Sales Planning for Start-Ups

The right focus, at the right time, has enormous influence on top-line and bottom-line growth for any company, but it’s especially true for new ones.

At the moment a company’s founders decide it’s time to add a sales team there are usually more issues to think about than who. “Sales” is used as a catch-all for a long list of activities and documentation that need to be rolled-out before the sales production line is running smoothly. Hiring a traditional salesperson first, before sales-support, and a marketing-driven lead-generation engine is in-place is a recipe for disappointment.

Chief Marketing Officers and Business Development VPs must understand the evolution of effective selling techniques to identify skills and timing that will achieve the best results for their new company. Professional selling is about leading the customer to imagine how your product will improve their condition.

Before there were Challengers: In the 1800’s through 1925, producers and collectors were recognizable personas of formal selling – also referred to as Hunters and Gatherers. Producers were the highly-compensated sales people who secured new business, while “collectors” were low-value operators assigned to gather fees and payments.

In 1925, E.K. Strong published “The Psychology of Selling.” Strong formalized descriptions and methods to handle objections and focus on features and benefits. This approach stood until the 1970’s when research created SPIN selling (Situation, Problem, Implications, Needs). SPIN segmented customers by size and sales by product complexity. The approach was popularized by Neil Rackham’s book, “SPIN Selling.” By then procurement organizations were seeking ways to control costs through various negotiations frameworks. McKinsey & Company introduced the McKinsey 7S process and procurement embraced it as a way to vet suppliers.

Contemporary sales thinkers, leaders, and sales trainers are driving high performance through programs based on the Corporate Executive Board’s research and 2011 book, “The Challenger Sale.” Written by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson it’s based on surveys from more than 1,200 companies about their B2B sales performance. Dixon and Adamson identified five sales personas and their occurrence rates: The Hard Worker (21%); The Challenger (27%); The Relationship Builder (21%); The Lone Wolf (18%); and the Reactive Problem Solver (18%).  They noticed that in low complexity sales, there was little difference between performance rates among the five types. But as product & service complexity increased Challengers separated from the pack as they generated a higher share of companies’ sales and profits.

Five Sales People Profiles

Challengers thrive: In complex environments with multiple stakeholders in the buyer’s organization. The Board’s research found that as product complexity increased performance separation began to favor Challengers over other sales personas.

Challenger Advantage

Here’s how Challengers do it. “A Challenger is defined by the ability to do three things – teach, tailor, and take control – and to do all of this through the use of constructive tension,” (Dixson and Adamson 2011).

Challenger Skills

Teach, Tailor, Take Control – great news – it’s possible to teach other personas and mid-performers how Challengers apply those skills in the buying process. Challengers don’t tell – they create business partnerships to uncover meaningful insights; they see the world from the customer’s point of view and generate ideas to help them grow faster and more profitably. Challenger selling engages the whole organization to think about ways to generate value for customers. Simply put, the Challenger method can be learned. The trick is to understand the mechanisms Challengers use to manipulate the buyer’s path.

Challenger Path

Marketing automation: The arms race between sales and procurement has been accelerating.  Contemporary marketing automation strategies, enhanced through lead-scoring programs offered by Act-On, Hubspot, Pardot, Infusionsoft, and others, are force-multipliers that allow sales and marketing organizations with a few employees to close complex deals with large customers, faster, at a higher-rate.

It doesn’t take an active imagination to realize what a Challenger could accomplish if they were handed a list of prospects who poked around the company’s website, viewed pages with information about implementation schedules, and opened a pricing page multiple times over the previous four days. Marketing automation is a goldmine. Want to see it in action? Download the beacon viewer extension from ghostery.com, once it’s active on your browser visit your competitors and other leading companies’ websites and check out the tools they’re using to track visitors.

Summary: For CMO’s, finding someone who understands the customers’ business and has the bandwidth to position the seller’s products in a meaningful way, earlier in the decision-process, will make a big difference to their new organization’s success. And if you don’t need a Challenger, you might not need a sales team. Sales people cost far more than sales and marketing automation programs, so a solid plan that incorporates both is necessary to drive success from each. A Challenger mind-set, along with a comprehensive list of lead scores from the new company’s prospective customers creates a good starting point.

