SPIF Tip #45: Beware What You Measure About Sales Performance

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A recent article by an HR

consultant made the following argument (summarized): If you want to increase sales by 20% – 30%, simply
  1. Rank order the salespeople by performance
  2. Divide the resulting curve into thirds
  3. Identify the characteristics of the people in the top third
  4. Replace or upgrade the people in the bottom two thirds to make them have characteristics that resemble the first group.
Here is my response: With all due respect to the author of this article, he has no idea what he is talking about. I did something like this once with a client. We ranked their salespeople from highest to lowest close ratio. Noting that lowest performer was noticeably lower than the rest, my statistician told me privately, "The client should probably fire that guy." When we showed the bar graph (which included individual's names) to a room full of the client's salespeople, they reacted with gasps, giggles, and some shuffling. What were they thinking?

SPIF Tip #44: Improving Your Value Proposition Requires the Whole Company

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Professional B2B salesmanship

is a noble endeavor. We don’t celebrate it often enough! Great salesmanship helps people to do things they should do, and would not otherwise do.  It requires the ability to listen and develop relationships at all levels of an organization. It requires facing facts, and overcoming adversity. Most importantly, it requires earning enough trust and respect that, in its highest form, people see your company as a strategic partner, and are willing to pay for this privilege. Obviously, these are valuable and inspiring skills, as long as the perception of value and the delivery of it are aligned. Figure 1 is a typical depiction of a customer’s perception of a seller’s value from a well-known (and excellent) professional B2B sales training course.* Plenty of companies would love to be anything but a “Vendor”! Unfortunately, it takes more than an announcement and some sales training to become a “problem solver”, much less a “strategic resource”. What, exactly, is required to be perceived as a problem solver instead of a vendor? What does it take to earn “strategic resource status”? This SPIF Tip will clarify these issues. It will include B2B examples of going through each of the levels. As a result, you’ll be better able to identify the most important value propositions for your customers.

SPIF Tip #43: How To Double Your Sales Productivity Watching Your Kid's Aquarium

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When she started working

at PetSmart, Kira, my college-age daughter, got interested in aquariums. She now has five including a 60-gallon masterpiece in the family room.

Aquariums have never interested me too much. They are messy. The paraphernalia create a chronic shortage of wall plugs. And, in return, you get to watch some beta fish fluttering in slow motion, or a blue gourami darting around. Big deal.

So I didn’t expect to learn a lesson in management from her experience.

Management Power Is Not What It’s Cracked Up to Be

Like Zeus, king of the gods, Kira delights in watching what happens when she changes things. Recently, she dropped a new creature into the big tank. A weird, alien-blue colored crayfish she named “Lobby the Lobster”.

"Why would you want to put that thing in your tank?" I asked. I soon found out.

SPIF Tip #42: Five Steps Guaranteed to Increase B2B Sales Revenue and Margins

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So, how is your company’s

sales process working? Responses to that question often paint an ugly picture:
  • “We just don’t have the discipline to make a sales process work.”
  • “We put it in place but the people just don’t follow it. They like to do their own thing.”
  • “We have trouble because our sales managers don’t have time to coach their people properly.”
  • “We are good at determining the sales process, but people always insist on doing it their own."
If these sound familiar, you might believe that “Salespeople are just allergic to process thinking,” or, “Most salespeople got into sales to get away from having to be analytical disciplined. That’s just the way it is.” Hogwash. In my experience, the best salespeople are no more allergic to process than anyone else. What they are allergic to is bad management. What is bad management?

SPIF Tips #41: How to Solve the Biggest Sales and Marketing Problem

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Improving productivity and

predictability is the biggest problem in sales and marketing. The reason for it is that managers struggle with a conundrum: Should they focus their sales team on results, or on activities?
  • Managing results
When managers focus on results, salespeople tend to develop their own approaches to their jobs. Managers can tend to function as “closers,” removing roadblocks to winning enough business to make the numbers at the end of the month. This approach leads to big problems. By pure chance, some salespeople will produce more than others. It becomes difficult to distinguish between salespeople who are doing a good job and those who are lucky. An “every man for himself” attitude can start to prevail. Companies become captive to their biggest sales producers, whose performance cannot be reliably duplicated by others. Salespeople might bring in poor quality customers, or resort to excessive discounting. Sales revenue can become unpredictable.

