Miller Heiman Blog

Identifying Believers in Disguise

As channel leaders and channel managers start planning for next year, we encourage channel organizations to assess partner performance and potential to determine where you should apply your always-limited resources. It may be helpful to segment channels into three categories: Achievers, Believers, and Deceivers. Many of the channel organizations around the world find these designations useful for highlighting future potential instead of judging channel partners based solely on past performance. You want to focus resources on those partners who want to succeed and are willing to do what it takes but still need you to show them how. They are your Believers.
At least that’s how we’ve described Believers in the past. However, as my colleague and I were discussing the concept, we decided the description may be too limiting.

In previous posts, we’ve suggested that channel managers should let Achievers, those partners that seem to have reached the pinnacle of performance, run on autopilot so the channel manager has time to develop the Believers. While that’s still generally a good rule, there is a special group of Achievers that might actually be better classified as Believers.

These are the top performers with even bigger plans. Just because they are in the top 10 percent or even in the top 1 percent of your revenue producers doesn’t mean they’ve reached the pinnacle of their definition of success. They might want to add a new office in another country, double their sales volume, drop your major competitor and focus exclusively on your solution, or add a new vertical. Whatever their goals, don’t let your satisfaction with their past performance hold them back.

Unlike many of your Achievers, these Believers are not on autopilot. Do business planning with them, find out what their goals are and, assuming they are aligned with your corporate strategy, do what you can to support them. Achievers who are really Believers are the best partners you can have. They already know what success tastes like, and they want even more of it.

Posted by: Jan de Leon | Director of Channel Sales, Asia Pacific at Channel Enablers
Posted: 11/19/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


The Missing Piece That Makes Channel Managers Become Trusted Advisors

Whenever I get a chance to talk to channel leaders I try to ask them, How can we help our channel managers become a trusted advisor to our channel partners?

And just to make sure we’re on the same page, I follow up by asking them what it means to be a trusted advisor. Pretty common answers include:

  • The channel manager understands the channel partner’s situation, how they make money, what their goals are. Things like that.
  • They empathize with their partners, knowing when to push them and when to back off a bit.
  • The partners come to the channel manager with their challenges and their goals. The channel manager doesn’t really even need to ask.
  • They do what the channel manager asks them to do because they know it will help them achieve their goals.
  • The partner is open with their information, telling their channel manager things probably only their banker and board of directors knows.
  • The door is always open to these channel managers. If the channel manager wants a meeting, they get it.
Responses like these tell me we’re definitely on the same page. These channel leaders understand the importance of being a trusted advisor. They’re expressing the benefits both in terms of what the channel partner gets as well as the benefits to the organization. Having a channel manager who is a trusted advisor is a Win-Win scenario.

Next, I ask them, What are some of the things you do right now to help your channel manager become a trusted advisor?

The answers I get here span a range from the mundane to the highly creative, but some more common responses are:
  • We encourage our channel managers to spend as much time with partners as possible.
  • We equip our channel managers with tools that we know will help our partners generate opportunities and close more business.
  • We make sure our channel managers have the knowledge they need to educate partners on the market.
  • Our channel managers engage partners in joint business planning.
All good ideas, but the devil is definitely in the execution. Most of these channel leaders don’t believe their channel managers are viewed as trusted advisors. So what’s the missing ingredient in the secret sauce?

Study Reveals Core Behavior Gap

Our 2014 Channel Enablers Channel Competency Study suggests that many channel organizations already know the answer—and it’s a universal one. Mastering this behavior will help your channel managers regardless of whether their territory is in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Asia or the Pacific. It’s not often you get this kind of leverage from one behavior. Better still, it’s a behavior most of us already know how to do fairly well, even if we don’t put it into practice often enough.

Across all three regions we studied—the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific—channel leaders agreed that listening was key to influencing desired results through a channel organization and that they all needed to get better at consistently applying effective questioning and listening in order to build trusted relationships.

