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Author : Don Maher

Building a Successful Sales Team: The Three Sales Roles

Once you’ve decided what you want your sales team to accomplish, the next step is to build your team. In order to do this, you need to determine what sales roles need to be filled to meet your objectives.

To my mind, sales roles fall into one of three general categories: Creating, Building and Maintaining:

Creating is about generating business from scratch and/or capturing business where very little exists. This is the hardest job in sales—it requires the creativity of an artist, the passion of an evangelist, and nerves of steel. It’s even harder when your product is new or unknown to customers. And it’s not for the faint of heart because creators typically function on their own, sometimes with very little assistance from their employers.

Building is about account development—taking an existing but underserved customer and growing that business. This role requires a high degree of sales ability coupled with strong project management skills. As you may have already discovered, these skills don’t often coexist in the same person!

Maintaining is just what it sounds like—keeping existing business and market share. This role is all about sustaining customer satisfaction and playing defense in the sense of fending off challengers.

Confusing or ignoring these roles is a common mistake, as is slotting a strong salesperson into the wrong role. I’ve seen previously successful creators struggle in maintainer roles, for example. And putting an experienced maintainer into a creator role nearly always ends in failure.

Additionally, even if you get the right person in the right role, it’s a common mistake to assume that previous success in sales ensures future success, especially when you introduce changes to products, pricing, or customers.

Success in sales is highly situation-specific. While previous success can certainly be a proxy for future success, careful interviewing is vital to ensure the new fit you’re considering is a good one in all important aspects.

Are you a good interviewer? Stay turned for my next installment, when I’ll explain how to ask the right questions to ensure you get the right people in the right roles.

Keys To Designing an Effective Sales Organization

Before you can recruit your sales team, set their objectives, and manage their performance, you’ve got to design the right sales organization for what you’re trying to accomplish—keeping in mind your products, company, customers, and resources.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are the right objectives for us given our current competitors, customers, people, products, and other resources and challenges (such as compensation, training, travel, etc.)?
  • Why are these the right objectives?
  • What objectives could we achieve with additional investments in people, products, and training?
  • How much additional investment would it require, and when, to achieve slightly better objectives? What about much better objectives?
  • What is the ROI on those additional investments, and how and when would that ROI be realized?
  • Going forward, how much of our business will come from current customers/products, and how much will come from new customers/products?
  • Is it reasonable to expect that our current customers will buy more from us? Why? If so, how much? What will we do if they don’t?
  • Are our products and services well-known and accepted (easy to sell), or are we trying to create demand from scratch (harder to sell)?
  • Do our products solve expensive, widely known customer problems (easy to sell), or do they create a “better future” for customers who claim they don’t have any problems to solve (harder to sell)?
  • How well do the customers we’re targeting know our company, products, and capabilities?
  • Who or what is our main competition? Is it an entrenched competitor, or a well-known process that customers are not interested in changing? Either of these situations may be more difficult to overcome than you think.

These questions are not complicated, but many managers never ask them. This is a huge mistake.

Think of your sales process like an Olympic sport such as diving or gymnastics; there is an inherent degree of difficulty to what you’re trying to do with your sales process. More difficult maneuvers can garner you more points—and, ultimately, more glory—but they are more taxing and time-consuming to hire, train and manage for.

Whether you go easy or go hard is up to you, and there are merits to both approaches, but you need to know at the outset which path you’re on so that you can navigate it correctly.

Sales Management: The oft-overlooked game changer

Really great salespeople often get promoted to sales management positions. Unfortunately, there tends to be a big disconnect between the skillsets required to sell effectively and manage effectively.

Many of the sales managers I’ve encountered tend to act more like check-the-box administrators. Their primary contributions seem to be scheduling useless meetings, holding down compensation, and making sure the CRM system is always up to date.

Whether the cause is lack of know-how, the way they’re being managed and trained, or the way their jobs are defined, this is not sales management.

True sales managers—those who know how to hire, train, lead, motivate, retain and improve the performance of salespeople—can make a tremendous difference to a company’s revenue and profitability.

And based on hundreds of conversations I’ve had, salespeople are absolutely desperate for this sort of strong leadership. They want to work for people who can mentor them, who care about their compensation and career development, who are available to discuss better ways of doing things, and who simply “have their back” when things go south.

I’ve been training high-tech equipment salespeople for over 10 years, but until now, I haven’t coached and trained sales managers. That’s about to change.

