In B2B sales we are taught to understand the needs of our customers. To truly accomplish this, sales people need to do their homework.
(This blog is focused on companies that require a field sales organization to sell their products.)
I recently sat on a panel where the topic we were discussing was lead conversions to sales. The moderator asked, “What percentage of your sales leads convert into sales?” I had to laugh because I’ve seen so many situations where the sales teams don’t get any leads from marketing at all.
It’s not that there aren’t any inbound inquiries from customers as much as it is the tendency for some marketing organizations to “over qualify the lead.” Sales teams find this frustrating. I get that Marketing doesn’t want to send junk to the sales teams. However, the fatal assumption here is that the lead MUST turn into an immediate sales opportunity before the sales teams waste their time on it. Bad assumption!
Most sales people spend a lot of their time nurturing customers who are not ready to buy. Sales people actually want to go out and meet new customers even if they’re not yet in the buying process. This means they will get in early and have an opportunity to educate the customer before they develop their requirements.
Sales has not been without their faults in this story either. Marketing organizations frequently get frustrated because they feel the sales teams don’t follow-up on leads and this has a big impact on their metrics. Sales leaders need to ensure their sales teams have proper expectations on lead follow up and providing feedback to marketing.
The responsibility to get the sales and marketing teams on the same page is the CEO’s. They are the person that sets the direction and objectives for everyone in the company. Here is some advice in establishing better alignment between sales and marketing:
Alignment of Goals – I believe one of the key reasons there tends to be mis-alignment between sales and marketing is because they don’t share the same mission and goals. In your annual planning process ensure that both sales and marketing share key goals around pipeline development. And then pay both of them to achieve those goals.
Lead Definition & SLAs – Require sales and marketing to agree on what defines a lead (or types of leads) and ensure that everyone across the organizations (sales and marketing) understand the definitions. Establish SLAs and metrics for when marketing gets those leads to sales and when sales is expected to provide feedback on the leads.
Partner Models – Many sales organizations sell through partners or resellers. It seems like these teams are commonly an after thought in this process as well. Make sure there is a process and clear expectations with these partners that they MUST follow up on their assigned leads timely and MUST provide feedback on the process. If they don’t comply, they don’t get more leads.
Integrated CRM System – Make sure your CRM system is integrated with your marketing and sales systems so you can tie together your marketing, sales engagement and bookings data.
Report the Data in Terms Everyone Understands – We certainly have enough data to work with in this area. The challenge isn’t having data. The challenge is publishing the data in a meaningful way for everyone to know what’s going on. It’s also important to publish the terms in plain English not just marketing terms that others can’t relate to. The key data points to consider are:
- Qualified lead volumes
- Campaign effectiveness
- Pipeline generated by inbound leads
- SLAs on leads to sales and sales follow-up
- Closed business from inbound leads
Publish the data in places where both sales and marketing teams will see them frequently.
I know I’ve been a bit rough on sales and marketing in this blog. I do believe we are living in a very exciting time when it comes to sales and marketing and the options available to reach customers. The issues I’m pointing out are organizational and the core responsibility to ensure good alignment between sales and marketing falls to the CEO.
Make sure you’re not inadvertently pitting these two groups against each other by assuming they can come together and work out the alignment problem.
The Need to Control!
Several years ago, I was asked to interview someone that would be a peer to me. They were an internal candidate and this role would be a promotion for them. They had been a successful account manager and felt that sales management was the next step in their career.
I went through the interview process with my questions and the candidate kept over-simplifying their answers. I would ask "how would you inspect forecasted opportunities with your sales reps?" They became frustrated with my questions and responded by saying, “I’ll just call the customer directly and get the deal done.” When I debriefed with the hiring manager I asked him “Is this person a controlling person?” the hiring manager said, “Oh yeah, they want to do everything themselves.” I told him to reconsider the candidate and look for someone new. The hiring manager didn’t listen and a couple of years later, that person was struggling badly as a manager, rarely hit their numbers and their team members kept leaving the company.
The fact is, being a sales manager is difficult because you have to create a process for the team, inspect the business and get out of the way. Micro-managing good sales people rarely works, at least not for the good sales people..
The secret to being successful as a sales leader is to hire great sales people, be organized, inspect the business and GET OUT OF THE WAY!
Here is a simple formula to go from a controlling to an enabling Sales Leader:
1. Build your Metrics – Every sales teams has metrics that are unique to their business but we all have common metrics inherent to sales. I call them the Leading and Lagging Indicators. Your Leading indicators are typically your pipeline numbers. Whether you track straight open pipeline or factored pipeline, they are all leading indicators that determine the likelihood of future success for your team’s performance. Lagging indicators are the revenue (or bookings) and things like average sale, sales cycle times, and net new customers. But lagging indicators are always a measurement of things that have already happened. In my experience, the leading indicators tend to be the ones sales teams struggle with the most.
2. Create a Process and Cadence – So many managers are reactive and say “I don’t have time to be organized!” Don’t ever say that around me. I have no patience for that statement. An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure. Just sit down and design your meetings, review sessions and metrics. There is no excuse for not doing this other than you may be a controlling sales manager. It literally would take (at the most) one day a year, if you stay focused.
3. Coach and Inspire – Once you have your metrics defined and your cadence in place, your job is to focus on coaching. Mainly situational coaching, where your experience and ideas can actually impact the sale. Focus on providing your team with inspiration. They all really want to be motivated and inspired. Being a controlling manager will be de-motivating and drives them further away from trusting you.
Take the time to get organized. Your team will appreciate it and respect you for being a true leader vs. a controlling manager.