Here’s a quick test for you: Pull a report of the top 20 opportunities in your organization.
Now, go to each of them and answer the following questions:
- What is the probability we will win this business? Is that based on the gut feel of the seller? Is it automatically generated by your CRM based on the sales stage, or is it based on what you really KNOW about the prospective customer?
- Who are the evaluators for this opportunity and what influence will each of them have on the outcome?
- Which alternatives are being considered, and which ones are presently favored by the various evaluators?
- What are the key business issues for this prospective customer that you may be able to impact with your solution?
- What criteria will they use to determine which alternative is best for their business?
For most sales organizations, there is only one way to know whether or not a given seller has the information listed above, and that is to interview that seller.
Not only is this approach so time consuming that it rarely happens, it requires the seller to either review pages of notes or leverage total recall in order to even get a clear representation of what he does and, more importantly, does not know about the opportunity.
Frankly, it isn’t so much what we don’t know about an opportunity; we can always go back and get that. What kills sales performance is not knowing that we don’t know!
How Bad Does it Hurt?
The question to consider next is this: Does it bother you that this kind of information, if it exists at all, lives only in the mind or in the notes of your seller? Does it make you ill to think that if this person leaves, so does all the information about that account and opportunity? Does it pain you to think that the only way anyone can help this person win the sale, let alone get better, is to go through the tedious process of having her recall everything she knows?
If knowing that critical information about your most important opportunities and accounts doesn’t bother you, then you should probably stop reading now – everything is just fine – no problems here.
However, if the prospect of such critical information walking out the door makes you nuts, if the idea that coaching conversations between managers and sellers are considerably more time consuming and less effective makes you absolutely nauseous, we are right there with you. Moreover, there are ways to address the root cause of this problem and in turn, radically improve your customer engagement and sales performance.
Step 1: Establish Common Information Objectives
If you’re still reading at this point, it is probably safe to assume that you agree with the core premise of this article: Information defines opportunity. In other words, the more we know about our prospective customers, about what they want to buy, and about how they will determine who has it, the better our chances of winning business we can win and walking away from business we can't.
Unfortunately, most organizations never even get to the point where they have agreement on what information is needed in order to fully understand an opportunity, and that dramatically reduces the likelihood they will develop individual and organizational effectiveness around eliciting the information.
The first step is to establish a shared set of information objectives. To be clear, this shouldn’t simply be anything anyone believes they want to know. Moreover, it shouldn’t be limited to just a few of the important things your management team believes your people need to know.
What it should be is a single, comprehensive list of everything you need to know in order to fully understand a sales opportunity. It should be a static set of commonly understood terms and definitions that anyone can recite at any time – it must become a part of every conversation you have about sales opportunities. The good news is, it won’t take dozens of interviews and several months to compile a single list that everyone agrees on.
Step 2: Integrate Information Objectives into Your CRM in MEANINGFUL Ways
Once you have a common set of information objectives, they must be integrated into your CRM. However, this cannot be effectively accomplished by simply creating fields and forms where people can enter the data.
If entering information into the system doesn’t help them work more effectively and efficiently, forecast more quickly and accurately, and win more business, your people will never get through the learning curve needed to become efficient enough at entering the information and you won’t ever get it.
This means the information needs to be used to the benefit of the seller and manager. By way of example, AXIOM clients are provided with the Opportunity Management Application that actually analyzes the information and uses a proprietary algorithm to predict the win probability, identify danger zones, and recommend solutions.
In the future, this same information will be used to create customized proposals and recommend learning and development activities. The information about each opportunity represents a comprehensive list of verifiable outcomes based on understanding the customer better as opposed to simply completing a task or changing a stage.
A couple of important caveats here. First, sellers must actually enter what they know about the opportunity, not check boxes that validate that they know information. When we give sellers boxes to check and then create expectations about which box to check at what point in the process, guess what we teach sellers? Correct, we teach them to check the right boxes but not how to have the right conversations. Don’t be fooled into thinking that easier is better.
Second, avoid the temptation of punishing people for what they don’t know about their opportunities. The purpose here is not to fill out each blank space for each information objective. The purpose is to create transparency and promote objectivity. If you beat people for what they don’t know, they are almost as likely to start making things up as they are to have better customer conversations. Always remember, it isn’t what we don’t know that costs us sales, it's not knowing that we don’t know.
Step 3: Provide Ongoing Learning and Coaching to Improve Skill and Knowledge
Once you have agreed on a common set of information objectives and used them to make your CRM a valuable tool for working and managing opportunities, you are ready to take the third step toward dramatically better results – coaching. In this step it is critical to understand the difference between the typical manager-seller conversations and truly productive coaching.
Consider this: Most sales managers were promoted because they were great sellers. Their natural tendency is to do what they do best, which is sell for their people. This is why so many sales managers are really player coaches who rely on the members of their teams to bird-dog opportunities, while the manager is directly, and in many cases, deeply involved in working the deals.
To use a sports metaphor, in this case, the manager is actually running the plays. More advanced managers have their sellers actually handling the bulk of the customer engagement or “running the plays” while the manager is actively involved in developing the strategy or “calling the plays”.
Better play calling can absolutely help improve performance, and our two earlier steps can promote tremendous improvements in this area. However, really maximizing results requires we move even beyond “calling better plays” to “developing better players”. In order for this to happen, managers need to be held accountable for diagnosing the root cause of performance gaps and determining what corrective action or learning can be leveraged in order to shrink the gaps.
Sales results are the byproduct of selling behaviors. However, selling behaviors are enabled by the skill and knowledge the seller possesses. The foundation for skill, knowledge, behavior, and results is the capacity and commitment of the individual. When manager-seller conversations are confined to the top or even top two levels, we aren’t really developing better players. Instead, we are sending the same people into the same environment but expecting a different result.
In an ideal world, the CRM will enable these coaching conversations by:
- Making it easy and efficient for managers to identify potential performance gaps even before they affect sales results.
- Providing the manager with questions to ask or steps to follow in order to properly diagnose the root cause of any performance gap.
- Presenting the appropriate learning activities based on the identified root cause and allowing the manager to assign these directly from within the CRM.
- Allowing sellers to complete developmental assignments directly from the CRM so that their “system of record” is also the system that triggers, delivers, and tracks their learning and the degree to which it is applied and is impacting their results.
When we settle on clearly defined information objectives that are integrated into the CRM in meaningful ways and use them to coach and develop sellers, we can transform our sales conversations and dramatically improve sales results.
If you run a large sales team, use Salesforce.com, and want to learn more about how you can improve your sales results, reach out to us – we are here to serve you.
Bob Sanders has more than 25 years experience in sales, sales management, and marketing. Bob has served as President and CEO of AXIOM Sales Force Development from 2006 to 2018. His passion about sales behavior and coaching helps develop people into their best selves. Since Bob joined AXIOM as a partner in the fall of 1993, he's helped dozens of companies around the world generate hundreds of millions in additional revenue. Bob holds a degree in Marketing from Miami University. He has been a keynote speaker at numerous corporate events and industry conferences. He is a founding underwriter and frequent contributor to the Sales Management Association. He co-authored AXIOM's “Selling Sciences Program™” workbook and audio program, and is a contributor on "A Journey to Sales Transformation". When Bob is not advocating on behalf of buyers and sellers worldwide, he is an avid cyclist, father, and husband.