Targeting Sales Opportunities - The Hidden Truth

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Sep 10, 2012 @ 08:09 AM

targetingWe frequently discuss reasons why salespeople fail, the differences between successful and unsuccessful salespeople, and scenarios where salespeople make good versus bad choices.  Those aren't the only topics which separate good selling from bad.  Salespeople make other decisions which impact the likelihood for success and today's article takes a look at one of those.

Targeting is a fairly simple practice, but when sales management doesn't perform this activity for their salespeople (as in, "Mary, call on these 27 accounts.") and salespeople do it themselves, it leaves plenty of room for trouble.  

Take the case of the salesperson who targets hospitals, oil companies, banks and insurance agencies.  You might say, "Good for her.";  until you learn that these markets are the most difficult verticals to which one could sell and the company would rather have her call on technology, distribution, manufacturing and professional services.

How about the salesperson who chooses to call on VP's?  You might say, "Good for him."; until you learn that VP's are very resistant to the offering and that most business is conducted in the C-Suite.

There is also the case of the salesperson who calls on the right people in the right industries (so far so good), but all of the opportunities are the wrong size.  They're either larger than the company's sweet spot or they are too small (easy enough to close, but not large enough for the company to profit or the salesperson to earn sizable commissions.)

Why do salespeople make these ill-advised choices?  Here are four possible reasons:

  1. They don't know any better and are reinventing the wheel, perhaps calling people and companies on whom they called in other roles or jobs.
  2. They' are not getting proper direction, coaching or feedback from sales management.
  3. They aren't being held accountable by sales management.
  4. They aren't comfortable with where sales management wants them to focus, so they focus on that with which they are comfortable, even if the results don't justify it.

Comfort.  It's responsible for choices.  It's responsible for the skills, strategies, tactics and practices which are applied in selling.  It's responsible for the weaknesses which salespeople successfully overcome as well as those that aren't.  It's responsible for how much money for which they can ask and get, their need to discount, allowing prospects to comparison shop, whether or not they ask the tough questions and so much more.

The biggest challenge is that comfort is hidden, not communicated, and difficult to observe.  However, a sales force evaluation can successfully uncover all of their discomforts and identify opportunities to increase sales.

Everyone has salespeople like this.  The question is, can you identify them, refocus them, and help them to become more successful before having to replace them for under achieving?

Topics: sales competencies, sales blog, sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales management, sales performance, underachieving, targeting

Make Your Salespeople Focus on This to Grow the Business

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Sep 05, 2012 @ 06:09 AM

After being on vacation for parts of the past three weeks, it's important for me to quickly determine what I need to focus on today, my first day back.  Of course, my calendar and task list suggest that most of the day has been laid out prior to my vacation, but there is so much more to refocusing myself than what appears on the calendar and task list.  As a matter of fact, most salespeople struggle with what to focus on even when they have not been away.  And sales managers are often unable to help because they have the same problem.  If they ask, their question is probably, "So, who will you be talking with today?"

Let's focus on the only tool more important than the calendar and task list - your pipeline management tool.  Most salespeople, despite dozens of CRM applications from which to choose, still don't fully comprehend pipeline management.  And if they don't get it, they probably aren't managing it!

Whether it's a return from vacation, start of a new year, beginning of a new quarter, the first day of a new month, or even a Sunday evening, the starting point should be a salesperson's pipeline.  While sales processes have varying multiple steps, the pipeline must have exactly four stages.  When we pay attention to the pipeline, we can narrow the focus even further and determine:

  • How many opportunities must be added (to suspects)?
  • Which opportunities (from prospects or qualified) need to be moved forward?
  • Which opportunities (from closable) need to be closed? 

Not part of today's topic, but worthy of its own discussion, is the fact that most pipelines are not accurately staged.  Should you Restage Your Pipeline?

sales pipeline

When salespeople begin with the calendar and task list, they can get through the current day, week or month.  When salespeople begin with pipeline management, they can grow the business.  So, rather than, "Who are you seeing today?", the sales manager should be asking, "After you review your pipeline, what must you do to grow the business?"  And the answer must take the form of: 

  • I need to add n prospects.
  • I need to get movement with the following opportunities.
  • I need to get these opportunities closed.

Given the busy calendar and task list, the next question to be answered is how do your salepeople manage their time so that the requirements identified above are integrated rather than postponed until they have time?

Make sure that your salespeople schedule time - appointments with themselves - for completing all of the required calls, emails, and follow-up.

Refocus on the pipeline because the calendar and task list are already in place!

