The Selling Power Sales Leadership Blog showcases insights, ideas, advice about issues related to B2B sales and marketing. Posts are written by top-level sales and marketing leaders across all industries. The blog is run by the editors of Selling Power magazine and SellingPower.com.
By Ed Shineman Sometimes, hard-and-fast rules for inside sales teams can get in the way of doing what’s best for customers and sales results. Here are some traditional inside sales dogmas that are worth challenging based on real case examples …
By Jamie Crosbie As they say, looks can be deceiving. As it turns out, actions may be a little suspect, too – at least when it comes to buying and selling. Let’s pretend, for a moment, that you bought a doughnut …
By Ben Taylor Many businesses collect lots of data. The problem is that these volumes of information rarely add up to anything meaningful or useful. In fact, 75 percent of CFOs and CIOs say they have trouble using the data to …
By Melissa Di Donato Last month, International Women’s Day struck a chord around the globe and inspired countless conversations about women and their career paths. Millions of women worldwide participated in rallies and protests, including female workers in Spain who organized …
By Herman Dixon Sales managers can’t “push” success onto people. Rather, the best sales managers understand how to “pull” forth the hidden traits or abilities that lie deep within their salespeople. Here are five action-oriented management tips you can use to …
From the time we’re quite young, we’re assured by the adults in our lives that there are no stupid questions.
That may be true when we’re kids – when we need to develop the confidence to ask about what we don’t know; however, the same does not apply to adults working in enterprise sales. Live by that philosophy and you are going to be like the old Maytag repairman – very lonely.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t ask ANY questions. We’re saying you should be aware of the ones that will reveal a lack of preparation. Ask “stupid” questions and you could lose credibility, trust, and, as a result, opportunities.
According to Tom Searcy’s book, How to Close a Deal Like Warren Buffett, America’s greatest dealmaker goes into meetings with “an encyclopedic” level of knowledge about the other party. He doesn’t ask about industry, market, competitors, or advantages because he already knows all about them. He does his pre-meeting homework religiously so he can cut right to a meaty business discussion.
Now consider how you and your team approach a meeting with a new prospect. There are just some questions that shouldn’t be asked – because they show you haven’t done the most basic legwork.
Forbidden questions include:
“What does your company do?”
“Who are your customers?“
“Who is your competition?”
“What is your company’s business strategy?”
All of these will be cringe-worthy to a C-Level executive. Why? Because their time is their most precious asset – and they don’t want to waste it talking about things you could have learned from reading a few articles and earnings call transcripts. You should already know all these things before you walk in the door.
Sales-i has designated, “What does your company do?” as among the laziest of questions. As they write, “Anyone can Google a company, look up a contact on LinkedIn and get a general gist of what a company does. It takes 5 minutes, if that. Not only does it allow you to qualify out some companies without even having to lift the receiver, but understanding a little bit about the company you’re about to call will only put you in good stead to divulge exactly where your offering can help.”
But that’s just baseline. Sales pros at the top of their game are not content with doing the bare minimum. Their goal is to demonstrate some knowledge about the company, its competition, its strategic focus and challenges, its current market environment, and how it plans to grow.
Another cringe-worthy question to ask executives is whether they are the decision maker. You should know that already, too. What you should ask instead is, “Who else is involved in the decision making process?” since C-level leaders typically ask for input from subject matter experts and other stakeholders.
Also verboten: Don’t ask if they are in the market for your product or service. What if they have a need they don’t even recognize yet? Your goal is to have a business discussion that helps them understand what’s possible and position yourself to be an expert partner, advisor, and – if all goes well – vendor.
Be careful of mixing budget talk with business talk. While this conversation has to happen eventually, pushing too hard to deliver a proposal could be a turnoff. You want an executive to see you as being a helpful problem solver; let them take the lead on driving toward proposal stage. By the time you reach that point, it should be clear to your customer that what you’re proposing is worth the cost. This approach also keeps your offer from being commoditized in the eyes of the customer – because you have already delivered so much value in the pre-sale phase.
