Sales books – winter fireside reading

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If you are like me, interested in what’s emerging in the sales world, then there’s some really inspiring books to get your hands on for a spot of fireside reading.

My top 3 sales books

I loved these three books and for many different reasons, but my #1 is The Challenger Sale…

The Challenger Sale, how to take control of the customer conversation – by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of CEB. I love the whole book and carry it around with me, still. It’s so on the customer agenda of today, it’s scary. The biggest takeaway for me is the way sellers need to link to what people normally do and then reshape what’s possible to deliver greater and unexpected returns and learnings. I’m next going to read their Challenger Customer book (see below).

Sales EQ, how ultra high performers leverage sales-specific emotional intelligence to close the complex deal – by Jeb Blount. This flows really nicely from The Challenger Sale and the first quarter pages are especially rich with buyer insight and the psychology of selling really well laid out.

The sales acceleration formula, using data, technology and inbound selling to go from $0 to $100m – by Mark Roberge. Really inspiring to see how Hubspot was grown into the success it is today. In particular their bespoke buyer persona/buyer’s journey matrix (which illustrates the different personas and stages of the buyer’s journey) and shows when marketing leads are originated and scored, and when its the right time to hand them over to sales. An excellent read to show that firms need to invent their own systems and make them work in their unique environment.

Other recommended books I have on my reading list for the coming months

The Challenger Customer, selling to the hidden influencer who can multiply results – by Matthew Dixo, Brent Adamson, Pat Spenner and Nick Toman at CEB.

The way we’re working isn’t working, the forgotten needs that energise great performance – by Tony Schwartz (with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy. Looks at how to re-energise your life to be more satisfied and productive.

Sales management simplified, looks at how to get the best out of sales teams as a leader – by Mike Weinberg.

Happy reading!

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How to keep your top sales people

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Lately I’ve been fascinated about how to keep top sales performers in any business, but especially in a start-up. This is a make or break activity that can really demonstrate to the wider sales team how much you value them and that you want to embed them in your business for the longer term.

I’ve seen some pretty dishonourable activities towards salespeople in the past. One of note was a ‘big game’ sales person who smashed his annual sales target three times over with a single deal. He was applauded by the Board and then swiftly sacked before they had to pay his commission. Let’s just say the mood music went significantly downhill from that point on and other good sales people started job hunting.

I’m sure everybody has a horror story they’ve either witnessed or had the unfortunate experience personally, but I’ve been really interested in what works in today’s sales world?

Here’s what I’ve learnt:

Look at the maturity stage of what you’re selling and hire for specific skills and experience

If it’s an early stage initiative you will need a really inquisitive, go-getting sales people who know how to hunt for and open up cold relationships, to qualify and close new new business from scratch. They can do this without a clearly defined value proposition, sales process, support or management (if they are still in production).

If you’re selling more established and complex solutions you can probably hire a consultative sales person who’s worked in big organisations. This person needs a professional sales process and environment with all the trimmings to farm warm relationships and convert deals as part of a team.

Get it wrong at the hiring stage and you’ll likely have a sales vacancy inside 12 months when it didn’t work out for the person concerned.

Look at the personality of the salesperson when hiring

A successful salesperson is inquisitive and always learning. They will have a top sales book and their recommended reading list (that is current and not from 20 years ago).

They will have numerous interests outside of work which are multidisciplinary. They will find things interesting with lots of different people.

They will have a relatable personality on many different levels. This could include humility, inquisitiveness, a sense of urgency and coach-ability.

You are looking for a good fit – between your business culture, sales team, sales manager and the individual sales person. That doesn’t mean everyone has to be the same, but at least know you have and are adding.

In asking questions and explore the logical and emotional aspects of everything – the right people should more often get hired and they will hopefully remain interested and motivated to make a difference to your sales function.

Provide a fair and well calculated volume of qualified leads

This means regular analysis of segment and people performance. Then form agreement on which areas need a boost, versus those that are doing well.

The data and analytics team will need to prioritise providing quality targets where they are most in need AND the lead generation function will need to prioritise their efforts as well.

You need to ensure that all elements of the team are not just focusing on achieving their own targets, but are creating value through the sales chain to intimately deliver qualified leads that close.

Fail to do this at any stage and your sales function will lose motivation (possibly blaming others for not doing their roles properly) and your team environment will be in tatters.

Measure performance simply and consistently

Any employee needs a fair and transparent performance measurement system, but for a salesperson this is central to their world.

Successful sales functions measure the best sales people with quantitative and qualitative data points around what specifically works for them. Even if the CEO is the first salesperson, measure what works and use the information for any new sales hires.

This can then be used to benchmark the rest of the sales team. Many sales managers find the difference between great and mediocre salespeople, is actually how well they plan and how well they are able to think from the customer perspective.

This means both logically and emotionally, to really understand their unique situation and reshape the vision for success collaboratively – to transform complexity and ambiguity into something that creates enduring value.