Ideas and Suggestions:

  • Identify customer personas, and determine those customers’ “consideration paths” to buy your products, then organize content to respond to what you already know.
  • Launch your website early to accrue benefits the Google search algorithms bestow for site age.
  • Focus on meaningful, relevant content to drive participation on your site; refine your meta tags, keywords, and messaging to achieve low bounce rates, and increase visitor times on-page to drive higher organic search results – read “Call to Action” Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg’s e-commerce classic if you don’t know what this means.
  • Hire a good marketing person to create and publish sales collateral, marketing materials, and develop content that buyers will exchange personal information to get their hands on.
  • Launch a marketing automation program to capture buyer interest and develop a sales pipeline.
  • Now you’re ready to hire a Challenger sales leader.

Slides: From “The Challenger Sale.”

Coaching Sales & Marketing

Productivity and Performance

Productivity is a catalyst that boosts self-confidence. Several months ago I sat next to Jason Womack on a flight to Los Angeles. In his book, Your Best Just Got Better, Jason describes strategies to become more productive. I adopted several immediately, but he also pointed out the need to understand why we do what we do, to do more, or to eliminate it from our lives. As a career coach I frequently encounter people who have the skills and experience to tackle any job in their field or profession, but they’re missing a key ingredient. Self-confidence.

Jason’s book caused me to analyze my activities before sales trips. It occurred to me that most of the items on my checklist could be described as self-confidence boosters, but I also evaluated what I need to be at my best:

  1. Good night of sleep.
  2. Coffee.
  3. Showered and dressed.
  4. Only view emails once I’m prepared to respond to them.

I’ve lived long enough to know my flaws – and peak performance requires down time and an adjustment period to reflect, rehearse, and wind-up before I walk into a client meeting. I tailor each discussion to the customer’s needs; I challenge their approach to create tension and demonstrate proficiency; and I teach them how my products will drive their business. All of this gives me control over the buying process to steer ideas and decisions into my strengths. This is why I want to be on the ground a day before meetings with International clients. For me, there’s too much at stake and too much to lose…even if same-day travel flows smoothly it diminishes delivery preparation.

It’s tough to be productive when your ‘chores’ haven’t been done. Here’s my pre-trip checklist:

  1. Haircut.
  2. Favorite clothes / clean – pressed.
  3. Notepad / pen.
  4. Coffee / dressed / groomed.
  5. Electronic devices powered up – power adapters available.
  6. Itinerary / schedule / map / transportation options.
  7. Be on-time.
  8. Site reconnaissance – visit the office before your meeting to determine how long it will take to get there.
  9. ID / passport / currency.
  10. Data and voice active (mobile phones while traveling).
  11. Music / headphones.
  12. Glasses / contacts / supplies / medications.
  13. Local knowledge about tipping, credit card useage, other customs.
  14. Hardware has network connectivity / back-up plan if network is unavailable.
  15. Thank you cards – Always Be Ready.
  16. Be productive during delays – see above.
  17. Treat yourself to an airport spa or airline clubs when traveling.
  18. Use the arrivals lounge for a shower / fresh clothes.
  19. If the day matters – upgrade yourself to a suite. The space will make you feel better and injects confidence.

I hope this list triggered ideas to put you in the right mindset. Here’s one to end on and it’s worth repeating. “Don’t review emails on your cellphone until you’re ready to take action.” Adopting that best-practice has eliminated anxiety from my routines so I stay focused to make my best even better.

 

 

Coaching Sales & Marketing

Engineering Human Performance

How can business leaders engineer higher performance?

People assume the qualities of the roles they’re assigned. People who wear surgical scrubs, judge’s robes, or uniforms understand this. Uniforms create a feedback loop from bystanders – even a tentative rookie will step-up under scrutiny from a crowd that expects them to succeed or to perform in a predictable way.  People also routinely commit the fundamental attribution error – they assign values and assume expertise where none exists. Best demonstrated each time someone asks a Doctor how to invest their money. This question flows from an assumption that high achievement and domain knowledge in one area translates to other domains.

