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  • ESR’s STVG

    Here is ESR's highly acclaimed Sales Training Vendor Guide, Third Edition.

Sales Playbooks

A few weeks ago the folks at Kadient briefed me on their approach and their sales performance improvement tools.  As you would expect, I posed the chicken-and-egg question with respect to what order a company should implement Kadient’s tools versus installing and implementing a sales methodology.  I liked their answers.

I picked up a tweet from Kadient’s Rich Berkman (@richberk) last week about a new guide they had just published, How to Create Killer Sales Playbooks: Four Steps for Designing Sales Playbooks that Win Deals.

Just from the title, I was immediately encouraged.  Here’s why:

  1. I believe in sales playbooks. I’ve used them and have recommended them to clients, who generally saw significant performance improvement;
  2. “Four Steps” represents process and sales leaders and sales people can often use a lot more of that;
  3. The guide is focused on winning deals.

I downloaded the guide and read through it.   These guys from Kadient get it.  Here’s a quote from the guide (with permission).  Highlights are mine:

Whether you decide to begin with a top-down or bottom-up approach, your playbooks should be aligned with your sales process.

“But, wait,” you say. “We don’t have a sales process!” This is a very common situation. Chances are that you do have some process or steps that define the stages of your sales cycle. Sales playbooks are an excellent organizational hub for defining them. Also, every organization has successful salespeople who are following their own processes.

If you don’t have a defined process, you can still get started quickly by defining a baseline set of sales stages and then using playbooks as your organizing tool for its development. Focus on mapping out your existing sales-to-buyer lifecycle or process. Some of the most successful playbooks have been those designed from a blank slate or ones in which it was decided that the sales process would be reinvented through the use of sales playbooks.

If you have a sales process (or multiple ones), align it with your customers’ buying cycle and create a map for your sales playbook. The goal is to stimulate a conversation between seller and buyer-the seller diagnosing the buyer’s needs and then providing the buyer with the right information at the right time.

In addition to directing salespeople to what they should do at each stage of the sales cycle, mapping will also identify specific activities that need to be completed to advance deals. This should illustrate how your sales teams engage with customers at every stage of the buying process.

You can download the guide here (registration required).  I highly recommend it.

Photo credit: © Sharpshot – Fotolia.com

ESR’s Approach For A Sales Performance Improvement Initiative

As ESR is completing our Sales Training Vendor Guide we are updating a number of our models.  Here is a presentation of our sales training approach model that we deliver to project teams tasked with finding, evaluating, and selecting sales training companies. The content is based upon work we’ve done with clients during the past two years.

As you can see, the process is considerably more comprehensive than you might think. Clients ask us, “Do we really have to do all this just to do some sales training?” Our answer is, “Only if you want it to work.” (Thanks, John Zobel.)

Here’s another taste of what’s in our Guide:

If you’d like to speak with us about how we support our clients through this process, let me know.


Miller Heiman. What A Brand!

When it comes to marketing, Miller Heiman leads the pack.  I recently spoke with Elizabeth Vanneste, their Chief Marketing Officer. Elizabeth brought Miller Heiman into four telecommunications companies where she had previously worked. She joined the Miller Heiman team last June as a sales VP and took over marketing three months ago.

Elizabeth shared with me that her firm just added 15 sales consultants and kicked off a new partnership in India.  They have a new program, Securing Strategic Appointments, in which the participants learn, among other things, how to craft the right message, with valid business reasons, to meet with customer executives.  In addition, the program lays out specific plans for getting those critical appointments.  Elizabeth says there is a lot of interest in using these skills for selling to the government.

We talked about the economy and travel restrictions.  Miller Heiman has set up additional public sessions.  I wrote a post about public sales training sessions a while back.  They are, under certain circumstances, something to consider.

Elizabeth and I discussed technology as well.  According to Elizabeth, Miller Heiman has made significant progress with their e-learning offerings and their sales enablement tools that integrate with the top nine CRM systems (through White Springs).  Miller Heiman consultants are also now performing Blue Sheet reviews via webinars and conference calls, helping to keep their customers’ costs down.

