Do You Have a Sales Pipeline or a Pipedream in Your Organization?

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This is a Guest Blog Post from Sales and Sales Management guru Chris Tully.

In recent blogs I’ve been writing a lot about the evolving market because it’s especially important in these conditions to have robust processes that lend confidence and set you up for success. When designed and operated properly, your Sales Pipeline is another key tool to serve in this purpose; a proxy to identify what’s going well and what’s not going well with your business. Your organization’s ability to scale is largely dependent on your ability to reliably forecast revenue, which really boils down to the quality and volume of data within your Pipeline. Setting up, leveraging, and monitoring this resource properly enables you to see performance against key metrics and accurately show where your business is headed.

However, there are stumbling blocks that many Owners and Sales Leaders face when they look to formalize their Sales Pipeline methodology. The primary misunderstanding I see is the belief that a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system on its own will provide the on-target visibility desired. This, coupled with too many bells and whistles, makes it easy to lose sight of the primary role of a CRM, to support a well-thought-out Sales Strategy in the simplest method possible. Getting caught up in the technology can lead to a misstep where companies invest in a system without completing the fundamental steps of defining the underlying strategy and associated processes first. 

When designed correctly, process discipline will be reflected in Pipeline performance, but only if the right technology is being utilized and if the salespeople are engaging with the system properly. So, take a moment and ask yourself if you’re operating a solid Pipeline that gives you confidence, or a “PipeDREAM” that frustrates you because of missed forecast projections.

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Over the years, when it comes to the Sales Pipeline, the key question I commonly hear Owners ask about is, “what’s the accuracy of the data and how do we know if we can rely on it?”   The interplay between people, process, technology, and continual inspection is the secret recipe that creates Pipeline data integrity (valuable, actionable data).    Let’s take a closer look at these main components that feed Pipeline data integrity, “the 4-legged stool” that should support every business.      

1. PEOPLE – Training to foster understanding, adoption, and accountability. Even the best process, procedure and technology will fail without user adoption. The starting point is investing in well-rounded training to help the Salespeople understand how the infrastructure will help them achieve their individual goals; the technology or CRM being just one component. From there, creating advocacy within the team after having the right level of executive sponsorship from the start is the way to achieve essential adoption. This is especially important to motivate potentially stubborn Salespeople who tend to be resistant to change.   Once you are assured that your Salespeople understand how to engage with your Pipeline methodology and see value in it, then it is practical to expect compliance. This will open the door to your Pipeline becoming a powerful diagnostic tool that will allow you to pinpoint underperformance problems that need correction.     

2. PROCESS – Solidifying  repeatable and scalable process/procedure. As leaders, we need to equip our sales teams with tools to guide their success. It is not reasonable to expect Sales Pipeline data integrity until we provide a proven Sales Process and guiding data procedures. When designed properly, these approaches will fuel confidence in new Salespeople and tenured veterans alike. This will naturally occur as they experience or see their colleagues experience that investing in the model generates predictable results.   To learn more about developing a robust Sales Process, read my previous blog:“How’s Your Sales Process Confidence Measuring Up to the Results It’s Generating?”   Guiding data procedures will address data quality around things like sales activity, customer information collection, opportunities that feed into the Sales Pipeline, etc. All these moving pieces work together to provide the Salespeople and Sales Leaders a powerful view into real-time performance indicators that can be leveraged to optimize results. This level of visibility will also prevent the undesirable but common problem in CRM systems of “garbage in, garbage out.”     

3. TECHNOLOGY – It’s not about more, it’s about simplicity. Your technology should make everyone’s lives simpler and more efficient. If you’re an Owner or Sales Leader, ask yourself, “do I have a simple and easy-to-understand dashboard at my fingertips that allows me visibility to see where my business is going?” The most important thing to note is that the best Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is the one that gets used, helps your Salespeople succeed, and assists your leadership team in monitoring progress.   I come across companies that are still using Excel spreadsheets and notepads, and those that have fully integrated and advanced CRMs. In all cases, the first step is to define Sales Strategy and Metric Objectives so the technology can be aligned to the business requirements. Done properly, the technology isn’t the driver, it’s merely a vehicle to deliver on the business strategy. I often recommend scaling technology back to optimize adoption, a key contributor to data integrity. To get and keep users engaged, you will want to have the lightest possible technology structure that can deliver on key metrics.     

