You Know You Have a Sales Problem, Now What?

Know you have a problemYou run or support a large sales team, and you’ve got a problem. It could be missed top line, perhaps shrinking margins, maybe the wrong product mix, or inaccurate forecasts, but you definitely have a problem. So now what? You analyze the problem, looking for THE root cause only to find a cornucopia of underlying issues:

  • Your people don’t qualify well
  • They aren’t even attempting to sell the full portfolio
  • No one puts anything into the pricey CRM until the last possible minute and even then only when coerced
  • Forecast accuracy is really forecast inaccuracy

So you decide you are going to do something about it; you are going to train them! They’ll be trained on everything from how to bring insightful ideas to customers to how to develop buying criteria. You’ll set some standards for what goes into the CRM and start holding people accountable. And, maybe most importantly, you are going to emphasize coaching so that your managers play an active role in driving better skill, better knowledge, and better selling.

Investing in a Solution

So what will all this cost, and what return will you get? Well, the typical sales training event will run a large enterprise customer anywhere from $500 per person to $1,200 per person just to conduct the event. Then, of course, for most enterprise sales teams, attending the training will require travel at approximately $300 per person per day. So, just getting this thing started for a 500 person team and a two day event requires an “investment” of somewhere between $550,000 and $900,000. And don’t forget the logistics of scheduling all this. Chances are if everything works out right, you can get everyone through the training sometime in the next six months, and hopefully the CEO will give you that much time.

Why Training Won’t Work

All this would be reasonable, of course, if the training actually worked. However, there is mounting evidence that it won’t. In fact, a cursory Google search of “sales training doesn’t work” returns more than 4,000 hits. The fact is your training event MAY provide all the right information about all the skill and knowledge your people need in order to be successful. However, within 30 days most will forget the majority of what they learn and precious few will use, let alone master any of it as illustrated by the now famous Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve shown below.

Forgetting Curve

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

Of course there is an option to overcome the forgetting curve: pay the training provider to keep coming back or trickle follow-on training out to your team. This may actually help IF they have everything you need (or ever will need), and your entire team has a single homogenous development path. Unfortunately, neither is true.

An Alternative Approach

Believe it or not, there is a better way. For about the same amount of money you would spend on a single training event, you can now invest in a Sales Development Platform that will seamlessly integrate learning into your normal business cadence via your existing CRM. Instead of depending on sales training events, sales skill development can happen on the job, one skill at a time, when learning can actually be applied to real selling scenarios. The result will be more productive sellers and managers that are actually coaching. While this approach isn’t for everyone, for many larger sales teams, combining online micro-learning with applications for opportunity management, account management, and sales coaching can facilitate faster, more dramatic, more sustainable business results than any other alternative.

Change Curve

Overcoming the forgetting curve with a better way to continuous, sustainable learning

In addition, the right solution should:

  • Provide a platform for all sales learning and development, compounding the return on your investment year after year
  • Reduce or eliminate the need for classroom learning
  • Enable sales managers to become highly effective sales coaches
  • Provide tremendous insights on how your team is acquiring new skills and knowledge
  • Support improved accountability in the organization
  • Drive CRM adoption

Next time you have a sales issue, don’t settle for the same old solution riddled with the same challenges. Take a new approach, and gain a sustainable competitive advantage for your sales team. If you would like to see the first Sales Transformation Platform, visit us at

Why Your Sales Stages Don’t Really Matter

Sales Stages

It seems like everyone is talking about sales stages these days. Triggered learning, content delivery, playbooks, and activities all associated to the opportunity stage.  But is that really meaningful? In many cases, the answer is no.

Static Selling Vs. Dynamic Buying

Even in the most thoughtful organizations, sales stages represent a linear progression of an opportunity. Generally this means moving it from the earlier stages of identifying the opportunity to the later stages of proposing, negotiating, and closing. But is that really the way in which buyers are evaluating your solutions?  In many cases it is not. In today’s environment, it may be necessary to find a way to deliver meaningful impact even BEFORE you have a chance to begin qualifying.

