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This is a question I often ask Sales Managers. 

Many of them respond that they do on the grounds of fairness. They try to distribute their time evenly between all team members and provide similar opportunities for coaching and development. 

While I appreciate the intent, I disagree with the practice. At the end of the day, being a great sales manager doesn’t lie in giving your reps a similar dose of the same medicine, but rather in tailoring your prescription to each individual, even though it will likely result in a disproportionate amount of your time and energy spent with some reps and not with others. 

Here’s what I recommend: 

First, divide your team into thirds in order of performance – top 10%, middle 60% and bottom 30%. Many managers find this exercise difficult, as they’re reluctant to label certain reps as bottom performers. But it’s a critical first step in optimizing your coaching time

Next, allocate your time with each rep according to his or her grouping. 

Contrary to popular opinion, the bulk of your time should not be spent with the top performers (because they’re the most valuable), nor should it be spent with the bottom performers (because they have the most room for improvement). It should actually be spent with the middle 60%. The middle performers are the group that has the most to gain from focused skills coaching, and statistically speaking it’s with this group that you will see the biggest performance lift. 

Of course, you should still allocate time for your top performers. But your time with this group should be spent focused on retention rather than skills coaching – are they happy in their current positions? Is there anything you can do to make their jobs better? Where do they see themselves three years from now? 

Very little time should be spent with bottom performers. These sales reps can be an extreme “time suck” with very little payoff, and allocating the bulk of your time to coach the bottom tier very seldom translates into sales results. 

So, is this a fair management strategy? Maybe not. But it is effective. It allows you to align your time and talents with the sales reps that stand to make the biggest gains, thus improving your ability to impact overall team performance and revenue generation. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what you were hired to do? 

As humans, we tend to want to swoop in and fix things, often starting with the things that are most broken and most in need of repair. As sales managers, we pride ourselves on being fixers and judge ourselves on our ability to effectively coach our teams and give them the resources they need to be successful.  

But, just as not all salespeople are created equal (see Bottom Third Sales Coaching) nor are the opportunities they put in the pipeline. In both cases, though our tendency may be to start with the team members and opportunities that are most in need, this impulse is often detrimental to our overall success. Just as with the bottom third of our sales reps, the bottom third of our opportunities will rarely move the needle regardless of how much time or energy we put into them. Often these are opportunities that have not been well qualified and are not well suited to our product or service capabilities. Additionally, despite equal or greater time investment, they may not have the revenue potential that some of the other opportunities have. 

So, what’s the answer? As difficult as it can be, the answer is to put less time into your bottom third. Instead, focus your time on B and C opportunities. Why not your A opportunities? Because your top 10% of opportunities are so well qualified and such a good fit, that they’ll likely close with little to no involvement from you. So, spend your time on the B and C opportunities, helping your reps understand how your product or service will help their prospects increase revenue, decrease costs or mitigate risks. Spend time thoroughly qualifying these ones up front so they have a higher likelihood to close.  

Neglecting the bottom third of your opportunities is not shirking your sales managerial responsibilities; in fact, reallocating your time to focus on the 60% of your core B and C opportunities will be the best way to support your sales reps going forward by helping them move the needle. 

Nika Allahverdi
Global Marketing and Engagement Manager at Nimdzi Insights

Do you know many kids who dream of a career in sales? Maybe you do, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The idea never crossed my mind. Which may explain why I did not go into sales. But it would have been unquestionably rude if I didn’t open the door when Sales finally came knocking with a few words of wisdom about learning to ask the right questions and listening. Lessons we can all learn from.

As a marketer, I know that there will be crossover and collaboration with my colleagues working on deals with other organizations. As a company, we want to make sure people in need of our services can find and work with us. In order to do my job, I have to ask myself the same questions that you would hopefully hear in a sales call. And questions about challenges are challenging. For me, the change in perspective came through a Flannery Sales Systems workshop where a wee little question had a colossal effect on how I approach my marketing work. It was a paradigm shifter:

What are you looking to achieve?