Alternatively, self-confidence can overcome negative bias, since it can be difficult to identify an expert out of context – someone wearing tattered clothes who walks up and declares – “I’m a Doctor” will get everyone’s attention. Think about the Holiday Inn commercials when self-confident people tackle a challenge they would otherwise be unprepared for – at the end revealing they have no qualifications except that they “stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.” Alternatively, consider how people treated Frank Abagnale Jr. when he forged checks as a nineteen year old pilot for Pan Am Airways. Countless examples were acted out by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2002 Steven Spielberg film, “Catch Me If You Can.”

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, was famous for driving an old pickup truck and wearing unassuming clothes. Sam’s been used as an example to sales people in luxury-goods industries as the reason they should treat everyone who walks through the door as a potential customer.

Our bias is predictable and easy to uncover. The day after Martin Luther King was assassinated In 1968, Jane Elliott, a third-grade teacher in Riceville, Iowa, divided her class for an exercise about discrimination. Students were arbitrarily divided into two groups – blue eyes, superior, and brown eyes, inferior. The blue eyed group was placed in charge, and brown eyed students were not allowed to use the playground equipment or the drinking fountain. Students were told that blue-eyed students were naturally better at math, English, and other skills, while brown eyed students were told they were not as good. The next day, Jane announced she had made a mistake and the roles were reversed.

Immediately, previously low-performing blue-eyed students were producing better work – they were trying harder, while high-performing brown-eyed children started to perform below their previous levels. Jane Elliott’s impact on education is significant, her experiment in Riceville created the foundation for her work as a speaker and coach about discrimination, and diversity training for corporations and colleges around the world. In 1970, her third group was filmed and a documentary was released called “Eye of the Storm.” In 1985 Frontline created a program about the experiment, based on a book by the same title, “A Class Divided” and it includes footage from the 1970 documentary. You can watch it here.

Jane tested her students regularly and found that scores went down during the time a student was part of the low expectation group, and up during their participation in a high performing group. But another effect was more surprising. After their participation in the experiment all students’ scores increased. Researchers at Stanford reviewed the results and concluded that the brown eyes, blue eyes experiment led to a dramatic change in the students performance – the act of believing you could do better showed the kids they were able to achieve more, to perform better, and evidence presented during their time as “high performers” increased their self-confidence and performance.

Jane Elliott already demonstrated how discrimination is manufactured. In 1971, Dr. Philip Zimbardo and other researchers at Stanford, wanted to measure how role expectations could change behavior, outlook, and self-esteem, in a study about prisons sponsored by the U.S. Navy. They devised an experiment where young men were randomly selected to be guards or prisoners in the 1971 Stanford prison experiment. Twenty-four students participated in the mock-prison; guards quickly asserted control over the prisoners, and subjected them to various forms of psychological torture. Most of the prisoners accepted their treatment, but a few resisted, only to be attacked by other prisoners who helped guards keep everyone in line.

“Our planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be ended prematurely after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated. In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress.” Philip G. Zimbardo

Both experiments offer important lessons for us. It’s a small leap to recognize that leaders and managers who encourage and support their teams, will generate higher performance, while the reverse is true too. People will perform to the expectations others set for them, and knowledge about their situation does not automatically reverse the effects.

Engineering human performance – or how to create a pre-determined outcome. When you put someone in charge, they’ll step up to perform well, make sound decisions, and generally do the right thing. In most businesses, when the boss is away, subordinates need to find another senior leader to sign documents, approve budgets, expense reports, and other decisions to operate the business – this is the ‘disposition attribution‘ theory at work; businesses incorrectly assume that sound decision-making is a function of the employee’s level. The military operates using the ‘situational attribution‘ theory; decision-making authority rests with the senior person present. When the boss is gone, the next person in line has the authority to make operational decisions required to complete immediate tasks. This quality causes soliders, sailors, and airmen to view leadership as a condition of their circumstances rather than their pedigree. They are not paralyzed by the loss of a leader, because even the lowliest Army of one has someone in charge.

The military experience provides evidence to support conclusions by Jane Elliott and the Stanford researchers, but those lessons have not yet penetrated business leadership principles in a meaningful way. Now you have a chance to make a positive, lasting difference, and as you do, think about how what you’ve just learned influences leadership rotation programs, recruiting practices, and B-scale pay plans.

