Dec 042010
 
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As I wrote in a previous post, not every company is ready or willing to do the heavy lifting that may be required to sustainably improve their inbound sales process. For some companies, it’s genuinely a case of “not ready.” For others, it’s really a case of “not willing” masquerading as “not ready.”

I completely understand “not ready.” As a business owner myself, I hate starting things that don’t get finished, or don’t get finished well. So as long as there’s a plan afoot to “get ready,” I never challenge “not ready” clients on their non-readiness.

The “not willing” prospect is a bit trickier. There are often deep-seated reasons why they resist making even simple changes. And rather than try to burrow under the surface to understand those reasons, I’ve learned to just keep these prospects in my “nurture” queue until they become willing and ready, or at least willing to get ready.

You may be trying to get your company (or client) ready/willing to build a better inbound sales process. Here is a list I put together of positive outcomes they can expect, that may help them move them over, or through, the wall:

1) Zero waste – A healthy inbound sales process provides on-demand visibility into, and management of, rotting leads – i.e., inbound requests for contact from prospects that do not receive a response within a prescribed period of time. Lead rot is bad for everyone. It’s a crappy experience for the prospect, it erodes favorable brand perceptions (Hell hath no fury like the prospect ignored – especially if that prospect uses social media), and it’s a waste of the company’s money and time.

Amazingly, many companies have lead rot, know they have it, and simply choose to allow it to continue. Sales management may not want to admit that leads ever reach a rotten state. Or they may even believe that excess demand is evidence that they need more headcount. The marketing manager may choose not to shine a light on rotting leads for fear of being perceived as a scold. S/he may even view rotting leads as a convenient back-pocket example (to be used only under duress / management scrutiny) of how “I’ve done my job” supplying leads to sales. And to the chief executive or business owner, any spirited discussion of rotting leads may appear like petty sparring between marketing and sales, or a distraction from the more pressing matter of this period’s revenue. So discussion is tabled, or it never happens in the first place, and the waste goes on.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A good process can eliminate rotting leads, reduce friction between all the participants, and help drive this period’s revenue.

2) A simple signaling system – Companies that “get inbound” have dead-simple metrics, dashboards, and management tools that everyone can understand with minimal training. And they use these resources to optimize the process. For example, if the dashboard reveals a surplus of leads, they pursue one of several solutions: increase sales headcount, reduce marketing, or simply re-route the excess leads to under-utilized sales reps or channel partners. Conversely, if leads are temporarily in short supply, they can increase marketing spend, or optimize web creative or lead capture forms.

3) Transparency – Yes, it’s a buzzword that has unfortunately been tarnished by many of its non-practitioners. But it’s also the goose that lays the golden eggs in a great inbound sales process. When companies encourage sharing of vital information, the resulting flow of facts, data, analysis – and, heck, even some well-reasoned conjecture — helps make the system work better over time.

4) Better budgeting and forecasting – Companies that have a good handle on inbound marketing and sales are better able to invent their future than those that don’t. When we see the entire revenue factory from loading dock to shipping dock, we can be smarter about budgeting and planning.

For example, we can estimate the expected yield from marketing investments, in terms of leads and opportunities generated. We can then factor this data into the sales headcount budget. And now that we know where the leads are coming from, how many people will be working them, and how those people and leads should reasonably perform, we can estimate the revenues that will result, using past experience to forecast within a range of potential outcomes.

5) Tighter management of marketing spend – With a well-defined lead management system, marketing can compare lead generation investments against well-defined cost of acquisition benchmarks. This data can be used to periodically re-balance – similar to the way money managers rebalance IRAs and 529 College Funds — the marketing portfolio for optimal returns. Or it can be used to manage vendors and programs to lower cost and/or better performance.

6) Tighter management of sales resources – With better visibility into leading indicators, proactivity replaces reactivity. Sales management no longer has to wait for the end-of-period results to inform their decisions on staffing, territories, lead distribution, and other process changes.

7) Minimal friction for everyone – Prospects can evaluate vendors without feeling ignored or harassed by sales reps. Sales reps have their best leads and opportunities (in whatever way their company defines “best”) in front of them at all times, stack-ranked by lead score or other predictive indicator. Sales managers know how many leads and deals each rep is managing without having to conduct a Spanish Inquisition (no, not the comfy chair!!) with each sales rep. Executives can quickly assess risk / upside to the current next period’s sales forecast. Marketing and Finance can nimbly collaborate on near- and long-term priorities, from promotions and sales closing tools, to annual budgets and cost of acquisition models. And finally, the added visibility into the sales process helps Operations make better staffing and other decisions that affect bottom line results.

