Miller Heiman Blog

Keys to Success for World-Class Sales Managers

Each year the Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study captures the selling and sales management behaviors that are connected to driving sales performance for business-to-business organizations.  For frontline sales managers (FSMs) specifically, we see those behaviors broken into three areas.  Ask yourself these key questions in regards to sales managers on your team:
  • Customer management – How does the FSM engage with salespeople and customers as part of the sales process?
  • Coaching and developing the sales force – How much time is spent time on coaching customer-facing sales professionals and providing professional development opportunities?
  • Accountability - What are sales managers held accountable for, and what do they hold their teams accountable for as well?
In driving World-Class Sales Performance, we see a good balance between these three areas.  Below are some key initiatives relating specifically to sales management in which World Class outperform their peers:

Read this month’s Sales Performance Spotlight, which delves into sales managers’ accountability for forecast accuracy as a key initiative that drives sales performance.  If you are not a subscriber, sign up today to ensure you get the full insights from the Executive Summary of the 2014 Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study, which will be shared in June.

Posted: 4/16/2014 6:00:00 AM by Anne Petrik | with 0 comments

Would You Take This Sales Call?

From year to year, Miller Heiman research has made it abundantly clear that face-to-face time with customers is key to World-Class Sales Performance. In the 2014 Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study, World-Class Sales Performers were more than twice as likely to say their sales force spent sufficient time with customers.
If that’s the case, why is our voicemail filled with messages that start out with lines like:
“I’m just calling to touch base.”
“I’ve got a great new product I want to show you.”
“I will be in the area next week and wanted to see if you have time to meet.”
“I’d like to learn more about your business needs.”
The one that makes me cringe the most is the salesperson who calls to “touch base.” Makes me feel like I’m a check-off on their to-do list. Hardly flattering.
While the salesperson in the last example at least implies that he or she will add value, it’s still all about them. The message that comes through loud and clear for me is that they want to learn more about my business needs so they can sell me something.
I’m a lot like 100 percent of other busy executives. If you want to meet with me, you better make it pretty clear how you’re going to add value to my day. Buying me a coffee or lunch doesn’t count.
Instead of leaving a voicemail with a lame line that is bereft of any promise of value, how about something like:
“One of our customers in your industry was able to cut costs by 50 percent last year using an innovative process we recommended. If you have fifteen minutes next week, I’d love to share this idea with you.”
Of course, that’s only a knock at the door. Once you get in and have shared the promised value—and you must share it within the first fifteen minutes of that call—you will need to gather more detail on the customer’s unique situation. While the first fifteen minutes may have added value, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the exact kind of value they were looking for.
At Miller Heiman, we call this understanding the customer’s context and concept. In their simplest terms, context is the customer’s unique situation, whereas concept is what they think a solution looks like. If done well, your opening has earned you the right to explore these in more depth.
Posted: 4/14/2014 6:00:00 AM by Scott Hartman | with 0 comments

Providing Perspective - Customer Core Principle

Playing football/soccer on a regional level is different from playing football in the Premier League or the Champions League. Mental preparation, fitness, agility, training, coaching – all these requirements build on each other, but their characteristics and their intensity are different on each level. It’s a journey to get from one level to the next level.

In professional selling, we have come a long way. The industrial age was about mass marketing - product, place, promotion, and price. Product pitches were the results: “This is what we sell to you.” Then, selling solutions and invisible services became the core challenge. Capabilities were mapped to verticals and typical customer challenges. Selling evolved to presentations, meaning, “This is what we sell to people like you.” Now, we are in the relationship economy, the customer age – you name it. More important than different names is what they all have in common. It used to be that sales professionals knew more. But since the Internet changed the world, there is no longer a significant information asymmetry between sales professionals and customers. That does not necessarily mean, though, that because buyers are more informed, they know a whole lot better. Often, they are more confused because their context, their concepts, their specific situation are missing. The consequence must be to change the design point of “how to sell.”

