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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Engaging your future leaders, for selling in tomorrows world

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Developing a future leader sales development programme is essential for any professional services form today. Simply having a sales methodology isn’t enough. Providing tools and coaching across key accounts and proposals isn’t enough.

Sales programmes need to be in fun, yet modern, formats which engage debate and the sharing of issues and experiences from your most senior leaders, down to your most junior staff.

Benefits of having a future leader sales programme

  • Address the common challenges and inefficiency in your go to market approach so everyone knows whats working and how different people are successful in delivering it (in their own style).
  • Pull on your strengths consistently across the business, based on common client feedback themes so people know exactly what you do well and what you need to improve upon.
  • Build awareness of relationships and delivering client value so people can see how  to develop understanding and trust, so they can also challenge and innovate.
  • Bring your sales methodology and tools to life and encourage junior fee earners to get involved earlier in their careers.

How to navigate the market complexity for tomorrows sales environment

Considering key market drivers in order for your future leaders to progress, they MUST have a wide and strong network of client relationships, be organised on which accounts they focus on, know how to unlock value for each unique client, and have interesting topics to debate with clients.

Market disruption impacts long-held client-supplier relationships, opening the door to competitors who can quickly build new relationships, often before incumbent firms are able to organise themselves. But leveraging the right opportunities is getting harder. Speed to market with bright ideas needs focused and fast development to maximise first-mover advantage.

All firms are modernising digitally, so competitors are increasing and emerging from all over the globe. Providing differentiated solutions that speak to individual client motivations, objectives and situations in language they understand is at the forefront of winning in the market.

People typically work across several industries and employers during their career, meaning clients roam and need a bigger network of advisers for insight and delivery support. This means future leaders must be good at keeping in touch with their external peer networks if they are NOT currently billing them. Although new online social platforms enable them to initiate and hold conversations with clients sooner and more often, it can stop your future leaders from developing relationships in person – developing rapport and actively listening and probing.

Link sales training to career development and what client say

Your future leaders need an immersive sales development environment, not a classroom experience. They should be able to express frustrations and have myths busted. They should be able to problem solve and hear stories of what works for different people and clients themselves. Most of all they need SMART action plans to start developing their skills gaps, now.

All firms conduct interviews in order to promote their staff, and there will be common sales and relationship issues that stop people from progressing their careers. Being able to quickly home-grow more talent is essential, in order to respond to the market. Advisers who are able to build solid relationships and challenge clients to think beyond the obvious to deliver multi-line solutions, will succeed in developing consultative relationships.

And you can’t develop consultative relationships on your own. Many junior fee earners are unaware of the importance of internal peer relationships that extend beyond their immediate team. Those that foster a collaborative approach to problem solving, are more successful.

However, everything has to be based on client evidence and advice. Often described as ‘the customer journey’, understand your end-to-end client feedback to spot the trends of when you are successful and when you are not. Ask clients what they value when advisers try to build relationships with them, and what stands out when people get it wrong – you will find the feedback refreshingly honest and down to earth. Whether this information comes from your brand surveys, or client feedback across various channels, its very important. This forms the basis for your future leaders development and what they should prioritise in their development. Celebrate the good stuff and fix the bad.

The most debilitating aspect is fear of the unknown creating inertia. Hearing how others faced their fears and insecurities will dispel the myths as you reframe fears into opportunities. By countering excuses so people know what IS and IS NOT expected of them, you will inspire and challenge your future leaders to think differently. Likewise, understanding the ‘mood music’ among your troops is core to this. I often hear things like: “I never realised how important BD was, until I was looking for promotion” or“I’m unsure how and when to contribute in client meetings or when/ how I’m allowed to develop my own relationships when there’s so much client delivery to see to”. Know what the mood music is among your troops, so you can say – we listened and we did something about it!

TOP TIP: All future leaders need to artfully balance IQ with EQ (eg speak their clients language) because clients buy for their own reasons (not ours). If you want some good reading on the new psychology of selling, check out Jeb Blount’s book ‘Sales EQ’. The first few chapters are especially good.


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Want to leave a long lasting and positive legacy on sales and relationships performance with your future leaders? Contact Edler Consulting for an initial conversation about how you can make sales and relationship building ‘business as usual’ and fit for tomorrows world.

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