If you don’t know what performance gap you’ve got, you can’t inspire and challenge a salesperson to do better. Give them the tools and mentoring to effect change and help them be more successful, otherwise you could just end up ruthlessly cutting the bottom 20% of sales performers and spending a fortune on recruitment.

Sales management isn’t the only form of promotion

Give them all an even playing field in order to be successful. Recognise their performance, show they’ve had impact and are important to you.

Many sales functions use management or operational roles as promotion, but we already know that not all rockstar salespeople are great sales managers. You could say this is relevant for any discipline, including marketing.

Instead you might get some real benefit in having your best performer coach and mentor some of the other sales team members as a side project, while still doing what they do best.

Or constant change and new challenge might instead keep them motivated. At key stages move them onto a different area of refocus and slightly adjust their responsibilities. Do it at a rate at which they feel works for them.

For example, I’m attracted to transitional or green fields opportunities to develop something from scratch. I love the strategic and creative process in consultative selling and hate doing transactional sales. I hate the feeling of stagnating as I get to the phase when managing established initiatives that need a steady, and equally important, pair of hands.

I’d like to say that in every role, I’ve been asked ‘what motivates me?‘ when I joined and 12 months later ‘what will keep me happy and engaged?‘. But I’d be lying.

Conversely, your medium performing sales person might be a brilliant team player and superstar sales manager, so giving them the opportunity to develop their career with you as well is equally important.

This way no one is left out and it creates a duel approach for the different kind of sales people you need in your team.

Don’t split sales roles into vertical specialisms too soon

The easiest way to scale sales by transformation is to keep the team working TOGETHER (think co-creation and collaboration). Trying to do too much with too small a team, is the death knell in really smashing the overall sales target.

If you’ve split your sales team out too soon, it’s also really hard to understand if a lack of performance is the salesperson or something else, like the product, market, targeting or value proposition that’s not working.

Keep it simple and focussed.

Even if you have a rainmaking new business sales person that is happy forging ahead with 100% conviction that what they are doing is right, they will still need a team to help them achieve their goals.

They need to EQ and IQ to bring a team together, the vision to set the course and the strength to keep people on the bus.

If your rainmaker sales person upsets the whole team ecosystem and rides roughshod over relationships, you’re going to have a hard time keeping the whole sales team motivated and achieving sales growth.

Compensate honestly and easily

Be honerable with the commission they’re due. Don’t constantly change the commission structure and fold in complex kickers or commission caps. Use a really simple commission formula, one which people can easily work out in their heads what they will get. If they sell, reward them for their efforts.

It will cost you more in the long run if your top sales performers leave, due to unpaid commission, than it is to pay them what they are due and keep them in your business.

You want an environment of healthy envy that the top performers are valued and allowed to progress.

Many high performing sales leaders also talk of never capping sales commission.

If people work hard and exceed their sales targets (selling products that can be delivered), they should be rewarded.

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Marketing campaigns that START with sales ROI

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Professional services marketing campaigns are usually great at generating brand presence, but a sales led campaign is often illusive.

So what can you do to turn this on it’s head?

Start with your expected sales process and desired marketing campaign elements to then rethink, rebuild and redesign them together. They have to be 100% connected. If your sales team and the marketing department work independently from one another, then stop reading this blog post!

To bring this to life, take the (sometimes humble but usually gigantic) research report: you might have invested in some proprietary research and produced a hefty report – don’t just allow people to register for a copy of the report on your website or hand out copies in sales meetings (or worse still, pop them in your office reception). STOP, and think sales first…

  • Unique thinking to unlock prospects: Unearth interest from the right prospects, get your foot in the door and help them hear big, innovative and compelling things they didn’t know and which they will struggle to fix themselves. Find the right balance, between differentiated insight and researching something you can actually link to your products and services. Your research report needs to help your sales people position how people normally approach the topic – badly – and challenge them with a different way of thinking. Sounds simple, but I see many research reports that quote a million stats but have zero connection to businesses issues or real life examples and a sales team that is unable to convert opportunities from it.
  • Formats have moved on: A 40 page PDF or glossy tome is dull. Digital formats are way more compelling, allowing prospects or your sales team to manipulate the data and personalise it nay adding more deeper level insight along the way. This could reveal data driven evidence that there is widespread stakeholder engagement and show you their interests. This will also help get your campaign closer to the most compelling themes and stories that actually convert sales – and keep it relevant for longer.
  • Connect it to your pipeline: Ensure your whole salesforce are collaborating on the campaign strategy and immerse people so they are on-point and hungry to participate. Use the data to help convert opportunities – work out what you hold back in the really short public report and what is revealed to help close qualified opportunities. It’s rare to close new business leads in a single meeting, so plan how your marketing campaign elements can support multiple meetings.

For this to work the sales and marketing teams need to be integrated and committed. To create an agile sales led marketing campaign… 1) keep it simple with no more than 3 ideas to integrate the marketing elements into your sales process and keep doing what’s working; 2) stop doing what isn’t adding value to the sales process; 3) start doing something different if you aren’t getting the desired results.

Most marketing campaign elements can be redesigned to connect with and support the sales channel.