Changing the design point to the customer at the core

Providing perspective is an engagement and messaging approach that works consequently backwards from the main design point – the customer’s journey and the stakeholders’ network. It’s about, “This is how you can achieve your goals.” It is about understanding the specific situational context, understanding the stakeholder’s different concepts on how to fix a problem and how to avoid a risk or how to accomplish a goal. Context and concepts are essential, but not enough to design a unique perspective. Understanding how this customer is going to make this decision at this time – this is the key differentiator to orchestrating an entire stakeholder network toward a shared future vision of success.

Based on context, concepts and the specific decision dynamic, the mapping process to your own portfolio of products and services takes place. The purpose is to design a unique approach that connects the dots to this specific buying context and to the stakeholder’s concepts and their situational dynamic that enables them to achieve their desired outcomes.

Providing perspective requires more than enabling a sales professional with content on products and services and product training. Enablement functions need to sharpen their scope to improve a sales professional’s skills, his or her knowledge on verticals, challenges, buyer roles and their challenges, and specific customer-management strategies. Additionally, leading and orchestrating large stakeholder networks is a differentiating skill – especially in complex buying environments.

Enabling perspectives requires sales enablement to evolve the discipline to the next level – that means shifting the design point from the customer core to integrating currently missing elements and redefining the scope of enablement content and training services.

Enabling perspectives and defining the next level of sales enablement – Join me in Chicago for the SAVO Sales Enablement Summit, April 15-17!
Posted: 4/9/2014 6:00:00 AM by Tamara Schenk | with 0 comments

3 Ways to Tame the Lone Wolves in Your Sales Force

Every sales leader has seen their share of lone wolves. These are salespeople who unaccountably make or exceed their numbers and bring in significant revenues, but have a tendency to resist participating in any organizational changes that are implemented to drive consistent, measurable performance improvement.
I recall a recent meeting with a very large client where several key executives were discussing an issue they had with funnel detail, forecast accuracy and insights that would allow them to better leverage best practices to drive consistent organizational performance improvement.  At one point, a key sales leader posed a question regarding a “lone wolf” top performer.  As she explained it, this person met (usually exceeded) his number year after year and was again well ahead of quota year-to-date.  However, this person resisted following established sales processes and CRM use. She asked, “What do you think we should do? Should I let him go?”
This led to an interesting discussion among the executive team, with viewpoints ranging between two extremes:
No way! When he stops making his numbers, fire him. Until then, we can’t do without the revenue he brings in.
Of course! It’s unacceptable for a sales professional not to be a team player and unhealthy for the business.
Sound familiar? Discussions just like this one happen every day in organizations both large and small.
Putting Organizational Performance Ahead of Individual Performance
Lone wolves have grown accustomed to receiving recognition for their individual performance. Even if the sales organization fails to meet its numbers, lone wolves know they will receive applause and compensation commensurate to their achievements and that the organization’s poor performance won’t be held against them. In the really lean years, sales leadership may be so pleased that someone made their numbers that the level of recognition the lone wolf receives increases.
I’m not suggesting that you take away the recognition or compensation based on individual performance. Top sales performers thrive on individual recognition and probably always will. To be successful, sales leaders must create a culture in which organizational performance is as highly regarded as individual performance.
3 Ways to Tame the Lone Wolf
The challenge for sales leaders is to leverage the strengths and sales techniques of the lone wolf without impacting their performance or job satisfaction.
  1. Observe them in their natural habitat. It’s tempting to spend all of your time with underperformers. Unlike the lone wolves, some of them are even grateful for your assistance. However, you need to observe your top performers as well. Results never tell the whole story. Nor do second-hand accounts of how a sale was made. First-hand observation is crucial to gaining insight.
  2. Put them in charge. Whether they like it or not, lone wolves are leaders in the organization, and their less successful peers will follow them. Find the alphas among your lone wolves and give them responsibility for teaching their success strategies to others. 
  3. Recognize leadership and pack performance. Some sales organizations may need to tone down the individual accolades and ramp up recognition of team performance. If you’re already recognizing organizational performance, you might try adjusting compensation plans so that at least a portion of the lone wolf’s compensation package is based on team performance.
Notice that none of these strategies requires the lone wolves to change their selling style. It’s important to help them understand that you’re not trying to change them; you’re simply trying to leverage their approach with the rest of the organization. At the end of the day, it is up to sales leaders to create the processes that embody the best practices followed by lone wolves. Only then can these behaviors be institutionalized for improved performance and results.
How have you dealt with the lone wolves in your organization? Did you leave them alone and let them do what they do best, hoping that they’d keep making their numbers and never leave? Or did you try to bring them into the rest of the pack to improve results across the sales organization? Reach out to me directly at or add your comments below.
Posted: 4/7/2014 6:00:00 AM by Dana Palmblad | with 0 comments

