A 12-Step Program to Exceed Quota

Tony Hughes

A 12-Step Program to Exceed Quota

Sales is broken, it's sick. It's time to kick the social crack pipe! Doug Davidoff recently posed the question, "To Sell or Not to Sell" in this ingenious post rebuking a CEO that's eschewing ever hiring another salesperson??!!

Anthony Iannarino's take down of this post was so classic I must lift this paragraph here to share with my audience. I let out a cheer! "This CEO has replaced salespeople with a 'customer success team' that he believes offers a different experience because of their consultative approach and because their intentions are pure. This CEO doesn't understand that salespeople lead when it comes to customer success, and that most take a consultative approach. Mistakenly, he believes his customer success team is more dedicated to his customer's success than a salesperson who would stand to gain financially for making a sale. I defy you to find me anyone outside of the salesperson who is more concerned about their customer getting the outcome they paid for than the salesperson. But it's not about their commission; it's about their word."

There's a phenomenal amount of bad information masking the good and endless consternation about enterprise sales people being replaced by AI. Have you used SIRI? Have no fear, if that thing can't get my auto-corrects right without generating something hysterical and profane, the singularity is not too near and you're not going to be replaced any time soon. Failure to get back to basics and pick up a phone could be the bigger risk, insidious and lurking. I'll get into why below but I want to first console you that you do have job security. The bigger risk is falling in love with the easy, hacked and shortcut approach which bankrupts achievement of excellence in any chosen field.

There's a stigma that 'sales people' are the laziest people in the world. Want to get a sales rep to stop working? Put a phone in front of them. Better yet, put a list of customers ready to buy in front of them. Isn't it ironic? Why is that? The mystery confounds me to this day. The truth is that Sellers are some of the hardest working, block and tackle, ruck and maul, kick and punt, roll up the sleeves and deal with daily insanity 'people', I've ever met. It's a few rotten eggs giving selling a foul smell. Social selling has become the new panacea, or clever opiate of our age. It 'supplements', it does not replace good old fashioned work-ethic. If you wish to avoid the aforementioned scarlet letters on your forehead, be one of the few, the proud and the bold: wear a headset and actually have hard, edgy conversations about real issues with customers - there's no shame in that game! Social media is incredibly addictive and addictive behaviors are reactive by nature. Let's get addicted to proactive sales success!

Yes, e-mail and phone contact and conversion rates are down but it doesn't mean they're extinct. Your sales career may be if you don't generate fresh, qualified and high quality sales opportunities to your pipeline each and every selling day. The amount of sales days in a quarter keeps shrinking faster than executives' attention spans.

By the time you've had the sales kick-off, personality strengths-finding tests, remedial training and endless internal meetings, you start to realize something horrifying: You're probably talking with actual customers less than a third of all your working hours. Rather than figuring out where you're strong, don't you think it's a strength to sell things to people? It's a pathetic state of the industry I'd dub 'over-solutioning' or 'analysis paralysis' and it's a leading contributor to why SVPs of Sales have such short tenure and untold millions of dollars are invested in sales processes, programs, trainings, shiny objects and the latest craze. Corporations spend exponentially on sales than all marketing. According to Business Insider, "Salesforce has grown its sales and marketing cost every year, and it still accounts for more than half of its total revenue. [Box] sales and marketing costs... at one point were higher than its total revenue." Sales forces retain a fraction of what they learn despite these pricey enablement efforts cutting into valuable selling time where they could actually move the needle for your business. This is not to say training is not valuable if it's instituted year round as an organizational competency.

Those 57% Challenger surveys that purport that buyers are much further in the decision making process are only so accurate because just like a science experiment, it's very very hard to factor for 'controls' in human systems, especially something as Black Swan volatile as the vicissitudes of key business decision makers, that can be fickle like the wind. After all, we're talking about a process that is highly subjective, emotionally driven and governed by market factors, pressure, internal politics and risk. This is a highly dynamic, explosive system not unlike an unstable super giant star ready to go supernova sending your deal into a black hole. Don't bank on it!