Coaching

Babies and Billionaires are Assertive

The most assertive people I know are babies and billionaires. Babies demand attention when they’re hungry or have a dirty diaper, and great wealth isn’t acquired by those who think about questions but never ask them. I have an example – during the opening-night reception for the King Tut exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art the hushed crowd flowed into the signature room containing the King’s greatest treasures. An older man wandered in, and in a loud, familiar voice, asked, “Where’s the Mummy?” I turned around and found Ross Perot standing in the doorway.

In business, speaking, presenting, selling, and networking are common sources of stress. When a leader reacts calmly, and confidently to a stressful encounter, their emotional intelligence and leadership strengths shine.

Self-confidence is about overcoming fear. Fear motivates us, but it can also disable us, through panic, or over longer periods through the corrosive effects from elevated stress. Inoculation is a process to induce immunity from panic. Inoculation increases our ability to manage fear and to operate effectively when we’re exposed to the fear-inducing thing. Stunt pilots are trained to fly an airplane upside down, just a few feet off the ground, without engine power, while Firefighters learn to navigate hazards in the dark during simulations in a “burn tower.” Paramedics and ER physicians don’t panic when they have two minutes left to stabilize a trauma patient.  All of these people were exposed to conditions that simulated their worst-case scenarios to teach them how to respond. They developed reflexsive responses to save themselves and others from serious harm.

Good leaders know that you can reduce fear by pushing rising-stars in front of an audience to speak or being tasked with a presentation for the Board of Directors, or leading a project for a Senior Vice President. Inoculation against our fears expose courage, and assertiveness is the way we demonstrate it every day. Fear is in our minds most of the time.

Here are a few actions you can take that will increase your courage, and innoculate you against fear – be polite, but be assertive:

  1. In situations with lots of people including conferences, conventions, and large internal meetings – reintroduce yourself to people you should know. And if you can’t remember their name lead with this “Hi – my name is…, I know we’ve met, but I’ve forgotten your name!”
  2. Always let someone know if their out-of-office message has expired. When you check in to a hotel ask, “Is there anything I can do to receive a complimentary upgrade?”
  3. Stop eating food that wasn’t prepared the way you asked, and send it back to the kitchen.
  4. Spend time with a few people who seem to be fearless and watch what they do.

And if you’re still looking for something to really push your limits try a ToughMudder race – they offer great confidence challenges.

Over time you’re self-confidence will increase and situations you once viewed as stressful will become normal parts of your day.

 

Coaching

Deciphering Performance Reviews

Learning how to decipher the code managers use to rate employees empowers you to improve your results and elevate your performance in the review system.

What does a hiring manager really want to know when they call your boss to ask about you? How you work? How effective you are? How much coaching you’ll need? Where you rank against your peers? Essentially – are you an asset or a liability, and to what degree? Performance reviews create anxiety for employees and managers alike. Even the best systems are imperfect, but they’re especially troublesome when used as the only feedback employees receive. Given that written feedback is rare, It’s helpful to understand how your supervisor applies precise language to rank you against your peers and other employees across the organization.

As a matter of principle reviews shouldn’t hold surprises. Negative comments should only appear on your performance review if they were shared with you previously. Managers who are afraid to provide coaching,  guidance, and feedback, outside of the formal review process, need training themselves and are less likely to help advance your career.

Performance reviews contain descriptions about three qualities, while the employee’s rank is encoded within the text:

  1. Performance.
  2. Potential.
  3. Fit.

Review systems force managers to rank their direct reports. Across regions, and divisions only a select number of employees can be assigned the highest rating. This causes managers to compete against each other to capture their fair share of the top ratings. Employees who know about this are in a better position to provide a comprehensive list of accomplishments to share with their managers – to use during the “trading” process. The process concludes with scores and descriptions for areas the company requires managers to focus on. Many employees share the same scores, but language sets them apart. High performers should strive for their narrative and scores to match; disconnects between a score and the narrative can create problems. This is often the case when a high performer is new to a group and bonuses are tied to the score. The new employee may be well-regarded and likely to be promoted, but the management team doesn’t want to reduce the bonus payout for an experienced employee. The path of least resistance is to give the new employee a lower score and a glowing review. Conversely, mid-tier scores coupled with a scathing review spell trouble. The score is used to avoid a difficult conversation about poor performance, but the language will reappear when layoffs are announced.

