Organizing Motivating and Productive Sales Kickoffs

A reader writes, "For the last several years our company held annual sales meetings at our home office. This year, the budget was approved for an offsite meeting. We've selected the location. Do you have any tips for making our first destination sales meeting a big success?"

To answer your thoughtful question, I turn to veteran conference planner Shelley Griffin, president of the Griffin Conference Group (GCG), a full service meeting planning company. Her insightful tips include:

Define the Objectives

Before you do anything else, think about why this meeting is being held. What results are you looking for? Some objectives for the meeting might include:

  • Improving product knowledge
  • Sharing ideas on handling prospects' objections
  • Developing a plan to shorten the sales cycle
  • Building energy for the coming year

Ask yourself this: what needs to happen for everyone to feel the meeting was a good use of time and money?

Don't Forget the Reps

Solicit your sales team's input as you develop the meeting agenda. Via email or a survey, ask them what they would like incorporated into the gathering. This gives you valuable information about what your sales force considers important. Make the sales team feel this meeting is worth the time away from selling.

Include Other Employees

Invite some non-sales employees from the home office to attend. Having the sales reps and home office staff meet has real benefits. People work better with folks they know.  Give them some face time together.  

When a key goal is to get the sales team and the home office to interact, don't seat them on opposite sides of the room or put them on different teams.

Acknowledge Great Performance

Everyone loves to be recognized for their accomplishments.  This is especially true for sales professionals. Acknowledge superior performances at the meeting. Applause feels wonderful. Recognize the top sellers at the largest gathering. Make a large sign with their picture and "Top Sales Person of the Quarter." Unveil it at the meeting.  Display it in the home office until the next recipient is named.

Build the Agenda

How long should the meeting be? One day? Two days?  Your meeting objectives will help you to determine how much time is needed. Don't add more to the agenda just to stretch out the day. Participants rarely think that a meeting is too short.

Passive vs. Active

As you develop the agenda try to alternate time spent passively listening, say to the president's or VP of Sales' presentation, with time spent more interactively.

  • Break into small groups to brainstorm ways to handle objections
  • Ask one or more of your star performers to share some of their best practices
  • Stage a mock sales call with the prospect from hell and a sales executive; humor is great  
  • Organize team-building activities that allow people to get to know each other better

Manage Electronics and Other Interruptions

If your meeting is worth having, it is worth having everyone's complete attention. This is hard to accomplish with attendees checking their phones and working on their laptops. Your sales force will indicate a need to be responsive to their clients with statements like, "There is a big contract about to be signed." Potential solutions to this include: 

  • Build time into the agenda for participants to get back to clients
  • Let reps dealing with emergencies leave meetings quietly for a brief period of time

Evaluate Your Results

Did this meeting meet your expectations? Does the sales force feel the same way? The only way to know is to ask.  Create a survey. Limit it to 3-5 questions. Have attendees fill it out on-site. Potential questions to consider include:

  • Overall what grade would you give this Sales Meeting?  A-F
  • What aspect was most valuable or useful to you?
  • What aspect was the least helpful?
  • Should this be done next year?
  • Any other comments?

Be sure to build in some time for informal socializing. Consider having a reception to kick off or conclude the meeting.

Aligning Sales and Marketing

A reader writes, "In December, I accepted a Director of Sales position with a new company. Right away, I noticed a lack of integration and teamwork between my department (sales) and marketing. I want to address this as quickly as possible without making enemies early in my tenure. Do you have any suggestions?"

To answer your excellent question, I turned to Carole Mahoney, principal of Unbound Growth. Unbound Growth was founded on the idea that all business activity needs to be centered on the buyer and their perception of their problem. Unbound Growth works with business owners and entrepreneurial salespeople to align their mindsets and behaviors to their ideal buyer.

Carole, when you work with a company what do you typically see in the relationships between sales and marketing?

"I've been on both sides of the aisle, from working in marketing departments to running my own marketing agency to being a salesperson myself and now coaching entrepreneurial salespeople. The blame game is still alive and well. When revenue is up, both sides want to take credit. When revenue is down, both sides want to point fingers and say "Your leads suck" or "You don't follow up."

"To some extent, both are right, but it can only be corrected when ego is set aside to address the problems. Conflict occurs when sales and marketing leaders allow the blame game to happen.  Everyone loses sight of what matters the most, and that is the success of the customer."

What are the trends nationwide?

A 2011 Aberdeen Group study reported that highly aligned organizations achieved an average of 32% year-over-year revenue growth. Unaligned organizations saw a 7% decrease in revenue. Interestingly, a study from Forrester noted that just 8% of companies say they have tight alignment between sales and marketing.

