Revenue as a System

Sales as a Guide, Not an Educator

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The sales world has changed dramatically over the past decade as salespeople are no longer educators.

Granted, education is still a component of the qualifying system. However, salespeople are now a guide in the process. Clearly, the availability of information on the web has created a highly-educated prospect.

The clearest key is this transformation shows up at the beginning of the selling process. Prospects now approach companies with a certain level of understanding regarding your solutions. They have probably researched your company through other sites, scoured your website, and even talked to some of your customers…all before they make first contact with your sales team.

This transformation fundamentally changes the relationship between the salesperson and the prospect. Adjustments must be made. Perhaps your sales team needs to take an evangelical approach by spreading the good news of your solution in the market. Or maybe you have to switch to a relationship-based sale with a sales team focused on interpersonal skills. Qualifying will always be the backbone of successful selling, but the methodology will change.

The success of your team will rely upon their ability to adjust, if they haven’t already. Some categorical shifts to consider:

Old - Sales is an educator
New - Sales is a guide

Old - Prospect profile is information-gathering
New - Prospect profile is solution-savvy (from your competitors too)

Old - Prospecting is general introduction
New - Prospecting is specifically focused

Old - Qualifying focus is Pain and Money
New - Qualifying focus is Want and Need

To be clear, any successful qualifying system will require uncovering the prospect’s perceived pain and their budget to remove that pain. However, the initial qualifying pass will need to start by sorting out the nice-to-have vs. need-to-have solution for a partially-educated prospect who approaches with the beginnings of a self-determined solution.

Coaching for Qualifying

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As a CRO, you have many responsibilities, but one not to overlook is a concerted effort to coach your team. CRO’s are force multipliers - your ability to impart wisdom to your team will make your team more successful. The best ROI for your coaching time with your salespeople is qualifying.

Qualifying is the backbone of all successful selling. There are 5 stages of our Critical Qualifying Questions (CQQ’s) that we espouse in our selling system. However, no matter what selling system you use, your team must be strong qualifiers to succeed. The responsibility for growing that qualifying ability falls on you.

Selling Power has a quick-read, archived article that describes some fundamental questions your team should be asking of any prospect. The author compares qualifying prospects to investigative journalism. From the article (emphasis mine):

In many respects, qualifying prospects is like investigative journalism. The reporter (or, in this case, the salesperson) has to find out the facts of the story, based on who, what, when, where, why, and how. That means coming up with answers to the following questions:

  • Does the customer actually have a need for our products or services?

  • Can the customer afford to buy what we’re selling?

  • Is my primary contact the person who has the ability to make a buying decision, or is this person just gathering information? If not, who does have the authority to purchase?

All qualifying starts with a need so the author is on target. The CQQ’s from our Revenue as a System include Message, Motivation, Money, Methodology, and Market. When you are coaching your team, always keep the qualifying topic at the forefront.

Business Is Just a Hockey Game

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Sales Perspective from the State of Hockey

Being headquartered in the State of Hockey (Thank You MN Wild) is either a plus or a minus depending on your interest in ice hockey.  Having invested decades of time watching youth association to professional level games, it is clear there are similarities that go beyond the scoring (above or below budget performance). 

Here are 3 items to consider getting ready for 2019:

  1. Talent – Teams with more talent win more games.  The talent part is a team issue – a composite of skating, stick handling, shooting and goaltending skills determine the outcomes.  What critical skills are needed/missing on your team to outperform the market?

  2. Speed vs. skill - Teams need both.  Speed players can move the puck fast but stick handlers can be just as productive.  Companies are always attracted to the big bio candidates but good stick handlers get things done too.  Stick handlers may have less speed but they have the peripheral vision (anticipate disruption) needed to keep moving forward.  Sometimes it is easier to find good stick handlers with strong team profiles.

  3. Adversity - What happens if you fall behind?  Normally that means you were not prepared (skill or disruption issues) or you underestimated the competition…or both.  Not a lot of options once the game (year) starts.  Typically, your top scoring lines get more shifts.  Bottom line – you leverage your talent and work your way out of the hole.  And yes, some coaches (CRO’s) get fired if the recovery effort doesn’t deliver in time.

Best of (Revenue) Luck to all CRO’s in 2019…and keep your stick on the ice!

