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In networking with my sales leader friends and peers, there is one unending argument that always surfaces:
Is there more art to sales success, or is sales management a science?
I’ve found that the overwhelming reasons why salespeople choose sales as a career is their love of the art of the deal:
• To build innovative solutions that create lasting value
• To manage their time as their own
• To build client portfolios they can manage as their own business
• To feel personally engaged in winning
• To express themselves in front of their customers
Salespeople often work without direct supervision building solutions, running customer calls, attending conferences or trade shows – and that’s what they prefer. Salespeople want to be left to their own creative studio, and the argument for art suggests that an experienced sales force requires less management, less training, and less oversight.
However, most sales forces we work with at Fusion Learning ask us for help in making their messages more consistent in the market. Our customers have well-thought value propositions for product, pricing, and distribution, and what we’re hearing is more repeatable, more reliable, more uniform communications in field.
Is artistic freedom by the sales force helpful in sales management execution?
No sane sales leader would push too hard to reduce the artfulness of their teams. However, adopting a science-based sales management approach will inform your sales process and make it possible for sellers to perform their art to the greatest effect.
Thoughtful use of sales science improves your ability to guide your sales team’s time on the right activities – those that will lead to better outcomes.
So how can you use sales science to execute more effectively?
Make coaching a sales management priority
You’ve spent countless hours refining your strategy documents, but executing your sales management strategy is a people problem. Relentless focus on powerful one-on-one coaching sessions are where your teams will receive the guidance and the confidence to execute to their full potential. Strong coaching sessions ensure sales teams are making clear headway on their priorities at your pace, not theirs.
Fusion performs a Sales Culture Survey every three years, and the 2016 results revealed that the best sales organizations have changed their sales management practices over time. They have increasingly moved to weekly sales coaching practices, rather than monthly.
Leverage your CRM system
You’ve invested in a powerful and capable sales CRM tool, and everyone’s been trained on how to use it.
So why aren’t you seeing a material impact or lift in your sales success?
CRM is the single most powerful enabling technology available to sales teams, but they are complex softwares – usability and user adoption is often low, and it’s common for us to see companies putting enormous time and effort into CRM user compliance and execution.
But sales management reporting, which you might normally think of as an output of good CRM inputs, can be one of the key drivers of sales execution. Communicating clear desired outcomes and developing rigorous and regular reporting will quickly lead to insightful conversations with your sales teams.
By establishing weekly sales coaching, and ensuring only CRM-entered data qualifies for the conversation, you can quickly confirm what’s being acted on, what isn’t being acted on, and how much insight your teams are bringing to their accounts. At Fusion Learning, we live this by declaring “If it isn’t in CRM, it didn’t happen”, which supports both great coaching, and consistent CRM compliance.
Create a scoreboard to measure and manage
Great sales teams care about winning, and they can only know they’re winning when they know the score.
Sales science demands we maintain a rigorous scoreboard to ensure we’re not just feeling good about our sales work, but that we can confidently measure our success and gain insight into our next actions.
A great scoreboard has a very narrow focus: it measures only what is crucial to your sales success. We’ve seen B2B sales scoreboards that measure the volume of emails sent out monthly, the time spent on a phone call, even logged-in time on applications – you can clearly measure almost anything.
Being a sales scientist means analyzing your business closely to uncover those one, two or three mission-critical metrics, the ones without which you’d never be successful, and focus relentlessly on making those improve.
At Fusion Learning, our scoreboard follows three key principles:
1. It measures the sales work that’s most important to success
2. It’s always accurate and quickly updated
3. Everyone in the company can read it and understand it.
For us, our critical sales metric is time spent with customers – we’re convinced it’s our leading indicator of sales success.
Executing on science
There is no doubt that salespeople value their independence and their ability to create. However, what they value most is overperformance against their plans.
If forced to choose between a repeatable, reliable sales process that has greater confidence of increased win-rates, and the ability to choose their own path, most smart salespeople follow the more direct and clear path to a win. Increasingly, that means having a sales leader that has adopted a scientific approach and regularly coaches their salespeople through successful execution.
To sharpen your coaching skills, ask me about our practical sales management training solution.
Will your new sales hire stay or go? And if they stay, will they succeed or fail?
An effective sales onboarding program should give you confidence to answer those questions.
Research shows that 63% of employees know whether they will stay at a company long-term within the first month on the job; 33% know within the first week. This initial period is a precursor to employee engagement and has a significant influence on how productive they will be in their new role.
Sales onboarding means much more than just getting your new sales hire a desk, laptop, and password to the CRM system. It is one of the four crucial steps to building a high performing sales organization.
At Fusion Learning, we refer to these four steps as ROOMr:
3. Ongoing Management
If you miss one of these steps, the rest will be much harder to achieve.
Sales onboarding is successful when a new hire achieves proficiency (not mastery) in attitude, knowledge, skills, activities and begins to achieve results. Each of these areas can be broken down into various activities specific to your business.