People sometimes reject the data, saying, "Of course we're aligned. How else could we function?"

I respond with, "If the report is true, you are in the minority."

To determine the level of alignment between sales and marketing, Carole recommends answering the questions below.

Customer Profiles

  • Have the two departments built the customer profiles together?
  • Do you both know and agree on:
    • who your best customers are
    • how they buy
    • which problems you help them solve
    • how the results impact them

Speaking the Same Language

  • What reports does each department run?
  • Are those reports shared?
  • Do you run them at the same frequency?
  • Do you respect each other's interpretation of the data?

Buyer Behavior

  • Is there agreement on the stages of the sales cycle?
  • Does each stage have a name?
  • Is there jargon either one of you doesn't understand?
  • What is the buyer behavior happening at each stage?

Leads

  • What constitutes a good lead?
  • What is the corresponding marketing and sales behavior with the lead?
  • Are you tying those behavior benchmarks to the same outcomes?
  • Do you agree on how many leads are needed and where they should be coming from?

Social Media

  • Do both departments engage on social media?
  • Is this left exclusively to marketing?
  • How many sales people have social media profiles?
  • Does the content
    • focus on the buyer?
    • offer educational insights?
    • explain the buyer's problem and options to solve it?
    • stay current with industry trends?

Getting Started

Carole recommends beginning the alignment process by suggesting weekly interdepartmental meetings. Team up and tackle the questions above a section at a time.

After answering the questions (and any others you think of), continue to meet weekly to share new information. Begin the process of writing a combined sales and marketing plan for the coming weeks and months.

With your team, schedule monthly roundtables. Share with the reps what you have learned and where you are with your marketing integration goals. Allow them to share their feedback and ask questions openly.

Learn from Last Year Before Moving Forward

A client writes, "With the final numbers in for 2015, the sales staff I manage made the company sales goal by 102%. The whole team had to grind it out, closing several last minute deals to just surpass quota. Everyone's exhausted - me included. Two of the reps finished under quota (one at 94% and the other at 88%). Both tried hard. Do I let this go or pursue a conversation with each of them?"

Bleary eyed from a difficult Q4, a lot of sales leaders say to themselves, "We hit the goal. Let's start the New Year with a clean slate." Leaving the situation unaddressed with the two underperforming reps sets you up for potentially struggling through another difficult Q4 in 2016.

First Things First

Now that the dust has settled, meet with each rep. Review the numbers. 

  Goal Actual Difference %
Rep 1 $1,000,000 $940,000 ($60,000) 94%
Rep 2 $1,000,000 $880,000 ($120,000) 88%

They didn't just miss quota, they missed it by $60,000 and $120,000 respectively. Hearing and seeing the numbers underscores the seriousness of the situation.

Get More Granular

Show how the shortfall specifically affected revenue results monthly and quarterly.

  Quota Shortfall Quarterly Shortfall
Monthly Shortfall
Rep 1 $60,000 $15,000 $5,000
Rep 2 $120,000 $30,000 $10,000

Use Relatable Examples

Connect the quota shortfall to sales actions.  If $8500 represents a mid-size deal and $13,000 a larger deal, show the reps the number of sales they needed to close to achieve their goal.

  Quota Shortfall In $8,500 Deals
In $13,000 Deals
Rep 1 $60,000 7.1 4.6
Rep 2 $120,000 14.1 9.2

Some salespeople find it easier to understand the situation this way.

Distinguish Between the Two

Rep #1 came within 6% of quota.  

Rep#2 fell short by quite a bit: 12%.

As the sales leader, ask yourself:

  • How long has this rep been with the company?
  • What is their history of achieving quota?
  • What kind of help/coaching would be helpful?
  • Do they have a good chance of succeeding?

Determine whether one (or both) merit the effort you'll have to put in to ensure they achieve quota regularly.

Review the Whole Year

With four quarters worth of numbers to look at, you now have the ability to see what you might not have seen before.

Examples:

  • Rep #1 ran 10 - 15% behind at least 2 months out of every quarter  
  • Rep #2 had a disastrous Q3, achieving less than 50% of goal

Do you understand why? Try to diagnose the situation.  

Create a Plan

Work with each rep individually.  For example, based on your diagnosis perhaps:

  • For Rep #1, achieving minimum productivity standards (cold calls, appointments, proposals) aren't enough. He needs to increase his activity by at least 20% to meet his number consistently.
  • Rep #2 must have a fuller pipeline of closable deals going into Q3. This means more prospecting activity on her part in the beginning of the year.

