Tag Archives: sales manager training


B2B Selling: Five trends from 2016 and predictions for 2017

One of the joys of our business is that each day we get to work with some of the smartest sales and business leaders on the planet. While our job is to train their sales teams, we often learn as much as we teach. With this in mind, there are a handful of themes that gained traction in 2016 and we expect will have an even greater impact on enterprise selling in 2017:

Customers are more empowered than ever. Buyers are in control and they know it. This isn’t new, but it’s accelerating at an increasing rate. The implications are more and more clear, with some enterprise sales leaders reporting that buyers are as much as 90 percent of the way through their journey before they ever talk with a sales rep. Data sheets and solutions briefs are no longer a starting point for sales conversations, and the salespeople who fail to adapt to this dynamic are simply not going to make their numbers. Sales people need to become masters at reframing the problem set to differentiate their offering in the face of often unknown competition.

CEOs will increasingly abandon incremental changes in favor of big shifts. A 2016 study by KPMG says that four out 10 CEOs expect to be running significantly transformed companies in as little as three years. Our clients tell us market, competitive, regulatory and pricing challenges are forcing them to adapt quickly. And that leaders no longer have the luxury of time to see how their strategies play out. In short: the race will be won by those who adapt and move fast.

Tech spending will slow and the fight for budget will intensify. Gartner predicts sluggish growth in IT spending through 2020. Gartner also predicts that in 2017, the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO, yet another indication that technology spend is shifting from the IT organization to lines of business. Sales organizations will need to adapt to smaller budgets by getting stronger at justifying the need for their solution. And they will need to develop the skills to navigate across customer organizations, new buying stakeholders and budget centers.

There will be more turnover of senior executives as CEOs look to spark growth. The average tenure of a CMO in Silicon Valley is about 18 months, far less than for B2C companies. We’re betting the axe won’t be limited to marketing, with leaders in sales, IT, product development and other areas on a short leash as well. Sales professionals are used to the perform or perish model in their own careers, but will need to learn to adapt faster to a changing landscape of buyers, competitors and influencers.

New roles and functions will become the locus of power and budget in the pursuit of growth. Old titles and portfolios are giving way to a new C-suite populated with executives responsible for revenue, digital transformation, privacy and security. Old customer entry points and buying processes are likewise being replaced by new centers of power and budget, which will vary from customer to customer. Sales professionals will need to become adept at understanding and managing the new buying landscape.

And one more: sales leaders will demand even more from salespeople. It’s true, the goalposts have always moved, so why is this a prediction? We see a new urgency driven in part by the need to capitalize on recent investments in sales force automation, sales performance management, sales enablement and related technologies. Our clients are telling us they will be placing more emphasis on change management and skills development to drive more productivity and effectiveness from their teams.


Winning the Hearts and Minds of Your Sales Team

My first job as a professional sales representative for a major computer company was more like a roller coaster ride than a career step. During the first 12 months I had five different sales managers. (The first one was committed to a mental health facility by his family, which led to second guessing everything I learned from him.) The subsequent managers were never in the role for more than a couple of months for a variety of reasons.

When number six showed up, the entire team released a collective sigh of frustration. Bob was a former clothing textile sales professional, not the normal profile for this computer company of 60,000 employees. I’m sure all of us drew some opinions about his ability to survive as a square peg in a round hole.

Bob spent the first few days asking a lot of questions. He wanted to know what was working and what wasn’t. He showed a lot of interest when I complained about  the call reports we were required to fill out every Friday. I explained that each of his predecessors followed company policy by holding us accountable for the weekly report. It would take a couple of hours to fill out, and for the most part, the previous managers wouldn’t even look at it. They would just file them in the row of filing cabinets in the hallway. I wasn’t the only one frustrated by this valueless activity. He heard the same thing from most of the sales staff.

(The information I left out of my complaint was I had been occasionally photocopying the same report and altering the date, just to see if the last manager would catch it. He didn’t.)

When Monday morning rolled around, we all showed up for Bob’s first 8:00 am staff meeting. We could all see through the glass wall into the hallway. Bob was talking to a couple of men with hand dollies. When he wrapped up with them, he came into the staff meeting and started with a summary of what he had learned the previous week: The team hadn’t achieved quota for three quarters in a row, the technical support team felt under appreciated, and we had failed to land a single account for a new product that was showing promise with other sales teams within the company, among other things.

What happened next caused all of us to gawk. One by one, the moving crew began to cart the filing cabinets out of the hallway and out of the office. The person to my left and the person to my right both simultaneously nudged my shins with their shoes under the table as if I was missing the spectacle. Bob, paused for a minute to let the vision sink in, and then announced that he was putting an end to the weekly report. Instead, he said, he wanted to join each of us for three sales calls a week to have some fun and learn the business.

As the meeting progressed, the filing cabinets were completely removed. Bob wrapped up the meeting with some positive comments about how much he was looking forward to working with each of us.