Tech-Tips

CRM Adoption Calls for LESS Bells & Whistles
1. Choose a technology that allows your Salespeople to see their productivity improve with its use so that you can avoid resistance to adoption.    2. Align technology to your requirements to create a user-friendly experience, as well as insightful data (clarity on your key measurements/metrics).   3. Make sure that you have only the technology that you need and nothing more.     4. INSPECTION – Tweaking and tuning to optimize data integrity. The fourth leg of the stool, Inspection, is the glue that makes Pipeline performance possible through the application of experienced Sales Leadership. It’s critical that the Owner or Sales Leader holding this seat monitors strategy execution and data integrity through routine Pipeline inspections. This, followed by targeted coaching with salespeople on an individual level, will fine tune sales skills and data entry compliance.  

As more data is available in your CRM system, your organization will benefit from the ability to consider history and trends; identify what’s working and what’s not. This will allow more runway to repair performance breakdowns before Sales Goal achievement becomes hindered. When Training, Process/Procedure, and Technology are all effectively designed and implemented, problem areas become easily identified through the Sales Pipeline. Diving in to inspect problem areas within a solid sales infrastructure will enable the Sales Leader to quickly diagnose root cause problems and apply the appropriate solution. Sales Performance will not be sustainable without ongoing Sales Leadership attention that embodies the full breadth of skills and activities needed to generate high-performance results.


To assess the strength of your current Sales Leadership approach, review my prior blog:“Sales Leadership Impact on Your Business”

In closing, let’s recap – you want your Salespeople only working on prospects with the highest probability of closure. Your properly designed Sales Pipeline will serve as a diagnostic tool to identify sales performance problems if it’s built as the “4-legged stool” I outlined. Just remember, even the best process and system won’t be sustainable without ongoing, effective Sales Leadership.  

THOUGHT PROVOKING TRIVIA ANSWER 70% of CRM projects fail. *   The management of customers and potential customers is critical. However, a key component of a productive Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is having a set strategy that the technology delivers upon.   I can help you avoid this misstep that results in a large CRM deployment failure rate. Schedule a time to chat.  *Source: Linkedin.com

About the Author  I am a part of a sub-group of Sales Xceleration Advisors dedicated to pooling our knowledge and expertise to generate insights, tips, and tools to help business leaders exponentially grow their revenue. We are seasoned  Executive Sales Leaders that have guided B2B businesses ranging from start-up to Fortune 500. I welcome any special requests you may have for future writing topics.

Chris Tully

Chris is the President of Sales Growth Advisors LLC, a sales consulting firm focused on increasing revenue growth and improving profitability.   He can be reached at chris@salesgrowthadvisor.com.

Chris Tully_Sales Growth Advisors

How to Use CRM to Add Value to Your Sales Team

This is a Guest Blog Post by Chris Tully.

Your customer relationship management (CRM) software system is filled with details about the people and companies most important to your business. But are you using CRM to add value to your sales team?

If you haven’t set up a CRM system to actively monitor and effectively track the steps your sales team takes with business opportunities, then you’re both walking around with your eyes closed. You can’t see what the sales team is doing – and neither can they.

If It’s Not in CRM It Didn’t Happen

About one-third of small to mid-sized businesses I encounter don’t have a CRM system. They are still managing the business on email and spreadsheets. About half of the remaining businesses have purchased CRM software but haven’t fully implemented it. Still others use their CRM for marketing or customer service, but not sales – missing the value of integrating the functions.

In my opinion, if sales activities are not visible in CRM they didn’t actually happen. I’d go so far as to say that if your sales team closed a deal that was not in CRM, hold back the commission. That may sound draconian, but I believe you’d only have to do that once to make the point.