Oct 202010
 
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I’m pleased to share with TLOTL readers the Focus Experts’ Guide: Sales and Marketing Pipeline and Funnel Models. This collection of 14 one-page funnel visualizations was created by sales and marketing leaders who are active on the Focus network. If you spend any time following thought leaders in this space, you’ll recognize most if not all of the other contributors. I’m truly honored to be sharing pixel space with this distinguished group!

You can download the guide here (PDF).

Focus Expert Guide

Below I’ve included some additional links and context:

  • The list of other contributors to the Experts’ Guide

Ardath Albee, CEO and B2B Marketing Strategist at Marketing Interactions
Michael Brenner, Director of Online/Social Media at SAP North America
Michael Damphousse, CEO/CMO of Green Leads LLC
Christopher Doran, VP of Marketing at Manticore Technology
Barbra Gago, Social Media Manager of Cloud9 Analytics
Steve Gershik, CEO of 28Marketing
Sue Hay, CEO of BeWhys Marketing Inc.
Matt Heinz, Principal at Heinz Marketing LLC
Carlos Hidalgo, President of The Annuitas Group
Jon Miller, Vice President of Marketing at Marketo
Adam Needles, VP of Demand Generation Strategy at Left Brain Marketing
Matt West, Director of Marketing at Genius.com
Steve Woods, Chief Technology Officer of Eloqua

  • Craig Rosenberg, the leader of the Focus Expert Network, is currently running a guest post series with each of the contributors on his blog, The Funnelholic.
  • And lastly — for anyone who may still be reading  — here’s the back story on my entry:

I sent my picture to Focus at the end of August, right around the time my daughter attended her first few days of kindergarten. At the time, it occurred to me that I was participating in a kind of show-and-tell for grownups. Just like the objects that kids describe to their classmates, each funnel concept in this guide tells us a story. And the story isn’t just about the funnel as a business process. It’s also about how the storyteller thinks and solves problems.

Prior to submitting my picture, I had white-boarded it twice before for two different prospects. The first prospect said she really appreciated my (impromptu) illustration, as it helped her think differently about her problem.  We haven’t done a deal yet, but had we not had that meeting, I probably wouldn’t have drawn my picture.

The second time I drew it was in a meeting with a prospect who – a few weeks prior — had asked me to send him a “brief, high level write-up on how we’d work together.” I wrote out my proposal in text form, and, per his request, kept it really brief – barely over 1 page in length. But as brief as my proposal was, when I met with my prospect, I could see that I had made excessive use of that obscure, incomprehensible, buzzword-laden dialect: consultantese. Even in sanitized form, I’m embarrassed to share that original proposal verbatim. But I ran it through a word cloud generator (thank you Wordle) to show what I mean.

Scearce Market Development proposal wordcloud

Consultantese

Pretty messy isn’t it? The proposal wasn’t much easier to follow.

Once I drew a simple picture on my prospect’s whiteboard, our conversation became simpler, and we ultimately started working together.

No matter how long I work in this business, I still forget sometimes that consultantese has no place in my sales process. Plain English is better. And a simple picture is even better still, especially if it’s something my kindergartner might understand.

Oct 112010
 
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A CFO with whom I once worked shared with me the qualities he believed essential in a VP of Sales. As he worked up the list from bottom to top, I was certain that some variation of “consistently achieving revenue and gross margin quota” was going to occupy the #1 slot. But instead, he treated me to this nugget of wisdom that has stayed with me over the years:

The thing I care about most is predictability. Of course I want the VP of Sales to make his number. But actually, I really need him to make the number that he has been forecasting to the executive team, as close to the mark as possible, regardless of where that number is in relation to quota.  To put a finer point on it, if he over-performs against quota by 30%, but he told us that he was going to beat quota by 10%, I’m happy for the business that month, but that VP of Sales has lost a measure of credibility with me. And by the same token, even if he comes up short, I want him to tell me how much he’s going to miss the number ahead of time, and then deliver that result exactly. Because that shows me he’s in command of his business. And when he’s in command of his business, I can manage mine more accurately.

I was reminded of this conversation recently when the sales director for one of my clients happily announced the latest new customer win. I relayed my congratulations and then asked “how is the forecast that we discussed last week coming along?” I know, I know. Shame on me for not letting the sales director enjoy a few more moments in the winner’s circle. But this exchange, and that CFO’s words, point to an important truth about modern sales management:

It’s not enough to be a rainmaker. You also need to be a meteorologist.

It’s not enough to simply beat a sales goal. Management expects that. To be an “A player” in sales, you must be able to accurately predict AND deliver a specific sales outcome.

To the casual observer, this may seem like a ridiculously tall order to fill. But it should be noted that these kinds of sales acrobatics used to be easier to pull off than they are today. Sellers had more direct leverage in the sales process, buyers had less information, and there were fewer regulations on corporate accounting practices such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. These and other factors gave Sales VPs more hands-on control of the revenue factory.

