CEOs can accelerate sales in a recovery using 3 core areas
Sales is the lifeblood of a business.
As CEO, your sales team drives revenue for your organization and provides the time and space needed for you to focus on strategic decision-making.
However, sales leaders aren’t necessarily equipped to pull through a crisis like the one we’re in now. In part, that’s because sales leaders are often the least-trained people in an organization, as they come to the role with little or no experience in management. In addition, the average sales manager has only five to seven years of tenure, which means the majority did not work in a managerial role through the 2008 financial downturn.
It may also be the case that as CEO of a small to midsize business, you are the person accountable for sales. Either way, it’s your responsibility to get your sales function ready for what’s next because it plays a critical role in your company’s recovery. Fortunately, salespeople are made, not born, so they tend to be fast learners. Here’s how to prepare them and, in the process, increase the efficiency of your entire sales operation.
The Success Triangle
To build a strong sales team, you need people who have the right attitude, practice the right behaviors and use the right techniques. These components make up what I call “The Success Triangle.” In the context of sales, attitude refers to how salespeople think about a sales scenario; behavior refers to when and how often salespeople engage in sales activities; and technique refers to how salespeople actually perform those activities.
When coaching a sales team, sales leaders tend to focus more on the techniques of selling than the attitudes or behaviors involved. But it’s important to emphasize all three areas. Consider what happens when any of these components is missing from a salesforce:
- Behavior + Technique – Attitude = Salespeople go through the motions
- Attitude + Technique – Behavior = Salespeople work frantically and sporadically
- Attitude + Behavior – Technique = Salespeople work too hard
Let’s take a closer look at these three components and what you can do to make them stronger.
1. Attitude: Get out of your comfort zone
Attitude is about mindset. To get in the right mindset, you need to get out of your comfort zone. The reason: If you’re always working in your comfort zone, you’re only operating at 60 to 70% of your capacity.
Salespeople often fall into this trap once they’ve made enough money to pay their bills, or they’ve achieved a professional title they’re satisfied with. Unconsciously, they say to themselves: “Why would I stretch myself when I’m perfectly comfortable here?”
As a CEO, you need to challenge this complacency by shaking up your sales process. Next, I’ll show you how to do just that.
2. Behavior: Create a “cookbook”
What would your salespeople say if you asked them, “What behaviors do you need to do every month to hit your quota?” I’d bet you 80% could not answer that question. They might say they need to “do 300 presentations” or “get 50 new customers” to hit a quota of $10 million. But those are lagging indicators, not behaviors.
This is why you need to develop a “cookbook” that spells out behaviors for salespeople. Like a recipe, the sales process is a science, with an added dash of art. You have to prescribe the steps involved, instead of counting on them to happen on their own.
The way to write the behavioral “recipes” for your cookbook is to reverse engineer your sales funnel. Sounds simple, but you need a sales process in order to complete it. You should conduct a reality check to validate your team follows a consistent sales process by asking everyone on the sales team to write down every step involved in securing a sale—from the time they identify a prospect to the time they have a happy customer—and look for commonalities.
When working on that second method, don’t be surprised if you see inconsistencies. Often, everyone on a team uses a different sales process. Take this as proof that you do, in fact, need to prescribe your preferred sales process. You can’t manage anything that you can’t control, so you need to control behaviors to manage your sales.
3. Technique: Use the KARE model
In sales, technique boils down to—what your salespeople say and how they say it. Your team needs to own their “talk tracks.” A talk track is made up of all the things a salesperson could potentially say to a customer. It usually includes an elevator pitch, a value proposition, a list of competitive advantages and answers to top-ten objectives.
Because COVID-19 has dramatically changed the world, every sales manager needs to reevaluate and rewrite their team’s talk track. What salespeople said to prospects two months ago is probably not relevant today. And what salespeople say to prospects today will probably not be relevant in another 60 to 90 days. In this evolving environment, sales managers must stay fluid when developing their talk track, while also building their team’s fluency in the language.
To customize talk tracks for specific audiences, I recommend using the KARE framework. KARE refers to four categories of customers:
- KEEP: Existing customers you want to keep
- ATTAIN: Prospective customers you want to do business with
- RECAPTURE: Customers you have done business with in the past but have moved on
- EXPAND: Existing customers that you would like to do more business with
By default, salespeople mostly focus on customers in the KEEP category because they are the easiest relationships to protect. However, this narrow focus will dry up your pipeline over time. To correct this imbalance, sales leaders need to provide salespeople with the right talk tracks to reach customers in the other categories—ATTAIN, RECAPTURE and EXPAND—and arm them with the products and services that address those customers’ specific pain points.
Additional sales tactics: Check these boxes
In addition to the steps outlined above, consider these tactics and strategies for accelerating sales during a recovery:
- Pay attention to momentum. Observe the momentum in your industry and competitive landscape and revise your ideal client profile accordingly. Look for opportunities to address gaps that your competitors are neglecting to fill. Consider how you can serve new segments of customers who are facing new challenges due to the crisis.
- Conduct Weekly Individual Meetings (WIMS). Every Monday morning, sales leaders should have a five-minute call with each salesperson, asking: “What are the top three things you’re going to achieve this week? How can I help you achieve them?” Then, on Friday, the sales leader should call back their team members for an update.
- Create time blocks. Structure what your salespeople do during the day. This doesn’t mean micromanaging them; it means providing guardrails so they know what activities to focus on and for how long. This will help them work proactively instead of reactively.
- Entice buyers with small opportunities. Instead of trying to sell someone a $3 million training engagement, offer them a $5,000 suite of coaching services. When you make a small sale first, it’s easier to form a relationship that leads to bigger sales down the line.
- Use LinkedIn to your advantage. Send three to five emails each week via LinkedIn to a targeted list of prospective customers. Keep the emails short and sweet, limiting your copy to three to five sentences. Don’t talk about how great your company is. Talk about your customer’s problem and how you can help them solve it. Addressing someone’s frustration will capture their attention.
- Ask your connections for introductions. Contact customers who love your company and ask them for introductions to prospective customers they’re connected with on LinkedIn. This will move you into the sales process more quickly. Even if you discover the prospect is not a good fit, you can still have a relevant conversation with them. That’s key to sales success.
- Conduct pre-call and post-call checklists. A pre-call checklist covers the key points a salesperson must cover in a call with a prospect. It includes questions such as: What is the agenda? What do we hope to accomplish? What are the five to six questions we want to ask? A post-call checklist identifies the questions a salesperson must be able to answer when they finish a call. It includes questions such as: What are the customer’s pain points? Do we have viable solutions? Does the customer have the time, money and resources to work with us? Adopting this process will make your sales teams more self-sufficient.
Just like the 2008 financial downturn, this crisis shall pass. In the meantime, CEOs should put their energy toward building sales competencies in the organization that can survive and thrive—and get a head start on recovery.