night passed our yard unmolested and unconcerned about the wolf-like canine (they seemed to have learned about the invisible fence as well). Bodhi was relegated to only barking his displeasure regarding the close encounter with our wild neighbors.

Ironically, he no longer wears his collar. He does not require the electronic stimulus to remain within his scope of freedom. Bodhi’s demonstrated restraint, when faced with such a tempting attraction outside the fence, has firmly earned my trust. And my wife will be quick to point out that once again she was right.

This creative approach to fencing demands the presence of trust. You have to believe it is going to work because there is no visible means of containment. With that thought in my head, I started to ponder what invisible fences were containing me within their perimeters and how many proverbial collars I had around my neck. But, that got too frightening and I quickly distracted myself with work to avoid any more unpleasant thoughts.

At that point I remembered that I had just been through a somewhat related conversation about trust with one of my clients. This sales manager questioned my advice regarding her need to include the tracking of sales activities as a component of their sales process and within their CRM system. Her position was that it was unnecessary – she trusted her sales people to do the right things and did not need to look over their shoulders. The last thing she wants is for her sales force to feel threatened with the whole big brother dynamic. While I understand this completely, I disagree with the conclusion.

Was Wild

When we ask sales professionals to capture customer information we do this because we are interested in performance enhancement. We just need to take trust out of the equation. The act of tracking sales activities conducted with customers has a purpose that transcends the concept of trust. At the highest level we track activities to gain more intelligence. If we correlate activity against deal progression we can identify what activities drive opportunity closure with greater situational relevance. In other words, we help sales folks do the right thing with the right customer at the right time. No matter how smart your sales reps are, they are not smarter than the collective understanding we gain from the capture and analysis of customer data.

A second benefit is the value of collaboration that we enable by capturing customer activity in a central and searchable location. This is a fundamental requirement that creates the ability for each team member to know what is going on in the account - facilitating communication and reducing surprises - preventing things from falling through the proverbial cracks. We don’t choose to utilize activity tracking to support collaboration because we don’t trust our sales people to collaborate. Rather, we do this because it is a fundamental element of sales best practices and it enables collaboration. Centrally stored customer data drives better insight and reduces risk. Trust is irrelevant.

At the other end of the spectrum, we do need to drive the capture of sales activities with new teams or under-performing teams to better understand how to improve. This is a coaching matter. When you bring on a new sales professional you want to maximize your ability to guide them and assure they are assimilating into the role rapidly and correctly. If you have an underperforming rep one of the best ways to assure solid improvement coaching is to have a solid understanding of what is going on. Capturing sales activity is the central data required. Yet, this is performed to aid improvement, not out of a lack of trust. Again, trust is not the issue – we need data.

If I did not have an electronic fence at the perimeter of my property, I don’t think I could trust my shepherd to stay put every time his hoofed friends come visiting. He is, after all, a dog and it is about trust. We should not view the process of asking for customer data capture as a restraint. It is not meant to act as a boundary – it is meant to act as a springboard of knowledge.

So, don’t think you’re treating your sales team like contained pets if you ask them to keep a good record of their sales calls. You trust them, but you also need them to put in the correct effort to maximize your customer intelligence.

Now, back to that concept of those proverbial collars around our necks….

November 12, 2010

When You're Ready

I am shortly to become an empty-nester, and I am just fine about it. That is very different from the feeling I got from watching Steve Martin’s movie, Father of the Bride, which came out at about the time of my entrance into fatherhood. Somehow the movie transported me to a point where my new born daughter was finished with being a kid and transitioning to a new stage as a wife. I was seriously not ready for that. And while I may not be completely ready to throw a wedding, I am totally ready with the idea of the empty nest.

Somehow kids growing up make that work. When my daughter was a tweener, I ruminated over the whole dating situation. However, when it came time for her first date a couple of years later, it was totally cool and she chose her boyfriends well(mostly). The same thing happens with driving. I got so tired of driving my son to so many school functions and activities with friends, that handing over the keys after earning his license was a relief. But, I did worry in advance about that day back when he was 13. When it eventually comes time to take the big steps, the big steps seems easy.

Shipping the first one off to college worked out the same way. An 18 year old is genetically programmed to disrupt the nest. That way the parents know it’s time to send off a new member into society. The genetic programming made it easy to let go, if for no reason other than to have the disruptions go away. And now it’s time for the second one to go off and the idea of all the freedom is quite a nice light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Parenting does not come with a user guide, but it helps that nature builds in some things that assist with the transitions.

On the other hand there have been many attempts at writing user guides for business managers. But, I have never found a good one for sales managers. And I don’t think nature has done a good job assisting things either – in fact just the opposite seems to happen. Promoting great sales people into sales manager positions seems to have a poor track record. This is a problem because there are some key sales transitions that need to go well and the sales manager as coach must play a very critical role.

One of those tough transitions is the introduction of new sales force automation to a sales team that has had no or low amounts of sales technology previously. What is typically most difficult about this transition is not just the use of technology but the need to follow a more prescriptive sales process, which usually accompanies the use of world class SFA technology. This is particularly difficult when those same coaches are not in complete agreement with those process changes.

So, it may not be the most popular analogy, but sales managers (as sales coaches) are a bit like parents and do need to help with handling organizational transitions. And I think that sales manager training makes sense in this case. If you are managing a sales function or sales operations group, you need to take this transition to new technology and new sales processes pretty seriously. And, before you worry about deploying to your sales team, you need to get your sales coaches comfortable with the transition first.

Just like the transitions I described above with my kids, where I was being prepared ahead of time, we need to do that with sales managers. We need to get them ready for their people to take on more disciplined tasks and more sophisticated technology. My experience is that it is best to have the sales managers embrace the changes first. Take on the process changes and assimilate those, then layer the technology as a second wave of change.

When my daughter turned 18 she really started to flex her independence muscles. That helped to prepare me for her departure to a university 1400 miles away. We need to prepare our sales managers for transitions a bit differently, but the key is to have them experience the necessary changes first, just like I did as a parent. And I think the key to success is to train them in the sales processes that will be changing. Have them learn the changes and then be accountable for implementing those changes. When the technology comes, it will be viewed as an aid rather than as an evil.

Here is an example – account planning. Many of the organizations I work with do not have sophisticated account planning structures or tools, but it is one of the key elements of both successful SFA and effective sales methodologies. Most companies want to introduce the tool (the technology) as a way of introducing the new method. But the problem is that doing both together is like a one two punch. It is better to introduce the process of account planning first. Teach managers the new process and expect them to implement it with their sales districts. Give them paper versions of the planning template to introduce the new approach. When the tool comes it will be perceived as an improvement – everyone will be ready, especially the managers.

Ultimately, the answer is to help your sales managers to get through the transition first. Put the time and energy there, and the payoff will happen as you deploy to the whole field force. Just like a parent, they won’t be fighting the change; they will be pushing for it to happen.

How many months is it until schools open next fall?

Once Upon A Bowl

July 02, 2010

Old Dogs Big Dogs

One of the things that amazes me these days is that there continue to be so many things that amaze me within the world of CRM. Most of the things on this list are those topics that never seem to go away, and the majority of these perpetual topics seem to cycle around the CRM sub universe I prefer to label sales force excellence. My engagements over the last few weeks have gone far to reinforce this for me.

At the center of this is the whole issue of being able to teach old dogs new tricks. More specifically is the problem of big dogs who are unwilling to even consider the possibility of new tricks. You know what I am alluding to – those tenured and successful sales reps who stand unwaveringly at the epicenter of your change management problems.

Within the CRM specialty of sales force automation an emerging trend is the increasing need to bring best practices and the corresponding enabling technology to support the growing focus on strategic account management. More and more senior-level sales reps are being assigned to complex umbrella accounts that span geographies, markets, or industries, and require coordination of a broad team of sales professionals who drive business within the local account affiliates. This role is not new, but it is growing and demanding increasing attention from the CRM program. SFA is not just for the traditional account rep any longer.

For those of us who are tasked to satisfy this new demand, the challenge lies in the elite nature of the sales personnel assigned to these uber-critical accounts. This is the crème-de-la-crème of the sales gene pool – these people are true rock stars. And, they need to lean on SFA just like their mere-mortal sales cousins, but they don’t all necessarily see it that way.

Here is an example of the challenge. Very recently while wrapping up a two-day session that had gathered together the A List strategic account reps for a client, I encountered a demonstration of this resistance head on. Our task during the session was to identify what was working with regard to their management of these complex accounts to better enable us to export those best practices to an expanded elite flying squadron in more geographies. The final topic of the meeting was a focus on the use of tools, primarily SFA, to support the pursuit of strategic opportunities. We defined the tool requirements without a hitch and the group appeared pumped that we would be rolling out the tool shortly in the next phase of the program.

But, when going around the room to gather feedback on perceptions of the meeting effectiveness, the alpha dog in the pack stated casually, “Just so you know, I would never use this tool – I absolutely don’t need it to manage my accounts!” The room went silent.

Poop Permit

After scraping my jaw off the table, and doing my best to maintain composure, I asked the rest of the group for their reaction. The ensuing conversation proceeded along the lines of who actually would adopt the proposed tool and who might choose to pull rank and drive tool free. Old big dogs don’t like to be asked to perform new tricks. So there is the challenge. We don’t want to roll over either, pun intended. SAMs that don’t play nice in the sandbox hurt their teams. They reduce the value of the data captured within the tool, which requires more 90’s era e-mail communication, and results in less understanding of the customer. Marketing has less intelligence regarding what messaging helps to drive big deals. Forecasting suffers. Ultimately we sub-optimize the investment.

We need the big dogs on board.

I think the answer is about adaptation. On the surface, strategic account management looks similar to traditional account management. Most likely you go through similar if not the same sales stages. But the complexity is the difference. Account management is like a game of chess. Strategic account management is like playing 19 games of chess simultaneously. You need to adapt your SFA to account for the complexity. The SAM needs to get something back from using the tool, just like any other sales rep. You need to find what that is for your strategic account managers – it may not be always obvious or the same from company to company.

I think you can win over the big dogs. You need to let them maintain their alpha status in the pack, but you also need to show them how you will help them excel in that alpha role. That may take a bit of research on your part – but the big dogs will play.

June 04, 2010

What's On The Backside?

Do you remember being in the 7th grade, taking a math quiz, and being told by the teacher that you had to show your calculations, or other logic for deriving the answer, on the back of the quiz sheet in order to get full credit? What was up with that?

It wasn’t such a bad thing in the end. If you got the answer wrong, but your logic and calculations were sound, (perhaps a careless transposition error) you probably received most of the credit. On the other hand, if your logic was erroneous but you still got the answer right, you got little credit due to the fact that you did not really know what you were talking about. Ultimately it is not about the answer on the quiz, it is about the problem solving ability. If you didn’t understand how to solve the problem, uncovering this at the time of the quiz gave the teacher the opportunity to help set you straight before the final exam. Working the problem out on the back of the sheet was all for the purposes of coaching and guidance. It was truly in our best interest (even if we did not recognize it at the time).

Over the last few weeks I have been working with a couple of different clients on the standardization of the territory planning process. It has been interesting in that they are accepting this change to their sales force effectiveness methods very differently. One company really gets it and is embracing the need for a more disciplined approach to ensuring that every sales rep has a well thought out plan for making their number. The other company is resisting the idea and would rather skip the process and go straight into pushing the reps out onto the street to make their number.

In a meeting with the management team of the latter client, the whole thing about writing-down-the-problem-solving-on-the-back-of-the-quiz-sheet hit me. How do we know if the sales rep has a chance of getting the problem right on the final exam if we can’t tell if they really know how to solve it (by having visibility to the back of the quiz)?

In the former company of my example above, one district manager was so driven to improve territory planning that he believed it was a good idea to give full commission on achieving sales targets only if the sales rep can show in the plan how they will get there ahead of time. In other words, don’t rely on luck to make the quota, rely on the plan. I guess this is like playing billiards where you have to call the pocket in order to get credit for sinking the ball. Skill counts, luck does not. Perhaps this is acceptable when playing pool but maybe it is a bit extreme when compensating your sales team, but I really appreciate the sentiment greatly.

