Thursday, December 30, 2010
If you can't define your sales process, you cannot scale
Does everyone in your sales organization work off of the same sales process? Is that sales process built to match the way your customer naturally buys?
You may have a defined sales process, but that’s different than ensuring consistent execution across the team. If you have different reps using different paths, that inconsistency is likely reflected in your CRM system and sales pipeline, which means what you’re seeing isn’t accurately reflecting the current or future sales reality.
But if the sales process isn’t defined, or hasn’t been updated in awhile, your reps are flying blind. They’re making up their own path, based on what they think is right or what they think you want or what will make them look good. And if this is the case, you have more problems than just an inaccurate sales forecast.
I’m excited by how many sales organizations I hear are going to expand in 2011. That’s hopefully a sign of optimism that their target markets are more broadly ready to buy. But that expectation should also come with a common understanding of the best way for your organization to sell – messages, tools, channels, process. If you’re going to scale the team and expect commensurate results, that process must be defined, understood and operationalized across everything you do.
And that includes marketing, too. Marketing must understand the sales process just as well as your reps. They should be building and providing tools at each stage of the process to accelerate interest, urgency and purchase velocity. They should know what it takes to get prospects from one sales stage to the next, and ideally have their own success criteria & objectives tied to that same process.
As you enter the new year, take on new sales goals, and/or look to expand your team, make sure the fundamentals are in place. That starts with a fresh understanding of your customer and a consistent, accurate sales process that makes it faster and easier to scale and succeed.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
The three things you must know about your customers
- Who is our customer? You want a crisp definition here, a solid profile and/or persona that tells your entire team who you're building for and selling to. Who are they, what are they doing, where did they come from, and where are they going.
- What does the customer want? Think in terms of outcomes, not solutions. What does success look like for your customer, not with your product but overall? What are their objectives in the coming months or year? What's waking them up at night, and what do they think about when they get up in the morning? Can you map what you're doing to what your customer really needs and wants?
- What does the customer value enough to pay for now? This is where value translation comes in. There's an acuteness of want & need here that moves from "nice to have" to "must have" in a way that builds enough urgency to make a move and buy.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
10 productive ways to work in the last days of the year
It only happens once a year, that magical week between Christmas and New Year. And for those who continue working in between holidays, it’s definitely slower. More colleagues, customers and partners are out of the office, more recurring meetings are cancelled, and we consequently have more lightly-scheduled days than normal.
How you use that time is completely up to you. It would be easy to reactively handle email, take a long lunch, and linger too long in your RSS reader. But we both know, if you’ve chosen to stay in the office this week, there are better things to do.
Here are at least ten things you can do in the quieter days leading up to New Year’s Day to help you accelerate through the curve and come back January 2nd ready to take on the world.
Finish a big project. Something (or several things) on your plate have been sitting there for longer than expected. You haven’t had time to get them done, or haven’t taken the time to break that project down to the individual steps it will take to get it off your desk. Now’s the time to do just that. Pick a project (or two, no more than that), and set an aggressive goal to get it done in the next couple days. Shut your door, turn off email, and focus. If you pick the right project, you’ll be far better off with this done and producing results for you next week.
Plan a big project. Every one of us has a list of projects that sound great, but have no next steps attached to them. They’re typically complex projects that just need a little planning, need some immediate next steps and deadlines. Even the most complex projects have a very simple next step to get them rolling. Figure out what those next steps are for you – today, tomorrow and next week even. Get the ball rolling this week and you’re far more likely to get the whole project done faster.
Get organized. This is a great time to finally implement a more successful organizational or productivity system for yourself. Especially if you’re decided you like the approach of Getting Things Done, for example, but haven’t yet had time to implement it, block the next couple days and make it happen. This may feel like “preparing to work” vs. getting actual work done, but I guarantee the rest of your week (and your New Year) will be far more productive if you invest the time to do this now.
Clean. Stacks on your desk, random magazines on your bookshelves, clutter that distracts you from what needs to get done. You just hope there’s nothing in the middle of that stack that needed to be completed last week. Take the time this week to clean it all up, get it organized, and extra credit for creating and/or implementing an organizational system or strategy that keeps this clutter from happening again.
