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Chapter 18: From the Classroom to the Boardroom


Many concepts discussed in a book or classrooms appear viable until they are proven not to work in business situations. An engineering student spends weeks learning to make stress-strain calculations to simulate real-world conditions. Many disillusioned graduates learn in the field that this approach is seldom used because the results don't reflect reality. On the job, you make an educated guess during the design phase, build a test unit, subject it to stress and strain, and reinforce components that fail. Having said that, we would like to suggest a road map for implementing the Customer Focused Sales process.

The difference between education and training is practice. True skill transfer takes place during role playing. Training is an event during which new skills are imparted. The expression "use it or lose it" could have been created to describe the crossroads traditional sellers face when completing training in a methodology that is wholly new to them. Changing selling habits that have been ingrained for 5, 10, 15, or more years is a daunting challenge.

When successfully implemented, the sales process becomes part of the culture of the adopting company and ultimately shapes the customers' experience. Implementation of the process requires extensive effort on the part of Sales and Marketing, but also requires involvement and support by senior executives, ideally up to the chief executive officer, to realize its full potential. Marketing programs, brochures, web sites, and product development, to name a few areas, should change to align with the new concepts and approaches that Customer Focused Sales introduces. The potential reward for companies successfully implementing a sales process is enormous, but we'd be setting unrealistic expectations if we told you it was easy.

Key to Implementation

First-level managers are the linchpins in implementing Customer Focused Sales. Traditional salespeople are reluctant to change. Many lack the self-motivation to try something new. Others are afraid. Those who try and don't encounter immediate success are sorely tempted to return to their old, familiar ways. Most salespeople need the support of their manager to make the migration from being traditional sellers to becoming Customer-Focused sellers. Two questions to consider if you're on the fence:

  1. Would you prefer this approach if you were on the other side of the desk as a buyer?

  2. What would your win rate be when competing with a seller capable of executing Customer Focused Sales?

Sales managers must learn and support the process. Their actions speak louder than their words. Verbalized support for the process rings hollow if they do not utilize the methodology while making calls with their salespeople. Failing to do so sends the wrong message to their direct reports. Salespeople are like your children in that they are hard to fool. A manager's behavior, much more than his or her words, shapes the behavior of the salespeople.

Suggested Approach

In order to gain acceptance and support by managers, the sales process (unlike engineering calculations) has to match your real-world selling environment. Here are some suggestions as to how to further evaluate the Customer Focused Sales process:

  1. Define the different types of sales that the process must handle, as described in Chapter 5. If the steps defined for a given sale don't reflect reality, your salespeople will resist implementing the process. We strongly suggest integrating the standard milestones described in Chapter 15 with your customized ones.

  2. Create Targeted Conversations Lists for your offerings and vertical markets. Once the titles have been determined, create a list of potential business goals for each. This will determine the scope of the effort to support your sales staff in making calls on Key Players.

  3. Create a library of Sales-Primed Communications to "load the lips" of your salespeople. This should include Sales Development Prompters, Success Stories, phone scripts, and so on. Failure to do so means paying only lip service to the sales process. Sellers making Key Player calls without Sales-Primed Communications have no choice but to wing it. The outcomes of these calls become the opinions of salespeople (see Chapter 2). In these situations, all bets are off as to qualification, and therefore the quality of the funnel and ultimately the pipeline.

  4. If possible, have sales managers attend a workshop on this process first as students. These are the people most critical to the success of the sales process. This allows them two exposures to the methodology: once as a student and once as a role-play coach if you elect to have an internal custom workshop. In terms of commitment, seeing their managers in the back of the room sends a strong message to other attendees.

  5. Train your salespeople and others who shape the customer experience. Companies may well choose to train support or product people who make calls with salespeople as well. Because these people have the business and product usage knowledge and no sales background, many of them take to this process like ducks to water. For those within your organization who are not making customer calls, but who need to understand the concepts, custom programs can be designed.