Adjectives provide clues about relative performance: marginal, acceptable, good, great, best (superlative). When superlatives are used, like the “best,” comparison groups are often added to give readers information about the employee’s overall performance score. Notice the size of the group used for the comparison. The best salesperson on the Los Angeles team (top 20%), the best salesperson in the California region (top 10%), the best salesperson in North America (top 5%), the best in the company (top 1%).

Superlatives, combined with the comparison group size, and a time component can give you a very accurate picture about how your score ranks against your peers. Another “time” to focus on is language that puts timing into a discussion about your next promotion. “Ready for promotion” is not as strong as, “Promote now”, but both are stronger than a lot of other comments you might receive.

It’s impossible to guess at the meaning or motivation behind vague language, but phrases to watch for include: “intense curiosity” (gets into other people’s business); “frequently offers unsolicited suggestions” (not a good follower); “frequently debates ideas with peers” (argumentative, or know it all); “serves on numerous boards and committees” (not focused on job). You get the picture, and it’s not good.

Let’s move on to typical language; consider these example reviews:

“Mike is a seasoned account manager, and the best on his team. His performance frequently exceeds expectations and Mike usually reaches his sales targets by the end of each month. Mike routinely volunteers to help new employees, and he fills in for absent co-workers whenever requested. Over the next year Mike will attend new leader training and is expected to perform above his peers.”

Team Diagram

Here’s a stronger version:

“Mike is the best account manager in the Western Region. He always exceeds his sales targets and frequently volunteers to train new employees. Mike  is ready for a promotion.”

Regional Team

And now the strongest possible language:

“Mike is the best account manager at ACME company, and has held the top spot for several years. He’s a team-player, respected by his supervisors and peers, and his knowledge and experience are sought by employees and customers alike. Mike should be promoted at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Team Venn Diagrams

 

When it comes to understanding performance reviews, a little knowledge goes a long way.

 

Coaching

Work-Life Balance

We’ve all tossed around expressions about work life balance, and they have different meanings to different people. But how many of us actually keep track of our balance in a systematic way? What if you could measure your balance on a regular basis to uncover insights about your happiness or career satisfaction? Or learn how problems with your kids, partner, or other factors affect you in other areas of your life?

The “wheel of life” has a long history; it’s originally from the Indo-Tibet region – as the Bhavacakra. It’s a powerful way to identify areas in your life that require attention and help you move up the satisfaction food chain. Kevin Burgess describes four states people are always in: Survival, Sustainment, Success, and Significance. Where are you? As you fill out your wheel of life think about how problems in one area affect the others. You can create a simple radar chart in excel or download this chart here.

Life Wheel

Consider each category and assign a score.

1. Health

Are you generally healthy, other than the normal aches and pains that accumulate over the years? Do you get enough sleep and exercise? Are you comfortable with your weight? or battling habits and addictions like caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or obsessive eating?

2. Family

Is your family supportive, available, and healthy? Are they a source of strength and encouragement or a drain? Are you caring for someone who is sick or disabled? or coping with a troubled child?

3. Friends

Do your friends push you forward or demand support? Are they coaches and cheerleaders or emotional vampires?

4. Finances

Are you doing well and saving for retirement, or does your income just cover your bills? Conversely, are you battling with medical bills, late fees, and home and auto repairs that threaten to swamp you? Give yourself a high score if you’ve paid off debts with a windfall.

5. Recreation

Do you have time for yourself and spend it on activities that you enjoy and look forward to, that energize you, and increase your satisfaction?

6. Personal Growth

Do you have written goals and a plan to achieve them? Is formal training part of your day-to-day life or something you avoid?

7. Career

Are you satisfied with the three “R’s” Responsibility, Recognition, and Rewards provided by your job? Is there a clear path to achieve your goals? Do you have the support you need to reach them?

8. Workspace

Your office space or work space should be ready for you to do your best work. Does it help you or get in the way? Is your space clean, and workable or cluttered and disorganized. Do you have to hunt for things when you need them, or are they ready for quick use?

9. Romance

Is your romantic life satisfying? Do you feel loved, and receive attention, affection, and support? Does your partner feel that way?