Never Lose Alone

As I write this, March Madness is in full swing here in the U.S. For our friends outside the U.S., March Madness is an annual college basketball tournament. A field of 68 teams gets whittled down, game-by-game, week-by-week, to the championship battle in early April. While we’re not talking European football-levels of hysteria, American employers lose billions of dollars worth of productivity and Internet bandwidth every March as their employees stream the games live during work hours.

Even when I don’t have a “horse in the race,” I always find myself rooting for one team or the other. I love to see winners win, but it can be heartbreaking to see great teams lose. Watching teammates congratulate and console each other, it occurred to me that sales is a team sport, too.

Like with the star player, individual performances in sales are highlighted. Many sales organizations have their own version of an MVP (Most Valuable Player) award. But winning alone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, the applause feels good, but is selling alone worth the risks?

When you sell alone, you lose alone, too. And when you lose alone, questions from management come up: What did you do wrong? What did you overlook? Did you follow the process? Did you do everything you could? Like the star player who suddenly can’t sink a single free throw, the spotlight is all on what you’re not doing right.

Recently, I read a tongue-in-cheek blog post where the author encouraged sales reps to make sure they always involve someone from their organization the second negotiations start to go south. This gives you someone with whom to share the blame when the deal falls through. We laugh, but hopefully, we shake our heads, too.

Timing Is (Almost) Everything
Success in a complex opportunity isn’t just about pulling in more people. You need to involve the right people, at the right time. So how do you decide whom to pull in and when to pull them into the opportunity?  

The best way is to consider where your customers are in their buying process and align your resources accordingly. For example, a demonstration with a subject matter expert might be helpful in the initial stages. During the pricing and payment discussion, you could bring in someone from accounting to explain financing options. Resources like these have their own areas of expertise, and pulling them in at the wrong time can make the customer feel you are out of synch with their buying process. Plan ahead to ensure their availability, but watch the signals your buyer is giving you to be sure you’ve got the timing down.

Executive-to-executive introductions – when done right – can show how committed your organization is to the customer’s success. But be judicious in your use of executives, as this can backfire if misused or poorly timed. You might want to think twice about calling in an executive as a last-ditch effort to save a deal. If you’re involving an executive to “put out fires,” there’s a good chance the deal is beyond saving.

Plus, this places you in a bad light in two ways. First, your customer now sees you as an order-taker and the executive as the person they need to speak to when they need something important. If this is a long-term, strategic account, this won’t be the last time they go over your head.

Worse yet, your executive now thinks he has a-less-than-competent salesperson who almost bungled an important piece of business.  Even if your executive is able to save the deal, it’s often not the Win-Win outcome you were aiming for. You’ve put the executive in a position where they are most likely going to have to make concessions.  After all, they don’t want to lose the deal any more than you do. If they lose the deal, they also lose credibility, and putting an executive in that position is never a good career move.

For more on when to  – and when not to – bring an executive into a sales call, refer to Miller Heiman’s recently published Sales Performance Tip: How to Make the Most of Your Executive in a Sales Call.

Make no mistake, I believe in personal responsibility and taking charge of your own success. However, sustained success requires an acknowledgement that you can’t always go it alone. Top performers have the ability to identify and secure the right resources. Top performers also tend to be team players. They know that success is multiplied when they tap into the strengths of the team to win.
Posted: 4/2/2014 6:00:00 AM by Ric Robbins | with 0 comments