Of course, listening doesn’t mean we sit there like a bump on a log while our channel partners pour out their stories. Not only would it be unproductive, getting most channel partners to open up is going to take a little more effort than that. Channel managers need to ask the right questions. They need to paraphrase what they heard to make sure they understood – and to demonstrate that they want to understand. Then they need to ask more questions.

What makes this so hard is that most sales professionals – and channel managers are no exception – want to lead the conversation to a predetermined outcome. They know what information they need or what actions they want the partner to take, and their questions are designed to achieve the g
oal via the shortest route possible. If a channel manager is responsible for 60 or 70 partners, this behavior is at least understandable.
However, as in life, if you don’t pay attention to the journey, you’re going to miss the most important bits. Often, it’s what the partners say that is “off-script” that gives the greatest clues to what’s important to them. Understanding these unexpected perspectives will help the channel manager work with the partner in crafting a common vision for success.

If you’d like a copy of the 2014 Channel Enablers Channel Competency Study Executive Summary, you can request it here. If you haven’t already registered for our Partner Manager Resource Center, you will need to do that first. However, it’s fast, free and easy – and gives you access to some great channel management resources.

Posted by: Rich Blakeman | Managing Director, Channel Enablers
Posted: 11/17/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


Let’s Talk About Success (But First Let’s Define It)

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of blogs from a conversation with Josh Cardoz of SwissVBS and Lisa Schnoll, Miller Heiman Product Manager, Advanced ConceptsSM, and Lindsay Cavarra, Miller Heiman Marketing Manager for Products. Swiss VBS, a strategic partner of MHI Global, is a creative learning and development company that takes a solution approach to how they help organizations transform their learning.

Q. What makes a training initiative successful?

A. [Josh]: This is something quite common that you find brought up in the learning and development space–what do we define as “success”? It’s so contextual, and it’s also based on what you’re looking for. L&D in an organization is ultimately about how you can find a way to impact performance. That could be as simple as high engagement; it can be as low-hanging fruit as high participation. We do still have customers that just say, “Listen, no one’s taking our training--we just want someone to take our training!” That’s all they want, so that metric really is just about participation. I think these days the conversation is now moving toward, “How are we bringing learning closer to doing?” At SwissVBS, that’s our mission. We’re always talking about how to bridge that gap where learning is performance by performance. It’s not necessarily about learning and performance in two separate spaces. When I’m thinking about the best practices that make an initiative a success, though, it really starts with the organization’s definition of success. If they feel like we can implement success factors in there that help track and define goals for success, then that allows us on both sides to mutually agree on what success is going to be.

Q: Can you elaborate on defining success?

A. [Josh] Sure. One of the big challenges we have in the L&D space is how do we at the very end say, “This was a successful project”? Organizations come to us and say, “I need to improve this, and I know one of the channels to improving this is through L&D.” Everyone comes to us with that because they realize that training is essential—which it is, but the gray area is in figuring out how do you know that you were able to improve performance because of training and not just training as one possible consequence of your overall performance? I’ll give you one example of a diversity training we created. How are you supposed to define success in regards to diversity? I mean, the overall message is that diverse organizations perform better, and studies indicate that, but how do you translate that to overall performance—does that mean now that we’re going to immediately succeed? Soft skills is always going to have that sort of issue in terms of defining success.

So you have to think about success in a different way: Maybe you debrief with certain surveys, maybe you take polls, maybe you do interviews afterwards with select employees, and you see how their attitudes have changed. In that particular type of training, you’re trying to enable behavioral change almost through an epiphany—something suddenly snaps in their head and they realize, “Wow, I’ve been thinking the wrong way this entire time.” [Successfully implementing what’s learned at a diversity training] is a more difficult “success-oriented” goal, but you also get goals such as, “I need to make sure that 90 percent of my project management staff utilizes their software, and I need to make sure they completely understand the software tool in order to do it.” So you create a software tool and participation rates indicate that now they get it. And if that’s tied to your usage rates, then you realize that the L&D initiative has helped you.