Set the Stage

While Reps #1 and #2 finished under quota, the rest of the sales team achieved their numbers. It is doable. Both reps must agree to address their weak points. Make clear that a repeat performance of 2015 could result in disciplinary action.  

Invest

Focus your coaching time with each rep where they need help. Have them work with salespeople on the team who are strong in the areas they struggle with. If budget allows, provide some outside training.

Observe and Prepare

Watch and see if they take the matter seriously and act appropriately. Track their numbers closely.

The minute you mention the possibility of disciplinary action to some reps, they start job hunting immediately. Contact potential replacements. Understand who's available in the marketplace. Meet them for lunch or coffee.  

If the current reps turn things around, great. If not, you'll be ready to hire replacements as quickly as possible.

Final Thoughts

Avoid another draining, exhausting Q4. Start the New Year with a solid understanding of who didn't help achieve quota and why. Take corrective action early in the year.

Ideas from Sales Leaders

While I've benefited from excellent formal training, much of the sales management knowledge I've acquired throughout my career has come through interacting with and learning from my peers. With that in mind, I'd like to share what sales leaders in different areas of the country and in different industries have learned this year.  

It’s so important to invest in people, believe in their ability and coach them to maximize their potential. We spend so much time building processes, analyzing pricing, testing products, creating comp plans, and balancing territories. While those things are important you need to balance the investment and remember its people you should be investing in.
— Johanna Rivard, Executive Vice President, Pure B2B, Lead generation and data provider that connects marketers and buyers.
In 2015 we began to shift our sales approach to understanding our category better than anyone by bringing hard data and a strategic category thinking to the table. While so many in our business tend to sell against just product benefits, we approached it holistically by defining the roles of each sub segment, brand and product. In addition we’ve added value to the entire category by developing and introducing at shelf merchandising elements to disrupt the consumer, create awareness and better define our products.

”This approach has helped us to gain additional distribution and position ourselves as the category expert. We’ll continue to invest in the data and analysis required to keep ourselves more relevant that our competitors. We’ll also continue to develop new and disruptive ways to educate our consumer and make their shopping experience more experiential. We know that if we partner with our customer to grow their entire business ours grows also.
— Kevin Waller, Vice President of Sales, Kurgo. Pet adventure experts.
This year I rewrote the definitions associated with the percentages to close applied to each opportunity in the sales forecast. It gives me more confidence in predicting our forecast, allows for better communication with the salespeople and more reliable reports to senior management.
— Oriana Derose, Vice President of Sales, NRS. A compliance service company developing solutions for the financial services industry.
In 2015 the company introduced a large number of new items. To make their sales calls easier, I worked hard to make reps more independent through better access to electronic data resources that relates to them and their customers.
— Bob Clemence, Vice President of Sales, Hyde Tools. Provider of hand tools for jobs of many kinds.
Our inside sales team is comprised of Development Reps and Inside Sales Representatives selling a complex business application. I want to place less of an emphasis on blasting through the sales cycle and more of an emphasis on competitive differentiation and a solution selling orientation.
— Chris Murphy, Director of Sales, Act-On. Software-as-a-service, cloud-based marketing automation solution.

Thanks to Johanna, Kevin, Oriana, Bob, and Chris for taking time out of your busy schedules to share your thoughts.  Many other sales leaders will read this and consider what they've learned and goals they might set for themselves in 2016.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Sales Tips for Driving Business Valuation

A reader writes, "I'm in my late 40's and the owner of a small business - with no plans to sell for at least 10 years.  When I do sell, I don't want to say, 'I wished I'd known (fill in the blank) 10 years ago. If I had, my business would be worth a lot more today.' When it comes to sales, what advice can you offer to business owners wanting to get the maximum value when they do sell?"

For a knowledgeable answer to your thought-provoking question, I turned to business broker Chris Bond, Area Director for Murphy Business & Financial Corp.

Chris says, "As a business broker, I sometimes have the unenviable task of breaking bad news to my small business owner clients, namely that the company they've worked so hard on (and in) isn't worth as much as they had hoped."

You Are a Salesperson

"There are several things an owner can do," Chris says, "but first off, accept that you're a salesperson."

He goes on to explain this means you may want to have a sales metric by which you measure the success of any given day, week, and/or month. Did you book an appointment for a new opportunity? Did you contact five latent clients with an unexpected thank you for past orders?  Perhaps you did something nice for someone knowing that a referral for you could result at any moment? As we all know, it's the little things we do that tend to add up to a lot of business.

