Miller Heiman Blog

Give and Receive

Collaboration is a key in successful business transactions, and at its heart is the concept of giving and receiving. In fact, sharing economies are based on the collaborative principle of “you have to give to get.”

At the MHI Research Institute, giving begins when we share the highlights from our 2014 MHI Global Sales Best Practices Study. Last year, our research narrowed down three attributes found in world-class sales organizations. The three qualities each corresponded to a cultural component that drives the attitudes and behaviors in an organization. The organizational qualities we identified from the 2013 study, Customer Core, Collaborative Culture, and Calibrated Success, tied into our analysis of the 2014 data, where we found three classifications of sales behaviors that define World-Class Sales Performance. These were: Provide Perspective, Conscious Collaboration, and Performance Accountability. When we connected these individual behaviors with the attributes that we identified in world-class sales Organizations, we arrived at a framework for a performance-oriented sales culture.

What is a performance-oriented sales culture, exactly? In our findings, we found it’s one that consistently knows how to connect and engage with customers, knows how to work together, and that has a framework for measuring, recognizing and rewarding.

Let’s examine the qualities in more detail.

Provide Perspective: Providing perspective is a level of connecting and engaging with prospects and customers that goes beyond just knowing the customer’s products. It means that you take into account the customer’s situational context and the different concepts of each impacted stakeholder. In this framework, you understand that in complex buying environments, every customer makes every decision differently. In an organization, the sales team needs to understand the specific decision dynamic before the team can map all of the findings to the portfolio of capabilities, products, and services. Once done, the sales team can then come up with a specific, customized solution that enables customers to achieve their desired results and wins.

Conscious Collaboration: Conscious collaboration begins with customers. When you collaborate, you achieve better results in a shorter amount of time. Individuals with various areas of expertise and roles come together using a common language and strategic frameworks. Collaboration occurs across teams, organizations and companies, and individual contributions are multiplied. It’s important to understand that collaboration objectives are different for a strategic-account environment when compared with the tactics used by an inside sales team. Therefore, collaboration should be defined specifically and spearheaded by the sales leadership team. In other words, sales leaders need to establish the guiding principles for different collaboration situations in order to create a foundation for conscious collaboration.

Performance Accountability:  The performance accountability metric is the one that separates world class from all others. Our research found that World-Class Sales Performers hold themselves accountable for their customers’ success and wins. Sales performers who score high on performance accountability know that the success of their customers is the foundation for their own success, and they hold themselves accountable along the customer’s journey. When a deal is closed, the sales professional doesn’t just walk away; instead, the sales professional identifies additional possibilities to create a value-add for customers. Additionally, we found that the sales professional also holds him- or herself accountable to the standards and expectations set by the frontline sales managers.

Giving and receiving: Where you come in

In the spirit of sharing knowledge to foster collaboration, we hope you can take some of the points we just shared from our research and apply it to your organization’s practices.

Ready to share your knowledge with us? Please lend your insights to our own research so that we can have true collaboration. The 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study is now open. Please take 20 – 30 minutes of your time to go through the survey questions. When you participate, we give back – true collaboration. Here’s what you’ll receive when you participate in the study:
  • Timely business intelligence—exclusive, first access to the full study results when they’re published in Q1 2015
  • Entry into a drawing for a World-Class Sales Performance Gap Analysis—an opportunity to take advantage of a service provided by the Institute’s research analysts that compares the participant’s organizational behaviors to those of World-Class Sales Performers as identified in this study
  • A complimentary report from the MHI Research Institute, Perspectives on Productivity: The Next Level of Transparency
Click here to participate in the study – it’s open through November 30, 2014.

Posted by: Tamara Schenk | Research Director
Posted: 10/1/2014 6:00:00 AM by Bret Poinier | with 0 comments

