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Co-Written with Rachel Epstein

Salespeople often don't enjoy following imposed rules around selling. And we get it - it can seem more like a burden than a benefit. But companies without a formalized and documented sales process are more likely to have underperforming reps who generate less revenue.

We’ve had a lot of turbulence in the last three years. The pandemic, the Great Resignation, and most recently the war in Ukraine which has pushed the price of oil and gas to an all-time high. All this turmoil has increased prices of just about every consumer good and I’m now seeing an impact on business spending because of talk about a looming recession. The result for your sales team and the reps you manage is that companies are or will be delaying purchases or reducing spending in general until they better understand the economic impact of all these events on the next few months or years. This will make it harder to hit quota and get to OTE (on target earnings). So, the time to act is NOW.

We need to be preparing our reps for the next 7 month and make sure they can control what they can control…..the pipeline. Even though there’s inflation happening globally, a full-blown recession isn’t here yet. It is going to be easier for your sales team, that made ambitious 2022 sales goals in Q4, to achieve if not all, then decent percentage of those goals this year by overfilling the pipeline now.

For most of the startups I worked with, this is the first economic challenge they've faced so I’m helping them understand that when a recession starts, like in so many before, a lot of projects will be paused, and it will be much more difficult to put warm leads into your pipeline. So, let’s talk about actions you and your team can take now to try and mitigate any loss of revenue by filling the funnel.

Get Out of Your Bubble

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to travel to Bucharest, Romania to visit a client I’ve been working with for 6 months. I didn’t have expectations beyond strengthening the relationship with my client, by spending time together, and wanting to better understand the country and culture. Since I set the bar fairly low the trip far exceeded my expectations.

It has been over 30 years since I’d been to Europe, so some memories came flooding back to me, so many people are still smoking and there were things that weren’t in place when I had visited last, such as the Euro being the universal currency of Europe (Romania uses the Leu and not the Euro). I wanted to share with you some observations and feelings I had during my trip and after I returned. 

I started using #ownyourownshit about 5 or 6 years ago when I was in an environment where there were a lot of excuses flying around. The reality was, those individuals, the ones with all the excuses, could have controlled a lot more than they were taking responsibility for.

The majority of complaints I hear from sales reps revolve around things that they can control and either choose not to, don't know they need to, or don’t know how. Not knowing what the right thing to do is doesn’t absolve you from owning your own shit. If you are unsure of what the right thing to do is… ask someone who does know. When you choose not to take control of the things you can control and then outcomes don’t happen the way you want…..well #ownyourownshit.

Yes No Maybe"My 2nd favorite word is No!" That's what my former employee James was famous for saying.  It's great when your prospect does you the favor of saying no, but most times their actions and words will sound more like, maybe. That puts the pressure on you to decide when a maybe is really a no. The trick is to be confident about when to pull the plug on a prospect and move 'em out. If you're not making forward progress with each call, email, or meeting then you need to stop and ask yourself, what are the chances this will close? Your confidence might wain at any time during the sales cycle from a cold outreach conversation to after you've sent a contract with Ts and Cs. You need to be able to identify the red flags that might pop up along the way and then take appropriate action to get the deal back on track or decide it's time to move on.

Visualize a stack of 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper 4 inches tall. This is what I think of when I begin to reach out to a group of "suspects" to see if I can turn them into a prospect. My goal with this stack of suspects is to move them from the 4-inch suspect pile into 2 smaller piles - the yes pile or no prospect pile.

When you begin to outbound prospect, I say that everyone is a suspect and I refer to your prospecting list as the "maybe pile." Maybe they are a fit. Maybe they will be interested in what you sell. Maybe they will even buy. But at this point those are all unknowns, and they are just a suspect, not yet a prospect. It's your job to play amateur detective and uncover clues to help you determine if they are masquerading as a suspect but are really a prospect in disguise.

