Improve Sales Performance with CSO Insights Report

Improve Sales Performance - Click to EnlargeCSO Insights released their 2014 Sales Performance Optimization report. Their intention is to highlight key sales problems so companies can improve sales performance. The results match up clearly with the symptoms of sales problems I have been sharing for years. Yes, you read that right: symptoms. The report and other analyzers are referring to these issues as "problems", but they are incorrect. These are symptoms that cover up the problems! Let's review them:

Five Key Symptoms the CSO Insights Report Highlights to Improve Sales Performance

Here are the five top barriers to sales revealed by the report:

  • "salespeople aren’t getting enough qualified leads,
  • are having significant difficulty in effectively conducting needs analysis to qualify opportunities,
  • are not able to effectively identify and access decision makers,
  • are struggling with competitive differentiation,
  • in a sales cycle that has lengthened, with more decision-makers involved."

These are NOT problems--they are symptoms! Look what you find with a little digging:

  • salespeople don't know how to prospect
  • salespeople don't know how to qualify
  • salespeople don't know how to reach decision makers
  • salespeople don't know how to start conversations effectively, or position themselves
  • salespeople don't know how to identify all the stakeholders in a decsion, the buyer's decision making process, and/or meet the individual needs of the key decision maker plus all the stakeholders.

Those are problems! Resolving them would massively improve sales performance. Yet most organizations and most salespeople wish to ignore them. It's easier to complain that the leads are weak, or it's Marketing's fault, or the buyers are too mercurial. The fact is most sales processes, if the company even has one, are ineffective. And if you don't have a sales process you have no idea where you and the prospect are, or why an opportunity died.

The responsibility for the effectiveness of a sales process comes right down to you. The salesperson. YOU are responsible for finding and doing the behaviors to improve sales performance.

In my training programs, I teach salespeople how to consistently and effectively overcome every single one of those problems listed above. You can concern yourself with dubious metrics like "social reach", or you can concentrate on prospecting, qualifying and closing. Which would you rather be doing?

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So You Think You Know Your Sales Process – SalesTactics.org

sales processSometimes I get feedback that makes me do a double-take.

Feedback like, "This is Sales 101. I must be much farther ahead than most people."

I have to tell you: the evidence is heavily against that being the case.

Sales and sales process

are not as well understood as individuals think they are.

When you have stats saying:

82% of salespeople fail to differentiate themselves

86% of salespeople ask the wrong questions

(the Sales Board)

things are clearly wrong with the process.

When most salespeople can't even get the decision maker on the line or start a conversation, you know there's a problem with their sales and sales process.

Oh, you may "know" what to do from reading it in a book. But get into the pressure of a real selling conversation, and what do you do? Revert to the comfort zone. Product knowledge. "Show Up and Throw Up."

Do you conduct a post mortem after each sales call? What went wrong? What went right? Do you truly find your actions mirror what you "know"?

The odds are against it. I screw up from time to time--usually rushing between other calls. Once in awhile I forget to ask if there's another person involved in the decision. Occasionally I go into what I do prematurely, instead of asking more questions. And when I do that, hurdles appear. If I'm doing those things, so are you. Nobody's perfect.

We could all be performing better. If these articles serve to remind instead of educate, they've still fulfilled their purpose. To perform at our best, we need ongoing reinforcement of sales process and technique. A master painter, chef, martial artist or mechanic does not stop practicing and studying and expect to retain their skill. Let's keep this in mind.

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Starting a Sales Conversation Is Like Baking Bread

Starting a sales conversation can be tough. You'll hear people say, "Selling is part art, part science." My experience has made me believe it's far more science.

And the very beginning of selling, starting a conversation, is like the science of chemistry. In fact, it's a lot like baking a loaf of bread.

My background happens to be in operations management. The same discipline Peter Drucker hails from. Continuous improvement, process reengineering, flowcharting, systems analysis and more. My program had a 40% failure rate. It was hell. Really. Double the recommended maximum university courseload. Total commitment. No partying, no time off. All about cutting processes up into little steps, and determining which steps should stay and which should go. And the instructors beat into our thick skulls this maxim:

"To manage we must measure."

To manage we must measure. To understand and be able to control our results, we must have a consistent process.

Take this idea to making a loaf of bread.

This is chemistry. You mix certain ingredients in certain known proportions, and in a certain order. If you don't follow the recipe, your bread doesn't turn out. Fail.

Makes sense, right?

So why, then, when it comes to starting sales conversations do people see a process...and then "get smart"? Decide they can cut out steps in the process where it suits them? Or start flying by the seat of their pants? And believe they'll still get the same result?

To manage we must measure.

If you are taught a consistent sales process for starting conversations, and it works, don't "get smart" about it. Other trainers in other fields tell me about similar experiences: their students learn a method, and then decide they don't need to do steps 1 through 5. They can cut 2 and 4; after all, they don't look necessary for their unique situation.

And then they scream when their bread doesn't rise!

Start messing with the process, especially in a disorganized manner, and you'll get crazy results.

A programmer I worked with some years ago reminded me of this vital point when I was changing some website coding:

"Stop. Change one thing at a time. See what happens."

Yes, I had been running along, trying to get things done quickly by making several alterations at once. And if an unexpected result had appeared, what then? How would I know which change had made that outcome?

The voice of my OpMan program head from a decade and a half before instantly intoned in my still-thick skull, "To manage we must measure." Oh yeah. Whoops.

When you learn a consistent process for starting sales conversations, follow it. Don't change it. There's more going on than you think. Some of it is invisible.

Remember, the two biggest problems I have encountered so-called professional salespeople at companies having are:

1) Inability to get the decision maker available to speak, whether in person or on the phone, and

2) Inability to start a conversation so that there IS a 'rest of the discussion'.

An effective process for beginning sales conversations will accomplish both these things, and more. It will get you over the initial trust hurdle.

The beauty of baking is that you don't even have to understand why the bread rises. You just have to follow the recipe.

A clear parallel to sales training: you don't have to understand why the consistent process to start conversations works. You just have to follow it.

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