How I DRIVE Deals – Part I

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Identifying a sales process for a new business can be difficult. We are a perfect example of how matching your sales process with your customer’s buying habits is extremely important. As we’ve evolved our process and matched it with our customer’s habits, it’s become evident that gaining buy-in from all stakeholders is the most painful part. We came to a realization that getting buy-in from an entire team meant a few things, and one of those things was that we needed to be more transparent with our sales process. Who knew transparency can set expectations without causing an awkward moment?

It’s now second nature for me to say, “The next step in our sales process is an all sponsor demo, where we ask that all stakeholders be present.” I can repeat this throughout the initial demo and let it sink in with our sponsor. This is important because we have to empower our sponsor to take the next step. In our case, this step means literally pulling up your boss’s calendar and scheduling another meeting.

We know they have access to their boss’s calendar so if they tell us, “no, I don’t have access to the calendar” then there may be an additional objection that we need to handle before our initial sponsor is willing to move forward. However, identifying the yes’s and no’s as early in the sales cycle as possible helps save everyone’s time.

Nobody wants to be chased down with emails and phone calls, and we don’t want to chase anyone down either. Part of the process is always understanding that if this deal isn’t a good fit then let’s be open about it.

We stole the upfront contract from Sandler, we break up early in the conversation so you don’t have to. We also took a metric ton of information out of The Challenger Sale. In our industry, we can’t sell clicks. We can’t sell features of a product either. It’s all about the end result. Prospects need to know “WHAT DOES THIS DO FOR ME?! WHAT’S THE R.O.I?!”

Einstein Meme

In our case efficiency is one of the most evident cases to purchase our software and we hear this objection quite often, “I don’t have time to see a demo.” Our response is simple and true, “What if I could save you 3 hours a week, is that worth 30 minutes of your time?”

I digress, back to The Challenger Sale. Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, authors of The Challenger Sale, really drive home the point that to be a challenger you must be a teacher. You must challenge your client and let them tell you why they don’t want your product instead of begging them to buy it because of features and benefits.

TopOPPS utilizes this idea in our sales process stage called, “Compelling Need”. As a salesperson we need to understand not only what the surface pain is but also HOW does that affect their business? I mean sure, you missed your forecast, thats awful, but how does that affect your business? If we can understand the true underlying need, then we can establish value and a timeline.

In closure for part 1. I think it’s important to note that mixing sales methods to match your process and customer buying habits is important. Identifying key buying habits and the rest of the DRIVE sales process will be included in part 2.

So we’ve got this far. We understand what your pain points are and why they’re important to your company. We understand your initiatives and timeline for this purchase. So now, how do we get to closure? What decision makers have been involved? And has anyone given us verbal commitment? Do we understand how XYZ company makes their decisions?

What is a Sales Process?

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This may seem like a silly question – everyone knows what a sales process is, right?

Here at TopOPPS, we are devoted to helping other companies define, follow, and evolve their Sales Processes. In doing so, we have learned quite a bit about what works and doesn’t work in a Sales Process, and where the biggest holes tend to be.

Most people think of Sales Processes as a set of stages an opportunity must move through. Some take this a level further, and say there may be particular milestones within a stage that should be completed as well.

This is true – these components form the backbone of the Sales Process. TopOPPS pulls in your stages as they exist from Salesforce, and allows you to setup both global and stage milestones that impact the overall health % of an opportunity.

Here’s the problem though – most people seem to think the definition of a Sales Process stops there. Does it really, though?

In today’s world, a Sales VP has limited tools to get their team to play according to the strategy they have defined. This may mean data simply doesn’t get input into the CRM, or certain members of your team are falling into the same traps against particular competitors over and over again, or even just having team members skipping steps you feel are important to push the deal in the right direction.

We have seen all sorts of different kinds of attempts to solve this problem.

Some frustrated Sales VPs implement custom validation rules in their CRM, that trigger a blaring warning to their team members when data is out of date or not following the rules. This is all well and good – but it ONLY triggers when a team member tries to update an opportunity. This both results in data that sits in a bad state for a long time, as well as a further discouragement of updating data in general (“I just wanted to update this one field, but my CRM is forcing me to update these other 10 things… forget it. I’ll just deal with this later”).

Another common pattern we’ve seen is Sales VPs who run a Salesforce report to make a list of all opportunities with non-compliant data (outdated or otherwise). This report is then sent out as an email to their team members, or brought up in the Monday morning sales meeting, with the request that they update this data. This is effective, but grossly inefficient. Both your and their time would be far more valuable going over strategy.

Finally we’ve seen playbook patterns being outright ignored, either from difficultly in accessing that data, or just a lack of awareness of the plays your competitors are making against you.

TopOPPS changes the game.