How To Keep Your Forecast On Track

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Everybody wants a sure thing. They want to kick back and let the money roll in.

But sure as Lucy is going to pull that football away when Charlie Brown comes running, your “prospects” are going to come back with reasons not to buy your product or service. It’s time to put an end to that.

If you’re experiencing fluctuating quarterly revenues, your business may have landed itself a seat on the revenue rollercoaster. Structure is your key to success here. You know that well-run production boils down to thoroughly developed and managed systems; it works the same way with revenue. Accurately predict and generate revenue by operating under the four interrelated core processes that constitute a complete revenue system.

But before we discuss the four core processes, let’s clear the air on prospects…

It’s great when your sales team envisions endless prospects as they gaze upon the world of business. Don’t ever let them lose that sense of the market being theirs to win. But help them keep their feet on the ground while they’re reaching upward. There are ways to identify a lead as a true prospect, or a potential waste of time. Your salespeople should be shaking the money trees, not chasing down tumbleweeds.  Teach them to focus on the Differentiating Value that your offering brings, and to also ask Critical Qualifying Questions (CQQs) to uncover problems, frustrations, gaps, losses, and challenges that the potential prospect is experiencing.

Once you’ve got your people going after the true prospects, set them up to lock in realistic sales forecasts. Here’s a quick rundown of the four interrelated core processes:

5 M’s Sales Process:  Message, Motivation, Money, Methodology and Market

It’s likely that you already give major consideration to the power behind these words. When all five are achieved, you have the foundation for an objective, measurable sales process. Put them to work for you based on your business today – not hypothetical models.

Bankable Forecast Process: Build your forecast objectively, rather than as a conglomeration of the unique forecasts created by your reps, using the four qualifying elements of the 5Ms above: Motivation, Money, Methodology and Market. These are called the Four Aces, and should be incorporated into your forecast math. If your selling system is well defined and connected to a direct audit trail, you will be able to extract the objective data to report and determine accurately where you are in the qualifying/sales process for each revenue opportunity.

Results-Driven Incentive Process:

If the incentive system isn’t structured correctly, companies typically wind up losing their strongest performers. Focus on improving these seven aspects of your incentive process.

1. Structure your incentives. It is important to keep your company strong and growing, and new business is the best way to accomplish this. So why would you offer the same incentive for both new and existing accounts?

2. Remove the caps. If your salespeople bring value and profits to your company, why shouldn’t they be appropriately compensated for it? If you put a cap on your salespeople’s earnings, you put a cap on your company’s earnings, and may ultimately lose your best salespeople along the way.

3. Create an incentive based on your company’s desired sales outcome. If you want your team to sell to volume, make sure they’re incentivized toward it.

4. Define your sales cycle. Having an understanding of how long a piece of business takes to go from an initial contact to payment for goods/services delivered is critical for both business planning and incentive structuring.

5. Integrate the incentive plan into the business model; don’t allow it to be designed by other groups, such as finance. It’s important that the incentive process supports and rewards a salesperson’s measurable level of contribution.

6. Make incentive payments at customer payment, not based on orders written.  Clarify that incentives are earned only upon timely payment of the complete transaction amount. You can pay incentives at any time, but waiting until the payment has been received can save your company money, and legal risk.

7. Help out the low and non-performing reps. Address their performance issues and create a plan for their revival. Leave top leads for high performers to help ensure the business can be closed.

Skills-Based Staffing Process:

If you hire people who fit your core sales force profile, you have better odds for success. The skills and characteristics that best fit your sales positions will be defined by selling process, forecast process, and incentive process metrics.

Not every hire will be successful, but the odds are significantly better when an objective, more structured process is in place.

Once you have built these processes into your business structure, forecasting will move from hazy and hopeful guesswork to a clear component of your operation. And remember to update your revenue forecast with changes on a quarterly, if not monthly, basis. Your forecast is a living document that should be constantly reviewed and updated to reflect the changes in your business. Set it up correctly and it will serve your business’ success.

CRO Rule #10 - Use Interviews as Simulations

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CRO Success Rule #10:
Candidate interviews need to be a simulation of the sale you expect them to conduct.

We have arrived at our final CRO Success rule and it is an important one.  Bad sales hiring happens for many reasons, but there are “free moves” you can use to enhance your hiring success.  One of them is the interview.  Too often we see hiring managers who simply want to have a discussion about a candidate’s resume along with telling them about the position, the company, the benefit plan, etc.   Bad move.