Bringing Perspective to Your Customer: Three Points of Perspective

We’ve all gotten that phone call – the one that tells us we’ve won, selected from among all other options, to be the company that has earned the right to do business on the project.
One afternoon, I got that phone call from an existing client on a critical, million-dollar piece of business where we were neither the incumbent nor the frontrunner. We had worked hard to differentiate ourselves, but were unsure of how it would turn out. Here is what I heard over the phone that day:
“Rich, I’m calling to tell you that you’ve won the business. More than just that, I wanted to tell you why. Our team is certain that you understand what we’re trying to accomplish better than anyone else and that our odds of success with our project are better if we choose you rather than any other alternative we have.”
Whew. Perhaps you receive that exact kind of a phone call from a senior executive frequently – to be candid, it’s not a regular occurrence in my experience.  When I had a chance to dig deeper, I searched for the reasons that we won. Beyond what the client had said, why did they really choose to do business with us?
It came down to one word: perspective.  We had brought perspective to the client – a point of view, a true understanding of the importance of the things that would make them successful. Looking into the details of this situation and many since, I’ve boiled down the essence of bringing winning perspective to your customer into three key elements: 

1. Personalized Perspective 

Customers don’t want generalized points of view – those are a dime a dozen and can be gathered from any public source. They want a point of view that is specific to them, relevant to them, and that can be immediately applied by them.
We’re way past the time where case studies, customer references and marketing slicks represent perspective. In the world of interactive media and instantaneous public information, these are now table stakes. How do your sales and marketing teams align on what your customers are trying to accomplish and lead them into the future with your point of view on their direction?

2. Proven Perspective

In the win I referenced, it was critical that we provide data – from the customer, about the customer – that not only proved the case we were proposing but allowed them to predict their results going forward.
On top of that, we were able to provide specific research that backed up our point of view and showed the customer the direction that others had already taken and used to achieve predictable success.
A point of view without proof is hollow. Not only will your customer ask you, “So what?” (personalized perspective) they will quickly follow that with “Prove it!” (proven perspective).
3. People = Perspective

Perhaps the best of all ways to bring perspective to your customer is to bring people to your customer through collaborative selling--using every relevant resource that can increase the content and value of your point of view.  Gone are the days when we worried about “matching up” or overpowering the customer with too many people. Customers want as many relevant resources as possible to be brought to bear upon helping them make the right decision, build the right solution and ensure their success.
This may be the most uncomfortable step of all in the pursuit of providing perspective.  It requires a level of trust and the need to give up some amount of (perceived) control over the selling process.  In the end, the barometer is the customer, not the salesperson.  Who will bring the customer value? Who can bring true, differentiated perspective?
The phone is going to ring again soon.  Who will your customer call?

Posted: 3/31/2014 6:00:00 AM by Rich Blakeman | with 0 comments

3 Steps to Predictive Funnel Management

Forecasting! As a sales leader, who hasn’t felt the stress and worry about their forecast. Your credibility is on the line. Do you sandbag? Should you tell management what they want to hear and hope for the best at the end of the period? 
For as long as the profession has existed, salespeople, sales managers and business leaders have struggled to predict which opportunities will close this month, next month and the month after. The further out they go, the more unpredictable the numbers are as opportunities that were scarcely on the radar suddenly close and “hot deals” grow cold.
Unfortunately, poor funnel management leads to a host of problems. Business leaders make the wrong decisions based on erroneous predictions. Sales managers approve discounts where none are warranted. The profession of salesperson becomes more stressful than it already is. Clearly, there are benefits to be gained from improving funnel management.

A sales leader who is consistently accurate is a rare thing in the world of selling. But those who crack the code have credibility in their organization, and the leader’s strategic importance is enhanced.
In my work with sales organizations, I see three major obstacles to predictive funnel management:

