May 8, 2017

Pre-Summer Sales Management Checklist

Happy almost summer! Things are feeling just about right around here. My oldest is home from Butler and today starts his first internship. My daughter returns later this week from completing her first year in Kansas State’s grueling architecture program, and my high school junior had his banquet/prom this weekend. Last night we grilled out on the patio with our small group and joked that if the weather was like this all the time the real estate prices would be much higher! Summer is definitely in the air – especially with the St. Louis Cardinals getting hot.

I spent last week criss-crossing the U.S. speaking to sales teams and sales leaders – reminding them of the basics. What struck me more than anything, particularly when meeting with executives and sales managers, was how little attention they were giving to arming their salespeople with the necessary weapons and preparing them for the sales battle. While flying home half-comatose from the crazy week of travel that included an overnight redeye from California to Carolina, the two predominant themes of the week collided in my small brain leading to this blog post: The Arrival of Summer and Ill-Equipped Sales Teams.

Sales Managers (or executives over sales teams), are you darn sure that you’ve got the basics covered?

A. Pointing the Team Toward Strategic Target Accounts: When salespeople are permitted to live in reactive mode, they don’t need a list. They simply respond to inbound leads, customers who raise their hand, and opportunities that come their way. BUT the moment we ask our sellers to become proactive, intentional, and strategic, the very first thing they need is a list of strategic targets accounts (of both growable existing customers and prospective customers) to pursue. This is too critical to overlook or take for granted. That’s why Selecting Targets is the first piece of the New Sales Driver framework in New Sales. Simplified. Managers, are you darn sure that your salespeople have strategic, focused, workable lists of accounts that you and they agree they should be pursuing? It’s YOUR JOB to ensure that your team members are pointed in the right direction. Don’t abdicate this critical responsibility. Even the most talented sellers will not produce optimal results chasing the wrong targets. Do each of your people have a list to strategic targets that they have committed to proactively pursuing to create sales opportunities AND that you are committed to hold them accountable for pursuing?

B. Arming Salespeople with a Compelling, Customer Issue-Focused, Differentiating Story: If there’s a topic I’ve covered more than this one in the past six years, I can’t think of it. You know why? Because the “Sales Story” is your sales team’s single most critical weapon. How in the world can you expect your people to make prospecting calls, send emails, conduct early-stage discovery meetings, demos, presentations, or draft proposals if they cannot articulate the value your solution delivers? It’s on you to arm your sellers with a usable, powerful, relevant “story” that will not only give you people confidence to do their jobs, but make them significantly more successful. If you are looking for help, Chapter 8 of New Sales. Simplified. has everything you need to draft this type of highly effective story. And in the near future, we’ll be launching some new content that includes an online toolkit to help managers and salespeople complete the very same “Sharpening Your Sales Story” exercise that I do during live workshops with client teams. But for now, let me ask:  Can your salespeople articulate compelling reasons that customers buy from/turn to/trust your company/solution? Can they weave other client success stories comfortably into their conversations? Can they explain why your offering or the experience/outcome from working with your company is better and different?  If they can’t, that’s on you, sales leader.

C. Ensuring That Your Salespeople Can Properly Fire the Basic Sales Weapons: It’s one thing to arm your team, it’s another to ensure that they are proficient at using those weapons. Can your sales reps make effective prospecting calls that result in meetings with prospects? I mean it. Are you confident that your people can secure discovery meetings with strategic target prospects? And once they do secure that oh-so-imporant early-stage meeting, are they able to conduct an effective discovery meeting? Do they “own” the meeting? Can they set it up well by sharing their agenda and getting the customer’s input and buy-in?  Can they properly deploy the “story” mentioned in the point above – to credential and position themselves, and to warm up the prospect to answer their questions? Speaking of questions, are your people armed with a solid list of insightful probing questions that uncover pain, opportunity, and answers to sales/buying process questions (who, who else, how, when, etc.)? And can they ask those questions without coming across like an amateur, or worse, a prosecuting attorney that makes the prospect feel like they’re on the witness stand? I won’t even ask about “next-level” sales weapons like demos or presentations, because that only opens up a bigger can of worms.

D. Your Salespeople Understand That Developing New Business is THE Primary Job and Their Calendars and Activity Metrics Prove It:  Ouch! This one may sting a bit, but it needs to said. The single biggest reason sales teams don’t deliver more new business? Yup. The salespeople are not spending enough time working on new business. Brilliant, I know. So…how are you doing at monitoring the sales battle? How sure are you that your people are attacking the targets they committed to attacking? How clear and effective are your 1:1 accountability meetings? You are doing those, right? Instead of just staring into the CRM or sending emails asking about the pipeline, you are meeting 1:1 with your people and having live conversations about what new opportunities they’ve added to the pipeline. I see way way too many salespeople who have forgotten their primary job. They spend hours and hours babysitting favorite pet accounts and “maintaining their territories” (their exact words), yet almost no dedicated time is blocked off to devote to prospecting and developing new business. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the pipeline isn’t getting filled with new opportunities or that the new business isn’t being acquired at the desired rate. It’s pretty darn simple: Little Effort = Little Results.

A quick word to individual salespeople: while this post was directed at your boss, take one quick minute to look in the mirror. At the end of the day, you are the one responsible for your results and providing for yourself or your family. So, before pointing the finger of blame at your manager or company who hasn’t pointed you well, equipped you well, or held you accountable well, ask yourself what you are doing to ensure that you have items A through D covered.

And to sales leaders, I share this exhortation: I don’t know your individual situation or how much your company has placed on you that keeps you from getting to the very simple basics described in this post. But this I do know for sure: If you do not point your team, arm your team, ensure that your team is proficient at firing the most basic weapons, and actually executing the sales attack, whatever else you are doing is pointless. Trust me that your summer vacation will be a lot more fun and refreshing if you can get away knowing that you’ve set your sellers up to succeed.