Steelers Season

Dear CEO, How Serious Are You About Sales Performance?

Today hundreds of CEOs will make a decision to replace their head of sales … again. Despite multiple attempts to select and equip the right sales leader, they will once again find their team underperforming with no clear plan other than replacing the person leading the team. In that regard, the sales function is very much like professional sports. When the owner or GM isn’t satisfied with the results and a change must be made, the head coach gets the axe.

And yet, there are sports franchises and sales organizations that have very little churn at the top and consistently outperform the competition. One such example in the sports world is the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the average tenure for an NFL head coach is 3.2 years, the Steelers last three head coaches have an average tenure of 17.3 years and six Superbowl victories between them (which, as I am a Cowboys fan, pains me greatly). So, what is it that perennial winners know, and do, that others don’t?

Performance Cultures Don’t Just Focus on Performance

Every organization wants to win. They all measure results and they all place high value on winning and are frustrated by losing. However, organizations that excel consistently create a culture that focuses on the behaviors and activities that produce winning outcomes, even more than they do on winning results. They understand that executing the right behaviors in the right way day in and day out will produce better outcomes over time. So, while they emphasize winning scores, they spend considerably more energy defining winning behaviors, identifying the skills and knowledge needed to execute these behaviors better than the competition and coaching their players to improve incrementally over time.

What does this mean for organizations that consistently sell better than their competition? For starters it means the CEO is engaged in defining and reinforcing their sales methodology to make certain it aligns with the overall promise the company is making to its customers. If the company’s core value depends on delivering a better customer experience, the CEO personally understands how the company’s sales methodology contributes to that experience. But can’t the CEO simply hire a great sales leader and leave it to this person to define the methodology? Unfortunately, they cannot! Even the most effective sales leader will need the active participation of the CEO to define and activate a comprehensive sales methodology. The reason for this is simple: optimum sales execution will require coordination with a variety of departments in the business, including marketing, customer care, operations, product, and even finance.  Only the CEO has the authority and perspective needed to ensure all departments in the organization are aligned around the same vision and support the same methodology. While CEO involvement in selecting and deploying the sales methodology is rare, we have seen multiple instances where the CEO actively participates, and in nearly every case the outcomes are considerably better.

Emphasize Leading Indicators

Next, it means the organization must measure performance differently. It doesn’t mean we no longer talk about deals or pipeline or forecasts, but it does mean we measure those things differently, often more objectively, more scientifically, and even more rigorously. However, we also measure the effectiveness of sales execution via artifacts such as customer insights and competency scores as well as the underlying skill and knowledge of people responsible for executing the sales methodology. It means we place as much emphasis in sales reviews on understanding if and how sales leaders are developing their teams as we do on what number they will deliver this quarter.

Only the CEO can affect this change because the questions they ask in their performance reviews with the head of sales will always drive, and even dominate the conversations that happen at each and every level. When CEOs inspect execution, sales coaching, and rep development with the same energy as last quarter’s results, everyone understands the cultural importance of continuous improvement and people become more effective. When they don’t do this, absent a string of incredibly hot products with extremely clear and compelling advantages, they miss targets and change leaders, only to find the same thing happening once again a short time later.

Want help creating a winning performance culture in your organization? You can begin your journey by downloading our Guide to Sales Coaching here. And stay tuned as we will soon release an updated version of our book, with a more complete guide to creating a high-performing sales organization. You can also schedule time to talk with us directly to learn more about how you can integrate player development into your existing sales cadence.

At Axiom Sales Kinetics we’ve spent thirty years helping sales teams coach, learn, and sell more effectively. We offer a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about Selling the Axiom Way, our Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at

The Power of Habit Book

Keystone Habits – Three Behaviors That Can Transform a Mediocre Sales Team into World Class Performers

People often ask us what change they could make that would have the greatest impact on sales performance for their team. I imagine they expect to hear things, “If you better qualify opportunities, you’ll waste less time on deals you cannot win.” Or maybe, “If you have meaningful business conversations, you’ll better understand how to impact your customers’ business.” Or possibly even, “If you help buyers develop differentiating criteria, you can build significantly more value and sell at higher margins.”

