Can Free Sales Content Send You Down a Dangerous Path?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, May 02, 2016 @ 05:05 AM

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Did you ever drive down a street and see a "free stuff" sign?  Maybe it was a free sofa, chair, or table.  Maybe it was a free lawnmower or bicycle. It even could have been free kid's stuff.  Nearly all of the free stuff you find on the side of the road, available to the first taker, is somebody else's junk.  Instead of throwing it out, and rather than taking the time to donate it (if an organization would have it), they are simply giving it away.  

On the Web, there are three kinds of free sales content available.  

There are free articles - like this one - where you could be inspired, might have to think a bit, might learn of an approach you weren't aware of, or might be privy to some statistics or science you hadn't read about.  

There are free White Papers, which could be anything from a scientific report on Sales Selection, Longevity,Trust, or The Challenger Sale (the topics of my White Papers), to a marketing piece made to look like a scientific report.  

And there are Free Downloads offering a great value in exchange for your name and email address.  I downloaded one such free value this weekend - a Sales Process Cheat Sheet - which promised a standardized playbook and a simple, easy-to-follow sales methodology to help managers coach their inside sales reps into following a proven, standardized process from discovery to close.  Was there value?  It was a joint promotion from Hubspot and InsideSales.com. - maybe you received the same offer in your inbox.  Was it any good?  Was it a process?  Was it a playbook?  Was it a methodology?

It was designed for inside salespeople - BDR's and SDR's - whose role is to connect with prospects and book meetings for account executives or AE's.  In my opinion, it was not a Playbook because it did not show how to execute the call.  Playbooks are how-to's with scripts and action trees.  It was not a Methodology because it did not have a defined approach for moving from one milestone to the next.  Methodologies focus on the kind of conversation that is required to move from one step and stage to the next.  And it was not a Process because it was focused on tasks and outcomes, more than a series of milestones.  A sales process must have stages (typically 4-6) and within each stage, milestones that build on each other.  

Worse than not really being any of the things it was advertised to be, it was WAY TOO COMPLEX for sales reps whose job is to book meetings.  By comparison, the sales processes that Kurlan & Associates builds for companies are designed to be thorough, yet clear, concise and simple.  Simple does not imply that it is inadequate.  Simple means that it works without being overly complex or difficult to execute. Of course Kurlan charges for its work and the cheat sheet we have been talking about was free.  Does that mean it was as valuable as the old sofa, chair or table?

One of the many reader emails I received last week was from someone complaining that he used to get value from my articles, but no longer felt like he did.  I responded to him, apologized, and asked what I could write about that would be valuable for him.  He didn't respond.  No article can be all things to all people.  I'm sure that if you're a regular reader, you dismiss some as easily as you find some save-worthy.  Then there's the free part.  I always save the best stuff for the paying clients, for the consulting and training and coaching and evaluating and recruiting.  Unfortunately, and honestly, the material you get for free falls more into the tease category than the value category.   Even Amazon Prime does that.  There are certain movies that Prime members can watch for free, but you have to pay for the best stuff. 

There are some great thought leaders writing good articles in the sales space.  Just look at the list of the Top 50 Sales Bloggers and you will surely find some useful free content.  But as with my material, the others will save the best, most valuable, and most important information for their paying clients.

It's great that today you can get stuff for free.  Just don't confuse what you get for free with what others are paying for.

Speaking of paying - this is the final call for the last 2 available seats for my Sales Leadership Intensive, May 17-18 outside of Boston. [Update - Sold Out].

Topics: Dave Kurlan, HubSpot, sales process, sales methodology, inside sales, top sales blog, insidesales.com, sales playbook

Bigger Sales Pipelines - The Dangerous Truth

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Apr 18, 2016 @ 16:04 PM

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I usually get notified when new sales studies are published and I'm asked to link to those reports from my Blog.

Last week I was invited to download the 2016 InsideSales.com Business Growth Index Report.  I read through it today and while I wasn't terribly surprised by anything, there were a few findings that are quite interesting, showing that some companies aren't making very good decisions, and these decisions could be representative of your company too.