Similarly, many of us have progressed an opportunity to the negotiating stage only to have another evaluator enter the mix, or some other event force us back to the qualifying stage. Now certainly, most CRM deployments will allow sellers to move an opportunity back and forward among stages. However, this in and of itself may well point to the futility of an overactive focus on sales stages.

Why Have Sales Stages?

Now, it may appear that in writing this I am advocating the complete abandonment of sales stages. However, I am not. There are some clear reasons why sales stages can be important, such as forecasting. For example, in a typical sales organization, prospects won’t buy something that hasn’t even been proposed. That said, looking over a sales person’s committed forecast only to find opportunities projected to close this month that haven’t been proposed yet could set off red flags; assuming of course it isn’t simply an oversight on the part of the seller. In addition, there are certain selling environments where critical documentation must be completed as an opportunity progresses through various stages, and these gates help make certain this information is not forgotten.

An Alternative: Information Equals Opportunity

That being said, stages rarely reflect the likelihood a seller will win a given opportunity, despite the fact that in most CRM implementations EVERY opportunity that progresses through the selling stages automatically gets a higher win probability. In reality, the likelihood we will or will not win a specific opportunity has far more to do with what we know about the customer (including their business issues, alternatives and buying criteria) than what stage we assign to the opportunity. Given the strong correlation between knowing how to win and winning, why not provide tools, training and tips to aid buyers based on what they do and do not know rather than what stage they select for a given opportunity?

For example, a seller who doesn’t yet demonstrate a clear understanding of a prospect’s buying criteria may need dramatically different coaching and support from a seller who fully understands this, despite the fact that both of their opportunities are at the exact same selling stage.

While it is certainly easy to create triggers, content, and workflows based on sales stages, it may be doing little to help sales people better engage customers and win more business.  If you’re not sure, just answer two questions:

1.     How often do we lose opportunities because we fail to change the sales stage?

2.     How often do we lose opportunities because we fail to properly understand the customer and/or their buying criteria?

If the answer to question #2 is greater than the answer to question #1, it may be time to stop tying triggers, tools, playbooks, etc. to selling stages and start tying them to information.

If that’s the case for your enterprise sales team, give us a call.  Our native solutions will help your team learn better, coach better, and sell better.

Why Do Your Sales People Need Motivation?

 As I was skimming through Zite earlier today, a blog by Mark Hunter (or The Sales   Hunter as his website bills him) caught my attention. The headline: “Sales Motivation Video: Just Go For It! Stop Second Guessing Yourself!” Now, in all fairness, I don’t know Mr. Hunter. I find him to be an engaging speaker, and based on the video, I suspect he is genuine in his desire to help sales people.

You can check it out for yourself here>>

What struck me is the sheer volume of motivational material there is for sales people. In fact, my Google search for “Motivational Videos for Sales” returned 7,000+ links, and that’s using the exact phrase search. Clearly, sales people need motivation. That got me thinking: I wonder if doctors, lawyers and other professionals are equally in need of motivation in order to do their jobs? So I did my own, albeit highly un-scientific study, and here is what I found.

Motivation Video for… With Quotes Without Quotes
“Sales People” 7,030 21,000,000
“Doctors” 0 247,000
“Lawyers” 0 118,000
“Nurses” 0 219,000
“Dentists” 1 26,200


Clearly, sales people need much more help getting motivated than other professionals!