Back to Miller Heiman’s marketing.  Miller Heiman’s brand equity is substantial.  That’s not only because they’ve been around for thirty years.  (Other training companies have been around that long or nearly that long.)  So far as sales training companies are concerned, Miller Heiman is predominant on the Web.  I’ve got Miller Heiman tagged in Google Alerts, as well as 40 or so other sales training companies.  There is no question that Miller Heiman significantly outnumbers the others with hits coming from blogs, articles, other companies’ websites (Hoover, for example), conference agendas, news, and other sources.

“Strategic Selling,” a trademarked Miller Heiman brand, is certainly widely recognized, but has become so often used generically, that it may not be connected to Miller Heiman as often as they would like.  This is similar to the issue that SPI has with their trademarked “Solution Selling.”

Miller Heiman’s leadership position in marketing isn’t something to take lightly.  After all, with the close relationship sales should have with marketing in most companies, a training company’s ability to market themselves effectively is a proof statement of an understanding of some of the most important issues, isn’t it?

Finally, this all may sound terrific to you if you’re searching out a sales training company. I can only warn you that selecting Miller Heiman or any other company based upon this or any other one-page write up is precisely the wrong thing to doESR’s Sales Training Vendor Guide, Third Edition, will be published later this month.  In the Guide, Miller Heiman and two dozen other providers are evaluated, compared and contrasted.

Disclosure:  Miller Heiman subscribes to ESR’s research.

Photo credit: DesignImage.com

Checklists: For Surgeons, Pilots and… Salespeople

I believe in checklists.  Clearly the medical community just got the message as well.  A study published online by the New England Journal of Medicine this week shows that adopting a surgical safety checklist (PDF) reduced deaths and complications by more than a third.  From the Wall Street Journal:

Researchers collected data on nearly 8,000 patients who were operated on in eight hospitals scattered around the world. As a basis for comparison, about half the patients underwent surgery before the checklist was adopted. The death rate fell from 1.5% to 0.8%, and the rate of inpatient complications fell from 11% to 7%.

As a pilot, I’m always aware that while flying and on the ground, lives depend on me not missing any steps or getting them out of order.  Make sure propeller area is clear before starting engine.  Landing gear extended before touching down on runway.  It’s amazing how many pilots don’t use a checklist and execute wheels-up landings.   (Note:  I wrote this post literally as US Airways Flight 1549 ditched into the Hudson River.  There is no doubt in my mind that the event would have been a disaster had the pilots not executed their emergency engine-failure and water-ditching checklists. )

ESR estimates that 80% of sales opportunities are lost due to either ineffective qualification or ineffective planning.  Every sales plan I’ve ever written has had a checklist.  What’s a sales plan without a list of events, activities, calls, meetings, and tactics—a checklist?

A top salesrep I mentored almost missed his number one year because he didn’t have a checklist.  Here’s what happened:

He was selected at a division of a Fortune 500.  The VP of Manufacturing was his sponsor.  The solution was $1.5 million of ERP software and related services.  During a conversation about the opportunity, I asked him whether the appropriation was on the agenda for approval at the next board meeting, the last of his company’s fiscal year.  The silence on the other end of the phone was my answer.  “I’ve never forgotten to check that before,” he said.  I believed him, but he forgot this time.  I held on as he called his sponsor on his cell phone.  The item had not been added to the board’s agenda for that next meeting.  A quickly executed series of calls got the item on the agenda and the rep got his dea.

A checklist is a simple way to instill some discipline into a salesperson or sales team.  There is very useful technology that will support building a series of pre-ordered events and steps for a sales process and for monitoring execution.  But in the absence of a tool like that, an Excel-based checklist will get the job done.

