Lack of sales process is poisoning the well

Guest Blog | Ben Bradley

According to the 2010 Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study, less than 20% of respondents said they use a prospecting plan. Yet, roughly 75% of top-performing sales organizations said they are consistent in this activity. Where’s the disconnect?

At some point, as your sales organization grows, you’ll find it more cost-effective to insert specialists into the process rather than ask your closers to manage the entire process. To triple sales – instead of tripling the size of the sales organization – the smart money looks for ways to triple the effectiveness of the best closers.

So how do sales execs approach this? What is the fastest way to break away from old habits and build new, scalable, repeatable and affordable processes to create new sales opportunities for your best closers?

  • The first task is the task of definition: Ignore the marketing purists who believe sales and marketing are different. As you think about taking the next step in the evolution of your sales organization – and you try to stretch a very limited budget – the job of marketing is to create new opportunities for sales.
  • Lead generation must become a core competency: Cold calling, trade shows, advertising and other big marketing tactics still work for lead generation. However, the time is not far away when a consistent program of long-tail content, SEO and word of mouth marketing will become your primary source of leads.  The time is now to start understanding this reality and begin preparing your organization for the inevitable.
  • Simple data matters: In b-to-b sales it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that you can’t sell something to someone unless you know their e-mail, title, mailing address, company affiliation and phone number. In other words, you can’t sell something to someone unless you know who they are. Keeping the data clean and cultivating the contact data until the prospective customer is ready to have a conversation matters more than most think.  If you love your data, your data will love you back.
  • How many net new names did you add to the CRM each month: Don’t be content with your existing database. Every month there should a concerted effort to bring new names into CRM.  Even if you have a huge flow of inbound leads into your Web site each month, the acquisition of new names ensures your marketing remains proactive as you hunt for new key accounts.

The type of person who is comfortable cleaning data and is happy being the guardian of data is very different from the type of person happiest in front of customers. It may be the best qualified person for this role is not a sales person at all – but rather a specialist who appreciates the tools and techniques of marketing and selling.

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 Ben Bradley is managing director of Macon Raine, a management consulting, marketing, and lead generation company. He can be reached at ben@maconraine.com

Support for B2B Sales Reps is Hiding in Plain Sight

Q&A | Steven Rosen

When he was VP-sales for Biovail Pharmaceutical, Steven Rosen would run down his sales’ numbers every month and then send personal notes to those sales reps who had performed particularly well the previous quarter or recently closed a tough sale.  “The funny thing is, people would actually keep those notes,” said Rosen, founder of STAR Results, a sales consultancy, whose clients include Abbott Labs, Allergen and Novartis. “There’s no cost to saying, ‘Way to go.’ Everybody wants to feel good about themselves, so if you can compliment your sales reps, where you’re sincere and it doesn’t come off as fake flattery, it’s the easiest thing to do.” Sure, it’s easy. It’s also rare. But as managers seek to retain their top performers in a still slackening economy, taking the time to recognize sales reps – verbally or otherwise – has acquired a new currency, Rosen said. We spoke with Rosen about some of the other ways that sales managers can retain their top sales reps and improve the overall sales culture.

ZoomInfo: In light of all of the tumult in B2B sales right now, what are some of the roadblocks causing sales execs to perform below their potential?

Rosen: The biggest problem relates to focus. Sales executives are pulled in so many different directions that they forget to focus on their key success factors. It’s a business reality today that folks are being asked to do more with less and most sales managers are focused on the short-term sale in terms of delivering quarter-to-quarter sales. So the problem is getting sales managers to develop a clear plan and to ensure they keep their team focused on executing the plan. Sales managers are putting out fires, and when you’re putting out fires you’re not focusing on the business.

ZoomInfo: What are some of the major problems associated with sales coaching?

Rosen: Great sales reps who become managers find coaching very challenging. Sales coaching requires a different mindset; a great sales coach must shift their paradigm from one of ‘telling’ to ‘asking’ questions. If there’s a lack of training and role-definition [within the sales department], sales reps tend to take the path of least resistance and the managers end up doing the work, as opposed to the sales reps doing their own work. As a great sales rep you want to tell everybody why you were great, whereas the coach’s job is to facilitate the reps’ own thinking and learning.

ZoomInfo: What are some of the reasons top performers are leaving their companies these days and what are some good retention strategies for managers to deploy?

Rosen: People are driven by two things. One is the latitude to be able to do your job, which means you’re empowered to do what you’re paid to do.  The second thing is not money, but recognition. It’s true sales reps want to be making the top dollars, but they also want to work in an environment where they feel recognized for a job well done. People tend to work for their bosses and, if no one is taking the time to recognize performance, they leave.