After spending 13 years playing racquetball competitively, at the open level, I decided to pick up tennis. I've always excelled at eye-hand coordination sports; racquetball, softball, and volleyball, so tennis seemed like a good choice. I felt like it was as important to pick the right sport just as it's important for you to choose the right sales job.

After a few months of group lessons, focusing on the basics, I learned that I had an unexpected secret weapon - my slice forehand. Thanks to my years of playing racquetball I have a natural and wicked forehand slice. It became obvious early on that what came naturally to me was not only a struggle for others to learn, but as an opponent, they had no idea how to handle a sliced ball coming at them. My slice forehand is my tennis secret weapon.

What's your sales secret weapon? The one skill or trait you count on to win the deal and outperform your co-workers and competitors?

Even though the economic recovery may take longer than they initially expected, there are strategies that organizations can adopt to rebound and rebuild momentum in the year ahead.

“Do the right things and the right things will happen.”

- Kristie Jones

Doing the Right Thing Requires #DisciplineI share this with founders, sales leaders, and reps on a regular basis. I truly believe that if each and every person does what they know to be the right thing then the universe will conspire to make sure the right things will happen. Things like financial security, success, promotions, work/life balance, and much more.

What’s the catch, you ask? Doing the right thing requires #Discipline!

Here are the most common #discipline struggles I see from both sale leaders and representatives:

Your Funnel is a Fantasy

It appears that there were enough deals in the pipeline and yet here you are again, a few days left in the quarter and you’re only at 52% of your Q3 goal. The quarter started out as it usually does; a “full” pipeline, reps confident they will hit quota this month, and you reporting the good news to the board. But with only a few days left neither you nor your reps feel good about how the quarter will end.

So what happened?

Are You a Self-Centered Seller?No one likes a selfish person, but that’s how a lot of sellers come across.

I tell sales reps and sales leaders daily:

“It has to be all about them before it can be all about you before it can be all about us.”

So why am I still getting emails, LI messages, and phone calls from marketing departments and sales reps only talking about the features of their product or service and not about how their product/service would help me increase revenue, reduce costs, or just make my life easier?

Let’s talk about how we can let a prospect know that’s it’s all about them.

Objections are born out of fear. Fear the prospect will spend money on something they won’t use or get value from, fear that they will look bad if it doesn’t go well, fear that others in the company won’t be open to switching vendors or spending money on some new strategy or vendor.

The best way to deal with that fear is to better understand it and get to the root cause of that fear. So put your therapist hat on and let’s go to work. 

I teach my clients that you handle objections by asking questions. I call this peeling back the onion. You need to get through all the layers to figure out what’s really at the core of the fear.

Prospecting During Times of Uncertainty

These are new and unusual times. Overnight we went from a country with the Dow over 29,000, an unemployment rate under 3% and most companies seeing very healthy YoY growth rates. Now we are facing a very different reality. I believe those who are adaptable, innovative, resilient, and understand we’ll need to “SELL” our way out of this will have the best chance of coming out ahead in the next few weeks. That includes  the need to prospect and filling the top of the funnel to ensure there will be revenue (and commission) in the months to come.  

Here are some tips to help you be more comfortable reaching out to prospects during this unusual time. 

3 Clues that Your Sales Process is Broken

I worked for a CFO once who would regularly say, “That sounds like a broken process.” I got tired of hearing that, not because he was wrong, but because he was right.

I often get calls from Founders or Sales Leaders asking if I will come in and evaluate their sales reps. because they aren’t sure they’ve got the right players on the team. I gently say to them that I’d be happy to interview each rep., and provide feedback, but only after I’ve had a chance to evaluate their sales process. Most of the time I find the people aren’t broken, their sales process is. Without a formal sales process and KPI around it reps. will flounder and sales leaders will be frustrated and clean pipelines will be a fantasy.

stalled

The dictionary definition of productivity is:

  • The amount of time it takes to complete a task.

The KKJ definition:

  • The ability to identify and execute on tasks that will result in providing the highest value outcome.