Improve your work environment. Is your workspace set up in the most effective way? Should your desk face a different direction, do you need a whiteboard on the wall, a printer within arm’s reach, a headset for your phone? This is a great time to consider how you might more effectively work, and ensure you have the set-up and tools to do it. This includes software, Web tools, subscriptions, whatever you need.
Networking. Who are the people and organizations you’ve lost touch with over the past year? Make a list, and focus time this week to get back in touch. You don’t need a reason – just a quick “reflecting on the past year and thought of you” kind of message will work great. If your contact is out this week, they’ll still appreciate seeing your email or voicemail when they return. And if they are in this week, you might just get a faster response and reconnection.
Inbox Zero. Even if you don’t implement a proactive email inbox management strategy right away, work this week to declutter the one informational interface you likely use more often than others throughout the day and workweek. Take the time to sort, file or respond to as many relevant emails as possible. Delete the rest. Don’t be afraid to declare “email bankruptcy” and start from scratch, especially for that backlog of email newsletters you’ve been meaning to get to (but, let’s face it, you just won’t as they keep piling up).
Spend an afternoon (or day) alone with your thoughts. Give yourself the gift of your own mini-retreat. Take with you a handful of things you’ve been meaning to brainstorm or think about. It could be your professional goals for the new year, it could be a new project or opportunity that simply needs your creative thinking to get started. Find a quiet coffee shop (without wifi) where you can ensconce yourself and just think for awhile.
Dream. Where do you really want to go? What would you really rather be doing not just this time next year, but in 3-5 years? If you never have time to think that far ahead, this is your time. This could be related to a product or brand you help manage, it could be related to the business you own or run, or it could be related to your career or personal life. Think big, think beyond what you can comprehend or plan for immediately. Worry about implementation and next steps later, but document your ideas and thought process so you can sort, prioritize and consider what happens next.
Recharge. Focus too much of the next few days on the list above and you’ll likely get back to the office on January 2nd without the energy you’ll need to face the onrush of work, opportunities, fire drills and other distractions that will inevitably come. Take an afternoon and take in two matinee movies. Stay home and catch up on whatever’s on your DVR. Take that long lunch. Just do these things intentionally, and be ready for the big year ahead.
That’s my list. What’s on yours?
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Accelerate SaaS revenue by cutting features & lowering price
A primary allure of SaaS businesses is clearly the recurring revenue. But the very nature of Software as a Service businesses is that you don’t have to rely on a single sale, or single product delivery. The first time your customer says “yes” should be the very beginning of a series of purchases that maximize their success and lifetime value.
It’s curious, then, that many SaaS businesses continue to build more and more features, and hence more and more complexity, into their products. Customers are inundated with features, sales reps take forever to walk through them. The further you get into the sales process, the more complex your product (and their decision) feels to the buyer.
That’s not good, and is wholly unnecessary for a SaaS business.
Study the SaaS businesses with the most rapid acceleration of market adoption and you’ll find products that are easier to buy, lower priced, and lighter on features. These “entry” products are easy to buy, focus on a core differentiating problem, and allow the buyer and seller to deepen their relationship over time.
As your customer gets comfortable with this core offering, they’ll be ready to step up to richer product offerings, add-ons, services and more. Your monitoring of their activity and early product usage can help you understand which customers might be ready for that upsell activity and when.
In this model, your initial sale is important but account management and upsell is what drives profitability and growth.
In many nascent SaaS markets, a hefty amount of education and direct consultative, discovery-based selling is still required to even get that first entry sale. But as your markets mature, those entry products can more often be sold in an automated manner, or be completely marketing-driven.
Your sales team, in this case, is starting with warm leads that are already paying you, and your path to profitability on the acquisition cost just got a whole lot shorter.
If your business is already there, congratulations. You’re in the minority. For everyone else, make sure your product portfolio is built such that you’re helping buyers say yes faster. I bet your sales & revenue yield over the following 6-12 months will improve as a result.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Seven rules for successful brainstorming
Two weeks ago I attended the most valuable brainstorming session I’ve possibly ever participated in. Not surprisingly, it was actively facilitated and set up with a crisp set of participation rules (which we actually practiced before diving into the real deal).
Below are the seven brainstorming rules we followed. Some great stuff here worth incorporating into brainstorms and other meetings in your organization.
Answer the question. This presupposes that there is a question, which means having a clear sense for what you’re trying to accomplish. Set the question (or brief list of questions) in advance so you end up with answers that will help you.
