Yesterday I spent over two hours perusing the richest mother lode of entertaining time-wasters ever gathered into a single assemblage – YouTube. What began as a search for a certain clip from a political speech devolved into a delightful, meandering sojourn through my past in the form of two-minute snippets from sitcoms, sports moments, concerts, and comedy routines. Rainy Saturdays haven’t been the same since the invention of broadband.
It was while watching some old Saturday Night Live clips that I came across several featuring my favorite SNL character, Father Guido Sarducci. The Cleric of Comedy could always make me laugh, but it was one of his routines that got me to thinking. The bit was “The Five Minute University,” in which the good Father states that he is going to start a school where in five minutes, you learn what the average college graduate remembers five years after leaving school.
For example, in the Spanish class, you learn “Como esta usted?” To which the answer is “Muy bien.” This is enough, says Sarducci, because if you take two years of college Spanish, five years later, that’s about all you’ll remember anyway. Economics – “supply and demand.” Accounting – “assets equal liabilities.”
Funny stuff, but like most good routines, it’s funny because of how closely it resembles reality. We attend college and pursue a certain course of study in order to gain a competitive advantage in the job market. A job interview is not a good place at which to come in second.
Neither is selling. Sales is a winner take all competition and as such, salespeople are among the most frequently trained individuals in the business world. Yet studies show that far too often, sales training doesn’t drive improved performance or results.
An ATD (formerly known as ASTD) study states that 80% of new skills are lost within one week if not used. An HR Chally study found that 85% of sales training fails to measurably improve results. And Xerox research concluded that 87% of new skills are lost within one month. It turns out Father Sarducci was on the right track.
Sales training isn’t an event, but the statistics are what they are because that’s the way most companies treat it. The best selling methodology, trainer, and classroom presentation won’t move the needle very much if that’s all you do.
In order to actually drive lasting behavioral change, the kind that will produce sustainable results, learning must be made available within the context of business processes and tools used every day by people in the sales organization. Managers and sellers engage in metrics reviews, opportunity reviews, account planning, joint sales calls, sales meetings, etc. Learning that would typically be presented via a three-day, instructor led training class must be inherent in all of these activities, along with a step-by-step, guided process by which managers coach.
While I’m not recommending the Five Minute University approach, imagine if a seller could spend five minutes prior to a customer meeting reviewing a key skill, while working in a tool he uses every day. Or if a manager could get a specific coaching recommendation simply by spending five minutes reviewing an opportunity with a seller. That’s better than Father Sarducci’s Business class – “Buy something, then sell it for more.”
Recently I have had a spate of discussions about information and a general lack thereof in the typical CRM. To be clear, neither I nor the people I have been speaking with are suggesting that CRM solutions inherently lack information. What everyone seems to agree on is that most CRMs have only a fraction of the prospect/customer information they could or should, Further, the consensus appears to be that this is because most sales people can’t or won’t populate information about their opportunities and accounts.
For the most part, I am not the one taking this position. In my various conversations rather it is being taken by a variety of people who believe they “know” sales people and that sales people WILL NOT enter information into the CRM. More specifically, these same people believe sales people will ONLY ENTER THE MINIMUM NECESSARY TO GET PAID OR TO COMPLY WITH COMPANY POLICY. In fact, according to some self-described experts, that’s the way it was, is, and always will be.
Now, this may or may not be true for any given sales person or team, but let’s stipulate for the point of this discussion that it is correct for the overwhelming majority of people. Assuming that is the case, the questions we must answer are:
Does it matter?
Do we want more information about opportunities, accounts, and customers?
Why don’t our sales people enter information into the CRM?
What, if anything, would drive change in this behavior?
If we cannot change this behavior, how useful will the CRM be in driving better sales performance?
Does it matter? Do we want more information about opportunities, accounts, and customers?
