In the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to interact with sales leaders in India, China, Singapore and Australia. One thing that everyone agrees is that selling, and more importantly, B2B selling is getting more and more challenging.
Buyers are getting more and more intelligent as they are able to do all the research even before inviting any sales teams in for discussion. This also means that most of the interaction tend to lean towards order fulfilment or what I call “Selling to Specs”. This is a zero sum game with no clear winners at all.
- The customers tend to believe that they know what they are doing due to all the research they did before connecting with the sales teams.
- The sales teams are hard pressed to show value in every interaction with their customers despite not knowing the real challenge that they are trying to help with.
- Train ourselves to be curious and inquisitive, ie, re-learn to be child like.
- Learn and practice the art of observation. We need to learn to observe not only our customer in action, but their customers in action, their competitors, their substitutes, try and delve deeper to understand the reason behind the specs that the customers have given us.
- Learn the difference between information and insight and keep looking until he/she uncovers new insights.
There are different techniques that employ the same process albeit in a little more polished way. One such methodology is “Challenger Selling” or applying the principles of ”Design Thinking” in the sales process.
One approach that i have found very useful in this scenario is to look at our customers business and their interaction with their ecosystem (including customers, employees, partners, suppliers,etc). If I am able to understand their interaction with their ecosystem and some of the challenges that these members of the ecosystem have with our customer, it provides a very interesting perspective and has immense possibilities for new insights to emerge, which potentially could provide a good discussion point and create a totally different discussion than the one that the customer intended in the first place.
This is exactly what you want as a sales executive. This again puts you in the driving seat and instead of matching specs, you are now in a position to define the challenges along with your customer and pitch in how you could play a part in solving these challenges.
In most cases, some of these challenges can be addressed by your product/services. The other part of the challenge that you are unable to solve, you could either suggest someone who could be of help or allow your customer to figure this out.
Irrespective of which methodology you use, the ultimate aim should be for the sales teams to learn to uncover insights that their customers are unaware of about their own business/process/challenge and use these insights to drive their sales process and continue to remain relevant and in control.
Do you agree with my views. Share your views and opinions as comments and we can continue our conversation.
Right now is the most important time of the year for a sales leader. Its the time when you not only are trying to support your teams to meet their annual quotas, but also supposedly need to be in the planning mode to make decisions on the sales quotas for the subsequent years.
If you are like most sales leaders that I have known, you are finding it difficult to maintain a balance among both these activities. And in most cases, the closure of the year takes more precedence than planning for the next year, which would be best to avoid by better planning at the start of the year.
So, how do you decide what sales figures you want to aspire for and how do you allocate the sales quotas?
Do you decide on a % increase on the current year sales figures as the aspiration? Say 15% year-on-year growth in top-line. Is this handed down to you by the CEO or the board of directors? Do you then add some cushion and divide this among your direct reports based on the markets and volumes that they currently run, who in turn do the same to their direct reports and this continues till you have reached the sales executive and communicated his quotas. There is always some negotiation at every level. Since both the parties know that this is a given, it loses its validity and people plan for these push-backs in the original quotas being suggested.
Now the sales executives are left to create a sales plan that can help them achieve their quotas. Smart sales executives create a plan for atleast 40% more revenue to ensure that there are no surprises at the end of the year and starts executing the plan with his set of accounts.
Now imagine that you also do the following exercise at the start of the year:
In November, you get your sales teams to take a day or two off and block it for planning. You could get the entire sales team do this on the same day or spread this out for different days for different teams. You inform all your sales executives to look at the accounts that they manage and come up with sales plays with each of these accounts. Then they identify the potential revenue from each of these sales plays. They create 3 estimates – Best case, Worst Case and Probable case. Based on the sales play, current macro conditions and the relationship with the customer, also estimate where they are in their buying process. Repeat this process with all their customers. Then you add the revenue potential for all the three scenarios from all the sales executives and also know the stage in which each account is in the sales process. This gives you a good idea of your pipeline from your existing customers/prospects. You also ask each one of your sales executives to come up with a list of 10-15 accounts in their market whom they would like to do business with and what would be the potential sales plays for those accounts, if they could come up with one. You would need to then take this list to your marketing teams and get them to create a plan on how they could support your team to get these customers interested in your products and services. You then set the quotas of the sales executives based on the worst case scenario and if you have to set sales quotas for the sales managers, set them based on the most probable or best case scenarios. Alternately, you could set the sales quotas of your sales executives based on the most probable scenario and measure your sales manages based on the % of their direct reports who achieve their quotas.