While all these things will definitely help INIDVIDUAL salespeople sell more, the most significant change for an ENTIRE TEAM is actually far more fundamental and has the potential to be considerably more impactful. The most significant change any sale team can make is to develop these three keystone habits that have the power to enable a mediocre team to become perennial winners.

What is a Keystone Habit?

In his best-selling book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg coined the term keystone habits, which he defines as “an individual pattern that is unintentionally capable of triggering other habits in the lives of people.” One of the things that is so fascinating about keystone habits is that they often-times do not represent the ultimate change or behavior we are seeking. Rather, keystone habits are enabling patterns that allow us to affect the change we are after.

An example from everyday life is exercise. Duhigg notes, “Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.” The implication of course is clear, if we want to eat less, be more productive, patient, and financially responsible, start by creating a habit of exercise and we will be on our way to affecting the other changes.

The Changes Salespeople Make

We’ve all been part of programs intended to help salespeople make some change that promises to improve their performance. We want them to prospect better, qualify more thoroughly, present in a more compelling fashion, build greater value, negotiate more effectively, populate the CRM with real data … the list varies by company, team, and even person. In each case however, a new habit is needed to help improve their sales effectiveness. So, sales enablement implements training, tools, and programs to affect these changes. Unfortunately, all too often, the desired changes are adopted by relatively few, while the majority of people continue to do the things they do, the way they’ve always done them. The stats are so often cited we’re tempted to accept them as unavoidable:

  • According to ATD, up to 80% of new skills are lost within 1 week of training if not used

  • A study by HR Chally showed up to 85% of sales training fails to deliver a positive ROI

Keystone Habits for Sales

Fortunately, there are three keystone habits for sales organizations that are so powerful as to trigger all manner of other positive changes. These simple, but essential habits form the foundational behaviors for a high-performing, adaptable sales organization.

Habit #1 – Learning

It seems almost condescending to propose that effective sales organizations must develop the habit of learning. However, over thirty years working with dozens of companies and hundreds of thousands of salespeople, it has becoming undeniably clear that most organizations are not in the habit of learning new skills, or growing existing skills, on a regular cadence. Sure, they conduct training sessions. But training events and learning are not the same thing.

In a learning organization, people continually get better as a core part of their jobs, not as an infrequent and separate activity. If learning were a habit, it would happen regularly and any new activity, new product, new strategy, or new market dynamic, could be easily integrated into the normal cadence of the sales organization with a high degree of comfort that the overwhelming majority would be able to apply what they learn quickly.

Habit #2 – Practice

It’s tempting to simply include practice with learning and shorten this list, but that would be a mistake. While practice is an integral part of the learning cycle for new skills, it is too often overlooked as a fundamental habit or discipline in the organization. Most sales teams practice with peers or coaches so infrequently that when they do it sparks a round of complaints that might seem more like teens objecting to chores than professionals mastering their craft. There is no substitute for practicing our selling skills in front of people who can offer meaningful coaching, and there is only one way to make role-playing less painful – do more of it!

Picture a professional sports franchise that doesn’t practice in front of one another, or their coaches and you can quickly imagine them losing regularly. The only reason that doesn’t already hold true for selling is that so few teams are engaged in regular practice that failing to do so isn’t as significant a handicap as it would be in sports. However, this is almost certain to change as the pressure to improve sales execution grows. Forward thinking sales teams should get ahead of this trend and integrate regular practice into their workflow so that they can better execute key selling behaviors and outperform their competition.

Habit #3 – Coaching

We’ve written and spoken extensively in the past about the critical importance of coaching, including in a recent webinar hosted by, which you can find here. Coaching is an essential keystone habit for the sales organization because done properly, it will drive the cadence of learning and practice that are so fundamental for the sales team. However, effective coaching must include root cause analysis and the assignment of learning and practice activities in order to promote the adoption of those other keystone habits. When managers revert to feedback instead of coaching, sellers don’t get better, and they don’t value the engagement. For more information on the difference between the feedback and coaching, download our Guide to Sales Coaching here.