Signage

Let’s not rely on luck for achieving quota. Instead, how about if we show how we are going to work the math problem on the back of the quiz? A good territory plan examines each targeted account and carefully examines the potential revenue to be derived from that account to best project where revenue will be generated. The account projections are rolled up into a territory projection and the logic of solving the math problem is wondrously illustrated. Most important, if the logic does not add up – the fault of the problem solving is exposed. And, what is even more important than most important, this gives the sales manager and coach time to improve the situation before the final exam. We can examine the back of the quiz sheet to ensure that the problem solver is working with the right capabilities.

Why would you not want to have this seriously critical capability in place for your sales team? In my experience, opponents to a disciplined territory planning process are typically victims of their previous success. Companies that I support who have recently experienced escalating growth do not typically want to invest the time – the market vacuum they fill with their product does not need a plan. Rather, it needs a faster fulfillment process. But these conditions change as fast as the weather in New England. It may be that the discipline of territory planning is an unneeded drag on the progress of triple digit growth sales teams. However, as soon as your boon is over, you might want to consider the value of soundly illustrating where your success is based.

Yes, I think it is a good idea to show your calculation on the back of the quiz sheet. Is it because my mother was a math teacher? Maybe. But maybe it was also because sometimes I had a few flaws in my own logic and my instructors were enabled with the opportunity to coach me before it was too late. I believe firmly in the idea of sales manager as coach. If the problem solving is illustrated on the back of the quiz sheet (or perhaps in your CRM system) the coach will have a chance to guide before it is too late, that is, before the quarter closes.

For those of you with triple digit growth – you get a reprieve – don’t worry about territory planning. For the rest of us mere mortals, I recommend writing out the problem on the back of the sheet.

I hope you get an A+.

May 07, 2010

See Thru Selling

I’m in the market for a used car – we have added yet another driver in the household. Four people, four jobs, four complicated schedules – sharing three cars won’t cut it. This recent set of visits to the used car lots reminds me of some of my first experiences car shopping. It is no wonder the term “used car salesman”, has such derogatory connotations. That question, “tell me what it will take to sell you a car before you leave here today” still makes me cringe.

What is at the heart of this purchasing unpleasantry is the simple fact that people selling used cars have a different selling process than the people who want to buy a car from them. Forcing the buyer into a purchasing decision when they may only be in comparison shopping mode is a complete buyer-seller disconnect. What is an even greater problem is that the typical buyer and seller dyad won’t share with each other their respective buying and selling processes. It is kept secretive, which commonly leads to an adversarial situation due to the disconnect. The seller is trying to pull off a conquest and the buyer is trying to avoid being huckstered.

What if this were different?

What if things changed and the two embraced a single process, mutually agreed, with a single common endpoint? Car shopping would be so much more pleasant. The whole car industry would be in much better shape today in fact. On the other hand, this could also make buying from your company better as well.

Last week I was assisting a client with the redesign of their sales stages. One driving factor of their redesign was to match their sales process with the typical buying process of their customers. We had assembled a team of track-record-proven district managers to share best practices in the pursuit of creating a global standard. During the process a team member offered an example scenario, which included a description of the sales steps shared explicitly with the customer. It was described as a “deal roadmap”. The rest of the team members were flabbergasted – they could not believe that the sales steps would be shared with the customer! You just cannot do that!!

Naturally this became a significant discussion point. For me the irony of the situation was the intention to design a set of sales stages that were to allegedly mirror the customers’, but yet there was a rampant disposition to hide these same steps from those same customers. It was as if there was something deviant with the pursuit of a deal along a pre-described and shared path.

Transparency

Ultimately the collaboratively selling district manager prevailed and convinced his teammates that this transparent approach was the right way to go. I lobbied for his position, using the logic that they intended to design a process matched to their customer. Why keep it a secret? The tipping point in the conversation was when the benefits of transparency came out on the table. This leads to a less adversarial relationship with less surprises and more predictability. The atmosphere is more partner-like and less stressful ,leading to better long-term relationships and loyalty. Of course the real question is whether it leads to more sales.

I believe it does, but I can’t give sufficient proof here. There is a great article from the Harvard Business Review (sorry I don’t have the reference) that describes a study from the Forum Corporation comparing key sales skills with sales success. One of the top skills correlated with high sales results is the ability to match and follow the customer sales process. Is this the same as transparency? Not completely, but I believe there is a very strong relationship.

So, I guess the moral of the story is the next time you want to buy a car, tell your sales person the process you plan to follow and ask if he or she is willing to follow it. If not, move on because there are lots of available cars out there and many who want to sell them to you.

April 23, 2010

Fish Story

I just returned from a short visit to the sport fishing capital of the U.S., a place also known for its limes. We were pretty much the only ones at the marina hiring out a boat and not taking fishing poles along. Our preference is to catch fish on camera while paddling along with the aid of a snorkel rather than the use of a hook. However, the whole fishing thing got me thinking.

When we return from a vacation we all invariably get bombarded by co-workers and friends with the same necessary question – “how was your vacation?” And this polite behavior requires that we have to have an answer, and mine is always based on how much enjoyment I experienced. So for me, when it comes to skin diving, the criteria for success is measured by things such as the number of unique fish I got to see, or the quality of underwater pictures I managed to take. So, my answers to these inevitable inquiries include things like – “Great, I got to see my first school of spotted eagle rays!” Then, the fishing thing came back into my head and I thought, if I had been fishing I would rate my vacation on how many fish I caught or how big of fish I caught – such as my co-worker’s sister who landed a 7 foot sailfish! That is a serious success.

But then my warped mind kept pondering this and I wondered if I would rate my fishing vacation on something like how many times I cast my line into the water. Yes, I know this sounds pretty weird. And what is even weirder is that I then pondered the connection between fishing and selling, or, more specifically, the comparison between the measurement of fishing success and the measurement of selling success.

No. Fishermen and fisherwomen do not measure their success on the number of casts unless the measurement is something like how many strikes they get per cast. Otherwise it is all about snagging the fish on the lure.

On the other hand, there are quite a few companies that think it makes sense to measure how many sales calls a rep makes – the equivalent of the fishing cast. For the most part I think this is a mistake. If we measured fisherpersons on their casts, they would be motivated to drop the hook into the water as many times as possible, which would drive bad fishing behavior. They might not reel in the lure correctly, or leave the bait in the water a sufficient time to attract a fish. Maybe they would throw the line in the water too close to shore so they don’t waste time puttering out to the right fishing hole. Rather, the measurements need to be fish strikes, fish brought to the boat, and whether the fish is a keeper.

My point in all this is that we need to measure sales folks correctly. While measurement has to be focused ultimately on the deal (how many keepers did you get), it can also be focused on whether they are using the right bait or fishing in the right spot. But measuring how many times they cast the lure into the water is truly a weak measurement.

If we have a good set of pipeline stages defined, we should be able to know what sales activities are needed to advance a deal. We should measure whether those activities are performed and whether the sales stages have advanced. Those are great measurements, just like how many strikes and how many fish make it to the boat to the type of bait used. The number of casts just doesn’t get us very far. It would be as if we did not trust the fisherperson to fish enough – maybe we suspect they are just sitting in the boat and drinking beer.

OK, there are exceptions. A green sales team may benefit from this monitoring. Sometimes sales visit targets for certain segments can help change call behavior so that higher value customers are being called. But these are limited situations and we should only wield this kind of measurement for this type of circumstance and for a limited duration. Otherwise, setting sales call volumes and measuring against those targets is fairly immature measurement approach.

So, yes – thanks for asking - my vacation was pretty good, and I did get to swim for a while with that pack of rays. It ranks below the outstanding trip where I dove with the 5 foot long leatherbacks one day and saw my first feather duster the day before. But, it ranks above the so-so trip where the water was murky and the only interesting fish were hungry barracuda.

Now, go catch some fish – you decide if you use a rod or a camera.


Wild Gills

March 26, 2010

Art Versus Science

I like to shoot with a camera, something that I have been doing since I was a kid. Not too long ago I succumbed to the digital conversion and I have been pretty happy with the switch. Yes, there are some things that I prefer about film, but all-in-all I like my digital cameras. What I find that I like most is the introduction of more science, more control over the output. There is still much art, especially when it comes to capturing the image. Composition, timing, getting the right angle, and capturing a story – these are the art aspects that cannot be made very scientific.

On the other hand, when it comes to producing the image, the tools for digital production are all about science: getting the brightness right, setting the contrast, improving color quality, removing or covering undesirable elements of the photo, and synthesizing layers of images together. These new abilities enabled through computer software are really powerful. But, in the end, I still find that digital photography remains more art than science. The instant gratification and elimination of film costs makes it all more enjoyable as well.

Certainly there are photographers who would argue that it still remains all art, and I am happy to leave them to their opinion. There is, however, one art versus science debate raging that I will choose to enter into. This debate is with regard to the question whether the process of selling is an art or a science. Much like the separation between the taking of the photo versus the production of the photo, I think it can be useful to also separate the notion of sales force effectiveness from that of sales professional effectiveness. One looks at the total process of selling while the other looks at the individual within that process.

I truly believe that sales force effectiveness is a science. We now know the factors that separate successful sales functions from less successful sales functions. When you introduce those factors, largely a set of sales process disciplines, teams on the whole produce better results. These elements, such as segmentation, account planning, pipeline management, and reporting of metrics are the science of selling.

On the other hand, I believe that sales people can follow the steps of this science, but their innate skills are huge difference makers. The ability to build rapport, the possession of the right patience and temperament to continue in the face of rejection, a sense of timing, and the confidence to ask for the sale are personal characteristics that are truly artful. I believe sales folks come from a different gene pool than the rest of us mortals. These things are hard to teach to an individual without the sales gene. However, sales force effectiveness components are highly teachable, can be practiced, and, when the correct compliance to the process is followed, becomes the science of sales put on top of the art.

Photography is 80% art and 20% science perhaps. It is truly difficult to take a quality, artistic photo with just the mechanics – the basic art needs to be there. You have suffered through being forced to view horrid pictures from your friends and family. You know what I am talking about. Selling, in reverse, is 20% art and 80% science. The science can compensate pretty well for the individual without that strong innate ability, but a little bit of art goes a long way.

And when you mix the two together, the science of selling becomes true performance art.


Plum Roots

February 26, 2010

Balancing Act

Last week I was conducting a sales best practices audit with a client. This is a fairly common exercise for us these days where we evaluate the sales function against 20 proven sales best practices (which are grouped into five categories we refer to as Capabilities). In the middle of the workshop where all of this was being conducted one of the participants, a veteran regional manager, asked me directly which of the 5 capabilities I believed were most important.

Now, I have to disclose that I have been doing work sessions like this for a quarter century and I can smell when a question of this variety is really a set up. These questions are usually a front for the individual to declare what she or he believes is all important, and he or she is most likely testing whether I agree (which typically also means they are testing whether I am as smart as they are). For this particular individual, the capability that we have titled Opportunity Management was in fact his favorite. For him everything revolved around the ability to manage deals through the pipeline successfully – the mark of a master sales person.

I probably should pause to mention that the five sales capabilities being referenced include:
- Sales Force Leadership
- Territory Management
- Relationship Management
- Opportunity Management
- Sales Force Measurement
Over the years I have noticed somewhat of a pattern with the companies I have engaged. Some like to focus on account planning (a Territory Management best practice); some like to focus on forecasting (a Sales Force Measurement best practice); some like to focus on coaching (a Sales Force Leadership best practice); and some organizations informally put their effort into call planning (a Relationship Management best practice). The individual from my workshop believed it was all about the pipeline, a normal focus for those who have a centrism toward Opportunity Management. It now seems normal in my experience that sales functions naturally gravitate toward a centrism of one capability or another.

OK, so you are being patient with me but you are asking yourself, why could this possibly matter? And my response is that this centrism thing is both good and bad, and anything that is good and bad simultaneously matters to people who write blogs.