The Make-or-Break Skill for Today’s Top Performers

Sitting in a restaurant with a client the other day, I spotted a table filled with well-dressed young professionals. They could easily have been sales professionals of one kind or another. Instead of talking to each other, they were all swiping away at their smartphones. While I love to see salespeople hard at work, part of me felt sorry for this generation of young people who don’t often sit and just talk with one another.
Then, on the way back to the office, my thoughts turned back to that table of young professionals. Maybe they aren’t so unfortunate after all. They have grown up with tools that many of us at the senior levels of sales leadership never had when we were their age: social media.  We had our business cards, Rolodex, and a telephone.
Study Links Social Selling to Improved Performance
If they’re like my young adult children, these sales professionals communicate almost exclusively through their smartphones – seldom checking voicemail, preferring the instant gratification of text messages and putting up with email because corporate culture requires it. Over lunch, the top performers are spending time checking updates and alerts on sites like Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and, depending on who they are selling to, maybe even Pinterest.
In fact, social selling is a key attribute of world-class performance. In the 2014 MHI Global Sales Best Practices Study, those sales professionals who used social media on a regular basis outperformed less social-savvy sales professionals across a number of key metrics, including lead generation. What a change in thinking from the days when we, as sales leaders, were concerned about salespeople “wasting” time on social media. Now, we’re kicking new-hire candidates off the short list if their LinkedIn profile isn’t up to snuff.
Sales Leadership’s Social Responsibility
Yet, before we get too excited about the benefits of social selling, we have to remember that there are drawbacks, too. As in all sales activities, more is not necessarily better. Just spending more unproductive time on social media doesn’t equate to improved outcomes any more than making more bad sales calls leads to more sales.
Sales leadership’s responsibility is not to force the sales team to engage in social selling. Frankly, if you have to force your sales professionals to engage online, something’s wrong. Either you’ve hired the few remaining salespeople who aren’t comfortable with technology, or there is some sort of obstacle standing in their way.  Aside from hiring the best professionals you can, your job is to remove any obstacles to performance. Isn’t that what much of sales leadership is about, anyway?
I see two immediate avenues for removing obstacles:
Sales enablement. Removing obstacles is what this team does, and social selling needs to be an integral part of their enablement programs. Just as sales professionals need to be taught how best to prospect and engage customers through other means, they need to be taught the finer points of social selling. Best-practices need to be established, and those with more experience need to mentor those who are less comfortable with the social-selling competency.  Common profile structures need to be established for your sales team that represent your brand in the way you want it to be represented, rather than the random way each individual may create it.
Social media technology. Your team is already inundated with data every day. Once they start engaging in social selling, it’s only going to get more intense. In some industries – a LOT more intense. You need to make sure they have the technologies, such as the latest linkages of social data to your CRM applications, that can help them sift through the barrage of data to pull out those nuggets that will help them find prospects and move opportunities through the funnel. Reducing duplication of effort and maximizing the leverage of this valuable global data source will pay deep dividends in the long run.
One more quick tip. If you’re thinking, I know how much leverage there is in social media, but I don’t really need to change my own behavior– you need to get your own ducks in a row. Social selling is definitely a lead-by-example technique. If executive management doesn’t engage online, your sales professionals will have no one to model. The best way to get comfortable with social media? Just do it!

Posted by: Rich Blakeman | Managing Director - Channel Enablers, a Division of Miller Heiman
Posted: 9/29/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

4th Quarter Sales Strategies

In my last post, “Sun Tzu and the Art of the Fourth Quarter,” I talked about the importance of cleaning out the rubbish from the sales funnel in the fourth quarter. As I acknowledged in that post, it can be difficult to turn your back on an opportunity, any opportunity, with your quota hanging in the balance. But walking away, at least temporarily, from opportunities that have little chance of closing this quarter will give you the best chance of meeting your numbers.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
So how do you know when to walk away and when to hang in there? You need to ask the right questions. Here are three that can help you decide.
1. Is this the right person? Remember, it’s not about your sales process but the customer’s buying process. Only they can decide when an opportunity progresses to the next phase. If you have an opportunity that looks like it’s going nowhere, you may be spending your time with buyers who don’t have the authority to make a commitment to the next phase. Find out who has that authority and set up a meeting with them to get their assessment of progress.
2. Is this the right solution? Do you understand the prospect’s concept of a solution and does it match your proposal? If not, you may not be as far along in the buying process as you think you are. You may not need to throw the opportunity out of the funnel, but perhaps you need to reposition it and reallocate resources – at least for now.
3. Is this the right time? Often, a customer’s financial year matches our own, and they have just as much incentive to spend their budget dollars as we have to close the business. But year-end can also mean the opposite is true. Perhaps their budget dollars have been cut, or other priorities have taken precedence. Take the time to find out what’s going on in their world.
When the timing isn’t right, agreeing to put the project on hold can be a relief to both you and the prospect. Stop hounding your prospect with desperate-sounding voicemail messages and offers of ever-deeper discounts and let marketing nurture them while you focus on other opportunities. Your credibility will increase, and the customer will likely welcome your call again after the first of the year.
Turning your back on any opportunity is hard this time of year. A smaller funnel can send a cold chill down one’s spine. But hold fast. If we focus on what’s truly winnable, there’s still time to drive the quality of our customer engagements and make a real difference before the end of the year.

