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Best Practices Sales Skills

You Need Both: Sales Process AND Sales Methodology

In the sales performance space, there are those who think sales process and methodology are the same thing, and those who realize they’re different. If you couldn’t tell which side of the debate I’m on, they’re different, and do different jobs.

Some of the confusion is that both are kinds of process, although methodology isn’t always as predictably sequential.

Process:  Selling Activities.

The term selling process refers to the actions a selling organization takes along its selling journey. These steps might include (but might not be limited to):

  • Prospecting
  • Qualifying
  • Needs Analysis
  • Demonstration
  • Proposal
  • Negotiation
  • Close and Implementation.

When these are detailed sufficiently, people throughout the selling organization know what deliverables they need to support the process at what times, what documentation is expected, what resources are typically required, and much more.  Process grows into a “playbook”.

Notice that these are seller-centric activities.  Once your company builds its sales process, this are a great way to track an opportunity pursuit through your funnel or pipeline.

Today’s CRMs are mostly built around processes.  They usually come with a generic process provided, and one of the first thing a company needs to do is define their process in that CRM.  Manager dashboards will also be boilerplate at first.  It’s commonplace to track selling activities like calls made, emails sent, lunches bought, demos scheduled, and more.  Once you have management reports and analytics defined and refined, sales managers can track a lot of activities really efficiently.

There is one thing missing from sales process:  the customer’s buying process.  Tracking only selling activity fulfills the great promise of  CRM when:

  • All customers buy the same way
  • Every customers is equally engaged
  • All customers have the same needs
  • Customers respond equally to the same “value messages” (a term I really disrespect.I’ve blogged on this before, and am likely to do so again in the near future).

Every sales professional knows what doesn’t happen when they keep churning through a sales process while a customer has not progressed through a buying process.  Methodology solves for that.

Methodology: Selling Behaviors (which engage a buying process.)

Sales methodology consists of trainable, coachable, trackable selling behaviors that engage a customer in a buying process.

It’s easy to measure process, like number of telephone dials (especially with CRM/phone system integration). Measuring number of quality conversations is hard.  Don’t do either in isolation.

Ironically, I hear sales leaders tell anyone who will listen that they need to measure quality and not quantity…while looking at sales process analytics.  The reason that they’re achieving the results they may be because they’re measuring activity.

Methodology…behaviors…keeps the sales process aligned with the buying process.  Methodology behaviors might look like (but might not be limited to):

  • Understand the buying process being used
  • Understand all of the buying personas.
  • Planning and executing meeting plans to uncover all needs, all desired outcomes, and the value of all of those outcomes to the various personas.
  • Building a case for change, including adding personas where your value warrants.
  • Cultivating internal support for a proposal.
  • Aligning demonstration, then proposal points to persona outcomes.
  • Building the value case
  • Facilitating any customer change management, and setting implementation up for success.

Because every customer buys differently, methodology tends to be less rigidly sequential.  The customer buy process drives methodology, but should generally track with a well-designed (that is, customer-centric) selling process.  For example, change management appears prominently near the end of a sales process, but methodology should have uncovered individual persona outcomes and developed supporters of the change all through a pursuit.

Process vs. Methodology:

 First, I should point out that by “vs.” above, I don’t mean that there is an either/or choice.  You need both.  The “vs.” is because I want to contrast the two to show why you need both.

Process vs Methodology Table

Process organizes and orchestrates the complex web of selling organization activity around selling and delivering the company’s offer.  Methodology organizes the selling organization’s effort to facilitate a customer buying decision.

Sales process is measured by activities, which can be measured by any current CRM system I’ve ever heard of.  Methodology is about selling behaviors; only a few exceptional CRMs track behaviors, although most can be modified to do so.

Sales process, as simple activities, can generally be learned and mastered via a straightforward “knowledge transfer” class of training.  Methodology involves behavior change, and requires some element of coaching to lock in behavior change.

Process adoption and compliance results in selling efficiency, whereas methodology focuses on building customer-perceived value of your offer.  Great methodology drives customer value, which makes selling more effective. Efficiency and effectiveness can both drive up sales, but in different ways.  Efficiency might mean churning more prospects through a low close-ratio process each month.  Effectiveness could mean increasing the close ratio.  They aren’t mutually exclusive. They are synergistic.

Don’t Confuse the Two.  Don’t Limit Yourself to Either/Or.

I hope that you found this compare and contrast article useful.  Process and Methodology are both worthwhile pursuits. I help clients with both, and they feel different.  Please comment below, or contact me directly if you have any detailed questions.

To your success!

