Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sales Tune-up

In any economic climate it is important that your sales force focus on the task at hand, be well trained in product and process, and all speak the same vocabulary. Training is critical to sales force alignment. Having your sales team go through sales training will give everyone on your team a boost in performance.

My personal favorite for sales training is “Solution Selling”, however many organizations are not able to budget time or money for this. When time and money are tight I have found a good training program is a seminar by Fred Pryor Seminars called “
The Ultimate Sales Workshop”. The seminar is one day in length and is very inexpensive. If you send a group, the cost per individual goes down making it even less expensive. If you send enough people an interesting learning dynamic happens at the seminar, where your group learns from their participation and the participation of others. You even have the option of bringing a trainer in and having this conducted on site. I have included a link to a ConceptDraw MINDMAP that outlines the content covered in this budget seminar.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Strategy Mapping

Strategy Maps are often used by management to determine the appropriate alignment in a company, and to also identify and measure the metrics that support that alignment. Strategy maps can be a useful tool to focus your company’s finite resources so that they are effectively utilized. I really do not see a strategy map as a sales or marketing tool, but rather a management tool that that reaches across all departments.

Most of the time you will see a strategy map represented as a 2D graphic in ConceptDraw PRO or Microsoft Visio which then visually shows all of the dependencies between the identified areas in the company that are being measured and what is being measured. I have built a mind map that does this in a mind map format rather than a static 2D business rendering. The great thing about using a mind map is that once the map is complete it can then easily be exported to PowerPoint, as a slide presentation. This makes it is then easy to communicate to larger groups of stake holders.

The strategy map template I developed, I have placed at MindMapPedia as a free download so any one can download and use it
http://www.mindmappedia.com/?id=107455082; if you are interested in a free trial of the mind map software, ConceptDraw MINDMAP, I used to construct the strategy map template you can download that at http://www.conceptdraw.com.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Customer Communication is King -- Sales and Marketing Team Work

It is critical at whatever stage the economy is in, good times or bad times, for your customer messaging to ring true with your target market. If the potential customers you are talking to do not understand what you are trying to convey, then your company is in big trouble. And that is spelled with a capital T. If your salespeople send more than a few percent of their time trying to explain what it is you as a company are trying to convey, you are then not in an optimum sales situation.

I have just a brief example of shaping the message to the target audience. When my son was very young his favorite fast food was a cheeseburger from McDonalds with ketchup and pickles only. He would go with me and tell me he wanted a cheeseburger, but please only ketchup and pickles on it. When I ordered it the way he wanted it ordered the McDonalds clerk would repeat it back multiple times, and with a high degree of certitude my son’s cheeseburger would have either mustard or onions or both on it. This would cause me to trek to the counter to exchange the cheeseburger for one that would meet my son’s standards.

This disconnect in communications got old very fast. McDonalds would always be gracious enough to make another to my son’s specifications, but the hassle quotient was off of the scales.

I started thinking about the issue at night once and determined for a product that contained only a bun, hamburger, cheese, onion, mustard, ketchup and pickle there had to be a better way to communicate my son’s requirements and make the process easier to digest.

I determined that I would order my son’s cheeseburger by what he did not want on it. “One cheeseburger with no onion and no mustard, please.” The clerk would repeat back, “Cheeseburger, no onion and no mustard.” Bingo, the rate of successful ordering for my son’s cheeseburger shot through the roof.
But there was still one small problem. When my son heard me order in the new fashion he would say to me, “But I want pickles and ketchup only on my cheeseburger.” With my son it was very easy to communicate to him that because of the finite number of ingredients only ketchup and pickle on a cheeseburger was exactly the same as no onions and no mustard on a cheeseburger.

My Son was happy, I was happy, the clerk was happy and somewhere Ronald McDonald and the shareholders of McDonalds were happy because the cost of preparing my son’s food had been reduced.

I use the above only as an example of customer communications and how critical it is. Lack of clear communications could be why you lost an account, why your close rate is not as good as your competition, or why you often leave your customers with a dazed and confused look on their face. Talk to your key salespeople and find out if messaging might be getting in the way of representing and selling your company. If it is, then fix it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Forecast, Pipeline and Revenue Target

Sometimes the above three items are used interchangeability when talking about sales, but they are three very different items. A company’s revenue target is found in the budget, and is a revenue number that all expenses and profits are based on. The revenue target is not the sales forecast; it is the target on that is agreed by management as an amount that has a high probability of being achieved for the year. The Revenue Target is projected for the year and is then segmented into Quarterly Revenue Targets, and Monthly Revenue Targets. Of course it is important that this number be as accurate as possible, because the organizations spend side of the budget hangs off of this number.