Jeremy King of Element Three has a list of 15 dumb sales questions to avoid that include some of the ones above and some others you should consider:
“Is this a good time to chat?”
“What level of service are you willing to pay for?”
“What will it take to earn your business?”
“Who was the best salesperson who ever called on you?”
“What do you dislike about your current vendor?”
These questions, he says, invite dismissal. No one wants to talk to a salesperson who is so blatantly self-serving. Buh-bye.
Now let’s talk about smart questions – the ones that show a genuine interest in your customers and a desire to help them achieve their goals. Look back at that paragraph about Warren Buffett and strive to know everything he would insist on knowing. Search for articles about the company and its executives and read the most recent earnings call transcripts. Make a cheat sheet by jotting down the highlights and share it with anyone else from your company who will be in the meeting.
It can make for a deep dive, but the information you collect will help you connect the dots between your customer and how you might be able to help them. You can then use your meeting to explore your hypothesis by asking smart questions.
So, instead of asking who the competition is, you can instead ask about how a recent acquisition announcement by competitor A is impacting their priorities and strategy.
And, instead of asking what their technology investment priorities are, ask if they are concerned that their back office or supply chain technology may be inhibiting growth in specific areas that you know they’re focused on.
The more you know about a potential customer the better you can demonstrate how you can serve those needs. If you have “stupid” questions, get them out of your system by answering them through research before you go anywhere near the customer. Then you can refine your questions and turn them into jumping-off points to more meaningful conversations that lead to strong, long-term relationships and bigger deals.
Sharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market – from Fortune 500 companies to independent non-profits – to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.
Sales, like any form of persuasion, is an art. A smooth sales cycle is like a beautiful painting, where individual elements are brought together with masterful finesse. If even one element is out of place or poorly executed – if the lighting is off or the perspective is sloppy – the entire painting suffers; so, too, in sales.
But sales is also a science that can be analyzed empirically. If it were an equation, it would look like this:
Average Deal Size x Likelihood of Close x Number of Deals
How Much Time You Have to Move Them Forward
It’s important for sales professionals to have a solid grip on both the art and science of sales. Today, it’s much easier to do so thanks to emerging technology. In fact, according to a Salesforce survey, high-performing sales teams use about three times more technology than underperforming teams. Here are a few ways I’ve seen sales professionals leverage new tech to be more productive, waste less time, and sell smarter.
Make Time for Your Art with Automation
In sales, time is crucial, and nothing is more frustrating for a sales professional than wasting their time. Efficiency equals money – and being inefficient can determine the size of your commission check.
Yet, every day, salespeople waste valuable time doing repetitive tasks like looking up contacts, updating leads, and logging demos. Every second spent on administrative work is a second you don’t have to meaningfully move forward in the sales cycle. The more administrative work you do, the less time you have to practice your art.
You can use automation to cut down on the amount of administrative work you need to do throughout the day. For example, a friend of mine created an automated workflow that takes any new email in their inbox, looks that email up in Salesforce, and creates a contact if one doesn’t already exist. The workflow also logs the new contact in Evernote; my friend gets a summary of all new updates to Salesforce via Slack at the end of the day, so he can easily track which prospects he has yet to follow up with.
That’s a simple example of how automation can fit into your daily life as a salesperson, but it’s by no means all that technology is capable of. I’ve seen sales pros create automated workflows to alert them of new activity on VIP accounts, send contract approval requests to a designated Slack channel, and more.
Leveraging Technology to Time Travel
I’ve written before about why time traveling is the most important skill a sales professional can cultivate. The key here is to remember that sales, as a discipline, is like spinning plates rather than juggling balls. You need to get processes going as quickly as you can while simultaneously ensuring no process ever loses its momentum.
The artistic aspect of this process is found in how you qualify prospects; a lot of the time, there’s an element of instinct that guides the decision. Are you asking the tougher questions? Are you giving them the “why”? Are you making it easy for them to make a choice? Do you identify potential proof points, make good use of social engineering, and get existing customers to sell on your behalf?
