My Video Chat with Amar Sheth – Sales for Life

If you’ve visited my blog previously then you will know that I’m an keen advocate of social selling. I believe Social Selling is a critical part of the modern sales persons toolkit, used correctly it will help you better understand your buyers and actively engage them early in the sales cycle.

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Amar Sheth who’s company Sales for Life are expert’s in all things “social selling”. Amar was interested in my thoughts on social selling from a Sales Leadership perspective, take a look at the video below, hope you find it insightful !

If you are interested in simple, practical tips on how to improve your Social Selling then check out Sales for Life, their blog is packed full of really valuable tips.

Want to Scale your Sales Team Quickly then Watch Out for these Pitfalls.

I am currently doing a little work helping an early stage tech start-up. Just yesterday, I was talking with the CEO about the financial plan and scaling the sales team to meet the plan goals. During that conversation we covered several different aspects of growing a sales team that directly impact the company’s ability to meet its financial plan, I highlighted some of the pitfalls to be aware of and put forward some suggestions on how to overcome them.

Reflecting on the conversation, I thought it would make an insightful blog post. At some point, just about every company in the world goes through a stage of needing to rapidly scale their sales team and it can be challenging. If you’re leading the sales team in a start-up or indeed any other company that is about to shift into hyper-growth mode then here’s some ideas on how to scale the sale team and what to watch out for.

Time to Hire

When building your financial plan these are two pieces of data that are critical and will need to be factored into the plan. “Time to hire” is the first. Do you understand the time to hire in each of the regions where you are looking to grow your sales team? Each region, and indeed each country, can be radically different. In the UK you should expect your time to hire (the point at which you launch the role to the new starters first day) to be no less than 8 weeks, although 12 weeks would probably be more accurate. The more senior the individual that you are looking to hire generally the longer the time to hire will be. Some countries across Europe are similar to the UK then there are others that take significantly longer (Germany as an example). The shortest time to hire is usually the US, the US operate with shorter notice periods and time to hire can be as low as 4 to 6 weeks. The moral of the story here is to ensure that you understand what your time to hire will be, either use existing data from previous hires or speak to a recruitment partner who can give you insight into the market, and kick-off the hiring process early enough to make sure that the sales person you are hiring joins when you need them and not 3 months later.

Sales Person Ramp Up Time

The second piece of data to be reflected in your plan is sales person “ramp”. The universal truth is that in every company it takes new salespeople time before they become productive, the more complex the role and the organisation, the longer the ramp-up time can be. If you factor in the average length of your companies sales/buying process then you are potentially looking at a significant period of time before you see any return from your investment. As an average “finger in the air” measure, in a complex sales role, I would factor in a period of 6 months where your new sales person will be less productive. Some salespeople will take less time others a little longer. Ideally you will have previous data on how long it takes to ramp new salespeople and can factor this into your sales plan. Again, the message is very clear, start to hire early ahead of the time when you need all salespeople to be fully productive in order to meet your sales goals.

On-boarding Process

In order to give the newly hired salespeople the best possible start in your company and ensure that they are productive as fast as possible you should prepare a rigorous on-boarding process well ahead of the period where you start to hire and grow quickly. You have invested months of time and lots of money to seek out and hire the best candidates that you can find, don’t trip up at this critical stage. Compare the two scenarios :-

  1. Your new hire arrives, excited to be starting their first day. They arrive early, no one is about to greet them. When you arrive, you show them to their desk, tell them that their laptop will take another day or two before it’s ready and introduce them to the team. You don’t have any training program planned other than shadowing the team but then they’re salespeople, they know how to sell anyway !
  2. Your new hire arrives, excited to start their first day. They arrive early giving you chance to grab a coffee with them, it’s your opportunity to explain how excited you are that they joined you. You introduce them to the team, provide their laptop and then introduce them to their on-boarding schedule. You have a full two weeks planned; meeting new colleagues, their individual mentor and training courses that cover the basics of selling for your company. Everything they need to know to be successful all wrapped up into a nice easy package.