It all starts here – the salesperson looking to see what a potential client identifies as a need and pinpointing a concrete business objective. You would be surprised at how often people are focused on a single puzzle piece without seeing the whole picture. Salespeople, on the other hand, not only map how products or services fill gaps but also shine a light on gaps the client may have completely missed. In a sense, the salesperson is the link between prospects identifying what they really need and actually getting it. It would not be ridiculous to say that the word “salesperson” doesn’t cover the work salespeople do, work that goes beyond “selling” and encompasses listening, understanding, and truly connecting the dots. 

The paradigm-shifting question above moves us away from voraciously closing deals and towards a hunger of truly understanding someone’s business challenges. Closing a deal prematurely and neglecting to understand a client’s business objective is a gateway for future misunderstandings. Losing a client down the line may not be the result of bad account management but rather the incomplete identification of what your client was looking to achieve in the beginning. Which is why I prefer “matchmaker” to “salesperson.”

What are you looking to achieve? I repeat the question to myself like a mantra in both business conversations and outside of work. You cannot fill a gap without knowing anything about it or why it was there in the first place. When your product is a service like market research, consulting, or custom workshops, as is the case for us at Nimdzi, it becomes more critical that early conversations have truly identified a concrete need the potential client has. I know my colleagues make it a priority before even mentioning what we can offer. And of course, the paradigm-shifter is only a part of the conversation. Flannery covered much more than asking an opening question and listening for concrete needs. Our team walked away calibrated and equipped with a framework that helps us serve our clients. 

If you’re a marketing manager not in direct sales, you could greatly benefit from understanding the sales process. This is because it will equip you with a new acuteness for identifying needs, listening for challenges, and orienting yourself. What are you looking to achieve?

Nika Allahverdi is the Global Marketing and Engagement Manager at Nimdzi Insights, an international market research and consulting firm. She drives the marketing efforts at Nimdzi and works with various departments to conceptualize campaigns and strategize to implement them. She is also Nimdzi’s marketing consultant for localization business professionals.

This article is written by Dennis Hoeft, an experienced Sales & Marketing Executive with 30+ years experience leading, selling, managing and merchandising in highly competitive product and sales environments.  

Attending an industry conference is a costly endeavor: various factors such as transportation, lodging & meals can add up quickly. Add to that your time and effort, and well, that’s quite an investment! If you are planning to attend a conference this year such as PITTCON, it’s important to get the most out of these events in order to maximize the return on your investment. Here are 10 ½ tips to help you do just that:  

1) Plan well in advance; most conferences provide an exhibitor list as well as a list of attendees, so prepare a list of key people you want to meet. 

2) Several weeks prior to the conference, set up meetings with the key people you identified on your list; if you try to approach someone during the conference without an appointment, you might be out of luck if their calendar is already full. 

3) A few days before the conference, confirm the meetings that you have previously scheduled. 

4) Plan to spend some time ‘walking the floor’; attendees should spend this time looking for new and innovative exhibitors. Exhibitors should use this time to stay on top of their industry and find out what the competition is doing. 

5) Network; this is a great opportunity to make new contacts and expand your professional circle. 

6) Sit in on different seminars; try to learn something new about your industry or profession. 

7) Attend the various social events: dinners, cocktail hours, etc . . . meet new people, network, now is not the time to sit back & relax! 

8) Bring plenty of business cards to hand out; and, when you receive someone’s card, write pertinent notes about that individual on the back of their card immediately after you meet them. 

9) At the end of each day, do a quick re-cap to see if you accomplished what you set out to accomplish; adjust the next day’s schedule if you missed something important. 

10) When the conference is over, review your action items to make sure that you have captured & summarized all of them. 

And finally….  

10.5) When you get back to your office, FOLLOW UP, FOLLOW UP, FOLLOW UP! Address all of your actions items. Connect with new contacts on LinkedIn. Reach out by email and phone to build these relationships. Do what you said you were going to do.

You’ll be glad that you did!

Today’s CEO has a lot to keep him or her up at night: regulations, compliance, automation, globalization, trade wars and talent management are only a handful of the pressing issues CEOs must contend with, although the highest priorities change with the times. One issue is always present on a CEO’s mind, however: sales.