"Which is more important," Chris asks, "avoiding the disappointment of hearing 'no' from a sales prospect or running the risk of delaying retirement for years? An owner who wants to eventually sell the business is wise to work on proactively selling his or her goods every day.  Those who don't do this run the risk of saying they coulda / woulda / shoulda boosted their profitable revenue while they had the time and energy to do so... and then miss the opportunity to enjoy their retirement while healthy."

Involve all Staff Members

All that said, be sure it's not just you doing these healthy selling behaviors.  You'll benefit by having your whole staff understand that there are sales opportunities all around if they have alertness to that fact. Your office manager can ask a caller if there's any other help needed; your service tech can keep an eye out for cross-selling opportunities; your driver can ask for referrals to neighbors who could very well be new customers.

Build a Sales Team

It's ideal if you actually build a day-to-day sales staff, as hard as that can be to execute. Business buyers are keen to understand how likely the sales effort will survive your sale of and transition out of the business, so having a productive sales team goes a long way toward allaying concerns that you are the business.

Watch the Percentages

One drag on business value occurs when the company is beholden to one or two major accounts. If you step outside your day-to-day role and think like the potential buyer of your own business, strongly consider the risk profile of the customer mix. If any one account represents more than 20 - 25% of the revenue pie, it's likely to hurt the perceived value of the business. Ideally, no one client will make up more than 10% of the mix; if this isn't your reality it may be time to set a goal to capture enough new business in the coming months to improve the look and feel of your revenue stream.

Final Thoughts

Sticky, dependable top-line revenues are of course only one factor for a business that will likely be acquired.  Other factors are historical profits; the supplier mix; the state of the economy in markets served; the management team and its likelihood to stay on post-transaction; and competition, among other major factors. But if there is but one thing you can do today, try a positive change you can make to enhance revenue, with an eye on always trending upward.  You - and your eventual buyer of the business - will be glad you did.

Questions to Ask in Formulating a Strategic Sales Plan

A client asks, "I would like to do an assessment and strategic plan for my sales organization. I have undertaken projects like this before with other departments, but never in sales. Can you suggest how I can get started?"

The beginning of the year is a great time for this type of activity and I applaud you for wanting to think strategically about sales. Before you start this project, here is a list of questions that you should be asking:

Compensation

  • How old is my current compensation plan?
  • Is it driving sales?
  • Does it still motivate the sales representatives?
  • Is it still aligned with company goals?
  • How many salespeople max out on it?
  • Should it be changed in any way?

Sales staff

  • Which salespeople earned more this year than last?
  • Which salespeople earned less this year than last?
  • What are their collective sales challenges?
  • What are their collective sales strengths?
  • How will I go about finding this out?
  • What kind of sales skills training is needed?
  • Which organization can best provide that training?

Accounts

  • Do I know who the top 10 accounts are for each representative?
  • Is each account up or down compared to the previous year?
  • Have I met with or spoken on the phone with these accounts in the last year?
  • Holiday greetings aside, have I communicated with these accounts in any way?
  • Do I have adequate staff to call on the number of accounts I want to do business with?
  • If I need to increase my sales staff, how will I go about it?

Management

  • Do I hold regular staff meetings?
  • Are the meetings interactive and of benefit to all?
  • Have I given all the sales representatives quarterly and annual reviews?
  • Are they truly impartial and tied to revenue production?
  • Am I tolerating mediocre performance?
  • Should any of the salespeople be on written warning?
  • Do the salespeople have what they need in terms of technology to stay ahead of the competition?
  • Do the top performers understand how much I appreciate their efforts?

Performance standards

  • What productivity requirements have I set?
  • Do the sales representatives take them seriously?
  • Have I held my salespeople accountable for those productivity goals?
  • Are they regularly met or exceeded?
  • Do I monitor them?
  • Are they realistic for where the company is today?

Products

  • Do the salespeople know our product line inside and out?
  • Which products do they know really well?
  • Which products are they unfamiliar with?
  • Do they need product training?
  • When did I last sponsor product training?
  • Which product / service do they sell the most of? Why?
  • Which product / service do they rarely sell any of? Why?

This list may seem daunting at first glance. If you answer the questions one by one, however, you will begin to see your sales plan come together. Good luck and make it the best year ever!

Should I Expand My Salesforce?

A client asks, “I am considering hiring another sales representative. What criteria should I use to make this decision? What do I do if I decide to proceed?"

Determining whether or not to hire an additional sales representative is a critical business decision and involves research and thought in several key areas.

Ask the Right Questions

Before you contact a recruiter or place an ad on Monster.com, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my current sales staff able to contact all of the prospective customers in their geographic or vertical territory?
  • Are they maximizing the amount of business from current clients?
  • Does my company’s financial situation allow me to comfortably afford a new sales representative?
  • How much sales revenue can I expect the new hire to produce in the first year?
  • How much potential sales revenue am I losing by not hiring an additional sales person?
  • Will hiring a new sales representative impact the earnings of my current staff?
  • Will I be able to scale my company’s product or service delivery to accommodate the additional business a new sales representative will bring in?