The science of time traveling can be tricky to deconstruct; there are so many micro-processes to manage. How do you know whether a process is inefficient or not? How can you tell when it’s time to get started on another step in the process?
That’s where analytics come in. It’s crucial for every sales professional to know how they’re performing according to certain KPIs. CRMs do a good job making pipeline analytics available to sales reps, but these measurements are only as good as the information available. If you have poor demo-logging or lead-updating habits, it’ll be harder to get an accurate picture of your pipeline and processes.
Intelligent automation and integration not only make it easier to keep records up to date; they can also open up new ways to measure your efficacy – and efficiency – as a salesperson. You can create a 360° view of every customer by pulling information from different apps into your CRM. You can see which marketing campaigns they’ve been most responsive to, for example, or whether they have any customer support tickets open. These are key bits of information that can help you strike while the iron is hot, as well as allow you to better analyze which of your processes could work better.
Sales professionals are constantly looking for ways to make more money and have more success. The smarter and more innovative ones know that technology isn’t to be feared; instead, it’s a tool they can leverage to up their sales game and scale their franchise. Regardless of the process you want to optimize, chances are there’s new tech that can help you do it!
Todd Gracon is the VP of sales at Workato, the world’s first intelligent automation platform. As a sales executive with 20+ years of experience and an MBA from UC Berkeley, he has worked in roles ranging from selling and architecting to developing and consulting. Todd is passionate about disruptive and innovative approaches to problem solving; prior to Workato, he spent time at Accenture, BEA Systems, Oracle, and Tableau.
After years of your sales team seeing prospects as “fresh meat,” how do you cultivate a service-oriented mindset?
Well, it’s not as complex as it might seem. It is not like getting lions to become vegetarians. Instead, it’s about showing the value (e.g., payoffs) of doing things in new ways.
Setting the Right Vision
There’s a common saying in management: “What you measure is what you get more of.” In other words, what you inspect tells people what you expect. If someone wants to gain your approval or praise, they’ll do what you are measuring. If it’s sales calls, they will do what they can to increase the number of calls. If it’s new contracts, they’ll focus only on signed orders.
A utility company in California once implemented a new system to increase customer orientation and service quality in their call center. They told their people they would be rewarded based on the length of time they spent on phone calls with customers. The thinking was that longer calls would be perceived as better service.
But there were unintended consequences! Upon hearing of the new plan, the workers started placing people on hold so call times would be extended. Service didn’t improve – but call length did increase. Service quality, on the other hand, got worse.
Next, management said, “No more long calls. We will now measure you based on the number of calls you handle.” Workers immediately adapted. They started hanging up on customers so they’d call back and score two calls for each inquiry.
Finally, the leaders realized their errors and changed to a system of customer satisfaction measures that directly involved customer feedback.
Playing the Sales Game
In some fields, there is a long history of aggressive and manipulative sales practices. Customers have become numb to advertising that offers a wonderful new experience – only to be contradicted in practice by uncaring salespeople. They think, “Same rust, new paint.” Good words and slogans – promises of great treatment and respect for the customer – have just become “white noise” to many buyers. They expect to have to play the sales game, and they hate doing it.
The big question, then, is: How do you get salespeople to stop focusing just on closing techniques and profit margins, and start truly trying to help people? As with the utility company above, there is a bigger issue here than just what you measure. Measures communicate priorities, but mindset drives the culture. That is why we need to reorient the thinking toward seeing customers as assets instead of targets.
What’s the Purpose of Your Business?
Hint: it is not profit. All businesses must earn a profit in order to stay in business, but the purpose of each business is something different. Profit is a by-product of what you do – not the reason for doing it. Of course, profit is necessary and important, but your product or service has a greater value than just stimulating revenue.
The purpose of automobiles is to provide enjoyable and reliable transportation – not to generate profit margins. The purpose of banking services is to give people more control over (and security about) their money. The purpose of computers and smartphones is to give people more control over their day-to-day lives and the information flow in their work. The communication capabilities of your technology are the reason profit can be produced by selling them. But profit, again, is the by-product.