When you think about it, the checklist is nothing more than a to-do list.  The difference is the checklist is built for multiple sales opportunities.  Here’s one you can download, with my compliments.  It was used as an example in my book, How Winners Sell. It’s very simple, but will get you moving in the right direction if this is a challenge for your sales team.

If you don’t know whether your sales team needs a formal checklist as part of their standard sales planning regimen, ask them, “What are the next five things that need to be done, in order, to advance this sale?”  The answer will reveal a lot.

Photo source: http://www.pilotmall.com

New Year Resolutions For Sales Leaders

2009Pick one or more of the resolutions below.  Commit, execute, enjoy the results.

  1. I’ll never hire another sales rep who can’t get the sales job done. First, completely understand the position and the skills and traits required to be successful.  Evaluating whether a candidate meets those requirements requires a series of two to three structured interviews.  There are no perfect candidates, but if you understand gaps between what capabilities the candidate possesses and what is required for the job, you can train, coach or support that new rep to success.

  2. I won’t spend another dime on technology for my sales team without knowing specifically how it will help my reps win business. In general, what companies receive in return for their investment in CRM technology is significantly short of expectations.  Before you make any investments in CRM, Sales 2.0 or other emerging technologies make sure the primary recipient of value is the salesperson. There has to be a direct, proven connection between the software application and the salesperson winning more business.

  3. I will teach and then continue to encourage my reps to look at selling strategically. Many salespeople don’t think past the next meeting or phone call.  You will be doing them (and yourself) a big favor if you can coach them into seeing the big picture—the next five steps in the sales cycle or what the customer’s situation might be in six months when they expect to make a buying decision.

  4. I will look at sales performance improvement strategically. You should know by now that tactical, event-based sales training doesn’t really provide any long-term value.  So why are you still wasting time and money on it?

  5. I will implement a formal coaching function to support my sales reps’ growth. Coaching is not a sales manager closing a deal for a rep or telling them what to do in a tough competitive situation.   Coaching is a mission-critical, formal, ongoing activity that is required for significant sales performance improvement.  If you don’t know where to start, send me an email.  I’ll point you in the right direction.

  6. I will run my sales organization like the business that it should be. In order to be successful, businesses require business plans, process, discipline, documented responsibilities and accountabilities, quality assurance and measurement of output.  I’m not suggesting bureaucracy here.  Just the appropriate measure of formality and seriousness.  If seat-of-the-pants ever worked in B2B selling in the past, it certainly doesn’t any longer.

  7. I will provide my sales team with the leadership they need and deserve. A few questions for you around one area of leadership:  Is marketing not getting the job done?  Does the CEO set unrealistic revenue targets?  Are customers angry due to product problems?  Do your products or services not meet the needs of your market?   These and other challenges can stop the best sales team in its tracks.  It’s your job to get issues like these addressed and resolved.  If you don’t have the required leadership skills, get them.

  8. I will advance my team considerably further than foundation Sales 101 skills so they can really be competitive. Winning these days requires more than just basic selling skills.  Make sure your sales process includes advanced components, such as political mapping, selling to senior executives, and competitive strategies and tactics.  Find the best approaches in those areas that fit your business requirements.  Train your people.  Sustain improvement with coaching and other post-training reinforcement.

  9. I will elevate the importance of my team’s knowledge about our customers’ businesses. Many customers of yours are buying only what will help them survive this economic crisis.  If your salespeople can’t position your products and services in terms of contributing to your customers’ success—from your customer’s perspective—they aren’t going to sell very much.

  10. I will commit to understanding my weaknesses and improving those capabilities as a sales leader. There is no shortage of intelligence, research, best-practices, coaches, consultants and just plain good advice.  Avail yourself of the best of them.

Photo credit: © Stefan Rajewski – Fotolia.com

Let’s Get Real Or Let’s Not Play

Last July I was honored to be sent a final draft of Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig’s revised and expanded edition of Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play.

Mahan and Randy are key members of FranklinCovey’s sales performance practice.  (Here is a podcast interview I did with Mahan.)

What is immediately significant about this book is its extreme richness—the product of four concurrent layers of considerable substance.

