From the CCS® Sales Blog

September 2017

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Sales Tips: 5 Ways to Survive the Frenetic Fourth Quarter

Sales Tips: 5 Ways to Survive the Frenetic Fourth Quarter

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

stressed sellersA constant reality for salespeople is quota pressure. There are years when everything goes well and hardly a thought is given to whether numbers will be achieved. If 2017 has been a year like that I hope you’re enjoying it.

Remember that coming off a strong year often means starting January 1st at zero with more aggressive numbers to make. For B and C Players most years are a grind to achieve quotas. 

On average about half of salespeople meet or exceed quota.

I wanted to provide my thoughts about how to manage to your number: 

  1. Don’t be overly optimistic. Have an appropriate sense of urgency throughout the year.

As a first line manager I found salespeople overly optimistic. They always thought they could make their numbers. Unless a seller had a huge opportunity in his or her pipeline, how realistic was it to expect a person that achieved 33% of quota in the first 9 months to sprint through the 4th quarter closing 67% of their quota? Salespeople didn’t have the appropriate sense of urgency to be YTD or better until the fourth quarter. Often they realistically ran out of runway and had little chance of getting where they needed to be. 

  1. Take stock every month.

It‘s important for sellers to take stock of their YTD position against quota every month. Some sellers will need a manager’s help in doing so.

  • First take a glance in the rear view mirror to see where a seller is against quota.

  • project aheadKeep in mind that YTD position is a lagging indicator, so the next step is to look forward and project where sellers will be based upon opportunities in their pipelines.

    • If a seller’s win rate is 33% he or she should have 3X or more of what is needed to be YTD in their pipelines.

    • If a pipeline is thin it should become clear that time needs to be allocated to business development activities to bring new opportunities into the funnel. The good news is that catching deficiencies early allows them to be more readily addressed. 
  1. Be realistic about stale proposals.

In projecting forward, take a realistic look at proposals that are more than 60 days old. In my experience proposals, unlike fine red wines, don’t improve with age. At some point it becomes necessary to heavily discount the probabilities of these opportunities closing. Sellers may want to have discussions with buyers about withdrawing stale proposals so they can determine whether or not they are still viable.

👉 A potential warning sign for managers is seeing sellers push back the forecasted close dates on proposals issued two or more times.

  1. Don’t close too early – or aggressively.

There are decisions to be made when sellers need decisions made by year-end. Buyers may feel pressured and sales can be lost. A common outcome is that sellers have to discount to get the business early. It will usually be easier to ask customers to make decisions before year-end. Sellers and their manager should take care not to jeopardize future orders with prospects by closing too early and aggressively.

  1. Always look a sales cycle ahead.

stressed salespeopleLooking a sales cycle ahead throughout the year will also address a common problem for sellers going into a new year. If necessary, sellers will close anything that is closeable. Even if they are successful and make their numbers, they’ll have dreadful first quarters because there’s so little left in their pipelines. The worst of both worlds occurs when sellers drain their pipelines and miss their number.

Remember: One of CustomerCentric Selling’s core concepts is:

Bad news early is good news.

It primarily applies to disqualifying low probability opportunities early. It also applies to evaluating current and projected positions against quota. Better to evaluate pipelines on a monthly basis rather than get a wake up call in the fourth quarter when it may be too late to address.

INFOGRAPHIC - 5 Tips to survive the crazy 4th quarter

last sales training workshop of 2017

Sales Tips: Next Salesperson Up

Sales Tips: Next Salesperson Up

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

NFL refereeIf you’re not a resident of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts it’s very likely that you despise the New England Patriots. You are probably sick and tired of them winning the (albeit woeful) AFL East every year, believe they cheat (the inflate-gate fiasco) and feel they obnoxiously flaunt their 5 Super Bowl Championships.

As a life-long New York Giants fan living in Boston, I’ve watched Bill Belichick assemble his team each season. Whenever the inevitable injuries occur the team takes a “next man up” attitude. Most of his players are not superstars but my observation is that to a much greater degree than other coaches, Belichick has an overall defensive and offensive system in place.

By that I mean it seems that he breaks down each position, sets clear expectations for each position and evaluates how players execute his plan every week. Last season the Patriots traded Jamie Collins who was an incredibly physically gifted linebacker for a fourth round draft pick from the Cleveland Browns. The fact is that Collins was adlibbing and grandstanding in trying to make individual plays that disrupted the overall defensive scheme. Belichick wouldn’t tolerate that type of behavior and sent a strong message to the team by trading Collins to the Cleveland Browns. I don’t think it was a coincidence that he was traded to one of the weakest teams in the league.

Next "A Player" UpSelling is one of the most difficult jobs in the business world. Many organizations have “A Players” that are “unconscious competents.” They are superior salespeople (top 10%) that sell intuitively. That leaves the other 90% to figure it out themselves. Unfortunately most believe they’re selling products and try to do so at low levels within organizations. They struggle to get to a point where they can sell business outcomes to senior executives that can be achieved through the use of their offerings.

“A Players” are in short supply. If and when they leave, most organizations can’t realistically take a “next salesperson up” approach. 