Professional Self-Help

I doubt many people reading this would be horribly surprised to learn that sales people, not doctors, nurses, or even lawyers, frequently struggle with call reluctance. After all, why wouldn’t we? How many people hang up on or no-show for meetings with their lawyer, doctor, or nurse? Relatively few, I suspect. Yet, even I find myself reluctant to talk with sales people who call my office wanting to enlighten me on the considerable benefits of their mind-blowing new solution to all my issues and challenges. Clearly there is considerable money to be made by delivering to the sales audience what amounts to the professional equivalent of self-help material. I am certainly not suggesting these videos and books don’t offer the reluctant, dejected, beaten-down sales person some much needed hope. What I am suggesting is that a more fundamental change is needed if we are to truly transform our profession; a change that if it takes hold will allow future sales people to experience the same respect other professionals enjoy AND get paid.

Selling as a Service

However, this change requires both a change in heart and a change in tactics. We have all seen the statistics about the power shift in the buyer/seller relationship, but just in case, I will illustrate the point that we don’t need sales people to tell customers about our products and services. So, does that mean, as Brian de Haaf noted in his blog “Why This CEO Will Never Hire Another Salesperson”  that the entire profession is dead? Absolutely not. What it does mean is that the sales profession can no longer support self-serving, glad-handing people who bring no real value to their customers and prospects while attempting to cajole them into buying things that bring little or no real value.

The future of selling is serving!

When sales people possess the skill and knowledge to SERVE their prospects and customers, not just with their solutions, but with the very engagement, we will earn respect, deliver real value, and earn good money ALL AT THE SAME TIME! Perhaps Brian is correct about the need for a different compensation model, or perhaps not. One thing, however, is certain. When sales people are helping prospects and customers by leveraging expertise that brings tangible value, the constant battle for motivation and the need to overcome call reluctance will likely be as outdated as overhead transparencies.

More a Journey than a Destination

To be fair, this isn’t a simple change to make. We have a long history of training sales people in everything from product hawking, to solution selling, to overcoming objections. Often times, this training has actually pitted sellers AGAINST the very people we should be serving: our customers and prospects. If I had a nickel for every time I heard an aspiring sales person utter the phrase, “buyers are liars”… wait, my age is showing. Anyway, we have some history to overcome, but it may well be that the very existence of our profession depends on our ability to transform into true trusted advisors. Frankly, transforming the profession will require the same commitment to continuous learning and development made by other professionals. It will require hiring the most talented people possible and ensuring that those people we hire actually possess key traits such as emotional intelligence and a servant’s heart.

The need for change is certainly not lost on the sales training industry. There is a crop of new training programs for selling that promises everything from making your people more insightful, to helping them challenge customers and prospects, to making them better at storytelling. And while many have merit, few if any are addressing the larger problem – sales training itself has very limited impact. We need to do more than just change the content; we need to transform the very model for how we develop people if we are going to transform customer engagement and business results.

From classroom training events to the standard Performance Improvement Plan, or PIP, we need to rethink our approach. This includes taking a new look at mature technologies such as CRM to find ways to integrate learning and development into the cadence of how people sell and manage. Implemented properly, even the CRM can enable people to get incrementally and continuously better, allowing them to compete FOR customers more effectively by better leveraging their ever-evolving skill and knowledge.

Naturally, this transformation comes at a cost. However, the potential payoff can be tremendous if we can evolve into a profession that actually attracts the best and brightest talent. For companies that take the lead in the transformation, there are tremendous advantages. These include better financial performance, more effective teams, lower turnover, and an improved culture. Even now, a number of forward thinking companies are seeing the shift happening and realizing a tremendous return on their investment.

Does Anyone Really Want to Become a Salesperson?

Not long ago, while attending a conference at a well-known university that offers a degree in professional selling, I was reminded of just how few people actually intend to work in sales. The university representative recounted a survey conducted for all students who enrolled in their introductory sales course. Can you guess what percentage of the students signed up for the professional selling course actually intended to become sales professionals after earning a degree? Zero percent! Amazing, isn’t it? Even the people taking a class on selling don’t expect to become sales professionals. And yet, a significant portion of a given graduating class will likely end up in sales, despite having earned a degree in marketing, engineering, art-history, or some other area of study.