Surprisingly to some people, it doesn’t always matter. Certainly you want to understand your customers including the issues most important to them and/or their business and the criteria they use to evaluate your solutions. However, there are some instances where the sales cycle is so short and the transaction volume so high that capturing this data doesn’t make practical sense. To use an extreme example, a sales person at a retail clothing store may do an excellent job of understanding you and your criteria for purchasing a suit, but by the time this information would be entered into the CRM, two or three more customers may have come and gone. In those environments, other technologies including customer surveys, store heat maps, and sales data MUST be used instead.
That said, let’s suppose you are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Your sales person is working a multi-million dollar opportunity that will involve multiple evaluators on the buyer’s side and several resources from your company. Perhaps the sales-cycle will likely be six to twelve months during which time dozens of conversations will occur between your team and your prospective customer. Now, imagine that all the information gathered in those discussions is kept only on a note pad of the person on your team who had the conversation, or worse, it’s in their heads! What happens to this opportunity if your team changes? How can they systematically work and analyze an opportunity when they don’t know what they do or don’t know about the opportunity? In this case, not only do you want information, you need to have it in a system that will facilitate better analysis and collaboration that helps the team win. In this case, your CRM can and should be a virtual war room that the team uses to develop their winning strategy. In fact, if the opportunity is significant enough, you won’t even settle for process gates and check boxes that demonstrate key points have been covered, and the right information gathered – you will want to SEE the data.
The reality is that most sales opportunities lie somewhere in between these two extremes, but most sales people will avoid putting data into the CRM irrespective of the opportunity. This leads us to the second question.
Why don’t our sales people enter information into the CRM?
Let’s begin by eliminating the obvious wrong answer – they are lazy. Sales people are neither lazy nor irresponsible. In fact, sales people are quite the opposite.
So, why don’t sales people enter data into the CRM as requested? Simple, it doesn’t benefit them to do so. Sales people are just like other human beings, and ALL human beings do what they believe is in their own personal best interest. (For more on this, see Friends clip where Phoebe lets a bee sting her as a truly “selfless act.”)
Unfortunately, many companies implement their CRM solution with little thought as to the benefit it will bring to the people who are expected to use it: reports, dashboards, triggers, and workflows are all designed so that management can better understand what is happening in the field. However, they provide little to no value until sales people receive value from putting data into the system.
The second reason people don’t enter data into the system is that doing so is too cumbersome. It is for this very reason that some applications providers replace check boxes with information in their applications. For example, rather than requiring sales people to enter into the system the companies against whom they are competing on this opportunity into the system, the application will display the question, “Do you know who you are competing against?” The sales person can then select the answer. Unfortunately, the problem with this approach is that it doesn’t teach people to have better conversations with their prospects and customers. Instead, it teaches people to check the boxes that will keep them from unwanted attention from management.
We need to do better for our sales people before they can do better for us.
In the final analysis, the reason people don’t enter data into the CRM is because the personal cost-benefit analysis is askew. Many companies have tried and failed to remedy this by administering negative consequences for non-compliance, which results in minimum compliance and bad data. The solution? Do a better job of aligning the CRM with the needs of your sales people.
Here are four quick recommendations for how to ensure you can leverage your CRM to HELP sales people be more effective by entering meaningful data. The guaranteed result is better learning, better coaching, and better selling – the combination of which will produce dramatically better results.
1. Establish a common methodology
You can’t align a system to dozens, let alone hundreds of different selling methodologies. Therefore, the minimum necessary is to get aligned around a single model, and set of agreed upon information objectives for qualifying opportunities. Unless EVERYONE can agree on what information he or she wants from prospects and customers, they won’t ever agree to enter it into the CRM.
2. Use the information to help sales people win more business
If you have defined a common set of information objectives, use what is entered to help your sellers better understand their win probability and how to improve their chances of winning each opportunity they pursue. Not only will it benefit the sales people by increasing the closing ratios, it will increase the accuracy and efficiency of sales forecasting – a major point of friction for many sales teams.