In the same way Belichick has a system, so it is that organizations that have implemented a sales process can get much more production from sellers that have a road map and defined steps to execute. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention: 

👉 Most “A Players” drive even higher revenue when they transition from adlibs to selling on purpose.

Next "A Player" Up

Sales Tips: 4 Components Needed for Sales Process

Sales Tips: 4 Components Needed for Sales Process

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Selling is the business discipline most resistant to process and technology. Companies implement stringent procedures for order entry, billing, accounts receivable, accounts payable, general ledger, etc.

As relates to top-line revenue generation, few have established sales process.

No Two Are AlikeAs a result sales calls are like snowflakes. No two are the same. Sellers are given wide latitude in how to sell, how to position offerings, what opportunities they pursue and the progress they report. In these organizations a high percentage of sales calls are ad-libs. 

CRM software was created to track seller activities and improve pipeline visibility. Without question there is value in centralizing and collecting contact information and sales activities. 

The problem is that subjective seller opinions about progress on opportunities are the input to CRM systems.

The old IT adage of “garbage in-garbage out” applies because inaccurate opinions compromise the reports generated. How often have you seen sellers inflate otherwise “thin” pipelines? 

Years ago I worked with an early CRM provider. Their VP of Sales told me by using their software he was +/- 5% in his revenue forecasts, accuracy most companies can only dream of achieving. They had defined 8 pipeline milestones. From the first day they joined the company new sellers entered data. Over time the system captured and applied each seller’s historical close rates on opportunities in each of the 8 milestones. 

I asked him if his salespeople told customers their forecasts would be that accurate once the software was implemented. He said they did. I then discussed with him that his forecasts were based upon heuristic calculations. The software captured how accurate (inaccurate) sellers had been in the past and applied historical close rate to each milestone to create each month’s forecast.

New clients would need to gather sufficient data for sellers before their forecast accuracy would improve. If sellers left the company that data was gone forever. When new hires joined, there was a lag before their forecasts could be calculated. If new offerings were announced there was no historical data for a period of time.

A colleague told me years ago:

Technology without process speeds up the mess.

Forecasts can be generated with a few keystrokes but the reports are likely to be just as inaccurate as spreadsheets that were used years ago when sales managers did their “seat of the pants” forecasts which was mostly paring down over optimistic seller projections.

AI for Sales - Needles in HaystacksApplying Artificial Intelligence (AI) to sales has begun in earnest. There are benefits to be gained, but companies having an overall framework can enjoy the competitive advantage of reaping benefits of applying AI sooner.

 

👉 The four (4) components needed for sales process are: 

  1. Sets of defined milestones for the various types of sales that must be executed.
  2. Sales ready messaging® so that sellers position offerings to specific titles consistently.
  3. A common skill set so sellers have the requisite skills to execute messaging.
  4. Auditability to allow sales managers to grade opportunities based upon buyer actions rather than seller opinions.

Most AI applications require analyses of terabytes of historical data to identify actions that are likely to improve results. It’s the equivalent of finding needles in huge haystacks.

The structure defined above can allow best practices to be identified shortly after AI has been implemented.

INFOGRAPHIC - 4 Components of a Sales Process

INFOGRAPHIC - 4 Components of a Sales Process

Sales Tips: Key Components of an Effective Sales Strategy

Sales Tips: Key Components of an Effective Sales Strategy

By Matt Haag, President/Owner of SimpleData

Sales StrategyIn this hyper-competitive business climate, where every organization strives to evolve into an industry or market leader, without an effective sales strategy, your organization will face a competitive disadvantage.

An effective sales strategy is the key to any successful business; no matter the size, type or objective.

Understanding your goal, and setting milestones to achieve it, will give you a distinct advantage.

Having a clear plan of action and a set of quantifiable objectives to fulfill your key goal will create this advantage and transform your lackluster sales results into metric based successes.

The main problem lies in that marketers and sales executives spend most of their valuable time and resources seeking the perfect strategy to improve their sales. As a result, they struggle to achieve the milestones that pave the way to surpassing their goal.

The truth is that no one but you, the Sales Leader, will have to take the time to build a clear, effective strategy to fill your pipeline and meet your goals. To simplify the process for you, we have listed the essential components that you must include in your sales strategy for increased sales.

Focused on the Defined Target Audience

Although sometimes it’s difficult to admit that the marketing team can add value, because many times their strategies are hard to measure quantitatively, many times it’s advantageous to work with them to identify the most accurate customer profile.

Targeting the right audience is the first step towards promoting a successful sales campaign.

Increase RevenueIt’s the key to attracting the same type of loyal customers that are currently supplying a large piece of your revenue. Current customers spend up to 10x more than the average customer. Find more companies like your current customers and you’ll find more revenue. Many sales strategies focus as a “shotgun blast” type method of outreach, which often results in mediocre results because of poor targeting.

The key is to target people that are more predisposed to display an interest in your products and services; as it’s not about the number of people you target but their interest in your business, which will decide the fate of your sales strategy. When you choose the most responsive audience, you increase the percentage (and the effectiveness of your marketing budget) of this group that migrate through the sales funnel and evolve into loyal customers.