For more information about how to support your B2B sales reps, contact ZoomInfo.

 

 

How ZoomInfo Increased Sales Productivity

When Brett Wallace took charge as VP-sales at ZoomInfo last summer, the first thing that jumped out at him was that the company’s sales reps were struggling to hit their monthly numbers.  “We were not set up to serve the different market segments in our customer base and, furthermore, there was no sustainable sales plan to help us get ahead of each month,” Wallace said. “While we were closing lots of business, we were in transaction mode and not set up to maximize our market opportunity and add more value to our customers.”

At the end of 2009, as a part of a long-term plan to build a sustainable business, Wallace reorganized ZoomInfo’s sales team according to three customer segments: new business (winning the next set of Zoom clients) and two client groups (one serving existing sales and marketing customers and the other recruiting customers).  This allowed the sales team to specialize in their markets and focus on specific parts of the sales process: winning, on-boarding and enriching customers.

“We [now] have a simple process that outlines how our sales team aligns to the customer-buying experience,” Wallace said. The focus on segmentation by market and simplification of the sales process has yielded positive results.

Wallace said that 75% of  ZoomInfo’s sales reps have made quota in the last three months compared with 30% at the end of 2009.  According to recent reports by CSO Insights and the Aberdeen Group, roughly 52% of sales reps made quota in 2009.

Wallace applauded his sales team. “While it’s important to specialize and organize people, you only see these results if you have a team that is dedicated and inspired to performing at a higher-level,”  he said. “The sales reps on this team deserve all of the credit because they are the ones in the trenches delivering these results every day.”

Another crucial element of the plan has been a sharper focus to the hiring of new sales reps. “It’s a fact of business that you are going to lose some folks in a reorganization, and new opportunities may arise in an improving economy. And, that’s ok.  But, you better have a process for quickly hiring and ramping talent,” Wallace said.

In addition to recruiting heavily, Wallace created a three-day intensive training program for new hires that features role-plays, sales certifications and tests to ensure new hires ramp up quickly. “As part of the re-organization, we also incented our top reps to act as mentors for our new hires which has accelerated best practice sharing and team ownership for the success of new hires,” Wallace added.

Contact ZoomInfo today to learn how you can also increase sales productivity.

 

B2B Sales Execs Combat ‘Scarcity Mode’

Bill Rice recalls the late 1990s and the first several years of the 21st century, when lead-gen campaigns on the Web turned acquiring sales leads into a volume game. “Leads were plentiful and a 1% to 2% conversion rate was considered successful,” said Rice, chief sales officer of Kaleidico, which provides software for B2B sales.  But when the market collapsed in late 2008 so, too, did that particular model for B2B sales. “All of a sudden, the market drops out, customers stop inquiring about leads, call centers are scaled back and sales execs are in scarcity mode,” Rice said.

Although certain economic indicators suggest that the economy is starting to recover, 2010 is shaping up to be another lean year, with budgets still difficult to come by.  To combat the current austerity among B2B buyers, sales managers “need to get more adamant about creating disciplined sales processes,” Rice added. “If you look at the average CRM system it continues to promote bad behavior. You open them up and they generally look like an Excel spreadsheet – a list of names and phone numbers with which sales people can do whatever they like.”  He added: “Sales execs must demand lead management systems that enforce sales processes proven to consistently produce results in the sale organization.”  Rice, who blogs about sales on BetterCloser, talked with Follow the Lead about how companies can embed process into the sales gestalt.

ZoomInfo: When should a sales rep know when to stop “collecting” and start “processing?”

Rice: You’re processing immediately.  The collecting activity is something you always have in your process.  In the case of marketing reps providing sales reps with leads, that first point of contact is crucial because it enables [the sales rep] to gather momentum.  I don’t see collecting and processing as serial processes, one at a time, but parallel activities.

ZoomInfo: Is part of the problem a lack of process and the collecting of information – particularly in a digital age – starts to feed on itself?

Rice: Absolutely. They key area that always defeat a sales person is that sales is hard; there’s about 90% rejection and 10% affirmation. But when you are collecting names and phone numbers it feels good and when you have a bigger and bigger list you feel productive, but there are times when [sales reps] get distracted with that. So you have sales people defeat themselves because they never start the process. The Web makes it worse; a lot of sales people are going to social media because they can observe people in the buying process and think they can grab real-time opportunities. [But] there’s a danger there, too. I find salespeople who are just literally staring at the screen. The voyeurism is overwhelming.