What do CEOs really think about the sales arm of their organization? Even when the economy is strong and sales are up year over year, the CEO will have concerns. Here are the top four sales issues CEOs worry about, whether sales are up or sales are down, and how you can address them:

  1. The sales team is too slow. When the sales team is lagging 12 to 18 months behind the corporate strategy, opportunities are lost and goals are not met. If this is the case at your organization, take a look at how your sales team is or isn’t using technology to streamline and speed up the sales process. Technology enables agility. Put it to use.
  1. The sales team is calling too low. When the sales team fails to get to the right level in customer-prospect organizations, the sales process is slowed (see concern #1) or stalled altogether. If this is the case at your organization, make sure the team is doing the research necessary to reach out to the right person or position from the start. And remember, you’re referred to whom you sound like. So talk the talk and walk the walk of your ideal prospects.
  1. The sales team can’t diagnose business problems. The inability to diagnose business problems may be the reason salespeople are calling too low (see concern #2). The answer to this is coaching, coaching and more coaching. Harvard Business Review says effective coaching can improve sales productivity by 19%.
  1. The sales team can’t tell the story. Only a handful of CEOs think a typical salesperson can demonstrate an understanding of a prospect’s business issues and articulate how to solve the problem. This ties directly into concern #3. If this is an issue at your organization, start training your team to know the story and tell the story.

Did you notice that three out of four of these concerns have to do with knowing what to talk about, and not just whom to talk to? That means sales training is needed and processes put in place. Having a defined and customized sales process within your organization will help alleviate many of your CEO’s concerns about the sales team.

We’ve all received questionable sales advice at some point during our careers – some from mentors or managers, some from peers, and sadly some even from training experts and consultants who are paid to know better.

We’ve spent some time scouring the web to uncover some of these pearls so we can share them here with you here. Enjoy!

1. “Here is a script, read it…”

Nothing says “I have no clue what you do” more than using a generic sales script. Reading from a script is impersonal and prevents you from having a genuine two-way conversation and building rapport.

2. Sales is just a numbers game

Sales is not just about numbers, and cold calling alone is not going to drive results. If you’re only relying on cold calls alone and not finding genuine leads who are actually interested in your product, you’re wasting your time and their time.

3. “Selling is telling”

This one made us laugh – it’s got a quite a ring to it, you must admit. Unfortunately, it was actually a common theme to training programs during the early 80’s. How wrong it was, yet, unbelievably, so many “sales professionals” thought it was right!

4. Always be closing (ABC)

This one conjures up an image of the stereotypical used car salesman. Unfortunately, as any good sales professional knows, customers hate being pushed and really hate pushy sellers. Customers want you to have their best interests at heart and to help them make the best decision, even if that decision is to buy elsewhere or not to buy at all. That’s impossible when you’re concentrating exclusively on closing the sale.

5. Mirror and matching

This one has to be our favorite – as if sales people don’t have enough to handle building rapport, adding valuable insights, asking the right questions and taking great notes. Do we really expect them to cross their arms when the prospect crosses their arms? Really?

What is the worst sales advice you’ve ever received?  Don’t be shy…chime in! This stuff is too good not to share.

Channel surfing used to mean sitting front of a television with a remote in hand, click click clicking away. But these days, with so many ways for salespeople to make contact with prospects, you might describe channel surfing as switching from one means of communication to another as we try to figure out the best way to reach out to potential customers.

As salespeople in the digital age, we all have the channel we’re most comfortable with. Someone older might prefer the phone while someone younger might reach out directly via LinkedIn. And then there’s someone in the middle who is most comfortable with email. But guess what? What we want doesn’t matter. We as the salespeople have to choose the channel that works for our prospects, not for us.

There are several reasons for this: One, you’ll make a better impression by using the channel your prospect prefers and they will feel more comfortable with you from the start. Two, they’ll be more responsive because they get to respond using that channel. And three, you’re setting the stage for a better experience from the start by putting their preferences first in this way.

How do you know which channel to use for which prospect? You can’t really, although you can make educated guesses. But what you can do is understand the reasons for and against using the three most common channels for contacting prospects, and when one channel might be preferred over another.

Email—for the coldest of cold calls

Although phone calls used to be the primary prospecting tool, email has replaced the telephone as the most common way to reach out to new prospects. On the plus side, it’s less intrusive when compared to a phone call—especially when they don’t know you—and it gives the prospect an opportunity to respond when the time is right for her (or not at all). For the salesperson, it takes less time than a phone call, allowing for more prospecting in a day. In addition, an email can offer links to a website or other information the prospect might be interested in, and they can act on that interest when they want to.

