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Top Ten Sales Tips

Let’s face it, sometimes companies perform at less than optimal levels. Particularly for small to medium organizations, whether you are the CEO, company leader, consultant, or sales and marketing team member, you likely see areas and opportunities for growth.

Most CEOs today have a good idea as to what’s not working, but selecting the best sales strategy and allocating enough bandwidth to implement sales solutions requires a clear plan of action. In most cases growth is inhibited by several, often complex and interwoven problems.

In this article we’ll briefly dive into the ten best sales tips that our sales company uses and which are all imperative for fast and sustainable growth. I encourage every CEO and sales and marketing professional to be sure they are executing in these areas so as to achieve more optimal and sustained revenue growth.

We’ll discuss just a few of the underlying success factors for each of these imperatives.

The Core Imperatives are as follows:

1.    Create a Culture of Sales Excellence
2.    Understand Your Customers
3.    Know Your Competitive Posture
4.    Align Your Strategy and Messaging
5.    Achieve Relationship Superiority
6.    Employ a Winning Sales Process
7.    Leverage Technology
8.    Attract & Team Top Talent
9.    Bring Discipline to Pipeline and Targeting Activities
10.  Execute Tirelessly and and Meticulously

1.  Create a Culture of Sales Excellence

Today CEOs really must create a culture of sales excellence. CEOs less cognizant of personal fallibility or company vulnerability are less likely to see this need, putting them and their organizations at greater risk. Lee Colan does a great job of capsulizing this as one of his “Top 10 Risk Factors for Growing Businesses”  as the “Sense of Invincibility” or “Titanic Syndrome.”

Leaders should understand the science of selling and sharply focus the entire organization on metrics that define “Winning.” This requires that each functional area be aligned around a common roadmap and speak a common language so that every person in every department knows their role – and their value – in driving organizational success.

It’s this language that breaks down silos and egos, allowing everyone to team together in winning the prize. So CEOs must speak the language and be personally involved in sales pursuits with key prospects and other aspects of the growth agenda including product development and customer service initiatives.

CEOs must mobilize the entire culture as a selling machine focused solely on winning new customers and expanding customer relationships.

2.  Understand Your Customers

CEOs and sales leaders normally have a good “sense” for the strength of customer relationships but rely on the CRM and personal interaction as a gauge. It’s always an eye opener when a customer leaves unexpectedly to go with a competitor.

Fortunately, some simple tools exist for understanding customers better and measuring their vulnerability to competitive threats. Unfortunately, not all companies use or are aware of them.

Good questions to ask are: What percentage of my company’s revenue stream may be vulnerable to loss? How is it concentrated?

Understanding your customers’ value drivers and strategic agendas makes it possible to align expectations, develop greater intimacy and either avoid or better manage problems and miscues. Communication protocols and avoiding “Relationship Pinches” is a complex topic to discuss more thoroughly at another time.

3.  Know Your Competitive Posture

An dear friend of mine at KPMG, Jerry Chapman, used to tell me to “keep your customers close and your competitors closer.” Knowing the internal alternatives to your offering and each competitors’ offer and tactics is often a daunting task.  Assessing their relationship depth and breadth is no less difficult, but it is doable and good methodology exists for this as well.

CEOs and sales and marketing professionals can assess risk and opportunity if they know how competitive offers are perceived and whether they connect well with the known and latent agendas of prospects and customers. Knowing this makes assessing competitive strengths and weaknesses and the vulnerability of competitive offerings much easier.  The following are some good questions as you consider your competitive posture.

First of all, are we competing on the basis that best matches our capabilities?

For example: Are we in the race to win on price or on value, and how does that fit our go-to-market strategy and corporate objectives such as profitability, share growth, etc.?

Secondly, do we do an effective job of helping our customers and best prospects understand how the value of what we deliver is more in tune with what’s important to them than the competitive offer?

Or, do we make ourselves vulnerable by making customers and prospects “connect the dots” themselves?

4.  Align Your Strategy and Messaging

To paraphrase Art Saxby of Chief Outsiders, “the CEO should be the #1 marketing visionary for the company.” Being the chief visionary for your company, making sure the corporate growth strategy is consistent, being well supported by sales, marketing, and business development activities is job one for the CEO as it concerns messaging.

Successful CEOs work with sales and marketing to identify the markets and prospects where winning is most likely, company products and services are most needed, and their offer is most compelling. The most fruitful markets are not always the most obvious. Often the most unattractive and seemingly difficult markets provide the greatest opportunity for margin enhancement as well as market momentum you can use to accelerate brand awareness. These less desirable target markets attract less competitive pressure and are more easily be won.