If you’re talking about an onboarding training, you want to reduce attrition, obviously. So if you’ve created a highly engaging onboarding program, you start tracking their attrition rates. It’s dependent on two things: a) the internal metrics for the organization, which they sometimes are and sometimes are not willing to share, and b) what your technical components can provide you. When it comes to what you can track in terms of success that’s defined from the outset, your LMS [Learning Management System] essentially puts you in a box. There are holistic goals and there are specific goals, and I think the holistic goals are easier to define than the specific goals, but at the end of the day, specific goals are what give your ROI.

[Lisa]: Absolutely. Going through a large build (designing a visual learning engagement) as we currently are, we know that setting and defining those goals before you go to market in order to have a way to track the success is really critical. And it’s also helpful when you’re in the design phase because then you can say, “OK, we have this decision to make—this technical feature is really neat and I want it, but it might take longer to develop. How critical is it toward those goals?” And so you can really track yourself against what you want your outcome to be if you create that framework at the beginning.


Now that we’ve defined success, stay tuned for the second in this blog series on steps you can take that will get you headed in the right direction toward success
 

Posted: 11/12/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


Finish Strong, Start Strong: Preparing for End-of-Year Success

It’s hard to believe, but in a few weeks, we’ll be in the throes of the New Year’s countdown into 2015. The good news is, for most of us, it’s not too early to put things in place for a strong end to 2014. And, there’s no better way to start on strong footing in the new year than to end the present year on a strong note.

In sales, this is the time to push forward with creating new opportunities. It’s also an important period to focus on existing customer relationships. Our Year-End Guide for Sales Leaders outlines seven steps for doing just these things:
  1. Identify and prioritize opportunities; focus on the quality of deals that you’re attempting to close rather than on the quantity. Start with leads already in the sales funnel.
  2. Understand the issues that are important to key customers: What are they trying to fix, accomplish or avoid. Don’t get trapped by trying to close the deal before making sure your customers understand their own needs.
  3. Don’t try to cut the sales process short. Instead, keep pace with where your customers are in their buying process.
  4. Create. Create. Create. Build a viable sales funnel for the near, mid- and more distant future to ensure the long-term health of your sales funnel.
  5. Don’t forget your existing customers. It’s easy to get caught up digging for treasure and forget to be thankful for what you already have. Continue to strengthen existing relationships, and remember the words of “Auld Lang Syne”: Don’t forget those old acquaintances.
  6. Remember to bring perspective to the sales process and help salespeople remember that each customer is different. Rarely do one-size-fits-all templates work for all customers.
  7. Focus on intrinsic motivation more than extrinsic motivation to get salespeople excited about their goals. Help associates to reflect on their internal motivations and how their activity links to the organization’s strategic goals.

So before we get even a day closer to ringing out the old and ringing in the new, recommit to regaining your focus, making sure you’re creating opportunities and closing key deals. Instead of seeing your sales force lumber into the fourth quarter on autopilot, put things in place to ensure your company is re-energized for the final stretch to that finish line.

Posted by Carol Reynes | Sales Consultant
Posted: 11/10/2014 6:00:00 AM by Bret Poinier | with 0 comments


The Cost of Doing Nothing

Winners are not complacent. Winners do not think about “good enough.” Winners look for opportunities to be better.

I’ve been seeing this more often lately as the phenomenon of “a rising tide floats all boats” has taken place in many industries. When things appear to be back on track and numbers are returning to pre-downturn levels, it feels a lot more comfortable than the previous conditions. So for some, it feels like the small improvements are good enough. But, is it really?

When companies allow the marketplace to dictate their results, they will always be at the mercy of market conditions, rising and falling with the tide. Salespeople in these companies make excuses like, “The customer just isn’t ready” and “It’s really hard out there.” As our CEO is fond of saying, that’s loser talk.

Winners look at an upturn and say, “How can we do more with this situation?” They think about how they can not only keep their market share, but also how they outperform the market.

If you are satisfied with the results you are achieving by doing nothing, you have your bar set too low. You are leaving money on the table. You are preventing your team from experiencing what it feels like to pull away from the rest of the pack. Consider the potential of applying actions that expand on the results you are seeing.