Sales CRM is highly effective for the money. You and your team have the ability to see leads as they are captured, follow the progression of contact and communication through your sales stages, and easily record results. This allows the sales leader to be a more effective coach, gives immediate visibility to results, and provides some insurance if one of your salespeople leaves.

In the bigger picture, capturing all stages of the sales cycle allows you and the team to analyze what works best and recreate the most successful steps – continually refining and improving your sales effectiveness and growing your business.

CRM Guides the Sales Path

Clearly defining sales stages is valuable for your team. For example, Salesforce CRM software allows you to customize the objectives of each stage, enabling a sort of “guided path” to follow. Within the software, there are a series of questions that have to be answered positively before someone can progress. Seeing the hurdles that have to be cleared to reach those objectives can only help your sales force improve.

A good CRM helps the team better quantify sales leads. They can build a qualification score to see how strong each lead is (or becomes) by assigning points as the deal progresses. For example, is a compelling event driving the customer’s decision on the deal? Is an economic ROI stated or implied? Has the decision maker gotten involved in the evaluation of your proposal? All of this allows you as a leader to monitor progress and assess effectiveness.

The more disciplined your sales team is in following an effective, repeatable process and quantifying deals against the rubric you set up, the better they will be as salespeople and the more you’ll increase your company’s sales.

CRM Engagement Is Key to Adding Value

In order for your sales team to embrace CRM, the system has to:

  • Be easy to use
  • Add value by supporting and guiding the sales process
  • Be the “ground truth” of all sales reporting to and by company leadership

Promote engagement by taking two giant steps to successful CRM implementation: get used to asking questions of your sales team that can only be answered by referring back to the CRM, and make your CRM the source for all sales reporting in the company.

You’ll be able to quickly customize reports to illustrate specific sales performance indicators, and visually represent the team’s up-to-the-moment performance in the key metrics you choose to display on your dashboard.

Choosing a CRM System

There are at least 10 good cloud-based CRM systems out there that can meet the needs of most sales teams. There are also sites to help you decide which system to choose. Final choice will be your personal preference, but from my perspective you can’t go wrong with SalesforceHubSpot, or Pipedrive.

Selection and implementation are important. However, engagement is what will make or break CRM effectiveness. The single most important quality of a CRM system is that it adds value to your sales team – it should make their work easier, and help them be more successful.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

How Far Will You Go to Get Funded?

This is a Guest blog post from Ines LeBow.

Entrepreneurs are going to extremes to make themselves memorable to investors.

Earlier this spring, at the beginning of the pandemic in the US, I published articles on creating and delivering a digital investor pitch (“Now’s the Time to Get Your Business Funded: Coronavirus Edition”) and on featuring the sustainability of your business in any market (“Pandemic-Proof Your Funding Pitch Deck”). Some of my contacts have shared how great the advice in those articles was, but were struggling to get the opportunity to pitch or even engage with investors.

I read a Wall Street Journal article a few weeks ago called “Startups Turn to Remote Fundraising” (9/21/2020 print edition). It mentioned the lengths that many entrepreneurs are going to stand out with investors or even simply to get in front of investors. Here are a few examples:

  • Elocution Lessons – A start-up CEO took voice lessons to improve his speech, tone, emotion, and inflection to be more compelling and effective on voice and video calls.
  • Guitar Playing – A founder played his acoustic guitar to the Eagles song “Hotel California” during a fundraising meeting.
  • Custom and Animated Backgrounds – One executive even built his own solution to create animated and custom backgrounds for video calls that turned into its own startup that got funded.
  • Highway Billboards – An entrepreneur advertised his start-up idea on several miles of California highways frequently traveled by Silicon Valley investors using the Adopt-A-Highway program.

Initially, I got a really good chuckle. Then I thought about it more and realized that these were examples of people who inherently understood that they needed to stand out to the investor audience. To do so, they needed to do something different than all the other entrepreneurs. As Dr. Seuss famously said, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

Investors are still investing. But, more than ever, entrepreneurs need to do something to capture and hold their attention and stick in their minds.

What are you going to do to stand out?

