Over the holiday break, Mike Weinberg, author of New Sales. Simplified., Sales Management. Simplified., and Sales Truth, shared 20 tips for salespeople to crush 2020. (You should read his tips whether you’re in sales or not.)
Mike was his usual: blunt, humorous and completely on-point. His third tip that there are only three verbs in sales (create, advance and close) is more valuable than most sales training programs I’ve ever attended. (I’d expand this tip to demand generation and marketing as well.)
I was so inspired by Mike’s post that I found myself thinking about what 20 tips I would share, and this blog post is the result of Mike’s inspiration. (Thanks, Mike!)
1. Spend 20 - 50% of your time on early-stage market development (yes, prospecting)
When I present to sales teams, I often start off by talking about what I like to call “the sales and marketing treadmill.” The sales teams immediately nod their heads, understanding that dreadful feeling where you need to run faster and faster, just to stay in place.
One of the things I’ve always noticed about the best salespeople (and I mean those who are consistently at the top) is that they never look rushed. They regularly operate in a state of flow, seemingly never worrying about this week, this month or even this quarter.
I used to wonder how they could always be so calm and relaxed; after all, I was busting my ass. What I realized was that they spent far more time than the typical rep on the early parts of the buyer’s journey. The “pre-funnel” is always stronger than their active funnel.
The single best thing you can do, as a salesperson or sales organization, is to spend at least 20% of your time on early stage, market development/prospecting. You’ll find that as you move towards 50%, the effort (and urgency) required to close sales decreases, and you’ll soon become one of those top salespeople I referred to.
2. Focus on what causes sales and less on closing the sale
From the time I was a young kid, I’ve been fascinated by the relationship between cause and effect. One of the worst things that has happened in the world of sales over the last several decades is that it’s become obsessed with end-stage sales activity. This obsession has led sales and marketing organizations to become increasingly reactive (and what’s scary is that most of them think they’re being proactive).
Organizations are thrusting themselves into the commoditization trap because they only know how to fulfill demand, and they have little to no sense about what creates it. Strong sales organizations (and salespeople) know what causes sales, and that’s what they focus on. They realize that consistently is the byproduct of a strong process, not its focus. Want to gain more leverage and impact from your investments in growth? Focus on what causes sales.
3. Adopt Meaningful Conversations as a key success metric
There are two components that define a Meaningful Conversation:
- You learn something material about the prospect that enables you to customize, personalize and improve your efforts moving forward, and
- Both parties agree to do something by a certain time.
There is simply no other event that creates more opportunities. Start tracking it as a metric, increase the number of these conversations and sales will increase.
4. Initiate a monthly acceleration meeting
Accountability, properly utilized, is a powerful process. Initiate a monthly accountability process I like to call The Acceleration Meeting. At an organizational level, this is a meeting involving the key leaders for marketing, demand generation & sales. For a sales rep, it should involve the rep and their manager or an acceleration partner. The primary goal of the meeting is to increase learning and intentionality. Design the meeting however you would like, but here are 4 powerful questions to focus on:
- What happened in the last 30 days that we didn’t expect and was positive?
- What happened in the last 30 days that we didn’t expect and was negative?
- What lessons did we learn?
- How can we apply those lessons to achieve more with the same or less effort in the next 30 days?
5. KNOW. YOUR. MATH.
Sales and business growth is not a numbers game, but it is a game where numbers are very important. You need to know your critical metrics, how to keep score and, most importantly, to learn and adjust from what your numbers are telling you.
6. Look beyond lead generation in your content creation & utilization plans
Content marketing (and blogging specifically) became de rigueur because of the birth and growth of Inbound Marketing. Inbound demonstrated how content can attract potential new customers and data proliferated showing the association between the volume of content created and the number of leads that would generate.
As a result, CRM databases are bigger than they’ve ever been. Lead generation has been a success for most companies, but lead activation has not. What’s more, the sales process is, by most measures, less efficient and effective than ever.
I can share my personal story. Content has been instrumental in enabling me (when I was an individual sales rep) and my company to sell more and faster. In 2011, I analyzed the impact of our blog and was easily able to monetize its value at more than $2.2 million. What’s interesting is that very little of the value came from lead generation (we didn’t really start focusing on the blog as a lead generation tool until 2012).
7. Move Beyond Personalization and Be Personal
Stop “personalizing” your content and start being personal. What’s the difference? Personalization is focusing on mass customizing emails and even web pages to use specific information (like their name, company name or any other property from your database).
Being personal requires you to work a bit harder. It requires that you do 2 things well:
- You sound (or read) like a person. Being personal means being authentic.
- You’re distinctly relevant. What you share is distinctly relevant to the recipient and fits their context.
8. Focus on Less and Do It Better (and More)
This tip is as much for me as it is for you. One of the toughest lessons I’ve learned (and to be totally open, I'm still learning) is that one of the primary keys to success is simply being consistent. There’s a concept called The 20 Mile March that highlights the importance of consistency.
So this year, choose to do fewer things. Then do them better and consistently. You’ll make more progress than you could have imagined.
9. Be A Customer Problem Expert (Not a Solutions Expert)
NOBODY. CARES. ABOUT. YOUR. SOLUTIONS! What they care about is addressing their problems and capturing their opportunities.
Solutions experts are a dime a dozen. Focus on your solution jump right into commoditization.
