Tag Archives: sales

A big mistake your B2B sales team is likely making…

Focusing on the Decision Maker vs. the Decision Making Process

A single decision maker for b2b purchases is increasingly a myth. Focusing on trying to convince a decision maker vs. focusing on understanding the decision making process is a mistake even experienced sales professionals make. In today’s b2b world, most businesses have some process of prioritizing projects and internal resources in addition to budgets. Rare is the case that someone wants to 100% own the responsibility of signing an agreement, spending budget money and owning a project when it’s likely other projects were seeking those same funds and resources.

A caveat here, if the firm you are selling to is very small or your product is transactional (e.g. non-subscription) and relatively inexpensive (e.g. less than $5,000) the below may only loosely apply  – but even President / Owner / CEO’s seek other’s opinions before signing on the line that is dotted.

Asking whether or not someone has the authority to make a decision is a pretty standard 101 question that will rarely give you enough information or insights to either accurately forecast the sale or even move the sale towards closing. This self-identified “decision maker” likely can make a decision, but that decision is usually whether or not they want to pursue the deal internally vs. actually making the final decision on the go/ no-go.

No matter what you are selling, every business has a list of projects in a queue waiting priority and you are competing with the attention bandwidth applied to those items; whether they are related to your offering or not. A better course of action is to seek clarity how decisions are made within the organization; including the financial decision as well as the project priority process.

How do you do that?

Ask better questions related to the process itself once you’ve earned the right to do so. Below are some very simple examples that you can adjust to your specific situation:

  • Mr. Prospect, based on my experience working with other clients, there are often other individuals at the business that like to be aware of what my company will be providing to your business; if only to avoid any confusion once you’ve made a decision. When your business has made similar purchase decisions – how did that process work? Do you typically involve others in the evaluation process as well? How do you recommend we work them into this process to make this as smooth as possible?
  • Mr. Prospect, I have to imagine there are other projects looking for budget or resources that might be unrelated to this; where do you think this project would fit into those priorities at the executive level and how do we best work together to help you navigate that?

TIP: Don’t fall easy victim to the false positive of your proposal going to executive committee / management meeting or board meeting for review. Always clarify that your proposal is on the agenda and a priority. All too often I’ve heard a deal forecasted because it was going to committee for final signoff only to learn that the board never got around to discussing the proposal and it’s pushed off to the next meeting.  Make sure your sales executives ask the question “are we formally on the agenda for the meeting as a priority?” It might feel uncomfortable to a sales rep to ask that (which I don’t get) but without confirmation, you are flying blind.

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Consistently leveraging LinkedIn within your Sales Organization

I am stating the obvious that your sales team likely uses LinkedIn, after all – they are the world’s largest professional network with 225 million members in over 200 countries and territories around the globe..

Executives from all F500 companies are members of LinkedIn and according to LinkedIn – more than FOUR BILLION searches were conducted in 2012…FOUR BILLION b2b company, individual or job related queries…Clearly not only is it one of the world’s largest social networks, in a sense, it’s one of the world’s largest search engines as well.

While it’s heavily utilized by individual account executives, in my opinion it is not consistently utilized by overall sales organizations.

If you were to talk to your account executives individually, they likely have different methods and approaches on how they use the tool, represent themselves and incorporate it into their prospecting and pipeline strategies.

I’ve done a few presentations and classes on using LinkedIn for sales organizations and can attest that for those organizations making a more formal approach to including LinkedIn as a part of their sales process – it will “shorten the cycle” in creating and expanding client relationships and when used appropriately, can also help to further positive perception of your company.

In today’s over contacted and limited attention bandwidth world, leveraging a prospect’s social connections can be more effective contact method than dialing and email campaigns as it’s often easier to connect with someone “socially” cold than other methods. People read and respond to LinkedIn emails differently than your own and it’s a quicker route through aggressive spam filters. Your prospects are spending time on this platform – they appreciate recognition and connections.

I wanted to pass along a pretty rudimentary but underutilized feature of LinkedIn that you can immediately incorporate into your organization. If you are interested in more comprehensive ideas or training – drop me a line; I’m happy to share what I’ve aggregated.

Let’s focus on “Advanced Search” and how to use LinkedIn’s Advanced People Search capability to identify prospective buyers or influencers at target prospect companies.

For example, if I’m looking for people who currently work at Honeywell in a finance role, I could just search for the keyword “Honeywell” or “Honeywell Finance” from Linkedin’s homepage.  Unfortunately, that will match everyone who has “Honeywell” or “Finance” on their profile, either from a former job, or even just called out somewhere on their profile.