The Pipeline is 100% of the available business that is seen by the sales force. Anything that is in the pipeline is potential; anything that is in the pipeline is vulnerable to competitors, economic factors, and changes to business priorities. Over time an organization understands what size pipeline is necessary to meet the revenue commitment. Time is an important factor when looking at pipeline potential. What is the available pipeline for the next month, for the quarter, the year? Time is an important factor in any pipeline size determination. Many sales managers develop a rule of thumb for evaluating the pipeline. I have heard 2x revenue, 3x revenue, 4x revenue, etc. Over time an organization can develop a multiplier that looks like it predicts current revenue requirements. It is really not possible to do this because of short term changes that can occur in any sales model. It works most of the time, but sales management should really segment the pipeline or sales funnel to see what the potential deal flow is. Another item that factors into pipeline calculations is the sales cycle. Sales has always the clearest view of revenue potential in the current sales cycle, it gets fuzzier in the next sales cycle period, and by the time you reach the third sales cycle period it becomes a guesstimate. Say the average sales cycle is 3 weeks. That means that looking out 3 weeks should be fairly clear to sales management. There is still a good idea of 6 weeks out, after two sales cycles it then becomes an educated guess.

Pipeline management is so important; there must be a clear understanding of what can be added and what can be subtracted to the pipeline. In some organizations sales managers will demand that sales potential be added to the pipeline, to support revenue targets. This is destructive behavior because it does not give a realistic view of what potential there is. Also, sometimes sales reps will take items off to cover mistakes. Both the addition and subtraction of sales potential to the pipeline should be well understood and there should be at least a minimum amount of checks and balances to make sure the pipeline is a valid number. If your pipeline is garbage then the rest of the sales process will be garbage.


A sales forecast is not a presentation of the pipeline, backed with a statement such as “The pipeline is 3x our revenue requirements so we are good for the next month”. A forecast is prepared by sales management with the pipeline being only one element. A forecast is made by sales management taking into consideration all of the variables in the sales process and then informing management of the expected outcome compared to the revenue requirement. The revenue requirement might be 1 million, but that is far from a forecast. The forecast is what sales management feels it can deliver. The forecast number could be 2 million or .5 million, the number is what the number is. I myself do not like to give a single number, but most of the time 2 and if there is a big swing deal that may come in.

An example of a forecast could be that you be report 90% probability for 10 million, 95% probability for 9.76 million and 25% probability for 11.13 million. The 25% probability is tied to a potential big deal coming in. This method of forecasting when used on each individual in the sales team is a great way to normalize a sales department; and this helps sales management have a better view of what is going on.


All three, forecast, pipeline and revenue target are important to a sales department, and the understanding of the sales dynamics in your organization. As you approach the extremes of the bell shaped curve on things such as sales cycle length, you need to really pay attention to the impact on sales performance. The moral of the story is to know why you are doing something, as opposed to doing it because that is what you learned.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


When setting revenue goals for the year a company should always prepare a top-down and a bottoms-up look at the revenue projections; and then work to gain alignment. When preparing the bottoms-up revenue number one should look at the revenue per sales individual and then make a list of what factors may accelerate or decelerate that number. Sales training, product training, more marketing spend, new product introductions, shape of the economy, ability to compete, changes in pricing, big changes in partners, new competition—one can go on forever on items that have an impact on a salesperson’s performance. The final determination that needs to be made from looking at all of these factors is to decide if your sales reps are going to sell more, the same or less than last year.

If you determine they are going to sell more, and history gives some supporting evidence of that, then what is the multiplier. Is it 110%? If you have 20 sales reps, and they averaged 1 million each last year, and the revenue forecast for next year is 40 million, the odds are that you will not hit your number.

What are you going to change? Are you going to double your sales force? That may work, but many times when you are growing your sales team the law of diminishing returns kicks in. When you get to this point it is really important to understand your sales force and how they compete. It is also important to understand why you win deals, and of course why you lose deals. I find that most of the time, it is easier to achieve a boost in sales by looking at why you lose deals (if you have the ability to change the circumstances).

I have seen so many sales managers when put on the spot by management, over an underperforming sales team, do not understand the dynamics themselves. If the sales manager does not understand the internal dynamics then any solution that they come up with is just an educated guess.

So the short answer is. The way to plan on how to size your sales force to produce the anticipated revenue number is to understand your sales force and what are the key leverage points you need to work with to meet your company’s sales objective.

The most important background piece on this is to make sure the rest of the management team understands and agrees to the commitment that THEY need to make to take the company from point A to point B. A sales team can fail because of lack of commitment from the entire management team. It all comes down to a sales team needs a plan, the larger the team the more details and resources need to be spelled out. A good sales team needs lots of support, leadership and management to function at its very best.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Best Sales Practices

A recent event triggered a chain of thoughts for me. Just about 5 years ago a CEO of a funded startup company sent me an email about the sales tactics we using at the time. He stated in his email that when looking at the market, the price point, the sales cycle and the weather that our sales tactics were out of place. That the company I was managing the sales process for was going to be going out of business, unless we changed our tactics to match his suggestions (he included these in his email.)