The more people see the value in what they do, the more commitment they make to doing it well. A salesperson who truly understands how their offer helps others – and makes the world a better place – will be far more persuasive in a sales dialogue than someone who simply knows 15 power closing techniques. All of this starts with how you talk about the job.
Salespeople are not paid for making sales. They are paid for helping people at a profit. If they make lots of sales and many of them “unwind” or result in high-cost customers, then profits will drop, work will be miserable, and the business will fail. It’s not the number of sales that counts; it is the number of happy customers who pay you on time and speak well of you.
Jim Cathcart is a long-time contributor to Selling Power and one of the world’s leading professional speakers. He is the original author of Relationship Selling plus 17 other books. Cathcart.com helps organizations increase sales engagement and self-motivation. Contact him at email@example.com.
You’re constantly outsourcing your energy. Every customer and salesperson who needs compassion, you’re always there for them. But filling up their tanks is draining and that can quickly attack your team’s sales numbers.
Believe it or not, this feeling has a name. “Compassion fatigue” is defined as fatigue, emotional distress, or apathy resulting from the constant demands of caring for others or from constant appeals from charities.
Especially in sales management, the strain from being a mentor and sounding board leads to a reduced sense of personal accomplishment, increased stress, and mental exhaustion. And this stress is an epidemic in today’s workplace.
According to a 2017 Udemy report, “Workplace Confidential: The Real Story Behind Stress, Skills, and Success in America,” millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers all admitted to having increased stress levels over the past year.
Compassion fatigue is real and it could be putting your sales career in danger. Take a look at how to determine if it’s a problem for you – and learn steps for dealing with it at work.
Why Compassion Fatigue Is a Problem in Sales
As sales managers, it’s your job to lend an empathetic ear to your customers and salespeople. All successful sales managers understand sales isn’t about selling, but rather about relationships. Building those relationships depends on your ability to care about every life aspect a customer is willing to share.
However, caring too much can hurt.
Becoming overly empathetic means you’re feeling customers’ or salespeople’s emotions, experiencing their fears, and relating to their dreams. Becoming overwhelmed with everyone else’s issues and concerns leaves little time to address your own. This distracts from other customers, your team, and, ultimately, your sales goals.
More importantly, it’s easy to lose your sense of self when compassion fatigue hits. You lose that spark, motivation, and goal-oriented attitude that made you a success from the start.
How to Recognize an Issue
Like I said before, sales management jobs require a certain degree of empathy. Without it, you’ll be unable to connect with customers and your team. However, being aware of the signs of compassion fatigue will help you recognize when that compassion has begun affecting you in a negative way.
A few signs are:
Lowered cognitive abilities
Unusual drop in productivity
Emotional intensity – especially surrounding work issues
Lack of energy
Decreased overall well-being
Lack of interest
Remember, compassion fatigue isn’t something you wake up with one day. It happens over an extended period of time after offering too much empathy and energy to your customers and team. Simply being aware of the symptoms and taking note of how you’re feeling at the end of each day is a good way to keep yourself in check.
Overcoming without Offending
Sales jobs require you to focus on your own well-being from time to time. If you’re not up to par, it’ll be impossible to strategically plan your sales management goals, give customers the information they need, and, overall, be your sales-powered self.
However, stopping compassion fatigue from hurting your sales career means you’ll need to remove yourself a bit from the empathy role. Not approaching this carefully leads to hurt feelings and dented egos.
Overcoming compassion fatigue starts with self-care and self-management. Take time outside of work – or even a few days off – to do activities you enjoy. Go for a walk, eat at your favorite restaurant, or meet up with an old friend. No matter what you choose to do, try to disconnect from all work-related activities.
When you come back, practice self-management. Be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to empathizing with customers and team members. Strategically schedule your days so you’re not spending back-to-back calls with the emotionally needy.
Regain your focus and put time and energy back into selling by creating a step-by-step action plan for helping your team hit your sales goals.