Using advanced search (click “advanced” next to the search box on the homepage), you can specify “Honeywell” in the field directly for company in the text box on the left hand side of the page, “Finance” for the title text box. For both options, you can ensure it’s an active employee or current role by even specifying “Current” in the drop box that appears once you populate the text in either field.

That will give you a tight search that only returns people who currently have Honeywell as their current company and finance in their current role.

Submitting this search shows matching results based on relation to my network – Results are ranked by network relationship…1st results also show whether you have any shared connections (annotated in green font) and whether you have groups in common etc.

By clicking on the green, you can see who the shared connections are; and ask those connections whether this individual is someone you should be connecting with or even ask for an introduction to them.

Think of the power this “FREE” utility has just given you as a sales person…you now have eyes into org charts and rolodexes of all your clients and prospects…FOR FREE.

Once LinkedIn shows you how you are related to these prospective buyers, your task is to figure out how to get introduced to them and connect with them:

Some ideas:

• Do you both know someone in common? If so, ask that person to introduce you. Explain the value that you may be able to provide to their contact.

• Do you both belong to a common group? If so, send them a LinkedIn message to discuss your common interest / membership and why it might make sense to connect (many groups allow you to email other members once you join)

• If their LinkedIn profile shows their employer location or information, simply find the company’s telephone number and cold call them.

You can also use LinkedIn when given a contact name from a gate-keeper; it allows you to confirm their title via LinkedIn:

• Are they at the right level?

• Is your contact a “manager” level when there are several director level folks at the company? The gatekeeper might be referring you too low in the organization.

• Who might they report into?

• Other folks who might be in the decision making or influence tree?

• Do they have any prior experience or job roles that they might pull perspective from?

• Any common connections or groups?

It’s pretty straightforward application use; just remember that once you have established yourself on Linkedin – nurture your first-degree network.  If you plan on asking your contacts for favors, please remember to keep in touch with them and to deliver value to them (e.g. post a news story or article of interest to your profile or send a web link to a resource that you think they will find useful) or sharing their posts and commentary….you do not need to write original content…simply pass along what others have done. Not nurturing your network will restrict what they are willing to do for you going forward.

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Three Big Mistakes Start-ups Make in Sales Planning & Operations

I’ve spent the better part of the last 15 years either working for a B2B start-up / small company or speaking to others who were doing the same. In my humble opinion, there are a few key mistakes I see these companies make related to sales planning and modeling (I’m not immune to these mistakes myself).

They are recoverable if addressed in time, but often if they aren’t addressed the problems cascade into bigger issues that can impact the ultimate success of your company.

As a service to my peers; here are the 3 bigger mistakes that start-up b2b firms make related to sales planning I’ve seen; simplified for your consideration.

You’ve overestimated your target market

Young companies often struggle to define their target market and set their sights too broadly. By assuming your target universe is larger than it really is typically drives you to have a larger than you need sales force (and associated infrastructure and marketing costs) and unrealistic penetration expectations. Your business will grow at a faster and more sustainable rate if you put a realistic filter on which are the true “more likely” customers and put a hyper focus on penetrating this smaller universe.

For some reason, start-up companies and entrepreneurs are uncomfortable narrowing their definition of runway for fear of tempering growth potential and I suppose ultimate perceived valuation. No one wants to put a self-imposed limit on how their idea is going to change the world; but you need realism. The danger of not accurately defining your runway of potential customers is a greater distraction and detriment to growth and valuation. If you are not “right sizing” your prospect universe, I can guarantee that you are:

  • Diffusing your efforts through pursuit of all potential prospects, agnostic to propensity.
  • You are absolutely spending a large amount of sales & marketing resource, effort and time against a very unproductive class of prospect and likely discounting way more than you need to in order to penetrate them.
  • Your focus, attention and effort against unproductive prospects will influence your development of lower end products in an attempt to increase penetration as opposed to focusing on higher-end products for those clients who have higher propensity to buy.

You aren’t segmenting your message and approach

If you have “right sized” your universe as suggested above; it’s highly likely that certain market or industry segments stood out in that propensity modeling. If those markets are “self-referencing” (meaning they pay attention to each other); you have an opportunity to drive productivity and pricing power at the same time through a disciplined segmented sales & marketing approach.