This is one of many important topics which we will discuss at my Fall Sales Leadership Intensive which is less than one month away.  I believe that we have 2-3 seats left, so if you wish to attend, you should let me know ASAP.

Topics: sales competencies, sales culture, Dave Kurlan, sales management, sales focus, pipeline management

2 Keys to Selling Success from Ann Romney and Chris Christie

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 @ 06:08 AM

ann romney and chris christieAnn Romney gave a great speech at the Republican National Convention.  She wrote it specifically for her intended audience of women, connecting herself and her husband, presidential candidate Mitt Romney, with that audience, and it worked.  They loved her.  

She was a tough act to follow, but Chris Christie successfully followed with a terrific speech of his own.

Speaking of love, one talking point which I heard loud and clear from Christie was that the people of this country need to choose respect over love.

I have been delivering that message for more than 20 years, not to citizens who must vote for a candidate, but to sales leadership, sales management and salespeople who let their need for approval - their need to be liked - interfere with every facet of what they do.

Salespeople who have need for approval have a difficult time asking questions, pushing back and challenging their prospects.  This affects them at every stage of the sales process, from overcoming early resistance, to scheduling meetings, to selling consultatively, to qualifying and to overcoming putoffs at closing time.

Sales Managers, who have need for approval, find it difficult to be consistently firm - think lack of accountability - and it's even more challenging to coach salespeople to ask better questions via roleplay.

Sales Leaders, who have need for approval, often have organizations where everybody likes them, but not quite enough to perform for them.  They have an especially difficult time replacing non-performers and holding Sales Managers accountable.

Chris Christie said that "we the people" need to choose respect over love and the love will come.  The key word is choose.  We have free will, which means that we can choose.  When we choose respect, by nicely asking tough questions, pushing back with permission and challenging the status quo when appropriate, we usually earn the respect of others.  They will be your friend if they like you.  They will buy from you if they respect you.  Which would you prefer?

You probably know which salespeople, working for you today, have need for approval, but it's not so easy to identify candidates who have that major weakness.  That's where OMG's legendary, accurate, predictive Sales Candidate Assessments enter the picture.  

Topics: sales competencies, sales blog, sales culture, sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, Need for Approval, chris christie, ann romney, GOP and sales, sales presentations, objective management group

Selling Styles - How Many Styles Should Your Salespeople Have?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Aug 13, 2012 @ 23:08 PM

rscmWe were invited to see and hear a friend's son perform in the Royal School of Church Music of America.  We were very impressed with the voices, performance and beautiful church service.  It was very memorable.  While we were there, I noticed that some of the choristers appeared to be in trances; lost, disengaged and almost catatonic.  However, as soon as the choir director lowered his baton for the first beat, those children suddenly morphed into the most passionate, powerful, wonderful, young singers I had ever seen.  You just wouldn't believe the transformation!

Terrific salespeople make that transition too.  They morph from laid-back but confident, to powerful, animiated and charismatic when it's time to present.  Most salespeople however, don't make that transition because it doesn't feel authentic to them or they fear that they might look and sound like salespeople.  Isn't that sad?  Salespeople worrying that they might be mistaken for salespeople?  (Don't forget that you can hear me talk today, August 14, 2012, about developing salespeople and transforming them into A-players.  It's free - click here to attend.)

If you've met me and also heard me present a keynote address, you've witnessed this transformation.  My one-on-one style is a direct contradiction to my public speaking style.  Why?  If I appeared on stage with my one-on-one style, I don't believe anyone, regardless of my message, would really pay attention.  If we were to meet - just you and me - and I began with my public speaking style, it would feel very threatening and inappropriate.  You would hate me.  

There is a balance to all of this and the proper selling style, at the proper time, in the proper place, with the proper people, will work quite effectively.  However, most salespeople have only a single style and they aren't even aware of it!  If they aren't consciously aware of it, they usually aren't able to adapt to the situation in which they find themselves.

This is where video recording can be quite useful.  The ability to show salespeople how they look, sound, act and respond to varying situations is just the medicine they need to adapt, make the necessary changes and become more effective.

Steady and predictable is generally a good formula for success, however, when we need to convince people to buy what we have, flexibility and the appropriate style will always be more effective.

Topics: sales competencies, sales culture, Dave Kurlan, sales management, sales personality, sales presentations, rscm, sales charisma

Developing Top Performers - How to Turn Salespeople into A-Players

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Aug 13, 2012 @ 09:08 AM

jazz bandWe recently saw the New Preservation Hall Jazz Band perform at the Newport Jazz Festival.  We had seen them before, once at the Festival and about 20 years ago in New Orleans when they weren't so "New".  That first time, I left their performance with mixed feelings.  On one hand, it was terrific that we had a chance to be in the presence of a musical institution and hear their traditional New Orleans Jazz.  On the other hand, it was stale, mediocre and failed to move me.