No less than four people stopping by my desk that morning to comment on how much they liked the new boss. “I think he’s exactly what we need around here”, was the common sentiment.

When Bob joined me for a sales call on a new prospect the next day, I was actually surprised that he didn’t say anything the whole meeting. The previous manager would have taken over the sales call by minute five.

When I got to the point in the discovery meeting where I asked about stakeholders who should be included in the dialog, I took my pad of paper and slid it across to my prospect with a pen. I asked if he could outline them in an org chart so that I could better understand where they fit in the organization. The prospect nodded his head and proceeded to draw the org chart for me, adding notes on relevant character attributes of each stakeholder as he went along.

I wrapped up the meeting after building an action plan with the prospect. Bob and I shook hands with the prospect on the way out of the building and silently walked back to the car. When we got in the car, the first thing Bob said was that he learned something very valuable from me during the sales call. I was a little taken aback, being used to sales managers that started a debrief with a critique. However, my curiosity was piqued, so I asked what that would be. He said he wouldn’t have thought to hand the pad and pen to the prospect to write down the org chart, but witnessed how naturally the contact accepted the task and added even more insight into the story.

When I asked if there was anything I could have done better, Bob said he thought the sales call was really productive, and asked if I minded sharing the story about the the org chart with the rest of the team. He concluded by observing that he might have missed something while he was taking notes. He asked how much money the problems I uncovered were costing this company. I replied that we didn’t explore that subject, so he just nodded his head. I thought it was a good question so I made a mental note to myself to follow up with that subject in my next meeting.

Bob continued this process with everyone in the office. As I found out from hallway chit chat, he didn’t take over calls, and started each debrief with a compliment. My org chart example wasn’t the only positive example he shared during the next staff meeting. Everyone received a compliment about something that went well during their sales calls.

During my subsequent sales calls with Bob, I never missed the opportunity to uncover the value proposition associated with each problem set. That’s when I learned something powerful about asking, rather than telling. I took ownership for the question since I didn’t have the answer. Had Bob told me what I missed, it was likely that I wouldn’t have taken ownership for the question as much as I had.

Bob continued with this pattern of listening, asking questions and complimenting success. He also engaged on other activities that further cemented our loyalty to him like removing obstacles, brainstorming on strategy, and breaking bread with us. The team would stretch their achievements for Bob on a regular basis, accomplishing quota that quarter and every quarter thereafter until I departed the organization for my first start up experience.

Although I learned even more from Bob, here’s a summary of what Bob taught me about winning the hearts and minds of your sales team in just a couple of weeks:

  • Be a good listener. It doesn’t mean you have to take action on everything. Part of the process is allowing the venting to occur and strategically picking roadblocks to remove or assignments to cull based on context and payoff. 
  • Symbolism. Take action on the team’s behalf in a demonstrable way. I label the filing cabinet removal as “symbolism” of change. The more visual the symbolism of change, the more profound its impact.
  • Coach by asking, not telling. Bob demonstrated how to coach by asking good questions to help me uncover the holes for myself, not by telling me what I missed. In my own leadership roles, I’ve noticed the more a sales person takes ownership for a hole in their process the more likely they achieve a higher result in the future.
  • Catch them doing something right. A small compliment shared in front of others goes a long way to building trust and rapport.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.


Sales Leaders: Its Closing Time!

It’s that time of year again. If your sales team is trying to close out the year, this article may help you optimize your outcome.

I’ll introduce two very valuable tools, the Mutual Activity Plan and the Close Plan.

The Mutual Activity Plan (MAP) is a document developed with the prospect to identify the activities required to reach a decision. These activities might include meetings with other stakeholders, conducting evaluations, talking with references, proposal reviews and more.  It’s organized with due dates and action owners as if it’s a project plan – because it is a project plan. Further, it’s a “map” to a destination point; placing the order.

The value of the MAP is getting the buying sponsor on board with you with a timeline. Moreover, if they fail to meet an action item, they have broken an agreement of sorts, providing you with the platform to ask, “why?”, or better, ask for something in return.  If they fail to meet a commitment, I suggest identifying something that will help improve your chances of closing on time, such as meeting with the final decision maker sooner, or reviewing the prospect’s internal justification document to add suggestions for example.

Here’s a simple example of a MAP:

Activity                                                                             Owner                  Due Date

Discovery meeting with all stakeholders                 Smith                    11-25-15

Demo for entire team                                                  Smith/Jones        12-1-15

Review with Legal                                                        Smith/Jones        12-7-15

Engage Purchasing                                                       Smith/Jones        12-14-15

Place order                                                                     Jones                    12-20-15

Given the complexity of your sale, the MAP may be short and to the point, or it may be several pages long. The longer it is, the more important it is to establish it as a tool to manage the process to a predictable outcome.

Recently, one of the sales leaders in a client site of mine reviewed the previous quarter closing results for one of his struggling sales people and found that every opportunity that closed had a MAP, whereas, the opportunities that slipped into the next quarter did not have a MAP in place. The lesson for the sales rep: it’s difficult for the prospect to meet expectations if they don’t know what they are.