Plan a New Territory

If the answers to the questions above lead you to decide that it is in your company’s best interest to hire an additional sales representative, you need to assign them a territory. It is important to do this before proceeding with hiring so that you know where you’re going to hire the new salesperson and what you want them to do. Ask yourself this set of questions before you start to source any candidates:

  • Does my current sales staff have territories that are too large or too small?
  • Are there geographic or vertical territories that aren’t being covered at all?
  • Do my sales representatives spend too much of their time in cars or on planes getting to customers?
  • Do my sales representatives have enough time to cold call to identify new customers?
  • Do they have enough time to service existing customers?
  • Are my top ten customers getting the attention they need?
  • Are the rest of my customers getting the attention they need?
  • How many industries do I really sell into?
  • Which industries account for the majority of sales?
  • Is this an opportunity to break into vertical territories?

Based on the answers to these questions and others you think relevant, develop a plan to assign the new sales representative an as-yet-uncovered territory or to adjust existing territories. Either way, you are now ready to start the hiring process.

Next month I will discuss involving your current sales staff in the search for a new sales representative.

Entering New Markets

A client asks, “There is an untapped market that I think would be a great fit for my company’s products. During meetings with the sales staff, I have encouraged them to prospect into this market. They make a few calls but stop trying after a while. How do I convince them that there is a real opportunity here?"

Assess the Market

Prior to asking the sales force to make outbound calls into a new market, do the research needed to determine the size and needs of that new market and estimate how many additional customers you would gain by selling to a conservative fraction of its customers. Determine whether or not your product needs adaptation or a different pricing structure.

Conduct Market Research Calls

Determine who will probably make the final purchasing decision and make a dozen or so calls to those decision makers yourself. The calls should be “fact finding” rather than sales oriented. Consider creating a brief questionnaire to guide your discussion. Included should be some inquiries about your product area and the possibility of their considering such a purchase in the next several years.

Create a Sales Plan

Using the data you have gathered, create a sales plan within your overall strategic plan for this new market, then make a presentation to your sales force. Talk about the ground work you have done and how much additional commission could be earned by the sales representatives if they successfully tap into the market. Make a convincing case. Sales representatives need to be sold too.

Set and Reward Achievable Goals

Set separate and reasonable goals for the number of outbound calls and product presentations the sales representatives should complete in the new market. Goals that are poorly communicated or set too high discourage a sales force. Reinforce and reward the goals attained. For instance, present each sales representative with a gift certificate once they have their product presentations goal.

Hold De-briefing Sessions

Don’t take the “I gave you all the information you need to be successful, now go sell” approach after the initial meeting. Make a point of discussing the sales reps’ progress in the new market on a weekly basis for at least three months. Encourage them to talk about any challenges they are facing and offer to help in any way you can. If, despite your best efforts, some of the targets you set are proving too difficult, re-set them with input from the sales people.

Making that extra effort for the sales representatives will go along way towards entering a new market successfully.

Inside or Out?

A client asks, “I am hiring my first salesperson. How do I determine whether they should be an inside or outside sales representative?”

Outside or Field Sales Representatives (FSR’s) are a good choice for lower volume, higher price products or services ($100K or more) with longer sales cycles (90 days or more). A company with a concentration of customers in one geographic area may benefit from the FSR’s personal contact with those customers. However, having an FSR on the payroll is expensive and a challenge to manage unless they are based at the corporate headquarters.

Inside Sales Representatives (ISR’s) can be an appropriate choice for higher volume, lower price transactions ($100K or less) with shorter sales cycles (90 days or less). An ISR can cover an extensive territory and reach more than 100 prospects a week, costs much less than an FSR, and oversight is convenient because they are typically located at corporate headquarters.

For a business building a sales force from the ground up, I recommend starting out with an ISR whenever possible. They can build a customer base more quickly and economically than an FSR, and have easier access to staff members when they need assistance to get sales closed. For an FSR, it takes phone calls and/or e-mails back to headquarters to enlist help.

Many of my clients, concerned that their product or service can’t be sold successfully over the phone, are surprised to find that the ISR model is very effective for them. When they decide to increase the size of their sales staff, they choose to hire several additional ISR’s. Other clients, who want to add an FSR to their staff because they feel they need face-to face contact with some of their larger clients, find that starting out with an ISR made the hiring and managing of an FSR a little bit easier.