For example, reps may need to gain knowledge of one or several products, their markets and customers, and competitors’ strengths. Activities include reaching out to prospects, connecting to decision makers, participating in first meetings, converting prospects to opportunities, writing proposals, and finally, closing. Skills include prospecting, first meetings, presentations, communicating your company’s stories and how to negotiate and close in your business.
So, once you’ve recruited top sales talent, be sure to avoid these four common sales onboarding mistakes:
1. Don’t declare victory too early
Effective sales onboarding takes time. The program is not complete until new reps have achieved proficiency in all components of all areas.
In our most recent sales culture survey, 85% of sales organizations have sales onboarding periods of six months of less. We believe some (maybe more) of these organizations are underestimating the time required.
The time required to complete the sales onboarding plan will be determined by the tenure and experience of your new hire. Time to completion is negotiable and you can adapt the sales onboarding plan accordingly. What is not negotiable is the commitment from your new hire to participate and complete the sales onboarding program thoroughly.
Keep in mind that a new hire’s sales onboarding program isn’t truly completed until you as a manager are 100 percent confident that they can take a sale from prospect to close on their own.
2. Don’t confuse sales onboarding with training
Although sales onboarding might include taking classes, it should not be confused with training.
Each new rep should be given a very detailed list of the proficiencies that must be attained. It is the new sales rep’s responsibility to attain them and to ask for help from managers or others if obstacles get in the way.
Thorough sales onboarding is methodical and sequential. A good onboarding program sets specific quarterly goals in each major area of proficiency. Fusion Learning emphasizes skills, knowledge, and activities early in the process, then ramps up the push to reach sales goals later.
3. Don’t expect new reps to close in the first three months
Big wins can occur early in the sales onboarding process. However, be careful. Lucky breaks can be damaging; they may mislead a new rep into thinking he or she has learned everything necessary to achieve such results regularly.
As new reps are often eager, prospects rarely mistake them for sales veterans, even after a big sale. But if the lucky new rep has not learned, for example, how to prepare a winning proposal for a complex sale, it will be difficult for the new rep to replicate these results in the long term.
4. Proficiency does not mean mastery
Proficiency does not mean mastery of sales or even that the rep is now a “mature” salesperson.
For example, if your best reps sell $5 million annually, and your average veteran sells $3 million per year, the new rep may sell only $750,000 in the year to achieve proficient status. Yet this rep is fully on board when you know he or she can grow into a steady performer, even if it will take him or her another year or two to hit your sales veterans’ numbers.
Effective sales onboarding requires patience and diligence to have solid performers – or at least reps thoroughly capable of solid performance. And that makes the last steps of ROOMr, ongoing management and retention, highly feasible and much easier.
Develop a coaching approach that connects to each individual on your team
The key to maximizing individual results and driving higher engagement is by creating an individual management approach. To learn more, ask about our Managing Different People Differently training solution and stay tuned for additional best practices on sales onboarding processes.
According to our recent sales culture research, the answer is no – on average, sales organizations are not improving. Four separate Fusion Learning surveys from 2008 to 2016 reveal that across everything, from selling skills to management, the average sales organization remains just that: average.
Yet, the best sales organizations have evolved in response to the changing marketplace. They aren’t altering what they’re doing, but rather how they’re doing it – and how frequently.
So, how have the best sales organizations adapted? Let’s first define ‘Best.’
To qualify as best in our research, sales organizations must have attained:
- More than 110% of revenue plan and;
- More than 70% of salespeople at or above plan
Eleven organizations (6%) of the 183 responses to our 2016 survey qualified as best.
Several key differences have emerged between the best and average sales organizations:
They spend more direct time with their salespeople
The best sales organizations meet with their salespeople frequently and consistently. For reference, 60% of the best sales organizations hold weekly team meetings; this is compared with the average of 44%.
Likewise, 60% of best sales organizations’ managers hold weekly one-on-one meetings with sales reps, as compared with 25.5% of the average organizations. These frequent meetings drive accountability and results.
They use pipeline reports to drive productivity
Interestingly, although more frequent, the best sales organizations’ meetings were rated as only marginally more effective than average. But the impact of the frequent meetings jumps off the page in one category: “Pipeline helps drive productivity.” Here, the best score a whopping 8.6 out of 10, as compared with a pedestrian 6.3 out of 10 on average.
Clearly, the best now use pipeline reports more effectively. These leaders don’t wait for monthly reports. They access instant data on activity and build it into their weekly meetings to boost prospecting efforts and have more productive conversations.
They have a consistent focus on prospecting
The best scored higher in selling skills than average. Prospecting, in particular, stood out. When asked whether each member of the sales force has the skills to effectively prospect for new business, the best scored 6.4 on a scale of 1-10. This is compared with 5.6 on average, and up from the best’s 5.7 score in 2013.