Buying processes may change but human nature will not. "Crazy busy prospects" [Jill Konrath] are even busier and what do you do when you're far too busy? Something's got to give. You filter out the white noise, you star e-mails, you bookmark articles you'll never read and save files to review in the circular file. You thin slice, you cope, you filter out... hard. And this is a smart high integrity thing: You can't be a thousand places at once and you seek a balanced life in order to enjoy the journey and spend time with your family. As a prospect yourself, once you've been "rationally drowned" [Challenger Selling] with enough data, discovery calls and emails to make you blue in the face, you'll probably just call a lifeline, a friend, or someone you trust who is a subject matter expert in the space and can point you at the right solution removing the guesswork. You don't want to make a mistake and everyone is painting on the roses for how 'game-changing' their solution will be. Empty promises and hot wind.

There are just too many variables in the web-enabled information age and too much chaos; I can't tell you how many top officers I still reach on a Friday after 5pm working late, exasperated who exclaim, "I've heard this before! How are you different?" True story. Demand generation with unique compelling value is all the rage. B2B sales is still en vogue but mainly ways to not sell with 'look a squirrel!' automata. Insight selling, consultative selling, solution selling, and strategic selling are all still working in the field, although the new guard shouts from mountain tops that it's the "Death of X-type of Selling." Well that's great, if you sell sales widgets. Nice job Wile E. Coyote, this Road Runner got away!

News flash: Selling is alive and well despite the dystopian prediction it risks full blown Minority Report automation by 2020. Is insight selling with the exact same insights your competitors are using useful? No, it creates static white noise. The top vendors in the magic quadrant all download and read each others white papers and take that same insight to the market in their go-to-market strategy. Translation? Self-commoditization. How insightful is a statistic you just heard from both competing vendors? Diluted - information is not insight.

I talk a great deal about Steve Jobs in these selling articles. Why is that? He figured out that customers don't always know what they've always wanted. The same is true in enterprise sales. Although the consumerization of IT is a huge trend in B2B, '90% of the buying cycle is done before buyers speak with sales people' or 'today's customer can easily research an entire marketplace in minutes', as Brian de Haaf so boldly proclaims in his quippy link bait, are patently erroneous musings. Certainty around these statistics is about as certain as Amazon was with their phone and Google was with the first generation of Glass. If you build solutions derivative of what came before, you'll often fail to truly innovate. A return to "first principles" thinking is the Socratic way that Elon Musk leverages in building reusable rockets at 2% of the typical price. Something the space powers that be said was impossible, by the way. You need to break down your solution into fundamental parts and rebuild new unique insight by putting yourself into the shoes, hearts and minds of your dream clients. Understanding them better than competitors do will trump better Challenger decks and chart porn. Yawn!

Focus on the WHY, but which why?

You must do something very different to stand out from the chorus of similar voices. The only difference in modern selling, is the executive buyer is often more informed (or more cynical) and will often reluctantly show up to a first call or meeting with a 'tell me something I haven't heard' crossed-armed mentality. More frequently, they'll delegate you down to who you sound like. Dealing with suppliers and vendors is often a chore. Part of getting to the C-Suite is not only earning the luxury of a corner office but the right to deploy your generals to go do this for you in a flurry of delegation. What I see most frequently is a junior strategists compiling pricing grids from four or five form fills from suppliers ranking on page one of Google. When you call them, they say: 'Well that extra value is all well and good but I just have to put these cost estimates in a spreadsheet to show my manager'. This is not a good place to be: this is a live 'reverse auction', you will be commoditized and priced out at the speed of a daily real-time RFP that Google has become. If all competing solutions look identical, claim to offer the same features and the price is the only differentiator, why wouldn't an executive just choose the lowest one?

YOU are the differentiator. It's not what you sell, it's how you sell it. We've all heard that for decades and I've gone in to great detail about building rapport, achieving trusted advisor status in relationships and how to be an extension of the buyer's team. People do still buy from those they know, like and trust. But that's not really the problem, if you can't get the right meeting in the first place. So this would pose a bigger existential question? How can you compel the actual decision maker to talk to you or meet with you when they are fed up with your ilk? How can you engage early at the most senior levels by speaking 'CXO'? What is that language that cuts through? The insights alone sound like marketing pabulum, fluff for template drip e-mails, gated white papers with a form fill and as specific as they seem with 'mind-blowing' industry trends, it's not personalized enough or tailored to their actual business. Every vendor is showing double-digit ROI and promising the world. I recently saw a slide deck where 3,000% ROI had been achieved. How can you trust that statistic? How can you trust sellers in high technology markets where sensationalized statistics run rampant? I can't help but feel manipulated by this. It repels business: Too good to be true? It probably is!