Developing Keystone Habits

As Charles Duhigg has noted, developing new habits is not easy. However, for sales organizations that effectively adopt these keystone habits, the rewards are significant. When sales teams routinely acquire new knowledge, practice and refine their skills, and leverage effective coaching, they not only get better at sales engagement, but they also get better at everything else. New products are launched, new strategies implemented, new market conditions embraced, and new programs and tools adopted more effectively when teams have developed the habit of continuous learning and improvement. These keystone habits drive exceptional performance and the possibility of a sustainable competitive advantage

How will we develop these keystone habits? As all habits are formed by cue, routine, and reward, Mr. Duhigg advises that changing habits is best accomplished using existing cues and replacing the routines. How does this apply to our keystone habits for sales? Here is just one example to consider:

Leverage the Opportunity Review

Nearly all sales teams regularly engage in a review of open opportunities. Developing these keystone habits doesn’t require replacing this activity with something else. It merely requires updating the routine with new activities and rewarding the adoption of these new behaviors.

Current Pattern

Cue: Opportunity Review meeting between seller and manager

Existing Routine: Manager asks seller series of questions in order to understand how qualified the opportunity is and makes recommendations about next steps the seller should make to increase their chances of winning.

Reward: Assuming the feedback is useful, increase win rates. Even when that isn’t the case, manager encouragement affords some reward

New Pattern

Cue: Opportunity Review meeting between seller and manager

New Routine: Manager asks seller series of questions in order to understand how qualified the opportunity is and identifies areas where the seller can improve their skill. The manager assigns a learning activity based on the identified root cause of any gaps in the sellers understanding of the opportunity.

Reward: During their next meeting, the manager audits completion of the learning activity. Positive reinforcement is provided whenever assignments are completed and a role-play confirms the seller has improved their skills, providing an additional reward.

Beyond integrating the new habits for sellers, companies will need to create new routines for managers to ensure their coaching includes learning and practice activities that help cement the keystone habits. An important part of this will be measuring coaching frequency and activity for at least as long as it takes to form these new habits. One example for this would be to add a team effectiveness or personnel development item to the normal forecast review most senior leaders conduct with sales managers. This would help to cement the importance of coaching and development in addition to achieve sales objectives.

It certainly takes effort to form these keystone habits, but the potential payoff for organizations that succeed in doing so can be amazing. One organization we saw make tremendous progress in developing these habits was able to achieve 16% growth in revenue per rep. In another case, the Nashville office of a national technology provider consistently out-performed other markets in profitability, total revenue and quota attainment through three different market leaders.

Want to talk more about how your organization can develop these keystone habits, connect with us here to schedule a conversation.

At Axiom Sales Kinetics we’ve spent thirty years helping sales teams coach, learn, and sell more effectively. We offer a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about Selling the Axiom Way, our Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at

Do More

What Is Your Sales Enablement Initiative Really Enabling?

I have a bit of a confession to make. I am a life-long salesperson. In fact, I was raised by salespeople. So, I love hearing about sales enablement solutions that increase the selling time for salespeople. After all, as a salesperson, I hated administrative tasks. And at times, it truly felt my company would rather have me completing reports than meeting prospects.

Had anyone asked younger-me, I would happily have told them that the key to me selling more was eliminating as many administrative tasks as possible. I’m not sure how well that would have gone over with them, but that’s how I felt.

That wasn’t accurate for me then and may not be accurate for your salespeople now.

I had a conversation about this very topic not too long ago with a particularly bright sales enablement leader. She was reacting to complaints from the sales team that they were so overwhelmed with administrative tasks that they had no time to sell, let alone participate in the company’s newly launched sales training initiative.

Her comment to me was this, “The volume of work always expands to fill the available time.”