If your organization is like most organizations that I have come across, you would find that the revenue potential is much higher than any percentage increase in revenue that you had originally planned to achieve. In addition to that, you now also have a sales play defined for each one of your existing customers and the prospects already in the pipeline.
Now, it is very important for you as a sales leader to do this exercise in the last quarter of the year so that the entire team realizes that the planning process is as important as the sales closure for the quarter. This is the cultural shift that you could effect. Also, this ensures that the entire team is involved in the planning process and not just the sales leaders. This entire process will also ensure that you hit the ground running when the year starts. This process also ensures that your sales executives will not just concentrate on customers where there are current deals being planned but also continue to build his relationship with all his customers.
These are my thoughts. What do you think? Is this level of planning achievable? Do share your thoughts by commenting below or by tweeting your thoughts to me at @rmukeshgupta.
Last week I attended a conference, where during the keynote, a cool new product was introduced and someone asked to show a demo of the product.
The presenter lost the audience in two minutes flat, not due to the product not being cool, but due to the way the demo was run. I learnt the following from the demo about the art of running demos.
I learnt that
- Talking and showing features and functions does not work anymore. Context is the key ingredient.
- Ensure that the demo is visible to everyone in the audience. In this case, the people sitting in the back seats were unable to read anything on the screen as the text font size was too small and incomprehensible. Which also means that while conducting the dry run, one should also go the different corners of the seating arrangement and check if the screen size is sufficient and to adjust if necessary.
From some of the best product demo’s that i have seen, I have learnt the following:
- Create personas and weave a story around the persona and how the product will affect the persona.
- Bring in an element of surprise. Infuse theatrics in the demo. Running a demo is nothing short of a performance. Treat it as one.
- Use the power of silence. When someone is presenting or running a demo and everything goes quiet, it piques the interest of the people and they would want to know what happened. This will get you the interest of the few people whom you would have lost earlier.
- Infuse humor. Everyone likes to have a laugh. Create moments of laughter for your audience.
As sales and marketing professionals, we face multiple situations where we are called upon to either run a demo of one of our products or present an idea to an audience (customers/prospects/colleagues or our bosses).
We would do very well if we remember to use some (if not all) of these insights during our presentation.
What other tips do you have or have come across that can help us get better at giving a demo or sell our ideas. Do share them by commenting on the blog or by sharing your thoughts via twitter to me at @rmukeshgupta.
PS: Some of the best product demo’s that i have seen:
Apple Macbook Air Introduced by Steve Jobs:
Sony Xperia Soda Stunt to demo the Water-Proof nature of the phone:
I read a wonderful post by Shane Parrish titled “Warren Buffet: The three things I look for in a person“.
Here he shares three qualities that Buffet looks in a person:
He also thinks that without the first, the other two don’t matter much.
This reminded me of my mentor and his principle’s while deciding to work with someone. His list was as below, in the order of importance:
Again, he said that without the first, the other two are a sure recipe for disaster. However, when you add that in the mix, it plays the role of a “Philosopher’s Stone” and transforms the person.
Strangely, these are exactly the qualities that I look in a sales executive.
You can’t infer a person’s ability to sell by looking for these qualities. However, in my opinion, if you have these three qualities, one can succeed in any role that they get into. If you observe, none of these is a skill. They constitutes our character.
Skills can be learnt, but character needs to be built and it takes a long time to build one’s character.
Now, the question is how do you check for these qualities before you hire someone.
