Here’s a quick test for you:
Pull a report of the top 20 opportunities in your organization. Now, go to each of them and answer the following questions:
- What is the probability we will win this business? Is that based on the gut feeling of the seller? Does your CRM automatically generate this data based on the sales stage? Consider what you really KNOW about the prospective customer.
- Who are the evaluators for this opportunity and what influence do they have on the outcome?
- Are alternatives are being considered? If so, which ones do the evaluators favor?
- Does your solution affect key business issues for this prospective customer?
- What criteria will the buyer use to determine which alternative is best for their business?
There is only one way to know if a seller has the information listed above. Interview that seller. However, interviewing is time consuming. Because of this, it rarely happens. Doing so requires sellers to either review pages of notes or leverage total recall to get a clear representation of what he/she knows about an opportunity. Frankly, it isn’t so much what we don’t know about an opportunity. We can always go back and get that. What kills sales performance is what we don’t know we don’t know!
How Bad Does it Hurt?
The question to consider next is vital. Does it bother you that this information lives only in the mind of your seller? If this person leaves, so does all the information about that account and opportunity. In order to win this sale, you must go through the tedious process of having the buyer recall everything she knows.
Furthermore, this critical information about your most important opportunities may not even exist. What’s worse, you and your leadership team have limited visibility of the information. If the prospect of such critical information walking out the door makes you nuts, we understand. Coaching conversations between managers and sellers simply isn’t effective. We must address the root cause of this problem. Doing this radically improves your customer engagement and sales performance.
Step 1: Establish Common Information Objectives
If you’re still reading at this point, it is probably safe to assume that you agree with the core premise of this article. Information defines opportunity. In other words, the more we know about our customers’ wants and needs, the higher our chance of winning the sale. Unfortunately, few organizations agree on what information is needed in order to fully understand an opportunity. This dramatically reduces the likelihood they will be effective at eliciting information.
The first step is to establish a shared set of information objectives. To be clear, this is a single, comprehensive list of everything you need to know in order to fully understand a sales opportunity. Sellers need a static set of commonly understood terms they can recite at any time. This list becomes part of every conversation you have about sales opportunities. We have good news. It won’t take long to compile a list that everyone agrees on. In fact, we give it to you for free in our articled entitled “Nine Things We Must Know in Order to Fully Understand an Opportunity”.
Step 2: Integrate Information Objectives into Your CRM in MEANINGFUL Ways
Once you have a common set of information objectives, integrate them into your CRM. However, this cannot be accomplished by simply creating forms where people can enter data. If entering information into a CRM doesn’t help your staff work effectively, it’s not worth your time. Buyer information helps sellers forecast more quickly, more accurately, and win more business. It is vital that your staff becomes efficient at entering the needed information. This means the information needs to be used to benefit both seller and manager.
By way of example, AXIOM provides clients with an Opportunity Management Application that analyzes buyer information and uses proprietary algorithms to predict win probability. In addition, AXIOM both identifies danger zones and recommends solutions. In the future, this same information will be used to create customized proposals and recommend learning and development activities. The information about each opportunity represents a comprehensive list of verifiable outcomes. These goal is to optimally understand the customer, as opposed to simply completing a task.
Go Beyond Box-Checking!
There are several important caveats to consider. First, sellers must actually enter data about an opportunity. No simple box-checking here! In fact, we greatly discourage box-checking because it doesn’t teach sellers what they need to know. Buyers know how to check boxes, but not how to have the right conversations. Don’t be fooled into thinking that easier is better.
Second, avoid the temptation of punishing salespeople for what they don’t know about their opportunities. The purpose here is not to fill in spaces for each information objective. The purpose is to create transparency and promote objectivity. If sellers are punished for what they don’t know, they may fabricate data rather than improve their customer conversations. Always remember, it isn’t what we don’t know that costs us sales. It is what we don’t know that we don’t know.
Step 3: Provide Ongoing Learning and Coaching to Improve Skill and Knowledge
Once you have agreed on a common set of information objectives, use them to make your CRM a valuable tool for managing opportunities. Then you’ll be ready to take the third step toward dramatically better results – coaching. In this step, it is critical to understand the difference between typical manager-seller conversations and truly productive coaching.
Consider this: most sales managers get promoted because they are great sellers. Their natural tendency is to do what they do best, which is sell for their people. Many sales managers rely on their teams to bird-dog opportunities while they develop sales deals. To use a sports metaphor, the manager runs the plays.
More advanced managers have their sellers handle the bulk of customer engagements (running the plays). This opens up the manager to develop the sales strategy (calling the plays). Better play calling results in dramatically improved performance. Utilizing the two earlier steps promotes tremendous improvements in this area.
Accountability is Vital
However, maximizing results requires movement beyond “calling better plays” to “developing better players”. In order for this to happen, managers are held accountable for diagnosing the root cause of performance gaps. They must then determine what corrective action or learning can be leveraged in order to shrink these gaps. The graphic below provides a visual representation of the building blocks for sales performance. Notice that sales results are the byproduct of selling behaviors. However, the skill and knowledge the seller possesses enables selling behaviors.
Finally, the foundation for skill, knowledge, behavior, and results is the capacity and commitment of the individual. Do not confine manager-seller conversations to the top level of this pyramid. Instead, develop better players. Don’t send the same sellers into the same environment and expect different results.
In an ideal world, the CRM should:
- Make it easy and efficient for managers to identify potential performance gaps before they affect sales results.
- Prove the manager with questions to ask or steps to follow in order to properly diagnose the cause of performance gaps.
- Present the appropriate learning activities based on the identified root cause and allow the manager to assign these directly from within the CRM.
- Allow sellers to complete developmental assignments directly from the CRM. This ensures the “system of record” is also the system that triggers, delivers, and tracks learning and results.
Settle on clearly defined information objectives and integrate them into your CRM. By doing this, we both coach and develop sellers. Additionally, we transform our sales conversations and dramatically improve sales results. If you run a large sales team and use Salesforce.com, let us know! Allow us to teach you how to dramatically improve your sales results. Reach out to us today. We are here to serve you!