3. Leverage the information to help them learn and develop
When gathering information becomes a shared objective and your sales people see first-hand the indelible link between what they know about opportunities and how often they win, they will want to become more proficient. Leveraging your CRM investment to help them do so is the Holy Grail in the struggle to capture meaningful information. When the system can recommend solutions, learning, and experts based on the data people enter, and when managers use this same data to provide more useful feedback and coaching, your people get significant rewards for their time investment.
4. Make it easy to enter data
Last, but certainly not least, it is incumbent upon the sales operations/IT team to find ways to make data entry easier. Beyond employing pick lists and drop downs wherever possible, it is critical to find ways to better leverage data already in the system. For example, you may have multiple sales people in various geographies calling on local decision makers for a national or international company. Why should each and every person enter the same information about that company or the current solutions he or she are employing? Once the first rep or account manager has entered it, it should be available for the others to pull into their respective opportunities. This single capability allows everyone to benefit from data across multiple opportunities without duplicating an administrative function.
No matter the severity or frequency of the stick, sales people will continue to fight the directives to use CRM until leadership makes the CRM serve the sales people. However, if done properly, this has the potential to transform your sales organization and provide you with a sustainable competitive advantage. Seem impossible? Remember the words of Nelson Mandela when facing far greater obstacles than these, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Your SPM and Training Investments Won’t Give You A Sustainable Advantage
According to Gartner, the SPM (Sales Performance Management) space will grow at more than 25% per year between now and 2018. This means that, by then, companies will be spending roughly $5 Billion on tools to help their sales people deliver better results – this in addition to the approximately $35 Billion they will be spending on CRM solutions. It’s a massive investment that will only yield a return commensurate with the competitive advantage gained, and therein lies the problem.
Better Tools Don’t Always Produce a Better Result
While it makes sense that equipping your team with the latest CPQ solution or sales enablement technology will allow them to perform better, for the most part these tool improve sales EFFICIENCY not sales EFFECTIVENESS. While they help people get information they need faster, they don’t necessarily help them to engage customers in a more effective manner and it is this engagement that is at the very heart of sales effectiveness. To improve the sales engagement we must develop the skill and knowledge of the sellers. Otherwise, we are providing state-of-the-art weaponry to soldiers who don’t know how to use it!
Sales Training is Not the Answer
It would stand to reason that combining high-quality sales training with the latest sales enablement or SPM technologies would lead to a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, most companies have years, if not decades of practical experience that supports reams of study data proving that traditional event-based sales training simply doesn’t work for the majority of sales people. While a small percentage will apply what they learn from attending these events, as many as 90% will get no lasting value for the time they invest in training – time not spent selling .
Key to Sustainable Advantage is Sustainable Improvement
The good news is that there is a better approach – one that can deliver a sustainable advantage. By leveraging your existing CRM to support sales effectiveness AND trigger, deliver and measure ongoing learning and development, you can simultaneously improve the efficiency AND effectiveness of your people. Today there is technology available that helps people better manage opportunities and accounts, increase their win rates, helps managers have more effective coaching conversations while simultaneously improving the underlying skill and knowledge of your team. Moreover, all this can be accomplished without taking them out of the field for classroom training and for about the same investment as a single training event!
Better learning, better coaching, better selling. Let us show you how to develop a sustainable competitive advantage for your team.
I travel a lot. Many of you reading this do. It’s the nature of the beast in sales. As I type this I’m on a flight to Melbourne Australia, on the first leg of seven countries on three continents this month alone. Two weeks ago I was in Hong Kong and a month before that I was in Bali. Bottom line…I spend a great deal of time in airports. As such, I spend much of that time in airport bookshops. What I see in every single airport, in dozens of countries, is very similar.
Books on How to Do Things
There seems to be a pattern around the world of B2B and B2C sales literature.