Someday, this same survey will produce a dramatically different outcome. Someday, our most talented college graduates will compete for the chance to enter a profession known for ongoing learning and development, as well as the service it provides. And while this probably means a significant reduction in the number of motivational videos and books, it also means an unparalleled level of trust and respect for people who serve in the sales profession.

Information Defines Opportunities – 3 Steps to Radically Improve Sales Engagement and Business Results

Info Equals Opp

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:


  1. What is the probability we will win this business? Is that based on the gut feel of the seller? Is it automatically generated by your CRM based on the sales stage, or is it based on what you really KNOW about the prospective customer?
  2. Who are the evaluators for this opportunity and what influence will each of them have on the outcome?
  3. Which alternatives are being considered, and which ones are presently favored by the various evaluators?
  4. What are the key business issues for this prospective customer that you may be able to impact with your solution?
  5. What criteria will they use to determine which alternative is best for their business?

For most sales organizations there is only one way to know whether or not a given seller has the information listed above, and that is to interview that seller. Not only is this approach so time consuming that it rarely happens, it requires the seller to either review pages of notes or leverage total recall in order to even get a clear representation of what he does and, more importantly, does not know about the 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 this: Does it bother you that this kind of information, if it exists at all, lives only in the mind or in the notes of your seller. Does it make you ill to think that if this person leaves, so does all the information about that account and opportunity? Does it pain you to think that the only way anyone can help this person win the sale, let alone get better, is to go through the tedious process of having her recall everything she knows?

If knowing that critical information about your most important opportunities and accounts may or may not exist or if it does, you and your leadership team have no visibility into the information doesn’t bother you, then you should probably stop reading now – everything is just fine – no problems here.

However, if the prospect of such critical information walking out the door makes you nuts, if the idea that coaching conversations between managers and sellers are considerably more time consuming and less effective makes you absolutely nauseous, we are right there with you. Moreover, there are ways to address the root cause of this problem and in turn, radically improve 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 prospective customers, about what they want to buy, and about how they will determine who has it, the better our chances of winning business we can win and walking away from business we cannot win. Unfortunately, most organizations never even get to the point where they have agreement on what information is needed in order to fully understand an opportunity, and that dramatically reduces the likelihood they will develop individual and organizational effectiveness around eliciting the information.

The first step is to establish a shared set of information objectives. To be clear, this shouldn’t simply be anything anyone believes they want to know. Moreover, it shouldn’t be limited to just a few of the important things your management team believes your people need to know. What it should be is a single, comprehensive list of everything you need to know in order to fully understand a sales opportunity. It should be a static set of commonly understood terms and definitions that anyone can recite at any time – it must become a part of every conversation you have about sales opportunities. The good news is, it won’t take dozens of interviews and several months to compile a single list that everyone agrees on. In fact, we will give it to you for free in a couple of weeks in our upcoming blog, “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, they must be integrated into your CRM. However, this cannot be effectively accomplished by simply creating fields and forms where people can enter the data. If entering information into the system doesn’t help them work more effectively and efficiently, forecast more quickly and accurately, and win more business, your people will never get through the learning curve needed to become efficient enough at entering the information and you won’t ever get it. This means the information needs to be used to the benefit of the seller and manager.

By way of example, AXIOM clients are provided with the Opportunity Management Application that actually analyzes the information and uses a proprietary algorithm to predict the win probability, identify danger zones, and recommend 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 based on understanding the customer better as opposed to simply completing a task or changing a stage. A couple of important caveats here; first, sellers must actually enter what they know about the opportunity, not check boxes that validate that they know information. When we give sellers boxes to check and then create expectations about which box to check at what point in the process, guess what we teach sellers? Correct, we teach them to check the right 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 people for what they don’t know about their opportunities. The purpose here is not to fill out each blank space for each information objective. The purpose is to create transparency and promote objectivity. If you beat people for what they don’t know, they are almost as likely to start making things up as they are to have better 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 and used them to make your CRM a valuable tool for working and managing opportunities, you are ready to take the third step toward dramatically better results – coaching. In this step it is critical to understand the difference between the typical manager-seller conversations and truly productive coaching.