If like most marketers, you create a sales strategy that focuses on the number of targets rather than their probability to convert, expect unmet goals and smaller commission checks.

Understand Target AudienceUnderstand who your current loyal customers are. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Are they in the same industry?
  • Are they of approximately the same size? (measured by the number of employees)
  • Where are they located? (US based only?)
  • Who are you speaking with at each company? Were they the initial contact?
  • What type of companies are they? (Product or services based?)

Set your sales effort up for success by identifying any shared characteristics within your current customer base should be used as the initial structure to finding more leads and future loyal customers.

Additionally, by collecting data from this same customer based, through simple questionnaires or surveys, you can uncover how best to communicate your product/service offering to new leads as they will often face the same challenges that current customers used to face.

Based on Realistic Goals

A sales strategy that focuses on practical goals and is appropriately directed towards the main business objective, leads to success. The importance of setting practical goals cannot be underestimated; studies suggest that the sales strategies that have targeted goals earn about 10x more than others.

When creating a sales strategy, make sure that your goals are clear and are based on meeting the needs of your target audience. Most importantly, set clear objectives — know what’s more important and prioritize it in your strategy.

  • Is your focus about bonding with new customers, or focusing on customer retention?
  • Maybe, you want more frequent sales or simply an increase in the number of sales during off-seasons?
  • Or surviving the competitive market?

Identify the immediate demand of your business and set practical sales objective/milestones. A clear understanding of your immediate goals will help you achieve the final goal. Then create a sales strategy that focuses on fulfilling the milestones and it is sure to succeed.

As your sales process evolves, track the metrics throughout so that it can be further developed or amended, if needed.

BudgetIs Well Planned and Budgeted Appropriately

For a sales strategy to be successful, it should include careful planning and budgeting.

If you’re like most sales professionals, typically you just want to jump in and start selling, but waiting a week or two to explicitly plan an approach is extremely beneficial. Additionally, sales targets should be realistic; a doubling of sales in one quarter is likely impossible, unless there are commensurate matching outlays in sister groups like marketing and support.

Therefore, it is recommended to be cautious of overreaching strategies.

A successful sales strategy only advises expenditures that have been proven to work with smaller audiences and produce cost-effective results. So, before your sales strategy suggests spending a significant part of your budget towards an over-ambitious marketing scheme, first it should include results of a smaller sample size of this scheme in order to generate the evidence to move forward with more sizable investment. In other words, walk before you run.

Implement Complementary Marketing Tactics

Successful sales strategies go hand-in-glove with smart marketing tactics.

If you want your sales strategies to work, be sure to have tightly integrated marketing campaigns that can evolve as the results of the sales campaign(s) are analyzed. Think “fail fast”.

Although there are some marketing tactics that take time to show results (e.g., content marketing), effective PPC campaigns can be measured in near real-time. Therefore, if PPC targets aren’t being achieved, target new keywords, change the ad copy, and update the landing page. These changes can be made with relative ease and should be done until those goals are met.

Planning Effective StrategyDig deep to learn what works for your target audience, their needs, and build marketing campaigns around them.

If your prospects are attracted to special offers or limited-period discounts, a marketing plan with such incentives should be built to capture them and beat the competitive market. For instance, free gifts, limited period offers, discounts and cash-backs can be used occasionally to attract target audience as humans assign more value to things that are limited or occur rarely.

Smart and effective marketing techniques are a key component of successful sales strategies as they motivate sales and improve brand reputation and identity in the market.

Considers Marketplace Awareness

Having strong market awareness allows a marketer to avoid making poor decisions. A good sales strategy focuses and considers the marketplace on a holistic level.

For instance, you should join, participate and attend at least three professional associations and organizations to which your ideal customers belong along and attending any trade shows that they may attend. Also, purchasing the mailing list of such organizations and associations in order to send them either a letter of introduction or a postcard on a regular basis can augment your sales strategy.

Value

Value is a major component of every successful sales strategy. After all, your customers expect one thing from you and that’s value. This is what gives you identity and puts you above your competitors.

Communicating this value in a concise and meaningful manner is very important. Whether you are marketing your company or selling a potential customer, understanding who you are talking to will help you understand how they contextualize your value proposition. Research what part of your service or solution is most valuable to a given market segment and modify email copy, call scripting, and marketing campaigns to reflect these value adds.

In summary, an effective sales strategy targets the right audience, sets quantifiable milestones to achieve company goals, and enables the marketing team to work alongside it symbiotically. Taking a couple weeks to thoroughly devise a comprehensive system to keep you and your team focused and on track cannot be undervalued or looked at as “time wasted”. Planning and understanding who you’re targeting will yield improved results, or at the very least show you where you are winning and losing the fight for MRR growth.

Matt HaagAbout the Author
Matt Haag has more than 20 years in technology roles ranging from Programmer/Analyst, Sales Engineer, Business Development and Product Management across an array of products but working with those primarily in the Internet Marketing and Technology space.

Matt acquired SimpleData from its founder in January 2017 with the intention of building on its success as a firm that specializes solely in providing targeted B2B sales leads into one that provides a comprehensive Sales and Marketing Automation and Services platform. 

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