  6. After exposure to the process, honestly regrade the existing funnels. Brace yourself for a rude awakening. The value of each salesperson's funnel is likely to be reduced by between 50 and 80 percent. It takes a strong stomach, but the sooner the manager and the seller get the funnel to reflect reality, the sooner they know what has to be done to build it to levels that will sustain quota achievement. As the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, or Vice President of Sales, take the same attitude as a library that offers an amnesty program: return your books, and there will be no fines. We just want the books back. That is to say: without recrimination, this is a new day. Let's get the stale proposals, deadwood, and deadbeats out of your funnels and our pipeline. Instead of senior management discounting an unrealistic pipeline, we want the seller and the manager to do quality control much further upstream in the process.

    Sales managers are responsible for allowing opportunities to enter a salesperson's funnel and for grading those opportunities if they advance. Managers now share responsibility for those losses that take several months because during the execution of the Sequence of Events, they agreed to proceed at various checkpoints.

  7. For the first 90 days, managers should work with their salespeople to get as many opportunities that remain in the funnel requalified to E status (Chapter 15). Once the salesperson has gained access to all Key Players and gotten consensus to execute a Sequence of Events, the visibility and probability of success dramatically increase. Many of these postworkshop evaluation plans are significantly shorter than ones done for new prospects, as many of the steps may already have been at least partially completed.

  8. Reviewing opportunities with salespeople should become net. The debriefing questions in Chapter 12 become the basis for discussion. Generally speaking, the more lengthy the answers to the questions, the more tenuous your position on that opportunity. If the debriefing questions cannot be answered, the salesperson, with or without the manager's help, must make further calls on the buyer. Also, begin to track how the seller learned about the opportunity (proactively or reactively), as we believe that is the single most important variable in determining win rate. Our experience indicates that 75 to 80 percent of the gold medals awarded go to the salesperson that initiated the opportunity as Column A.

  9. Any sales process should cover 101 percent of situations. The intent of this sales process is that managers make decisions on exceptions. There will be RFPs for which you understand that you are a silver medalist, but to which you elect to respond. It should be a manager's decision, and please be realistic about the probability assigned, as it most likely will not track with RFPs that you were able to wire.

  10. Review compensation plans to verify that they support your objectives. Companies with long sales cycles should consider an alternative to the recoverable / nonrecoverable draw quagmire. After 60 days in the territory, why not have new hires earn bonuses by hitting predetermined milestone thresholds? Achievement of milestones must be verified by sales managers by auditing prospect and customer correspondence.

    Some companies keep their experienced sales reps hungry by having a percentage of their base salary paid on meeting targets for the E funnel on an ongoing basis.

  11. When new offerings are in development, create Key Player menus of goals as a sanity check to minimize the chances of introducing a product in search of a market. Sometimes early-market buyers don't or can't bail you out, resulting in product write-offs, not take-offs. When introducing a new offering, make the creation of Sales-Primed Communications part of the development costs. You may be able to reallocate funds from your product training budget.

  12. Once or twice a year, review your most significant wins and losses, along with your competitive position. Sales process and Sales-Primed Communications represent a journey more than a destination. Please be aware that what worked 10 months ago may have to be tweaked. In sales, the landscape is in almost constant flux.

  13. Consider hiring consultants to help with the design and implementation of the sales process. Having been there and done that in several other organizations, they can provide an industry best practices view as well as an objective outside opinion.

Making Your Sales Process a Competitive Advantage

Technology has matured as it relates to almost all business applications. The advances in accounting, manufacturing, engineering, and supply-chain applications are substantial. Just as we may know more about the moon than about the deepest parts of oceans on earth, Sales has resisted fully successful implementation of technology because it has not been codified in a repeatable process. We believe Customer Focused Sales can enable you to remove that barrier.

Companies spend untold amounts of money honing their offerings to the point where they have what they perceive to be advantages over others in their market space, only to be sometimes disappointed with their results. Take IBM's traditional mainframe business as an example. In the last couple of decades their offerings were seldom the fastest, the latest technology, or the cheapest. They did, however, do a tremendous job at accessing executive levels of their customers, often one or two levels higher than their competition, and winning on Key Player business issues.

We hope that after reading this resource, you have acquired a new outlook on Sales and the belief that best practices can be applied to shaping your customer's experience. When asked the most common reason that salespeople lose, we say without hesitation: They get outsold. While implementation of a sales process is difficult, the potential rewards of making the way your organization sells a competitive advantage are virtually unlimited. Customer Focused Sales can provide the way to achieve this advantage.

We wish you good luck and good selling.

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