Last weekend, they were fresh, exciting, energized and musically superb!  They were relevant again, had made the transition to A-Players and now opened the Festival.

So what changed?  They got younger.  They finally cut the cord to their very old, slow, stoic band members and brought on some exciting, younger musicians.  New blood.  The band is now led by 41 year-old tuba player, Ben Jaffe.  They embraced technology.  Rather than a single microphone in front of a seated band, each musician had a small wireless microphone attached to his horn.  That technology has been around for years, but they had not embraced it.  Now it allowed for movement and move they did.  They were not only mobile, but the newest tuba player, Ronell Johnson, danced around the stage for their entire set in much the same way that Verdine White, the bass player from Earth, Wind and Fire, has done for the past 40 years.  Technology gave them mobility which gave them energy and made them exciting to watch and hear.

Turning salespeople into A-players requires the same approach.  (I'll be speaking on this topic today, August 13, and you can participate for free!)  You need to replace those who have not adapted to the changing times, shown the willingness to learn new methodologies, models and processes, or embraced the newest technology and gone mobile.  The new salespeople whom you hire must be exciting enough and strong enough to lead the way, infusing the sales force with new energy, becoming new role models and causing others to follow their lead or be left behind.

Training and coaching play a major part in the development of A-players, but you must have the right people in place or you will waste both time and money training and coaching salespeople who don't have the ability to become A-Players.  It's much easier to turn B's to A's then it is to turn C's into B's.  And if you already have some A's, it becomes more obvious to the B's that they need to step it up.

After nearly 30 years in the sales development business, I can say without a doubt that the biggest problem which I witness every day is when executives overrate their salespeople.  In most companies, the salespeople whom management considers to be A's are nothing more than C's who are hitting easy targets.  Their so-called A's appear to be A's only when compared to their under-achieving and non-performing colleagues, but in most cases, the executives have it all wrong.  The result is an inability to imagine how much better their sales force could perform and generate revenue as a result of an upgrade, good training and good coaching.

Take the road traveled by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and adapt to these changing times!

Topics: sales competencies, sales culture, Dave Kurlan, sales management, Sales Coaching, preservation hall jazz band, developing a players, top performing salespeople

Why Your Lowest Price Can Be a Barrier to Closing Sales

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Aug 02, 2012 @ 17:08 PM

Price Comparison and Sales ContextIt's not really the price as much as it's the context for which that price is provided.  Let's take mobile apps for example.

$9.99 on its own seems very inexpensive, but with apps available for $3.99, $1.99, $.99 and even free, it's expensive - by comparison.  Look at the moon - we think it's fairly large, but when you look at it in comparison to Earth and Mercury's moon, it's a blip in the sky!

Let's look at a more complex service with a much higher price tag.  If the salesperson says that their solution is only $5,000 per person, the prospect immediately views this as an expense - and a costly one at that.  How can they justify spending on average $5,000 per person?  However, if the salesperson says, "We can help you recover $3 million in lost revenue and solve your customer retention problem for around $50,000 over the next 8-12 months", it sounds like a bargain and a no-brainer.  The reality is that the $50,000 solution could be more costly even than the $5,000 per person solution.  But the context, the perceived value and expected result are different.

It's not about prices, presentations or building value; it's about putting prices in the context of what those prices will buy.  Compare the two examples above and you'll see both the answer and the obstacle.  The answer is the context.  The obstacle is that your salespeople may not be learning what the compelling reason is for their prospects to spend the money.  Without the compelling reason, it's impossible to replace the red-bolded words above with the words your salespeople need to use.

Another potential obstacle, but hidden this time, is that some of your salespeople are uncomfortable having financial discussions with their prospects.  Those salespeople won't be able to get to the quantification of the problem.  And what about the salespeople who need to be liked?  They can't ask the tough questions and become emotional if they go out on a limb and ask.  These are three of the many hidden weaknesses that OMG often finds when evaluating sales forces.

You can teach and coach on most strategies and tactics, but when your salespeople aren't able to execute one that was properly introduced and demonstrated through role-play, you can be sure that there is a hidden weakness to blame.