Not only is it very easy to see which scenario gives the new salesperson the very best opportunity to be successful quickly, if you were the salesperson who encountered scenario 2. you are going to be far more engaged and happy in your work, both avenues to greater success.

Having a fully baked On-boarding process is not easy to build when you are short of resource and growing your team quickly but it’s an imperative otherwise all of the work that you have put in up to that point will be for nought. Much better to build the process up-front and be all raring to go when you hit the hyper-growth button.

Hiring Salespeople : What Traits, Skills & Behaviors Should I be Looking for ?

Hiring salespeople is, without doubt, the single most important part of a sales leaders role. Employing sales people who have a high probability of succeeding is critical to you and your companies long-term success, yet it’s rare for leaders to have had any formal training on how to hire effectively and what to look for in potential future stars. This leads to decisions being made on “gut feel”, certainly not a repeatable strategy that scales.

Over the years I’ve hired lots of salespeople and I’m thankful that the vast majority have proven to be successful as well as being great people. That’s not to say that I haven’t made mistakes, I certainly have. My objective with this post is to share some of the traits, skills and behaviors that I look for in Salespeople to help you maximise your hiring success and hopefully help you avoid some of your own costly mistakes.

Before I get into the details of what to look for when hiring salespeople I want to share one very important message … at some point you are going to get it wrong, expect it and be prepared to move very quickly when you do. My advice, be honest and transparent, correct the situation with maximum urgency and dignity for all involved. When this happens you will know very quickly that the individual doesn’t fit, make the tough call and end things quickly for the benefit of all concerned. Rule no. 1 – Hire Slow, Fire Fast.

Here’s a non exhaustive selection of traits that I look for when Hiring Future Sales Stars :-

  1. Curiosity – I look for salespeople who demonstrate genuine, natural curiosity. People who are interested in their customers will engage and connect at a higher level, their questioning is of higher quality and more insightful. They avoid tiring situation questions and clichéd “what keeps you awake at night” questions.
  2. Intelligence – the days when a salesperson could be successful just by being outgoing, gregarious and persistent are long gone. Today’s successful salespeople lead with insights, challenge the status quo and coach their customer to performance improvement. This demands high levels of intelligence and strong mental agility.
  3. Coach-ability – even proven world-class performers utilise coaches, they understand that the small details matter and are happy to accept help and guidance from those who could provide them with even the slightest performance advantage.
  4. Desire to learn and Improve – this is closely related to coach-ability. World class salespeople are always striving to learn and improve. They understand that even the best can get better and they are hungry for learning to help drive their own performance improvement.
  5. Optimism & Enthusiasm – people still buy from people, enthusiasm and optimism are contagious, nobody wants to work with negative, unenthusiastic people.
  6. Confidence – I look for people who have confidence in themselves and a belief that anything is possible given enough time and work. Surprisingly, I find truly confident people have higher levels of humility and display no sign of the arrogance that can be confused with confidence.
  7. Work Ethic – this is very simple, strong performers work harder. Work ethic generally trumps talent (within reason) and you will find that successful salespeople put more effort into preparing to perform, they leave very little to chance.
  8. Pro-activity – speed of thought and speed of action are important. I love to work with proactive people who make things happen and create something from nothing. I would much rather work with people who try and fail rather than those who sit back and wait for the perfect timing.
  9. Results Focus – many people judge their performance based upon their intent, others judge us based upon our results. I want to work with people who measure their success based upon their results, these are the people who hone and refine their skills to ensure the best possible outcome every-time.

If you are striving to make good, strong, repeatable hiring decisions (and who isn’t) then determine which traits are indicative of success in your business, develop a series of questions that uncover these traits and then use them consistently in every potential hire interview. Record the responses and scores for each question, you will very quickly have a benchmark to use that indicates the propensity of any individual to succeed.

I really can’t stress the importance of hiring enough, it’s the difference between winning or losing, it’s the future of your business. Done well it’s the largest source of competitive advantage (let’s not dwell on the impact when it’s not done well) and therefore deserves the time and effort needed to get it right time after time.