Likewise, in response to a question whether each member of the sales force makes time to prospect for new business, the best organizations scored 6.8 out of 10. This compared favorably with a 5.5 score in average organizations.
The best organizations demonstrate that you can improve your sales culture through training and effective management, even in a challenging economy.
In fact, when we asked the best organizations to rate their sales culture, they scored themselves 7.5/10. Yet, when asked if they are happy about the current state of their culture, they scored themselves lower at a 5.7/10. They recognize that they haven’t attained what’s possible; which is why the best keep getting better.
For more insights on what drives highly engaged, productive sales cultures, access our Sales Culture Effectiveness White Paper.
Building a great sales culture – like a solid pipeline – takes relentless focus on behavior change. Ask us how.
At Fusion Learning, we recently conducted a poll that asked sales leaders to rate the quality of their sales meetings. On average, sales managers gave themselves just 6.3 out of 10. Only 21 percent rated their meetings at 8 out of 10 or higher – leaving 79 percent at 7 out of 10 or less.
If you find yourself heading into a meeting and you know at the end of it you’ll rate it a 7 out of 10 or less, would you want to attend? Not me. Now, think of your sales team. How energized will they be?
Sales meetings are a critical component of a great sales culture — an opportunity to build the skills of the entire team and motivate them. In each meeting, if you provide your team with just one idea, strategy or tactic that will improve their game, and motivate with some positive reinforcement or reward, you will see a gain in productivity and sales results.
Here are six techniques guaranteed to improve your next sales meeting:
1. Start with an energizer
Begin your meetings on time and start with some fun. Reward those who are punctual to help eliminate the lateness factor.
From week to week you’ll find my team doing trivia games, telling funny stories, sharing sales highlights of the week, or discussing their focus for the month ahead.
2. Conduct a capability activity
Every sales meeting must stretch and challenge team members’ skills to keep them at the top of their game. Capability activities can focus on prospecting, networking, lead generation, client meetings, presenting solutions or closing.
The capability activity is all about ongoing skill development and is the key to creating value at the meeting.
3. Keep it Simply Simple (K.I.S.S)
Always ask, “Does this item need to be in the meeting or could it be done outside the meeting or as pre-work?”
Keep it simple with four steps:
• Make sure the pace of the meeting is fast (pace should be dramatically faster than if it were a one on one meeting)
• Create the right atmosphere by making it engaging
• Add value by helping the team better execute on a key sales skill that will help them close business
• Have shared ownership; meaning you have the members share content on a regular basis
4. Have three rules for individual updates
When discussing personal updates make sure the topics are small and the answers timed, so they don’t take over the meeting or sap the team’s energy.
To ensure individual updates don’t take up too much of the sales meeting, follow these three rules:
• Set time limits
• Create different themes around successes, like key learnings and future focus
• Know when to take individual issues offline
5. Motivate and reward
You must build motivation into every team meeting. The sales team has a tough challenge and needs to feel supported and recognized. This isn’t about big gifts or exceptional moments — the simplest “thank you” can have great meaning.
Think about sorting the rewards into different categories. You can make them fun, competitive, team-based, recognition-based or even externally focused, such as getting input or recognizing someone outside of the sales team.
6. Follow a standard agenda
The standard agenda should be:
b) Capability Activity
c) Team/Business Update
d) Individual Update
If you follow this format, you’ll have a standard, consistent and easy-to-follow agenda that will keep you focused and on track. With it, you can reduce your meeting preparation time dramatically. With these six techniques, my sales managers have reduced their meeting preparation time to 10 minutes or less per meeting, while consistently creating high-value meetings. This focused and consistent investment of your time will guarantee gains in your sales teams’ productivity and overall results.
What techniques have worked for your team?
If you were not able to attend Selling Power’s Sales 2.0 Conference in Philadelphia, we’ve got you covered. This year’s event focused on the evolution of sales; and our CEO Kevin Higgins provided insight on how to increase sales team productivity and results.
Here are 7 of the many insights that were shared during the conference:
- Artificial intelligence is making headway in the sales space. Although technology is advising people, it is still people that control technology; therefore, investing in sales talent is still essential.
- Building trust is at the heart of a positive customer experience; 80-90% of that customer experience is defined by emotion. Is your customer experience consistent and adding value in a way that your customers care about?
- Now more than ever sales and marketing must be aligned. Account based marketing delivers more value and meaning to customers. Leveraging both functions in a coordinated way is critical for growth.
- We now know that 70% of a buyer’s journey begins online and 50% of sales go to the first salesperson to make contact. How quickly are your salespeople responding to leads?
- A sales enablement strategy is essential to revenue growth: 81% of sales organizations now have a strategy in place.
- Digital and human interactions are both equally important and matter at different points in the buyer’s journey.
- Research indicates that there is a higher chance of winning at craps in Las Vegas (49.4%) than the B2B closing rate for a forecasted deal (46.3%).
To access additional thoughts from the conference, including how we can help you improve your sales team’s performance, contact us. We’re here to help!