Topics: sales competencies, sales culture, sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales force evaluation, sales training, sales evaluation, sales personality, hidden sales weaknesses, selling value, overcoming price objections

Keys to Successful Sales Negotiations

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jul 31, 2012 @ 22:07 PM

mlbIn the United States, Major League Baseball's trading deadline passed today with some noteworthy moves by teams other than my Boston Red Sox.  Aside from my disappointment that the Red Sox failed to make an impact trade to help the team, I recognized something else...

First-year General Manager Ben Cherington has made some interesting trades this year, most where he seemed to give up more than he received in return.  (See Appendix A below for examples.)

In contrast (bad, free-agent signings aside), most of the trades orchestrated by former GM Theo Epstein seemed to yield more in return than whom he gave up.  (See Appendix B below for examples.)

Assuming that I'm right, what are the reasons for the differences?  

  • Was Theo dealing from a position of strength while Ben dealt from a position of weakness?  
  • Was Theo a better negotiator?  
  • Was Ben more desperate?  
  • Did Theo hold out for a better deal?  
  • Did Ben concede too quickly?  
  • Was Theo more willing to walk away?  
  • Was Ben afraid of leaving the table with nothing to show for it?

Very often, the final stages of many sales cycles, especially those to large companies with procurement people, are negotiations.  Assuming that your salespeople have developed some compelling reasons to buy, and buy from you, then YOU have leverage.  They want what you have.  However, when your salespeople fail to uncover the compelling reasons to buy from you, then YOUR PROSPECTS have leverage.  You want their business.

Your outcome from a negotiation or competitive sales situation is in direct disproportion to how badly you want the business.

Appendix A - Examples of Cherington Trades

He gave up top Sox prospect, Josh Reddick, and in return received Andrew Bailey, who has been on the Disabled List (DL) all year, and Ryan Sweeney, who has been on the disabled list three times already this year.

He gave up 3-time All-Star Kevin Youkilis for a minor league pitcher and a utility player whom they have already traded away.

He gave up a good hitter, Jed Lowrie, for Mark Melancon, a relief pitcher who has just plain sucked for the Red Sox this year.

As compensation for letting Theo Epstein move to the Cubs, he received an injured minor league pitcher, Chris Carpenter, in return.

Appendix B - Examples of Epstein Trades

He gave up 3 talented minor leaguers and got All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzales in return.

He gave up a talented minor leaguer and got All-Stars Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell in return.  Beckett and Lowell, along with Curt Schilling below, helped them win the 2007 World Series.

He gave up 4 young pitchers, none of whom panned out, for Curt Schilling.  Schilling helped them win the 2004 World Series.

He traded disgruntled All-Star Nomar Garciaparra for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, both who helped them win the 2004 World Series.

He traded clubhouse cancer and multiple performance-enhancing drug offender Manny Ramirez in a three team deal for Jason Bay. 

Topics: sales competencies, sales culture, Dave Kurlan, sales management, Sales Coaching, sales personality, ben cherington, Boston Red Sox, theo epstein, trades, competitive sales call

3 Types of Salespeople - Which are Best at Growing Sales?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jul 30, 2012 @ 14:07 PM

sailsYesterday, we were in a small seaside village and in a nautical gift shop, I read this sailing quote:

"The pessimist complains about the wind.  The optimist expects it to change.  The realist adjusts the sails."

Translated for selling:

"The pessimist complains about the prospect.  The optimist expects him to buy.  The realist adjusts the sales strategy."

Let's look at these three points a little more closely, shall we?

The pessimist: Sure, the pessimist will complain about the prospect, but more specifically, that the prospect wasn't open, was hostile, talking with competitors, wouldn't share a budget, wanted only a proposal, wouldn't commit to anything, blocked him from reaching a decision-maker, etc.  If this is normal buyer behavior, then this calls for a salesperson!  All salespeople must be able to navigate around and push through these common issues or we really can't call them salespeople.

The optimist:  The optimist has happy ears.  The bigger the opportunity, the better the opportunity.  The better they got along, the better the chance of a sale.  The longer they talked, the shorter the sales cycle.  Optimists are just as much of a liability as pessimists because they don't inspect or question what they hear.  They assume that everything will be okay.  While a positive attitude is good, it can be terribly frustrating!

The realist:  This is exactly who you need on your sales force.  Salespeople must be optimistic about their outcomes, but pessimistic about the things that could go wrong to derail the opportunity and prepared to overcome them.  The realist is flexible enough to be both pessimistic and optimistic at the appropriate times.

So, sailing, selling - the approach is the same except that while wind helps to expand your sails, having salespeople who are full of air doesn't help to expand your sales.