ZoomInfo: Do sales reps automatically cut down on their chances of a successful sales cycle by targeting prospects with a title-based approach?

Rice: To some degree. The challenge with going after titles and levels is, because of the modern age and the way people behave all across organizations, there are more and more gatekeepers. With cold calls, the challenge used to be to get past the receptionist and get into the decision maker. Now you can’t even get into receptionist, and if you do get to the decision maker you get his voice mail because nobody answers their phone anymore. So if you’re going for whom you perceive as decision maker you’ll fail because there are so many barriers to overcome. The other thing is decision makers themselves are dispersed and organizations have flattened. You need to go in at various levels. You can get an evaluation by trying to talk to the CIO or CMO, but at the same time you can go through social media channels to reach network engineers [at the same company] who are already involved in looking at solutions. The chances of those two people meeting within the organization [and discussing your product] is powerful.

Contact ZoomInfo today to learn more about B2B lead generation.

Dying is Easy, B2B Sales is Hard

Guest Blog | Tony Smith

I am often asked the following question by new and experienced salespeople and managers alike:  Why is selling so hard?

The answer may surprise you.  In reality, you’re not to blame.  The decision maker isn’t to blame.  Your boss isn’t to blame.  You simply ran smack up against the fact that what goes on between you and the decision maker isn’t completely rational and, in some cases, isn’t rational at all.  What’s more, decision makers are bored stiff from hearing the same old stuff from one salesperson after another. They’re sick and tired of it, but they don’t have the guts to tell you.  Fortunately, they told The Brooks Group, and we combined that intelligence with the research we did with watching more than 12,000 sales interactions across multiple industries and decision makers.

Do you want to know why selling is so hard?  Selling is like being blindfolded, everything is pitch-black, and you have a dart in your hand.  Your Job – just hit the target. But you’ve been groping around in the dark because you don’t have access to vital information about your decision makers.  Therefore, a lot of what you thought was true really isn’t.  Organizations and sales leaders are part of the problem because they are insisting on an outdated approach to selling.

The real issue is that too many organizations play it safe.  They are becoming less viable in today’s economy.  The sales team is fighting an uphill battle due to mediocre marketing efforts, a lack of taking risks and products that appear to the buyer to be commoditized in the marketplace.   Toss in the fact that buyers no longer want to be interrupted by a salesperson, are tired of manipulative tactics and overzealous persistence on the part of uninformed organizations and you have a recipe for disaster.  So what can you do?

Create compelling stories: No one really cares about the features and benefits of your products and services. They are more concerned with what they want and if you can provide a story that helps them understand how you can bring value to their own view of the world then you will win the day. By the way, a strong brand can breed a weak sales force so take stock of your team and get better people if you need to.

Metrics are not the solution:   Metrics are good for identifying gaps, sales trends, and other key information, but they are not the solution for a struggling sales team (CRMs are not the answer).  You really have to dig in and figure out what is causing the team to struggle.   You might find that they are being crushed by the competition that tells a better story, has a remarkable product and a better marketing plan.

Proper alignment must occur:  Marketing, sales, service, operations and the entire organization must be in alignment for success in today’s marketplace. The messages everyone sends have to be believable. Buyers are not stupid and they know when conflicting messages are being delivered.

Read more about sales and marketing alignment statistics.

Identify and dominate niche markets:   Stop trying to appeal to the masses.  Everyone cannot be your market because the stories that your customers spin are not going to resonate with everyone.   Find buyers that tend to have similar views, values and desires and focus on winning their support.

Innovation is the secret sauce:  If your organization still believes that marketing is not a component to sales and you are still selling like you did in 1985 (pounding lists with cold calls, for example) then you are seriously behind the eight ball. Buying is irrational and emotional and sales must be in alignment with that dynamic.  Trying to sell in any other way is like smacking into a concrete wall without a helmet.  Buyers demand greatness and only real innovation can penetrate the daily clutter they are exposed to.  If sales are falling, then it may be more than your team that is at fault.

Contact ZoomInfo today to learn more about helping your b2b sales team.

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Tony Smith is national accounts manager for The Brooks Group, which offers services for sales and sales management assessment, training and retention.  Tony’s blog can be read here. He can be reached at tsmith@thebrooksgroup.com.

Are sales reps an endangered species?

Right about now, we’d be entering our second decade of space travel. We would be living and working in underworld cities. A centenarian would be sliding toward middle age. These were just a few the predictions from twentieth-century scientists, novelists and social commentators, chronicled in Paul Milo’s “Your Flying Car Awaits: Robot Butlers, Lunar Vacations, and Other Dead-Wrong Predictions of the Twentieth Century.”