The Basics of Social Selling: How to Educate & Engage your Buyers Early

Social Selling is simply no longer optional for salespeople, if you have not already done so then it’s time to grasp the nettle. I’ve mentioned many, many times previously that B2B buyers have evolved, they are active in the digital world. They spend time researching companies and their product offerings long before they launch an active buying cycle. If you are a salesperson and are not active in the digital world of Social Selling then you are at a disadvantage, ultimately having to work far harder to make quota. If you are a sales leader, its high time to invest at least a small part of your training budget in supporting your teams development as social sellers.

Social Selling is based upon the theory of Six Degrees of Separation … “everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world”. Putting this theory into practice and investing the time to cultivate your network will expand your reach and, done correctly, position you as a thought leader in the eyes of your customers and prospects ready for a time when they need you. These days just about everyone has a LinkedIn profile but far less are following a thoughtful plan to maximise social selling success, it’s time to work smarter !

How do I get Started with the Basics?

I believe that the three fundamental building blocks of Social Selling success are :-

  1. The Scale of your Network.
  2. The Relevance of the Content being posted.
  3. The Value of your Interactions.

The quality of each of these basic building blocks is critical, by investing a small amount of time everyday to improve each of these three areas anyone can improve their social selling skills.

Which Social Networks Should I Focus Upon?

If you are engaged in selling to business customers then the two most appropriate networks with the highest number of registered users worldwide are 1) LinkedIn, circa 347 million users and 2) Twitter, circa 288 million users and this is where you should start. The other social networks (Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Snapchat etc.) are primarily geared towards consumers which doesn’t make them ideal vehicles for cultivating strong business to business relationships. Most people prefer to keep business and personal digital lives somewhat separated.

The Importance of the Scale of your Network

The basic rule of social selling is this … the greater the number of connections or followers that you have the greater the reach of your posts and the higher the probability that a potential customer will read and interact with your post. However, while the size of your network is important, the quality and influence of your connections also has a huge impact upon your social selling success. While you should be focused on growing your network and adding to the volume of people with whom you are connected, size is not the only important measure. You should also strive to connect with influential people (as they are probably connected with other influential people) and people within the companies that are important to you as they will definitely be connected with others in those companies.

What Should I Post?

Your goal is to educate and engage potential buyers prior to them formally engaging in a sales / buyer relationship and that means that you need to work very closely with your colleagues in Marketing. It’s probable that your Marketing partners have developed a Content Marketing plan and are publishing numerous articles across all digital media. If you are in a position to use expertly prepared professional content then do so, post content on both LinkedIn and Twitter that is relevant to potential buyers. I define “relevant” content as something that adds insight and value to your buyer in their buying role. Content such as success stories, thought-provoking insights, how to’s, top tips, check-lists etc. all provide value to clients and prospects in your network helping you educate and engage them early. Avoid posting the latest maths problem, word-search or any other non business focused content. Low relevance, or put a little more bluntly, posting rubbish, will quickly see your posts “hidden” from view as your connections strive to keep their feed useful.

I would also highly recommend that you utilise one of the free tools that help you organise your posting schedule. Check out services from Buffer, Hootsuite, Oktopost or Sendible.

How should I Connect & Interact ?

There is an etiquette to social selling. My advice is this … pay it forward. Look to be helpful, offer people something of value and expect nothing in return. Stay focused on the bigger picture, your plan is to educate and engage over time so that your connections turn to you at their time of need, don’t expect immediate payback. When sending a connection request on LinkedIn always explain why you want to connect and ensure that your reasons are relevant to them. Just as in the physical world, connection requests without explaining the reason are poor form and may lead to you being ignored, as are cold messages trying to sell something without any understanding of the persons context. Always ask yourself … am I adding value before pressing the send button !

Twitter is a little different, you can freely “Follow” anyone and I recommend that you do. Seek out all of your prospects and customers, follow them and regularly read their Tweets to gain insight into their world. Twitter is often a great way to engage senior people, 120 characters demands that your messages are short, sharp and direct.

