I had the great fortune of growing up in Alaska, in the land of the midnight sun. We often filled them by fishing the long summer days and nights on the many rivers and lakes nearby. My friends and I became decent fishermen, but we also had the chance to fish with people who were on a different level. These great anglers were a joy to watch, always busy trying new things and always leaving the river with many more fish. Their methods were a beautiful balance of experience, doing what they knew worked in this location, and experimentation, carefully varying techniques when the fish stopped biting. They intuitively recognized the current conditions and quickly applied what they knew had worked well in the past. Rigorously experimenting when the bite was off, varying locations, baits, weights, line, leader lengths, lures, etc. Each time, trying something based on what they believe may be happening below the surface.
But when these great anglers fish a new river, they often struggle until they can understand what is going on below the surface of the water. While there are many similarities of catching fish between different streams and conditions, there are also some very important differences that, if not discovered and mastered, are the difference between a great outing and getting skunked. For this reason, when I’m headed to an area I’ve not fished, I want along is a guide who knows the waters – a coach – and a fish finder – technology. Without a guide and fishfinder, I’ll eventually catch fish, but it will take many trips to build a reliable understanding of the water and the fish within.
As a sales consultant working with companies seeking revenue acceleration, I spend a great deal of time with each member of the sales team understanding each of their territory plans. In these individual reviews, I often find I’m talking with a good salesperson selling a solution to a problem with which they aren’t intimately familiar. They are the equivalent of a good angler fishing in a new stream. They’ll eventually figure out how to find likely buyers, the compelling way into those conversations and the mechanics of the sale, but the trial-and-error required is costly and it hurts the salesperson and hurts the company’s revenue growth. Even good salespeople need a guide and some technology to accelerate their performance. Most growing companies try to overcome this learning curve with sales training to educate the team on product, value proposition, competition, sales process, and sales best practices. What all too often is under-invested in, is crisply defining a likely versus unlikely buyer. And further, who are the likely buyers in each salesperson’s territory. If you are expecting your experienced-hire salespeople to figure that out, you shouldn’t expect quick returns, because you’ve inadvertently built extensive trial and error into your sales on-boarding plan, for each sales person.
A great sales plan and account-based sales and marketing instrumentation are tools to give sales managers and sales reps visibility into their territory so they spend more time in conversations with prospects and less researching what additional companies they can target. As leaders, the question you should ask yourself is, “What is your role in the success of your salespeople?” And, “Have we built a foundation on which our sales team can overachieve?”
The good news is that there are 4 things you can do right now to put your sales team in a better spot:
- Develop a crystal clear profile of a high-odds target prospect. What industries, what companies/characteristics, what roles within these companies. Involve your best salesperson/salespeople (not all of them), your best marketer, an insightful customer, and the leadership team.
- Define why your prospects spend time talking with your sales team – what is in it for them? And the answer is not that they can learn about your solution, but rather they will leave smarter about their current situation. What problem do you solve? How much is this problem costing the prospect? What are similar companies doing to solve the same problem? This sounds similar to training on your value proposition and competition but it isn’t. It’s flipped around, approaching the opportunity from your prospect’s perspective. Your sales team will be way more interesting and you’ll have a better funnel.
- Build a comprehensive list of prospects with contact information and upload it to your sales engagement tool of choice (whatever tool you have in place to capture sales activity). If your sales team is combing social media and the web to find companies, contact and email addresses, they aren’t selling.
- Build your initial sales process and playbook and instrument a rapid feedback loop to continually and rapidly enhance the plays, capturing the experiences of the team. This is how you help good salespeople to be better, and how you get rapid results from your great salespeople.
Do the work upfront to ensure your sales teams are productively selling. At Altus, we find too many companies have not tackled these important links in the chain because they fall in a crack between marketing and sales, to the detriment of revenue growth. But it is easily remedied – let’s get to work.