How your organization is branded and positioned in the market place will determine whether or not your ideal prospects believe you have the right to enter into a dialog with them. That dialog will most certainly not be about your competencies and your products or services, but about the prospect’s organization and how you can make life easier for them by improving their business. When the conversation is about connecting with the customer’s key agenda’s and partnering with them to achieve their goals, your message stops sounding noisy like everyone else. This often leads to developing a trust that you can help them meet their objectives and a win is possible.

CEOs ensure that the company’s value to the market is well communicated and understood by targeted markets. Sales and marketing position your organization as being the best and most capable provider of products and services most needed by your customers.

Value messaging should agree with the company’s positioning strategy and ensure that the perceived value received exceeds the cost and pain for the customer to buy and implement it, while maintaining or improving margins.

Its important to asses market requirements continuously so as to insure that your offerings remain aligned with the most compelling needs and key agendas of your customer and prospect CEOs.

Some basic questions to ask yourself about your company’s strategy and messaging are these:

Is the business I think I’m in the same business my customers think I’m in, and do our customers appreciate the value we bring them?

Does our messaging demonstrate that we understand our customer’s business better than anyone else?

A great resource for understanding the role of the CEO and the Chief Marketing Officer is Art Saxby’s article entitled “The Five Frogs of Mid-Size Company Marketing.”

5.  Achieve Relationship Superiority

A company can achieve market dominance by pushing one of three disciplines – Operational Excellence, Product Leadership or Customer Intimacy –  to the limit while meeting industry standards in the other two. This implies total alignment of an organization’s operations and culture to  serve that value discipline.

It is possible to excel in Operational Excellence or Product Leadership or both and still fail as an enterprise. In the end, one can trail significantly in the other two disciplines and win the market if relationship superiority is achieved.

Making relationship superiority a cultural imperative is essential to thrive and grow, let alone to achieve market dominance. To accomplish this, CEOs must insure that the following are accomplished:

  • The entire culture must be focused on delivering value to customers and prospects.
  • Organizational relationships must be “many to many”, not “one to one” or “one to several.”
  • The company must continuously generate and deliver new, valuable ideas for its customers and prospects.
  • The company must be willing to deliver exactly what the customer wants within increasingly fine customer and prospect definitions.
  • Methods and processes must be in place to ensure the discipline develops.

Though there are too many to discuss here, some very good processes, tools and technologies are available to support this imperative.

6.  Employ a Winning Sales Process

One thing we’ve learned over the last 15 years is that sales problems or “pain points” such as poor top-line revenue production, low close rates, high customer turnover, and other indicators of poor sales performance all point to breakdowns in one or more organizational process that may or may not be related to sales efforts directly. If one can identify the process behind the pain point, it becomes much easier to identify the root causes and take the necessary steps to achieve the required improvement. Pain always has it’s root cause in an underlying process.

A great sales process should predict the oncoming pain and identify the underlying process in need of attention in advance of the train wreck.  Having a clear set of objectives with accurate management reporting and an effective, repeatable sales process through which all revenue-related efforts can be managed is imperative for any company set on growth.

Your sales process should be developed for speed and efficiency and be focused heavily on optimal targets and winnable opportunities. This requires not only a process, but reliable tools, technologies and training to support it.

Sadly, most commercially marketed sales processes and training programs are quite generic, lack important elements and rely too heavily on a common training manual or SFA application. Of 9, 000 sales professionals we surveyed across the country, slightly more than 80% indicated their number one concern was not knowing exactly what to do at each stage of the process.

So questions like “where do I sit,” “what did I say say when…,” “how to position, explore and transition to the buyer when…,” “understanding how to manage influencers and detractors,” etc. all point to another imperative:

Wining sales processes require finely detailed and mapped sub-processes, procedures, significant field coaching, and a host of powerful, yet simple tools that I don’t see being used by most sales organizations today.

IBM alum, Jim Hardee, used to tell me “there just aren’t as many sales folks that can block and tackle these days.” There is simply a lot to learn.

7.  Leverage Technology

CEOs must align and map their organization’s needs and processes – not wants – to the best technologies. Many desirable technologies exist today, but knowing which technologies will best leverage the interests of the company is often difficult.

When looking at your existing technology, its useful to know how many users are adopters and whether they have embraced the change the technology imposes. Moreover, how reliable is the data being input and produced, and does the output reflect the metrics you’ve established in your process as being meaningful?