Centrism toward something like an emphasis on the sales pipeline is good because it causes focus. Everybody on the sales team knows what is important – moving deals toward the close. It makes measurement easy and it makes learning the process easy – everybody knows what to do. Focus truly drives results. But there is a downside in this situation. Focus on one of only five capabilities can also mean that four important categories of sales effectiveness are being under attended – and this is a bad thing. If everything is about the deal that means you may not have much focus on accounts that don’t have a deal going, but should. If you were focusing on account planning (a Territory Management capability) you might also be attending to accounts that should have deals being worked but don’t. This more balanced focus will drive new business better than a focus on existing deals alone, which ultimately translates into even more revenue. Being balanced with a focus on all the capabilities is what drives bigger success versus a narrow focus.

This is a lot like skiing at a large resort that offers multiple peaks and bowls but you choose to only ski the runs serviced by one chair lift (even though there are 19 others to choose from). The variety of the terrain and the experience of the different mountain views are a part of the experience (and the $90 lift ticket). Why limit yourself to just one small portion of the experience? The answer is simple – it is because you like the runs from that chair. That is your preferred focus, but you limit what you get from the mountain. And most importantly, you are likely missing out on something else that you would truly enjoy – maybe even more.

Heaven's Gate

The analogy is not perfect, but to be successful with your sales function you do need to truly attend to all five of the sales force capabilities. You cannot run your team just on the forecast. Without coaching you will get nowhere. You cannot build a great territory plan but ignore actions needed during the actual sales visit. Setting goals without measuring your progress toward them is pretty much meaningless. Each of the five capability areas needs your love and attention.

Just in case you were wondering what my answer was to the gentlemen from the workshop, I am willing to share it. Once he disclosed that his preferred capability was Opportunity Management I wholly agreed that this was a great one to choose. It is quite possible given their sales culture that a focus on the pipeline was a great focus for them to drive results. He beamed with pride that his was the right answer. But then he sulked when I went on to state that if they were nigligent in the other four capabilities (they were actually weak in three of the four) that this was putting them at risk, which we went on to identify with specific examples provided by his peers. We did eventually build a great plan to help them achieve more balance and with that more success.

Good luck with your balancing act!

February 19, 2010

A Reminder of the Basics

Much of my focus lately has been on helping organizations develop their capabilities for attracting customers through improved marketing processes and the automation of those processes through state of the art technology. Without question pretty much all companies that I have encountered find themselves with opportunities to raise their ability to increase revenue through better utilization of marketing best practices. This is a part of the organization where most can find gains.

However, this week I had an experience that reminded me that all of the most effective marketing automation in the world cannot replace the need for positive human contact when it comes to winning over a new customer. There are some elements in the rainmaking equation that simply come down to good people skills. If you are uncomfortable with the person or people you are dealing with it can really get in the way of the purchase.

I enjoyed the role of the customer this week, for a change. We were investigating two prospective vendors that we believed had similar products to offer, but needed to dig a bit deeper to understand which of the two would be the better fit. One simply outshined the other and it was totally because of the people we encountered as we were performing our comparative shopping. We focused on these two vendors as a result of excellent marketing that each performed well. But one of them dropped the ball when the true selling started. But, this left me a bit dissatisfied – I was worried that we would fall into the position to make our decision without fully understanding the pros and cons of each of the two offerings. The selling process was so poor due to the people from one of the vendors that they literally short-changed themselves. We did not get a full appreciation for the product and its virtues.

So, I reflected on this a bit. Buried deep within the proprietary framework we utilize to assist clients with Sales Force Effectiveness is the recognition that a successful selling process requires strong fundamental people skills. Reflecting on this a bit more, I now believe this gets overlooked too often. We get so focused on process and technology we forget that good selling is very much centered upon the ability to develop rapport and trust.

I ran across a study a while back that identified those behavioral skills that help to delineate effective sales reps from those that are less effective. Some of these skills are to be expected, such as the ability to develop comfort with the prospect and possess the competence to explain how the product satisfies the prospective customers’ specific needs. Others that were identified might not be as expected, such as honoring the buyer’s purchasing process (instead of the seller’s process), helping to address problems for the buyer (outside of the sale), and not being perceived as aggressive in pushing for the close.

Interestingly, we encountered negative examples of these skills with the vendor who performed poorly. They did not take the time to understand our needs; they followed a standard process rather than working within our buying approach; and they totally failed at developing rapport or demonstrating competence with the product. Ironically, the vendor who bombed with the human contact was actually best with the marketing.

If I were to use my experience this week to sum up these behavioral sales competencies from the study, I would conclude that it is all about confidence – confidence in the individual as representing the capability of the vendor and its products. You have to feel confident that the individual will help you be successful as a result of the sale. Anything that erodes this confidence reduces the likelihood of the sale. While this probably all seems pretty obvious to everyone, I believe we don’t give enough attention to this foundational component of sales force effectiveness. In my line of business there is an underlying assumption that someone else is attending to this necessary capability, such as the training function or the sales coaching process. However, a solid focus on SFE needs to have a focus on sales competencies, especially as they pertain to human relations.

So, the question is whether anyone is keeping an eye on this within your company. Does the training function know what skills are needed to be successful and do they have programs that really assist the individual develop them? Do your sales managers have the ability to assess individual strengths and do they have the tools for proper coaching? If not, these fundamental skills may be getting in the way of your further success.

Rent a Wreck

January 22, 2010

No Pharma

A fairly sizable portion of my clients are medical device companies. They make aortas, blood diagnostic machines, replacement parts for just about every corner of the skeleton, and even those nasty implements of torture utilized by your favorite hygienist. They may produce a nearly infinite amount of items and consumables, but there is one thing they all seem to have in common. They do not want to become or be mistaken for a pharmaceutical company. Most of this sentiment seems to be focused within the sales function and there is one primary driver behind this. Many sales reps in the medical device industry are there having escaped positions previously as pharma reps.

This is a common dynamic within a number of biotechnology firms I have worked with as well, but it is so strong within the med device companies that this sentiment and culture even prevails within medical device divisions of pharmaceutical parent companies. This element of company culture and the beliefs and attitude it harbors is strong, and will influence far and wide.

One of the detrimental aspects of this anti-pharma culture has to do with the over-avoidance of things considered pharmaceutical in nature, but that are actually best practices. Of all these that I find is the most dysfunctional, what causes the most potential harm, is the belief that capturing key activities following a sales call is unnecessary or undeisrable. The fear is that this smacks of call reporting, the big pharma practice of keeping track of sales reps to ensure they are getting through to enough docs. This is such a prevalent practice that some SFA packages designed for the pharmaceutical industry do just about nothing but build call reports.

Keeping track of key activities that take place during a sales visit or phone chat is an essential element of sales force effectiveness. There are nearly an unlimited number of reasons for capturing information about what happens or is discussed when a rep meets with a healthcare professional. And there is a similar number of types of things that can be captured to satisfy all those good reasons.

Perhaps the biggest reason to keep track of things is to measure what is working. What product messages drive the most interest? What actions are best at progressing to the next sales stage? What assurances are best at overcoming objections? If the actual activities are captured and then compared against results, a sales team can use the feedback to improve its performance.

This is not big brother. It does not have to be an issue of control. Although monitoring call activity can help to understand why a sales professional is having troubles at certain sales stages, giving the sales manager an upper hand with coaching. But this should not be viewed as negative or counter-cultural. We are talking about best practices for driving effectiveness. Why would you avoid this just to avoid the perception that you are acting like big pharma?

I totally respect and empathize with those who have chosen a specific type of sales environment, and don’t want to work in the type of environment they have specifically avoided. But we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Preserve your culture but allow for a bit of discipline that can lead to success. No, we don’t want sales people becoming burdened with administrative chores. Capturing key activities does not have to be a burden – the technology can actually make it easy.

Sales activity and the ability to measure it is at the core of sales force effectiveness best practices. Do what it takes to be successful and you will find a way to preserve your culture.
After all this typing I seem to be experiencing some pain in my wrists. Can anybody leave me a sample of some pain medicine?

Teutonic Painkiller

July 17, 2009

Unsung Heroes

Our local soccer team finally had a player return from a many game-missing injury. His return sparked the team immediately. Interestingly, he is a player that does not get a lot of publicity. He does not score a lot of goals because his job is to pass the ball to those who do score. Likewise, his job is to keep the ball out of the net, but he is not the goal keeper. Instead, his job is to keep the ball from getting close. He is an unsung hero for his team and within his sport. There are many like him on other teams and these are my favorite players. We don’t hear much about them – they certainly don’t toot their own horns. They may not provide much glitz, but they do serve as the heart and soul of the game.

A common activity for me when working on a team with a client is to map their sales process as an initial means of understanding how the function is operating. The business of selling can have a lot of moving parts, but there are also plenty that reoccur from company to company. There are common process elements that most companies want to improve such as forecasting. And there are common process elements that get a lot of attention in the trade press such as opportunity management. Then, of course, there are those process elements that everyone would love to have their sales force excel at such as prospecting.

But there is one component of the sales process that does not seem to get a lot of press – it is not all sexy. However, I find it everywhere I go and I wonder if it isn’t one of the most critical parts of the process for success. I am talking about the process of sales call planning.

Twin Tooters

Good planning for a sales visit can make or break the effectiveness of the call. What is the status of the current contract? What was the last service issue raised? Who has visited the account last and why? Are there any orders pending or is there an outstanding invoice? What was your most recent activity and have you followed up on all your promises? Does your contact have an upcoming critical activity or event (such as attending a convention or an approaching birthday)? Has your customer received a marketing promotion?

Having access to this information prior to a sales call is essential for managing the visit productively. It is what sales people tell me is one of the most critical elements of their performance. If they have the information they do better. If they have trouble finding the necessary information, the added burden of preparation can reduce the number of visits they make during the work week. Not being able to access information can reduce their understanding of the account to the extent of eroding credibility and even blowing deals.

A real key to successful planning is the CRM system. Certainly the ability to check up on customer profile details is critical. Better is the ability to review the most recent sales actions and follow up activities that may be outstanding. Seeing activities from other groups such as customer service is another feature that is highly valued. More advanced abilities include checking order completion and revenue against targets. Dashboards make it possible to check key indicators on a PDA literally minutes before a call.

Another feature loudly applauded is the idea of placing all tools in one location if they are not already co-located inside the CRM system. Most of my clients have calculators, reports, forms, and sales collateral that are separate from their CRM platform. Sales folks are most productive when these are all located together on a portal with speedy access and navigation. Of those items, the one I would raise as a super high priority for planning is access to content – product collateral, white papers, studies, objections response – anything with knowledge needed for advancing the deal.

Sales call planning is the unsung hero of the sales process. But, like most in this role it is also the workhorse. It is important that the CRM program or the sales force effectiveness initiative provide the correct tools to support this process appropriately. Efficient data and knowledge access is the name of the game. Fancy automation is not the key – simple ease of use is the true value.

With the right tools your unsung heroes will also be winners.

June 26, 2009

Recycling Adoption

It is a truly great thing that it is getting more possible to recycle these days. More and more of the client offices I visit and public locations I travel through provide that special bin for depositing the unneeded plastic bottle or soft drink can. Even the airlines are getting into the act by separating newspapers and plastics from the rest of the rubbish.

This is a great example of successful user adoption in my opinion. Although, it has been a long and bumpy road we have been traveling down. In my part of town recycle day is every other Tuesday and it sincerely warms my heart when I see my neighbors placing their empty wine bottles and cat food tins in that special green plastic carton instead of their trash barrels. Conversely, I try not to get too irritated with the neighbors who don’t place their green plastic cartons curbside on every other Tuesday, even though I am certain their trash barrels are full of newspapers, cans, water bottles and flattened boxes.

If you believe the information from the people who collect and analyze this stuff, one trend that is not following quite as well as this increased willingness to separate one’s trash is the adoption of sales force automation. I have had a chance to review some studies – not stuff from the late 90’s – we are talking about findings from research conducted over the last year. These folks, who specialize in this stuff, tell us that SFA implementations are at an increasing rate of execution. Everybody is doing it, so it seems. Of course it does make sense. There is no more excuse any longer.

The technical abilities for managing sales activities and account details have become accessible through both affordability and functionality advancement. There is no reason for a sales function to operate without the enablement provided by SFA platforms. According to the aforementioned research, pretty much everybody is on board. That is, they have the software, but the research also shows they are not necessarily using it. This is the part I find most amazing. The deployment rates of these software packages are increasing, but the adoption rates are not. People may be more willing to recycle their empty milk containers, but they don’t want to capture their progression of sales stages on the small screen.