It’s time to work smart, in fact its past time, if you are not using Social Selling to educate and engage customers then you are already behind the curve. Being present is no longer an option, if you’re not actively social selling then expect your customers to be turning to your competitors who are. Dive in and explore what’s possible, your pipelines will be better for it !

Extrovert, Introvert or Ambivert and How it Impacts Sales Performance

Those of you who have read any of my previous posts will know that I believe the role of B2B salespeople is in a period of transformational change, the behaviors and traits valued so highly by Sales Leaders and the Executive Suite in the past are evolving to be replaced by a set of behaviors built upon the foundation of curiosity, insight and a deep desire to help customers achieve their desired outcome. (Take a look at my post here to see what I believe will be the cornerstone of skills for salespeople of the future.)

In this post I’d like to explore personality style and the impact it has on results in the new world of modern, professional selling.

Firstly, lets spend a few seconds thinking about the traditional persona of a successful salesperson, chances are you are using adjectives such as Personable, Friendly, Gregarious, Funny, Energetic, an Ideas person. You may also be using Demanding, Egotistical, Craves Attention, Shoots from the hip, focuses on new bright shiny objects etc. It will come as no surprise that the traits being described are those of an extrovert. In the old world, where information was scarce and the seller held the balance of power in the buyer / seller relationship, an extrovert, pumped up and energised by engaging with many different people, was often most successful. The persona of the brave, macho, selfish salesperson leading the charge and driven to overcome the enemy is one that many sales leaders continue to search for when hiring talent today.

Since my earliest days as a sales professional (over 20 years ago) I’ve personally struggled with this persona. I would not describe myself as an extrovert and if you needed to be strongly extroverted to be successful in your sales career then maybe I’d made a poor career choice. Experience is a wonderful teacher and over the years I’ve studied and learned what makes a salesperson successful. I’ve gained the confidence to go my own way, not follow the accepted route and ignore the general belief. Finally, science and research, has now vindicated my gut decision not to focus on hiring extroverts all of those years ago, the correlation between extraversion and strong sales performance is effectively ZERO (see Why Extroverts Fail, Introverts Flounder and You Probably Succeed).

I am a big fan of Dan Pink, his book “Drive” is one of the most insightful business books that I’ve read and I’m pleased to say his most recent book has had a similar impact on me. “Drive” confirmed, with science and research, that some of the counter-intuitive beliefs that I hold to be true, actually are. In “To Sell is Human” he’s repeated the feat and compiled data on the personality styles with the greatest correlation to sales success.

So here’s the good news … the personality style with the greatest correlation to sales success is that of the ambivert, the style that sits dead centre on the Introvert / Extrovert scale (see the chart). The people who are introverted in some situations and extroverted in others with the ability to flex between styles, this is where the greatest correlation exists. The bad news … the further you move away from the centre point the lower the correlation to sales success and as I explained at the beginning of this post, many of today’s sales leaders are still focusing on hiring extroverts.

Customers have changed, buying cycles have changed, salespeople are transforming and now sales leaders everywhere have the research to help guide their hiring decisions. It’s high time sales leaders evolved the traits and behaviors that they look for when hiring future stars.

When hiring sales talent in complex B2B environments avoid the extremes of personality. Prioritise and search for those people who are finely balanced, they have the curiosity and well honed listening skills associated with an introvert combined with the confidence and energy associated with an extrovert. Hiring is such a critically important aspect of building a successful sale team, all of the training and coaching in the world won’t help if you’ve hired the wrong people. You owe it to yourself and your team to spend a little more time searching for the traits that are scientifically proven to correlate with modern sales success and not those associated with the old world.

Salespeople … Be Your Customers Knowledgeable, Curious Coach.

In my previous post I discussed “Five Skills that Define the Outstanding Salesperson of the Future”, one of the skills I highlighted is what I like to call “being a curious and knowledgeable business coach”. In this post I will discuss this in further detail, highlight what this means for salespeople and how you should use this to strengthen your relationships with customers.