We have to challenge ourselves to be consultative. We must go deeper into understanding the actual nuances and subtleties of what each customer is facing. It's extremely time consuming but well worth it. So when we engage more deeply with fewer clients - the right clients - we do make progress and sit in the signal while the white noise crashes against the force field created in a quality sales exchange. As Linda Richardson so eloquently puts it: "The [Challenger Sale] missing link is validation of the customer's perspective through questioning and dialogue." Parachuting in to condescend or 'teach' executives that have three decades of experience and even created the industries you're selling into, will surely backfire as fast as trying to help Jackie Chan get a white belt. A little humility goes a long way!

The Challenger Sale book says get in early, upstream and teach with new insight. Easier said than done. How do we do this? Despite numerous best sellers on Insight Selling, it's still murky how we generate said insight when our target is such an august subject matter expert (SME). We need a big idea, a reason to meet, something worthwhile and intriguing to discuss. This is where the concept of ideation and Design Thinking delivers in a practical way. Design Thinking is a framework for ideation and has been with us for years. It's an excellent way of harnessing a team's creative juices to brainstorm and develop ideas and strategies for value and differentiation.

These are the critical success factors as I see them, the daily sales activities and the strategies meets tactics you'll need to win in 2015. I'm familiar with the inner workings of the enterprise software and many times the goal posts get moved on top sales people and teams. It's frustrating to need to make 30% more in annual contract value at the drop of a hat. You won't be affected by this if you maintain the drive and 'will to win', and engage in proactive versus reactive daily activities that will put you into the driver's seat to your own sales destiny. Only you can hold yourself accountable. You need to analyze what works and do more of that each day.

This is how you'll meet your number and even exceed it. Happy manager, happy life. Revenue = happy CEO and many times: a promotion for you or your manager. That's also good for you. Sales is the life blood of the economy and a thriving, growing business and an entire industry can rise and fall on the backs of quality sales people winning and gaining market share. So your role is vastly more important than you may have been lead to believe. Even in a flush funding climate: 'Did somebody say bubble? - pop goes the weasel'. It's still the businesses that consistently retain clients and preserve margins that are immune to market fluctuations. If the bubble bursts, it will be competent sales teams who embody these ideals that continue to keep the best firms thriving.

We do this job not only because we're outgoing, gregarious and love helping people solve complex problems. We do this job because it's high risk, high reward. We each have a commission driven opportunity to advance our careers, take home a fat paycheck and live a life less ordinary, changing our own stars. Maybe I'll see you in plush 5 star holiday destination. Perhaps you'll go on a mission to Haiti and give back. That choice is yours, whatever floats your boat my friend but here's how you'll get there and create momentum:

  1. Acknowledge you have a very real sales problem. Ignorance is not always bliss. Show up 2 hours early and actually use a telephone, every day. It won't kill you but you'll kill your number! I know it's not fashionable and even the most expensive headset ever made still has a Spok-like goofiness but I'd rather be wearing the headset any day. Why? Because peace and quiet, aka: 'Time to think on your feet', and a phone collectively become your best friend. Don't get buried in a reactive avalanche of emails or have your dual flat-screens filled with streaming Twitter feeds. The reps clicking the mouse all day, fail. The loquacious chatter boxes hammering phones still win. Make those calls to your dream clients before your colleagues even show up. This will always be an edge. You can still make all the clicks later on that day. Keep social selling to a minimum just like you would trash TV or candy. We'd all love to believe chocolate bonbons will keep us fit!
  2. A pad and paper or white board are still the world's best self organizing tools.Write down numbers 1 - 20 and then fill in twenty target accounts. Ensure you make 1 - 3 meaningful prospecting touches that day: could be a call, v-mail, e-mail, social outreach, e-mail response, like, share or retweet. Make the touches and write down the names. Burn them into your brain. This will help you know the accounts 10,000 feet deep rather than the shallow end of the kiddie-pool.
  3. Prioritize face to face meetings; actually fly out there. Get on the flights! Bring executive sponsors to the big 'opening' meetings and don't present a 55 slide deck. Showing up and throwing up is a defense mechanism for the weak and insecure. Bring your listening and thinking cap, be adaptive to the real-time feedback client prospects are giving you. Listen listen and then listen more. SPIN selling is key but you ideally need to be in front of a human first. If you're an individual contributor and this collaboration is not realistic, operate with the gravitas and business acumen commensurate with delivering key insight in a consultative fashion as your best CEO would.
  4. Get buy-in from your own executive team. This means access. This means referrals from their LinkedIn. This means tracking down your boss or boss's boss in the hallway and saying: "Look, I see you went to school with the CMO of Acme Corporation. There's a real pain point we can immediately solve and strategic fit with this initiative they've talked about in the press. Could you please help me get introduced?" 99% of people will not rock the boat because they think they have to do it all themselves. That executive will give you one shot at this, so make sure to qualify the hell out of the opportunity. It's a bit of dare to do this, I would be shocked if they said 'no'. They're looking at the revenue reports every day too and want to close business. Be assertive about actually getting referrals through your network. Hold people accountable when they tell you they'll refer. I literally put the referral on my calendar to ask them again, one week later - especially internally!
  5. Read and listen to books on tape like a maniac and apply what you learn. I recently approached a sales person who was dying to move from existing to new business. I gave him a quick list of books to master it, phone tactics and such. His response was: "Well reading books is your thing. I'm more of an action guy." Where do you think I learned how to act? Another amusing rep explained, he was a fan of creating 'strategic spreadsheets' in the back room. Good luck! I'm not saying introverts can't win - they make epic sales engineers and solution consultants who go on to become CTOs. What I am saying is that 'success leaves clues' and the all time "greats" luckily wrote a lot of things down! Mel Brooks: "I have 15 commandments - oops, I have ten commandments!" Their collective knowledge applied represents a quantum leap. Take that leap and try new tactics daily. Honestly, every advance I've made has been about humbling myself, a willingness to learn and study, honing and applying the craft of sales and being extremely curious. Keep asking why! Relentless strategy is developed by filling your quiver with arrows of wisdom from all of those who work beside us in global sales, came before us and further the trade. Sales training is an oft under-appreciated, exhaustive and highly altruistic pursuit. Ignorance is sheer bliss. Readers are leaders and writers are closers. If you're hungry enough to win, you'll be hungry enough to make time. Audible, eBooks on your phone, I hear so so many excuses. It's just like exercise of the mental muscle. The fastest way to accelerate your career is to turn off the TV!
  6. Positive attitude is everything to keep you going. It's a marathon to crush revenue, never a sprint. The hare switches companies every year. The tortoise is now the CEO, firing the impetuous hare! When you're ready to throw in the towel and go home, make one more call. An attitude of gratitude, your attitude determines your altitude, attitude is everything. We hear these platitudes of personal development in a drone but that's because they're so true. You'll never withstand the degree of rejection that it really takes if you're a pessimist or complainer. You're going to work for three to six months, even up to eighteen months on a seven figure opportunity only to have your dreams dashed by an incumbent supplier, status quo or just something Act of God completely out of your control. You can't get down on yourself. You can't sell angry. You can't emotionally react to the headwinds or tempestuous customers. They are always right, ultimately... even when they're dead wrong. We are here to serve them, lead them and be lead; let's be tenacious to help them create change.
  7. Leverage the 10X Rule. These ideas have been sent my way from around the world. I'm familiar with the 10X Moonshot ideals of the Google Way. I've also seen this book in airports. My takeaway is it's highly freeing to your mind to take a goal and multiply it by 10, take a tactic and multiply it by 10. The caveat here is 'more is not more'. But we often are limited by our own small thinking. Go big! If you set a reasonable goal you'll often miss that. As the old adage goes, I'd rather reach for the stars and hit a mountain. Check out this eye opening new research from Velocify and Harvard Business Review which both highlight:
    • "High-performing sales organizations set higher quotas and expect fewer sales reps to meet their quota
    • Mediocre sales organizations were slower to fire under-performing sales reps
    • The best-performing sales teams were more likely to describe themselves as a "cohesive group"
    • High-performing sales organizations put more emphasis on structured sales processes and monitoring than average or under-performing organizations
    • Seventy-five percent of high-performing sales organizations raised 2014 annual quotas more than 10% over 2013 quotas," Steve W. Martin wrote in an HBR.org article.
    • And a full 40% of those top teams increased quotas by a quarter or more.
    • On the other hand, 65% of low-performing organizations and 48% of average teams either kept quota the same or decreased it."
  8. Never eat alone, eat with your clients. This was a great book and great concept. Ironically, once I was reading it alone at a restaurant before meeting with a client and a sly waiter remarked: "Hey, why are you eating alone?" Jill Rowley talks about the ABCs: always be connecting, and that applies here. Coffee, tea and meals are a great chance to commune with clients, prospects and to network. Be consistent, don't take other people's opinions too seriously. You need to follow your own internal compass. Consistency every day: sales is a full contact sport. Consistency of sales process. H2H is a process. Nurture your people internally and externally. "According to multiple, peer-reviewed studies, simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success."
  9. Protect your time and book conference rooms to prospect. Remember, it's a verb. Your internal bureaucracy even in a start-up will fight you to the teeth to intercede so you have absolutely 'zero selling time' during business hours. Block out your calendar and put a do not disturb sign on the door. A hilarious riff on this would be a sign that says Top Secret. Once the CEO breaks down the door, she'll find you startled, actually talking to people that can buy from you. 'Sorry, I was busy selling.' In the modern sales team, the entire organization is constructed to eat into your selling time. Mandatory meetings, eLearning training, HR summits, touchy-feely off-sites, group calls. It's like trying to drive a speed boat into constant white caps - water buffeted by wind - and once the quarter closes you've capsized the boat in a back-flip with an engine fire - and management wonders why the team is so far off the board-level revenue target? Maintain a serene calm, protect your calendar and run your day; don't let it run you. Be the water, fluid carving rock. The things we own, begin to own us if we're not careful so don't let your territory master you. Canvas effectively, leaving no stone unturned. You could almost argue sellers had an edge before computers were invented. As an experiment I'd like to take two President's Club reps and pin them against each other. One with only a computer and tablet and one with just a phone, pager and car. Go! Allez allez! Who do you think would win? The smart money is on the one with zero technology.
  10. Think differently with out-of-the-box sales strategies. I've outlined 13 that are base-jump wing-suit worthy here. I'd rather be remembered than beloved and forgettable, wouldn't you? [Here is the entire secret to networking and why 99% of networking is total waste of time. Read this superb article before you attend any conference to network about anything!] You'll love these maneuvers because they're scary to implement but they can actually work. You'll get noticed, and memorable people get called back. Take personal responsibility for your results as hard as it may be. Blaming the organization is like blaming your golf clubs. Ultimately, you can only affect the things that are under your control - your own actions and responses to things that happen as a result. Blaming the pay plan, a toxic boss or 'corrupt' leadership swimming in the money-pool of avarice is a cop-out. They're probably just trying to figure out the things plainly laid out in this article. You want to impress VCs with your sales results. Do this! It's about accurate predictions, not just growth. Also remember, early wins accelerate growth. Anchor deals but be willing to prove and move, land and expand.
  11. What gets measured gets managed so measure every action each day in a CRM, even on a handwritten scoreboard. This isn't rocket science. Do more of the things that produce concrete results. Qualify every opportunity harder. Don't put crap in your pipeline. If you're a manager, meet with your sales people to double-qualify every opportunity over $10K. Wouldn't you rather have a more accurate pipe than an inflated one where 'happy ears' and wishful thinking cause you to fail. A 3.5X pipeline is not the answer - accuracy and transparency is.
  12. Become a student of Trigger Events, the most important one: changes and transitions. A bad supplier is not enough. You're ingenious PowerPoint deck hitting on the true pain, is not enough. They got funding - great, everyone of your competitors called them expecting the sale. That's not how business works. It's an indicator of change but not a certainty. SPIN Selling will only work once you're in. You need to connect with change agents in accounts who can usher in the new paradigm, who have that shining moment in the first 90 days to actually get budget authority to topple the status quo and invest in the NEW. It's the one moment where the organization is aligned with sellers, expecting an incoming executive to shake things up and do things differently. You need to be there with insight and your disruptive solution to help them do just that.

Now it's your turn: What are the daily habits and routines that get you over the line? What's helping you to consistently open and close deals? Do you agree with the above? What did I miss? When have you exceeded quota and how did you do it? How do you think sales prospecting is fundamentally changing in 2015 and how are you adapting to it? Why do you think you keep missing quota? What changes are within your control?


Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.

Mian image photo by Flickr: Tax Credits


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