Be visual. This means being tactical, specific, actionable. Describe what you’re thinking about in real terms. Brainstorms are great for being creative, but make sure you can actively describe your ideas.
One conversation at a time. Be polite, don’t talk over each other. Listen more than you speak. If you have a really good idea, instead of blurting it out, write it down until there’s a moment to share.
Defer judgment. If you don’t like an idea, keep that to yourself. Judgment will halt the creative process and momentum. Keep answering the question and you’ll stay on track.
Build on the ideas of others. Eventually in a brainstorm lateral movement happens, where the conversation shifts in a dramatically different direction. Until then, listen to what others are saying and build upon that.
Encourage wild ideas. The only box is the question being asked. You will spark the creativity of others in the room with your own crazy ideas & thinking.
Go for quantity. Write everything down, in rapid order. Keep the energy level high, and use the rules above to keep momentum and creativity at an optimal level.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
My favorite sales & marketing books from 2010
Among the books I read this year, the seven below were my favorite. Not all were published this year (one, in fact, was published in the 1920's), but these seven had the greatest impact and I highly recommend them if you haven't yet had the opportunity.
In no particular order:
Scientific Advertising by Claude C Hopkins: This book was written in 1923, and is incredibly relevant in today's marketing world. Claude was one of the first to master the art of advertising and copywriting. This is a very short book, a one-night read, but if you have any role in sales or marketing, anything customer-facing really, I highly recommend this.
Mastering the Complex Sale by Jeff Thull: Easily the best sales book I read this year. I also had the opportunity to see Jeff speak this spring at a Fortune Sales & Marketing conference. Among many important points, Jeff teaches the art of diagnostic selling, a next step from the consultative selling approach that many are likely familiar with. The gist is to help your prospect understand and quantify the cost of the current problem (that they may or may not have known they had), and to thereby make the cost of staying the same far greater than the cost of making a chance (hence driving urgency to buy, and preference with you for helping discover the problem & opportunity).
Content Rules by Ann Handley & CC Chapman: The art of content marketing - blogs, podcasts, videos, white papers, webinars, etc. - is going to drive successful marketing strategy in the years to come. There are a number of great blogs and white papers out there that speak to various elements of effective content marketing strategy, but Content Rules ties it all together in one place. This is a dynamic field, and a second edition next year may look very different. But if you're trying to wrap your head around the idea of content marketing for your business, this book is a great place to start.
Rework by Jason Fried: Our assumptions about how we work, when we work, where we work - generally how we are "supposed" to engage in successful business - is challenged in this book. Better yet, it's challenged by a guy who's practicing what he preaches every day in a very successful business that's still thriving and growing today. This is another quick read, but I'd challenge you to pick 2-3 ideas from this book to adopt in your business (or at minimum your division, department or personal work habits) in 2011.
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh: If you're a fan or student of Zappos.com, you understand a good part of Tony's premise in this book. But it's still worth reading how he works through it, the psychology and fundamentals behind it, and how specifically it's manifested in the incredible success he's created at Zappos. If you were to step back and really understand what makes your customers happy (not profitable, not faster, not prettier....but happy), what could happen to your own profits, growth, and customer loyalty? This book will make you think.
Switch by Chip & Dan Heath: This book is relevant in so many ways. I work with big companies that are unsure how to manage through massive strategy shifts. Small companies that are afraid of damaging their fragile customer base or company cultures. Newcomers in mature markets who are struggling every day to capture market share from established brands. In each of these scenarios and more, this book is a must read. Chip & Dan break down why change happens, and the circumstances in which it happens smoothly and successfully. Each individual criteria they identify offers an important key for driving change in our own organizations.
Branding Basics for Small Business by Maria Ross: I don't care if you're a brand-new business or a Fortune 500 company. It's very easy to make brand strategy too complicated. Do yourself a favor and think about building a successful brand from the ground up, from the perspective of an organization or entrepreneur who's starting from scratch and doesn't understand brand at all. This book is one of the first I've read on brand that assumes you know nothing, and builds you up from there. It's refreshing, easy to read, and highly practical.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Five focus areas for inside sales improvement in 2011
The folks at Focus wondered what inside sales managers will do in 2011 to improve sales & revenue results from their organizations. You can see (and contribute to) their discussion here, but here’s my quick take on five specific areas inside sales managers should focus on in 2011:
1. Qualification: How well and how quickly can you determine if your prospect is qualified and ready to buy? Inside sales teams in 2011 need to become far smarter about asking the right questions up front, understanding the priorities and organizational dynamics of their prospects, to quickly separate those who represent near-term sales opportunities from those who need further nurturing.
