The New Year is here…so if you want to sell more you better prepare yourself to sell smart. Take a serious look at how you and your team sold in 2017. Where are the performance gaps?  Who are your “under performers” and how are they adjusting their selling strategy? Is your sales funnel overloaded with stalled or unwinnable opportunities? Have you lost or are you at risk of losing high producing talent? Are your front-line sales managers coaching their teams effectively?

As you build or revise you sales plan for the New Year, consider taking a close look the following six “resolutions” and what they mean for your sales enterprise.

  1. Resolution: Improve lead generation and prospecting and qualifying of potential customers.

Although prospecting and qualifying opportunities are two of the least attractive activities for most sellers, both are vital to funnel health and overall sales productivity.  Even when leads tend to fall “into their laps,” sellers are often reluctant to do much more than make a cursory telephone call or send an email. Research indicates that 44% of sellers give up on a lead after a single call.

Consider three initiatives for improving lead generation and prospecting performance.

a) Action Step: Formalize several value propositions that are compelling to prospective customers in your target market segments. Enlist the help of marketing to identify what your current customers claim are the measurable and tangible benefits for their organization.

b) Action Step: Identify a recent customer who can document and provide a testimonial of the benefits of your product or solution. Create a short anecdote or story that can engage prospective customers while serving as documentation for your value claims.

c) Action Step: Create and implement a standardized process for qualifying opportunities. Determine criteria for an “ideal prospect profile” and avoid wasting time and resources on prospects that are not a good fit.  Integrate your qualifying criteria into your CRM system and track activity on highly ranked prospects.

If you need help prospecting refer to the references at the end of this blog. We heartily recommend their work.

  1. Resolution: Research and leverage the attributes and buying dynamics of the buying organization. All too often, sellers fail to grasp fully the buying process of a prospective account before attempting to sell to a customer or stakeholder.

Consider the following three initiatives for increasing account acquisition. The following steps may assist sales reps in meeting their new account acquisition quota.

a) Action Step: Develop a plan for allocating appropriate corporate resources to sellers with large or key opportunities; formalize a process for matching executive sponsors from the selling company to executives in the buying organization.

b) Action Step: Formalize a “discovery process” to understand fully the customer’s issues before proposing a solution.

c) Action Step: In pursuing large or key accounts, develop a “relationship map” of all buying influencers including reporting lines, accessibility, areas of expertise and buying preference.

  1. Resolution: Improve retention of key accounts by raising satisfaction and loyalty.

World-class sales organizations begin developing an annual sales plan with a clear focus on the needs of their customers.  They build communication networks that expand high and wide throughout the buying organization.

 

Give consideration to three initiatives for improving account retention while supporting revenue growth:

a) Action Step: Develop a strategy to work together across departments (of the selling organization) to sell to or retain strategic accounts. This may include marketing, customer service, finance, sales operations and areas of technical expertise.

b) Action Step: Develop relationships at the highest level with all strategic accounts; create action plans for expanding and elevating relationships within the buying organization; include non-selling activities like executive briefings that expand the seller’s advisory role to the customer.

c) Action Step: When retaining existing accounts implement a joint planning process that includes key representatives from the buying organization; use periodic briefings, updates, benchmarking and product evaluation sessions to connect buyer and seller.

  1. Resolution: Craft a comprehensive strategy for retaining and cultivating sales talent management. All it takes is the loss of one top performer and a sales manager may find his/her annual sales quota unreachable. It’s important to segment sales talent into categories and provide feedback, development and recognition as appropriate. Many companies are building “high potential” programs to recognize and develop their exceptional sales talent while others are focusing on effective on-boarding of new talent.

Consider four initiatives for improving sales talent development and retention:

a) Action Step: Implement a sales methodology for getting new hires up to full productivity quickly.

b) Action Step: Create a debriefing strategy for determining why you lose high performing sales people; identify characteristics of dissatisfied talent.

c) Action Step: Develop a pre-hire assessment process for identifying “high potential” sales talent and then provide appropriate training, coaching and recognition once hired.

d) Action Step: Identify behavior “gaps” or skill deficiencies of under performers and set benchmarks, provide training, reinforcement and undertake periodic personal assessment.

5. Resolution: Create internal processes that utilize sales analytics to manage and drive selling activity.

Welcome to the world of big data.  To reference an old cliché, “If you can’t measure it—you can’t manage it.” Sales managers traditionally focused on analytics that would forecast revenue or new account acquisitions.  Today’s savvy sales executive is not focused solely on sales outcomes…but measuring critical sales behaviors that underlie success.  They want assurance that their managers are driving skills and implementing “best practices.”

Give thought to three initiatives for collecting and using data, technology, and analytics to drive business objectives:

a) Action Step: Identify and track sales performance metrics that are aligned with your company’s business objectives.

b) Action Step: Improve the sales management team’s confidence in data available from the CRM system.

c) Action Step: While measuring business outcomes is vital, tracking behaviors that produce these outcomes is essential as well. This may mean reviewing dashboards and KPIs to including behavioral indicators as well.  

  1. Resolution: Create and support a culture of sales collaboration. Capitalize on the skills and experiences of top performers.  They may be able to provide insights on practices that are just what their under-producing colleagues need.

Identify two or more initiatives for building team collaboration:

a) Action Step: Use formal and rigorous “win-loss” analyses to identify the best practices of high performers and improve the performance of other sales team members.

b) Action Step: Formalize coaching time to guide and reinforce sales representatives in selling to key accounts; make sure that they have access to essential corporate and team resources

c) Action Step: Create selling teams that can work together effectively on key or major prospects.

Parting Thoughts

While managers shouldn’t lose sight of the wins and losses of 2017 it’s vital that we get beyond what went right and wrong and explore how to optimize sales productivity at a team and individual level.  This means taking a close look at training, coaching, analytics, collaboration, talent management and account retention.

As always, we welcome your thoughts and input. Let’s start a discussion and elevate the sales profession with a thoughtful, civil and informative discourse.

References to Build Your Professional Library

  1. Jeb Blount. Fanatical Prospecting: The Ultimate Guide to Opening Sales Conversations and Filling the Pipeline by Leveraging Social Selling, Telephone, E-Mail, Text and Cold Calling. 2015.
  2. Tony L. Hughes. Combo Prospecting: The Powerful on-Two Punch That Fills Your Pipeline and Win’s sales. 2018
  3. Mark Hunter. High Profit Prospecting: Powerful Strategies to Find the Best leads and Drive Breakthrough Sales Results. 2017
  4. Patrick Tinney. Perpetual Hunger: Sales Prospecting Lessons & Strategy. 2016

Authors: Thomas Saine and Thomas Williams

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