The event that I referred to above is a piece of news I saw the other day, where the company of the CEO who emailed me was going to stop conducting business; while the company I worked with 5 years ago just keeps rolling on. This piece of news brought to mind a lesson that I learned very early in my career, just because something is a best practice in one organization, does not mean that it will be a best practice in your organization. And that sales tactics should be adaptable as conditions change. Everything changes overtime, and a sales tactic that is spot on today, may be not as good of a solution when market conditions change. And market conditions always change.

When looking for a sales leader an organization should look for a candidate who can take what they know, and apply it in an intelligent manner to the company’s situation. Never settle for someone who is going to take their experience and force fit it into your organization. Something that I see intelligent individuals overlook all of the time is that once a “Best Practice” leaves the environment it is a “Best Practice” in, it is just a case study that may or may not apply to your unique set of circumstances.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Building a Sales Environment

I find that to build a sales culture it is important to establish some basic parameters going in to the situation.

  1. It starts with the senior sales manager; the sales manager needs to be engaged in the overall sales process, top to bottom and at every point of contact with the prospect.
  2. Establish clearly that you are looking for challenges to resolve, not people to blame.
  3. Empower everyone to make decisions that support the customer.
  4. Clearly define tasks for every position on the sales team, establish “Rules of Engagement” that clearly identify responsibility for handoffs, and the “Sales Bill of Materials” for that handoff to occur.
  5. Establish that policy and coaching will come from the appropriate supervisor; there will be no word of mouth coaching.
  6. Train department (sales and product skills) so everyone knows and speaks the same language.
  7. Have compensation plans that are straight forward and provide an opportunity for success. Respect the intelligence of your sales people and if their plan is capped tell them in plain speak how the plan functions. No phrases such as, “We are interested in your success as a salesperson, so we are capping the plan at 130%.”
  8. Talk up the success of individuals and teams on the sales force, catch people doing the right thing and then spread the word.
  9. Never criticize anyone in a group, if criticism is needed as part of coaching then do it face-to-face.
  10. Recognize that sales people fail for three reasons: you as a manager have not provided them with the tools, training, support and coaching to be a success, the company has not provided them with the tools for success or they are not well suited to the requirements for the job. Look for solutions to people challenges before they become people problems.
  11. Support your sales team when they need to be supported.
  12. Have a laser focus on what your customer requirements are and how what you sell addresses those requirements.
  13. Never mistake activity for progress.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Sharing the Big 13

I have had a few emails from people who have seen my blog asking me about the amount of time and effort that is needed to have a good alignment between sales and marketing. There is a considerable amount of effort that needs to be invested in this. On top of the effort there needs to be a buy in from the executive team.

People have then come back to me and said; OK we understand that it takes to gain alignment and to benefit from that alignment. Are there some shortcuts we can take to see an improvement in sales. The answer is yes, there are some basic things that can be put in place that are easy to implement and have a huge measurable benefit in their implementation. A key element of any sales job is to be able to sit across from your potential customer and walk away with the order. I have listed 13 time tested phrases that will assist you in making an impact on your potential customer and will make you memorable for years to come. Not all of them are appropriate all of the time. It depends on the sales context; you need to figure that out for yourself.

The magic 13

  1. When am I going to hear those three magic words, here’s your order.
  2. My boss told me to come back with your order, or I was fired.
  3. If you give me your order today, I will try and get you 5% off of your next order.
  4. I have worked very hard with you on this order, I expect to be able to book it this month.
  5. You are an idiot if you don’t buy from me today.
  6. If you want me to get you that T-Shirt you had better place that order today.
  7. I think that both of us need to go talk to your boss about this order.
  8. Budget freeze!!! You promised me this order today.
  9. I am going to Hawaii on vacation next week, so I am going to stop by and pick up that order from you; I need to book it before I leave.
  10. Knock Knock. Who is there? Watts! Watts who? Watts up with my order?
  11. You owe me this one!
  12. We went to the same alma matter, why would you not do business with me.
  13. Let me talk to the decision maker, I will get some movement on this today.

By the way I have heard salespeople really use 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,11 & 13. I fabricated 1, 10 & 12. I am sure that you have also heard some interesting ways to ask for the order, if you have some that fall outside of this list, let me know I would like to share them.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

5 Process Steps for New Sales Hires

An important tactical item for success of a sales team that is often ignored is how to properly bring on a salesperson. The process by which a salesperson is brought on in your organization is critical to the success of that new hire and your organization. Yes, there are salespeople that can manage to get by with one piece of literature, a phone and a business card, but with some work you can help to make them and all of your other salespeople more productive. An established and repeatable process is required that introduces your new hires to the company and your customers.