Growth comes from taking action. Complacency will have you floating on the tide until the tide goes out on you again next time.

Posted by: Nattalie Hoch | Executive Vice President, Sales Operations
Posted: 11/5/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


In Search of Funnel Excellence

Tom Peters: “Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it.”

Tom Peters is an American writer on business management practices, best known for “In Search of Excellence.” Let me connect his statements with findings from our MHI Research Institute’s latest study and my thoughts about funnel excellence.

We consistently find that organizations with higher levels of funnel confidence are also more likely to achieve their quota. In contrast, confidence in the available CRM data, which is a representation of their Sales Funnel, regularly gets one of the lowest scores in our survey. Funnel confidence and forecast accuracy represent the sales organization’s ability to execute proficiently and precisely.

At Miller Heiman, our typical Sales Funnel has four stages: (1) Universe: Starting with initial contact, ideas for future opportunities or simply any form of client enquiry. This is where prospecting occurs and where we have the highest volume (number of enquires, revenue impact) with the lowest probability. (2) Above the Funnel: After connecting with our client’s decision makers and jointly agreeing about interest in our offering. (3) In the Funnel: Closely working with our customer by generating the maximum value in the minds of all decision makers involved. (4) Best Few: Final steps with our customer’s decision makers are defined, we confirmed a high probability of getting the sale, and the order is expected. This is the narrowest part of our funnel but has the highest probability.

There are of course instances that require special handling outside our funnel, such as call-off orders from an annual purchasing agreement, large deals that significantly impact the overall revenue of our funnel, or “out of the blue” projects and changes.

Tom Peters: “The thing that keeps a business ahead of the competition is excellence in execution.”

The prime purpose of any meaningful Sales Funnel is to focus on excellence in execution with a set of well-crafted sales actions, in line with buyer commitments. We fully understand what it takes to move our client’s enquiry throughout the different stages toward the final order. Assigning probabilities helps us to statistically calculate values in the different stages and quickly determine corrective actions based on our funnel shape. Therefore, the second purpose of our Sales Funnel is to coach our sales team for results. Most managers focus only on measurable, statistical data about opportunities, forgetting about the values, attitudes, and concepts held by the people involved with our customers. Finally, by automating our Sales Funnel, we ensure structure and consistency in gathering client information. And, by making it available to our organization, we introduce best practices and encourage collaboration and proper resource management.

Tom Peters: “We got it right when we said that we were in search of excellence. Not competitive advantage. Not economic growth. Not market dominance or strategic differentiation. Not maximized shareholder value. Excellence!”

Once the definitions and the purpose of our Sales Funnel are fully understood, we seek regular usage from all parts of our company—only then will we start seeing the multiple benefits of our “living” Sales Funnel.

The least focus of funnel management is about forecasting, but rather on the selling behaviors that will result in proper prioritization and the highly accurate assessments of the opportunity status from a customer perspective. It is about a manager providing performance coaching to move opportunities through the funnel. The end result of these activities will be more accurate forecasts. The funnel helps to address uncertainties and consistently improves the chances of winning as we progress to the different stages. We—this is the whole company—are on our way toward excellence in funnel management, which will result in excellence in customer-facing execution.

Posted by: Klaus Leutbecher | Sales Vice President
Posted: 11/1/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


Let’s (Not) Make a Deal: Coaching the Underperformer, Part 3

When you’re looking for quick wins at the end of the year, it can be tempting to play “let’s make a deal.” I’ve even had salespeople tell me they love this time of year because their prospects are ready for the offer and opportunities are easy to close.
 
If that strikes you as a little self-defeating, I’d say you’re on to something. These salespeople are training their prospects to wait for a discount. Some have even admitted sales are pretty dead in the first part of the quarter because customers know if they wait they’ll get a better offer.
 
To be honest, I know there were times in my career when I encouraged last-minute discounts. I’ll bet some of you reading this right now are doing the same thing. As sales leaders, we’re not only human, we’re extremely busy humans under immense pressure. Helping an underperformer make his or her numbers is hard and time-consuming. Who could blame us if we take the easy way out at the end of the period?
 