Consider this: most sales managers were promoted because they were great sellers. Their natural tendency is to do what they do best, which is sell for their people. This is why so many sales managers are really player coaches who rely on the members of their teams to bird-dog opportunities, while the manager is directly, and in many cases, deeply involved in working the deals. To use a sports metaphor, in this case, the manager is actually running the plays. More advanced managers have their sellers actually handling the bulk of the customer engagement or “running the plays” while the manager is actively involved in developing the strategy or “calling the plays”. Better play calling can absolutely help improve performance, and our two earlier steps can promote tremendous improvements in this area.

However, really maximizing results requires we move even beyond “calling better plays” to “developing better players”. In order for this to happen, managers need to be held accountable for diagnosing the root cause of performance gaps and determining what corrective action or learning can be leveraged in order to shrink the 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, selling behaviors are enabled by the skill and knowledge the seller possesses.

Finally, the foundation for skill, knowledge, behavior, and results is the capacity and commitment of the individual. When manager-seller conversations are confined to the top or even top two levels of this pyramid, we aren’t really developing better players. Instead, we are sending the same people into the same environment but expecting a different result.

In an ideal world, the CRM will enable these coaching conversations by:

  • Making it easy and efficient for managers to identify potential performance gaps even before they affect sales results.
  • Providing the manager with questions to ask or steps to follow in order to properly diagnose the root cause of any performance gap.
  • Presenting the appropriate learning activities based on the identified root cause and allowing the manager to assign these directly from within the CRM.
  • Allowing sellers to complete developmental assignments directly from the CRM so that their “system of record” is also the system that triggers, delivers, and tracks their learning and the degree to which it is applied and is impacting their results.

When we settle on clearly defined information objectives that are integrated into the CRM in meaningful ways and used to coach and develop sellers, we can transform our sales conversations and dramatically improve sales results.

If you run a large sales team, use, and want to learn more about how you can improve your sales results, reach out to us – we are here to serve you.

The Most Important New Year’s Resolution for Your Enterprise Sales Team

2015 New Years Resolution

It’s that time again!

From eating better, to getting more exercise to spending more time with loved ones, people everywhere begin the new year with the intent of creating new healthy habits or abandoning old unhealthy ones.


Seems like the perfect time to take a similar view of your enterprise sales team, and the good news is that just one simple change in 2015 could change everything about your sales performance now and for many years to come.

Keystone Habit for Sales

In his book, ‘The Power of Habit’, Charles Duhigg describes the power and importance of Keystone Habits. According to Mr. Duhigg, Keystone Habits are small changes people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives. In other words, small changes that have a profound effect. So what are the keystone habits for your sales team? Perhaps you think better prospecting is the key. Or possibly you have become convinced that they need to be better storytellers, use social media more effectively, challenge customers more, or provide better insights.

While it may be true that improving in these areas would help your sales people produce better results, none of these are likely the Keystone Habit for your sales people. In fact, the Keystone Habit probably isn’t something that requires training as much as it requires a structured approach to change management and tremendous discipline. The Keystone Habit for sales people in 2015, the fundamental change that will have the farthest-reaching impact,  the habit that will enable all other habits, is changing  what sellers do with information they gather about their opportunities and accounts!

Think about this for a moment. What is the natural tendency for most sales people after leaving a customer meeting? What do they do with the information they gathered? For most, they file it away, sometimes in the recesses of their minds and sometimes in a folder inside a cabinet, but almost always they store it. Here is what they don’t do: they don’t share it. Unless it is exceptionally good news, they don’t run back and debrief with their manager and colleagues to compare what they uncovered to their target information objectives. They don’t produce a report that is circulated to any other team member who might be able to assist with the account or opportunity. And they most certainly don’t enter what they have gathered into any system or tool that can help them see what they have missed, objectively evaluate the opportunity, develop a better strategy, or identify opportunities to develop their skills.

