Monthly Archives: May 2020


Are you making changes to your sales organization with new leadership, a new CRM, going after a new channel or larger clients, or trying to sell solutions that cross multiple lines of business?You probably won’t be surprised to learn that roughly 70% of efforts by organizations to change direction are unsuccessful.  So, what are some ways to bend the curve on your firm’s outcomes?


When making changes, it’s important to consider that one major reason that change efforts often fail is that the organization is not aligned around the change.  Not surprisingly, people are generally resistant to change. Employees often prefer their current behaviors to new ones and will look for reasons not to change; and managers or peers who are not supportive, or even indifferent, about the change might be just the ticket they’re looking for to stay on their current path.

Gaining alignment to change current practices is different from a leader gaining consent to or compliance with their idea.  It involves effective teamwork to, first, make the right decisions about the change and, then, gain alignment around the change decided upon.


How do you do this?  Research from Richard Hackman, whose work on high performing teams lasted beyond his years, and Ruth Wageman (both Harvard PhD’s and organizational behaviorists),  proved that 80% of a team’s performance could be traced to three essential questions:

  1. Are they a real team?
  2. Do they have a compelling purpose?
  3. Do they have the right people?

Allow me to add some color to each, using an example that you’re assembling a task force to choose or change your organization’s CRM system.


A team that’s “real” is bounded, interdependent and stable.  Will the membership be defined?  To choose the right CRM for your firm, will the members need to draw from each other’s experience and insights? Can you count on the members to stay involved from start to finish, and will their managers support this?


A purpose that is “compelling” is clear, challenging and consequential.  Are members clear on the scope of the task?  Does their work end with a systems recommendation, or do they continue on through negotiation, or possibly implementation?  Will participating on this task force engage and stretch people in a way that feels good?  And do they see this system change as something that will help their colleagues, the business and give them pride?


The “right” people are those who can best contribute to the team’s mission.  For a CRM selection, does each member bring a perspective that will lead to the right outcomes?  Do they have teamwork skills that will enable them to operate effectively with others in contributing to the task force’s work?  Will they bring a diversity of thought to ensure there is some healthy tension in how decisions are made?


Ensuring your firm makes the right decisions, and is aligned around them, takes patience.  It’s way quicker to announce a decision and tell people to get on it.  That’s exactly what lands most initiatives in the 70% of fails.  If the change is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.  Getting into the 30% success club starts with a real team, a compelling purpose and the right people.

If you’re frustrated by a team that is charged with important work connected to your growth aspirations, but which is not aligned and incapable of producing optimal decisions, I can help.  By running a quick diagnostic – based on Hackman’s and Wageman’s work – we can gain clarity on both their challenges as a unit, and how to support them effectively, so that your efforts succeed.

Consultative Selling with a Wooden Racquet

Does your sales organization gain enough client information to win consistently?

Are you old enough to remember Bjorn Borg, the Swedish tennis phenom?  You know, long blond hair, headband, scruffy face.  His fitness and innovative topspin forehand helped him win 11 Grand Slam titles in the 1970’s.  Less memorable was his comeback in the 1990’s.  Borg quickly learned that a wooden racquet and topspin were no longer game-changers.

Likewise, the phrase “consultative selling” may bring back memories.  It should, it’s been around for over 40 years.  It’s tempting to dismiss the approach as old-school.  Like Borg’s wooden racquet, surely this tool won’t win deals today.  Right?

Wrong.  For two reasons.  First, there is a misunderstanding of what it is.  And, second, there is an incorrect assumption that everyone does it.

There’s a commonly held belief among salespeople (and their managers) that consultative selling is about identifying and addressing a customer’s needs.  While these things are important, they don’t go far enough.  For a long time now, the internet has empowered clients to source and research their own list of vendors.

In a sales meeting today, asking a few questions and describing your capabilities isn’t enough to win, when other vendors can do the same thing and your client knows it.  Today, selling consultatively means asking deep enough questions, and listening acutely, to uncover an accurate and complete picture of a client’s urgent and compelling needs.  Do your salespeople do this? Do your sales managers know how to do this?

The second incorrect assumption is that, because consultative selling has been around a while, everyone must do it.  Have you ever heard the expression, “common knowledge isn’t common practice?”  It applies. Based on a survey of over 1.9 million salespeople from 200 industries and 130 countries, how many are strong at the consultative selling competency?  Get ready for it: 12%!

This means that, when 10 salespeople compete for a deal, only 1 of them will ask the kind of questions that enables her to position value in a way that a client will find compelling enough to agree to a change.  What about the other 9?  They walk away with participation trophies or, in this case, believing that they would have won if they had a lower price.