With our Alert system, you can codify all your experience, sales process requirements, and competitor knowledge into Alerts. These Alerts can be merely informative (if stuck in stage 3 on a high value deal against competitor x, recommend executive visit) or require the sales rep to fix the data (your next meeting date is in the past).

Alerts that require a fix are presented in a todo-list style to your team members, and rapidly allow them to “quick-fix” the specific fields in error, or do a quick check-in, or dig down into the opportunity for deeper analysis and changes.

Our learning algorithm also watches your historical patterns, and makes recommendations to you on informative alerts to create about things you may not have been aware of (such as particular industry trends, or competitor’s plays).

In TopOPPS, your Sales Process is a combination of a backbone (stages / milestones) with an Alert system that blends together human intuition and experience, supported by insightful algorithms.

Simply put- your Sales Process isn’t complete without us.

Sales Forecasting Is More Than Pretty Dashboards

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Inaccurate sales forecasts are a great way to kill the board’s confidence in you.  So, let me tell you a personal narrative having to do with that. Right after getting out of a board meeting once, I found out that my sales forecast was way off.  A few of my bigger deals fell out that really changed the outlook.  It was one of my first board meetings with this particular group of investors, and I was hoping to gain a lot of confidence out of the gate. This did not help.

My dashboards for the sales forecast and analytics looked incredible. I spent a lot of time working on the visualization. However, they lacked real substance.

So, here are three things I now make sure to review. I hope this will help you as well in understanding how to supercharge your sales forecasting and analytics. By doing so you will be able to close more deals, and do so faster.  It also will allow you to have a real handle on which opportunities are going to close in the sales period, which in turn will build confidence within your board and other stakeholders.

1. How are most sales managers/executives forecasting and staying on top of their pipeline today?
2. What’s missing? What are best practices? And why is the process in need of an overhaul?
3. How can current, proven and available technology accelerate deals through the pipeline and predict which will close?

HOW IT’S DONE TODAY

Sales forecasting today is predominantly made by the gut feel. It may seem at times like there’s some science to it, but the marrying of “system generated forecast” from your CRM and the “feelings-based forecast” from your sales reps is still by the gut. The system generated version is taking a percent from each stage, but how did you come up with that?  By your gut?  Do you have empirical data that tells you what it should be? If so, where did that come from?  Also, what if you have a few really big opportunities in that stage, and they fall out?  How does that affect what you forecasted from a weighted percentage?  You can try doing an average amount and multiplying it by the number of deals in that stage then take the percent, but it will still be by the gut. Not to mention most of us can’t come up with an accurate average sales price.

In addition, we forecast by asking the same questions over and over each week in the sales meeting while also spending too many hours in 1on1s. Sales meetings were designed for more value add, instead of rehashing “what deals will close this period?” and “what deals are you working on this week?”  We should already know these things going into the meeting.  Also, these verbal 1on1s need to have this data captured in the CRM so that opportunities can be analyzed based on their attributes, progress, status and qualitative input by the reps.

WHY FORECASTING NEEDS AN OVERHAUL

So what’s missing?  What should we be doing?  We’ve been forecasting this way forever and it’s long overdue for an overhaul.

First we have to engage the sales reps.  We need to have them frequently update the status of opportunities at each interaction. Updates include:

Stages:   the category of status (ex. Qualification, Defining, Negotiating, Contracts, etc.)
Milestones:   the points that have to happen before the deal advances to the next stage
Attributes:   information about the company and opportunity including market, size of company, price, competition, products, etc.
Qualitative Input: sales reps will provide their personal assessment of what’s going on.

This information HAS TO be captured in the CRM on each deal.  Without it we have no empirical data to support our analytics and dashboards.  We need to understand more about our sales cycles, win rates, performance and deals that fit our wheelhouse.  Most companies now do not have current information or status of opportunities within the CRM, nor do they have these opportunity attributes updated.  So forecasts, again, remain by the gut.

So why aren’t sales reps updating all this fresh information on a frequent basis?  Why do we continue to spend hundreds of hours in 1on1s, all the while not capturing this information?  Why do we spend all this non-value added time in the sales meeting discussing from the beginning what deals we are working and what’s happening?

Because the word is just getting out about new and proven technology available to do three things:

1. Easily capture much more detail about opportunities and record it in the CRM (real time)
2. Analyze, score and give insights on next steps to drive an opportunity forward
3. Predict which opportunities will close for the sales period

Sales forecasting technology is available now and is purpose built with predictive and prescriptive analytics, as well as possessing intelligent mobile capabilities. This makes it super simple to update relevant deal information right after it happens.