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

How to Make the Move to a Virtual Sales Force

This is a Guest blog post from Chris Tully

Tips for Hiring a Virtual Sales Team | Lucidchart Blog

 

As we start our sixth month of quarantine across America, it is time to come to grips with the fact that some version of “virtual selling” is here to stay. What this means for leadership is that just adapting in-person techniques to digital/virtual sales will no longer get the job done.
Instead, teach your team how to make the move to a virtual sales force.

Leaders are preparing for a greater virtual sales presence than anticipated earlier in the pandemic. A recently released Gartner study reports that in June, “a remarkable 23% of CSOs reported plans to permanently shift field sales to virtual sales roles” with another 36% unsure whether or not to do the same.

The study provides a framework for leadership to enable virtual selling. Here are key skills and tools to help your team effectively sell from remote settings.

Provide Virtual Sales Force Tools

High-speed Internet – This is mandatory for smooth virtual communications and presentations. You should consider funding team members’ Internet access upgrades since they are working from home by necessity. Salespeople represent your company – do you want potential clients to equate poor quality audio/video with the quality of your products or services? Spend the money, and upgrade those plans to gigabit internet, where possible.

High-end wired or wireless headsets
 – Salespeople are keen observers of body language. Without the advantage of being in the room with clients, it’s even more important for them to be able to hear the nuances of everything that’s said.

A reliable meeting platform
 – Zoom, MSFT Teams, Mitel MiCollab, GoToMeeting, Cisco Enable, Google Meet, and more: these are what companies are using and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. Standardize the best solution for your company based on your existing technology stack. Be prepared to train your sales people on several platforms – they’ll need to be nimble enough to navigate clients’ preferred platforms, too.

Get your CFO onboard that these are all essential purchases right now and for the foreseeable future.

Tightly Integrate Sales and Marketing

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital B2B buying and selling. A McKinsey & Company survey report and infographic highlight the shift from in-person to digital, and what B2B sellers need to do to adapt.

Integrate sales and marketing processes
 – You need a demand generation strategy across platforms. The strategy should have well thought out social media, email, and outbound telesales support, and well-defined sales processes once a lead arrives. Make sure all your sales channels are incentivized to collaborate.

Optimize your e-commerce channel
 – For buyers’ ease and convenience, re-design to address top buyer frustrations with company websites. These are difficulty finding products, a long ordering process, hard-to-find contact information, and technical glitches.

Utilize online sales-enablement functions that intersect with buyers
 – AI-based conversational analytics help manage the full sales pipeline. Solutions such as sales chat bots, which reach back into your product database and answer questions, are becoming quite popular. These tools exist to improve customer experience and aid client problem-solving. They also improve the leads you capture from site visitors and help build your knowledge about their buying preferences.

Provide a robust CRM solution – 
Make sure both sales and marketing can access the same data. Customer relationship management (CRM) software should give your teams access to a full sales and marketing mix such as contacts, accounts, opportunity management, and campaigns, so both teams can work seamlessly toward increasing your revenue.

Provide Virtual Sales Force Training and Readiness

Sales people have limited attention spans (just like clients). So here are some hints for re-thinking sales training.

Deliver virtual training in tight 60-minute sessions
 – Break each session down into two parts: 50% presentation and 50% interaction (case studies, conversation, and questions). Limit training content to only the most valuable information, with a focus on understanding the client’s perspective.

Record and digitally archive sessions
 so they’re accessible to the team – This will be valuable for those who miss a session, need a refresher, and for future team members.

Role-play behaviors
 – How you talk with clients and how they respond is different virtually than in person. Role play across all stages of a sale, from first introduction to close. Have team members take turns being the sales person and the client; their calls will be more effective as a result.

Practice using presentation tools
 – Because everyone will be training from different remote locations, practice using multiple presentational tools and platforms with each other. This also helps people find the tools that are the most comfortable for them, which will support their ease and confidence in front of clients.

Changing to a virtual sales force also changes the way you think about and manage your sales team. Be prepared to reallocate your investments, and rethink sales strategies and performance metrics.

 

 

 

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com

“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.
I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.
Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”