There are five areas to consider when bringing a new person on; 1) company introduction (sales team introduction), 2) product training, 3) sales training (I will cover this as a future topic), 4) review of compensation plan and 5) introduction to sales territory (customers). All five of these are important to get things up and running as fast as possible. I would like to share two simple but effective ideas; one is on the introduction to the company and the other is on the introduction to the sales territory.

Sales Team Introduction

Unless you have a team that is large enough to have a dedicated resource for bringing people on board, I suggest the following as a potential way to break the ice and get someone assimilated on to your sales team. You assign a member of your team to make the introductions and get things rolling. A sales manager typically has lots of high priority items impacting their day; I have found that managers often need to schedule time in their calendar if a task requires 30 minutes or more of dedicated time. To properly bring on a new hire is way more than a 30 minute project. Someone who works for the same manager as the new hire will often have more flexibility in their schedule to help with the introduction. By assigning the responsibility the task gets done, and gives the new hire an initial point of contact on the team. This orientation assignment should be bounded (for today I would like you to work with Susan Jones to make sure she gets settled in). Do not tell the new employee to sit and review web content as their training. They will think that you are a lame manager if you do this.

One way that I have seen to accomplish the introduction is to have the new hire fill out a PowerPoint presentation template about themselves (their name, where they went to school, work experience, what countries they have visited, what languages they speak, where they worked before and what hobbies they have.) The template makes it quick, and by having the new individual prepare it makes it personal, when this document is sent to the department it cuts the ice.

To establish the pace of introduction establish and review a time line with the new hire:

  • I am going to take you to HR to get your paperwork finished,
  • Tom Saini is going to work with you today to get you settled into your new job,
  • Tom is going to go over basic product functionality,
  • Show you how you get logged into our systems,
  • How we use our CRM,
  • We have a “Getting Stared Plan” that you can review,
  • I will meet with you at 4 today for a general overview and go over your compensation plan,
  • Tomorrow morning you can start on further review and initial execution of your sales plan,
  • Any questions.

The time and effort investment at the front end pays off going forward.

Introduction to Sales Territory (Customers)

The other idea I would like to share with you is to have the sales representative who is leaving the position to prepare a “Getting Started Plan.” The salesperson who is in place knows the territory (customers) better than anyone else. Why not leverage what they know. Again a template helps organize the information. The plan should be reviewed two days before their final day, just in case some of the items need to be clarified.

Some of the information that can be included in this plan:

  • Most critical customers
  • Emerging customers
  • Key internal and external contacts
  • Deals that are going to close in 30 to 60 days
  • Issues associated with those deals
  • Planed events
  • Marketing activities
  • Pipeline summary
  • Trouble spots (existing customer and product issues)
  • Outstanding quotes to watch
  • How to quote (register, change, etc.)

Armed with a quick introduction to the team and sales environment the new salesperson is in a position to contribute quickly within the framework established by the company. The new person does not need to now go off and reinvent the wheel. It is impossible to have someone in just a day come completely up to speed, but I find that the first day, the first 30 days and then the first 90 days are critical periods of time, where new people are working at fitting in and being productive. It is incumbent on the company and management to provide an environment where new hires have the tools they need to get started, from that point on it is the responsibility the person in the sales position to be successful to use the tools to be successful in their endeavors.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Your Company's Sales Alignment

Early on the last day of the quarter, one of my top sales reps brought to me a large order from a Fortune 500 company. I congratulated the salesperson and asked them to book the order for the quarter. They told me that they could not book the order because our controller would not sign off. I visited the controller with the sales order in hand; at the time we had a policy that any orders over a certain dollar level required the controller’s signature. The order would have placed the sales rep into a bonus situation, and the order just by circumstance would push the quarterly results for the company into new territory. The controller looked me in the eye and said, “I am very busy and I am not going to drop what I am doing so some salesperson can make their bonus.” To settle the order booking issue we had to go to the top of the organization to establish the company’s priorities.

Not booking the order would have sent several poor messages to the sales team;
1) There is no sense of urgency for sales success in the organization,
2) Success of an individual that benefits the organization is not important, and
3) Sales is not a respected contributor to the organization.

Usually the sales team is the lifeblood of most organizations. The sales compensation plan is a key element to motivate or demotivate people on that team. 99% of salespeople are not looking for a “hand out”, they are looking for a pay package that makes sense, has a reasonable chance for attainment, and is linked to the overarching objectives of the organization. Treat your people like adults and you will get more of their attention at crunch time. Increased attention equates to increased sales.