In the coming months, I plan to provide a wealth of information and resources on the ways effective sales managers can:

  1. Design the right sales organization for your company, products, and current situation
  2. Identify, recruit, and hire salespeople who are best-fits for what you want to accomplish
  3. Train and coach salespeople to not only sell, but sell your products and your prices to your prospects
  4. Set the right objectives and help your people achieve them consistently
  5. Compensate salespeople to ensure they’re satisfied and that your company is getting the results it wants—a real win-win.
  6. Retain high performers
  7. Identify and develop successors for every position in your organization

Sound good?

If you’re a sales executive or sales manager, I’d like you to take a minute to think about whether you’re truly as effective as you could be. If not, what information or training would help you move the needle? I look forward to hearing your ideas.

A Template for Effective Customer Pitches and Presentations

As with many things, a template can be very helpful when it comes to effective customer pitches and presentations. Obviously, some level of customization will always be needed, but a solid template can help you pull together your presentation faster and help you get your key points across more effectively.

Here are a few general points to keep in mind:

  • Rank the points you want to make and start with the most important—this is common-sense advice, but it’s not common practice
  • Try to convey only one idea per slide; use more slides instead of jamming each slide with too much text/information. Text-dense slides are hard to read and psychologically daunting.
  • Use fewer words and graphics, and more white space. If you need to convey a lot of detailed information, write a summary and distribute it AFTER the presentation. Also, tell people upfront that you will be doing so, so that they don’t feel compelled to take a lot of detailed notes.
  • On each slide, get to the point…quickly
  • Remember that customers are distracted, and are frequently called out of pitches and presentations for various emergencies (sometimes, they simply leave because they’re bored). Because a scheduled talk can be interrupted at any time, do your best to convey the most important information within the first 10 minutes—people’s attention is most focused then, too.

Here is a template for your presentations that will help you save time and add some consistency to your presentations (which is very important in branding and marketing):

  1. Introduction: Who you are, why you’re here, what you’re going to talk about, and what you’d like from your audience (the customer) in return
  2. What you know about your audience and their problems: Talk a little about what you believe/understand about the audience’s situation and ask them if they agree. If they bring up anything new, tell them you’ll address it at the end of your presentation—and don’t forget to do so!
  3. Top 3 points: “Here are the most important things we want you to know—and why.” For example:
    • Top point #1: “We’ve developed a new way to process widgets that increases yield 400-fold for X kinds of customers/products.”
    • Top point #2: “These white papers, written in conjunction with our customers, show the data that proves Top point #1.”
    • Top point #3: “Customers who have purchased our product have seen these results and [if true] are ordering more products.”
  4. Discuss the investment (price) range of the product(s) you’re talking about, and why that range is fair and makes sense relative to what the customer gets in return. For example: The product costs between $A and $B depending on delivery, specifications, terms, timing, and so forth. This price range represents between 10 and 20% of the return on investment (ROI) you’ll receive. In other words, for every dollar you spend with us, you’ll get eight to nine dollars in return. You want to discuss price ranges (rather than specific prices) during pitches in order to ensure you and your customers are at least in the same ballpark on pricing. If not, discovering that key fact early on means that neither side wastes any additional time.
  5. Risks to consider and problems that might occur: No solution or product is without risks or potential problems; it’s much better to bring these up and address them before customers do. Doing this sends the message that you are an honest and straightforward company that wants potential customers to have all the info before making a decision.
  6. FAQs: 5 at most. Your objective is to answer common questions BEFORE the customer asks them; this sets minds at ease.
  7. Tell the prospect (in a polite way) what you need from them to continue the process. What’s the next action they need to take (develop specs, get budget approved, place PO, etc.)? Whatever it is, the next action should be clear, and the prospect should own it.
  8. Closing remarks. These may be brief or more extensive, depending on the situation, but they should always include thanking your prospects for their time—sincerely.

8-Week Marketing Troubleshoot and Tuneup

Do you feel like you’re shooting in the dark when it comes to your marketing, never quite sure what’s working and what’s not? If so, I’ve got a new program designed just for you.

During the 8-Week Marketing Troubleshoot and Tuneup, I’ll take a close look at what you’re doing now, and give you detailed recommendations for improving in the following areas (one per week):

Value Propositions

What are you really selling? Believe it or not, it’s not actually your product or service. You’re selling a solution to your customer’s problems, which is worth a whole lot more. Learn how to present your company, products and services as clearly different and better than what your competitors are offering and create a desire to buy from you.