On the other hand, not knowing if a prospect read or even received your email is one of the downsides to this channel. So is the competition you’ll face in that inbox. It would be wonderful if your email was the only one to pop up, but we both know that’s not the case. Your email could be one of a hundred your prospect receives on any given day.

The phone—for the prospect you’ve met before

Although the phone has really fallen out of favor among salespeople as a way to contact prospects the first time, and Millennials don’t want anything to do with making or taking phone calls, a phone call can be effective when you’ve been introduced to someone or been given their name by a referral. So don’t cross it off your list just yet. Plus a you’ll know when a phone call got through—unlike an email—and you can get to know the person on the other end of the line when you do connect with them in a way you can’t digitally. And that’s true of your voicemail message too: You can convey much more warmth and personality in a voicemail than an email!

Social media—get to know someone before reaching out

Then there’s social media, the new way to contact prospects. Social media might be the best channel if you’re trying to reach someone who is obviously active in that arena, with plenty of followers and a lot of time spent on the platform. In addition, using social media—in particular LinkedIn—gives you a chance to get to know that prospect and even connect with them in advance of reaching out.

With social media, you can comment on a discussion they’re part of or an article they’ve published, join the industry group they’re most active in, and make yourself visible. That way when you reach out the first time, they will already know who you are—and you’ll know about their business and pain points!

On the other hand, social media is probably an ineffective way to contact someone who has never heard of you or your business, because we’ve all been on the receiving end of those messages. And is there anything less “social” than a total stranger messaging you directly in that way?

Keep in mind the context and connection

When choosing a channel, keep in mind the context and the connection you have thus far. Email might be best for the coldest contact, a phone call could work for someone you’ve been introduced to, and a social media connection can work if you’ve built some kind of rapport online already.

Then you can stop surfing, and simply choose the channel that works best for each prospect right from the very start!

Many sales managers think they are good at managing sales people because they excel at selling. Because they are good at it (or so the logic goes), they can just manage their reps by example. They go on sales calls with them and show them how…. “Just do what I do.   

After all, Einstein says, “Example isn’t another way to teach, it’s the only way to teach.”    

Sorry Einstein.  According to a recent study, nearly 90% of organizations train their sales managers to improve their coaching skills.  Progressive organizations recognize that teaching frontline managers how to deliver personalized training targeted specifically at sales rep skill deficiencies has a greater impact on overall sales performance than an investment in training the sales reps alone. 

Unfortunately, training and coaching are activities that can get pushed aside as managers revert to where they’re most comfortable: the selling expertise that got them promoted to their leadership position in the first place. They’re good at solving problems and closing deals for reps, but in successful organizations, there is a clear link between effective sales coaching and sales performance.  Being a sales skills development coach may not be in a sales manager’s job description, but it certainly come with the title. 

Recently, we worked with an organization whose new sales rep team was being managed by their superstar-salesman-first-line-sales-manager we’ll call Ken.   With his compensation tied to his team’s revenue numbers, it was understandable that Ken wanted to “make it happen.”  He was involved in every account, micromanaging the reps, asking for updates every other day, solving problems, and often eventually stepping in to “save the sale” as the quarter end approached.    

It was exhausting yet rewarding for Ken, and although the compensation was good for all of them, the reps on his team felt unappreciated, unmotivated, unfulfilled and ultimately, unable to continue working under such conditions. The turnover was high and the organization was not producing skilled reps who could achieve their revenue growth through their own efforts. 

This organization hired us. Our first priority was to teach their first line managers how to coach their direct reports on sales skills.  We helped them link their sales process to practical, teachable, selling skills, setting up a structure for skills coaching based on individual sales reps’ needs.  

The change came slowly but steadily. Because the managers were trained around conversations on current account strategies and within the parameters of their busy schedules, they developed the “muscle memory” of new coaching skills through practice with their teams. And the results followed, with an 11% increase in revenue from existing customersa noticeable increase in the new opportunity pipeline, and a happier, more productive team. Now that’s what we call a win-win…..win! 