I recommend you taking an inventory of your organization, and taking note if everyone is aligned behind the success of the sales team? If they are not, what is the reason for this condition to exist, and what impact is it having on your success? Selling is challenging enough without having people in the organization that are not supporting the sales objectives of the company.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Setting Sales Goals

Setting sales goals is a core activity of sales departments. The establishment of the goal for annual, quarter, and month is probably the single most critical decision that shapes and drives a sales department. Every company needs and deserves a purpose built sales team that has the capability to deliver on the sales goals of the organization. When the sales goal is overlaid with the company’s offerings, the resources available, level of marketing support, route to market, market potential and competitors; a sales strategy can be formulated that dictates the sales tactics (sales plan). A sales plan simply outlines how the sales and marketing resources that are available are going to be allocated to achieve the goal.

Just setting a goal, without examining impact to the sales and marketing department is not a reasonable approach. A good everyday example of a goal without a reasonable plan would be someone who wants to loose 15 pounds in 90 days. That is a stretch goal and depending on the weight and health of the individual that may or may not be a good goal. Let’s assume that it is a good goal. A very bad plan to achieve this would be for the individual not eat until they had lost the 15 pounds. Not a very practical plan. The plan that sits behind a goal has to be reasonable to implement. The plan must have the resources available to permit proper execution.

If a developed sales plan calls for a 40% increase in marketing spend and 6 new hires to sales, but there is only budget for 20% increase in marketing spend and 2 new sales hires, then the success of the goal comes into question. The goal and the plan are tightly integrated because of their nature. The plan must be reasonable in scope, and look at potential contingencies.

As an example, consider a mythical company that the previous year achieved 50 million in sales; this represented an increase of 12% over the year before. Then let’s assume that management’s goal is to grow an additional 12% in the new year, this would put the new revenue target at 56 million. The question then becomes, what is the sales and marketing plan that has a high probability of achieving that goal, all other things in the market being equal (competition, disruptive technologies, major market shifts, degree of market penetration, maturity of market, significant new products, major changes in your go-to-market partners, etc). All things being equal, your sales force should become more efficient year over year. So the assumption becomes that to achieve a 12% increase in annual sales the sales budget would need to increase less than 12% (this is dependent of the relative size of the organization and market conditions).

When the goal is established, an assessment is made of the previous year’s success balanced against budget expenditures, a draft plan is built that accommodates the expected growth for the coming year, and the plan’s implementation cost is then forecasted. If goal, plan and budget are signed off on then the next step is implementation and measurement.

The goal and the plan must align. This seems so obvious, but I have often seen examples with little or no alignment between the two. Most often this happens when the sales plan is not adapted to fit the company’s product offering, the potential market and the internal resources available. Critical for success is a company’s alignment with the market, and the internal alignment of the sales and marketing team.

Points for consideration:

  • Goals need to be clearly defined
  • Company’s sales and marketing plans need to align to goal
  • Plan has to be resourced to the right level
  • At the very least middle management needs to buy into both the goal and the plan to achieve the goal. This is critical for success.
  • The entire sales and marketing team should believe that the goal is obtainable, and see a way forward to achieve the goal.
  • Everyone in sales and marketing must understand their role and their contribution to the company goal; if this is not clear then they become disassociated from the process of meeting the goal.
  • Senior management must be completely supportive of the goal, the plan and the allocation of resources to support that plan.

One last comment on this subject is that many times in an organization there is imperfect plan alignment and even internal plan conflict can exist. It is hard enough to develop customers and grow sales, but when there are core conflicts inside an organization it becomes doubly hard. There is never an environment of 100% peace, love and harmony; the complexity of an organization is too great to achieve that, and a small level of dissonance is not a bad thing. However, there should never exist a condition that takes the focus off of the plan and execution of the plan.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Customers Visiting Headquarters, Part 2

Corporate visits were a critical component of sales at a larger enterprise company I worked at. There were 200 to 300 customer visits per year at this company; sometimes there were three a day. We had a very nice corporate visitor facility; with dedicated staff, and with dedicated resources. Sales people, who wanted to have a customer visit staged, would call the visitor center and all of the particulars of the visit would be coordinated for that sales person and customer by the assigned visitor center staff.

I had an opportunity to see how the enterprise visit worked from the point of view of a “subject matter expert”. In a year-and-a-half I gave approximately 30 presentations on the company’s integration story. Each time after the visit the presenters were evaluated by the customer on their presentation quality, we received a grade, and the presenter with the highest grade at the end of the month received recognition for being recognized by the customers. In the 29 out of the 30 times I presented I was not briefed on the history the customer had with our company, what was the visitor’s objective, what was the sales objective, who the individuals were, their role in their organization and what was the customer’s objective.

The one time that was different was when a sales representative from Scotland came to my office the day before his customer was scheduled to visit. He had contacted me the week before and said he wanted to bring me up to speed on what he was trying to accomplish. He told me what the customer was evaluating for purchase, he told me why integration was important to his customer (my pitch was on integration), what he hoped they would learn from my presentation, how much they had bought from our company the last 5 years (year by year), who would be attending (and their roles), and he wanted to make sure I brought handouts of my presentation.