2. Operational Efficiency: Inside sales managers in 2011 need to help their teams eliminate distractions, reduce manual steps that take time away from the phone, and automate tasks that take up too much of the rep's day today. This includes everything from CRM updates to email/communication templates to how the phone is dialed.
3. Diagnostic Selling: Inside sales should be asking questions that the prospect hasn't thought to ask, hasn't been able to answer, and hasn't yet quantified - questions that increase the quantifiable understanding of the problem and increase the urgency with which the customer wants a solution to deliver their desired outcome.
4. Marketing Automation: Inside sales managers need to mandate that their marketing teams actively and dynamically manage the bulk of their qualified-but-not-ready-to-buy pipeline of leads. This means understanding exactly where in the decision and buying cycle each prospect is, and providing them with content and calls to action appropriate to that stage.
5. Metrics: Know what to measure, narrow the list of metrics you manage daily to a small number, and prioritize those measures based on proximity to a revenue event. Every step of the lead creation, development and conversion process needs to be understood, reviewed and optimized more dynamically in 2011.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Five tips for effective channel sales development
Below are five fundamental suggestions for establishing and managing a channel-based sales program.
1. You need an overall and by-channel sales goal. You need to establish a sales & pipeline growth discipline with each individual partner. It would be great if the partner was aligned with this and also had a sales goal in mind (to drive referral fees back to them as revenue), but at minimum you need to have an internal expectation of sales & revenue yield by channel.
This seems fundamental, but I've seen many channel "objectives" talk about partnerships, customer alignment and awareness. Maybe, but those are means to an ends. Be explicit about expected sales & revenue yield from these channel relationships.
2. To get to this, you need an accurate sizing of the channel – how many prospective customers are involved, how big those customers are, and what revenue potential is inherent in each. Do the napkin math on what kind of sales & revenue would result in getting 5% of channel participants to sign up, 10%, etc.
3. You won’t necessarily be driving sales from new partners in month one, but you should have a clear, month-to-month expectation for lead activity, sales & revenue growth. Also, what are the leading-indicator metrics via which you can judge early success in the first couple months? Things like message/offer penetration & impressions in their communication channels, # of inbound leads tracked to that partner, etc. You need a very clear, quantifiable way of measuring progress.
4. Create a common sales toolkit for partners so you’re doing everything possible to enable them to communicate your value proposition and accelerate sales growth. This should include sales collateral, messaging platforms, samples of emails and other ad copy, access to your webinars and white papers, case studies, etc.
5. In addition to having a clear compensation model for the referring channels, consider “juicing” compensated activity in the early days of the partnership to help develop the habit of driving awareness, leads and business your way. For example, you could pay them for inbound leads in the first month. Eventually, you'd only want to pay points on closed deals, but you could essentially let them earn more early by delivering leads, then they’d get paid for that with a higher % on the first couple deals (so you don’t have to pay for anything until you start actually closing channel-generated business).
Thursday, December 09, 2010
SaaS Executive Roundtable in Seattle, Dec 21st
Our goals for the meeting are:
- Facilitate more active networking among local SaaS leaders
- Discuss learnings from 2010 – what worked, what didn’t, what was learned for 2011
- Gain go-to-market insight for 2011 – sales, marketing, channels, pricing, etc.
- Share resources for SaaS – research, board/investor best practices, vendors, etc.
We’ll meet Tuesday morning, Dec 21st, from 7:30 – 9:00 a.m. in downtown Seattle. Our goal is to get attendees in and out so they can focus on the rest of their day. Everything discussed within the meeting will be kept confidential and only shared with those who attended.
If you're interested in learning more or getting an invite, please email me. We've got a great group of SaaS leaders joining us already, and would love to have you with us.
Want better customer feedback? Forget about the product
Most of us bias our customer feedback-gathering by making it too much about what we already do. Our customers answer and provide that feedback based on what they see and use, not based on what’s already important to them in their daily work and/or personal lives.