One might think after all this time we would have learned what is required to get these programs to deliver success. In fact we have. I think the problem is that too many of these projects are of the SaaS variety. Folks are taking the pay-as-you-go approach and they think they don’t need to address all the variables of the larger on premise implementations. That is a fallacy which is leading a considerable amount of these lower cost projects astray. Just because the software costs less, does not mean that the challenges of adoption go away. In fact they remain absolutely the same.

There are actually quite a few things that need to be done to assure that SFA tool adoption happens successfully with sales reps. However, if I were to boil it down to the two most critical, it would be the following.

Potencia Naturale

The first factor is all about the balance between WIFM and the hassle factor. Asking sales reps to enter a bunch of data for somebody else’s benefit is a bad idea. They need to get something back. It is a lot like putting a nickel deposit on a Coke bottle. If you want the glass back you need to give the consumer something in return. That has been a great scheme. In order to get people to store up all their beer cans in the garage they need to get a buck twenty back for each case they return. The same thing goes for SFA. If you want for sales reps to capture customer profiles to benefit the marketing department, they need to get something back in return.

However, it is not that simple. There is also the hassle of keeping all those cans in the garage. Is it worth a nickel each? Well, in California they had to raise it to a dime. And in Maine wine and liquor bottles got up to 15 cents. We have to make the ratio work. The what-is-in-it-for-me portion of the equation has to be greater than the hassle of doing the work. In some cases capturing call data after each visit is perceived as less of a hassle than creating the weekly call report on Friday nights from scratch. But, if all we do is make the forecast better for the boss on the backs of the field reps, cooperation is bound to be poor.

But then you should ask, “Why do folks recycle if they don’t get five pennies back for each bottle?” That is a great question and it leads us to the second critical adoption factor that we might think of as accountability of purpose. Getting accountability is a big deal all by itself. Lack of individual accountable is a huge problem for CRM. If you don’t expect that people participate, there is a good chance they won’t. But just meeting compliance requirements alone can leave a customer data base somewhat sparse. I often hear the complaint from my customers that users do what their told, but only the bare minimum. That won’t help our landfills.

I spend between one and two hours each week dealing with our family recycle volume. This is not something I do just to meet a compliance requirement. I feel committed to this process because I believe in the end game. Do the sales folks even know what your end game is? This is corny, but your users do need to believe in a higher calling, and feel accountable to achieve it. The individual sales rep needs to believe that by entering information about his or her customer visit the information will become intelligence, serving him or her in return, plus serving the organization as a whole. Marketing campaigns will improve, forecasts will be more precise, product development will be more effective, and the organization will increase its odds of winning. This connection to the greater purpose will drive adoption beyond compliance and toward solid program ROI.

This second primary SFA adoption factor is all about having a strongly defined, communicated, and supported purpose. It needs to be driven from the top, reinforced in the middle, and constantly reminded to the folks on the front line. It goes beyond compliance of entering data. It is about being accountable to helping the organization thrive. When combined with the focus on individual benefit, this one-two punch will greatly improve your program success.

Don’t forget, that plastic ice coffee cup, lid and straw can be recycled.

February 04, 2009

Exercise Your Reps

The exact same principles apply to developing an effective sales force. There are multiple muscle groups that need to be developed. A reliance on only a subset will hamper performance just like trying to ski the bumps with sissy quads.

When I work with companies who want to improve their sales capacity I will often ask what they feel they need to improve. If there was just one thing that would have an impact what would it be?
- Just need a better forecasting tool
- Really believe the sales team would do better with a new methodology
- We need to drive out wasted activity from low performing accounts
- If we just had more leads…

So, did one of these resonate with you? The question then to ask is whether this is the one thing that is holding you back or if it is the lever that you find easier to pull? I find too often it is the latter. The most common reason I will be invited to meet with a new client is to help determine how to improve the existing sales tools, or to select a new one that better fits with the needs of the business. Interestingly, I often find that there is a bigger need to address than the sales tools.

Many people perform exercises that they prefer rather than ones that they find uncomfortable. This happens with sales effectiveness as well. It is easy to throw money at tools or sales methods, but it is harder to improve accountability within the sales culture or raise the effectiveness of sales leadership.

Through some pretty exhaustive research I have found that there are eight factors that need to be in place to help a sales team perform at peak ability. These have been shown to differentiate between effective and less effective companies. In other words, these are best practices that if you have in place will increase your odds of success.

Winter Trail

They are as follows:
- Sales Strategy – setting and communicating priorities including the integration between functions
- Sales Leadership – sales managers that motivate, coach, and aid salesforce performance
- Sales Process – consistent and documented business processes that facilitate the tasks of selling
- Sales Tools – technology that enables the sales processes to function efficiently and effectively
- Selling Competency – the requisite skills needed to identify, advance and close deals
- Sales Measurement – metrics that monitor performance and assist with driving direction
- Sales Training – formal methods that match the sales force’s skill, process and tool needs
- Sales Climate – a conducive work atmosphere that fosters rather than limits performance

Knowing about these 8 Salesforce Effectiveness Factors is only part of the key to success – you also have to do something about them. Most of the organizations that I work with have some that are more advanced than others and some that need help. The important thing is understanding which are the factors that are less mature – these are what holds back the performance of the sales team.

You may prefer to work on the factors that you like best, but those that need the most attention will give you the biggest payback. It may be great to hold a week-long strategy session each year with the leadership team, and you may really bang out great plans. However, if your leadership team is weak at execution, you are better off giving some tough love and spending less time at the offsite. Likewise, investing in yet more advanced and slick tools is likely a waste if you have under-developed processes.

Give the whole body a work out – not just the routines you like to do. Hate sit ups? Do more of those than you think you should. Love that Nordic Trak? Make sure you give equal time working your balance and core muscles.
Do the same with your sales team and you will see a similar improvement.

If only I had put in more time working the lung capacity before heading over to the Alps next week.

January 09, 2009

Turn The Channel

Did you hear about the layoffs today? Yes, those layoffs – and those were on top of the layoffs yesterday! What has really been shocking me recently aren’t the numbers, 35,000 announced one day, while 20,000 were announced the day before. No, what has captured my attention is the huge percentage of sales professionals involved in those numbers. What is going on here? Don’t we need to sell our way out of this mess?

Evidently not.

At first I was surprised by the bloodletting within the business development ranks. Clients of mine were cutting loose their sales folks at the same time we were working to improve the effectiveness of the workforce. However, there is some sanity behind this apparent madness. While I am not a fan of the concept of downsizing, there are many organizations that have the wrong coverage model with too many expensive sales execs deployed to visit the wrong segment of accounts.

Many businesses could reduce their cost of sales by deploying less costly channels against segments that don’t demand high-powered sales teams. Serving the lower end of the SMB may be fine with a tele-channel. Serving the long-tail segment of accounts - small spenders, infrequent spenders, and those in low-density territories – may be best served over a web channel. That segment in the middle with a low spend but a reasonable potential should be targeted by a marketing channel to soften and identify likely prospects.

Doggone

If you are concerned that your SG&A is going to put you at risk during this next downturn you may want to examine your coverage model. This begins with a revisit of your segments. Many organizations that I work with are strictly geography based – use a red marker on the map, carve up the territories to even out the load, and you have yourself a coverage plan. But this is a bad strategy in many situations. This will ensure that every sales rep has a portion of dog accounts that they are required to visit. Worse, those accounts that are easy to reach or are friendly to sales visits will get an unjust amount of love and attention, even if they don’t produce the goods.

Just because an account is harder to penetrate does not mean it does not warrant attention. Unfortunately the geography only based coverage model guarantees that those accounts get way less love than the friendly ones.
This is why segmentation is so critical. Give the accounts that will yield riches from face to face visits to your expensive field force. But give the dogs to the channel that is better with raising pets. Some of the dogs need campaign nurturing. Some of them just need a phone call when they are ready. Others will find you if you make sure they know your URL and it is easy to work with.

Once you strip away all those canine accounts, the territories could get a bit bigger – less red lines dissecting the map. Don’t fill the open recs and don’t panic when Fred retires in March (just make sure he has his contacts up to date). You will be able to get by with less reps if you think this through.

Don’t forget to feed the puppies.

October 31, 2008

Trick or Treat

I was asked by a client recently if I could provide some sales training to a somewhat seasoned salesforce. While I was not really conscious of it at the time, I think what was going around in my head like a mantra warning was the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.

No More Tricks 2

It is important to disclose that I spent the first half of my career in the training business of one shape or another. But I got frustrated in that profession because I learned that too many problems could not be addressed through training as a sole solution, but often I was forced into that situation.

Tonight my doorbell will ring and on my doorstep will be spooks and goblins in search of Kit Kat bars and Reese’s cups. Just prior to arriving at my house the 11 year old who presses my doorbell will have transformed into Spiderman. But, at the end of the night with a bag full of candy, Spiderman will transform back into the 11 year old. The change was superficial, just a costume to serve the purpose of collecting on the annual promise of free processed sugar.

Too many of the training programs I ran in the past served only the purpose of a superficial attempt at skill upgrading. The training session at best gave the participants a costume to wear briefly, then they changed back to their old selves.

Sales people cannot be expected to improve their effectiveness by wearing the costume of the sales methodology du jour. For sales effectiveness to serve up to its namesake a broader intervention is needed. Skills and knowledge are only a piece of the puzzle. The other factors that have to be included are processes, policies, management attitudes, organizational culture, enabling technology, and a bit of good timing and luck.

To accomplish an improvement in the effectiveness of the salesforce requires attending to all these variables, which just can’t be accomplished within the neat package of a training seminar. In combination, however, with attention to these other factors, the training program can be a great catalyst, energizer, focal point for communication, and a place to demonstrate the necessary management support.

Don’t eat all that kind all at once.

October 17, 2008

Inside Out

Here is a shocking discovery.

About twice as many organizations report improvements when deploying SFA for inside sales teams than those that find improvements when deploying SFA to field sales. This news is according to some recently published research from experts in sales effectiveness. Further, this study also identifies that adoption is higher with inside sales versus field sales and wider spread in terms of overall deployments

Of course the obvious reason for these differences is that inside sales folks are strapped to a desk with butts glued to chairs and headphones plugged directly into the SFA tool. Field sales people, cowboys and cowgirls that they are, run wild in the field hopping from taxi to plane to conference room and then get into the hotel just in time for last call. Who has time to fill out all those drop down boxes on the computer screen?

But I don’t think the obvious reason fully answers the question. I think SFA works better for inside sales for two much more important reasons. #1 – SFA has been built for the inside sales work process. #2 – inside sales teams are managed much more strictly with the discipline required for SFA to be adopted and to work.

SFA can and does work for the field, under the right circumstances. Success comes from attending to those two items in the paragraph above. First, you have to build your SFA system to work the way field folks work. And, you have to allow them to do the work in the field, which probably means a hand held. Second, you have to hold them accountable for using the tool correctly. If reps in the field can get away with not using a tool that makes them perform extra administrative tasks, they are going to do as little as they can. Sorry if this offends anyone. Accountability is the only option for driving compliance.

Inside Out

Now, the question you should ask is, what about the whole WIFM thing – what is in it for me? Is there a difference between inside and the field with that? I think there is but it is subtle. Inside sales reps are aided by the SFA tool – it enables them to perform their jobs with greater ease. In fact, they probably could not do what they do without it. The extra boxes they enter data into in order to satisfy marketing and sales management is not that big of a deal.

On the other hand, the chances that the field feels punished by SFA versus rewarded by it are very high. We make them enter data on their down time when they should be helping their kids with homework. We ask them to capture information that is no benefit to them. Plus, their perception is that the more information they enter the greater the likelihood that it will somehow be used to hurt them.

If you want your field force to use SFA and improve performance with it, they have to experience a benefit. It can’t be theoretical, and it can’t be for the company. It has to be a personal, real, and perceived benefit.

So, wondering why things are going well inside and not so well outside? Don’t assume that because it works for one group it will work the same for the other. The field needs extra attention any way. Giving them an SFA tool that is optimized for the inside team is a sure fire recipe for disaster. These tools come out of the box designed for folks on the phone. Put in the extra effort to make it work in the field and you will help change those statistics from the latest study.