The better approach is to mirror your typical sale in the initial interview.  Sales interviews do not need to be comfortable, easy-going discussions.  Instead, match the parameters of your typical sale.  Have multiple people in the interview if they will have to sell to a group.  Be somewhat short and curt with them if your prospects are typically in a hurry and not eager to talk to a salesperson.  Interrupt the candidate, drill down on their answers, ask for deeper clarification…all of these moves are free.  You would be wise to incorporate them into your hiring process so you can see the candidates in action.

 

CRO Rule #9 - Hire Stronger

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CRO Success Rule #9
Every time there is an open sales position, the next new hire needs to be at least as strong as the best sales person you currently have or have ever employed.

Every CRO, and I mean every CRO, has a sales hiring horror story.  I contend that hiring salespeople is the toughest hire any company faces.  The simple reason is this – even “bad” salespeople can fake it long enough to get through the traditional sales hiring process.

The solution?  Don’t use a traditional sales hiring process.

We have developed a complete, unique sales hiring process that screens out the cute puppy to borrow a turn of phrase from my book.  Bad sales hires are extremely expensive to any company with not only hard costs but with the greater loss of opportunity costs.

To build a world-class sales team, you have to hire stronger salespeople.

CRO Rule #8 - The Most Underutilized Tool

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CRO Success Rule #8
Incentives are the most underutilized tool available to Chief Revenue Officers in terms of meeting their performance objectives.

Truly, there are certain things I encounter, when working with CROs, that are as consistent as an underutilized incentive plan (and strategy).  Salespeople are motivated by money in most instances.  That motivation will drive behaviors.  If you incent the motivation, you will elicit the behaviors you want.

That is a bit simplistic, but you get my point.  One thing all sales incentive programs should contain is that new business should pay out at a higher commission rate than existing (customer) business.  There are variations and adjustments needed to fit your plan, but this basic structure should always be followed.

I discuss margin incentives, threshold incentives, team incentives and more in the book if you are interested in learning more.

CRO Rule #7 - No Subsidies

CRO Rule #7
Reward the strong and effective; don’t subsidize the marginal performers.

Incentives are one of the most under-utilized tools available to the CRO today.  Strong salespeople are almost always motivated by a return on investment which speaks to money.  Yet, there are certain mistakes I have encountered over my career that I have listed in my book.

Here they are (with more details available in the book):

Incentive Mistake #1:
All business (new and existing accounts) earns the same incentive.

Incentive Mistake #2:
Putting a cap on a salesperson’s earnings.

Incentive Mistake #3:
Not creating an incentive based on desired outcomes.

Incentive Mistake #4:
Not having a defined sales cycle.

Incentive Mistake #5:
Letting Finance design the incentive plan.

Incentive Mistake #6:
Paying incentives on orders versus customer payment.

Incentive Mistake #7:
Assigning more sales leads to the reps that are NOT doing well to help them crack the incentive column.

CRO Rule #6 - Prospect Motivation

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CRO Success Rule #6
A prospect can never have too much Motivation regarding your Differentiating Value.

We’ve written frequently about Differentiating Value (DV) which is foundational to all successful selling.  The key to DV is translating it into your prospect’s world.  What do they give up in the absence of your DV?  A critical question for sure.

However, usually the consequences of life without your solution aren’t horrible, they are just unknown.  Therefore, when you can translate the consequences of not being your customer into your prospects’ worlds, they can start envisioning their own perceptions of new possibilities.  The more their perceptions become compelling, the more traction your DV has in their decision process.

CRO Rule #4 - Find the "Emotional" Decision Maker

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CRO Rule #4
For a shorter sell cycle, your Differentiating Value message(s) should be directed toward the emotional decision maker, describing what he/she will lose without you.

People make decisions emotionally and later justify them intellectually.  This fact is critical to understanding the purpose of finding the emotional decision maker in any potential deal.  I explain how this principle works in my book, but for brevity let me offer this excerpt:

The emotional decision maker can be described as the one who suffers the consequences of life without you.

Emotional decision makers are usually harder to find, easier to close, not as price sensitive, and can typically tell the technical buyer what to do.

This fact is paramount as you develop, refine and implement your Differentiating Value.