The Close Plan is the MAP plus the internal activities the customer should not see, or should not be bothered with, but need to be managed to closure. These might include examples such as a credit check on the customer, approvals for special options, new product capabilities that are required, discount approval and more.

I typically see more complex close plans required for professional services or other applications where there are multiple contingencies to address, several internal approvals required, and heavily customized solutions. However, sometimes they are more complex because of the nature of the selling company’s culture or bureaucracy. Regardless, the more internal obstacles you have in the way of closing an opportunity, the more important it is to have a close plan in place.

Finally, having a plan in writing is good, but it also needs to be managed to success. Use the MAP or Close Plan as a review tool to help the sales person make progress on their plan.  Check off items as they are achieved and identify activities with high risk to brainstorm on alternatives and contingencies.

I feel compelled to wish you luck closing out your quarter, but we both know that it comes down to great leadership.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.


What Clint Eastwood Would Do After A Consultative Selling Workshop


Remember the movie “The Gauntlet” with Clint Eastwood? He’s been ordered to pick up a prisoner and deliver her to the courthouse a few hundred miles away. What he doesn’t know at the time is that he was selected to fail. As the plot progresses, it seems like everyone is out to kill him. The conspiracy runs right up to, and includes, the police commissioner.

The same goes for sales reps that are chartered to sell consultatively. (Insert your favorite: Solution Selling, Value Based Selling, Challenger Selling, etc…)  It’s as if everyone’s against them as well. From the moment they finish their introduction to a consultative selling model, it’s as if the entire world is against them.

Imagine the scenario that plays out every day all around the world. A successful product sales person has just completed the world’s best consultative sales training workshop and they are anxious to engage their first prospect to practice their newly acquired knowledge.

The first obstacle they encounter is the customer. The first words out of their mouth are usually something to the effect of, “so what does your product do?” If a seller is particularly tenacious and holds her ground by asking to understand more about the customer’s business, it’s not uncommon to hear the prospect elevate the defense by stating, “you don’t need to know that, just tell me what your product does”. A very seasoned consultative seller can navigate past a “See-more”, but the new consultative seller will need some help and guidance with establishing credibility, leading a dialog, and controlling the steps, especially if they run into multiple “See-more’s”.

Let’s talk about the second obstacle. Clint’s character, Ben Shockley, was chosen for this job because his alcoholic fueled lone wolf behaviors had defined many failures in his career. Like Ben, many sales people can be their own worst enemy. When their product expertise is the primary source of their value to a prospect, their strength becomes their weakness. At the first sign of a difficult consultative dialog, many reps will readily fall back to educating on product capabilities. They enable themselves. Worse, when the prospect provides positive feedback for an deep dive on the product capabilities, the sales rep internalizes it as good behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth. Focusing on the product keeps access to other stakeholders to a low level, and hands over the only thing the prospect values too early in the process.

Now let’s go to the wolf in sheep’s clothing: the sales manager. Unfortunately, this person was usually given a battlefield promotion for selling more product than the next rep, but that doesn’t often translate to possessing consultative selling skills. They are often ill equipped to role model the expected behavior and are generally inclined to forego early customer diagnostic dialogs to focus on closing meetings where they mistakenly believe they are having the greatest contribution to success. Many are also not prepared or developed to coach effectively. They tend to fall back on “watch how I do it”, only to role model the best product centric habits. While it seems intuitive that the sales manager plays the most critical role in transforming a product centric seller to a consultative centric seller, they are a leading reason many sales reps’s fall back to previous behaviors.

Now the invisible enemy; the seller’s own company. Its ironic the company is expecting the seller to suddenly begin consultatively selling, while unfortunately, their marketing messaging is still touting product capabilities, their recognition and reward systems still incentivizes old behaviors, their leadership hasn’t defined success in a very tangible way and probably didn’t attend the same training experience, and their solution training is still product centric. Imagine moving to a foreign country to learn a new language, but everyone speaks nothing but English. You’re not likely to learn very much.

The transformation of a single sales person to sell consultatively includes many enemies, most of which are unconscious they are undermining success. The transformation of an entire sales organization only magnifies the problem.

So how did Clint finally deliver on his promise? He had help. You may remember that his former partner helped him with information and coaching. For a sales team to succeed with this task, they need help as well. They need help from their manager, from their company, and from their customers. Further, each of these stakeholders need help. The company needs to become aware of how their processes and ecosystem support old behaviors, not new ones. The manager needs to be developed to be a better coach and role model. And the customer needs to understand why engaging in a different dialog is in their best interest. Lastly, the rep needs to know about these traps in their quest so they can more effectively navigate the challenge.


The Enterprise Selling Group provides sales transformation strategy, planning and execution services. If you’d like more information about successfully transforming your team to a consultative selling model, please visit our website at www.enterprise-selling.com