Proof

These are the case studies and data you use to prove your claims and performance. If they’re not sufficiently compelling, they can actually drive customers away. Learn what works and what doesn’t.

Pitches

You may have the best product or service in the world, but you need to catch the attention of customers and prospects first. I’ll also explain how to field common questions and objections, honestly and effectively.

Pricing

Here’s where the rubber really hits the road: Your pricing is the single biggest factor in determining your profitability. And I’m willing to bet you’re charging too little—most of my clients are. I’ll explain how to hit the sweet spot of finding a profitable price that your customers are willing to pay.

Presentations

It’s not about the graphics or animations you use. I’ll explain the elements of a compelling presentation, and why they’re far simpler than you may think. We’ll talk about how to choose the information you present to customers, the sequence of the presentation, and the slides and materials you use to do it.

Website

Is your website pulling its marketing weight? A few simple changes can make a big difference to the clarity of your messaging, the ease of navigation, and the desire of casual browsers to find out more about what you offer.

Blogs and Newsletters

You may not think of yourself as being in the publishing business, but generating regular, engaging content about what you do and what you offer can be a game-changer. And don’t worry—it doesn’t need to be overly time-consuming or intimidating (even if you’re not a writer).

Sales Collateral

I’ll take a close look at the tools you give your sales force, manufacturers’ representatives, and distributors that help them sell your products and prices, including brochures, ROI calculators, and more.

We’ll talk for an hour every other week about how to improve your results, and at the end of the program, I’ll give you a detailed 5- to 10-page written report with my findings and recommendations. In addition to improving your current offerings, it will act as a blueprint for the success of your future products, services, and campaigns.

For this program to be effective, you have to be willing to share the following information with me:

  • The unique value you offer to your customers
  • Case studies and data
  • Sales pitches
  • Pricing information
  • Presentations
  • Blogs and newsletters
  • Sales collateral
  • History and backstory: how you got where you are, and what you’d like to accomplish with your marketing efforts
  • Anything else that may be relevant to your particular offerings

If you’re worried about confidentiality, please don’t be. I sign an NDA with all of my clients and will protect your information just as I protect theirs.

Pricing

The price is $4,995.

Guarantee

If you’re not satisfied with our progress at the end of Week Two, I’ll promptly refund 100% of your money—no questions asked and no strings attached.

Space Is Limited

In order for me to be able to devote sufficient time and attention to each of the program participants, I’m limiting this program to just five companies at a time, on a first-come, first-served basis. Subsequent participants will be added to a waitlist and informed when a spot becomes available.

How To Get Started

If you’re interested in taking advantage of this unique opportunity to improve your marketing once and for all, just email me or give me a call at 650-862-0688. I’ll send you an invoice, and once payment is received we’ll get started right away.

I look forward to working with you on improving your marketing.

Sincerely,

Don Maher

President, Red Chasm

How Sales Adds Value

In my last blog post, I wrote about how marketing adds value. This week, we’ll discuss how sales adds value—specifically, your salespeople.

As with marketing, the value doesn’t lie in the obvious. Talented salespeople are focused not merely on closing the sale, but on creating—and conveying—a win-win situation for both seller and buyer alike.

Good salespeople: 

  • See themselves as experts, and the companies they represent as valuable business partners for the right customers. They are not mere vendors or suppliers—and they never think of what they are selling as commodities
  • Possess expertise regarding the details of the customer’s business and ways to improve it, as well as the ability to assess what that improvement is worth to the customer
  • See themselves as more than a means to meeting the customer’s wishes and demands. They are able to filter all opportunities through important real-world criteria:
    • Is this business real?
    • Can I win it?
    • Can I win it profitably?
  • Can have an honest conversation with the customer regarding opportunities, budget, and the chances of winning business. By the same token, they are able to correctly read between the lines when the customer’s words don’t accurately reflect what he or she is really thinking
  • Know what good and bad business look like, and stop bad business before it ever gets in the door. (I can’t emphasize strongly enough how much time and money my clients waste trying to win business that’s unwinnable, or winnable only at a loss.)
  • Are able to provide specific, compelling examples of other customers who have benefited, and how they have benefited. This requires the skill of obtaining customer testimonials that the company can use and getting past the typical “we don’t give testimonials” song-and-dance
  • Price customers based on their profitability and potential
  • Can confidently pitch and present to users, purchasing, and senior executives alike
  • Are willing to say, honestly, “we’re not the best option for you” when a customer’s demands are too high, when a budget is too low, or when the fit is simply not a good one. When I’ve used these words, more often than not, the customer’s response has been “ok, what can you do for us?”
  • Talk about money early and often during the sales process so customers don’t arrive at a negotiation and get (or act) surprised by the price—a big waste of everyone’s time and energy.
  • Manage their company’s resources to ensure they are spent on the best, highest-probability, highest-profit opportunities
  • Know the right questions to ask to determine whether the company can solve the customer’s problem, earn or save the customer more money, or provide (in some tangible, valuable way) a better future for the customer
  • Can determine whether an RFQ is a real opportunity, or just an attempt to get a price to use against the preferred provider.