August 22, 2008

What To Learn From Swallows

Can we learn something from swallows? No, not those pointy winged birds that keep coming back to the mission at San Juan Capistrano – I am talking about the bug eaters at my house.

Just about the time that the sun sets this time of year you will find the skies above the little valley beside my house full of swallows. Reportedly these little birds fly around with their tiny beaks wide open in order to catch bugs. In my case we are talking about bad bugs – the ones with little syringes constantly on the lookout for warm blooded victims. They dart back and forth over my head, and while I cannot actually see their beaks gaping at a 90 degree angle scooping up those nasty mosquitoes, I willingly believe they are doing a good job.

Finding insects in the sky or on the ground around my place (and in my place) is not all that difficult for a bird to accomplish. However, there are times when the bugs are more plentiful and that would be at dusk. So, this is when the swallows come out, and they clean up. They get their dinner and they go home.

And what are we supposed to learn from this, especially on a site dedicated to all things customer related? As far as I am concerned, this is all about segmentation.

Champlain Sunset

You see, the swallows don’t waste their time flapping their wings with their mouths agape at high noon when the mosquitoes are hiding from the sun. But, how many of your sales reps do the equivalent? How many times do they go visit friendly customers, those that are easy to get appointments with, rather than going where the bugs are more plentiful?

Segmentation is all about deciding which customers have the greatest amount of bugs to offer up and flying mainly there to catch them. It is a simple concept. The swallows get it – somehow they have figured out when the feeding is good. But they have done this without a whole bunch of customer analysis. It is a simple concept, but not necessarily easy to get right.

The trick is figuring out which prospects have the most opportunity and it can take some effort to get that analysis right. But the analytics portion of the equation is just one piece of the challenge. Even when sales folks know which prospects have the biggest set of bugs to catch on paper, they still have a tendency to hang out where things are most friendly.

Segmentation is one of the key factors that differentiates top sales functions from the rest of the pack. However, it takes more than just knowing where to fly, it also requires a discipline to assure that sales reps spend their time where the insects are most plentiful and not where it may be easier to fly.

Make sure your reps are going where the bugs are.

August 01, 2008

Yes, but do they work?

Do sales methodologies work? The answer probably depends on your definition of the term, “work”.

If you have a mature sales force who know their patches and know how to keep the deals flowing, introducing a sales methodology probably won’t work. Otherwise, maybe.

Just to make sure we are all thinking the same thing when we use the term sales methodology, we are referring to one of the many different frameworks for managing accounts and opportunities utilizing a structured set of stages and techniques for advancing accounts and closing deals in an effort to maximize revenue, margin, and satisfaction. These go by a lot of different names, but most are targeted toward helping a sales rep keep attention on the activities needed to advance deals and accounts to maximum benefit.

I ran across a sales study recently that provided some stats on the use of sales methodologies. One of the things that the study boasted was that 7 of 8 companies that utilized sales methodologies had better performance as a result. But, don’t get too excited by this claim. First, the study used self reporting surveys – we don’t know if in fact the use of the methodologies actually caused results to improve, but the survey respondents believed it to be true.

A second issue with the study results centers around the finding that only 1/3 of the respondents disclosed that they used a methodology. So, this means, doing the math correctly, that 2 of 3 were not using one to manage their sales processes. Problem is, we don’t know if those two had already tried using a system and it failed to produce results. Depending on how to best interpret the study findings, it may be that a majority of users do not find success. Perhaps a better methodology for managing research studies is the best conclusion from this one.

Let’s go back to the original question – do they work? My consultant instincts always require me to answer this kind of question with the best possible response, “it depends”.

It might be more useful to ask the question, under what circumstances would a sales methodology provide value, and potentially lead to better business performance? Recently one of my favorite clients told me that he thought his business needed to introduce Miller Heiman, a popular methodology in use by many companies. When I asked why, and who else in the company also believed it was needed, I did not get a substantial reply to the two part question.

So, this leads us to the first condition for success: there has to be an established need and a reasonable amount of consensus for something like this to work. Which leads naturally to the next question, what are the kinds of things going on that would resemble a need? Here are a few:
- the salesforce is junior and needs structure to keep focused on the right selling activity
- the deals are long and complex and require a mechanism for keeping track of progress
- the business does not forecast well and needs a tool for better identifying probabilities within the pipe
- your salesforce has gotten too bloated and you want to force some attrition

OK, I am only partially kidding on the last item. Introducing the kind of discipline that a sales methodology requires can be pretty irritating to vets who know or think they know how to manage their patch. So, you have to be in a situation where changing the rules is going to be OK, or the fallout is going to be OK.

Then there is that residual question from a statement above, who needs to be in consensus with the decision to introduce a sales methodology in order for it to work? That of course is a more complicated answer.

At a minimum, the top sales management team has to all be in agreement – the SVP of sales and her or his direct geography or business unit sales managers. Dissent won’t work at this level. More difficult is that regional manager level – the folks that actually manage the people who do the work. Do you need their consensus on this? Not even practical. Do you need their buy in? Absolutely, but it will take a lot of effort. If you go down this path, plan to do what it takes to get them on board.

So, sales methodologies can provide value to a sales force under the right conditions. Under the wrong conditions, such as needing a new topic for the annual sales meeting, it can be a huge money burning disaster. Choose wisely.

Bonfire Sacrifice 3x

March 14, 2008

May the Force be with You

Old Gun

Should you treat your indirect channel as if they were your salesforce? Sounds like it should be pretty obvious, but is this a trick question?

Most of you out there have some form of indirect business model, partners or distributors who sell your products. On the other hand, some of you sell entirely through others who represent your products to your customers. They are your salesforce. But, should you treat them as if they were your own salesforce?

I think the answer is yes, and no.

If they were your own salesforce, would you help them sell as best as they can? From this perspective I believe the answer is yes. Help them sell just like you would your own people. First, incent them by paying for performance, but ask them to comply with the rules of engagement. This is a no-brainer. Second, provide them product knowledge and training. I would like to think this is a no-brainer, but I know of some companies who could do better with this for their resellers. Third, provide them leads so they know toward whom best to expend selling efforts. You would do this for your own sales reps.

You mean you don’t send leads to your distributors? They get leads from you but you don’t qualify them – but would you qualify leads for your own reps? These people are your salesforce, why not send them the best leads possible? Improved lead quality translates into improved sales – is that not your objective even though the sales reps work for somebody else?

Finally, would you provide your own sales reps with analysis on what is working and what is not working, who is buying what products and who is not, where potential exists and where it is already penetrated? Do you provide that to your resellers? If you did they would sell more. So, treat your indirect channel like you would your own people if you want them to sell more.

Yet, again, this question of how to treat your resellers is complicated. You might not want to treat them completely like your own. For example, do you treat your sales reps with equality? This one is a little thorny. We treat employees with equality by law and also in principle. We want to give them all the same chance to be successful and they are mostly subject to the same remuneration policy (by country at least). However, your resellers are not individuals – they are organizations, and they are very much not equal. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to treat them equally. Nice principle, bad outcome.

We give sales reps all the same product knowledge and training. You might choose to do this with your indirect channel, or you might not. It is possible that you might give your best training to your best partners, investing more in them than in others. Smaller, less capable partners may not pay back on the greater degree of investment.

Should you distribute leads in a fair and equitable manner? Absolutely not! Your highest producing resellers should get the best leads, as they have the best chance of converting them to sales. Do you give equal access to analytics to your different resellers? I wouldn’t. This should be distributed based on level of commitment – the highest get the most analysis.

What about compliance to the rules of engagement – should this be done with equality? The knee-jerk reaction is probably of course. Rather, I think this is an inverse relationship as compared to some of the other factors listed above. Rather than giving more compliance freedom to your best partners, make them play by more strict rules. For example, if they want to be in your top tier, receive the best margin and have the best access to leads and analysis, they also need to provide the best quality of information back: forecasting, lead quality feedback, pipeline information. The little guys may not be able to comply with this – especially if you are using CRM systems to capture the data. You do want your top producers, the 20% who make up the 80% of volume, to play by your rules. Why not? They are successful because of your products and your marketing and sales support efforts. They need to comply with the rules to subsidize that success.

Generally speaking, it is a good idea to segment your resellers based on capability and commitment. They may be able to work their way up the segmentation model, or they may be limited to a category that their abilities allow. Either way, these organizations are not equal and will work best for you if not treated with inappropriate equality. Companies that don’t have formal segmentation models tend to evolve informal systems that are less effective in their outcomes - best to acknowledge this and make the most of your segments.

May their salesforce be with you.

January 11, 2008

Hammers and Nails

As an observer at a recent sales training workshop I was horrified to witness an ugly sight, which then caused a flashback to a couple of decades in the past regarding an equally ugly experience. Way back then in a previous life at a previous company I was responsible for training North American sales professionals on selling consulting services. While participating in a global sales meeting, reviewing sales figures of consulting services, we uncovered that the East Asia sales team had 100% of their revenues coming from only a single service. This was unusual as most territories had sales distributed over a wide range of products.

So, I did a bit of investigating and discovered that this team had been trained in only one service – they were unable to sell anything else, although they had somehow managed to sell a reasonable number of engagements. Unfortunately very few of these engagements led to further sales or expansion of accounts. It turned out that it did not matter much what the customer needed at the time of the sale. They were determined to sell the service offering they had in their bag. When you are a hammer, everything looks pretty much like a nail.

Flash back to the present, a sales training workshop involving role plays with typical prospect encounters. Each of the scenarios is different and designed to get the workshop participants to match the appropriate service offering to the different situations. The problem is that more than three quarters of the trainees pushed the same service offering when they are all supposed to be unique to the role play case. Unfortunately, matching to the correct situation did not seem to be the priority. Apparently it was deju vu all over again – sell the offering you understand most .

I think there are two morals to the story. Obviously the first is to make sure your sales force is adequately trained on the different offerings in your portfolio. But there is another reason to be cautious here. When you are selecting a consulting firm to train your sales force be wary of the breadth of their offerings. I have found many sales effectiveness firms to be one trick ponies. The far majority of these firms have one approach and look for any company to sell it to. If you are looking for external help with your sales team, make sure the firm you pick has a range of capabilities, including diagnostic and assessment services. Otherwise you run the risk of getting pounded like a nail.

Undaunted

December 07, 2007

Deal or No Deal?

Saturday Market

Many times in the past on this site I have posted entries that have started out with words like, “I recently read an interesting article about…”, or something to that effect. But this is not one of those postings. In fact, it surprises me that I have not run into any written point of view on the topic of this posting.

And one other disclaimer – it is going to appear on the surface that this is all about the life sciences industry. But, if that is not where you reside, read on – this may still be relevant for you.

Salesforce automation has had some significant difficulty proving its value in the life sciences industry. I think the core of this issue lies in the disconnect between how these sales professionals sell and how SFA software is designed.

At the heart of SFA software is the pipeline, tracking opportunities as they transform one stage at a time from lead to close. The software, if it were to have a personality, really likes to behave this way – moving deals along a progression of activities until the ink is on the contract. Everything hinges on this, planning, forecasting, activity tracking, and coaching.

Unfortunately, this is not how most of the pros in the life sciences industry sell (as well as many other types of organizations that do not follow a deal progression model). If you sell acid blockers, stents, or dental amalgam, you don’t get a lead, work a deal, and close a sale. Rather, you educate, nurture, loan, demonstrate, coach, and reward a wide variety of healthcare professionals until a physician, dentist, clinic, or department becomes regular users or prescribers of your product. There is no deal; there is a relationship lifecycle. This is at the center of most of the business models within the life sciences industry, but it is not limited to that industry alone.

SFA is not built this way. It is built around deals. As a result the disconnect hampers the value of the software that can be derived by the field force. So, this begs the question, what can be done?

I think it is useful to start with sales operations. Recognize the disconnect and become very explicit about describing the progression of the relationship with the individual medical professional or the medical account (hospital, clinic, department). Build a relationship maturity model. I see typically four stages – trial, adoption, commitment, and advocacy. And, yes, these stages are product dependent. A physician can be at the commitment stage with one drug and at the trial stage for another.