Think Twice
I’ve already stated one of the most obvious problems with discounting—you train prospects to wait for the offer. And as if that wasn’t enough, there are a number of other issues with end-of-year/quarter discounts:
 
You’re selling, not coaching. My colleague Curt Samson talked about this in our last post, “Focusing on the Funnel: Coaching the Underperformer, Part 2Coaching the Underperformer: Focusing on the Funnel.” When you step in and decide how to close a deal at the last minute, you’re selling. You need to be coaching. It’s the only way to achieve sustainable performance improvements.
 
You’re focused on the sales process, not the buying process. Your underperformer needs to learn now to assess the customer’s buying process and help guide the customer to a natural close. Discounting at the last minute undermines that learning, and your underperformer starts the next quarter no wiser than they were the last. The other lesson the underperformer will never learn is how to provide value above the expected price the prospect will pay.
 
You’re going to lose opportunities. What do you do when the customer doesn’t agree to your deal? You’ve told them how low you’re willing to go. How often do you close a deal at a higher price after your offer expires? More often than not, that hot opportunity falls out of your funnel or you have to offer the same deal to get them to close.
 
There are times when a discount may be warranted, but in the long run, the less discounting, the better. I know it’s hard, especially when your numbers are on the line. But as I would always remind my sales team, “If it were easy, anyone could do it.”

Posted by: Tim Call | Executive Vice President of Sales
Posted: 10/29/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


Focusing on the Funnel: Coaching the Underperformer, Part 2

It’s the end of the year. (Or the quarter) If you’re like most sales managers, you have a few underperformers on your team. Now your boss is asking what you’re going to do about it. Given the heat you’re getting, you probably want to turn things around as quickly as possible, right?
 
Looking for the Quick Wins
The funnel is, of course, the first place most frontline sales managers (FSMs) think to look, and a review of existing opportunities is a logical place to start. But in the case of the funnel, it’s not so much where you look but how you look that makes all the difference. You have to ask the right questions.
 
Most FSMs start with two questions:
  • What opportunities do you have in your funnel that can be closed before the end of the year?
  • What will it take to close them?
That approach only gets you so far. After all, if your salesperson knew how to close the business, he or she probably would have done it already. More than likely, they’ll list a handful of opportunities and start talking about what kind of deal they might accept. Calculating in your head how much closer these opportunities will get you to goal, you offer to step in and handle the negotiations.
 
In this scenario, what has the underperforming sales professional learned? Not much, other than how to get their sales manager to sell on their behalf. That’s not coaching. That’s selling.
 
Ask the Right Questions
Time for a rewind. Let’s go back to the conversation with the underperformer and take a look at the kinds of questions you should ask. Perhaps the biggest mistake a salesperson can make is to confuse their sales process with the customer’s buying process. Same goes for the FSM.
 
The conversation with the underperforming salesperson starts out the same way:
  • What opportunities do you have in your funnel that can be closed before the end of the year?
But that’s where the similarities end. Asking what can be done to close the business puts the emphasis on the salesperson’s activities. To help close the business, we need to focus on the customer by asking questions like:
  • What is their decision process? Where are they at in that process?
  • When do they expect to make a decision? Is there anything such as a budget issue that would encourage them to make this decision before the end of the year? Anything that might stand in their way and prevent them from making a decision?
  • Who are the buyers involved and what are their personal wins? What messages are we using with these buyers?
 
There are several fundamental advantages to this approach. First, by focusing on what the customer needs to move forward, you’re moving away from selling on price as an automatic fallback. More importantly, though, asking questions like these gives you the opportunity to diagnose why the salesperson isn’t performing. No coach, whether they are coaching an athlete or a sales professional, can be effective if they don’t know what skills they need to focus on.

Posted by Curt Samson | Vice President of International Operations
Posted: 10/27/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


Coaching the Underperformer, Part I

It’s late October as I write this and, for many sales organizations, that means there are only two short months left to make quota. Hopefully, your team is on target to make their numbers, but if you’re like most sales managers, you probably have a few that have fallen behind.
 