Current and modern technology HAS TO be leveraged to keep data clean, current and logical. Systems can be used to alert reps of exactly what should be updated and make it super simple for them to do so, especially by leveraging intelligent mobile solutions.  Advanced analytics are then required to score and predict which opportunities will close, while machine learning continues to learn your process and suggest ways to improve.  Ultimately, this allows your sales team to speed up and win more deals.

So keep the pretty, but get rid of the static dashboards. Utilize the best practices and technology described above to always have confidence in meeting your numbers.

Click HERE to learn more about TopOPPS’s sales performance and predictability solution.

Startup Guidelines for Building Sales Teams

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Overview

As founder of two market-leading tech startups, and now a third company that is well on its way to be, I have a lot of experience in building sales teams. One thing that I’ve picked up along the way is that you have to be extremely aware of your company’s stage to determine the best time for adding to the team. Below are three stages typically experienced, and the strategies implemented based on where we were at as a company. This is my personal account of what we did and why.

Early Stage

It was important for me as founder to stay close to customer opportunities, find out the right market segmentation, customer needs and eventually the beginning of the sales model. In all of my companies, I knew the role of the person I was selling to, and would spend hundreds of hours interviewing other people in similar roles within that markeplace. This front-row seat in the sales process made me the best possible product manager and salesperson for initial early development customers. I tapped into my personal network and also into the networks of my advisors. At this stage it was crucial that I listened to potential customers and relayed their needs to our engineering team. It was a way of figuring out what needed to go into the product, as well as winning and keeping the trust of customers.

Once enough customers were acquired through product trials, I focused on messaging by experimenting with the initial marketing awareness and thought-leader program. After building a great team of engineers, I learned that my first hire should be a marketing executioner to help me with awareness and thought leader programs. During this phase I leveraged my advisors in thought leadership. It was important to get all of this going prior to hiring my first sales rep. Just before the first rep was hired, I borrowed a model from the book “Predictable Revenue” by Aaron Ross and created the sales development team.

During this stage, it’s important to have everyone on “pioneer mode.” Instead of setting heavy quotas right away, learn what works and what doesn’t to improve the strategy. We were focused on sales process discovery, messaging, value offering, product features and who we sell to. The types of selling skills needed in this phase are different than subsequent phases as the company matures.

During the early stage the sales team needs to be small and made up of self-starters who can operate in an environment where every day is an experiment. It’s common for reps to create their own collateral at this stage. It is also common for them to experience heightened listening and communication skills. Customers need to trust the sales reps, and the reps need to be able to present the vision, a valuable skill at this stage of the company. This is another reason to have the founder involved in as many deals as possible at this stage.

Acceleration Stage

At this stage, the sales start to take off as the product and market fit begin taking shape. This is the point when customers find the value offer compelling enough to pay a transaction price that is easily justified with the promised return on investment. Fine-tuning the product and market fit is an ongoing process, but at this stage the company is close enough to feel confident that you have a real business.

At this point, the marketing, sales development and sales model are close to being repeatable. Prior to adding the next sales rep, lead generation is increased and sales development activity have increased, in that order. At the acceleration stage, sale reps are added cautiously, but continuously to match growth based on the model. The pace of hiring increases as the marketing, sales development and sales model become more mature.

Sales reps will eventually transition from learning “Pioneer” mode to refinement “Execution” mode, utilizing a near repeatable model and knowing what content is compelling to what person in the buying process. At this point, playbooks on deals based on stage and opportunity type are created. Everything and everyone is moving faster now and accountability toward quota is much more important. It is important at this point to study the ratio of Sales Development to Account Management employees so to prepare for sustainability mode.

Metrics are very important at this stage. The most important being numbers focused on the conversion rates of opportunities and closes. The company must track qualified opportunities and sales process milestones that occur in the funnel. The subject of sales metrics in itself is worth a separate article – which is forthcoming.

Once you have four or five reps you should consider adding a vice president of sales to drive the team. The founder should have enough information on the product and sales model at this point, making it the right time to find a dedicated person to put in charge. It’s a challenge to find the right VP at this stage though. For most startups of this size, it’s too soon to attract a seasoned sales executive with decades of experience, which could prove detrimental. It’s better to find a hard-charging sales leader who is on the way up, possibly someone who has built a small sales team from scratch recently and brought it to the next level. This VP will have to live by the sales metrics and transition at each stage of the company. You want to make sure their leadership scales for such pivots.

Deal cycle times and transaction size should also be under scrutiny. In all three of my companies, we implemented an enterprise sales group and SMB (small to medium sized business) group. By doing so we we able to carefully analye the contribution margin of each market.

Sustainability

At the sustainability stage, you are now officially at a place where your product and market fit are in balance. The instrumentation is synchronized by marketing, sales development and direct sales. The company has a blueprint for hiring sales reps and incentivizing behavior to hit quotas and to focus on the market within the company’s wheelhouse. Content is mature, the market is segmented and processes are very well defined. The VP Sales role must transition to scaling the reps and processes for breakaway velocity. The VP must act as a coach, making sure the team adheres to the culture with the appropriate training and new hires.