Next, it is critical to configure your SFA tool to reflect these stages of the relationship and not the out of the box opportunity design. This works better for the sales folks conceptually, and allows them to utilize the software more practically – driving up adoption and value. One fly in the ointment is for those medical device companies that sell both ways. If you do have equipment in your product line, then you do have the enjoyment of selling more traditional deals. For these companies, your SFA has to satisfy both audiences.

It surprises me to what extent this disconnect between the way selling works and the way the software is designed prevails within the organizations with whom I meet. I think it is a relatively easy fix, but it needs to get some visibility. So, let’s start talking about it so we can do something about it.

November 02, 2007

How Many Sales Reps Does it Take to Change a...?

Heine Wagon

Did you ever notice that an awful lot of life sciences industry companies seem to have a sales force for each product or drug they offer? That has always seemed like an extravagance to me.

The way this works is that a company comes up with a new product and then sets up a division to manage it. Each division has an R&D group and product managers. They set up a team to market the product and then there is a natural extension to set up a salesforce to push it to the medical community.

The more mature organizations eventually create a shared set of central services such as Finance, IT and HR. This seems to be acceptable to each division to share IT support, but each division seems quite bent on having control over who is doing the selling.

Ultimately this seems to come down to measurement and remuneration. The perceived risk or lack of trust may revolve around the belief that another division’s sales force is going to be more motivated to sell their own product rather than another’s. This gets veiled with things like skill concerns – nobody could have enough knowledge of how their product or drug works – so they have to do it themselves. I am not sure I buy this. If your salesforce can learn it, why can’t another salesforce learn it?

There are times when it does make sense to specialize, especially when each sales team needs to call on a radically different call point such as cardio-vascular surgeons versus endodontists. Otherwise, I question whether it does not make sense to consolidate the bag.

Does your company carry the cost and burden of 4 or 5 different sales teams, each specializing on a single product or product suite? Can you justify it? Could some of them be consolidated? If you were to combine those teams you might achieve one of a couple of really great outcomes. Think about how great it would be to have greater reach with a bigger team for the same price you already pay. On the other hand, think about how great it would be to combine those sales calls and reduce your cost of sale. Either way, think about it!

October 26, 2007

Hi, I'm From HR and I'm Here to....

In previous postings on this site I have suggested that there are three primary areas where the Sales Operations function can provide the most value. First and most common is the financial reporting and analysis role followed by the sales program and policy compliance role. Often, sadly, the third area, the sales effectiveness role, is too far back in priority and can’t be funded or the existing resources filling the other areas do not have the competency.

When this is the situation I have seen some interesting things happen as a result. Naturally, one option is to do nothing and just pay attention to the numbers and make sure that programs are being followed correctly. This is certainly not as entertaining as those sales functions that buy trendy tools for aiding performance. Many of these attempts of achieving sales effectiveness through tools remind me of the role Renee Russo played opposite Kevin Costner in the movie Tin Cup where she desperately attempted to use golf aids to improve her game. Most of the sales performance tools I have run across are similar in value - best not to get caught up with those ads in the back of the airline magazines.

Trying out new sales methodologies is also popular. These 5 or 7 step programs can be useful under some circumstances, but require much follow through and attention from non-existent resources. Passing out a sales methodology book at a sales meeting typically does not go too far.

There is another option. But when I suggest it you are going to laugh. The last time you heard the phrase, “Hi, I’m from HR and I am here to help” you ran the other way as fast as possible. You might want to reconsider, especially if you don’t have the fire power to work sales effectiveness initiatives out of your own Sales Ops group. You may have a hidden gem just down the hallway.

My experience is that there just may be some folks tucked away in HR that can be useful to you. I know what you are thinking - that this is madness – but there are folks with skills that can supplement what you wish you could offer to your folks in the field. From what I have seen achieved, there may be a number of possibilities for you.

First, most HR resources are schooled in performance management methods and techniques. If you need support focusing on sales rep performance, this could be a great fit. Similarly, HR folks can be exceptionally good at helping coach sales managers through difficult performance management situations. This is a great service for you to receive rather than attempting to provide all this coaching yourself.

Swing Mug

August 03, 2007

Handheld Miracle Cure

Can you make CRM work for a salesforce on a handheld if you were never able to get them to use CRM in the past? Is a PDA the one factor that will drive adoption when all else failed before? I think this is a pretty interesting question. A few years ago, I would have said that believing that this technological silver bullet will succeed was a mistake. Today I have several clients betting their CRM budget on this one tiny device, and I am going along with it. Am I crazy?

Road to Recovery

I think there are a couple of key reasons to believe this will work. Today, CRM platform vendors, and their partners have made it possible for functionality like SFA to actually function with your two thumbs doing the work. On top of that, the adoption of the PDA as primary communication device is gaining ground. I have clients who have ostensibly stopped traveling with laptops. If tools will work on a Blackberry that make it easier to capture and share customer information than the effort to type an e-mail, they will get used.

It is going to be an interesting experiment. I’ll keep you posted.

June 01, 2007

This Millennium

The other day I was having breakfast with my kids at a local diner where we were entertaining ourselves with all the photos scattered about the walls serving as a pictographic history lesson of that diner and especially that corner of our little neck of the woods. One picture that featured a phone booth located in the parking lot between the diner and the highway really struck me that morning. My two teenagers have never been in a phone booth or had the need to use one. They had a chance to see hordes during a trip to London where they still exist plentifully, but I think purely as ornaments for the tourists. My kids are so wired with their mobile phones and wi-fi that the concept of a phone booth is just on the edge of surreal. It is a great manifestation of the differences between our current millennium and the one just completed 7.5 short years ago.

I recently ran across another similar juxtaposition in the March issue of CRM magazine (yes, loyal reader it is the second time I have cited that specific issue of the trade rag recently). You will find there a few top ten lists which, when comparing the marketing and sales content, become fairly interesting. What I find particularly interesting is that the advice given in the marketing list is taken straight from advanced thinking of marketing experts right now. It is extremely current – social networking and the whole nine yards.

On the other hand, take a look at the top ten list for sales. If we were to get in the locker room at IBM when they were coaching sales people how to get more results during the great depression, we might have heard the same advice. This is vintage stuff. If it were scotch it would be really expensive.

Solar Fleet

So what is up with that whack? Are you telling me that there is no new advice for sales folks? I’m not buying it.

One thing for certain is different today. All the extremely sophisticated stuff that marketing is doing on the web is for sales benefit. Leads are coming faster and better as a result of the web 2.0 revolution. Lead fresh dates are much shorter as a result. A lead that may have been fresh for a month a few years ago is probably measured in hours now. If nothing else, sales folks need to have a mechanism to act fast. If they don’t the lead goes stale and they blame marketing for poor qualification. Everybody loses, except the competition.

Anything else new? You betcha. How about buyer intelligence? You don’t stand a chance today if you are not better prepared than your buyer. They know amazing stuff about you and your product when you do finally show up. They also just read a blog written by one of your unhappy customers. This is serious bananas. We can’t sell like we did in 1937. They might know more about your competitor than you do if you don’t prepare well.

We need a new top ten list for sales. Any takers?

May 11, 2007

Sales Ops 2.0

How would you classify your Sales Operations group?
- Accountants
- Police
- Personal Trainers

Bermuda Traffic Light

I tend to see the sales ops group as a bellwether for how a prospective client wants to build their CRM or SFA program. Some prefer to use their investment to have better reporting on how the sales reps are doing against targets. Some others prefer to use their investment to monitor activity to ensure the right sales activities are taking place with accounts. And yet some others use their investment to find ways to improve sales rep performance. Is one better than another?

That is a loaded question.

It would be easy to propose that the personal trainer role is the better of the three, if for no other reason because it sounds more politically correct. But, I am not going to succumb to that trap. Sales performance is really important, but the other two have merit as well.

What I do think is the more critical consideration is whether you are limited to one of these roles in your sales ops group or whether it includes all three. I do strongly believe that all three are better than only one. Yes, but, what is the relationship between sales ops and SFA?

I recently heard Joe Galvin from SIRIUSDecisions use the term, “Salesforce Accounting”. In this case he was referring to the co-opting of the SFA system purely for the purpose of forecasting and measuring sales results. My experience is that when a sales ops group focuses on the accounting role, then SFA is designed as a tool to achieve their purpose. Taking this one step further, I think there are companies who also build “Salesforce Altercation” systems. This type of SFA serves as a tool to allow the sales ops group to play the police role to ensure that reps are conducting sales calls according to plan.

When the SFA or CRM system are designed for only these purposes, I believe it leads to “Salesforce Alienation”, causing the all too popular adoption problems that is far more common in the marketplace than we should tolerate. Then of course there are those companies who build “Salesforce Alignment” systems, which fit with the personal trainer role of sales ops groups.

So why don’t we all aspire to the salesforce alignment version of SFA? It sure appears by its name to be the right approach? It is a good approach. Helping drive sales rep performance is essential, but we also want to use SFA for purposes of financial management and to drive best practices. We should not be satisfied with only one. We should expect all three. We should expect all three from our SFA systems and our sales operations teams. We have room for accountants, police and personal trainers on the team, even if they all wrap up into that single person you have serving as your sales ops function.

May 04, 2007

Making The Grade

Over the last few weeks there has been an amazing amount of stuff written about a recently released study about sales teams making their numbers. According to the statistics a huge percentage of folks did not make it to the annual award meeting The fact that the majority of reps did not make their numbers is not what I find surprising. After all, we do set the targets as a stretch

What I do find more revealing is that there are some pretty significant differences in perception about what is working and what is not working in the field. For example, there was a pretty big disparity regarding the perception of the efficacy of sales processes between reps and managers.

49 cpg

So, the majority of our sales professionals do not achieve their sales targets and they feel that there are problems with the sales process. Meanwhile the majority of managers are unhappy with the achievement of sales targets, but they think that sales processes are fine. Which is the correlation that we should be attending to?

Generally speaking, I feel that many of my sales management clients are not aware of some of the sales process issues that get in the way of prductive selling. I'll often enquire about the existance of sales stages or a pipeline methodology and will often be told that a standard process exists and is embedded within the SFA tool. However, when I as this question out in the field I will be told that there are some partially defined steps that don't necessarily fit all groups and are not always followed and why am I asking?

My guess is more sales folks would make their numbers if more effort were placed on getting the sales processes addressed. This implies both the processes that are specific to the individual sales rep and those processes the integrate that rep to marketing, telesales, order management, and services.

When the pocesses are messy, it is harder to be successful.

April 27, 2007

Admination

Out to Pasture

Back in the good old days, I had the pleasure of starting off my career at IBM. They still made typewriters at that point. I had to walk 20 miles up hill both ways through raging blizzards to get to work, but that is another story. Back then the use of enterprise software applications was also first getting off the ground.

PROFS was the name of IBM’s version of Office. It had everything in 1981 that we expect today, but few people on the planet got to use it except for IBM employees. It was deployed across the company with great expectations of improving productivity and efficiency. Mail was sent between offices instantly. Calendars were shared electronically. It even included instant messaging across a network that would eventually become absorbed into the world wide web. (Al Gore was no where to be seen.)

There was only one problem. This software that was rolled out especially to help enable expensive managers to become more productive was only assisting their secretaries to become more productive. The managers would ask the secretaries to print out their e-mail and sort it for them. They would read it like their regular mail, waiting in a pile on their desk when they arrived in the morning. They would write notes on each page for the secretary to send a reply. This is not what the execs had in mind when they invested in the development and roll out of this leading edge killer app.

What happened next is something I talk about to this day, although it seems a bit surreal to me now. The company attempted to get rid of the role of secretary. Naturally the smarter mangers quickly learned from HR that there was a job title called Administrative Assistant. The migration of individuals between jobs was unprecedented and has never been repeated in such volumes since.

A quarter of a century later I ran into this again with a new client. This company had an interesting home grown contact management system, and another home grown system for order management, more or less. The deal makers in the field would visit a client then send everything back to their administrative assistant (where did that job title come from?) to enter into the different systems. It is kind of like CRM. It is kind of like automation. Let’s call it Admination.