Posted by: Dan Donovan | Sales Consultant
Posted: 9/24/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Yes Man or Trusted Advisor

I don't watch a lot of TV but once in a while, I happen upon a late-night show and stay to watch. “Jimmy Kimmel Live!'s Mean Tweets” segment was on. It was fun to watch how celebrities react to not-so-flattering comments from non-fans. I’m sure stars are used to hearing adoring praises from their followers, so it was refreshing to see how their sense of humor helped them get through reading mean tweets about themselves.

That got me to thinking about the sales profession and our business here at MHI Global. Back in the day, sales professionals were taught the customer is always right. To make the sale, you needed to say all the right things that flattered the customer. The key was to be agreeable and accommodating to your customer’s every whim and fancy. Well, we all know that even if that approach worked then, it cast a bad rep on the sales profession.

To make the sale in today’s world, salespeople need to be credible and trustworthy, and to earn credibility and trust, you need to provide perspective. Think of perspective as the polar opposite of a scripted, canned pitch. Perspective is about converting input to insight. It’s about weaving together the customer’s inputs with your own experiences, and coming up with insights not previously considered.

If customers could diagnose their own problems and come up with solutions on their own, then all they would need is an order taker, and salespeople would be out of work. There’s a reason they turn to you and your firm; they're in a rut and they need your help. If you stick with just saying what the customer wants to hear, how are you helping them think through the results they’re out to achieve, including the possible unintended consequences? I’m not saying be brutally honest to the point of being mean like the tweets I mentioned above. What I do encourage is to have the audacity to bring what you know to the table that will help the customer see beyond his initial thinking and introduce points of view they never considered before. This could mean bringing up a thorny issue that the customer has tried to avoid. Or having a candid conversation with the customer to flesh out why she is devoted to a particular solution and muster the courage to ask, “How great is this idea, really?” To be a trusted advisor, you need to be able to mentally walk them through all possible scenarios, filter through all the options, and distill them to help customers arrive at the smartest decision possible.

You can keep playing the “yes-man” role that feeds customers’ egos and rely on luck to meet your quota. Or you could be the trusted advisor who can look them squarely in the eye and answer honestly when they ask, “What do you think?” “What do you know?” “What is your experience?” “How does it compare?” Customers value perspective from the people they work with, and they look to you to provide them with perspective on the pros and cons of the situation to make a well-thought-out buying decision.

Posted by: Sam Reese | CEO - MHI Global
Posted: 9/22/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

What is "World-Class" Sales Performance?

If you work in sales – in any capacity – you’ve probably come across the term “World Class.” People describe organizations as having “World-Class Results” or “World-Class Performance.” But what does this mean, really, and who sets the standard? There isn’t a Guinness Book of World Records that companies can benchmark against, or even a governing body, so when sales leaders attempt to gauge their performance and compare themselves to the “World-Class” model, who holds the measuring stick?
At the MHI Research Institute (formerly the Miller Heiman Research Institute), we felt there needed to be a gold standard for the leading practices in sales. “World-Class” is a critical designation that should be defined so that sales organizations across the globe will have a way to measure their performance.
To set a global standard, we developed the Sales Best Practices Study more than twelve years ago. The research methodology we use—studying a global response base and measuring demographics, behaviors and performance, then translating these findings into a multipart view that designates World Class—connects sales behaviors to outcomes.

Examples of findings from past Sales Best Practices Studies

To illustrate the types of insights the MHI Sales Best Practices Study has unearthed, I’d like to share with you a few key findings from previous years: 
  • In 2013, results showed three dominate attributes that characterized World-Class sales organizations: customer core, collaboration, and calibration of success. Our research found that the companies that were centered on those three key principles were able to outperform other organizations by 22 percent across key sales performance metrics.
  • The 2014 study revealed defining characteristics of World-Class sales professionals: conscious collaboration and performance accountability. We connected these qualities to the World-Class organizational attributes identified in 2013 and, based on these findings, created a framework for a performance-driven sales culture. This afforded companies the ability to connect to customers, work together well, have a measurement system in place, and recognize and reward those sales professionals who are able to achieve World-Class status. Achieving all of these attributes, however, is a complex formula.
As a result of conducting the MHI Sales Best Practices Study, we’ve learned that World Class is a synthesis of behaviors and activities, which occurs across all organizations, verticals, and geographies. Taken together as a whole, this becomes a composite vision of World Class for the entire sales profession.
All of us in sales are on a journey to World Class—and it’s unique to the context of our own organizations and roles. It is not just a status: World Class is a vision for the best that your organization can achieve.
In 2015, our mission is continued expansion. We wish to analyze and explore the attributes, behaviors, and performance of global sales professionals and organizations. We have eleven years of data and 30,000+ responses to guide our proven methodology. We host the unique research that connects sales behaviors to outcomes, leading to our composite vision of World Class.
We hope you’ll join us for the 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study. It is open until November 30th. The study has the distinction of being the only behavioral assessment and benchmarking database connecting sales and performance. We believe it’s important to know where others are relative to your sales organization but, ultimately, only you can decide what it means in your world and your unique pursuit of performance.