So what’s the big deal? Why should sales leaders care about and measure the productivity of their sales reps? Because it matters. What I love about sales is it is the blending of art and math. I tell sales reps. I don’t care if they work harder or smarter- just hit quota! Productivity is the grease that makes the sales wheels move. Each prospecting call, email, discovery call, demo, and negotiation will all add up to success if done consistently and effectively.

stalledI was doing a pipeline audit for a client a few years ago when I ran across a sales stage called “Stalled”. What is this, I asked? “Oh- That’s where we put all the deals that we think will close someday but are currently stalled out. We don’t want to lose track of them.” WTF????

So as crazy as this sounds, they aren’t the only company I’ve run across with a similar thought process. So let’s set the record straight. Stalled is not a stage in the sales cycle!

By now I'm sure your sales team is good at uncovering the pain points and challenges your prospects face. But are they digging to get the negative financial impact those pain points are having on the prospect’s organization? Are they able to calculate what the cost to the company is for not solving the issue? Are they able to calculate the positive revenue or negative cost impact that purchasing your product or service can have on their business and bottom line? Finding pain puts the prospect in the pipeline, understanding impact leads to more closed/won deals.

Identifying Your Ideal Customer

If you don’t choose who you want to do business with, then your customers will choose you! And these customers might be less than perfect. Understanding your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) will dictate everything from product features or service offerings to your marketing and prospecting strategy. Here’s what you need to know to make sure everyone in your company from Product to Marketing and Sales understands who you want to do business with.

There has been so much written about the Millennials that I’m afraid we aren’t getting ready for Gen Z. They have hit the workforce and although probably not decision makers yet, they are individual contributors and their opinion matters. They don’t know a world without smartphones and technology. They are used to connecting and communicating in less personal ways; text, email, slack and chat.

Disrespectful Demos

Using the word disrespectful may seem harsh, but I need to get your attention. I’m tired of seeing Sales Reps., Sales Engineers, Solutions Consultants and Technical team members be disrespectful of the prospect’s time and intelligence while demoing their product.

According to CEB, “57% of the purchase decision is already complete before the customer even calls the supplier.” If we know this (and we do) then why aren’t we putting in the same amount of time and effort learning about our prospect and their needs as the prospect has put into learning about our industry, our company and our competitors?

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I went to Atlanta last week for SalesLoft’s Rainmaker Conference. It was a great three days of networking, learning, and inspiration. I wanted to share with you my favorite sessions from my time there.

3 Learnings from the

I had the privilege of moderating a panel of SaaS sales experts last night at the 1st SalesMentour STL event. So much great conversation around old school and new school sales and marketing techniques by John True, Kathy Gereau, Tom Hanrahan, and Mark Kosoglow.

I watched the most unbelievable, come from behind, win I'd seen in college basketball in years last night. If you know or follow me you're already aware, I'm a huge @kuhoops basketball fan and NCAA bball fan. I watch about 200 hours of NCAA basketball a season. But, you didn't need to love the Jayhawks to appreciate what happened last night.

I'm not your regular March Madness fan. If you follow me on LinkedIn then you know I went to the University of Kansas and I'm a huge Jawhawk Men's basketball fan. If you don't follow me, then hopefully my "March Madness" profile picture was a tip off (basketball pun intended). I calculated that by the time March Madness starts I've watched no fewer than 200 hours of NCAA basketball. I never miss the Jayhawks play. Then there are the games I watch for scouting purposes. I estimate I see 70% of all Big 12 games. This year I was keeping a close eye on UNC, Duke, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisville, etc- you get the point. I watch a lot of NCAA basketball. So imagine my disappointment to be tied for 16th in my March Madness pool!

If you had the pleasure of watching the last 4 days of basketball with me, you probably heard the following from me at some point: "Is this happening?", "Yep- this is happening!", "Did that really just happen?", "Did Michigan State really lose to Middle Tennessee?", "What conf. is Middle Tennessee in?", "A&M is in overtime? I switched that game off with a minute left- it was over!" Ahhhhh, I love March Madness.