Research tells us that modern B2B customers do not engage a salesperson until they are circa 60% of the way through the buying cycle (see the HBR article : The End of Solution Sales). Lots of information that customers use to make a purchasing decision can be collected without engaging a salesperson. Researching solutions, ranking providers, benchmarking pricing and gathering reviews can all be completed before ever talking with a salesperson. Technology and the onset of social media has enabled this power shift towards the buyer and it’s a trend that is only going to accelerate.

These days, this is old news. I think even the most doubting salespeople will agree that the buyer journey has evolved and in order to continue to be deemed valuable salespeople need to change too. With such a short window of opportunity in the new buying cycle, how do salespeople make an impact and differentiate themselves from their competition ? The good news is that the individual salesperson, if they have the skills and behave in the appropriate way, can still make a hugely valuable contribution to their customers success. What’s more the length of your sales-cycles will reduce as customers are much further through their buying cycle before they engage, that’s an added bonus !

Here are my top three tips on how to make the transition to being your customers knowledgeable, curious coach :-

  1. Cultivate strong role acumen : You need to be relevant, this means understanding your customers job in detail. Process, outcomes, measurements, challenges, competitors, winners, losers – you name it, you need to know about it. You must have a sufficiently deep understanding of your customers job that you could effectively step into their shoes. This is hard and it demands that you specialise and focus, you ought to be able go deep and still be comfortable with the conversation. This moves past having a vertical market specialisation, this is about truly understanding the challenges of a role within a vertical market, being able to genuinely empathise and then share insights on how to get to the required outcome. You will not be able to achieve this if you are unable to specialise, you must create a way of gaining a sufficiently deep understanding not a broad yet shallow one.
  2. Be an inquisitive sponge : Read, listen, study, watch, discuss, comment, learn and repeat. There is no shortage of content, insight and learning available to salespeople today. How you do it is down to individual preference and learning styles, but make no mistake, you should soak up every piece of available insight about your customers role, company, and market that could give you an edge. If you don’t feel that you have the knowledge to successfully step into your customers shoes then find ways to develop yourself until you do. Commit to the this, don’t wait for others to provide the opportunity for you to learn, be proactive, seek out ways of improving your domain expertise.
  3. Live the Values of a Coach : The definition of a coach is “someone whose job it is to teach people to improve”. I believe that a sales persons role is to teach people and therefore companies to improve by utilising whatever it is that you are selling (and sometimes by avoiding what you are selling when it doesn’t fit). Coaches first and foremost watch, listen and learn. They ask challenging, thought-provoking questions that help people simplify and break challenge’s down into manageable chunks. A coach guides and supports people on their journey to improvement and will always look at situations through the lens of “improvement”, they will not hold back or avoid giving difficult advice if it would help obtain an improved outcome. Next time you prepare for a customer meeting, take off your salesperson hat and put on your coaches hat, how does that change the way you prepare for your meeting ?

Buyers have changed, buying cycles have changed and they won’t be going back. Salespeople now have a choice, change and stay relevant to your buyers or stubbornly stick with what worked in the past. Change is never easy, it takes hard work and dedication, yet this is exactly how the top 1% of salespeople get to be a member of that exclusive club … will you choose to be one of them ?

Five Skills that Define the Outstanding Salesperson of the Future

If you have a spare minute today, do a quick search of social media and take a look at the volume of articles posted discussing the future of selling and how the role of the salesperson is changing. Headlines such as “1 million B2B Sales Jobs will Vanish by 2020” grab your attention and strike fear into many. There is no doubt that the role of a salesperson is evolving but are things really as bad as the headlines suggest ?

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that buyers have changed, the buying process has changed and the balance of power between the buyer and salesperson has radically shifted towards the buyer. Buyers are more informed, have faster, easier, access to knowledge and are well-connected to experts in their industry. All of this ensures that buyers are much farther through the buying process before they even consider engaging a salesperson and when they do, they often know exactly who they intend to engage.

In this context it’s easy to understand how the historic persona of the salesperson who is a brave, hard charging, lone wolf capable of breaking down doors to find and close the deal is no longer relevant. The days when salespeople where able to engage buyers in discussion around commodity products sold in a transactional manner are gone forever to be replaced by fast efficient technology that enable buyers to self-serve and complete the buying process without ever engaging a salesperson. If you are a seller in this type of commodity, transactional market then I’m afraid you will either change or become extinct. My advice, take steps to develop yourself and find another role soon, before the decision is made for you.