Its easy to check if someone is ambitious or passionate from their past works, social profiles and the initial discussions. The most critical and difficult thing to check for is the integrity of a person.
My mentor did a few things to check the integrity of the person:
- He would leave a 100 rupee bill in an empty room and get the person to wait in the room. The currency is not on the table but in a place where it will be definitely be seen and observe what the person does with the bill. This tells a lot about the person and his integrity.
- He would get one of his assistants to serve coffee/tea to the person and that person would deliberately spill some tea or coffee and observe the reaction. He always used to say that the true identity of a person comes through in their conduct with people weaker than themselves.
- In the middle of the conversation he would plan to receive a call on his phone and get all worked up about a situation on the phone and react in a way that he would not want to react/behave. He would then start chatting about the situation with the person and gradually bring up how he reacted and ask this person what he thought about his action. The response will say a lot about the integrity and character of this person.
Some other interesting ways to try and understand the person that i have found helpful for me are:
- Get someone from the team to talk to the person informally before the actual interview over a cup of coffee. This conversation will provide a lot more insight into the person than a formal conversation.
- Make the person wait for a few hours with no one to talk to or meet. And then put them in pressure by cancelling the interview by giving some flimsy reason. The reaction to this situation tells a lot about the person than any formal interview could. (Though, post that prank, you do let your hair down and continue the interview with him or her, for sure).
What do you do to screen your hires? Do share what has worked for you in the past by commenting below or tweeting to me at @rmukeshgupta.
PS: Video of Warren Buffet talking about the importance of Integrity:
Are you under constant pressure to deliver an ever increasing sales targets?
Do you want to explore if there is a way that you can build a culture that enables high performing sales teams and guide them to consistently push the limits and deliver quarter after quarter?
Then join me in my quest to find out what it takes to build such a culture.
In my opinion, there are three components that contribute to building a culture that enables a high performing sales teams:
- Sales Process – Do you have a clearly defined sales process and do your sales execs follow the process
- Manager’s role – What role do managers play and how they are measured
- Sales exec’s incentives – How are your sales execs incentivize and measured?
Now lets check each one of these components in detail.
Having a clearly defined sales process is key in enabling your sales team to perform at extremely high efficiency. Some questions that will help you realize the strength of your sales process are:
- Do you have a clearly defined sales process, with clear accountability on who is responsible for what?
- Who brings in the new leads? Who qualifies these leads? How do you qualify these leads?
- What is your go-to-market strategy? Does it include coverage of the entire market?
- Is there a sales methodology that you follow
- SPIN Selling
- Challenger sales
- Solution Revolution
- Does your sales team know the process that they are supposed to follow? Are they expected to follow the process? Do they follow the process? What happens if they do not follow the process?
- Do you have a win/lose analysis for every opportunity at the end of each opportunity’s closure?
- Do you have a system to capture leads, opportunities (CRM system)? How simple is this system to use? Does it always have up-to-date information?
- How often do you appraise your sales team – Annual, Half-yearly or quarterly?
The role of the sales manager is the most critical in sustaining high performance in any organization. Their actions, interactions and influence on the sales executives will determine if you are able to build a high performance culture in the sales organization. Some questions that you need to reflect upon to understand if you have solved this puzzle are:
- Are the sales managers just measured on sales quotas? Are they measured on the success of their direct reports?
- How do they deal with a sales executive who has not met his sales quota? Do they apply more pressure on him/her? Do they sit down and try to understand the reason for the miss & then coach him/her?
- How do they deal with someone who achieves his/her sales quotas but does not follow the process or could be potentially a bad influence on the culture?
- How do they run their team meetings & forecast calls? Do they use these opportunities to coach, recognize and explain good performance? Or do they focus on the transactional details about the deals in the pipeline?