The report showed that overall, pipelines are larger and that would generally be viewed as a positive. But it was no surprise that sales cycles are longer and win rates are lower.  The quality of leads was responsible for all three -  the larger pipelines, longer sales cycles and lower win rates.  In other words, companies were either raising the bar - they wanted better leads - or lowering the bar - they wanted more leads.  

It appears that in the case of better leads, better was defined as bigger companies with bigger opportunities, which increases the total value of the pipeline. Greater competition, a longer sales cycle and lower win rate are the obvious outcomes of that strategy.  

In the case of more leads, the number of opportunities in the pipeline increases.  Of course, more is the opposite of better and longer sales cycles and lower win rates are an obvious outcome of that strategy too.

My question is, do more opportunities, despite the lower win rates and longer sales cycle, translate to better revenue growth?  

The reality is that pipelines should not simply get bigger!  If we know the annual revenue goal, closing percentage and average deal size for every salesperson, then we know exactly how many opportunities must be in each stage of the pipeline at any moment in time.  When we know that, it's all about effective targeting and scoring.  Last week I spent a half day helping a company nail their scoring mechanism.  If you get that right, you'll know not only whether an opportunity qualifies to be in the pipeline, but whether it should be pursued, assigned resources, and quoted.  When companies choose to simply put more in, it's usually because they already have too many of the wrong opportunities in the pipeline.

There were some findings around technology usage.  It showed that in 20% of the cases, the competitive edge could be attributed to technology with the biggest three examples being CRM, Sales Intelligence and Sales Presentation tools.  But even with CRM showing the most widespread usage, only 45% attributed their competitive edge to CRM.

Speaking of CRM, it seems that the data for this analysis came from CRM, so I assume they were mining Salesforce.com data from multiple companies and industries.  With so many executives complaining that their salespeople hate using Salesforce.com, and with sales managers having to hound their salespeople to keep the data current, it raises questions about the accuracy of the length of the sales cycle.  Many salespeople delay entering data until an opportunity is well underway, while others delay entering their follow-up and follow-through, including when they have closed the sale!  These issues cause sales cycles to be represented as both artificially short and long!  We could give them the benefit of the doubt and suggest that it evens out...

The authors grouped findings by company size -  smaller than and larger than $1 billion; but only 11% of the respondents were from the larger companies.  Another thing that might have skewed their findings is that 60% of the respondents were from software and business services companies.  While those industries are certainly hot right now, the lack of balance hides what might really be taking place.  If pipelines are bigger, sales cycles longer and win rates lower, what do you suppose those three metrics look like in the not-so-hot industries?

Well it's not what you might think!  Win rates went down in both tech and non-tech, but they dropped by 100% more in the tech segment.  Wow!  See, that's how some would report this finding - by dramatizing it - when the reality is that win rates dropped by 2.1% in non-tech and 4.7% in tech.  Also surprising is that the increase in the number of new opportunities was 10.8% in tech but 18.3% in non-tech.  To my thinking, it's the rest of the world catching up with the tech and finally getting with the program!

All of these findings are nice to know, but in your company, it comes down to two things.  Let's assume that your deals are not lost because of quality; and your deals are not won because of price.  After all, there can be only one lowest price and one best quality.  That means everyone else has to sell value.  In value selling, differentiation takes place in the field (or on the phone) and that means your ability to differentiate is reliant on:

  • Consistent and effective consultative approach,
  • Effective milestone-centric, customer-focused sales process, and
  • Consistent and effective coaching from sales managers - on their deals and personal growth.

 In my experience, this is generally not what is taking place in most companies.

You can improve the sales process and sales coaching by attending my annual Sales Leadership Intensive - May 17 and 18.  It's two days of the absolute best training on how to effectively coach salespeople and much, much more.  Use this link with embedded discount code to save 30%! [Update - Sold Out]

You can find out if your salespeople are truly selling value and to what degree they are using a consultative approach with a sales force evaluation.  For most companies, the information learned and action steps identified make this a no-brainer.

And you can simply hire better salespeople, but using the most accurate and predictive sales candidate assessment there is.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, salesforce.com, long sales cycle, sales win rates, building the sales pipeline, insidesales.com

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog has earned medals for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for eight consecutive years. This article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016, this one earned a Silver medal for 2017, and this article earned Silver for 2018. Read more about Dave.

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