At the other end of the seller spectrum the future is very bright. I believe the need for professional salespeople who are thought leaders, able to add value throughout the buying process and take pride in helping their customers be successful will continue to grow. The traits and skills of individuals who operate successfully in this context are however very different to those that have proved successful in the past. So what are some of the traits and skills needed for future success :-

Collaborator : the successful salesperson of the future will be an outstanding collaborator, someone who thrives on working WITH their customers, in sequence with the buying process and helping enable the customer to buy. (Note: while I said working WITH customers that does not mean that you always agree with their point of view.)

Thought Leader / Educator : expertise in content marketing, an active presence on social media and a willingness to participate in networking discussions are a prerequisite for today’s salesperson. The ability to create a close partnership with colleagues in Marketing is important. The successful salesperson spends more time educating and developing their thought leadership to engage potential customers very early in their buying process, sometimes years before they have an active requirement.

Curious & Knowledgeable Business Coach : Salespeople will have a deep understanding of their customer, their customers industry and issues effecting their customers business. They will have specific domain knowledge, be curious and capable of asking insightful questions that drive their customers business forwards. A coach is someone who is accountable for helping the individual being coached develop and perform at a higher level, this is a great description of the successful salesperson of the future.

Generates Referrals & Recommendations : Salespeople of the future will pride themselves on collecting recommendations and referrals from delighted clients. Word of mouth and introductions from happy customers will be the pre-eminent method of lead generation. Traditional “Cold Calling” morphs into “Warm Calling” and proves to be far more effective.

Closing is the Natural Conclusion : Great Closing skills that manipulate a client to buy outside of their buying process are no longer deemed a strength. Salespeople of the future will close deals as the natural conclusion to the buying process where knowledge and insight has delivered value from the start and differentiated the salesperson from their competition.

The profession of selling is going through a period of radical change brought about by technology disrupting traditional processes, like many other professions. I believe that we are at the “tipping point” where selling will become regarded as true profession and the standards, skill levels and ethics of those employed in sales roles will be of the very highest level. Darwin’s “Origin of Species” quote describes the salespersons current predicament perfectly It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Five Behaviours that Characterise the Very Best Negotiators

Negotiating is something that most of us do every single day, either in our personal or business lives. Negotiating with customers is core to a salesperson’s role, it’s a skill that will help or hinder your quest to beat quota, so you’d imagine that as a profession we are highly skilled negotiators, I’m sorry to say that this is often not the case.

I’ve had the pleasure of observing lots of salespeople negotiate over the years. I’ve witnessed all levels of capability, from salespeople who can deliver a really difficult message and still seem to finalise negotiations in a positive manner through to salespeople who struggle to say “no” and end negotiations with an angry customer. My goal with this post is not to teach you how to negotiate, there are lots of resources to help you with that, but to point out the behaviours that I have observed in the negotiations that reach a positive conclusion and seem to be missing from those that don’t.

The negotiating text books will tell you that you should be striving to achieve win/win situations in all of your negotiations and while this is true, let’s be pragmatic … both parties may be happy with the outcome of a negotiation yet I’d bet a large slice of my house on one party being happier than the other. That’s OK, a perfectly balanced outcome is rare. It’s also perfectly OK to walk away from a negotiation where there is just too much of a gap between negotiators or your counter party is being unreasonable. In one recent negotiation that I was involved in, a customer asked for double the level of service for a 50% reduction in spend and delivered the message with a “take it or leave it” ultimatum, it wasn’t a difficult decision to walk away.