You’ll notice that I didn’t put “ability to close the sale” anywhere in the above list. While that’s obviously important—nothing else matters much without the deal itself—the best salespeople are able to ensure, using the tactics above, that the business is both profitable and feasible.

Too often, salespeople focus on the close to the exclusion of these crucial points—which leads to a lot of time and effort being spent on “opportunities” that drag your business down rather than building it up.

Launching a New Product or Service? Don’t Make This Common (and Costly) Mistake

I’ve seen this time and time again with my clients, regardless of size or industry. Someone has a “hunch” about a new product or service idea, and they rush in with guns blazing. Resources are allocated, lots of time is consumed, and a brand-new product or service is launched.

And then…crickets.

It seems, alas, that nobody is actually interested in purchasing your new product or service (or maybe you get a handful of takers, but far too few to boost your bottom line).

What went wrong? It’s all well and good to get excited about a new way to serve your customers, but it’s important to temper that enthusiasm with some good old-fashioned research.

And by “research” I don’t mean hopping onto Google. You can do that, but actually talking to prospective customers for this new product or service is a far better bet. And not just one or two (you know, the one or two existing customers who sparked this idea in the first place) but a whole bunch of them.

You’ll know you’re on to something if a lot of folks sound just as excited as you are, or maybe even more so. They’ll say things like:

  • “We would pay anything for that.”
  • “When can you have it ready?”
  • “How do we sign up?”

Don’t be fooled by semi-positive responses like these:

  • “Maybe we’ll look into it when it’s up and running.”
  • “I’ll think about it.”
  • “I suppose that might potentially be something we’re interested in.”

The bottom line is that customers (like the rest of us) would like to have all sorts of things – but you only want to spend your time and efforts on things they are actually willing to pay for.

An even better test, which is possible with certain products and services, is to see if people are willing to pay upfront – a deposit, say, or an early-bird price before development is complete. That way, you not only have some indisputable evidence that they are willing to pay for your idea – because they already have – but also some extra cash to help set it in motion.

Are You Proactive About Qualifying Prospects?

Salespeople tend to get excited about leads—but not all leads are created equal.

If your prospective customer is merely a tire-kicker who has no real intention of ever buying your product—or no budget for it—your sales team can spend a great deal of time and effort on a relationship that will contribute zero profit to your business.

Not only is this a huge waste of time and money (which, incidentally, few companies bother to measure, though they should), but it also creates an opportunity cost. Every minute your salespeople spend working on low- or zero-potential business is a minute they are not working on other business with a higher probability of success.

It may not seem like a big deal to provide a quotation, proposal, demo, or project to a potential customer who requests one, but each of these actions represents an investment of time and money—sometimes a substantial investment—and risk because there is no concomitant investment on the customer’s part.

As with any investment, we as sellers need to weigh the risk and potential return BEFORE making the investment.

One former client of mine, a large contract manufacturer, told me his company sometimes spends up to $50,000 to develop a proposal—but only 10% of these proposals are accepted by a particular customer. “Why don’t you have a frank discussion with the customer about your chances of winning before you develop the proposal?” I asked. “The customer won’t tell us and doesn’t care what we spend” was the response.

Maybe the customer doesn’t care what you spend—but you should. It’s up to us as sellers to ask some basic questions, and get some real answers, upfront.