Take the 2015 Sales Best Practices Study

Posted by: Joe Galvin | Chief Research Officer
Posted: 9/17/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

What's Your Plan for Winning

In my many conversations with fellow sales leaders all over the world, I like to ask them a simple question: What is your plan for winning?

As expected, the responses are as varied as the people who give them. It’s very interesting how their answers give me a glimpse into the kind of sales leaders they are and the organizations they operate in. But what I find truly fascinating is the fact that sales leaders from the better-performing B2B companies seem to have a plan in common for winning - to focus on the customer. This is also what emerged from the results of the 2014 MHI Global Sales Best Practices Study. For four consecutive years in the study, we’ve asked respondents to rate themselves on the following statement: We clearly understand our customer’s issues before we propose a solution. Our running average the last four years is 92 percent for World Class Sales Performers against 45 percent of all respondents.

What this tells me is that the winningest organizations have unlocked the secret of putting the customer at the core. At MHI Global, we take this a notch higher. We call it perspective selling. It’s really a basic practice that’s often overlooked: Provide perspective that’s relevant to the customer. It’s the same advice we give our clients who are serious about winning.

You’ve probably heard me say time and again that the sales profession is more than just about taking the orders and that a true commitment to the customer means going beyond the sales and focusing on the results the client is trying to achieve. After getting a clear understanding of the customers’ concepts of what they’re trying to fix, accomplish or avoid, the best sales professionals take that base information, analyze the challenges, and share important perspectives and information before offering solutions that are aligned to the customer’s desired outcomes and concepts. True customer-focused sales professionals apply the lessons and experiences they have learned from other successful engagements. In the same manner, they’re not afraid to speak with candor when the customer’s solution idea may not be the best option based on the failures the sales professional has seen in other organizations in similar situations.

Now you’re thinking, “OK, Sam, I get the concept behind perspective selling, but how do I get my team to do it?”

Two words for you: Empower and collaborate.

Empower every individual on your team to become problem solvers. Encourage them to challenge current mindsets and to think outside the little box called “closing the sale.” Inspire them to think bolder—that maybe there is a better solution that’s better than what is obvious right now. Most of all, train them to speak their mind in a way that is tactful so that they can have rich and stimulating conversations with their customers and prospects that help build their credibility as advisors.

Next, collaborate within the organization and among different units. Many minds are better than one. When multiple ideas and information are exchanged, every individual in that conversation is better informed than before they came to the meeting. New salespeople learn from the veterans and vice versa. Sales teams discover new knowledge from the support team that fields customer complaints and provides after-sales service. All that knowledge adds to the experience and expertise of every member, who in turn shares that with their customers as value-added perspective.

Posted By: Sam Reese | Chief Executive Officer
Posted: 9/15/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Sun Tzu and the Art of the Fourth Quarter