Arriving at the best sales incentives is a tough job. Hence, most companies end-up having simple incentive structures, primarily incentivizing with money. We now know enough that money, by itself, is not a great incentives. Though sales executives expect to be incentivized based on the revenue that they bring in, high performing sales teams realize that money along is not a great incentive. Some questions that you need to think about incentives are:
- Is your sales incentives aligned to your long term strategy? For example, if your strategy is to increase market share & profitability, are the incentives aligned to the strategy? In this case, do you incentivise a sales executive who brings in a large deal but with low profits and a sales executive who brings in a relatively smaller deal but with higher profits, equally?
- Do you consider other alternatives of incentives like a paid vacation, or paid education or an interaction with a celebrity or the opportunity to fulfill any of their dreams? For example, if I have a dream to publish a book, can my organization help me publish the book if I achieve my sales quota? I would value this much more than getting some additional cash. This would also enable me to be much more engaged with my organization and result in a lower turn-over.
In order to build a consistently high performing sales team, you need to have a good mix of all the three elements.
These are my thoughts. What do you think? Do share your thoughts by commenting below or by tweeting to me at @rmukeshgupta.
Selling has a lot in common with performing arts than visible at first glance.
One of the most important goal of a performing artist is to take their audience on a journey with them, the more immersive the experience, the more successful is the performance.
The same is with selling. The goal of a sales executive should also be to take the customer on a journey with them. The more immersive this experience, the more successful will be the sales executive.
Some lessons that sales executives can learn from performing artists who are very successful are:
- Weave a story: There is always a story that flows through any performance. The more interesting the story, the more interesting the story-telling, the more likely that you have a hit performance. So it is with selling. Every sales executive should lead his interaction with his customer with a story and hone is story telling skills.
- Create and manage emotions: The artists know exactly what they want their audience to feel at any given point of the performance. Emotions are a very integral part of every successful performance. No performance is deemed successful until the audience did not feel about the performance. Selling is not just about logic, value and RoI. It is also about managing the emotions of the buyers. More often than not, it is the emotions that decide the final outcome irrespective of the logic, value or RoI. So, do not ignore this important facet of selling. More important than empathizing with the customer is to take him/her on an emotional journey knowing fully well, what you want them to feel at every stage.
- Continuous Experiment & learning: The artists continually experiment with their approach to learn what works best for them and then try to keep improving. So should sales executives. What works with a customer might not work with a different customer. It is always good for the sales executive to know his and his organizations strength and to continue to explore different approaches within these areas to have a repertoire that he can dig into in any given customer scenario.
- Hidden planning & activity: There is a lot of planning and behind the scenes activity (frenetic) that goes on to enable the performance that is hidden from the audience. All the audience sees is what it needs to see and feel what they need to feel. So should the sales executive manage the performance. He needs to manage the entire show without the customer needing to know about the frenetic activity behind the scene. He/She does not need to know the kind of madness (controlled or otherwise) going on within your organizations.
- Practice, Rehearse & more practice: It takes enormous amount of practice, rehearsals and fine-tuning to bring to life a good performance. So it should be with sales executives. The sales executives should also put in a lot of practice, rehearsals and fine-tuning before they go in front of their customers. They should also keep fine-tuning their pitch as they get feedback from their interactions with the customers.
These are some lessons that I have taken from being a performing artist & a sales executive myself and they have served me really well so far.
Everything mentioned above for sales executives can also be held true for Customer service executives. They can take similar lessons from the world of performing arts to create a stunning experience for their customers.
What do you think? Do you agree with my observation or do you have a different experience? Do let me know by commenting below or tweeting your thoughts to me at @rmukeshgupta.
No matter how good you are, you are bound to lose some deals to your competition. However, all is not lost. As they say, “Losing a battle doesn’t mean you shall lose the war”.
How you respond and act in such a situation can go a long way in ensuring you continue to succeed in selling.
Here are a few questions that could help you in making the most from the lose sale:
- Do you thank the prospect for giving you an opportunity to compete for their business?
- Do you wish them success with their purchase?
- Do you ask for feedback about what they liked in your product/service /engagement and what could be improved?
- Do you ask for a referral?
- Do you go back and check if the purchase was successful and it they were able to achieve their objectives with the purchase?