Instead, become an expert on your customers’ problems and opportunities. Spend more time helping them address these areas and you’ll sell more without ever selling.
Remember the battle cry of your customer: Your solution is not my problem.
10. Have a Point-of-View and Deliver It Confidently
I don’t care how much of an expert you are, there is simply no information you can give your customer that they can’t find more easily (and with less friction) on the Internet.
What your customers are starving for is insights. Your customers are overwhelmed and absolutely confused by the information that is available to them. They’re looking for someone who can help them make sense of it and apply it to their world.
They’re not looking for someone who they always agree with. (The reality is that if your customer/prospect agrees with everything you say, then you don’t need to be there.) They’re looking for someone who can enable them to think and act smarter.
11. More Insight, Less Thought Leadership
Speaking of which, make it a goal not to be a thought leader in 2020. Thought leadership is all about you, and research shows it doesn’t actually contribute to your customer’s propensity to buy from you.
Point-of-view insights are frame-breaking insights that change how the person you're communicating with thinks about their situation. They change their mindset and mental maps. Insights are designed to upend the status quo.
Insights position you, and your company, as the advisor you should be striving to be.
12. Stop Selling (or Marketing) ... Teach People How to Make Better Decisions
Sales, and the marketing that supports it, is all about enabling people to make good decisions. Think about that for a moment.
If you agree with that statement (and if you don’t, read this) ask yourself how much time and effort you spend focused on teaching and helping customers make better decisions vs. the time spent teaching or influencing about your product, service or solution.
13. Embrace Consensus Buying - It’s Actually Good for Buyer & Seller
Sellers (and sales advisors) often speak of the growing trend for consensus buying with ridicule and vitriol. They speak of it as if buyers have become too weak and scared to make decisions the old-fashioned way (whatever that is).
While consensus buying does make selling harder than having to convince one or two (or even three) people of the value of your solution, the reality is that it’s not a bad thing. I think it’s quite good for the buyer and for the (right) seller.
Here’s what you need to understand to embrace “consensus selling.” For most businesses, the problems they are addressing, and the solutions that are required, are far too complex, nuanced and will impact multiple areas of the business that there is no one person who can understand and navigate it all.
Additionally, if you’re selling something more than a commoditized offering, you need more than a “decision maker’s agreement” for your solution to succeed. You need an organizational commitment.
The problem isn’t consensus buying, it’s poorly executed consensus buying. As a seller or marketer, if you embrace the trend you’ll be in a position to lead your right-fit target companies to do it successfully.
14. Stop Looking For Shortcuts
Do the work. Embrace the process. Remember, “if it were easy everyone would do it.” And, no matter how smart or creative you (think you) are, if the shortcut worked, it would be what everyone else is doing.
Top performers go deeper than others. They play the long game.
15. Win the week
Back when I coached baseball, before each game I would remind the players to forget about “winning the game.” Their goal instead should be to “win the inning.”
One of the biggest challenges in achieving and maintaining top performance is not letting your emotions carry you away. Whether you’re on a hot streak or in a slump, the key is to maintain focus and remember the only thing you have any control or influence over is what you’re doing right now.
Treat each week as an inning in your game.
16. Block your time…by days
Some of the most powerful advice I’ve ever gotten came from Dan Sullivan, the founder of The Strategic Coach, was the Entrepreneurial Time Management System.
The basic idea was to group certain activities together and allocate them to specific days rather than doing a little bit of everything every day. For example, I’ll take my list of highest value activities and block them to specific days. This allows me to really focus and get into a flow for my most important actions.
He also had a term he calls “Buffer Days.” These are the days you clean things up and prepare for great high-value days. By blocking your time in such a manner you get more done with a higher quality of output, which has the benefit of giving you more free time.
17. Set intermediate goals
Annual and quarterly goals aren’t good enough. By the time you reach them (or fail to), it’s too late. Additionally, people are not naturally designed to delay gratification. Set intermediate targets that allow course correction and/or rewards.
Plus (and this is a BIG plus), when you’ve set your milestones, don’t overcorrect. Give yourself (and your team) the time needed to have impact. There’s nothing worse than someone who sets the goal today and starts course correcting and judging tomorrow. When that happens (even if you’re doing it to yourself), you actually reduce engagement and decrease the likelihood of success.
18. Stop Worrying About The Sale
I get it. This is easy for me to say. But, please know that I live with the same pressures and challenges that every sales, marketing and demand generation person deals with. I have to produce, and if I don’t bad things happen.
The best time to make a difficult sale is right after you made a big one. Why is that? Because you’re confident and you’re less worried about making the specific sale.
That’s the secret. Solve for the Customer (SFTC!), and the sale will take care of itself.
19. Build Your Business Acumen
There is less and less value in being a salesperson today, and it will be worse in the future. I hate to say it, but it’s the truth.
However, the opportunity and value of being a businessperson-who-sells is bigger than ever--and growing.
Be a businessperson first, and for that, you need to improve your business acumen (no matter how much you think you have). Be sure to make this a key objective for the year.
20. Have Fun
This last one is the most important. Remember, if you’re not having fun you’re either doing something wrong, or you’re doing the wrong thing. If it’s the former, these tips should help you have more fun. If it’s the latter, then you owe it to yourself and the world to find the right thing for you.
Have fun...and make 2020 your best year ever (until 2021).