  1. Inconsistency in how the sales team defines an opportunity’s position in the funnel. It’s not just inconsistency between salespeople. Without a common framework, even an individual salesperson cannot be consistent.
  2. Too much focus on the salesperson’s actions and not enough on the customer’s buying process. Movement between sales stages must be based on actions buyers take, not on the salesperson’s completion of a task.
  3. Inconsistent reporting of opportunities. To avoid scrutiny, many salespeople wait to report a deal until it’s about ready to close.
With all three strikes against an organization, it’s no wonder forecasts are wildly inaccurate, but even one of these obstacles can cause problems. For example, let’s say your team agrees on sales stage definitions and the buying actions needed to progress an opportunity down the funnel. If they aren’t reporting opportunities until they’re ready to close, any forecasts further out than a few weeks are going to be inaccurate.
The key to addressing all three issues is transparency. Essentially, transparency removes the “gut feel” from sales and replaces it with a far more reliable method of managing the funnel.
Driving transparency and, therefore, predictive funnel management is a three-step process:
Step 1: All parties involved in funnel management: frontline sales, management, sales operations, marketing etc., must define and agree upon a common definition of the stages in the sales funnel.
Step 2: As part of the common framework, there must be agreement on what buying actions must occur for an opportunity to progress down the funnel.
Step 3: Opportunity identification and progress through the funnel must be made transparent throughout the organization.
Transparency is the hardest part. In the past, it called for spreadsheets and lots of funnel reviews. From information gathered during the reviews, the sales leader could roll up a number and apply other factors, including gut feel and political expediency, to come up with a prediction. Too many organizations still do forecasting that way.
Transparency requires the organization to rely less on the subjective and more on the objective.  In steps one and two, the common framework lays the foundation by enabling the consistent application of the sales methodology. To achieve transparency in step 3, salespeople need to be consistent in the way they report opportunity progress and funnel status to their managers. Sales managers, in turn, need to be consistent in the way they report progress further up the sales hierarchy. Using a common tool for funnel reviews and reporting helps remove the subjective nature of the forecast. 

(Originally posted Nov. 26, 2013)
Posted: 3/26/2014 6:00:00 AM by Roger Snow | with 0 comments

Frontline Sales Managers Need Enablement

Michael Jordan is one of the most brilliant basketball players ever. His discipline to become world class, to achieve the brilliance that inspired millions of people, is well known. But he wasn’t nearly that successful as a coach.

It’s the same in sales organizations. It’s not necessarily the best salesperson who makes the best manager and leader. Both roles couldn’t be more different from each other. Managing one’s own performance versus coaching a team to its best performance requires a completely different skill set—self-management versus leading others. Look at Vince Lombardi--not the best football player, but definitely one of the best coaches ever.

Many newly appointed frontline sales managers are thrown into the new role with little-to-no training or coaching. They find themselves between a rock and a hard place—between competing challenges that come with the new role, such as customer-management strategies; becoming a business manager; and becoming an effective coach. The resulting consequence is an onboarding time between one and two years. What sales organization can afford that? None.

When it comes to increasing sales productivity and executing your sales strategy, frontline sales managers have the most important role in any sales organization. Let’s assume a 1:10 control span and then imagine the business damage a bad frontline sales manager can cause versus the business wins an excellent frontline sales manager, acting as a great coach, can create. As a sales leader, you should leverage this potential – with the right first steps.

“But we have enablement and training functions.” I hear you. Unfortunately, most enablement functions don’t consider frontline sales managers as a specific target group. If they do, most of the time they offer the same content and training services that are provided for frontline sales professionals. That actually falls more in the category of information sharing rather than effective role-specific enablement. But it is exactly in this area where the synergies are the biggest and where the low-hanging fruits couldn’t hang any lower:

First, build a task force of excellent frontline sales managers who are well known for their coaching skills, along with enablement experts who also cover sales methodology. They should take the existing enablement services on content and training that are provided along the customer journey for frontline sales people and then define the must-haves for each stage. Next, the frontline sales managers get coaching guidelines to be used in conversations with their team members as they proceed along the customer journey. Finally, the top frontline sales managers can act as mentors for the new managers and help them learn how to coach effectively based on these guidelines.

That’s an investment not only in equipping your frontline sales managers with the tools to increase their effectiveness. You are also ensuring that what the sales professionals learned in training is now getting reinforced on a regular basis due to coaching by the frontline sales managers.

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”
--Vince Lombardi
Posted: 3/24/2014 6:00:00 AM by Tamara Schenk | with 0 comments

Power of Perspective

It is true that customers are more demanding and informed than they have ever been, and it is true that this makes it an even bigger challenge for professional salespeople. Many companies and thought leaders have responded to this dynamic with all sorts of tactics and tools that serve to automate the salesperson. This puts the sales executive at the end of the value chain and forces them into a role that is confined to communicating packaged messages. 