It’s that time of year again. The trees are on the turn, and there’s a chill in the air. The brisk autumn wind carries the certainty of one thing. No, not winter. The fourth quarter.
For those of you whose fiscal year follows the calendar year, this can be a stressful time. The race to the close of the year can be just as slippery, treacherous and unforgiving as the journey to and from the office. Now is the time to check the tyres on the car, the batteries in your flashlight, and the integrity of your sales funnel.
I can hear some of you now. “Yeah, right. If I could get my team to use our CRM system, maybe we might have a fighting chance at funnel integrity. But I barely have any visibility past the end of this month, let alone to the end of the year.”
He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.
Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”
OK, so as Sun Tzu advises, let’s pick our battles. I’m not saying CRM adoption isn’t worth fighting for. After all, it costs enough! I’m saying that in the fourth quarter your troops need to clean out the rubbish from the sales funnel and focus on the opportunities they can win.
Hopefully, you already have a well-defined sales funnel with a common vision of how an opportunity advances from stage to stage. Remember, I’m not talking about what actions your salespeople take to advance an opportunity, but rather, what actions your customers take as they advance through their buying process. It’s not the commitment of your salespeople to the process that defines the worth of an opportunity. It’s the commitment of your customer.
If you haven’t defined the stages of your sales funnel and the actions your customers take to progress through it, do it now. Inherently, you know that some of the opportunities have gone mouldy or exist only in the mind of the salesperson. Only by defining the stages and the customer commitments required to advance an opportunity will you be able to qualify which deals are still live and worth investing in.
How do you assess the opportunity and the customer’s commitment? By asking for tangible commitments from the customer to advance the opportunity to the next stage in their buying process. When should you do this? Ideally, every time you meet with the customer, but at no time is this more important than when heading into the fourth quarter.
If a customer won’t make the necessary commitment, it may be time to walk away so you have the reserves to focus on those opportunities you can win.
Make sure you watch the latest webinar from the MHI Research Institute. Learn the key differentiator between a “sales rep” and a “sales professional.” Use the insights to change how your sales force works.

Posted by: Dan Donovan | Sales Consultant
Posted: 9/10/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

How to Build a Performance-Driven Sales Culture

The professional athletic team is probably the best example of a performance-driven culture. How you play the game matters, but not nearly as much as the wins and losses. Professional statisticians track the team and the athlete’s performance down to the minutest detail, linking them to the final results of the game, tournament, or season. The professional athlete constantly hones his or her skills, on-season and off. Even at the top of their game, they are always looking for ways to improve.
It’s no wonder that sales leaders use so many sports analogies when they “coach” their salespeople in the field. They try to instill the same kind of focus on performance that the professional athlete has. They try to build a performance-driven culture.
The 2014 MHI Global Sales Best Practices Study examined the activities and behaviors that drive World-Class Sales Performance. Among these, performance accountability rose to the top as a key driver.
3 Elements of Performance Accountability
We all know what accountability is. However, in sales, performance accountability has a very specific meaning and is made up of three core elements: excellence in connecting with customers, collaborating with others, and managing to performance goals. Let’s examine these three elements in more depth:
Connecting with customers. Excellence in connecting with customers means that the sales professional takes the time to understand the customer’s concepts and context and connects these to the solution they are proposing.
Collaborating with others. Sales professionals understand that they perform better when they work as a team. They collaborate to elevate their own performance as well as the performance of others.
Managing to performance goals. Finally, sales professionals keep their eye on the goal. They know what the final objectives are as well as which activities and behaviors will get them the results they need. Like the professional athlete, they are always honing their skills and seeking to improve their performance.
Do You Have Sales Reps or Sales Professionals in Your Organization?
In sports, performance accountability is the difference between the professional and the amateur. In sales, being accountable for your performance is the difference between being a sales professional or just another sales rep. Organizations do not build performance-driven cultures with a team filled with sales reps. They need sales professionals.
To learn more about how fundamental performance accountability is to an organization, watch this short, on-demand webinar presented by Joe Galvin, Chief Research Officer of the MHI Research Institute. In the webinar, Joe delves into performance accountability and highlights the key differences between the sales professional and the sales rep.
Make sure you watch the latest webinar from the MHI Research Institute. Learn the key differentiator between a “sales rep” and a “sales professional.” Use the insights to change how your sales force works.

Posted by: Jodi Beuder | Director of Product Marketing
Posted: 9/8/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Sales Enablement and Technology – The Execution Gap

Watching a film we are often impressed – apart from a great story - by the technique or style with which the artistic work was produced. We are impressed when a film is entirely professional in its execution.

Execution - the act of doing or performing something, of carrying out a plan, a course of actions to achieve a certain goal. The execution gap is the third part of my little series on sales enablement and technology. The change gap and the collaboration gap were the topics of the first two posts.

Technology is not to blame
Executing a technology implementation can only be done successfully if a few cornerstones are in place that also serve as a foundation to master the change and collaboration gaps. How often do you see technology decisions made, but major stakeholders from the lines of business were not involved accordingly, and the preparation work was only done in parts, if at all? Then, the change and collaboration gaps popped up, one after the other. Execution is in short supply. Blaming begins. But – given a functioning system - technology is not to blame. It does what people allow the system to do. Root causes are how well the decision was made; how well vision, mission, purpose, goals and roadmap were defined; how well the implementation was prepared from a business perspective; how well change and collaboration gaps were mastered; and how well the program was executed.