On most visits I knew only the name of the company that was in our visitor center, what room to show up at, and the time. At the end of my presentation the sales representative left the room with me and thanked me for presenting to his client, and gave me a rough appraisal of how it went from his point of view. Most of the selling that are supposed to happen on a customer visit he had prepared for.


From this and other positive and negative experiences I had at the visitor center I have developed a list of things that you might want to consider on staging a customer visit;

  1. Before the customers are on site have a crystal clear idea of what their objectives are,
  2. At the start of the visit list the visitor’s objectives and how you are going to accomplish those,
  3. Make sure the visit is designed to address the customer sales and product issues,
  4. Get executive sponsorship for each visit, at least have a letter from the CEO welcoming the visitors,
  5. Make sure the people involved are briefed, at least with a background document,
  6. Make sure the presentations are meaningful to the customers situation,
  7. If you are the sales representative, request a copy for yourself of every presentation (I have seen presenters with 80 slides that were slotted for 45 minutes, and would not leave the lectern till finished),
  8. At the end get feedback, not just on the presenters, but on how well the visit met the objectives your visitors had prior to the meeting,
  9. Have handouts that are related to the visitor issues that are uniform in appearance for visitors,
  10. Do not hold the visitors captive all day, provide breaks after most presentations, have the subject matter experts available for side discussion,
  11. Stay on time,
  12. Set-up a question “parking lot” for follow-up at the end of each session,
  13. Ask customers to sign a visitor wall or hang their picture (something personal) that leaves their mark on the company that day,
  14. Have sales person rate support staff, facilities, and subject matter experts (this goes to top sales management),
  15. Stay flexible, and enjoy the time with your customer.


The customer visit is an important sales event that requires careful coordination between the field and headquarters. When headquarters is in the planning mode they should not forget that the focus should be on helping the field close and support important and critical customers.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Customers Visiting Headquarters, Part 1

The corporate visit is a part of sales that is typically only seen in larger enterprise sales. Customers or potential customers drop in on your company to receive an update on company’s direction and for assurance that you are the right technology partner for their needs, now and in the future. Customers that take the time to visit you are very serious about the relationship they have with you as a vendor.

At an enterprise software company I worked at, an outside consultant was brought in to look at our sales process and why customers bought from us. The consultant found out that over 70% of the corporate visitors who visited us bought a substantial amount of product and service over the 18 months following their visit. Typically a large enough purchase was made that the customer visit program was deemed a very successful part of the sales process. Customer visits are not always appropriate, and have to be a well thought out part of the sales and marketing process. However, the expense and effort that it takes to put together a successful program can be well worth it in building close relationships with key customers.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Grading Leads

When Marketing is chartered to bring in leads at a very low dollar amount per lead; more is not always a good thing. There is pressure to bring in only low cost leads, which tend to have a lower value to sales. By assigning multiple attributes to sales leads, such as developing a point system and targeting an average lead quality along with a target acquisition cost, sales groups will see better sales results.

Not all businesses and sales teams are driven by leads and converting those leads to sales. If your business is based on lead generation and the conversation of leads to sales you might find the following of interest. I have worked in both types of sales environments, those focused on leads and those focused on the enterprise. One sales organization I worked for, sold to the 35 largest telecoms in the world. It is a relatively easy task to find out who the largest telecoms are, and once the list is developed it is straight forward to determine the individual or individuals who are the decision makers in those organizations. There is not a large need to use marketing resources for lead generation in this type of sales organization.

Yet in other organizations I have worked in, leads were the life blood of the organization. Fresh leads flowed into the top of the sales funnel and executed sales deals flowed out of the bottom of the funnel. What happens to the leads while they are inside of the funnel is in many organizations a bit of a mystery. The mystery surrounding the processes that are associated with leads needs to be pealed back to really maximize sales impact. If leads are your life blood, then you had better have a good fix on how to maximize their value to your sales organization.

To see how one comes to terms with this process I am going to jump ahead a bit and then come back to the beginning. Depending on a number of factors (sales infrastructure, experience of reps, complexity of sale) businesses who require sales leads to keep their business going find out quickly that there is an optimum number of leads that one sales person can deal with in a day. It is important to know what that number is. Too few and your sales people are sitting on their hands; too many and the process becomes very inefficient. Sales reps need to wade through a heap of leads to find the hot sales opportunities.

Let’s say for example that one sales representative can make 50 quality contacts in one week, but you have 200 leads for each sales representative every week. That means that 150 of the leads are not being properly followed up on. Now if we had the ability to gaze into a crystal ball and judge the quality of each of those leads, we might see that 40 of the leads are hot, 80 are cold, and 80 are marginal. Which leads do you want your sales team to follow-up on? The 40 hot leads should be the number one priority of the organization. Once the leads are not graded, there is only a 20% chance on any random call that your sales team is following up on an optimal lead. Why not move the hot leads to the head of the call queue and then message the 80 marginal leads with a campaign that addresses customer value and has a clear call to action. When the prospect responds, they come back into the system as a hot lead.

