The Bermuda Triangle of Sales management forms around buyers, salespeople, and the parallel journey they track though the classing buying/selling process. In a world of ubiquitously available information, and the acceleration of demand generation and fulfillment – the consequence continually accelerating sales pipeline of operations – well fed by an infinitely expanding “top of funnel” intake of leads and potential customer journeys that will convert or fall out of the Sales Operations Pipeline.
Here are some lessons from the field in sales leadership that one might consider when navigating through the Bermuda Triangle of Sales:
#1: Buyers today feel empowered to dictate how they will be sold to. They have the info, and will not be talked down to, nor into anything. Figure out your buyer’s ideal journey up front – one they will buy into - and let that drive the sales process design.
Who needs to transform sales?
The key to transformation is how we define the sales pipeline into which we invite our potential customers. Continue to center the sales process around the seller’s wants and needs for daily, weekly, and monthly behaviors – and you are back to square one.
#2: The greatest advantaged salesperson is one who held the position and lived the life of the customer. If you cannot hire from your customers, then train your salespeople to be and act in a day in the life of your customers.
Have your salespeople walk in your customer’s shoes – what they do, how they work, how they are measured for success – to get into the actual mindset of what drives your customers’ decision-making processes.
#3: People usually perform as planned – thus, missed revenue targets can often be directly traced to bad planning than bad execution.
One way to plan poorly is to set your quarterly targets 20% above same period last year as a quick response to being required to submit quarterly targets. You have got to account for things like who is up to speed, and who needs to ramp-up; can we count on key players to be here through the performance period? how robust and effective is lead generation feeding the sales pipeline? what is the ration of hunter, farmers, managers? how much insight into, and how stables are cyclic and seasonal effects?
#4: You cannot hire top salespeople by the ‘eye test’… you have got to know the on-going environment of process, expected behavior, compensation plan and engage people in that context.
What one sells, to whom, how complicated, how technical, deal duration, level of interpersonal engagement in person, via media, etc. etc. all need to go into deciding your sales hiring criteria … it cannot be based upon your prior experiences framed by different answers for each factor. Measure performance against those metrics to verify what works, then scale up from there.
#5: Prospects are scrambling to better understand how to do their jobs. If you educate them how to survive and live a better professional life, rather than demo them on what is important to you, you will win a deeper affinity through trust and a desire to more work with you … buy from you.
We are now in the age of the 60-year curriculum. Seeing college as a capstone that is good to go for life is a fantasy. The names of the top 10 jobs on today’s jobs boards did not exist 10 years ago. Everyone is seeking how to learn the next new thing to keep themselves productive and competitive.
#6: Tacit knowledge transfer, and real-time coaching makes salespeople clear on what they often inadvertently “hide” from themselves. Interpersonal observation and naming of behaviors allow salespeople to personally ‘discover’ metrics effecting behaviors in themselves that can be obvious to others.
Front line sales manager interactions and effective coaching are enormous levers to drive personal/professional growth toward revenue creating behaviors. A cadence of monthly interaction between sales manager and salesperson focuses metrics related behaviors and empowers salespeople toward self-coaching skills for self-diagnosis and self-correction over time.
#7: What gets measured gets done … customer success performance can be driven via the sales compensation plan.
A classic paper “On the folly of seeking outcome “A” while compensating for outcome “B”, points out how often leaders ignore the law of human nature that “Humans will do exactly what you pay them to do.” Unwanted customer outcomes can be traced to what sales compensation plan tell salespeople and customer success people, which customers to acquire and how to treat them. Discern point by point where compensation allows for unwanted outcomes – and put a stop to them.
#8: Design a sales behavior and outcomes process that is possible to complete within a 40-hour work week and optimize performance around outcomes. Arbitrary targets lead naturally to burn-out and inefficient sales productivity metrics – and drive unproductive gaming by savvy players.
#9: “What’s in it for me” (WIIFM) is the greatest motivation factor for sales; ‘money’ is short term motivation – but a formal career growth plan goes to the core of what top performers are all about.
Base pay, variable pay, and additional equity from entry-level “sales associates” to senior sales associates should take on recurring revenue (MRR) responsibilities and newly acquired MRR per month with new customers commitments for cash up front. Increase targets with earning opportunities as well. Promotion tiers can be powerful structures for sales compensation models that make salespeople competitive, financially motivated, and goal oriented.
#10: Minimize friction in customer handoffs by pushing the cross-functional alignment as close to the front-line as possible.
Marketing, sales, customer success, and technical support structures can create or destroy the customer experience. Organizations should structure themselves around the buyer, forming small cross-functional teams under a front-line manager to avoid the classic wait for issues to escalate up the chain to executives blind to the issues.
It is easy to assume that everyone in sales understands the buying/selling process, and the human-to-human dynamics that exist between on the common journey. Take the time to expose, discover and train your salesforce on the nuances enumerated within these ten leadership lessons. Walk with your salespeople - the transfer of learning can be palpable – in both directions of the exchange.