Does your sales organization sell consultatively, or just talk about it?  For leaders who are driven to accelerate growth, I offer these five proof points to test whether your people are in the 12% or 88% of consultative sellers:

  1. Client knowledge: When you ask your people about a new business opportunity, are their answers limited to either their perspective (on size, timing or competitive advantages) or that of one decision maker (“he loves us”)? Or are they able to articulate the client’s urgent need, voiced by multiple people in the decision chain, that the status quo must change, and change now?  This requires less talking, more high-mileage questions and more listening; how comfortable with silence is your sales team in client meetings? Do they wait for the client to fully unpack their concerns and challenges, or do they rush in to “solve” what they think is their problem?
  2. DQ’s: What percentage of pipeline opportunities get disqualified (“DQ”), rather than pursued, by your team? This takes client knowledge (see #1 above) and a disciplined process that is supported by your managers.
  3. Win conversion: What’s the ratio between proposals and wins? How often do deals die at the proposal stage?  If your people are gaining strong client knowledge (#1), and they (and their managers) use rigorous qualifying criteria and process (#2), they should be winning 50-80% of deals they decide to propose or pitch.
  4. Win quality: What percentage of new wins meet your criteria for a solid deal? How often does your sales team (including managers) say they lose on price?  What percentage of them require discounting, or an exception to minimums, or require non-standard workarounds?  Who benefits from this new win?
  5. Trending: Are you seeing upward movement in the organization’s ability in the above areas?

Gaining objective, accurate and predictive data on your sales team’s consultative selling skill — as well as the 20 other competencies required to sell effectively today — will tell you how to properly shape and support the sales effort to bend the revenue curve.

If you track the data above in your CRM, and feel confident about its accuracy, these proof points should be easy for you to measure.  If you don’t have access to that data, and are relying on your sales managers, how do you feel about their knowledge and objectivity to give you a true read on your sales organization’s selling skills?

If you would like a clear picture on the strength of your sales organization’s selling abilities and potential, I can help you with that.  In the meantime, here is a link to a free whitepaper on what the data say about “The Science of Sales Effectiveness.”

Bjorn Borg might never have won another tournament with his wooden racquet.  If your sales team is going to market with stale consultative selling skills, do yourself a favor: buy them a new racquet and arm them with the skills they need to come home with more than a participation prize.


Will Your Dogs Hunt? (What the data says about sales “hunters”)

How’s your new business development going during this crazy “new normal?” Are your people getting out there and hunting for new opportunities so your business can continue to thrive?

However you feel about using the phrase “hunter” in sales (wouldn’t that make clients a target to be tracked, followed and killed?), it’s generally used to describe a salesperson’s skill level in finding new clients or new logos.

According to research data from my colleagues at Objective Management Group, who maintain a database of over 1.9 million sales professionals, in 200 industries and 130 countries, only 41% of salespeople are strong in the hunting competency.  So if you’re feeling as though your salespeople are waiting for some incredibly rare planetary realignment to make an unsolicited prospect call, the data backs up your feelings.

What’s holding back your salespeople? The research looks at the following contributing factors in determining whether a salesperson will hunt: perfectionism, rejection fatigue, excuse-making, need for approval, volume of company-generated leads and referrals.

What role do your managers play in finding and developing hunters?  What are the consequences in your firm for a salesperson not hitting their metric of new clients, not maintaining a strong pipeline of opportunities, not sourcing their own referrals or leads, and not being able to convert a network of contacts into new opportunities?

If your business needs more new clients to reach your goals, you might consider pursuing these six best practices to gain better outcomes:

  1. Get good data: Your biz dev people have value, after all your firm decided to hire and keep them all these years. What’s less clear is their ability to hunt for new business.  Gaining objective, accurate and predictive data on their hunting skills will make it clear which dogs will hunt and how to support this part of their work.
  2. Skill them up: It may be years, if ever, since your salespeople were trained in how to prospect.  Today, digital tools have changed the landscape – both for prospects and for your sales team.  Where needed, get them re-grounded and current in the principles of effective prospecting.
  3. Challenge them: There’s a reason mamma birds push their babies out of the nest! Hunting for new business is always going to be tougher than servicing current clients and fielding internal leads and referrals.  Pushing them out of the nest involves aligned and consistent messaging across your leadership team, so they understand there’s no place to hide from this important sales responsibility.
  4. Track them: If you don’t already, use your CRM as the source for tracking new business metrics, such as the number of pure prospect calls, the number of new opportunities created, and their efficiency ratio in converting calls into opportunities. If you are tracking these stats already, volumes and trends should be consistently discussed in meetings between leaders and managers, and between managers and salespeople.
  5. Support them: Be empathetic that changing behaviors and doing things that feel uncomfortable is tough and takes time.  That means managers committing time to observe prospecting calls, and to coach development of prospecting skills.  Equally important, this also means that leaders should coach managers on their coaching effectiveness.
  6. Compensate them: One skill shared by all salespeople is how to max their payout.  Be sure that your comp plan is not only competitive with peer organizations; it should offer salespeople and their managers greater incentives for tougher work like winning new revenue from new clients.

Hunters play an invaluable role in growing your business.  Using the six best practices above will ensure that your sales organization is driving new business development; and allowing its salespeople to engage their inner hunters.  And will tell you which of your dogs will hunt.

Score a free road-test of the sales talent assessment I use to assess a salesperson’s hunting competency (in addition to 20 others), by clicking here.  Let me know what you think!