- Do you stay connected with your prospect?
- Do you share interesting articles or information to your prospect?
- Do you ask them how and on what could you work together?
Do ask yourself these questions and decide to do whatever you think is possible.
These are fairly simple things that you could do and will leave a lasting impression about you and your organization.
Most importantly, these are the right things to do as well.
What are the things that you do when you lose a deal? Do share what you do when you lose a deal by commenting below or by tweeting to me at @rmukeshgupta.com.
Every sales organization has a sales forecasting process in place. This is usually done in a meeting or on a tele-conference.During this call each sales team talk about how much sales closure do they each expect for the week, month or quarter.
This is also the meeting where senior sales managers (2 or 3 levels above the sales executives on the road) want to know the status of the pipeline and determine if they will be able to achieve their sales quota for the respective period, as they are measured on delivering their sales quotas.
Typically, everyone in the sales team is present on these meetings – from the sales executive on the road to the Head of sales and everyone in between.
These calls were very important or sacrosanct for the senior sales executives to be able to determine the health of their pipeline.
However, with the advent & large scale adoption of the different CRM systems in each organizations, these calls are no longer necessary as the CRM can help the senior managers to get the same information from the system.
These forecasting calls or meetings are still held in almost every organization. Why? There could be multiple reasons for this.
- Inertia: No one ever questioned the need for these calls or meetings, even when the CRM systems were put in place.
- Trust: Sales leaders did not trust the information in their CRM system. This could also explain why CRM could never fulfill its true potential – transform the sales organization.
- Pressure: Sales leaders also use this call to motivate their sales teams (more likely, apply more pressure). They could never do that through the system. In some cases, applying more pressure works but is usually counter-productive and in the long term is never good for any organization.
Do you still need these forecasting calls/meetings?
In my opinion, you could do away with the forecasting calls totally. Instead, I would recommend that they be transformed into the following:
- Trust: Sales leaders need to ensure that their teams know that they are expected to maintain and manage their pipeline in the system being used (CRM or otherwise). That the status in the pipeline is always up-to-date. This is a culture that will lead to the system being more trustworthy and transparent.
- Coach: Sales executives could use these calls instead to seek assistance or inputs from the senior managers on handling a specific sales scenarios or seek their help in closing specific deals. The sales leaders can use these call to coach their teams so that everyone benefits from their experience.
- Culture: By building trust & coaching their teams, sales leaders can build a culture of trust and high-performance.
We also know that forecasting accuracy is never high enough for us to consider them as critical. Also, every sales manager that I have know thinks and wants to improve the accuracy of such forecasts.
Accurate sales forecasts is an oxymoron.
I would however, recommend that you should do away with your forecasting calls/meetings and rely upon your system to monitor the health of the pipeline.
What do you think? Do share your thoughts on this topic by commenting below or tweeting your thoughts to me at @rmukeshgupta.
One of the most important pillar of building a high performing sales team, is the performance of your sales managers. So, how do you evaluate the performance of a sales manager?
If your organization is like most of the sales organizations, the answer is very simple – Does he hit his sales quota?
Sales organizations function like a clear top-down organization. The sales VP or CSO or whatever he is called gets a quota (based on the CEO’s commitment to the stock market or to the board members and investors), say $100 Million.
He then adds a cushioning factor and distributes this to his direct reports. Lets say he has 4 direct reports – the total sales quota for these reports add up to $110 Million. They then distribute this among their direct reports with a cushion added to their quotas. You get it.
However, the question is, if this is the best that we can do? Also, does this improve the effectiveness of the sales organization or undermines it? Does it truly measure the sales managers effectiveness on what they are supposed to do?
In my opinion, this is not the right way to measure the sales managers performance.
Because, sales quotas should be the measure of success or failure only for those who actually go out and sell for a living.
The role of a sales manager is to enable his team to exceed their sales quotas. The key word there is – ENABLE.
The primary responsibility of a sales manager should be the following:
- Recruit well.
- Ensures that they are become productive quickly
- He needs to monitor their effort, attitude and performance.