SPIF Tip #40: The Last Thing a Fish Discovers is Water

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A few years ago I received

the following email from a reader. The issue may take a slightly different form today, but I’ll bet you’ve run into it yourself:
Michael, I was recently fired from my sales job, because I wasn’t on the road “cold calling” enough … Instead, I had been working to set up Google alerts for research as well as trigger events that Jill Konrath ( refers to. I was trying to set up an automated way of attracting and nurturing contacts through email, phone follow up, etc. They told me I was being fired for not doing the sales. It is frustrating enough to be told to do things you know don’t work anymore. But, to get fired for trying something you know could work! It is just incredible. Your articles touch all those things that companies still either don’t understand or don’t want to do…Do the research, create the value … all they want is more cold calls or send that proposal out … You pointed out the reasons why the sales process is messed up and how it needs to improve … that the whole company must organize around researching the market, creating value, etc. It must deal with the “whole process,” not just what salespeople do. It really gave me hope that maybe some of the old ways will be flushed out with this recession. By the way, I got lucky: I start a new job in two weeks. But I’ll be careful not to bring these new ideas to my new employer too soon…I need a job… Bob Smith (not his real name)
The same thing has happened to me, Bob. More than once, actually. Sometimes, the hardest thing isn’t getting customers to cooperate. It is getting your own company to recognize they might be missing something.

SPIF Tip #39: How Deming's Foundational Principles Will Make Your Sales Funnel Flow Faster

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In the work-a-day world of

hustling to find new customers, what good is a management philosophy used in manufacturing? If you’ve wondered about this, prepare to be surprised. Because your sales success today (and in the future) is strongly influenced by these simple, deceptively powerful ideas. Consider the state of most sales and marketing organizations:

SPIF Tip #38: Sales Management Development Podcast

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I was interviewed by Todd Youngblood, who runs the Sales Management Development Podcast. He agrees with me that the vast majority of B2B companies could benefit immensely from applying lean and Six Sigma thinking to sales and marketing. We discussed why so few companies have begun this journey, and what it looks like when you

SPIF Tip #37: The Obstacle Even Great Salespeople Can't Overcome

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A fellow named Yves asked this great question:

In all your SPIF tips I have read, you haven’t written about selecting the right people in sales. Perhaps this is the sales manager’s responsibility. Yet, plenty of sales managers should not have been promoted to their positions. How can sales work if the wrong people are sales managers, or if technical experts are trying to develop new customers, or farmers are trying to hunt, etc.? In other words, how can sales work if HR doesn’t do its job?
Most businesses get this problem backwards. It is true that hiring the right people is important. However, if management doesn’t understand with data how their system (or process) works, they are running a crap shoot, not a business. Hiring the best people into that environment will eventually make them miserable.

SPIF Tip #36: Unless You've Gone to the Gemba, You're Probably Fixing the Wrong Sales Problem

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I’ve often written about

the sad state of affairs in sales and marketing productivity. It happens because companies have only anecdotes and no data on the causes of sales and marketing problems. But collecting and analyzing data is harder than it seems. The “information dashboards” and “control systems” guiding and controlling sales and marketing are notoriously bad. Salespeople don’t like to collect data. And unless you have some background in process improvement, you may be unable to use the data you have. So, where do you “Go to the gemba” in sales and marketing?[1] Where you start in analyzing data? Whether you want to improve sales productivity, or manufacturing productivity, the most important part of the system is the people. In both arenas, you must start by studying what is between the ears of your employees. Before sales and marketing people can help you improve things, they need to know why they are doing it, and what is in it for them.