We were reminded of the book when we came across the following question posted on LinkedIn: How soon will the Internet turn your salespeople into dinosaurs?

The query, which was posted by Mark Sellers, CEO of  Breakthrough SalesPerformance and author of “The Funnel Principle,” has, so far, generated nearly 125 responses.  While many folks insist the Web is another channel to reach buyers, others said increasingly widespread acceptance of electronic communication may render sales execs obsolete.

“As someone who works with pharmaceutical companies I can tell you the day is very near,” said David Delong, chief customer evangelist at The Customer Management Group Pharmaceutical. “Increasing No-see physicians, decreased face time, most calls sample drops, physicians not trusting biased information from reps – the current rep driven promotional channel is getting close to irrelevance.”

The disintermediation of the sales chain caused by the Web can’t be denied. But if sales execs continue to demonstrate value in the sales process and provide concrete solutions they will stay viable for the foreseeable future, said Lee Salz, president of Sales Architects. “The Web makes it a more visible excuse, but sales people have been finding reasons why they can’t sell since the beginning of time,” he said. “It always comes back that the strongest sales execs are those who can build value with their clients. If all you’re doing is closing, you’re in big trouble.”

See all of the responses here.

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It’s just a matter of trust

For the first time, trust and transparency are as important to corporate reputation as the quality of products and services, according to the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer.  In the U.S. and most of Western Europe, these two attributes rank higher than product quality and far outrank financial returns, which sit at or near the bottom of 10 criteria in all regions.

This is in stark contrast to 2006, when financial performance was in third place in a list of 10 attributes shaping trust in the U.S. “We’re seeing a vastly set of different factors driving reputation than we did 10 years ago,” said Richard Edelman, president-CEO of Edelman, one of the largest independent public relations agencies in the country, in a news release. “Trust is now an essential line of business to be developed and delivered.”

The telephone survey, which was released late last month, took the pulse of 4,875 people in two age groups (25-34 and 35-64). Everyone involved in the interviews met the following criterion: household income in the top quartile for their age in their country and read and watch business/news media at least several times a week.

Overall,  global trust in U.S. business grew from 18 points to 54 points, the survey said. But the rise is tenuous, with nearly 70% of respondents saying that companies will revert to “business as usual” once the economy recovers. “There is a concern that short-term actions have been taken only as a result of the [economic] crisis and that government will need to remain a watchdog,” Edelman said.  “Companies will have to prove the skeptics wrong and show they can achieve both profit and purpose.”

Academics and analysts are the most credible voices for information about a company, the survey said. However, the credibility of CEOs is rising in many markets, jumping to 26% in the U.S. Despite the climb in credibility, CEOs still rank in the bottom two of the most trusted spokespeople in the U.S.

Reports from industry analysts and articles in business magazines remain the most credible sources of information about a company, at 42% and 47%, respectively. However, the credibility of mainstream media, including television, newspapers and radio, is waning. In the U.S., for example, the credibility of television news dropped from 43 points in 2008, to 20 points in 2010.

The deteriorating reputation of mainstream media comes amid the rapid proliferation of social-media channels online. Listening, which is a key component of trust, is turning into a cost of doing business, as the hard sell goes the way of the Edsel. With that in mind, click here to read “11 Social Media Mistakes Your Company Must Avoid” (hat tip to Business Insider).

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A comment (for sales reps) about Twitter’s benefits

We can understand that sales reps may be skeptical about the value of Twitter, the microblog that allows users to broadcast what they are doing via “tweets,” or messages of up to 140 characters.

Twitter, which launched in March 2006, still hasn’t made a red cent (several revenue models are now being considered, e.g. subscription services) but remains the poster child for social media.  A good deal of the media coverage of Twitter has focused on how it is influencing social dynamics as well as the narcissistic component (nobody needs to know that Joe Blow had a cheeseburger at 1:30 in the morning and it tasted delicious).

However, proponents have also made a case that Twitter is a legitimate business tool and one that companies ignore at their own peril. That argument gets a significant boost in this Wall Street Journal item. A triumvirate of academics and business analysts write that by paying attention to comments on Twitter, companies can predict where future sales are heading and help executives make more accurate decisions about whether to increase inventories. The article includes a video featuring one of the authors on how companies should respond to negative Twitter feedback and links for further reading on the (increasing) social side of business.

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Get the Most Out of Your Remote Sales Training

Guest Blog | John Barrows

Remote sales training definitely has its challenges. But there are also some specific benefits that, when presented effectively, outweigh the challenges.