For example: CRM tools can’t produce meaningful data unless the dashboards and reports are 1) designed to capture best practices, 2) provide management with data around the metrics that are predictive of success, and 3) can be adapted quickly to changes in market requirements, competitive initiatives, and the like. Put another way, are you managing your technology with key outcomes in mind or prioritizing functionality and features?

Effective sales and marketing organizations should be leveraging several technologies such as SEO, social media, and internet marketing in general. In future articles, we’ll explore a wide variety of fairly new technologies that can accelerate your company’s ability to grow.

8. Attract and Team Top Talent

CEOs today have a daunting task of determining how to allocate precious sales and marketing budget dollars, so let’s step back and look at resources in general.

First, we’ll discuss “resource modeling.” Given the corporate objectives we have and the go-to-market strategy for capturing that market, what is the  combination of resources that creates the greatest amount of new top line revenue (and new revenue from existing customers) in the shortest period of time while maintaining margins, staying within budget, and generating the highest ROI possible?

Secondly, once we understand how to apply resources, be it people, technology, PR, internet marketing or other resources, let’s make sure that clear goals, timelines, and key milestones and roles and responsibility are established.

As I mentioned in the first section on sales culture, CEOs must focus the entire organization – especially your company’s best talent and resources – on the customer. Short and long-term accountability will help ensure that new customer and opportunity goals are achieved. Great care should be given to make sure that personal and organizational goals are aligned with winning the focus for everyone.

Finally, measurement and reward systems must be tightly tied to teaming and revenue growth goals.

9. Bring Discipline to Targeting and Pipeline Activities

This is closely related to some previous imperatives, in particular Strategy and Messaging and Competitive Posture, as each of them deals with the alignment of your organizational competencies, products and services with the high priority agendas of your customer and prospect decision makers.

Targeting can only effectively be accomplished if this alignment is well understood and a disciplined targeting process is in place for ranking targets and pursuing opportunities in a disciplined way. While the number of selection criteria is less important than the thinking that goes into the criteria, good alignment and ranking tools exist that can greatly reduce the difficulty and risk inherent in establishing target customer and channel partner criteria.

Naturally, as with any other part of your growth agenda, the ongoing process should be adapted to the market and every target tested against it.

Pipeline reviews and revenue forecasting normally is an area where there is great opportunity for improvement. Forecasting is typically poor at best due to the underlying process execution failures.

During our discovery with new clients, I make it a practice to sit in on the pipeline reviews. At the conclusion of these meetings, its sometimes pretty hard to resist the temptation to close with an “Amen, Amen and Amen” as these are more like prayer meetings than pipeline reviews.

The good news is that these problems can be remedied. Pipeline Reviews can be objective and revenue can be predicted with a much smaller margin of error than is commonly believed. While all opportunities are managed through the CRM or “Hot Sheet” you may use, the value of every opportunity can be assessed and risk-adjusted by how far along it is in the sales process among other things.

When targeting and pipeline progress is becoming more productive, an opportunity exists to communicate this progress and the activities of pursuit teams throughout the organization, thus encouraging greater involvement in the process on the part of non-marketing and sales professionals.

10. Execute Tirelessly and and Meticulously

This imperative cannot be realized fully unless the other imperatives are being accomplished. Often new clients ask me how they can know if they’re executing well. Typically, if they answer “yes” to questions like the following, then opportunities for process, teaming and execution improvement may all exist.

  • Are we competing more on price and less on value than we had planned?
  • Are our customers having difficulty understanding how our products and services should be important to them?
  • Is pipeline reporting overly optimistic and are “sure wins” often elusive?
  • When we lose, do we know why exactly?
  • Does more than 25% of my sales force fail to meet quota?
  • Are there complaints about pressure on pricing?
  • Are major wins hard to replicate?

In order to Execute well, at least seven key areas must be working well. These are as follows:

  1. An effective sales process and common language must be in place and working.
  2. Account, relationship and opportunity targeting and pursuit plans should be in place.
  3. An optimized Resource Model must be in place along with effective sales support such as research and lead generation resources.
  4. Specific objectives and action plans for each target and target market must be defined and executed.
  5. Best practices capture and re-use must be ongoing.
  6. Pipeline reporting must be reliable, actionable and predictive of revenue growth.
  7. Field coaching and mentoring must be underway to ensure that “sure wins” never elude, and revenue opportunities are realized.

Optimizing your organization’s ability to execute well will require management’s involvement and nothing can be left to chance.

While it has been fun for me to share, its more important that it benefits you. If you have questions or comments, feel free to email or sign up for other materials. You can also take our one minute preliminary questionnaire and I or one of my partners will personally review it with you.