These are good people. Don’t get me wrong. And they have hearts of gold and now plan to switch over to an honest CRM package. Recently we got into a conversation about who we might target as the super users. You will never guess who. 1981 flashed before my eyes.

Actually, this is not as extreme as I might be making it sound. I bet 90% of my clients have a significant percentage of the senior leadership who does not log into their CRM system. When they need a report it is produced by the sales ops specialist (some titles have changed). I’m not sure this is what was expected in the ROI studies prior to the software investment. At least they read their e-mail on their Blackberries today.

April 06, 2007

Which is the best?

Which is the best beer from the following list?
• Corona
• Pilsner Urquell
• Sam Adams
• Guinness
• Molson Ice
• Duvel
The correct answer - any one of them. Or, rather, in consultant speak, “it depends”.

OK, what is going on here?

There are many CRM packages out there and they span quite a wide variety of abilities. Selecting the right package depends on the needs of the business and some packages will have a better fit with a business than others. On the other hand, it is also likely that more than one package will fit a business’ needs and it may be that it comes down to taste or preference in selecting from the short list. Yes, but beer?

Some packages are going to be a better fit, such as those individuals who are better suited to refreshing beers like Corona. Some fit better with toothier beers such as Sam Adams. However, if a strong beer is your best fit, is Duvel the only option? No, we might consider Ommegang or Optimator. Is one of those the best? Not really, but we might prefer one over the others. I certainly prefer having the opportunity to choose.

Now back to CRM packages. I think it is a fairly easy exercise to determine what class of package is required for a client. Get clear on the business direction, and dive in to the requirements needed to achieve that direction. Compare those requirements to software functionality and determining the short list is a piece of cake. But choosing between options on the short list is not such an easy selection. On the surface this sounds wrong because choosing among the finalists should be just as straight forward as checking off the criteria. Either the package has it or it does not.

Slow down, the problem is twofold. First, most software alternatives on the short list are going to be so closely matched that any will do just fine. The second and bigger problem comes in because of the emotional element of package selection. Business stakeholders want the package that they think is the best fit for them, and they don’t want just a rational selection process to determine it for them. It would be like having a computer select your beer for you – you want to taste them first.

What I have learned is that getting your business stakeholders to make the decision is the real key to success. Use their judgment after having the chance to look at and touch the software. My best illustration of this comes from working with scores of companies who want to throw out perfectly fine packages because they don’t believe that they work correctly. A significant portion of software that is abandoned is due to a belief that the package was forced upon them. When the business stakeholders don’t feel ownership, they will find fault more quickly.

The far majority of CRM implementations run into difficulty at some point – most commonly not due to a package that is a poor fit. When the business feels it did not want the software in the first place, it is more likely to give up on the package and choose to start again. Don’t fall into this trap. Let them own the decision from the start. It may take a little extra effort, but having the business choose their package is the best insurance for success.

I’ll have that Anchor Steam now.

Dee Tees

February 16, 2007

Early Warning

My clients are good people. As a result, I think I have one of the better jobs on the planet. Even better than the Life Guard and Ski Instructor positions I served in during a previous career. But, recently I ran across a client that I must admit is also quite smart. Pretty much all of my clients use some form of salesforce automation software, and most of them have had their share of difficulty making it work for them. This really smart client of mine was no exception. But they persevered and got it to work the way they expected. And then they went one step further.

I suspect that most companies that utilize an SFA system try to track their deals using some form of pipeline method. If for no other reason this aids the business with producing a forecast. In my opinion there are two primary reasons for building a forecast. A big reason is that it enables you to tell your stakeholders how you are doing and what to expect at the end of the period. But, a second, and more important reason, is that it enables you to take action in the event that you determine your forecast is off from your expectations.

It is the action that matters. Many of the companies I have witnessed have a tendency to run around like a chicken with its head cut off when the forecast is below expectations. This is not necessarily the action I would encourage. Rather, this smart client of mine has built an early warning system, which enables them to take useful action when there is a gap. Pinpointing the action is the key – being concise like a rifle shot, not a big scattered shot gun blast that you hope just hits something, anything.

So, what this smart client of mine has done is to go a step beyond just getting good at predicting how sales are going to end up, but also correlating sales results to activities associated with the pipeline stages. What they have been capturing for a couple of years is information regarding what type of sales call activity is happening at each stage of the pipeline, and correlating that activity to the likelihood of deal advancement through the pipeline. For example, they can see if there are enough second time prospect visits to advance the deal to proposal, and they can see if there are enough proposals delivered to reach the number of closed deals required for quota.

And, most importantly, they can see this all unfolding long before the end of the quarter. It is truly an early warning system. If a territory is behind on the number of second calls, this is going to end up with a lower number of deals later in the pipe. To prevent that from happening, a push for more calls can be made – putting priority there over other meetings that won’t produce the required results. This is a rifle shot – it will lead to the needed results.

Early Warning

I hear a lot of reps complain that they have to capture sales activity. Worse is the laborious weekly activity report. This sacred report is more like an empty shot gun – it gathers a whole bunch of information that nobody has time to review anyway, and the data is not easy to analyze even if there were time. However, capturing activity in the SFA system and connecting that activity with sales results allows for system generated reports to serve as that rifle, fully loaded.

Let the technology work for you, but put the right information in. If you do, you will be able to see in advance when the numbers are not coming in correctly, and know exactly what action to take. No need to run for the shelter

January 26, 2007

Yet Another List of 7

One of the common questions I hear from my clients and prospective clients goes something like this, “what the heck do we have to do to get the dang salesforce to use that frigging expensive Salesforce Automation system we gave them?” Some of the words change a bit from that version, but the question is popular, and I seem to be hearing it a lot lately, so it is time to put something down in writing.

There are a lot of lists out there and they seem to be multiplying like rabbits on Viagra, but I feel compelled to create a list of factors that contribute to sales people becoming more likely to adopt the software they have been given to perform their jobs better. And, honestly, I did not set out to come up with seven items on the list, but it seems that these kinds of lists have 7 or 10 items, which probably is influenced by whether you watch Letterman or Leno.

But seriously folks, the content within the list below can make the difference between a CRM program that thrives or fails. One further observation about the items on the list is that they range from organizational, through individual, and onto highly technical factors, which is somewhat of an indication of the broad spectrum of effort required to get this stuff right.

Pipes Quad 1

So, here goes – The 7 Key SFA Adoption Factors:

1. Management Sponsorship – We start right off with a tough one. Many will argue with this, but a significant amount of research has demonstrated that the biggest influence over an employee’s attitude is his or her boss. If your direct supervisor does not care whether you use a system at work, and you don’t have a good reason to use it, you won’t. If you are a Regional Sales Manager and your SVP of sales does not push you to have your team utilize a system they complain about, you won’t push. That is how this works. Unless all of sales management is visibly supportive of the system, utilization will be in the toilet. Game over.

2. Business Requirement – Very much related to the item above is the need for business requirements to be met by the SFA system. Do you have to create a pipeline report every Friday afternoon so the sales function can submit a weekly forecast to finance in order to satisfy Wall Street requirements? That is a great example of how the use of an SFA system meets a business requirement and drives individuals to high adoption. When you have to use a piece of software in order to perform your job, you tend to use it more often than not. And if your boss checks to see if you have performed the task, such as consolidating weekly pipeline reports into a forecast, your compliance tends to be high. When there are no compelling business requirements, adoption is optional.

3. Individual Benefit – One of the top mistakes made by organizations when deploying SFA systems to their sales teams is to only satisfy business requirements with the software with no concern to the individual using the software. This issue is in somewhat of a conflict with the factor above. You can read about this issue in multiple entries on this site, but suffice it to state here that if the individual sales rep does not perceive a benefit from the SFA system, they will find ways to avoid using it. At a minimum they will find ways to put in the least amount of effort possible, thereby meeting the business requirements, but not gaining full advantage of the benefits of the software for themselves or the company.

4. User Maturity – This factor is a bit complicated because it involves both the individual and the work culture that influences his or her behavior. Maturity does not refer to whether the sales person still has acne or has moved into the white hair stage. Rather this factor involves the ability for the user to utilize technology either from the perspective of actual competence or attitude toward using technology to perform a work task. Some sales people have deep experience using computers and sales systems from previous jobs. Some sales people have been selling for 20 years and have never opened a laptop. The former are going to have a greater likelihood of adoption versus the later. Another way of thinking about this factor is “inclination toward technology”.

5. Data Reliability – One way to really kill an SFA program is to load the system full of bad data, or allow data entry practices that cause customer information to be incorrect, incomplete, redundant, or in general untrustworthy. If sales people don’t trust what is in the system, they won’t put much effort into either entering more information or using the information that is there. The interesting phenomenon with this topic is that the software meant to make collecting customer data better is the cause for the bad data proliferation – primarily because the software does not know the difference between good and bad. This is becoming so big of an issue that an entire industry is forming to resolve it.

6. Functional Usability – Back in the late 90’s when we were all talking about the Y2K bug one of the bigger problems with SFA was clunky software. User interfaces were not great, functionality was still limited, and navigation required a sextant and bright stars. Today the software is light years better, but this problem still persists. One thing that can go wrong is giving too much functionality or trying to satisfy too many stakeholders with one package. Complexity has become the issue rather than clunkiness. When sales people have to perform a task with a computer that takes longer than doing it manually, they will find ways to work around the system. They are devious, and they are creative, but they are not stupid – software that makes the job harder or take longer to perform will be avoided as much as possible.

7. System Performance – Thin pipes, clogged servers, inappropriate queries, poor data architecture – you name it, there are a fairly sizable number of reasons that drive system performance to be unacceptable. When people see hourglasses on their screens they quickly look for ways to do their job without the computer. If you want adoption to be high, you cannot allow for delays between clicks. This issue is especially critical for the sales team, either road warriors who suffer due to poor connections at hotels or for the telesales team who cannot tolerate delays with a prospect on the phone. These folks have to have top system performance or they will find a way to work around the system.

January 19, 2007

Silver Bullets

So, let me state from the start that this is not going to have any reference to Coors Light, Super Bowl advertising, or the Swedish Bikini team. So, if you ended up here after conducting a search for those topics I am sorry to disappoint you.

Over the summer the Harvard Business Review published some research conducted by the Forum Corporation that I found pretty interesting. Both of these organizations are highly trustworthy, which makes the findings all that much more impactful. This is not always the case with research published by some companies that conveniently includes some angle that supports the marketing and sales of their products.

One of the studies polled business representatives on their opinions regarding the sales professionals from their vendors. The results are not all that flattering and include a list of the biggest complaints regarding these sales professionals. The top issues are listed below:
- 26% don’t follow my company’s buying process
- 18% don’t listen to my needs
- 17% Don’t follow up
- 12% Are pushy, aggressive, disrespectful

Well, these are not results to be proud of, and this is not to say that there are not really good sales folks out there. But, when we choose to ask, what the factors are that cause dissatisfaction or for deals to fail, we now have a better understanding of what goes wrong.

Combine this with the results of a second study published in the same issue that examines salesforce performance from the perspective of internal executives’ point of view, and things get more interesting. When senior executives were asked what factors out of a list of 16 were most influential in contributing to sales effectiveness, no factor or even category of factors were prominent. The conclusion from the study’s authors was simply that many things go into making a salesforce successful.

Out to Pasture

My conclusion is the following – there is no silver bullet, and it is definitely not technology. Many factors must be in place for a sales team to perform well. These include a wide variety of dimensions including sales management competence, adequate processes, sufficient remuneration, positive organizational climate, and the right sales tools (which includes salesforce automation software). While it can help with better follow up, no software is going to help a sales rep follow the customer’s buying process better (most likely it will do the opposite) and it certainly won’t make the sales rep less pushy or a better listener.

January 05, 2007

What You Worried About?

I find the following fact really thought provoking – the chances of you dying from mad cow disease are staggeringly smaller than from dying of heart disease caused by ingesting the cholesterol lurking in the meat of healthy cows. But think about it, how many people worried about the recent mad cow outbreak versus how many worry about consuming the regular intake of burgers and ribs? As a culture we have a propensity to worry about the wrong things.

