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If you've struggled with some ups and downs in your sales results, check out my recent interview with Colleen Francis. She's the author of Nonstop Sales Boom as well as a highly respected colleague.

In our conversations, she shares some insightful ideas that are guaranteed to get you thinking. 

JILL: Why did you decide to write Nonstop Sales Boom now?

COLLEEN FRANCIS: Over the last years, I've seen an increasing trend that is impacting most businesses I work with. Time and time again, prospects and clients will say to me, "We don't need you or any consulting help. We're having our best month or best quarter ever."

Of course I'm happy for their success. But all too often, a quarter or two later, we speak again and they say, "Now we're having our worst quarter ever, can you help us?" They're struggling but they didn't see it coming and couldn't prevent it.

I saw it impacting individual sales reps – both those that were carrying the lion-share of meeting targets as well as the majority that didn't. I also saw it impacting sales leaders, often making the wrong decision to try to ensure this quarter's numbers at the sacrifice of the next.

What surprised me most was the number of businesses that just assumed this was the way it is – a normal part of operations. So I started to research the causes of these up and downs, why they are so prevalent and what can be done to prevent them.

JILL: Why are boom and bust cycles so prevalent?

COLLEEN FRANCIS: They are prevalent, but they are considered to be a normal part of business. Even when businesses make their numbers over a period, they’re often doing it on the backs of 20% of their sales force. Everyone loves that adage: "80% of the revenue from 20% of the sales reps", but think about how dangerous that is.

One thing we work with a lot is how to diversify your organization. I have a client now, a $300 million manufacturing company, and they have one sales rep doing $80 million a year. She's getting ready to leave and retire, and they're trying to figure out how to replicate her. That's a very dangerous position to be in. It's one thing to lose a $5 million producer; it's another thing to lose an $80 million producer!

For whatever reason, that 80-20 rule has found a comfortable place in business. The best organizations know that and hire right and fire fast. At a more individual level - and I talk about 14 other reasons why boom and bust cycles are damaging for the organization in the book - these cycles hurt organizations because of sales rep stress and exhaustion.

There's just so much stress and exhaustion and administrative overload sales reps can take. Inconsistent sales performance ultimately points to poor sales leadership. Sales managers jobs could be in jeopardy. Even if you hit the target at the end of the year, but your sales performance fluctuates wildly from quarter to quarter, that type of sales whiplash won't be tolerated.

JILL: What can businesses due to prevent this sales whiplash?

COLLEEN FRANCIS: Simply put, sellers need to look at their job as more than just moving leads to close. We need to look at the entire client lifecycle. In Nonstop Sales Boom, I talk about 4 states of engagement in the radar:

  1. There's the attraction stage; everything you're doing to attract net new prospects or buyers into your community.
  2. Then there's the participation stage. Participation means all those things you're doing to qualify the buyer, to get them to buy from you but also to get them on-boarded quickly. What we discovered about companies who are in this nonstop sales boom phenomenon is that they don't believe closing ends with the signing of the contract; closing ends once the client is fully utilizing the product. 
  3. Growth, the third stage, is what you are doing to enhance the value to you and your client. It's not just about selling them more product, but more services, expanding the relationship to include more decision-makers. Growth doesn't necessarily mean increase in revenue; it means protection of the account. Building out multiple decision-makers, really becoming that insider, because that leads to leverage.
  4. Finally, leverage is when your clients are advocating on your behalf and becoming that secret sales force, through testimonials and references that are feeding back into the process as net new clients. In the book, I introduce Sales Radar™ to help sellers visualize and implement this way of looking the client lifecycle.

JILL: What is the concept behind Sales Radar?

COLLEEN FRANCIS: Sales Radar™ is a fundamentally different way of looking at your sales process. Typically sellers see themselves working with their clients in a linear fashion. That really restricts your overall ability to generate revenue.

I think we need to think of the sales process like a radar where opportunities exist in different phases all around you. The four phases of engagement. And clients can be in more than one place at a time, and they can move in different directions. I am fundamentally opposed to any sales process that doesn't allow you to move backwards and forwards and up and down, based on the buying behavior of the client.

To those people that have been following me for a few years, Sales Radar is something we've started to institutionalize inside their sales forces, so they get used to it and see how it works.

What's really critical is to get your sales reps thinking holistically about these four phases, because far too many think only in terms of closing net new business. They have a real stereotypical hunter mentality, chasing those opportunities and while ignore their customer base and finding new prospects. And when they become focused on one engagement phase, they ignore the others, planting the seeds for future busts.

Closing new customers month over month is much harder than expanding your current client base, so we want them thinking in a holistic way, taking advantage of short-term revenue, long-term revenue and new client growth.

JILL: What is one practical thing sales leaders can do right now?

COLLEEN FRANCIS: It all starts with metrics. You can't execute on a sales plan or Sales Radar™ without the metrics. Yes, there's always a way to improve the performance of your metrics - people say "It's not about the quantity of calls, it's about the quality." But on the other hand, if you make too few great calls, you'll still not hitting your number, because there are some realities wrapped up in the numbers. The data is critical. An inside sales team needs to understand how many hours of talk time and how many calls you can get in an hour, with that kind of granularity.

A company that's only looking for their teams to sell one or two pieces of business a year needs to be more focused on meetings, for example. I like to take these numbers down to as small as I can get; how many contacts do we need? How many leads do we need? How many qualified leads do we need? How many attempts or calls a day do we need? How many leads have to be generated by the channel team? What you want to be doing is measuring those.

We need to understand what the numbers are today, what we can improve on them, and are we executing based on the numbers that we know are going to help us hit our targets? I call those leading indicators. I find it fascinating that most sales reps and Sales VPs forget that the sale is a lagging indicator of success.

Of course it's the thing we all strive for, to ring the bell, but all it tells me is that you did a bunch of things right in the past that got you to that place. If you only focus on lagging indicators, you forget that you need to make calls and fill the pipeline. Too much energy and effort is put in on that close, to the detriment of the rest of the pipeline.

JILL: How do you think the sales landscape looks like in the next 5 years and what can sales organizations do to change?

COLLEEN FRANCIS: Buyers, clients, customers, consumers - whatever you want to call them - are gaining power at an alarming pace. They have access to more information, more reviews, more products than ever before. Over the next 5 years, we're not going to see a slowdown of that. We're going to see customers taking more and more power, and demanding a more unbalanced relationship in their favor.

I see that organizations are going to have to let go of the linear sales process or sales funnel that they enforce, and they have to embrace this notion that our jobs are to facilitate a buying process. There's just far too much choice out there for buyers to not want to take control. We can't force buyers into the sales process anymore. We also have to recognize that buyers are coming to us at increasingly different or disparate and we have to be prepared for that, and we also have to attract people like that. We have to be using more media, more marketing, and more publishing than ever before.

We have to be able to capture buyers at different stages of the cycle. It used to be that buyers didn't hear about us until we reached out to them. Now, we don't hear about buyers until they're ready to buy, and that's going to make it even more critical to manage clients throughout all four phases of engagement.

JILL: Where can I find out more about the four phases, Sales Radar and creating a Nonstop Sales Boom?

COLLEEN FRANCIS: I made sure that Nonstop Sales Boom not only details these important concepts but also provides the practical steps to putting into action, whether you are a seller or a sales leader. You can read more at www.SalesBoomBook.com. And of course, I'd love to hear your feedback and questions – send them to colleenfrancis@engageselling.com!

JILL: Thanks a million, Colleen! I'm sure lots of people will go check it out!

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