Once you’ve recorded your responses plot them on the wheel and add a score to describe your happiness, satisfaction, optimism, and choose which of Kevin’s four phases you’re in now – put the date on it and keep it at your desk. Revisit the wheel again in six months to learn how happiness, satisfaction, and optimism ebb and flow as multiple dimensions in your life change.

Coaching

Master Your Future

Several years ago I was trying to master cross-wind landings in an especially under-powered airplane on a gusty springtime day in North Texas. It was ugly. I was all over the runway – at one point even touching down with the nose pointed 30 degrees to the left of an enormous strip of concrete at Alliance Airport. I was frustrated and exhausted when my flight instructor broke in with encouragement I’ve found useful many times since. He said, “It’s your pony to ride.” He meant own it, make the plane do what you want it to do, when you want it to do it. Don’t let the wind knock you around – be the boss. Said another way, when in charge, take charge, and when you’re not, act as if you are. That’s great advice for anything you do – and it applies to leadership and self-improvement.

Have you ever tried to measure how much you’ve learned since your last graduation? Did the internet exist? Smart phones? Twitter, Linkedin, Salesforce.com, 3D printers, LEDs, SAP, Prezi, Dropbox, Office, Word, Excel, and all the other technology tools, gadgets and Software as a Service applications you’ve mastered? What have you learned about managing people, HR rules, federal regulations, tax laws, environmental regulations, and everything else you’ve focused on?  I’ll bet your working knowledge has increased at least 3% every year – if not more, and many skills seem to multiply the benefits of newer skills and information. There’s a cumulative effect. But what does that look like, and how would it impact you to find ways to be more efficient and to adopt new technology or processes before your peers? I’ll show you after a brief discussion about success.

High School reunions provide lots of material about how we predict and measure success. Yours and others. When you graduated it’s likely that you had an idea about how successful or unsuccessful your classmates would be. In most cases you had little information about your peers’ personal growth strategies so it was difficult to predict that the “C” student in your social studies class, the one who spent summers roofing new homes, would go on to own a $100 Million construction company, or the quiet kid in your English class would earn a law degree from Yale and end up as a Federal Judge. In High School, and beyond college, it’s too early to observe the cumulative effects of exponential growth. Over time skills and knowledge acquired outside the classroom will dominate. It can take many years to rack up the score that other people use to measure progress. Successful people share a drive to learn new things and take risks. And many learn that failure doesn’t stop you unless you let it. Everyone fails, but some people keep trying.

It doesn’t matter what you measure, income, wealth, efficiency, knowledge, employees – pick your yardstick. Comparisons among three exponential growth rates 1%, 3%, and 6% lead to obvious difference over several years. A 6% improvement starts to bend up and away from the 3% line. Separation is evident over fifteen years, but the “Bend” is clear over twenty-five years.

15 year line

 

25 year line

Again, It doesn’t matter what you measure, what counts is that learning something new provides enormous benefits over many years.  Look at the same graph over thirty years – the 6% line bends upward in an increasingly obvious way. But what if there were opportunities for giant leaps? A promotion, a degree, a company started, a skill mastered? How would leaps impact the line for a life-long learner?

30 year line

In the next chart two 50% leaps have been added to the 6% line in early years. Maybe the leaps were generated by an advanced degree, but what if they flowed from starting a business that failed, or a second business that failed? You would be far smarter and wealthier from the experience. It doesn’t matter how your axis is labeled, the point is to see how gains can have a huge impact over years.

Performance Leaps

Obviously leaps have an enormous impact – especially when they occur early – but leaps create bends any time they happen – and that’s what you need to know to develop a plan that will separate you from the crowd. A final example – what happens to someone who catches a lucky break or a gets an unexpected promotion, while avoiding new skills or knowledge? Take a look.

Performance Crossover 1% and 3%A 1% annual improvement with a 50% leap in year 12, climbs past the steady 3%-er, but the effect isn’t long-lived, and slow and steady outperforms. This begins to look like a study in luck – or the idea that lucky people make themselves lucky. You’ve already seen how much separation occurs when the 6%-er received the lucky break – was that person lucky? or did they create the situation? Undoubtedly these charts demonstrate that meaningful progress to develop new skills can lead to big performance differences. Get a plan and start something to bend your line.

Coaching