Because sales people don’t have the habit of putting information into a tool, most tools can do little to help them become more effective. In addition, since there is little in the way of an objective view of a customer contact unless it is actually observed by a sales manager, real meaningful coaching conversations that are essential to driving the adoption of any new skills are limited in frequency and scope. As a result, most training programs have little lasting impact. Finally, and perhaps most critically, if you run an enterprise sales team with any turnover, critical information about your prospects and customers walks out the door every time a sales person leaves the business, putting your future revenue at risk.

A Small but Difficult Change

What if your people were in the habit of recording key information about opportunities and accounts right in your CRM? What if you knew who the evaluators were for every opportunity in your pipeline? What if you knew the other alternatives your prospects were considering and what criteria they would be using to determine which alternative to choose? What if you knew what their most pressing business issues are? Moreover, what if you knew which sellers on your team did and did not have this information for which specific opportunities? How much better would the coaching be, how much more accurate would forecasting be, how much better could we serve customers, if we only knew what we did, and did not know. You see, it isn’t what we don’t know that dooms us – it’s what we don’t know that we don’t know. And in sales, this is our most fundamental problem – we don’t share what we do and don’t know about our opportunities and accounts in any scalable, efficient manner.

Imagine for a moment you work in a hospital with hundreds of patients and dozens of doctors and nurses. Your hospital is like most in terms of the care it provides and the processes it follows with one minor exception. In your hospital, there are no patient charts. If a nurse or doctor wants to know something about the patient, she can either ask the patient or ask the last person who treated the patient. Can you imagine the frustration?! Every analysis requires a new level of exploration and rehashing things that have already been covered multiple times. That is precisely what it is like to be a sales manager talking with a seller about a key account or opportunity. Despite the fact that enterprise sales teams spend millions on their CRM systems, most have little if any of the critical information about their key accounts and working opportunities.

2015 Resolution: Information Equals Opportunity

Now imagine how much more effective your team could be if they consistently gathered and efficiently shared information such as:

  • Evaluators for each opportunity
  • Other alternatives being considered and any that are favored
  • Business issues affecting the prospect/customer
  • Criteria for making a buying decision
  • Decisions stages

Not only would they win at a higher rate, they would spend less time working opportunities that they cannot and will not win. Moreover, managers could have dramatically more effective and efficient coaching conversations because they would no longer need to spend so much time pulling information from sellers and could focus their energy on real gaps in the seller’s ability to elicit and leverage important information. In fact, our analysis shows that by leveraging the CRM to store and analyze this type of information, managers can save as much as 45 minutes per opportunity review and be more effective! Finally, when key information is entered into a system leveraging predictive technology, the system itself can help the seller gain a more objective view of the opportunity and thereby forecast more accurately, develop better strategies, and even improve their skill and knowledge.

With so much potential upside, isn’t it time you resolve to leverage your CRM more fully and make it the tool it was meant to be – a tool that helps your team learn, coach and sell with greater effectiveness and efficiency than ever before.

Want to learn more about how to make this happen with your enterprise sales team? If you have 500 people or more and use as your CRM platform, AXIOM would like to help.


For more than twenty years, AXIOM has been elevating the sales profession by transforming the way enterprise sales organizations engage with customers and sales managers lead and coach. AXIOM clients enjoy unique solutions that combine sales training, sales process, and methodology supported through integrated software solutions built on the Salesforce Platform. AXIOM provides implementation and consulting services that deliver exceptional results including improved customer satisfaction, increased revenue and margins, and lower customer and sales team churn. For more information on how AXIOM Sales Force Development can help you build a world-class sales organization, visit or call toll free 800.933.8503 (outside US call +1.972.497.2450).