Identify the top 3-5 markets (if they can be differentiated enough) and move people and accounts to make them wholly focused on those markets and align the right kind of marketing support so you can establish industry leader perception and market beachheads. It’s all or nothing into the markets you choose to start with.

I can’t stress it enough – it can’t be half-assed. You need to give people enough of a tight focus, don’t be fearful of reassigning accounts. The more aggressive you are in targeting the right segment of the market, the less money, resources and time you’ll waste on people who simply aren’t interested.

Let’s say Consumer Goods stands out as a market; build a team to focus only on that vertical; move all associated prospect and client accounts to that team, get them using “vertical” collateral, websites, targeted / vertical messaging, client references etc. so when they are calling on the market – they stand out as truly knowing and specializing within that market; that gives you leadership perception and thus pricing power and ,more than likely improved productivity.

Establishing Unsupported Individual Activity & Productivity Expectations

You likely have a revenue goal that back solves to a productivity expectation by account executive headcount.

  • Does your new right sized prospect universe worked out above and current sales cycle knowledge still support those headcount model assumptions?
  • Do you have enough “quality” prospects to keep your current sales force productive enough to attain your goal numbers and thus, retain high performers?

I know this seems obvious and basic; but I’ve seen it all too often when there are productivity expectations that seem believable; only to have them come into question once a true prospect universe analysis is done in conjunction with knowledge and facts of a realistic sales cycle.

For example; let’s say your redefined prospect universe is 100,000 potential B2B customers. To attack this market; you’ve modeled a headcount of 50 sales reps. As a result, each rep has 2000 accounts and you expect an account executive to close 4 new customers a month out of this pool; or 48 a year or a 2.4% penetration. That number, without knowing anything else, seems believable on the surface but let’s dig deeper.

What is your current conversion rate of pipeline accounts (“opportunities”) to wins?

In this example, let’s say it’s 20%. Based on this, to secure 48 new accounts; you need 240 opportunities per year (20% of 240 = 48). 240 opportunities require 20 a month; or roughly 5 new opportunities per week. I don’t know your business – but is this still believable to you? Perhaps – after all what solid account executive can’t add 1 new opportunity per day to their pipeline?

How many prospect dialogs / engagements turn into opportunities?

If you don’t know this number, you owe it to yourself to find out; but let’s SWAG it and say 1 out of every 2 “engagement dialogs” turn to opportunities. Based on this simple math, you need 480 engagements out of the 2000 assigned accounts to net 48 new customers; or each AE needs to engage with 24% of their assigned accounts per year to net 48 new customers. Is the expectation still believable? I mean why can’t an AE engage with 480 accounts per year? That’s only 40 per month; or 10 a week…2 a work day…I mean come on; what are the AE’s doing all day anyway?

Before we replace our AE’s who can’t do this; let’s dig a little deeper. How many individual accounts (prospects) do your AE’s need to attempt to connect with before an account engages? Is it 1 in 2, 3 or 4 or more etc?

At 1 in 4; they need to attempt to engage with all 2000 in a year to get 480 engagements to convert to 240 opportunities to net 48 new customers…this model is feeling a little shaky at this point as it has no margin.

My proposed rule of thumb is that if you are expecting an AE to engage with more than 20% of their assigned accounts per year in order to hit productivity expectations; you owe it yourself to validate whether that is realistic based on any data you currently have on your sales cycle. This rule of thumb is fraught with issues that come with any rule of thumb;  for it to be realistic; you need to know the realities of your sales cycle.

  • How many prospecting calls or appointments do your top sales representative makes in a week and how many of those engage and turn into opportunities or proposals?
  • How many does the lowest-performing salesperson make?

I can guarantee you that if you do this exercise you will either be surprised or greatly disappointed. I suspect the levels are lower than you expect and you are going to get upset at yourself or your leaders for not paying more attention but the answers to those questions will help you model your true sales cycle.

If you find your model is off – what can you do to rectify it and make it more believable?

  • Can you improve the conversion of opportunities to wins?
  • Can you improve the engagement rate of suspects and prospects?
  • Do you need to reduce the number of sales people you have?

I suspect that you can answer some of the above through segmentation (mistake #2 above) via sales and marketing messaging & training supported through tighter integration of marketing lead generation / nurturing. I’m also going to guess you probably have more sales people than you really need; a smaller sales force isn’t a bad thing,

The truth is in the details of your specific business; but you owe it to yourself to go through the exercise and uncover the mistakes you might be making now while it’s still early.

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