In other words, people weren’t skipping meetings with customers and prospects because of the plethora of administrative tasks. They either didn’t have enough customers and prospects to meet or weren’t adding enough value to justify securing meetings with target contacts. Therefore, a significant amount of time was “filled” with administrative tasks.

Before you start typing out your comment below about me being an idiot, let me explain further.

Remember that I said earlier that I, too, am a salesperson. And, yes, I’m not too fond of administrative work. Removing administrative burdens for salespeople is a GOOD THING. It just ISN’T THE ONLY THING that will make your enablement initiative a raging success. Consider research from CSO Insights that found over one recent year sales enablement initiatives increased 81%. However, in that same period, only 1/3 of the enablement initiatives met or exceeded the company’s expectations. We’ve all seen countless initiatives that were focused on “giving people more selling time”, but more time to do the same job in the same way, doesn’t necessarily produce better results. If we want our sales teams to have dramatically better results, we need to enable them to compete more effectively, and we need to think more holistically about what it is that we are really enabling. 

In one of our webinars with Sales Management Association, Building a Sales Dynasty, we talk about the four steps companies can take to build a true sales dynasty. We might just as easily have titled it “The Four Keys to Sale Enablement Excellence.” We won’t cover all four characteristics here, though. Instead, we will focus on what may be the greatest point of leverage for your sales enablement initiative – helping people achieve exceptional execution with your key selling models.

Ideal Selling Models

The initiative must start by defining the ideal selling models to enable sales success effectively. This generally includes the following (though the final three are not always required):

  1. Customer Conversation Models – Without commonly understood models for the five essential customer conversations, it is extraordinarily difficult to help salespeople improve their performance. More time to engage customers in the same way rarely produces better results.
  2. Funnel Management Models – Most companies measure the wrong metrics and use them in the wrong way. Every person in the organization should have their own sales success plan that defines what they must generate in terms of leading or predictive sales indicators. Universal funnel standards can actually do more harm than good and should be avoided (see “The Worst Metric in Sales” blog post we wrote).
  3. Opportunity Management – For organizations working with more complex opportunities with longer sales cycles, a model for analyzing the opportunities, sharing information, and building winning strategies is essential.
  4. Account Planning and Management – Some organizations earn tremendous revenue from existing customers. Therefore, the company must have a model for building and executing account plans that help continually improve the overall health of these key accounts.
  5. Partner Selling – For those companies selling through partners, a model for how to work with and sell through them is an absolute requirement.

Not only does this require considerable effort, but it also cannot be done by committee or by simply categorizing a few best practices from your top performers. Top performers achieve success in various ways, some of which may not be scalable across the organization. These models are clearly defined approaches to executing the behaviors that can be repeated consistently across your team. Like so many great athletes, your people will thrive when you combine their natural talents with a model or system that affords them a competitive advantage. Their success is then limited only by their commitment to continuous improvement. 

Coaching Model

Having said all that, we have now reached the sixth and arguably your most important model — the coaching model. The reality, proven every day with sales organizations far and wide, is that the interaction your sellers have with their managers will significantly impact their execution and performance more than anything else you do. That being the case, a top priority for any sales enablement initiative must be to help your managers become outstanding coaches. This is no easy task, as there are a number of obstacles to effective sales coaching. Yet these obstacles present tremendous opportunities for your sales enablement initiative — by removing them and helping transform your seller-manager conversations from feedback to coaching, this model will supercharge every other initiative you launch.

The good news is that sales enablement is growing in importance and influence in progressive sales organizations. Better still, the early struggles with underperforming initiatives create sustainable competitive advantages for organizations that can define and deploy winning sales enablement initiatives. Focus your enablement initiative on helping your managers become better coaches. Then, help your sellers become better at executing your critical selling behaviors. From there, you’ll see what great returns you achieve.

Want to make your next sales enablement initiative as successful as possible? Check out our webinar here for more on the impact sales managers can have. You can also schedule time to talk with us directly to learn more about how Axiom can help you implement sales models like the ones discussed here.

Axiom offers a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about Selling the Axiom Way, our Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at