Usually most organizations will send some type of communication to all 200, just to keep them warm. After this general communication let’s look at the numbers. As an example let’s say that after the campaign 7 of the leads that were previously marginal come back as hot; and out of 80 cold leads, 3 come back as hot. With the original 40 leads classified as hot, this gives us 50 hot leads for one sales representative to follow-up on that week. The amount of time a sales rep would have spent chasing bad leads has been cut dramatically.

Second level qualification or a “Closed Loop Marketing” system is imperative to making a lead driven sales team more efficient. Sales should pursue prospects that represent the best opportunity and there should be a process in place to bubble up these high-value prospects. All leads must be graded by some agreed criteria to maximize the efficiency of a sales department, if there is not an effective grading system in place then sales resources are being wasted, the team is not motivated to work at their peak, and the entire sales process slows down to a crawl. When I am focused on lead grading criteria, I like to grade very aggressively. I would prefer exceptional leads and have some sales capacity left over, instead of overrunning my sales team with poor leads.

Everyone needs to establish their own grading system that works for them and gets the sales machine rolling. Criteria for leads grading can be accomplished in a number of different ways. You can ask the customer if they would like to be called (yes) (no). If someone is asking to be called they must be considered as having good potential. Other ways to categorize a lead are asking for a purchase time frame, number of units, company name, all of these and additional criteria can be used to determine grading leads. I recommend you develop your grading system and then divide the leads into their buckets. Do you now have enough or not enough to work with? You then adjust the criteria based on the amount of leads you need to put into the top of the sales funnel on a daily, weekly or monthly time period.

By grading leads you will see an increase in employee morale, achieve higher close rates and see increases in revenue per employee. All of these are good things.

Whatever decisions you make, make sure you identify what your objectives are prior to designing the sales process, establish your goals, and measure the effect of the sales process. If you do not see a measurable improvement in sales closures that means your sales people need further training, or the criteria you use to grade the leads is wrong. Adjust based on measured feedback, try again and compare results. It has been my experience that 5 salespeople with good sales leads will outperform 5 salespeople with bad leads any day of the week.

In baseball the batting the coach instructs players to not swing at bad pitches. Sales is much the same, don’t chase bad leads, not all leads have the same value to your sales organization, figure out how to establish a grading system, measure the effect of lead grading and see improvements in your sales.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Necessary Evil or Tradeshows & Conferences: Part One

Trade shows and conferences are still an important part of the marketing mix, but very seldom is their potential fully realized. The booth is packed and shipped with the latest literature packs. People who may or may not be appropriate to staff the booth are volunteered for booth duty. Flight reservations and hotels are booked. The day arrives and the show commences. The booth is always staffed, the literature is always present, anyone and everyone who enters your floor space is talked to and their badge is scanned. Someone is placed in charge of the leads, everyone goes home, and management feels that shows not that important in the marketing mix.

Most companies have very professional people who worry about the show logistics, but few companies focus on what happens in the booth, and the follow-up process. Why? Because event marketing is not that high of a priority to most companies. People are sent, not selected for their potential impact. The follow-up is spotty. The potential impact for the show is not really realized.

To really understand what the potential is, someone has to be given the ability to change what is done at a show. At a company I was in charge of sales at, we would take four workstations to a trade show and demo all day. At the end of the day we would be dead tired, and have accumulated 100 to 300 questionable leads. We talked to so many people that they started to blend to together. Well meaning booth staff would look for people that were standing two or three deep at the demo stations and ask to if they could scan their badge for follow-up. When we left the show we would send out a mail pieced that thanked everyone we scanned for their attendance and then we would just wait to see what would happen next.

I lobbied to not do any demonstrations and request that booth visitors fill out a form during a brief product overview. The first question was, I am here only for the “give away”, and I am not interested in your product. True or false. After much debate the company decided to cut back to one demo station for occasional demos and to include the form. Just the action of qualifying the lead had such a positive impact on the sales people that they spent more time in the booth. They were excited about talking to real potential customers and about real potential deals at the show. No phone exchanges, no who are you again scenarios, or no I can not talk to you right now I am in a meeting. Real sales conversations with the sales team fully engaged were happening on right in our booth. The next show we left the single demo station behind and we improved the process five fold. We actually were plugged into some sales deals only because we had attended the show. Our competitors adopted our strategy a couple of shows later.