Take a step back, and forget there’s a product for a minute. In gathering customer intelligence, you don’t want feedback on your solution. You want feedback on the problem. You want feedback and prioritization of what problems need solving. That has nothing to do with what you’re actually selling.
You want to know what has enough value that they’re willing to pay for. What problem or pain is acute enough that they’ll spend time and money solving it.
Different features you have currently could address different pains & needs. How would you customers stack-rank them? How would different customer segments stack-rank them?
You’re not going to add another tool to their workday if it doesn’t align with a train in their station, a problem they already have, an outcome they’re already seeking & prioritizing.
I think there are a number of tactical ways to get at this information, but knowing the perspective you want up front will help ensure the data you get at the back-end is useful and actionable.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Trade show booth best practices: Observations from Dreamforce
I’m among more than 30,000 people attending this week’s Dreamforce conference, and it’s nuts as you would imagine. I had some time last night to check out many of the vendors, new technology and emerging SaaS businesses on the trade show floor.
Learned a lot, both based on what they’re doing as well as how they handled prospective customers walking by. A booth space at Dreamforce costs a LOT of money, so I was interested in seeing how some companies capitalized on the opportunity, and how others let subtle things impact their ability to capture & engage prospects.
Below are some of my observations – good and bad alike.
Making Eye Contact & Saying Hello. The best booth staffers were engaged, scanning the crowd, and being proactive at making direct eye contact and greeting visitors. This was a great way to get myself and others to break their stride, pause for a moment, return the salutation, and start to engage on what they do. Many booths failed to do this. Eyes down, watching your Blackberry, is not a good way to get prospects.
Script the First Five Seconds. It was very clear which booths had thought beforehand about their value proposition, and what specific handful of words would get the most visitors to say “wow, tell me more.” Your first few words, those first five seconds of your introduction, will help me decide if I’m going to learn more or move on.
State Your Benefits in Bold Letters. If I’m walking by, deciding which booth to visit, I need a reason to stop. If I’m scanning the booth, I want to see words that imply what I’ll achieve by working with you. I don’t want you to tell me you’re a cloud-based application. I don’t need a list of features. What will it do for me? Why should I take the time to learn more? It’s part of the hook, part of getting prospects to stop and engage.
Move Longer Conversations Out Of Traffic Flow. Especially in a crowded exhibit hall, once you’ve identified someone who wants to learn more or see a demo, get them out of the aisle and into your booth. Move there somewhere you can have a more direct, less-distracted conversation. This will add more value to that deeper conversation, plus allow more prospects in the flow of traffic to walk by and engage with others working your booth.
Value-Added Takeaways. The best booths at Dreamforce offered a book, a how-to guide, a sales automation or nurture marketing cheat-sheet, something of independent but related value that will make me smarter. I don’t want to take home a bunch of brochures, that’s what Web sites are for when I’m back at the office. Give me something I want to read on the plane home, something that will teach me and demonstrate how much more you can teach me if we keep working together.
Scanning Badges Without Context. Unfortunately, “can I scan your badge?” isn’t a good example of the scripted five seconds referenced above. Offer me some value in exchange for the scan. Even if it’s just to enter a drawing for an iPad, at least I understand the value being exchanged. If you want to add me to your mailing list, promise me something valuable in return. Email tips on sales automation, for example.
Failing to Qualify. If you don’t know who I am, what I do, what I need, how do you know it’s worth giving me a 5-10 minute deep-dive on your product? Not every booth visitor is a good lead, not every booth visitor should be pitched the same way. Know my role & my objective first.
Scanning for Someone Better. If I’m talking to you, at least pretend that you’re interested in our conversation. It’s obvious when you’re scanning the crowd to see if someone better walks by.
Ignoring Loiterers. If I pause on my own, stop and stare at your booth on my own, I’m interested. I don’t understand why I’m not immediately engaged with a handshake and welcome, especially when booth staffers are looking at and around me anyway. If you’re already busy giving a demo to someone else, take a quick moment to welcome me into the conversation. Make me feel welcome, otherwise I’m likely to move on.
Check Your Email. We’ve all done this at trade show booths. It’s bad. If you really must check your email, make sure you booth is staffed by someone else and walk a few feet away to do your business.
Brag About Your Hangover. It’s not a badge of honor. Yes, we may all have had too much fun last night. But you’re here this morning to work.