Those who know me well know that there are five things that I absolutely love: sales, marketing, technology, baseball and satire. That’s probably why I enjoy the show Silicon Valley so much, as it combines four of the five loves.
I enjoyed the first two years in the journey of Pied Piper, and this year I’ve had a ball watching as this fictional startup readies itself to actually go-to-market. Now usually when I watch this show, it’s Sunday night and I’m not thinking about real business. Instead I enjoy the fantasy.
However, I have not been able to shake a scene from this season’s third episode. In this episode, the founder and CTO of the company is trying to convince the hired CEO that the “greatest sales team on the planet” should be able to sell a superior product, even if it’s a bit tougher. As the video below shows, the CEO responds that the only way to keep the best salespeople is to give them the easy stuff to sell.
At first, I just thought it was funny. But, I couldn’t get the line out of my mind...the only way to keep the best salespeople is to give them the easy stuff to sell...if you don’t do that, they’ll jump ship to the people who do.
It’s funny because it’s totally true. Think about it. You’re a top salesperson, you’ve built a great network, know how to tell a story and build a solid business case. You’re in demand...and you like to be paid. Where are you going to work?
This simple, funny satirical line sums up the challenge that the vast majority of mid-market companies face. They haven’t made their products/services easy to sell, so they eliminate themselves from competing for the really good salespeople. They’re competing for the average and above average salespeople (the only ones who will to try to sell the hard stuff). The only problem is that (and please don’t take this the wrong way), they’re not good enough to do so. So, you’ve got to make it easy for them to sell.
It can be quite the conundrum for a growing company, but the bottom line is that if you want to sustain, let alone scale, growth, you have to make your products/services easy for salespeople to sell.
How can you do that? We could write books on the subject, but here are three strategies to get off to a strong start:
1. Be maniacally clear about your demand generation strategy and go-to-market approach
You need to be totally clear about who you’re selling to, the problems you address, the reason people should talk with you and why you’re different and better (different alone is not enough). If you’re leaving it to your sales team to “figure it out,” it’s going to cost you money.
This means that you’ve fully developed your buyer personas (and refine them regularly), designed your market message to deliver a clear point-of-view and challenge your customers’ thinking. To predictably grow sales you must be able to deliver a sales playbook that clearly lays out the who, where, what, when, how and why for your sales team. You want salespeople executing, not thinking about what to do next.
2. Build a lead generation and management machine that allows salespeople to sell
Salespeople like to sell. It tends to be part of the process they enjoy most, and even when it’s not, it’s the part that enables them to get paid well. The absolute hardest hire in business is someone with the moxie, discipline, intelligence, acumen and willingness to manage the active sales process with prospects.
When you’ve got someone who can do that, you want to be sure they’re maximizing the time they spend doing that. Plus, the salespeople who are good at it want to do that as much as they can. Frankly, anytime they’re not performing that function, you’re overpaying them.
Prospecting and lead generation is crucial to growth. You cannot accelerate growth if you aren’t accelerating lead generation. But that doesn’t mean that salespeople should be heavily involved in prospecting (as I’ve written before, it’s far too important a task to be left to a salesperson).
To grow predictably, you must build a lead generation machine that is working all the time, not only when salespeople decide to focus on it. This not only makes your growth effort more effective, it also makes it far easier to recruit better salespeople (remember they want selling to be easy).
Let me highlight what I mean by this. On occasion, we assist our clients when they need to hire salespeople. We recently completed such an effort. In the process, we utilize a recruiting firm to source potential candidates and get the appropriate message in front of them.
The firm we use was involved in a recruiting process for one of their direct clients who was searching for a traditional sales rep that would be responsible for managing all aspects of the sales process (prospecting as well as selling). Here’s the difference in response between the two efforts:
- In the traditional search, the recruiting message was put before 244 candidates with a response rate of under 5%. All candidates either declined moving forward after learning more about the position or were eliminated from consideration. Ten weeks into the process, the position is still open with no viable candidates identified.
- In the search we did (where a lead generation process is working) 107 candidates were targeted. The response rate was almost 15%, with eight candidates moving to a formal interview. Of the eight, five candidates were deemed capable of doing the job and the CEO was able to choose the candidate he thought was best. The process took less than six weeks from beginning to start date.
3. Stop following your gut, and start using data
This is my biggest complaint about modern day sales. Executives are still arguing about what they think will work or by what their gut tells them, when there are facts and data that can be used to make better decisions.
An effective sales playbook is always a work in progress. The market is constantly changing and shifts regularly occur. Observations are great, but humans are notoriously bad at picking up on the changes that matter before the damage is already done.
Salespeople are almost always doing the best they can, but they’re quick to adjust because things don’t feel right. I’ve wasted more time than I care to think about debating with salespeople about what they think should work and what I think. I finally realized that the pursuit is worse than a waste of time, so I’ve stopped. Now I let the data tell the story.
Salespeople are competitive and need to know the score. Yet very few sales organizations provide salespeople with the data needed to know the score. Imagine playing football where you ran a whole bunch of plays and no one knew what the score was until after the game when they were told if they won or not.
You can’t even imagine it because it makes so little sense. Yet that’s precisely how we manage salespeople. The only score they know is when a sale closes, or some made up calculation from a pipeline review that’s more fiction than reality.
You must identify the actions that cause sales, identify the metrics that track those actions effectively and share that data with your sales team. When you do that, you spend less time managing salespeople because they can manage themselves.
While these three strategies won’t get you all the way there, they’ll get you down the path quite a ways. With that, selling your products/services will become much, much easier; and soon you won’t need to best salespeople to succeed (although that will be the time they start asking you if they can join your team).