Most salespeople are good at talking and presenting - they are full of air - but 74% of them are ineffective when it comes to listening and asking good questions.  How about your sales force?  

Topics: sales competencies, sales culture, Dave Kurlan, sales management, sales personality, increase sales, sales strategy

The Unusual Case of Arturo - How He Sabotaged His Own Sales

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Jul 26, 2012 @ 07:07 AM

ArturoOne of my clients owns a Mexican company which provides phone, video conferencing and surveillance equipment to integrators and end-users.  During the height of the violence in Mexico, Arturo was kidnapped and held, bound and gagged, at gunpoint.  He was released - one of the few, fortunate survivors - but the emotional scars ran deep.  It took months for him to recover from the post-traumatic stress and return to work - selling again - and I have been coaching him for the past few months.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for Arturo and the courage that he has demonstrated to once again face the world.

During our last few conversations, he has had a huge backlog of follow-up calls to make - as many as 150 at one point - on known opportunities.  We worked on time management, scheduling a specific date and time with a prospect for the follow-up call, identifying the strongest opportunties and not wasting time on the weaker opportunities, being more effective at qualifying, blocking out time in his calendar to make follow-up calls, etc.  In the end, the list of opportunities that required follow-up continued to grow.

When I learned that he still hadn't rectified the problem I asked for an example of a follow-up call which he needed to make, but didn't.  I was amazed at what I heard.  

He had a fairly large opportunity scheduled - in his calendar as I had suggested - for follow-up.  He didn't make the call and of course, the prospect didn't call him either.  Interestingly, Arturo was making all of his 1st calls without any problem; however, once he developed a relationship and created an opportunity, he was developing call anxiety before the follow-up call.  Instead of fearing rejection while doing the hard work - making 1st calls - he was struggling with being rejected at the end of the sales cycle, causing him to avoid the calls all together.

Arturo is not the only person with this issue.  For months, Arturo has been sabotaging his closing efforts and for the first time, finally understands why his failure to follow-up has been occurring.

Solving the problem was actually quite easy.  I explained to Arturo that his prospects were wondering, "If he doesn't follow up when he is trying to get the business, what kind of follow-up will I get after he has the business?  He doesn't appear to care very much or be very reliable, so I don't think I will buy from him."

Arturo is a proud man and when he understood the implications, the embarassment of the consequences was much greater than the discomfort from the fear of rejection.  I told him to make a sign that says, "Choose Success over Discomfort."  The fear won't soon disappear, but he will take action in spite of it.

Congratulations Arturo - I expect your sales to quadruple!

Topics: sales competencies, sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales personality, increase sales, overcoming rejection, follow-up calls, sales case history

Top 5 Sales Management Best Practices

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jul 24, 2012 @ 07:07 AM

The first problem with today's title is the "5" in "Top 5."

They are not the 5 on which most sales managers spend their time, so let's begin with the sales management practices on which most sales managers actually spend their time.  By the way, that's how so many "best practices" (that aren't) actually get published.  Authors ask (in this case sales managers) how they spend their time.  The answers that are most often reported become best practices.  So I repeat, the first list does not contain best practices, but includes those activities on which most sales managers spend their time.  

The 5 practices, which aren't best practices, on which sales managers spend their time:

  1. Selling
  2. Putting out fires
  3. Creating, reading and distributing reports
  4. Closing deals for salespeople
  5. Teaching (not coaching, but lecturing)
Let's see how those actually compare with the Top 5 Sales Management Best Practices - not the things sales managers necessarily do, but the things sales managers should  do:
 
  1. Coaching (should account for 50% of a sales manager's time)
  2. Accountability (to KPI's, pipeline and sales process)
  3. Recruiting (on-going process of upgrading the sales team)
  4. Motivating (more and more salespeople are not money-motivated, so this is more important)
  5. Development (grooming a replacement)
When you compare the best practices with the standard practices, you'll see that there isn't any overlap!  I'm describing two completely different sets of responsibilities, even though the role - sales management - is identical.
If you are a sales manager, how difficult will it be to change what you currently do in your role to follow best practices rather than existing practices?
If sales managers report to you, how difficult will it be to get your sales managers to make that change?
The biggest challenge to adopting these best practices is that while coaching and accountability sound familiar, Objective Management Group's data shows that 86% of all sales managers aren't effective at either.
You can learn more about these 5 sales management best practices in this free, archived Webinar.  Click here to view and listen.
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Topics: sales competencies, sales culture, Dave Kurlan, Top 5 Sales Management Best Practices, SMM Connect, Sales & Marketing Management, Top Sales Functions

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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 nine 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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