The biggest challenge of remote sales training is based on the different ways people communicate.  If the remote training is phone-based – using WebEx, for example, to deliver Powerpoint slides with limited interaction – you’re most likely going to lose people because they will consider it a passive exercise.

However, an increasing number of people who have grown up in a digital age are starting to enter the workforce, making remote sales training that is based on engagement (video, audio, social channels) more palatable to both business owners and sales managers.

The overriding goal with any sales training should be to change certain bad habits and provide some new tools that can easily be applied to building sales leads and your customer base.  Remote training also needs to be delivered in a way that fits into a sales rep’s busy life and has an immediate impact on his results (rather than something that’s forgotten after several months, if not weeks).

There are several ways to ensure that remote sales training is cost-effective and provides benefits over the long term: First, similar to on-site training, make sure the trainer is, or at least recently was, a sales rep with real-world experience.   Second, make sure the program has multiple short sessions (ideally, 90 minutes each) instead of a one-time sessions. Third, remote training should have a video component so the reps can see the instructor (addressing ways in which people communicate non-verbally, e.g. body language). However, make sure the video doesn’t stay on-screen the entire time;  use it to highlight a point or show something a Powerpoint can’t demonstrate.

Another component to successful remote sales training: management involvement.  Such training goes a lot further if the sales team can all be in one room along with the manager, who can encourage participation and demand attention.  If not, then management has to let the team know they will be held responsible for the assignments and whatever else is involved in the training.

Perhaps most important, there should be follow-up sessions scheduled after the initial training session to determine what challenges or success stories can be related back to the training and what areas of training need to be fine-tuned.

Contact ZoomInfo today to learn more about increasing sales productivity.

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John Barrows is managing partner of  sales training and consulting firm Kensei Partners.  He can be reached at jbarrows@kenseipartners.com.

 

Increase Sales Productivity and Motivate Your Sales Force

Guest Blog | Dave Kurlan

Do your salespeople have the desire and commitment to do whatever it takes – every day – to reach their goals?  Here are several tips for how sales managers can motivate, inspire, cajole and incent their sales teams to make their numbers and then some.

Goals – Raise expectations in order to celebrate superior performance.  Don’t forget two crucial items: First, you need a forecast and plan derived from goals (not the other way around) and second, goals are derived from the individual’s income requirements.

Incentives – If an individual has the goals but the company’s compensation isn’t designed to reward superior achievement, the incentive to perform can’t be maintained.  If the company has a rock-solid compensation plan but the goals are lame, the personal incentive to perform will be missing.

Managing the pipeline – The key to managing the pipeline effectively is working with your critical ratios.  Use the Monthly goal, closing percentage, average sale and length of the sell-cycle  You need to determine for your sales team how many new opportunities must enter the sales pipeline each month; how much the opportunities need to be worth and strict deadlines to reach the goal(s).

Accountability – You must hold each salesperson accountable to something measurable every day, such as the number of conversations required to schedule the number of sales calls required to identify said opportunities. Perhaps more important, you must have consequences (like no gas reimbursement) for failing to meet those requirements and consistently follow through whenever necessary. Develop the nerve for full accountability and you’re nearly there.

Skills – The more the better, but let’s focus on the most important skill sets for overachieving.  Your salespeople must be able to hunt for new opportunities, identify the most qualified and be able to close them.  Anything else they can do is bonus.

Urgency – Your salespeople must have enough urgency to get their opportunities closed, when they become closable, even when their prospects are using stall tactics. Prospects may have had compelling reasons to buy in the first place, but people have short memories.  The time away from dwelling on the problems desensitizes prospects to the problems they had intended to solve.  Successful salespeople won’t let that happen because they bring a sense of urgency to things while unsuccessful salespeople are afraid that if they make repeated follow-up attempts their prospects will feel pestered.

Weaknesses – Unfortunately, there are weaknesses among individual sales reps that will neutralize all of the previous eight factors.  A few red flags: non-supportive buy cycle; a need for approval; a tendency to become emotionally involved and money issues.

Coaching and sales training – Your coaching must support any training initiative and help salespeople overcome their weaknesses, develop skills and master the selling process.  While most training will be conducted by sales development experts from outside your firm, the coaching absolutely takes place from within.  Pre-call strategizing and post-call debriefing, with every salesperson, are daily requirements.

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Dave Kurlan, CEO of  Objective Management Group, is author of “Baseline Selling: How to Become a Sales Superstar by Using What You Already Know About the Game of Baseball. ” Dave blogs about sales management at Understanding the Sales Force. He can be reached at dkurlan@objectivemanagement.com.

Contact ZoomInfo today for more information about increasing sales productivity and motivating your sales team.