Accelerate your growth through training

When I look back over the past year or two the one thing that jumps out at me as something I could have, and should have done sooner is formal training.  I think we can all agree, champions become champions through, practice, execution, training, and focus.  The thing is, without a formal training program, there is nothing to practice, focus on, or execute against.

 

So why do so many sales leaders skimp when it comes to training?  In my experience, me included, the thought is we can do it ourselves.  The problem is for most sales leaders, training is just one of many things we need to focus on.  Beyond that most sales leaders do not have the time or skills necessary to train their team adequately.  The bottom line for me is if you are putting in the time necessary to train your team, you are likely neglecting some other key responsibility.

Over the years, the teams I have seen who are best trained perform better.  A lot better.  They are happier, and as a result tend to stay with the company longer given they are likely succeeding, growing professionally and making money.  Sales people appreciate the investment made in them helping nurture a better company culture, which of course is good for everyone.  

The problem with most training investments, and perhaps why many tend to avoid investing is that it just doesn't stick. The team goes through a training for a few days, comes back all fired up, and 30 days later they are back to their old habits.  Generally bad habits.  I have seen it over and over again.  So what do we do to ensure our teams are adequately trained to compete in what is an increasingly competitive environment? Train early,  train often, and train on an ongoing basis.  It’s all about constant reinforcement.  Professional sports teams don’t train once and move on.  They train each and every day, constantly working on their game.  Looking for any and every advantage.  Top sales teams operate in the same way.

The good news is the sales training industry understands this challenge and has adjusted.  

I have recently engaged with my friend Peter Oliver at SaleFish, which is the local Sandler training franchise located in Framingham MA, putting my team through their two day bootcamp with weekly reinforcement classes.  The results have been immediate.  My team is more engaged, applying the techniques and really enjoying having the Sandler team as an additional resource.  The Sales Huddle Group is a company who gamifies sales or product training of any kind making it fun to learn in short bursts. I will be working with them to help make ongoing training more about short 5 minutes of fun versus hours long lectures.  Lots of options.

So when asked what I wish I had done in the past that might have lead to better results, the number one thing that comes to mind is training.  Those teams who are dedicated to constant self improvement are winning.  Those who think they already know enough or are smarter than the rest are destined to fail.  

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” – Muhammad Ali

Training is not to be done in front of a prospect or “under those lights”, it’s best done with peers “behind the lines”.

Now go learn something!

Accurate Forecasting...The Holy Grail

Ahh, the age old question.  How to improve the accuracy of sales forecasts.  Sales leaders, CEOs, CFOs, CROs, investors, and anyone else interested in running a predictable business have struggled with this ever since I started to pay attention.  (And I started paying attention a long time ago, by the way.)  I remember it was the day I assumed my first sales leadership role.  Previously, I tended to be part of the problem.  As a sales guy, I forecasted by using my gut feelings mostly.  I walked through my sales process sure, but it was based on my feelings and my conversations, much more than solely metrics.  Yes, I was that guy.  The sales guy that made sales managers a bit crazy, they were never really able to promise management more than “don’t worry, he will make it happen, he will get to his number, he always finds a way.”  Not exactly the most comforting words for a CEO, CFO, or CRO to hear.  Now, the tables have turned, I became the guy that had to report to senior management.  I was the person that had to put my neck on the line for a number that was based in part on someone’s gut feeling.  The problem became, it wasn’t my gut feeling rather someone else's.  I had a problem.  I had to find a way to forecast accurately, and I had to do it fast.

I must say it was not easy, managing eternally optimistic sales reps operating in the gray area of hopefulness was a challenge that kept me up at night.  With few exceptions, I found myself managing people just like me.  A mixed blessing to say the least.  I turned to some of the basics which helped me succeed in sales and added a dose of rigid execution.  Systems, processes, and accountability.

Several years ago and before exiting the company, I assumed the CRO position at QuotaFactory.  Responsible for building a scalable and predictable revenue machine.  Yes, I said predictable.  Here is what I put in place that has enabled me to be nearly 100% accurate in my forecast.