10 Ways to do this.
15 Surefire ways to do that.
21 Irrefutable Laws on this.
5 Ways to think about that.
The list goes on and on and on. You get the idea: Cold Calling, Negotiating, Presenting, etc. On my most recent layover, I counted all the “ways” to do something on the book covers. If I were to read every title in that single bookstore, I would have over 600 different ways to do everything. Of course, each and every book swears that their number is unequivocally THE best way to do them. So surely if I read them all, I’d be the best at everything right? Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying these are all wastes of time and a bunch of hogwash. Some of them are good ideas, but they all center on what you can do to convince the buyer to buy. As such, they all miss the most important point of all.
Our role is not to sell the buyer anything. I know you’re in sales, and on the surface this flies in the face of why you were hired. Doesn’t make it right though. So now, I’m going to write the world’s shortest book on how to shorten your sales cycle, close more sales, and do it with higher margins. The title of my soon-to-be bestseller is revolutionary. It will cause a butterfly effect of positive disruption across the planet, and it will change the way you do everything. Are you ready? As readers of my blog, you all get an advance copy of the book for free and in advance.
Sales Book Title: This One Thing
You’re role as a seller is simple. There aren’t 600 ways to do it; there is just “This One Thing.”
Stop trying to sell anything!
So, there it is. Literary genius in the making, one singular action item to end them all. No more chaos, no more questions, and no more myriad ways to do the only thing you need to do to be successful in sales. “This One Thing.”
Now as a new author of this revolutionary epiphany, I am virtually required to follow it up with another new bestseller to the first book. Great news again! I’m going to release it to my readers once again for free and in advance. So for you faithful friends, here is the second soon to be planetary bestseller.
Sales Book Title: How to do This One Thing
Help your client make the best and most informed, intelligent decision possible, even if that isn’t you. Become their Trusted Advisor.
There you have it. Two books each with one chapter, and the end of you having to figure out 600 ways to do what is very simple. I suppose I could have written two chapters in the first book and done it all then but hey, I’m now an in demand best selling author and my fans have expectations! In all seriousness though, the key points to remember here are simple. It isn’t about you and it’s all about them. Focus on that and you will sell more and sell it more often.
I have a very common request from sales leaders. Recently I was speaking with a client in Beijing. This manager said they really needed our help in the area of time management.
The four key areas most sales professionals have to focus on are:
Prospecting or Developing Opportunities
Of course, there are plenty of other things we have to do, but I think we can all agree that these four areas cover the basic framework of a sales professional’s day-to-day activities.
However almost 100% of the time, when we begin to investigate where time is being wasted it is around the first two areas above: Prospecting and Qualifying. What we also find virtually 100% of the time, the issue is not a need for a class on time management, but the lack of logical and repeatable processes to be proficient at how they are spending their time.
Four Ways to Win or Lose a Sale
Of those four, only one is truly unacceptable: Losing slow
If I win fast or win slow, either way…I win. Losing fast is even more ideal in terms of time-management because it affords the ability to quickly move on to other opportunities that can be won. It’s the death by a thousand paper cuts that drains the lifeblood of time out of us.
When we dig into most organizations, we find the absence of logical, repeatable processes masking as time management issues. The fact of the matter is the real problem involves a lack of skill or knowledge of those logical and repeatable sales processes. Once the knowledge or skill issue is addressed, the Lose Slow problem is resolved giving the rep back ample time to work on more productive endeavors.
It’s About the Leads, Right?
I’ve worked for many managers who said, “Throw as much against the wall each month and see what sticks” or “double or triple the number of calls you’re making each week if you want to sell more.” It’s like the guys in Glengary Glen Ross telling their boss they need the Glengary leads to be successful. Not true. There is certainly a case to be made for more activity. It’s a critical component of the job. However, if you’re exponentially ramping up your activity but lack proficiency in your activity, the activity itself is wasting time.
The key to sales success is very simple.
Activity x Proficiency = Sales
At AXIOM, we call that the Sales Success Formula. What you do coupled with how well you do it is the secret recipe on how to be successful. You can’t be good at only one or the other. It requires being good at both. So, next time you think you have a time management problem, start to evaluate whether or not it’s really time management or one of the things we’ve discussed here.