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.

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 !

The Critical Importance of White Space when Selling to Complex Customers

Everyone’s aware of the old adage “it’s far more expensive to win new customers than to expand current customers”, it’s certainly true. It’s also true that lower than ideal customer retention rates will act as a significant brake on your company’s growth aspirations, you must stop competitors poaching your customers.

The solution to both of these situations is “White Space”, or more appropriately, filling the “White Space”.

What on earth is “White Space” I hear you ask ? It’s simply the area of an organisations structure that remains unchartered territory in your customer plan. The people, teams, offices or divisions that, so far, you’ve not engaged in any form of conversation or relationship. In the majority of B2B selling situations there is more white space in a customer relationship than salespeople realise. The best way of keeping a customer engaged and locking out your competition is to be constantly striving to add value (selling) into the white space and then to bring those peers across the customer together so that they realise the value delivered. Sounds easy I here you say.

Actually it’s far from easy and it takes a huge amount of time to amass the insight and knowledge that will help you build value. All of the reputable Sales Methodologies (Miller Heiman, Holden Powerbase, TAS etc.) have tools to help you map people across your customer and asses their power or influence. They all work very well but you can just as easily build your own visual map of the organisation and set yourself a goal of filling the white space.

Here’s how to get started. Build a spreadsheet that represents your customer, across the top of the spreadsheet (X Axis) list the different teams, divisions or business units. In the 1st Column (Y Axis) list all of the roles or job titles that you are able to sell to. Don’t just include the Executive Decision makers, add all levels of seniority. You need to cover them all (See my post : The Hidden Dangers of Selling to Senior Executives). Use as many cells as you need in order to build an accurate picture of your customer.

Now here’s where the fun starts. Add the names of the individuals that represent each role or title for each of the business units in the appropriate cells. Where you don’t know the name of the individual leave the cell blank. Where you do know the individual’s name, colour code the cell using the following key :-

1. Green : Open Access, regular communication and engaged with your company. Can be a coach to you.
2. Amber : You’ve met the individual but they’re not engaged and you don’t have regular access. Not a coach or supporter.
3. Red : No communication, access or engagement.

Once you’re complete, you’ll have an immediately recognisable organisation map that very quickly identifies where you should focus your efforts. I would hazard a guess that you have far more Red & Amber cells than Green and that the mass of white spaces was a surprise you too.

Now the most important step, TAKE ACTION, there is simply no point doing all of this work and not picking up the phone, it’s crazy, but believe me it happens ! :

1. Ensure that no white space exists, that you have names for everyone that you are able to sell to logged in your CRM and they are being marketed to appropriately.
2. Build a plan that turns the cells in Red, through Amber to Green ideally using referrals and introductions from other “green people” in your organisation map.

Disciplined execution of the plan will see you gain greater insight into your customer with a wider, stronger relationship base. Sales will grow, retention remains strong and you will be making the barriers to entry for your competitors much higher !

The Unseen Dangers of Selling to Senior Executives

If I had £1 for every sales person, sales team or indeed company that have challenged themselves with selling to the most senior executives then I’d be a very wealthy man. For many organisations selling to senior executives is regarded as the silver bullet, the remedy to all ills and the path to beating plan.

The reality is often very different.

Senior Executives are very busy people, often every minute of their working day is filled with back to back meetings. They run from one meeting to another without an opportunity to think, to grab a coffee or even speak to their assistant. I’m stating the obvious but their time is at a premium and if you are going to use any of a busy executives precious time then you’d best make sure that you use it well.

Salespeople are often buoyed by winning a meeting with a senior executive, they are so excited and eager to get started that they often fail to prepare effectively and the very important meeting with the executive turns out to be a big let down. Now, at this point, I fully expect you to be saying to yourself “that’s not me, I would never do that”. Really, can you say with absolute honesty that you always put the hours in to prepare effectively ?

Over the years I’ve lost count of the number of senior meetings that turn out to be single, one-off meetings with the salesperson unable to ever gain face time again. Your strategy of selling to senior executives has just backfired big time, rather than strengthening a relationship and opening the doors to future opportunities, it’s probably slammed those doors firmly closed. There’s lots of research into why this happens (The Challenger Sale is one good example) but it simply boils down to value delivered, or rather the lack of it, to the senior executive in the meeting.

In order to be in with a chance of selling to a senior executive you must have superior knowledge and insight, about their business not yours, these are table stakes when selling high. You should aim to be so well prepared that you feel you know as much about the senior executives business as many of their team members (and if you’ve played your part well, you will). You should have read every piece of available material that you can get your hands on, be up to date and following them on all of the social channels and here’s the counter-intuitive crunch … have met with and learned all that you can from their teams, peers and business partners.

If you are to deliver value to a senior executive then you must have knowledge that can only be gleaned from diligently working with their teams, the exact people who you may be trying to avoid by your selling high strategy ! Meeting with the whole decision-making unit is the only effective way of having enough inside knowledge to be able to ask thought-provoking questions that lead to success when you eventually meet with the senior executive.

There are no silver bullets in sales. Yes, selling to senior executives can be a performance game changer, yet the stakes are extremely high. You will not be successful if you take short-cuts, don’t do your homework or are not sufficiently informed. If you use the correct approach having put in the necessary hours of work to deliver real value (both business and personal – that’s a different story for a different day), then you will be in a strong position.

Get this wrong and you are very unlikely to get a second chance. Senior executives don’t waste their precious time on activities that don’t add value.

The golden rule when selling to senior executives – do not, ever, mention product. They don’t care, you will bore them and they will switch off. They will be kind, they will show you the door in a professional manner but please don’t think that you will ever be granted face time again. Only talk about their business, if you feel that you can’t do that with clarity and authority then please take my advice, step back until such time that you can.