Let me make a bold statement. How you coach your underperformers is as important to the long-term success of your organization as how you coach your top professionals. Probably even more so.
 
That’s why my colleagues and I here at MHI Global are collaborating on a series of posts focused exclusively on helping frontline sales managers (FSMs) coach their underperformers. In this first post, I want to look at year-end coaching from a high-level perspective. In subsequent posts, we’ll delve deeper into some of the tactics that can help your underperformers turn things around.
 
I should note that this advice works whether you’re approaching the end of your fiscal year or just the end of the quarter—or at any point in between. Sound coaching is always in style.
 
Are You Coaching Opportunities or People?
At this time of year, it’s tempting for the FSM to turn from coaching salespeople to coaching opportunities. That is, instead of seeing their salespeople as individuals who are somewhere along the continuum toward making their numbers, the FSMs turn inward toward their own quota attainment. They think, “I’m at 80 percent. What do my people have in the funnel that we can close before the end of the year?” They identify enough big deals to get them the rest of the way and that becomes their focus for the remainder of the year.
 
Big mistake. First of all, you can’t coach an opportunity; you can only coach people. If you only focus your efforts on those likely closes, you’re probably just ushering the sale through the rest of the process. You might be helping the opportunity over a hurdle or adding a little management-level gravitas to the negotiations. But is that coaching? Not really.
 
When You’re Selling, You’re Not Coaching
Look over the activities you’re doing to help close these deals, and you’ll see them for what they are: selling. When you’re selling, you’re not coaching. It’s like the coach of the high-school basketball team jumping off the bench and substituting himself for a player who just can’t hit his free throws. Maybe the player will learn something by watching, but wouldn’t it be better to help the player develop the skills he needs to make his own free throws?
 
Will coaching always get the underperformer to goal? No. In fact, I would suggest that most of the time it won’t. But it will get them closer. (And maybe help you make your numbers.) More importantly, it will turn them into a better sales professional and, in all likelihood, set them up to have a much better first quarter than all of your top performers who are busy clearing out their funnel in December.

Posted by: Scott Hartman | Sales Vice President
Posted: 10/22/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


In Sales, Perception Is Reality. Or Is It?

Everyone in sales is familiar with the phrase “perception is reality.” If a customer thinks your price is too high, it is too high. If they think a competitor’s product is better, it is better. If they don’t think your company has what they need, you don’t.
 
Salespeople complain all the time about customers and their (mis)perceptions. For the sales rep, a common way to attempt to overcome a customer’s negative perception is to discount the product or to dig up dirt on the competitor. If that fails, they’ll keep the prospect in the funnel, sending them a new brochure every now and then, hoping they’ll eventually wear them down.
 
Sales professionals handle customer perceptions a bit differently. They understand that new information is the only way to overcome a customer’s perception, but that doesn’t mean a barrage of irrelevant sales brochures. Not just any information can incite a change in customer perceptions. If it could, then the sales rep’s method of sending out a new brochure every month would work, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
 
To change a customer’s perception, sales professionals focus on adding perspective.
 
The Foundation of Perspective
The ability to provide perspective is one of the key differences between a sales professional and a sales rep. Perspective requires the sales professional to understand two primary customer data points:
  • The customer’s context defines the environment in which the customer exists. Context is essential because it helps the sales professional define the problem and see the world from the customer’s point of view – both of which are essential to influencing the customer’s decision.
     
  • The customer’s concept defines how the customer sees the possible solution. Just as it’s important to understand the individual buyer’s role in the sale, it’s critical to understand their concept of a solution to their problem. If you don’t understand how they see the solution, you can never know how far off your proposal is, nor present it in terms that will bridge the gap.
 
The sales professional takes the time to thoroughly understand the customer’s concept and context, as well as their decision dynamics. By doing so, they are able to provide perspective, or a new way of looking at the problem, that can then alter the customer’s perceptions and influence their buying decisions.

Posted by: Jason Buma | Sales Vice President
Posted: 10/20/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments


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