Karyn Mullins is the president atMedReps.com, a job board that gives members access to the most sought-after medical sales jobs and pharmaceutical sales jobs on the Web. Connect with Karyn onFacebook,Twitter, andLinkedIn.
The biggest problem sales managers face is not having enough time to get everything done. Unfortunately, the way many sales managers problem-solve with their salespeople ends up in creating more “stuff” for the sales manager to do. And that leaves less time for more important priorities, like sales coaching.
I have never met a participant in my sales manager programs who thought he or she was spending enough time coaching salespeople. Not having enough time for sales coaching is a huge problem – because a lack of coaching leads to a host of problems…not enough salespeople at quota, high turnover of salespeople, slow ramp-up of new hires, and lousy sales numbers, just to name a few.
Now, I’m the first to admit that some of the distractions sales managers must deal with are out of their control – such as requests from upper management to attend meetings, or the submission of necessary reports.
But I also hear from sales managers about other problems like this one: Suppose a sales rep contacts you and says, “Hey, Boss, we’ve got a problem.”
Notice that the salesperson tells you “we’ve” got a problem – not “I’ve” got a problem.
Most sales managers will listen to the problem and then – not having the necessary information to make a decision – says to the salesperson, “Let me look into it and I’ll get back to you.” In the blink of an eye, two things have just happened that are typically associated with being a subordinate in a relationship: 1) the sales manager accepted a delegation from a sales rep, and 2) the sales manager offered to provide the sales rep with a progress report!
And there you have an example of why many sales managers give themselves more stuff to do. We love being problem solvers for the sales team. It’s something we thrived on when we were salespeople, right? So our natural instinct is to get involved with every request that comes our way. And then our sales team gives us even more of their problems, and we have no time remaining to coach salespeople.
Operating in a reactive mode such as this is not good for sales managers or their sales team. You know how all this plays out: You come to the office with a great plan for all the things you want to focus on and then, WHAMMO – you get an incoming problem, then another and another and, before you know it, it’s 5 p.m. and you’ve just spent all day addressing other people’s priorities. Meanwhile, you had no time to become a sales coach. No wonder there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day!
The best sales managers are masterful at taking control of their time. Here are three strategies I share in my sales management seminars:
Strategy #1: Make sure your salespeople “own” their own problems.
The next time a sales rep approaches you with a problem, listen but do NOT offer your own ideas or allow yourself to be dragged into the drama. The goal should be to help that salesperson figure out a way to deal with the problem on their own. Successful sales managers ask their sales team what I call the two magic questions:
What have you done about it so far?
What do you think ought to be done next?
Pretty soon you’ll notice that your salespeople will come to you and say, “Boss, I’ve got a problem and here are my two best solutions.” Wouldn’t that give you more time for sales coaching?
Strategy #2: Tame the email monster.
I recently spoke to a sales manager who estimated she spends roughly two hours every day sending and receiving emails. That equates to 500 hours a year – or more than 60 days of her time! Imagine if she could just reduce that time by 25 percent. That would be an extra 125 hours a year for more coaching. Check your email less frequently and set team standards for email that include “NRN” – No Reply Needed” in the subject line. Finally, send shorter emails yourself.
Strategy #3:Think about your “to-don’t list,” not just your to-do list.
Most of us come into the office each day with a list of things we want to accomplish each day. The best sales managers also have a clear to-don’t list – they know what they are going to STOP doing, like responding to everyone else’s problems, answering every single call, or responding immediately to all their emails, texts, etc.
When you stop being everyone else’s problem solver, you’ll have much more time to spend on what should be your number one priority: coaching salespeople. You are the only person on your sales team who can fill this vital function for your company. Sales coaching is the priority that will contribute most to the sales team’s results.
Every day you face a choice of whether to be a reactive firefighter whose time is lost by an endless number of seemingly urgent distractions – or whether you will become one of the best sales managers whose time is focused on sales coaching, sales pipeline management, pre-call planning, and other priority tasks so essential to becoming a successful sales manager. In this daily choice lies your sales leadership destiny.