Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It’s All a Balancing Act: Balancing Territories to Optimize Your Sales Potential

Work to balance the territories among your sales representatives.  This way you cover all the gaps, maintain a high morale, and ultimately drive more wins. 
Cover the gaps – to help develop your team
Our balancing act starts with segmentation.  It’s important to divide our sales teams up by targeted business size in order to make sure there are no coverage gaps.  If we focus certain members of our teams on particular segments we know for sure we are not missing out on any business sizes.  Your segments will range from small businesses to large corporations. Match your reps with the appropriate segments based on their skill set: newer reps with the smaller businesses and your more seasoned reps with the larger accounts.  This will allow you to develop your reps while giving them a manageable workload and ultimately giving them more chances for wins!

Balance by area type – to keep it fair
It’s also important to balance your territories by region, especially when considering your team’s morale.  Consider this scenario: half your team is working a high paced urban area and the remaining portion of your team is working the slow moving rural areas.  When you go to measure rep performance, the rural half of your team probably won’t rate very well based on the nature of the region they’re covering.  They would probably not be very happy.  You want your reps working a mixture of both urban and rural areas so you can measure and reward your reps based on their talent and performance, not just on the volume of sales possible for the region they are working.

Friday, May 24, 2013

5 Voicemail Tactics That Will Get You More Callbacks

A ton of people ask me on a regular basis whether or not they should even leave voicemails any more since they almost never get a call back. My response is yes – as long as they are good ones. If you’re leaving ‘touching base’ and ‘checking in’ voicemails then don’t waste your time or the prospect’s. If your voicemails are targeted and state a reason for your call that includes some sort of relevant information or value then I would absolutely leave them.

Voicemails should be part of any overall contact strategy that mixes up calls, e-mails and other ways of getting your message in front of the right target prospect. If your contact strategy includes quality and relevant messaging each time then this increases the chances of someone responding. The prospect may not call you back from your voicemail but if they see (e-mail), hear (call/vm), and realize the different values of your solution then they may eventually reach back out. The question isn’t whether or not to leave voicemails, it’s how do you leave good voicemails?  Here are some things to think about:  

1. Don’t start with your name first
Every voicemail starts off exactly the same way: “Hi, this is John Barrows with XYZ company…”  The problem with this approach is that the majority of our voicemails get deleted right after this because the client either knows your company and therefore has a certain assumption about what you do or they don’t know your company and therefore probably don’t care. Start off your voicemails with “Hi Bill, the reason for my call today is…”  and then add in some sort of short value prop that focuses on getting their attention. The goal is to get them to pay attention to the value you bring instead of some preconceived notion of what you do. Then back it up at the end with “please call me back at 555-555-5555. This is John Barrows with XYZ company. 555-555-5555.” This is brutal to get used to but it works.

2. Keep them under 30 seconds
Anything over 30 seconds and it sounds like you’re trying to sell – and you fundamentally can’t sell your solutions in a voicemail. To practice, leave yourself a voicemail and time it to see how long it takes. Notice that by taking the approach outlined in point #1 you end up getting to the point a lot faster instead of wasting 5-10 seconds with your intro of who you are and where you are calling from.

3. Don’t sell
Again, you fundamentally can’t sell your solution in a voicemail so stop trying. Focus on getting someone’s attention with a compelling value statement about what you’ve been able to do for other clients like them. Prospecting is about getting someone’s attention and earning their interest. It’s about selling time or the next step, it’s not about selling your solutions. Aim for getting a response of “How do you do that?” as if it was a live conversation.

4. Don’t reference failed attempts
I hate when I hear reps leaving voicemails that start like this “Hi Sarah, this is John again from XYZ company. I’ve left you a few messages and am trying to reconnect to see if you’d be interested in…”  If I didn’t care the first few times, why should I care now?  By saying this you are automatically giving me the green light to delete your voicemail before I listen to the rest of it. You should always have a different reason for your call.

5. Be different
Almost every voicemail sounds exactly the same no matter what people are selling: “Hi Bill, this is John with XYZ company. We’re the leading provider of blah blah and I would like to set up a time to discuss your needs related to blah blah and see how we can help you achieve your goals…blah blah blah blah.”  No wonder people never call back. When cold calling, leaving voicemails, sending e-mails, you should always try to stand out in some way. A few ways to be different on voicemails include: By not starting with your name first; making people laugh (with business-appropriate humor); screwing up a voicemail and joking about it; being enthusiastic and positive; referencing some research you’ve done on their business that prompted the call. Whatever it is, just try to do something different and stand out.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How to Find the Prospects Who Are Most Likely to Buy