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Best Practices Investing Personal Development Sales

Your 2019 Resolution: Control the Suck of Discounting Expense

There is almost nothing you can do for your business with a higher financial payback than getting your arms around your discounting practices. I want you to make a New Year’s resolution to put rigor and discipline around your discounting (some call it “pricing exceptions”) policy and processes.

Why is this so important for your business?  Simple math.  When you sell your product or service to a customer, your costs to fulfill your part of the deal are the same—regardless of whether you discounted or not.

Discounting changes only two lines on your P&L statement: the top line and the bottom line.

When you grant a discount, every dollar you surrendered comes off of your bottom line, and goes to the customer’s.

For an operating business, your profits are made at the top line.  A pricing and/or discounting decision is what drives profits.  Once you see a number on the bottom line, it’s too late to do anything about it.  Discount expense sucks the life out of companies.

Resolution Part #1. Take Stock of Your Current Discounting Practices.

I am thrilled to help my readers analyze where their discount dollars go and their system for allocating those dollars. Let’s examine how you make discounting decisions together.  If you’d like to prepare, or go through the exercise on your own.  Some of the questions we’ll go through:

How many discount dollars do you spend per year?

  • Formal, through an exception process?
  • Invisible, through salesperson autonomy?
  • Does everyone in your company know that discount dollars=profit dollars? Do they act like it?

What is your price exception/discount process now?

  • What are the steps?
  • Who are the players?
  • What information/documentation is used?
  • How is the discount justified?
    • Is customer value measured/characterized? How?
  • Do you always know what the customer thinks of yours andthe competitor’s value (or just their price)?
  • How consistently do your people follow your process?
  • Have you (or can we) analyze how discount dollars are distributed? Are there concentrations by territory/salesperson, region, customer, industry, time of year?  Can we explain any apparent anomalies?
  • What do we get in exchange for price concessions?Are there any salesperson/regional/market trends in that data?

What These Questions Uncover.

The first thing we’ll discover is how well you track discount dollars. Since every one of these dollars is also a profit dollar, you need to know where every one goes. If you don’t know where your discount dollars go, your business is leaking profits.

The questions above help both of us understand how you make pricing and discounting decisions, where the discount dollars go, and if there are any suspicious trends.

Are my discount dollars being over-allocated toward:

  • The whiniest salespeople?
  • The favorite salespeople?
  • The whiniest customers?
  • A certain market?
  • At a certain time of the month/quarter/year?

That last one frustrates the heck out of me: I’ve held P&L responsibility, and have never felt that an unprofitable booking this month beats a profitable booking next month.  I’d feel that way even without the perversion of what month-end discounting teaches my customers.

I also want to explore the basis of discounting (whether/how much) decisions.  Squeaky wheel?  Best at gaming the system?  Price-based? Or…value based?

The Gold Standard of Discount Systems:  Customer Value Based.

99% of the time you hear “your price is too high”, what the person is really saying is either “your value is too low”, or “I’m inviting you to help me understand your value”.  I specialize in helping my clients have those discussions effectively. I can point you to a methodology which will steer those conversations toward value and away from price…and certainly away from unnecessary discounts.

If you have a solid methodology for understanding customer value, some great things happen to your discounting practices:

  • Discounting is purposeful. It no longer feels as random or arbitrary.
    • Your people will understand the system and feel more fairly treated
    • You might quiet the squeaky wheels; the people who scream the loudest for discounts.
  • You will be confident in your discounting decisions.
    • You’ll make better decisions about product enhancements, market entries, even market exits.
  • You will discount less and profit more.
  • You will produce more accurate forecasts. Knowing customer value is the same as knowing customer motivation. When you truly know value, you are intimately engaged with the customer’s innermost buying decision dynamics.

Resolution Part #2. Build A Value Based Pricing/Discounting System.

I can help you if you want.  Here are some options:

1. I’m feeling pretty good about the latest draft of my book on the subject.  If you’ll give me merciless feedback on it, I’ll send you a .pdf copy to review.  The book will guide you toward developing a better pricing/discounting system.

2. Let’s talk. Reach out at mark@boundyconsulting.com.  If you want to work toward a system together, prepare for our call by looking through the “take stock” questions above, and  prepare any questions for me.

Whatever you do, and however you choose to get help, please do it. The road to failure is paved with poorly justified discounting decisions.  I want you on a better path.

To your success!

Categories
Marketing Personal Development Sales

Sales Culture, Elevated.

This article is part three of a three-part series on the future of sales performance.

In parts 1 and 2, I wrote that:

  • CRM alone not enough; in fact, many companies have found it’s the tail that wags the dog.
  • Process, and even more importantly, methodology are real difference-makers. Coaching process and methodology makes performance improvement sustainable.