 

See my blog for further reading on how to generate revenue from a marketing campaign

 

Further reading from HBR on how to KEEP | STOP | START: Why all companies (and their sales and marketing departments) need to do regular initiative reviews


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Want to explore how you can take a sales led approach to your campaigns? Contact Edler Consulting for an initial conversation about how you can integrate a sales driven focus to your marketing campaigns.

Follow my blog on edlerconsulting.com.

Would you like to learn more about my Marketing & Sales Practice?

How to FOCUS on achieving your pesky end of year sales target

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Common known fact: it’s 8 times easier to keep existing clients happy, than it is to find entirely new clients. I’ve spent my whole career helping firms FOCUS on the right clients. So why is it so hard?

Professional services firms need key account programmes. There’s no getting away from it.

The most important clients need protecting, nurturing and investing in. They need to feel special. They need to be excited that you have exactly the right balance of constructive challenge, ideas and innovation, you completely understand (and are passionate about) making their goals a reality, and most of all – you deliver clearly defined value to their business.

But what comfort do you have that your personal revenue target will be a walk in the park, rather than an Ironman challenge? And, what if you grow your client accounts single-handed, plugging in the right subject matter experts, but personally maintaining a single point of contact for everything from scoping to invoicing across all services provided? Life can get quite complex, and for some, this means managing 100 to 200 clients.

That’s a long tail, creating a fertile environment for things to slip through the cracks.

So, how can key account principals influence such a huge personal portfolio? And, how can today’s business development principals you to FOCUS?

 

The tip of the iceberg

Consider the portfolio approach and unlock clients, time and revenues to focus on end of year sales targets, pipeline and plugging the leaky bucket.

Anyone that plans a blanket 3% growth across their client portfolio is going to find it hard to achieve, even in a buoyant market.

Obviously you can raise your prices, but there’s a lot more to consider if you want to maximise revenue and know what you want to keep, stop and start doing.

How much revenue is, with a solid degree of confidence, going to come in – across the different services your firm provides to this portfolio? Client by client. Group them as normal key account programmes do, eg grow/ maintain/ ignore. Plan who is (and isn’t) going to spend time with each group/ client.

How much £ churn are you expecting overall? Put a number on it. What revenue target are you chasing for the year? What’s the best way to fill the hopper with fresh clients to target?

What lies beneath the water

Now you can start the most important task – focusing on the right clients and really making an impact on their success.

When are you going to be busy pitching for new or repeat business? Map the likely month when each client will ask you for pricing/ proposal to contract for the next period. Know your busy delivery months compared to your busy pitching periods – flesh out time in between to focus on prospective business development.

Check your typical pricing and negotiation strategy for the key clients you expect to discuss commercials with – if you negotiate better to achieve a 5-10% improvement on new fees every time that’s a lot easier than finding new clients. Think about the tradables you can offer that cost you little but have significant value to the client. Consider bundling to introduce new services as a taster. Rehearse your new negotiation strategy with a more commercial colleague to ensure you don’t simply talk yourself out of a robust price and negotiation before you’ve even put it in front of your client.

Get your best clients at the heart of what you do – get ready for proposals by defining what each client values and the value you’ve helped them achieve so far. This can be done by seeking (and most importantly, acting upon and celebrating) client feedback – know your strengths and nip any issues in the bud.

Proactively seek to bring your most important clients in for an account session – discussing their business and future plans with a collective of partners to see if innovation, challenge and problem solving can be unearthed as a team. Relationships are important but clients of today want advisers who are passionately invested in their success and always on the look out to unearth fresh ideas, challenge for greater outcomes and focus on what matters most. Don’t just leave this to the key account programmes – if you have a really important client to grow, be at the center of helping them unlock more value than they thought was possible.

Spread the load – empower and mentor your more junior account team on the strategies they can use to support the accounts of mid and lower importance in your portfolio. They need to step up and manage/ spot opportunities to bring to your attention, ideally placing similar sector clients with the same person. Regularly challenge them on the insight they have developed across the accounts they are focusing on for you, help them prepare and participate with the direction they could tap into. They are your eyes and ears on your tail end accounts.

Fill the hopper – understand exactly what client credentials/ strengths you have and find similar new clients. Find more of your most profitable clients where you have a brilliant track record of delivering insight and value.

Improve your pursuit and conversion of new business – work on how you articulate differentiation, develop clearer value propositions, position your deep client-centric expertise around benefits and outcomes for them. Map your ratio of meetings to opportunities to converted sales eg how many meetings and opportunities need pursuing each month to plug the £ gap? Monthly or quarterly pipeline analysis keeps the team focused on what matters across existing clients and prospective opportunities and targets.


 

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Want to find out more about how this can help you focus on the right clients? Contact Edler Consulting for an initial chat about unlocking client potential and focussing on the right things to achieve your personal sales target. I’m available for one to one coaching, team development and management consultancy across sales and marketing disciplines.

Follow my blog on edlerconsulting.com.

Would you like to learn more about my Marketing & Sales Practice?