In the 20+ years that I have been working with sales professionals one of the biggest mistakes I see over and over and over again are sales professionals that spend far too much time and too much energy chasing inappropriate prospects. There is nothing more dispiriting than chasing a lead only to find out after repeated phone calls, voice mail messages, emails and introductions from LinkedIn contacts that this person you’ve so desperately been trying to reach has no budget, no need and no interest.
So how do you avoid this sales trap that catches so many? By targeting your market.
Before starting any type of lead generation, prospecting or marketing campaign it is imperative to create a profile of the ideal prospect you are trying to reach. What that means is that out of everyone in the entire world who might buy what you sell, who is most likely to? And who is most likely to buy a lot of what you sell and then keep returning to buy more?
Describe this ideal customer in specific detail. Use criteria like:
  • What industry?
  • Where are they located?
  • What is the title of the decision-maker?
  • What challenges or issues does this market have that your product or service can solve?
If you are calling in the consumer market use criteria like:
  • Where does your ideal prospect live?
  • Where does your ideal prospect work?
  • Are they married or single?
  • What is their income level?
These are just a few of the criteria that you might use. They are your “Qualifying Parameters,” the parameters that describe your ideal prospect who is likely to buy, buy a lot and come back to buy more. Then, only contact the leads that fit your “ideal customer profile.” If a prospect does not meet your parameters, they are not a qualified prospect. You will spin your wheels and waste your time trying to reach them and they will not buy or not buy very much.

In business-to-business calls make sure to only call the highest-level person you believe is the decision-maker. If that person is not the decision-maker, they’ll be able to tell you who is. Far too many sales professionals waste their time calling too low. They do this with the idea that somehow the calls will be easier. They won’t. This will simply waste your time and extend your sales cycle. If you are not speaking with a decision-maker, you are not speaking with a qualified prospect. If you are not speaking with a qualified prospect, they will never buy from you.

Monday, May 6, 2013

How to Manage the Forward Pipeline: The Difference Between Pipeline and Forecasting

Most sales managers rely on two key tools to monitor sales rep productivity: pipeline and forecasting. However, highly effective sales managers understand that there is a difference between the two.  

Forecasting is focused on later stage deals – the ones that are far enough along that you can begin to get a feel for the likelihood of success in the current quarter. However, forecasting does little to help with future quarters. Technically, pipeline refers to every opportunity a sales rep might be working on – including the ones that are far enough along to be at the forecast stage – but there are many other opportunities in the pipeline that are not that far along yet. We can designate these deals as being part of the “forward” pipeline, because they are focused on the future development of sales that ultimately impacts later forecasts.

The problem this creates is that too many sales managers don’t differentiate between the two, which often leads to sales reps not working hard enough or smart enough to develop the deals farther back in the pipeline. If this situation persists, sales reps will spend too much time on the forecasted deals and the opportunities deeper in the pipeline will be neglected, leading to a decline in deals that reach “forecasted” status in the next quarter.

What steps can managers take to guard against this confusion?
A lot of organizations still rely on the old 30-60-90 day predictive approach, as in, “it looks like this opportunity is about 60 days from closing.” The sales rep bases this estimate on the level of progress that still must take place within the account. The problem with the predictive approach is it makes it very easy for deals to get stuck and then die before anyone realizes what has happened. The sales rep can just keep pushing the deal back another 30 days, waiting on things to happen, rather than being proactive and working with the customer to make the deal happen (or put it out of its misery and mark it as lost).

A more sensible way to manage the pipeline is to monitor opportunity progress based on the length of the sales cycle, and link the work being done on the opportunity to the time it should take to close the deal. We might call this the cadence approach.
The cadence approach is based on the length of your sales cycle mapped against a defined sales process. The end in mind of the cadence is then to define accountability milestones throughout the sales cycle to make sure the right tasks and behaviors are being accomplished at the right time in order to advance the deal.
Let’s say a sales rep has an opportunity that has been in the pipeline for 10 weeks. If you have a cadence in place, it is a simple matter of checking to see what should have done by week 10. If those tasks haven’t been done, you know the opportunity may be in danger of being lost. As a sales manager, your responsibility at that point is to get with the sales rep, find out what the roadblocks are, and provide the coaching and support required for the them to get the opportunity back on schedule.

Once you start managing the forward pipeline this way, forecasting becomes less urgent but also more accurate. Sometimes people try to attach a forecast to an opportunity based on the time it has been in the pipeline, which is not helpful or at all accurate. An opportunity shouldn’t be assigned a forecast status until certain key objectives have been met. For example, does it make any sense to attach a forecast status to a deal when you haven’t even submitted a proposal? Can you forecast the success of a deal with any degree of accuracy when the customer hasn’t agreed to any next steps? As part of your cadence process, you should create a set of benchmarks that define when an opportunity is forecastable; anything that hasn’t hit those benchmarks remains in the forward pipeline and the rep should work diligently to keep it on track.

Managing the forward pipeline using the cadence approach makes it much easier for the sales manager to implement effective coaching. The important take away from all of this is that both the sales rep and the sales manager must work just as hard and just as smart when dealing with the forward pipeline as when trying to bring the forecasted deals in for a landing. The more seriously you attend to the forward pipeline, the happier everyone will be when the next quarter comes.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

5 Worst Sales Scenarios and How to Avoid Them

Sales is one of the most difficult professions in the world.  There are so many variables in what we do on a daily basis it’s hard to keep everything in line.  Here are some common challenges we all face and some actionable tips on how to address them.