Think about it. As an example say someone throws 10,000 Monopoly dollars on the floor of a room, and in that paper mess they mix in 1,000 US dollar bills. You are given 10 minutes in the room and whatever you can carry out is yours. Now let’s say you have an hour, then a day and now 3 days to sort through the money on the floor. At what point have you picked up all of the US dollars and you start collecting Monopoly money? My guess is that point is never reached. Now let’s say for ever piece of money, real or counterfeit that you walk out of that room with, you are going to be charged 10 cents. Remember leads do not come for free. The answer again is that you come out of the room with no Monopoly money.

In the real world all leads cost money. Why does your company want to spend money on something that is a very long shot? In accounting there is the concept of “Sunk Cost”. Once you spend money for something, you have lost the ability to spend that money again. Any decisions you make should not be based on spend. Once you have spent x number of dollars on the booth why chase bad prospects? Prospects that burden your sales and marketing effort. I call it the “high-body count effect”. High body count gives management a warm glow that the company is on the right path. All a high body count means is that you were effective in drawing in anyone with a heart beat that walked by.

In the room example, let’s say you take a vacuum in to the room and you vacuum everything up in 10 minutes. You walk to the door then to settle your account. You have just vacuumed 11,000 pieces of paper that at 10 cents each will cost you $1,100 dollars. You have $1,000 dollars of real money in the canister. You have just lost $100 dollars. If you had picked up just the real money, you would have been charged $100, 10 cents per piece of paper, and you would have made $900. The delta is $1,000 and the difference between profit and loss. Trade shows should be thought of as an opportunity to highly qualify prospects and establish the initial contact. It is not about collecting every name in the place. You can buy a cold lead list from many sources and have spent a lot less money. Part of the sales process has to be qualification. The earlier you qualify a lead and turn them into a real prospect the better off you are as a sales and marketing team. Your resources are focused on making deals not shifting through trash. Just as in any process, not everything is perfect. You will find out later that there are some people who have a casual interest that will heat up over time, but if they fail to give you the information to have a dialog with them, it would have been impossible to engage them anyway.

The take away here is just because you are spending a big chuck of money on a trade show, don’t ever think you are doing the right thing by just collecting names. In fact this could have a harmful effect on your sales results and the company’s bottom line.

Tell Me What I Want to Hear

Lots of us listen to the radio during drive time. The commercials spew out with great regularity (unless you are a satellite radio customer). The message most of the time falls on deaf ears, or worse yet a change in channels. The commercial messaging has little effect on the listener until they need what is being advertised. This struck home for me when I had a clutch fail on me a couple of years ago on a car that was out of warranty. I was trying to determine what my options were and then I recalled a radio spot for clutch repair shop that I had heard at least 50 times, but had paid little attention to. I called the shop, received a price estimate, and then had my car towed to the shop for the arraigned repairs. I never mentioned to the manager that a big reason I had contacted and then selected his shop was because of the radio spots they ran. Maybe I am the reason the shop does not buy radio spots anymore.

What is the point? The point is that in Business-to-Consumer or Business-to-Business sales you can deliver your message as often as you want, but until conditions are such that the prospect you are talking to is really interested in buying, you are not going to be able to establish a dialog with the prospect. The entire sales process is predicated on the sales dialog. The dialog can involve mail, email, commercials, and phone calls that allow you to send messages to your potential market, and allows interested prospects to raise their hand that they are interested. That is the start; the rest of the dialog is about the prospect’s budget, needs, timing, evaluation and decision. The figurative raising of one’s hand is when the sales dialog really starts.

There is a very good article on “Dialogue Marketing”, published in November of 2005. The article touches on retail mostly and is now a couple of years old but the messaging is spot on for today dynamic sales environment. My only criticism of the article is that it addresses mostly the marketing and messaging part of the sales process, and does not address the transaction side of the acquisition process. However the article is excellent food for thought. One of the critical elements of the article I felt was the following quote I pulled from the article, “Companies that blast frequent, irrelevant messages dilute their brand equity. What customers want is great service and a consistently excellent experience across all channels.” How many of us know the above is true, even without any empirical evidence to support it. We all want to be treated with respect.

In the past when working with integrating sales and marketing groups I have always focused on building a team environment, this can be hard to accomplish in many organizations, but is important for success. Many sales organizations like to give marketing a list of what they need and then sit back for the delivery. Many marketing organizations tell sales what they are going to deliver and then take little other feedback. I call this “Tick the Boxes Go-To-Market”. What is required is a sales process that makes sense from a business process standpoint and the marketing materials and infrastructure to support that. A sales process that makes sense starts with the customer, what is needed to support their buying decision.

To acquire new customers determine what your current customer expectations were pre- and post- sale, design a process that addresses those requirements in an intelligent manner and then implement the changes to your organization with the buy-in of all concerned parties.

The Perfect Message at the Perfect Moment. Kalyanam, Kirthi; Zweben, Monte. In Harvard Business Review, Case No. R0511G. Published 11/01/2005, Harvard Business School Publishing, (6 pages).