Today, sellers have less leverage, buyers have more information, and compliance regimes have significantly reduced or eliminated sandbagging. But somehow the sales VP is still expected to accurately predict when it’s going to rain (hour-by-hour), how many inches will fall, and what the temperature, windspeed and direction, and barometric pressure will be. Oh and s/he needs to do this job while managing the people (sales reps, overlay resources, clients, channel partners, and executives) whose interactions will determine the final “weather report.” If you’re a Sales VP and this is your reality, here are a few ideas for how to pull this off….

1)      Look at your past ratios and trends. Get a report of your past sales results, by month, going back 1-2 years. Then on the same timeline plot all of the contributing factors inputs to those results you can think of. How many sales reps were on staff during each month? How many selling days were there during each month? If you can identify a metric that is more highly correlated than others to variations in sales, you can try forecasting the next few periods using that ratio. It’s a low-tech and brute force forecasting method, but it may nonetheless make your crystal ball a little less cloudy.

2)      Look at the sources of leads that convert into sales. Which lead sources have the highest conversion rates and deal values? Which ones have the most consistent conversion rates and deal values? You may need to optimize your lead generation portfolio for the same reason you may need to occasionally re-balance your investment portfolio – to get predictable returns.

3)     Find out what your champions eat for breakfast. This is really just another take on the lead sources recommendation. If you had a widget factory with 20 assembly lines, and 4 of them consistently shipped defect-free widgets, on time, and in the quantities specified on the work order, you would figure out what goodness is happening on those assembly lines and make sure the other 16 know it too.

4)      Look at marketing automation software and or services. Although much more of a “commitment to the process” than the first three suggestions, marketing automation can provide, along with many other benefits to your organization, more predictable revenue and profit over time.

Whatever you do, don’t try to pull this off alone or as a project managed solely within the sales organization. Making it rain is an art form, and it’s what you’re really good at. Meteorology is a science. So partner up with the scientists in marketing, operations, and finance people who “get” sales  the most (but could never do your job) and ask for their help.

May 192010
 
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Early in my career, I worked in sales at Concur Technologies (now called simply “Concur“) and had the opportunity to learn from some great sales leaders. I specifically remember a 1/2 day training session led by Tim Fitzgerald, who was then VP of North American Sales at Concur.

With all due respect to Miller Heiman, Dale Carnegie, and others of their ilk, I have to say I received more practical, directly applicable knowledge out of those 4 hours with Tim than I learned in any seminar course I ever attended.

Over the span of my career, as I’ve participated in numerous sales presentations from both the buy and sell sides, I’ve often been reminded about how there’s no substitute for the fundamentals. And in sales, like in sports, fundamentals are unfortunately most noticeable when they are not being followed.

I was reminded of this topic today when I answered this question on Focus.com: “What are your tips for the optimal sales presentation?”  Here is the answer I gave, which is perhaps 5% drawn from the original Fitzgerald course content, and 100% confirmed by my experiences over the ensuing 13 years.

1. Arrive 20-30 minutes early. Use the time to overcome the inevitable conference room / projector / IT issues. And if none of those issue exist, get a pre-brief from your vendor-side contact on how to best run the meeting. And if you don’t get time with your contact, use the time to mentally prepare / relax / meditate before you enter the ring. In sales, most of your money is made by executing well at key moments, like presentations. Give yourself the opportunity to execute well.

2. Manage the clock. Re-confirm when the meeting starts that you still have the time allotted with all the key people that you thought you did. 5 out of 10 times, a key decision maker / influencer has a “hard stop” 15-30 minutes earlier than you expected. If you can accomplish your objectives in this compressed window of time, you can be more productive in your next meeting (assuming you get another one).

3. Manage your crew. Make sure anyone who may be supporting you in the meeting knows exactly what they are there to do/say and what they should NOT do/say. If anyone on your team is dialing into the meeting, they should:

(a) be in a quiet place

(b) be using a good phone

(c) not be distracted by anything else, and

(d) not have any chat windows or other screen pops come up during the meeting (Web conference scenario only).

I had a hands-down market-leading software vendor selling to my company a couple of years ago. The sales person was unfortunately not adept at managing his resources, and what should have been an easy win for him became a drawn out affair because his demo failed and his team was not prepared for the meeting. When our CEO came into the meeting, the disorganization was obvious, and there was no opportunity for the sales rep to show why his company was the clear market leader. Instead, a lot of doubt was created that I, as the vendor advocate, had to manage through over the next several weeks.

These are just a few of the little things that, if left unmanaged, can completely derail a sales presentation, and detract from the actual business of selling.