Sales team size
Adding to the team is based on the actual contribution margin per rep and the growth velocity of each stage. This has to take into account the sales model’s evolution at each stage. It is important to be closely tracking sales yields and to execute careful sales planning based on assumptions at each stage.

Obviously, quotas have to be very conservative early on with productivity gains happening as the company matures. Figuring out the right team size while at each stage can drastically reduce burn, further confirming that you have to be at product/market fit before you add most of your sales reps. For example, at the sustainability stage, you might only require 15 reps for “break even” but if you calculated the break even point at an early stage it could require more sales reps based on relative contribution.

Once you get your marketing, sales development and sales model metrics right you can set yourself up for growth and have better conversations with investors.

Jim Eberlin is the founder and CEO of TopOPPS. Previously to TopOPPS, Jim was founder and CEO of Host Analytics and JBara (now Gainsight), two market leading tech companies located in Silicon Valley that have raised over $100 million in venture capital. He currently serves on the board of these companies in addition to Juristat, another exciting tech startup. Jim has several years experience in executive management within the software industry and he serves the tech entrepreneurial community with strategic advisement from early through growth stage.

Your Sales Forecast Is In Trouble…But You Can Save It

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The search for the perfect balance between what your sales people say and what the data in your CRM reflects reminds me of reading about Ponce de Leon’s 16th century search for the Fountain of Youth. Expeditions were provisioned and  ships set sail for the new world, but despite great effort and expense, the fountain remained elusive and ultimately undiscovered.

Sales people are interesting, complex and highly differentiated. Like snowflakes, no two are perfectly alike, and generalizations can be unwise. That said, for the purposes of this discussion, it serves my purpose to discuss two “personas” whose attributes you may recognize in some of your salespeople. I will call them Harry “Happy Ears” and Sally “Sandbagger”.

When you look at your pipeline and opportunity management process – collectively known as your sales process – you are often balancing what the forecast and opportunity notes reflect against either Harry “Happy Ears” tendency to be unrealistically optimistic or Sally “Sandbagger”’s proclivity to never commit a deal to the forecast until the day it closes.

In the many, many forecast and business reviews I have conducted, there are some Harry and Sally moments that will be forever etched in my mind. For example:

Q. Harry, why do you think this deal will close by the end of the month?
A. Because they like me!
Q. Anything else, for instance do you know what steps remain to getting the deal done?
A. Nah, but don’t worry, I’m taking my contact to an expensive lunch and a ballgame this week.  And they really like me!

Q. Sally, you have made your number 12 straight quarters in a row, but you are forecasting to be at 20% this quarter, should I be concerned?
A. No, I always make my number
Q. Then why aren’t you forecasting any deals for this quarter?
A. Because I don’t have the PO’s yet.

While these conversations may be humorous in retrospect, when you are trying to make your number and understand your deals, there is nothing funny about not being able to discern which deals are real and which are not.

So what do you do?  The “black art” way is to handicap and arbitrage without having the necessary underlying information. For Sally, you take the bet that she can be counted on for 13 deals this quarter and hope that 13 is not her (and your) unlucky number. For Harry, you adjust his forecast down and then tell your manager to jump in and micromanage the sales process in the hopes that you can find the bedrock of his forecast and rebuild from there.

The state-of-the-art method today is to define and then track the discrete and necessary checkpoints for opportunity advancement. For example, if there is no budget, or identified compelling need, then your opportunity likely has an empirically lower measurable probability of closing in your timeframe. If an opportunity has little or no activity and has sat in a stage for two or three times longer than similar deals in your wheelhouse, then the opportunity is stale and this points to trouble.

If you can capture the important attributes of your opportunities without sentencing your salespeople to the land of a thousand clicks and at the same time, remove from their purview the ability to color their deals with their subjective Harry or Sally bias, then you have the foundation for a more accurate, predictable and controllable sales process.

For more on this, please check out my 0n-demand webinar with my sales VP friend, John True on “How to Supercharge Your Sales Process”.

In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about how TopOPPS addresses this problem, by giving you the right tools to define, manage and control your sales process, please contact us at 800.222.2323 or let us give you a demo.

Video: Sales Effectiveness and Sales Opportunity Management

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July 10, 2014 – St. Louis, MO
Sales Effectiveness and Sales Opportunity Management, Executive Lunch Briefing in Partnership with Salesforce
Presenter: Mark Small, VP of Sales; Jim Eberlin, CEO; Sean Kooyman, Director of Engineering; Ryan Gryzwa, Senior Account Executive at Salesforce