This is not at all what customers want. Customers value perspective from the people they work with.
  • Perspective is what one knows, thinks, experiences and communicates. The reason salespeople want to bring senior execs on calls is so they can add their perspective to a client situation. 
  • Perspective helps clients avoid unintended consequences and does not stop at getting the order.
  • Perspective focuses beyond getting the sale and squarely on the results that the customer is out to achieve. 
Raising the perspective of the salesperson is what companies need to focus on if they want to truly deliver added value through the sales force. The challenge is taking an enterprise approach to building perspective among the sales force, and this brings into view the priority around having a clear customer management strategy.

Developing a strategy of how the company is going to connect with customers is the single most important decision a sales leader can make. This decision of determining your customer management strategy is the building block for all of the supporting business decisions that will help enable the sales organization to be successful.

If your strategy is unclear or undefined then it will be virtually impossible to effectively run the business. But if it is clear and coordinated, then it will be the platform to help share knowledge about customers in a consistent way that elevates the perspective of everyone.  To succeed, customers need salespeople to bring them added perspective.
Editor’s Note: Read more about perspective in the Sales Performance Journal.
Posted: 3/19/2014 6:00:00 AM by Sam Reese | with 0 comments

How to Get the RFP to RIP

Most sales professionals face Request for Proposals (RFPs or RFQs) in their B2B selling environment. We would like to explore the challenges associated with RFPs and how to address them. This can put you in a stronger position to allow a Win-Win solution with your customers.

I want to explore one topic before we begin. I ask the following question of sales professionals and sales leaders. “Put yourself in your customer’s shoes: How does your direct competition really compare with regard to products and service?” The answer is always consistent. “They closely compare.” This means that it will take some work to differentiate in competitive situations.

Why are RFPs developed?
Request for proposals have many desired outcomes. First, they obviously dictate the specifications needed to fulfill a need of a customer. This could be product or service or both. Compliance is another important outcome in today’s environment. And there are many others.

The following RFP outcomes are the ones that are hard to face:

  • They commoditize you. Let’s face it, the RFP calls out common elements and places you in a war of price based on the common characteristics.
  • They keep you honest. If you currently have the business, you may not be in a Win-Win relationship. This means that your product or service is longer perceived to have all the benefits it once did. The customer may not trust you, and this is not a healthy situation.
  • They force you to divulge information with no guarantee of success.

What challenges do RFPs present?
The biggest challenge may be feeling that you are in a “never-ending cycle.” Unless you change your sales strategy, then that will be the case.

Another challenge could be that the original trigger event for the product or service solution is long past. This could have occurred a year ago or twenty years ago. Since the original solution was put in place, it has become a commoditized process

Winning the Opportunity Without an RFP
Sales professionals are keenly aware that the product manufacturer or service provider designs the RFP. So you are faced with bidding on your competition’s features and specifications.

RFPs are time consuming. I have seen RFPs packed with strenuous details to allow insights. Customers then can use the data everyone provides for a pick-and-choose situation.

So how can sales professionals address RFPs? You change the game.

First, chances are that once the RFP has been rendered, you are too late. You can submit to the process, but your chances of winning the bid is minimal. You can decline to bid but you should ask if it will have an impact on the relationship. I have personally declined to submit some RFPs and never experienced issues with the relationship.

Changing the game means you need to address the area the product serves and get to the final decision maker for discussion on return on the investment. This individual will be more interested in hearing your solution as it relates to the impact to the company or organization. Identifying this individual is often challenging, so you will need to reach out to your customer contacts for assistance in this search to ensure the discussion takes place.

Once you have identified the prospect, you need to have a solid reason for him or her to meet you. Try putting yourself in their situation before you frame your reason.

Next, by not participating in the RFP, you’ll need to show different results. Usually the status quo has “set in” on the product or service in hand, so you will need to provide insights that place your solution in a different light. Your proposed solution should immediately stand out as a new opportunity for the customer organization.

Finally, you’ll need to think creatively. What does the current supplier solution NOT provide? In order to differentiate yourself, you need discover what is important to the buying influence and then offer creative solutions that differentiate you.

If you truly want the RFP to RIP, you will need to change your game plan.

Posted: 3/17/2014 6:00:00 AM by Roger Shepard | with 0 comments

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