- He needs to coach his team as per each individuals requirement.
- Reinforce positive behaviors and discourage non-positive behaviors.
- Needs to help/coach each of his sales executives to exceed their sales quotas
So, if they are responsible for the above, how should they be evaluated?
In my opinion, a combination of the below could serve as a starting point:
- Has the entire sales organization exceeded its sales quota?
- Has everyone in his team exceeded their sales quota?
- As they say, the strength of any team is equal to the strength of its weakest link. Who in his team is the weakest performer and by how much in comparison to his quota? This should have a bearing on the sales managers evaluation.
This also means that all the managers of the sales managers should also be evaluated using similar metrics.
One drawback of this model is that this could tempt the sales managers to set low sales quotas for all their sales executives to ensure that they all over-achieve their quotas and hence the sales managers get good evaluations. The counter-balance here is for the CEO to achieve by setting the bar high for the sales organization quarter after quarter.
These are my thoughts on this topic. Do you agree with my thoughts? Do let me know your thoughts on this topic by commenting below or tweet them to me at @rmukeshgupta.
In today’s environment, sales executives serve one purpose – to sell your products and services to your prospects and customers.
In a B2B environment, we are slowly realizing that the nature of how we sell has and is changing rapidly. We started with selling products and services based on features and benefits. Then we moved towards solutions selling. Slowly, but steadily, we are now moving towards consultative selling or even challenger selling models.
All of these models are still geared towards the “Push” model of selling. We have built a product or service, it will will help you solve a problem that you may or may not know about. By making you aware of the problem & framing it in a way that only my product or service can solve it, I entice you to buy the product or service that I sell.
Push products or services
Sales executives are measured on how well and how much do they sell these products and solutions. They get big commissions based on their ability to sell.
There are two trends that we need to see and take into account:
- We are moving from an era of mass production to an era of mass customization (in every sphere of life). You can even order a car to be customized to your requirements.
- We are also moving away from mass markets to niche market segments.
Organizational skills required to succeed in a mass-production, mass-market scenario is very different from the skills required to succeed in a mass-customized, niche market reality.
In an era of mass production, it was more important to produce in large quantities (efficiency of scale) and find ways to sell the inventory at a high enough price to turn in profits. So, to succeed in this world, you focus on producing in large quantities to reduce your cost/unit, hire an army of sales people, train them on different selling techniques, teach them about your product, give them a quota (with the possibility of earning a lot of commissions) and let them loose in the market.
In order to motivate them to sell more, you link their payout to their sales. You then find ways to improve your production, reduce cost and increase sales. You filter & invest in ideas that have the biggest addressable market with minimal or no competition. You keep repeating the process in order to be successful.
This process wont work in a world of mass-customization. In this era, you need your sales executives to listen & understand the unique nature of your prospects and customers business. Then figure our their unique requirements or challenges. Then be able to create a concept of a product that could solve this challenge. They need to be able to customize your product (if not help create from scratch) to suit the needs of the customer/prospect. You do not need an army of sales executives who are solely tasked to sell your products or services. You need sales people to be folks who understand the businesses of their prospects or customers, understand your strengths and abilities and are able to create a custom solution that solves a challenge for your prospects/customers.
In this world, the way you compensate your sales team also will change. You no longer are required to incentivize them for selling the standard product/service. You need to retrain them to be able to better listen better, identify trends, understand all aspects of a businesses. The primary incentives will be based on their ability to come up with creative ideas on how to address the challenge of your customer quickly, cheaply & completely. They will be expected to come up with ideas for products/services or niche market segments which can be addressed by creating new solutions.
They will be required to be morphed into the eyes and ears for the organizations, always scouting for new niche market segments and unique customer/prospect challenges to address. They will also provide fodder to the innovation engine of the organization, helping build new products/services (as they are the closest to the world of prospects or customers).
Do you think you are ready for this new reality? How far do you think we are from this reality?
Do let me know your thoughts by commenting below or tweeting it to me at @rmukeshgupta.