If I were responsible for spending a company’s money on proposals, demos, or engineering projects, I would want answers to the following questions before expending a dime (in time, effort, or materials):

  1. Does the customer have a real need or problem, or are they just fishing for a quotation they can use to leverage the incumbent’s price? Remember: you are under no obligation to provide a price or proposal simply because the customer asks for one.
  2. What exactly is the problem? How does it manifest itself?
  3. When did the customer first notice the problem? What has the customer already done to try and fix it?
  4. What’s driving the need? Why will the customer buy?
  5. Why is the customer coming to us, and why now? What has changed? What does the customer require that our company is best suited to provide? (Again, the customer is asking us to spend time and money to help them, and we deserve to know why.)
  6. What does the problem cost the customer (per day, week, month, year)? How do they know it costs that much, and how do they measure that?
  7. How much money does the customer have budgeted, today, to solve the problem? If they don’t have money, or haven’t thought about it, it’s unlikely that the problem is urgent or serious.
  8. What criteria will the customer use to make the buying decision?
  9. Who will be involved in the buying decision?
  10. Who are we competing against, and why? What do they offer that we don’t?
  11. What are our chances of winning, and why?
  12. What price is the customer willing to pay for the product if the demo or engineering project is successful? (You don’t want to work on a $20,000 solution if the customer is willing to pay only $5,000. Better to know this at the outset.)

Unfortunately, many salespeople are afraid to ask the customer tough questions. But this is business…and salespeople are (or should be) businesspeople first and foremost.

Speak frankly with customers, and you’ll change the nature of your relationship for the better. And if they won’t answer your questions or answer them honestly, you’re probably better off saying “no” to the so-called opportunity and moving on to one that’s more promising.

“How Much?” Think Carefully Before Answering This Question

How much? What’s your price? How much does it cost? What will this cost? What’s the best price you can give me?

We hear these questions from buyers every day.

Rather than tossing out an off-the-cuff answer, it’s important to take a little time to think about it. You want the stated price to be appropriate not only for the quantity ordered, but for the customer and the situation as well.

The first issue to consider is whether the customer is profitable for you to serve. In other words, how much net profit (not gross margin) do you earn per year working with this customer? And how does this profitability level compare with other similar customers?

You have unprofitable customers. I know this because every single business I’ve ever worked with does.

Ideally, every salesperson should know the profitability of his or her key customers – and take that profitability into account when pricing.

The best way to improve your profitability is to stop offering your products and services at prices that are too low. Now, you might be thinking you’ll lose business by raising your prices – and maybe that’s true. But no-profit and low-profit business is precisely the sort of business you want to be losing!

What Sales Really Needs (But Rarely Gets) From Marketing

Contrary to what you might think, your company is not really selling a product or service.

You’re selling a solution to a problem. Something that will make your customers’ lives easier. Something that will make (or save) them money. Something that will slash time, complexity, or hassle.

If you’re in marketing, your most important job—bar none—is to convey this true value to your sales people so they can sell your offerings effectively.

A good value proposition does three things:

  • Explains how your company, product, or service solves customers’ problems or improves their business results.
  • Details the quantified or qualified benefits your customers receive, such as the amount of money they earn or save, or the value of the risk that is reduced by buying your products or services.
  • Provides a compelling response to the question, “Why should I buy from you and not from your competitors? (Note: Anything along the lines of “Because our competitors are stupid/lazy/untrustworthy” is not the sort of answer we’re looking for here!)

While most of us can exhaustively detail our product specifications until the cows come home, product specs are not where the true value lies—even if your product is amazing.

If you need help developing a compelling value proposition, start by thinking about the following questions:

  1. Why do customers buy our products and services?
  2. What unique value do we provide that others don’t?
  3. Which customers want that value? Why do they want it, and how much will they pay for it?
  4. Are our prices set relative to the value customers receive? (e.g., you give me one dollar and I’ll give you three in return over one, two or three years.)
  5. What are the circumstances under which we can provide the most value?
  6. How do we deliver value?
  7. What do we do differently from our competitors?
  8. Is our value sustainable? In other words, can we continue to deliver it? Can our competitors copy it?
  9. How much money do we help customers earn or save, under what circumstances, and over what periods of time? How do we calculate it?
  10. Do we have sales presentations and tools that clearly demonstrate how we help customers earn and save money?
  11. How much risk do we reduce, and how much is that risk reduction worth to a customer?
  12. Why do we lose business? What are the most common reasons? (It’s almost never price, despite what buyers may tell you.) What can we do about those reasons?
  13. What proof do we have that supports the claims we make? Do we have case studies, customer testimonials or references, data, or repeat business we can point to?
  14. Can we demonstrate our unique value to customers before they buy?
  15. Can we guarantee the results we claim to deliver?
  16. What are the biggest risks (both actual and perceived) customers take when they purchase from us?

If you’re not happy with how your salespeople are selling your product or service, give them a rock-solid value proposition to sell instead—because this is truly what your customers are looking (and, in fact, eager) to buy.

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