Here’s five behaviours that strong negotiators exhibit, it’s not an exhaustive list but is a great place to start if you would like to develop your negotiation skills :-

  1. Prepare effectively : Sounds obvious but by doing your homework prior to a negotiation you will always conclude with a more positive outcome. Make sure that you understand what’s of most importance to your customer, you have a clear walk away point, you understand the items that you have at your disposal to trade and the relative value of the trade-able items for you and your counter-party.
  2. Practice the negotiation with your sales coach : If you are to deliver the strongest possible negotiating performance then you should ensure that you practice and role-play the negotiation. Finding a weak point in your position during the real negotiation is not helpful, much better to find it early, in the safety of your office and have the opportunity to iron out any issues before you negotiate for real.
  3. Be confident and decisive when saying “no” : Saying “no” is part of all negotiations, it’s the only way of determining the boundaries of the negotiation. Be comfortable and confident doing so. Don’t be half-hearted, don’t dither or be indecisive. Stand your ground and be very prepared to explain why the point you are saying “no” to is important to you and do so with conviction. If you are negotiating with a skilled negotiator they will lock onto indecision and you will find yourself in a tricky position.  
  4. Stay calm and balanced, keep your emotions in check : This is critical, work hard to disconnect your emotions. The best sales negotiators are the ones that succeed in staying very calm, they listen, question and challenge the customer’s point of view but do so in a very authentic, collaborative way. They accept criticism or challenge without showing their frustration and always remain positive.
  5. Be Comfortable with silence : I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen a salesperson ask a question during a negotiation (or any other client meeting for that matter) and then, as they get very uncomfortable with silence, start answering the question for their customer. Please, please , please don’t do this, become great at feeling comfortable with silence. Wait, let your customer think and answer the question. Chances are it will give you insight to help the negotiation move forwards positively.

The Secret of an Accurate Sales Forecast

In my post “If you Want to Be Promoted then Correct Your Sales Forecast” I talked about the importance of not only hitting Quota but doing so in such a way that you become regarded as being highly consistent and predictable. CSO’s, VP’s and Sales Directors will look for this trait in salespeople who aspire to management. Please don’t underestimate it’s importance, the consequence of missing a sales forecast can be severe and if you don’t get it right you could find yourself being dragged into the downward spiral of micro-management and spending far too much time on forecasting to the detriment of coaching your team. Therein lies the secret … effectively coaching your team.

The balance of power between the salesperson and customer has changed significantly in recent years, it’s swung heavily in favour of the customer. Technology is acting as an enabler, buyers are much further through the buying process before they engage with you and they are much more informed than in the past. The result creates a situation where salespeople are unable to assert control over the sales cycle, the customer will always follow their buying process whether you like it or not (and rightly so).

This is what creates many forecasting challenges, salespeople simply don’t understand the customers buying process well enough in order to truly know when the customer will be ready to buy, they either :-

  1. Believe that they understand the process well but have failed to validate it effectively with multiple sources.
  2. Make the naive assumption that the customers buying process will naturally mirror their sales process. Oh no it doesn’t !

The most successful salespeople in today’s environment are those who collaborate with their customers, they add insight and deliver value as part of the buying cycle long before whatever the customer is buying is delivered. They are supported by a manager who is an effective coach. Not only are these salespeople the ones who beat their quota, they are the ones who will also tell you exactly when they are going to do so. All the while their coach is supporting, testing, stretching and looking for ways to help the salesperson improve.

The secret of an accurate sales forecast really is not some magic equation, you are not looking through a “crystal ball” or reading the “tea leaves”. An accurate forecast is the result of strong qualification, a clear understanding of your customers buying process, their reasons for buying and a joint commitment to move ahead. You have gained a superior level of understanding of your customer and are moulding your sales process to match their buying process precisely. When you operate with this mindset then creating consistently accurate forecasts is easy, it’s a by-product of how you sell.

Here are five suggested situations that should exist with your customer in order for you to feel comfortable about forecasting accurately, make sure that your coach (manager) is regularly asking these questions of you, keeping you honest and suggesting potential ways that might help you move forwards. If all of these exist then your opportunity is in great shape :-

  1. Has your customer explained why they are buying from you in their own words, do you know and can you quantify the outcome they hope to achieve. Does you customer clearly understand the impact on them of delay or no decision ?
  2. Do you understand your customers buying process in detail. Have you verified every stage of the process with multiple stakeholders and spoken with all those involved ?
  3. Has your customer indicated their commitment to the sequence of steps required to conclude the buying process and the dates by which they are to take place. This is of huge importance … I said “has the customer committed”, that doesn’t mean have you assumed that the customer is OK with your sequence!
  4. Do you have access to and have you spoken with the ultimate budget holder or sign-off. Are they happy and expecting to make the purchase ?
  5. Has the customer formally agreed to a date in the future, following purchase, when some form of event will take place (Delivery, Training, Consulting Engagement etc.)