First, and perhaps the most important, is the underlying, immutable philosophy of seeking and handling the truth—the truth about our clients, our solutions, our sales opportunities, and the truth about ourselves.

The next layer is methodology. This is not like many books about selling, which are compendia of random tips and tricks. Here Mahan and Randy lay out the case for process and then employ one of their own to transport us efficiently through their content.

Then the “What you have to do” is layered throughout—clear, unambiguous guidance that takes us through the most difficult challenges we face as sellers.

Finally, the “How”—the words your client will say and how you might respond, powerful graphics that represent new concepts, and detailed checklists are examples.

Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play isn’t for the casual, opportunistic skill-and tip-skimmer who PLAYS at sales. It’s for those who need to get REAL about selling.

I highly recommend this book.

Early Failure is Better Than Late Failure

Donal Daly, CEO of The TAS Group, wrote a great post (Early failure is better than late failure) on his company’s blog that is more than worthy of your consideration. (Disclosure: The TAS Group is a subscriber to ESR’s research.)

In the post Donal discusses the not-often-enough-overcome challenge of effective qualification.  From the post:

When budgets are tight – as they are in times like this – opportunities are sometimes hard to come by.  When that happens you’re tempted to chase anything that moves, succumb to demands for extortionate discounts, or throw in extra products for free.  All this does is make it harder to make your number.  You will need to do more deals to reach your quota, and as word gets around of the deals you are prepared to do you enter the death spiral.

Easy for you to say, you might think.  With so many fewer deals out there, you’re telling me to have my salespeople qualify harder and eliminate some of those potential opportunities? you continue. 


So why isn’t effective qualification something every salesperson does automatically, like eating, breathing, and submitting expense reports? 

I see three predominant reasons: 

First of all, it’s not in many salespeoples’ DNA.  Optimism is often considered a critical trait for a salesperson.  For many salespeople, denial is only one small baby step from optimism.  They don’t ask the tough questions because they don’t want to hear the answers.  (It was Mark Twain who said, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”  He wasn’t a sales consultant, but probably could have been with such an insightful remark.)

Secondly, some subset of you, their managers, also don’t want to hear the truth.   Alexander Pope wasn’t a sales consultant either, but with his observation that “Hope springs eternal,” he could have fooled me.

Finally—and I think Donal will jump aboard on this one—there is too often no method (accompanied by the appropriate learning and tools) provided to sales people for them to effectively qualify opportunities.

During these challenging times, can your sales team to raise their hit rate against the smaller number of opportunities that may be available to them?  If not, you’ve got to take a serious look at your total approach to qualification. 

Photo: © James Steidl – Fotolia.com

Embedded Sales Learning

Chris Hens, President and COO of White Springs, presented at the Richardson client forum last week.  The subject was in-context sales learning and reinforcement.

With a background in sales training, Chris has a deep understanding of the challenges companies face with respect to sales performance improvement.  White Springs has worked with Complex Sale, Holden, Huthwaite, Miller Heiman, ValuSelling and SPI, among others, to automate sales and opportunity management processes and to connect those to a company’s CRM system.

Richardson has been, and continues to be, a leader in non-traditional (other-than-classroom) learning.  They’ve engaged with White Springs for embedding and integrating their sales learning content into their established tools and business practices.  Chris calls this embedded sales learning. (See graphic, courtesy of White Springs.  Click for full-size.)


Why is this so important?  In order to increase sales effectiveness, more salespeople must complying with the sales process that has been designed for their selling situation.  When that process is modeled in software such as this and they are provided learning reinforcement within that software, it will increase compliance, contributing to sales performance improvement.

Whether you’re shopping for sales training, sales process work, Sales 2.0 tools, or CRM, be certain that your sales processes (qualification, discovery, opportunity management, etc.) are top-of-mind. The vendors you should consider must have the proven ability to support technology-enabled selling and learning.  ES Research has done a considerable amount of research in this area.