In this article, we’re going to dig a little deeper into the coaching that drives long term sales success. Sustaining world-class performance is about sales culture; culture that ingrains process into the operating rhythm of the organization. Process and methodology do no good unless they are internalized by a sales organization, and the process of internalizing establishes a strong sales culture. When a methodology becomes the default go-to-customer approach for your organization, it enables the three goals of a sales system:

  1. Drive deal-winning behaviors, not simple activity-based measures.
  2. Re-vector at-risk deals, identifying and mitigating risks with opportunities.
  3. Replicate winning across, raising the performance of all sellers in the team.

Dynamic coaching culture

CSO Insights has conducted extensive research supporting the value of a dynamic coaching culture.  The research shows that companies whose coaching culture captures analytics from successful sales, refines sales data into define winning sales behaviors – then supports sales leaders as they coach those behaviors across the sales force outperform their peers.  Dynamic coaching culture is different than simple coaching:  there is a closed loop between results and how process and methodology is emphasized by the organization.  This loop drives self-sustainment and continuous improvement.

Dynamic coaching cultures experience far superior outcomes than average sales organizations:

  • A higher percentage of these companies meet revenue plan.
  • More reps make quota. The gains come from across the sales force, not just a few high performers
  • Win rates are higher. This means forecasts are more accurate
  • Late loss rates are lower. Fewer of those resource-sucking late losses that ruin sales productivity
  • Staff turnover is lower. Lose fewer of the people you want to keep, rehab more of the marginal performers, converting them to keepers.

A robust self-sustaining coaching culture builds the foundation for two things:

  1. Sales performance. The outcomes above are worthwhile goals in themselves, but…
  2. Self-sustaining culture (manager bench strength, coaching acumen, leadership succession/career path). Building a sales culture to last means building sales careers worth having.

The Past, Present and Future of Dynamic Coaching

Let’s look at where we’ve been, and where we’ve led our industry: coaching on CRM-resident tools.

I’ve worked with Miller Heiman Group (and its predecessor, Miller Heiman) tools for almost 30 years. Success in my business is all about delivering outcomes for clients. The reason Miller Heiman Group is the largest in the B2B space is that we’re the partner sales organizations keep engaged with longer…we have the least leaky bucket…growing our clients is how we grow.

Based upon thousands of client engagements, I can tell you with absolute conviction that the key to long-term success is in not conducting training events, but executing long term change in selling behavior organization-wide.  A successful engagement is almost universally the one with a robust component of sales manager coaching, where front line managers become the primary change agents.

The gold standard of coaching is personally diagnosed and delivered by the front-line sales manager (FSM).  This kind of coaching is high-touch, requiring not only discipline by the FSM, but a corporate capability in developing coaches and prioritizing coaching activity over the many other demands on an FSMs time.

While manager-delivered coaching is preferable, it is not always available at the right time for every deal.  We have also noticed that a large proportion of coaching is on a core set of selling behaviors.  That is, managers tend to diagnose and coach the same behaviors over and over.  With the right methodology and the right CRM system (one that helps track deal-moving behaviors, not meaningless activities), an intelligent coaching platform is possible.

Where you can go:

  • Instead of manager-initiated intervention, how about system-led?
    • Not today’s activity-based prompts. Selling behavior-based prompts…seller actions that moves deals, not activity that occupies selling time
  • A rules engine, based upon 40 years of Miller Heiman Group expertise, which can diagnose those repetitive selling
  • AI/big data capabilities which can take it even further.

Where are You?  Where Do You Want to Go?

When you’re tracking and managing to activities, today’s CRM can work just fine.  On the other hand, when you’re trying to establish a rigorous selling culture with a consistent management cadence, you can more efficiently accomplish the three goals of a world-class sales system::

  1. Drive winning selling actions. This means actions, not activities.
  2. Change deal outcomes more rapidly identify at-risk opportunities and figure out how to re-vector them toward success.
  3. Replicate success. Learn what behaviors predict success in your business, and turn them into a rules engine for your sales tool to automatically recommend.

We Can Take You There

Miller Heiman Group has leveraged over 40 years of sales performance expertise into a powerful set of tools.  They have bundled methodology with a dynamic coaching application, which can be freestanding or integrated with a CRM system. It helps front line sales leaders by lightening the routinized part of their coaching load, allowing them to concentrate their time on higher level opportunity strategy.  Sellers become more effective by building sound selling behavior habits.  Finally, senior sales leaders see improved results, and have insight-producing analytics into how to improve sales even more.

I’m excited about this new capability, and am thrilled to offer it to clients. Contact me to discuss whether we might drive winning actions, change deal outcomes, and replicate success in your organization.

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