What are some others that I have missed, I’d love to hear your thoughts ?

Who’s Responsible for Your Personal Development ?

Let me let you in on a little secret … the answer to the question is “you“.

A 2014 research survey by Bamboo HR published in Inc. magazine states that the number one reason that people leave companies is due to lack of advancement or development opportunities. I’ve no doubt that you will also be familiar with the phrase “People don’t leave companies they leave managers”, a well-worn statement that is often substantiated in HR exit interviews.

These two points are undoubtedly connected and the uncomfortable truth is that unless you work for a great leader who believes in you and consciously invests in your future, you are unlikely to be afforded the development opportunities that you crave. It’s a crying shame but that’s the reality for many of us in today’s workplace.

Now given this situation each of us have a choice to make :-

  1. Accept this unfortunate state of affairs and while frustrated with the situation, it’s outside of your control. Although you know the frustration will chip away at your confidence and reduce your motivation, there’s nothing you can do about it other than complain and moan to anyone that will listen.
  2. Accept the unfortunate state of affairs but as you’re so frustrated by the situation you decide to take things into your own hands and be accountable for your own development. You are buoyed by the fact that you have taken control and are steering your own development, you can overcome the frustration because you know where you are heading.

Again, the harsh reality is that the majority of average salespeople, either consciously or subconsciously, choose option one.

Those of you who are determined that you will be one of the few to make choice number two then read on, there are a number of simple steps that you can take to support your own development and it doesn’t have to cost the earth. Here’s three tips for those of you looking to develop yourselves on a budget :-

Develop a Reading List

Pound for pound, a book is the most valuable investment that you can make in yourself. Ensure that you consciously read (don’t speed read taking little in) and apply the teachings into your day-to-day work. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn for a few pounds and a little investment in your time. Here’s my top 5 to get your started :-

  • Drive – Daniel Pink : The secrets to human motivation (and it’s not what you think)
  • How to Lead – Jo Owen : An incredibly valuable resource for people new to Leadership, if you are a new manager get this book.
  • Perform – Keith Hatter, Chris Shambrook and Jim Constable : How to get better at what you do by obsessing over the right things.
  • Winning Teams, Winning Cultures – Larry Senn and Jim Hart : How culture impacts individual, team and operational effectiveness.
  • Switch – Chip & Dan Heath : Simple methods on “How to change things when change is hard”

Get Active on Social Media and Use Evernote

There is a huge amount of material available via Social Media Channels that can help you learn and develop knowledge of just about any subject. Spend some time searching Twitter and LinkedIn for the experts who publish material on subjects you want to learn about, follow lots of them and spend 10 minutes each morning saving articles to Evernote for you to read at a later date. This is so easy to do, simply add the Evernote Web Clipper to your web browser and a single press of the button will save the page/s for you to read at a later date. If you add the Evernote app to your Mobile Device then you can catch-up on reading during your commute each morning or evening (that is if you use the train, please don’t do this if you drive!)

Put your Headphones on. Watch, Listen and Learn

Hearing different perspectives, sharing and learning from others is a great way of developing yourself. YouTube, TED Talks and PodCasts are just three remarkably simple ways of learning from others. Again, spend a little time searching for the people with something valuable to say, follow them and then watch TV – who thought learning could be so easy !

Finally, the most important tip of all, TAKE ACTION … put some time aside every single week and block the slot/s in your diary. It’s too easy to let deadlines and the pressures of beating quota take precedent over developing yourself. But as I said at the beginning of this post, you’re responsible, so stand out from the crowd and make sure that you take control.