Vision, mission, purpose, goals and strategy have to be defined from a business perspective
Very often, these essentials are missing. Phrases like “improving collaboration” and “improving productivity” are often used, but they are not even a goal. They don’t tell a story, they are not measurable, and the question “from what to what?” is not answered. Even more important is the often missing trilogy of vision, mission and purpose. Why is that so important? A vision statement is focused on the future—it answers the question “Where do we aim to be?” A mission statement talks about the present leading to its future; it answers the questions “What do we do and how do we do it? What makes us different?” Purpose answers the questions “Why are we doing this? Why does this program exist?” It also covers the guiding principles that lead all actions to achieve the goals. Then, a strategy can be derived, which is a roadmap to get from here to there.

Methods, process and frameworks have to operationalize the implementation
A successful implementation requires conceptual homework. It requires holistic and system thinking, led by a business perspective. To leverage sales technology successfully, to justify the investment, a robust framework of methodology, embedded in a flexible process, guided by principles rather than by rules, has to be in place. It’s the heart of the system you are going to implement. It’s the same for sales enablement or CRM technology.  The focus for a CRM system is more on the sales methodology and the sales process itself. For sales enablement, the conceptual framework defines enablement services along the sales process/customer’s journey based on sales methodology and engagement principles. The operational framework defines how enablement services are created, published and provided as well as localized. If that’s in place, collaboration is already operationalized, and change and adoption programs have a much stronger foundation.

Nothing beats leadership
Implementing technology is not only a huge investment, it also entails a lot of change and a different way of working collaboratively, which I addressed in the two previous posts. The combined challenges of change gap, collaboration and execution gap make for a complex environment, which requires leadership, leadership and leadership to succeed. Leadership cannot be delegated. Business power is necessary. The larger the program, the more leadership is required - from the sales leader – continuously.

Make sure you watch the latest webinar from the MHI Research Institute. Learn the key differentiator between a “sales rep” and a “sales professional.” Use the insights to change how your sales force works.

Posted by: Tamara Schenk | Research Director
Posted: 9/3/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

Making Customers More Predictable

I thought for sure that deal would close last month!
How many times have you heard one of your salespeople say that? Customers can be some of the most unpredictable people you’ll ever meet. Just when you think they’re ready to make a decision, you discover they’re three steps behind you in the sales process.
Just last week, I was with a Miller Heiman client looking to use a disciplined approach to funnel management to improve the predictability of their forecasts. They understood the basics: Assess each sales opportunity to determine what stage it is at and then use the funnel to forecast quarterly revenue.
I went to the white board and wrote a question that caught them off guard. I knew it would, because it’s one of the most common mistakes otherwise disciplined sales organizations make. Here’s what I wrote:
What steps do your customers need to take to progress the opportunity through the funnel?
Predictably, there were a few blank looks, so I elaborated. Every buying situation is somewhat unique to the customer, right? Heads nodded. And the customer is the sole judge of when they move from, say, the awareness phase to the solution identification phase, right? More heads nodded. And your selling phases are mapped to the customer’s buying cycle, right? There were murmurs of phrases like “of course it is.” So I asked:
Then what does the customer need to do to move the opportunity from one phase of the buying cycle to the next?
As I mentioned, the meeting last week was a common one. I usually get answers that range from “the salesperson makes that determination” to “it’s a judgment call” to “I don’t know. We just sell.” This client was no different.
We spent the next 45 minutes discussing the importance of understanding the customer’s decision dynamic – how they will make this decision this time across all Buying Influences – and how to take this into account when progressing opportunities through the funnel.
I love this discussion because although the first part of it can be uncomfortable – nobody likes to be put on the spot – the second part is a lot of fun. Executive faces light up like kids at Christmas when they realize there really is an approach to forecasting that doesn’t rely on the gut instincts and political machinations of their sales team.
Once the excitement dies down a bit, I usually get asked what to do about strategic accounts. The solution is no different. The funnel works the same way whether selling a new solution to a new customer or cross-selling or upselling into existing accounts. An opportunity tied to a strategic account is still an opportunity needing a solid strategy and a realistic close date. Sales professionals who work with key accounts must still track and manage the opportunities that result from their ongoing relationship building within the account.
Make sure you watch the latest webinar from the MHI Research Institute. Learn the key differentiator between a “sales rep” and a “sales professional.” Use the insights to change how your sales force works.

Posted by: Tim Call | Executive Vice President of Sales
Posted: 9/1/2014 6:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments

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