 1. Getting caught with "Do you even know what we do?” on an initial call
If you’ve ever had this happen to you and you didn’t have an answer you know how embarrassing it can be.  It happens all too often in sales, mainly when it comes to prospecting.  It would happen way more if the prospect asked us every time since unfortunately most sales professionals just pick up a list of names and smile/dial and hope for the best. We need to earn the right to make the call and at least know what the company does before we call them.  The more research we do on the account before the call the better but some of us don’t have time to do research.  So, at the very least, the best way to avoid getting caught flat footed and to earn the right to make the call you should always have a client’s web site open in front of you while making the call.

2. Losing the deal after getting a verbal agreement
This is one of the worst things that can happen, especially the end of the month or end of the quarter.  When we get a verbal agreement we get all exited, update our forecast, tell our manager the deal is coming in, brag about it to our team and so on.  Then, when we it doesn’t come in we end up with egg on our face across the board and no money in our pockets which is even worse.  Here are a few things to think about and do with verbal agreements: ignore them, they are not a signed contract; work harder to close the deal, don’t take a breath; have a clear understanding of the role of the person who gave you the verbal and make sure you know exactly where they are on the ‘power line’ and how much authority they have.  If they are not the decision maker do everything you can to get in front of the one who is; write an e-mail confirming they are ready to move forward and have them e-mail you back in agreement; schedule a meeting on the calendar for the “decision,” don’t just let them get off with something like “we’ll sign off by the end of the week.”

3. The handoff to procurement or finance at the end of the sales process
You’ve done a great job meeting with all the key decision makers, understanding the decision making process, understanding the details of their situation, developing a perfect solution that meets the needs of the client, mapping out implementation timelines, etc. and now you’re ready to close but there is one more step – dealing with Procurement and/or Legal. Doh!  Procurement has one job – to get your solution at the absolute lowest price possible.  Legal has one job – protect the client against anything and everything they can.  Neither of them cares about any of the work you’ve done to date with the business decision makers.  Here are a few ways to deal with this: make sure you involve them early in the process; see if you can speak with them directly on the phone or in person if possible so you can develop some sort of relationship. Don’t get caught in a strictly e-mail relationship with them; if it’s for the legal review, see if you can get your lawyer to talk to theirs and get yourself out of the middle; make sure you have a real ‘Champion’ on the business side who you can bring back into the situation with Procurement if it gets too ugly; understand the implementation needs and timeline of the client and back out when you need to start the contract process. You can even tell the client you will send them your standard terms early in the process before the proposal and ask then to send them to legal or procurement to get the redlines out of the way sooner rather than later.

4. Getting caught off guard when making your calls
Have you ever made a bunch of calls and been lulled to sleep by the monotony of it all and the never ended number of voice mails you leave only to get caught off guard by an executive who actually picks up the phone?  Most people this happens to end up freezing for a minute, stuttering and ultimately puking all over the client with a gross elevator pitch filled with all the wonderful things about their company and how great they are.  Those calls usual end up with the kiss of death: “that sounds interesting. Why don’t you send me some information and call me in a week.”   It happens to the best of us. Here are a few things we can do to prevent this: do some research before each call and at least know what the company does; make sure you have a reason for your call every time.  start off every phone call with this statement “The reason for my call today is….”; develop 3-4 one line statements (we call them Attention Grabbers) that take no longer than 15 seconds to say and focus on getting someone’s attention and getting the response “tell me more” or “how do you do that?”  print these out and put them in front of your phone; have a few go-to questions you can ask when put on the spot (something like: what’s the number one thing you are personally held accountable for in your position?); have fun with it. If you ever get caught don’t try to fake your way out of it. Be honest and make a joke out of it. You’d be surprised how many people will forgive you if you’re honest.

5. Getting blindsided in a meeting
Have you ever walked in to a meeting completely prepared to meet with one or two people and there end up being a group of people there you’ve never met before?  Or, there’s that one person who sits in the corner with their arms folded waiting to pounce and ruin your presentation with a very well placed question meant to sabotage you?  Or, you walk in thinking you’re there to meet about one thing and they completely change the topic and want to talk about a service issue they are having or whatever else?  Meetings are challenging for a lot of reasons.  We need to make sure we’re controlling them as much as possible.  Here are a few things you can do to put yourself in the best position possible with meetings: send an Outlook invite to your main contact and ask them to forward it along to everyone else who will be in the meeting.  When everyone else accepts the meeting invitation you will get a confirmation that includes their e-mail address and then you can look up to see who they are; make sure you do a background check on LinkedIn on all the participants to see if they have ever worked for a competitor or a company that us a client of a competitors; send an e-mail out to all the attendees the day before the meeting with a brief 3 point agenda that covers what you want to talk about and leave 3 bullet points open and ask them to fill in the blanks with what they want to cover; use the agenda to start the meeting and ensure everyone is on the same page.