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Over the past few years, the majority of the work that we have done with customers is on defining (or refining) their sales process. This was necessitated by the dramatic changes exhibited in buying behavior during the economic downturn. And indeed, the most important aspect of our customer’s sales processes is that it mirrors how their customers buy from them.  During conversations in both a formal and informal settings, we are asked “how many steps should there be in the sales process?”  If we knew that exact answer for each of our customers, we would be retired and they would have Instagram-like success!

So instead of trying to pinpoint the exact number of steps in a sales process, here are the must have, Top Three milestones that each team/seller must have in place to assure success. Please note that very few of our B to B customers have only 3 milestones (or stages), but when pushed to the wall, here are the 3 you can’t live (or sell) without:

1-     Access to the Key Players (Decision Maker): there is nothing new to the notion that you must get access to all of the key players, but the budget scrutiny that many organizations have placed on all expenditures since 2008 has made this step even more difficult. A clear articulation on how all important titles would benefit from the usage of your product/service is a mandatory requirement for completing this stage.

2-     Clear Understanding of Value: once you have the access as described in #1, can the individuals understand the value that your offering provides. Without this, you will be dancing in the dark when it comes time to go into the evaluation phase.

3-     An Approved Implementation Plan: approved as you co-develop the opportunity with your customer/prospect, not after the deal is signed. This sole step can help you to determine your “pole position” deep into opportunity development, and the seriousness of the participant’s gauges how “sticky” your solution will be thereafter.

One of our customers in the Medical Device industry was struggling to get into conversations with the key players in their existing customer base on a new offering they had obtained through an acquisition. The offering was an existing diagnostic test with a new enhanced feature.  The challenge was that the enhanced feature  provided a benefit that had never been completely commercialized. We sat down with a cross functional team from their organization and built a pro-forma model of what impact the solution had on the existing practices in the testing environment, and who would benefit from this.  They went searching for data to substantiate their assertions of what value this add-on widget could provide.  They found a reputable research company that had done a study that provided the information they were looking for.  We were able to help build a dollar value and a testing value into a pro-forma model (Benefit Summary). The Benefit Summary provided all involved with a complete understanding of the value of their new enhanced feature.

Next, we helped them to create a prototype of an Implementation Plan that correlated with how they could roll this out to their customers. Once completed, the sales process plan was delivered and executed with their main customers.  As a result, they have successfully sold an additional 12% in total revenue on this product alone in an $80 million dollar division.

What are you or your organization waiting for to drive more revenue? Let us help you to define (or refine) these steps and start picking up incremental revenue now!

On return from a recent trip, I was making an international connection in an airport and passing through security for the second time. The security guard asked me the same standard questions, but the last question she asked me I found to be most curious. She said, “Should I trust you?”  I paused and then answered in the affirmative, but it got me thinking.

When meeting with a prospect for the first time, how do you establish trust?  This is not the same type of trust that you have with a family member or loved one, but the trust that allows someone to have a candid conversation about their business issues.

There is plenty written about how not to do it, such as being pushy, talking too much or just falling into stereotypical selling behavior. But in that critical window of time (some say as short as a minute) how do you make a connection that allows the prospect to feel comfortable sharing information with you.

In his recent book “The Speed of Trust”, Stephen M.R. Covey identifies trust as the one thing that changes everything. He defines trust as confidence, confidence that the words that come out of a salesperson’s mouth show genuine interest in understanding the situation before a “spray and pray” feature dump.

Here are a few simple steps to follow to make sure that you can earn initial trust:

1-    Be prepared with questions geared towards the prospect’s organization and needs, not statements or brochures around your product, service or organization.

2-    Allow the prospect to set the pace for the meeting, and only offer suggestions for items to review after they have expressed their priorities.  Help the prospect discover needs by listening to what they say.  A few well -constructed questions will help the prospect come to their own conclusion.

3-    Be sincere.  Being sincere means doing what you say you are going to do. The first way to establish sincerity is a prompt, written follow up after an initial meeting that captures the important components for the prospect and their organization.

Some think trust takes years to cultivate and develop.  The security guard in an airport thought it could take one second, a reaction to a question.  One thing is certain; establishing trust is a central component to all healthy relationships.

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