Check out the December 4 issue of Time Magazine, which offers a great exploration of this phenomenon of misguided concern that pushes us down the wrong avenues of worry. After that, consider all the wrong things you worry about at work. There are a few of other interesting observations in this issue of this news magazine that I think are very relevant to those who worry about sales.

For example, consider the following: the average person is over ten times more likely to die from falling out of bed than to die from a lightening strike. But what does the average person believe is more dangerous? We will take all kinds of precautions and experience all kinds of fears regarding lightening, but never give a thought to the vertical dangers between the bedspread and the floor tiles.

You might find that people who manage sales organizations fall into this worry trap, spending too much time focused on the lightening, but killed by that drop out of bed. Most of the time the lightening is something like sales tools or sales technology and that last slip off the covers onto the hard floor is something like ignoring the mundane changes required to improve sales process and policy. Technology gets all the attention while bad process quietly kills you.
WTC Nightmare 1
Another observation from these authors at Time is the illusion of control, a similar dynamic as the wrong worry. The common example is the belief that driving an automobile is safer than flying in a commercial airplane because you are in control of the wheel rather than a pilot who may have been out to late at the hotel bar the night before. We all know the statistics do not support this misguided perception, but the illusion of control remains prevalent. Driving deaths escalated dramatically after 9/11 as plane seats went empty. This phenomenon is also something that manifests itself in the world of sales management.

Many of my clients measure sales resuults to know how they are doing against goals. Once a week everyone scrambles to provide figures on what has been booked in an effort to know if the monthly and quarterly targets will be achieved. But, I think that it is very much worth asking the question if this is one of those situations of illusion of control. Please don’t get me wrong on this. You have to do forecasting.

But, are we measuring the right things? It is useful to know if we are going to make our numbers, and necessary for public companies to disclose progress against forecast. However, it is more effective with regard to actual control if we measure what is being done to achieve the forecast. I am a proponent of measuring sales activity. Now, I know what you are thinking – you have tried this before and it was a miserable failure. It takes the right tools, processes, and incentives to do this well, but in the end it will help provide more honest to goodness control. More will be offered up in future entries on activity based sales management. For now, let’s end with a very old joke related to the topic of proper measurement – searching for the keys to success.

A bar patron is searching along the curb when a second bar patron comes outside and asks what the first is looking for. The slurred reply indicates that a set of car keys have been lost. Trying to be encouraging and helpful the second bar patron asks if the victim is certain that this is where the keys were lost. The reply goes something like this, “No, I am pretty sure I lost them on the other side of the street by my car, but the light is better over here.”

December 22, 2006

Monkey Business

I recently learned that a close colleague of mine has a particular aversion to primates. This all came out during a business trip within a conversation that innocently referenced a consumer product including “monkey” in the brand name. Out of nowhere came a story about a childhood trauma that has left this individual squeamish just at the thought of a harmless chimp. This is something that is a bit hard for me to relate to, as I happen to very much like our simian ancestors and feel fairly akin to the bonobos, probably due to their unique social inclinations. But, I digress.
High Thinker

Well, I raise this story because I find a fascinating similarity to a dynamic that I see quite regularly with my clients when it comes to Sales Force Automation initiatives. This is not to imply that sales reps are afraid of orangutans, but many do suffer from a similar negative experience as my colleague’s childhood trauma. These earlier negative experiences have not occurred during childhood, but rather, from a previously botched FSA implementation. These bad experiences leave scar tissue that get in the way of ever objectively participating in FSA implementations productively again. Certain FSA software applications seem to be associated more than others with these scars, but I’m not naming names.

What typically happens is the Sales Function decides to implement a new system – SFA or CRM, and announces the impending changes to the sales force. Individual reps are provided training during roll-out but conduct passive mutinies during or after the training by simply failing to conform to the requirements. This can take the form of strong negativity toward the new package because they know it will fail due to previous experience, or it can take more extreme forms such as blatant disregard for key data entry such as sales activity or full contact information. Ultimately, this resistance, due to bad exposure in a previous life, is counterproductive for the sales rep. It causes a loss of productivity and possibly undesirable discipline from the company. And, it is all due to perception rather than reality.

It is a mistake to let this happen, but saying that is easier than preventing it. However, it is a safe bet that new system deployments will encounter a percentage of the sales force with this attitude and it has to be factored into the planning. Here are a few suggestions, but there are lots of things that can be done. Check out some other postings on this site for additional examples regarding change management and user adoption.

First, involvement is the place to start. Bad feelings toward software due to a previous experience are developed in exactly the same way as a phobia. The best way to overcome that is with immersion – let the sales folks into the process by getting their input; give them a chance to do lots of user testing, and by all means, act on their feedback; plus make sure they get very good and ample training.

Second, and I cannot emphasize this one enough, make sure that the average sales Joe and Jane get a benefit from using the software. If you design your SFA only for sales management you are doomed. Typically the best benefits that sales folks can experience are a combination of admin efficiency and preventing leads from falling through the cracks. When the system is perceived as requiring more effort than benefit (benefit back to the sales rep) then the monkey phobia will continue.

Finally, the best advice I can give is not to force it. The Cow Tipping story, which you can read in a previous entry, is what I am talking about. Do what it takes to get people on board, but don’t leave dead bodies in your wake. I cannot tell you how many clients have told me that I don’t need to worry about acceptance because the users won’t have a choice. Let me tell you right here and now, that is a naïve belief. No matter how much you make something mandatory, those creative sales folks will find ways of getting around it. And the better they sell, the more they will get away with monkey business.

December 01, 2006

WIFM

Recently I met with a Sales Operations VP for one of my clients who was chartered with the task of purchasing a Sales Force Automation (SFA) solution for the sales organization in his company. As he described it to me, the problem was that the enterprise needed to improve the performance of their sales reps because of a “flattening of revenues”. The solution, in their mind, was a software system that would be good at effectively producing territory activity reports and weekly forecasts.

Now my guess is that there are two reactions to this initial description of the situation. The first reaction is most likely, “Hey, that sounds just like what I need for my sales function!” The second reaction, which is more closely linked to my initial reaction is, “Wow, that sounds more like a solution that is making it easy for sales management to produce reports, while putting the burden on the average sales rep.”

Now, I don’t want to offend anyone, but if you were leaning toward the first reaction, I think it would be helpful for you to read on a bit, because you may be about to fall into a trap. Putting in a software system to make reporting easy, under the guise of improving sales rep performance, is usually a recipe for disaster.

OK, so I admit that it is stupid, and cliché, and unoriginal, but the acronym WIFM is what comes to mind when I encounter these situations. You know what it means – what’s in it for me? If there were any laws governing the introduction of SFA software into an organization, the first law would be called WIFM. This is because it is nearly impossible to successfully implement an SFA solution into a sales organization without including a means by which the average sales rep gets a real, solid, honest-to-goodness benefit from using the system. End of story.

But I am going to explain anyway. I have referenced this before, but if you go look at the research by companies like Gartner, or any other analyst firm, you will find study after study that demonstrates that user adoption of SFA systems requires the buy-in of the user (sales person) and the buy-in is contingent upon the individual finding a benefit to the utilization of the software, for themselves – not for their boss or for the company. I have read study after study that lists this issue in the top 10 requirements for success, or the top 7 risk factors, or whatever. My experience with Sales Force Automation says it is The #1 variable to address if you want to be successful. If you want to implement SFA, make sure your sales people see a tangible benefit.

And, furthermore – I’m not done ranting yet – absolutely don’t spin this. Don’t give them a system that carefully satisfies management needs and then try to convince them, with hype and cajoling, that it is good for them too. These are smart people you have hired; please give them more credit than to believe you can put this over on them. They will figure it out and the result will be, according to the undeniable statistics, that they will completely underutilize the software, if use it at all. There goes the ROI out the window.

November 03, 2006

Marketing is from Venus, but who is from Uranus?

It still does not cease to amaze me - again I just encountered yet another organization where the sales and marketing functions work together just like a family, a very, very dysfunctional family. You have all seen this. And, it should not be a big surprise since there are a number of organizational dynamics that tend to pop up from company to company, no matter what the industry - employees never seem to be satisfied with organizational communication, management never believes they have enough reports, service delivery people don’t like to get dirty with the process of selling, and marketing and sales professionals fight like adolescent siblings. I guess I need to accept this as a law of business.

Is this an, I’m-from-Venus-and-you’re-from-Mars-thing? Well, I have been known to make the proclamation that sales professionals come from a different gene pool than the rest of us mortals – but that is meant as a compliment. I don’t think this is an issue of different personality types not being simpatico. I think this is an issue of lead management.

When I have seen sales and marketing functions work together effectively (like grown up siblings that respect each other), there are a few factors in play that could serve as a recipe for others to follow. First, there are clear expectations between the two groups regarding what each will do. Most of the time the expectations go something like this: marketing is responsible for getting good leads to sales, and sales is responsible for using the leads to close deals - simple, but effective. A second factor at work is that the leads that marketing sends over to sales are expected to be good, qualified leads, and when a lead does not work out, sales is expected to provide feedback back to marketing as to why. One third factor that I think is also critical is that the right metrics are put in place to measure the lead management process. Measuring the wrong thing tends to cause the wrong behavior.

Marketing is getting better at generating leads. Automated campaign management tools make it much easier to push out offers and capture prospects. The revolution of web 2.0 is also making lead generation within broader audiences more cost effective by tracking web site activity as indication of prospective product and service interest. This is fantastic stuff, but it has a negative side – the proverbial second side of the sword where you cut yourself as you are swinging away at your opponent. This negative consequence is the generation of potentially too many leads. Marketing should not just generate leads, but rather, it should generate good leads. This pesky qualifier, good, is a big deal with regard to this poor relationship between these two functions. However, it is something that can be fixed.

The key to generating good leads is qualification. This topic deserves a lot more space than I am going to give it here, but you can check out this good CRM blog site where there is some healthy dialogue taking place to get more insight. My experience leads me to believe that qualification of initial leads is best done in the most cost effective means possible. This is often best accomplished through a telemarketing function that utilizes less expensive resources than the typical field sales force. However, more and more qualification is being accomplished through the web, utilizing content and messaging to direct prospects through self-selection prior to actual human contact. Check out Accelerating IT Sales for more on this topic.

Don’t think I am going to lay the whole rap at the feet of those hard working marketers. This is a two character drama, and those sales reps also play a role in the biz dev soap opera. The scene goes something like this: sales person receives lead from marketing, calls the contact who has no interest in the product, then throws out the lead, and exits stage left muttering how worthless marketing is, never to jump on a marketing-generated lead again. Have you seen this one? If lead management is going to work, bad leads need to be handled correctly. The most critical thing that can happen with a bad lead is for marketing to learn why, which requires feedback. The feedback will improve the targeting and increase the rate of good lead generation. But this does take cooperation with the field sales folks, plus a reasonable process for sending the lead back without too much effort.

Finally, one more element can play an important role in making this all work, which is the measurement of the lead management pipeline. Pipeline is an interesting metaphor, but there is also the concept of the funnel, and I think they can cause some confusion. Measurement is key, but the wrong metrics can cause the wrong behavior. Marketing should not be measured on lead volume (or least not on volume alone).

Yes, we need to get prospects into the marketing funnel, but they should not be designated as leads until they are qualified enough to get into the sales pipeline (hence the distinction between the two terms). Marketing should be measured on how well leads perform once they get into the pipeline with metrics such as lead conversion into proposals or lead conversion into closed deals. Yes, I know that marketing does not have control of the pipeline, but this is how you measure the effectiveness of a lead. If you want to put a measurement in place that marketing has more control over you can use a metric such as number of meetings scheduled (if telemarketing performs this task). By measuring the right metric you will increase the likelihood that what marketing does will serve the lead management process correctly, making them invaluable to their brothers and sisters in the sales organization.

The reverse is true as well - monitoring what sales reps do with leads is also critical. Using a CRM system or SFA tool for tracking leads in the pipeline is an easy way to measure sales rep activity and monitor how they are treating leads that don’t move through to close. Improving sales behavior in a way that sends better lead information back to marketing also causes marketers to better respect their sales siblings.

Ultimately, we are all from the same planet, not Uranus, and there is no reason for these two critical functions to get along so poorly. Focusing correctly on lead management is the means for better family relations.