First off, you must have a defined and documented sales process IN WRITING!  This should go without saying, but in my experience, this is often not the case.  Without this, you will not only be missing an accurate forecast but a very thin one as well.  Figure out the best sales process for your product or service, document it, build it into your CRM and make sure it is followed.  This won’t be easy, you will likely find you are repeating yourself over, and over, and over.  Welcome to sales management. Kind of like herding cats.  Most sales reps are just not wired to be systematized, highly organized, or accountable.  They tend to be driven and highly competitive, but the details, that rarely exists.

We start our forecast tracking when a discovery call or sales qualified lead (SQL) converts to a next step.  My thinking here is we are going to take the time to speak with the prospect again then it is safe to place them on our forecast with a 10% probability.  When the next call converts to an additional conversation, which is likely a deeper dive with the same prospect or an expanded audience, we place the prospect at 30%; having scheduled a call with our operations team to discuss potential project scope.  A successful next step resulting from this call would likely be a proposal, which we would place at 50%.  Most often the next step would be a proposal review, usually with an expanded audience including all decision makers on the prospect side (perfect world).  Assuming all goes well in that call and we are able to receive a verbal commitment, we move the deal to 80%.  Once the deal goes through legal/procurement we move the deal to 90%.  When the signed contract arrives it’s 100% and celebration time!

Of course, a process is just a process unless it is relentlessly reviewed and followed up upon.  This is where most sales managers fail.  Given many sales managers are former sales reps, it just may not be in their nature to pay attention to detail and nag their reps.  I know it does not come naturally for me.  But winning does, and if you want to win then you need to be absolutely maniacal about the details, the numbers,  and the process.  There’s just no other way to succeed. There is always luck but in my experience, the harder and smarter I work, the luckier I get..

Review each deal at each stage with each rep.  Ask a lot of questions.  Get into the details, ask what could possibly go wrong.  Reps love to talk about all the reasons a deal will close.  Remember, we are eternal optimists.  It’s your job to challenge and vet every deal at every stage with a goal of weeding out the dead wood.  I would much rather have a super solid 1m forecast than a fluffy, could happen 3m.

That is my two cents, I hope it helps.

 

Learn your way to the next level

A few years ago I found myself and my company at a point where growing to the next level were particularly challenging.  We doubled down on sales and marketing and focused on executing at even a higher level than before.  We got results, but not the game-changing results we were looking for.  I wanted to see big results, big changes.  

After reflecting on past years and considering how best to accelerate change, I decided to accelerate my learning.  I wanted to surround myself with people outside of my organization who would challenge me to grow beyond what I imagined was possible.  I began reaching out to my network for advice.  One of my contacts encouraged me to join the Entrepreneurs Organization.  To that point, I had never heard of EO. www.eonetwork.org  Now my close friend, Dave Will explained EO is a network of more than 11,000 entrepreneurs worldwide with a focus on business growth, personal development, and community engagement.  Perfect.  I joined and have never looked back.  I have met dozens of some of the smartest, most engaged entrepreneurs I could have imagined.  The many conversations I have engaged in have provided insights I would never have had otherwise.  

That was three years ago. I have learned more in the past three years than I had in the previous 10.  In addition to the many conversations with my EO peers, I invested at least 1 hour each day reading amazing books.  What a great way to accelerate learning.  In 6-8 hours I am able to absorb the knowledge that has taken some of the most brilliant minds in the world a lifetime to accumulate. That's the good news.  The bad news.  The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.  My reading list expands daily beyond the pace I am able to read, which is fine, I am never without a great book to help me pass a free moment or two.

Some of the knowledge I have been able to share with my team has been game changing.  From rolling out a powerful business operating system called Traction to encouraging a growth vs. fixed mindset among our team, the results have been transformational.  During this time we have completely restructured the company and have created and launched a Sales Development Software platform.  Amazing how far we have come.

Now, I am not saying my dedication to learning has been the sole driver in transforming our company.  To the contrary, we have an amazing team from top to bottom.  My business partner, Pete Gracey and I have worked closely with our team driving what was just an idea a few years ago, into what is now an amazing software platform.  What I will say is that learning for me has provided me the clarity and focus necessary to create something special.  Not just a bigger more profitable company, but a company where the team is excited to show up every day with a single purpose.  To help sales reps crush their quota.

Learning brings with it a level of freedom that can only be enjoyed by those who would open their minds to endless ideas, perspectives and experiences.