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The Demand Creator Blog

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The Art of Letting Go: What Every Salesperson Should Do

Editor's Note: The world of business focuses on the success, the learnings, and the growth they've achieved. Yet, no one talks about the failures, the hardship, or the process that led to the success. Today's blog is written by one of our Sales Development Reps (SDRs), Carolyn Nangle. She shares her personal story of being in sales and what it took for her to turn her failure into success. She shares her perspective on growth, working and making her mark.

letting-goI want to tell you about my best day working at Imagine. My best day at Imagine was the day I almost got fired. It was also the day I was ready to quit. I was so fed up. I was fed up with the work, with my own performance, with my boss, Doug Davidoff. (Some readers may have heard of him.) I was ready to be done at Imagine, and Imagine was ready to be done with me. Doug and I had a heated call that morning, and no one pulled punches. I was told I’d have the night to think things over and we’d meet again at the end of the next day. It was a tense exchange, and didn’t bode well for my future at Imagine. I guess, to give some context, I should back up a little bit.

Before I came to Imagine, I worked in the service industry as a server and a bartender for a decade, so I come from a background of providing exemplary customer service. In that context, the more information you have, the easier it is to provide that high-level service. My favorite bar regular, Roy, used to come in for lunch on weekdays. He had an iced tea, no lemon, and a salad with no tomato. The first time I served Roy, of course, I didn’t know all of this. I simply took the order and brought it out. After a few weekday lunches, however, I realized that Roy was a creature of habit. Soon enough, armed with more information, I was able to have Roy’s tea waiting at the bar when he walked in the door. I was able to give him the best service possible, because I had enough relevant information to do so. 

Suffice to say, I came to Imagine with a lot of experience helping people and a lot of experience being really, really nice--even to the jerks. But I had absolutely zero experience selling anything. I never even tried to upsell people on appetizers. This fact didn’t need to handicap my ability to learn and to sell, but it did. I wore my fear like a cloak made of lead. The fear that everyone would see through me, that they would know immediately that I didn’t know what I was talking about weighed on me constantly. I dragged it into every call I made.

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Overcoming Your Biggest Barrier to Generating New Business Opportunities: Prospect Problem Blindness

prospect-problem-blindnessWhen the invite from Toyota came in, Ford’s senior executive team was skeptical. 

We invite you to visit our newest manufacturing plant. Send your top engineers and bring all your questions. We’re anxious to share our methods.

When the engineers came back from their visit, they confirmed the skepticism. “It wasn’t a real auto manufacturing facility,” the plant engineers explained. “Sure they had chassis and tools, and people, but spare parts and components were virtually nonexistent. The warehouse was too small to support the level of schedule activity. It was staged, like a movie.”¹

With the benefit of history, we know that it was not staged. The “experts” from Ford saw the real thing before it displaced Detroit’s auto leadership position.

You’ve likely heard the story of Steve Jobs’ inspiration for what became the Mac. In exchange for a pre-IPO allocation for Apple stock, Xerox invited Job and some of his engineers to get an inside peek into their PARC facility. While there, the Xerox engineers shared some of the innovations they’d added to their Alto machine like the “what you see is what you get” graphic user interface, bitmapping and a mouse. 

One part of the story that is often told wrong is that Xerox didn’t know what they had and as a result they let Jobs “steal” it. This isn’t true. They knew the Alto was powerful. They introduced the Alto in a 1972 commercial as the first desktop computer with a graphic user interface, showed how it could revolutionize your office life by using things like email, word processing and reminders “all controlled by a cursor.” Why have most people never heard of the Alto, and today Apple is the most valuable company in history? Because Xerox thought that the Alto would simply be too expensive to put on sale commercially. The reality is that the failure of Xerox to capitalize on their invention was a technology or vision failure, it was really a product marketing failure.

Think about this for a moment. If the expert engineers from Ford couldn’t see the value of the just-in-time, LEAN manufacturing process and the product marketing experts at Xerox couldn’t see a path to viability with something as powerful as the Alto, what’s the likelihood that a great demo, or presentation will be enough for the companies in your target market to change their course/speed to embrace your solution? These are two powerful examples of a barrier that faces all humans and has a profound impact on your ability to position your products and services to generate new opportunities by highlighting the amazing outcomes you create and the problems you solve. The barrier is called “problem blindness.”

What Is Problem Blindness

In his most recent book Upstream: The Quest To Solve Problems Before They Happen, Dan Heath shares this description: the belief that negative outcomes are natural, inevitable, or simply out of our control. When we’re blind to a problem, we treat it like the weather. We may know it’s bad, but ultimately, we just shrug our shoulders. “What am I supposed to do about it? It’s the weather.” Problem blindness creates passivity, even in the face of enormous harm. Problem blindness explains why extraordinarily smart people do extraordinarily dumb things or make bad decisions.

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Sisyphus vs. The Flywheel: 5 Tips to Eliminate Friction

sisyphusLast week I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with a client’s sales leadership team, discussing the transformation they need to embark upon to become the business they want to be. One of the things that made it such a pleasure is that this group is already doing a great job. They’re hitting their numbers and growing in an industry that isn’t, but they also know that what they’re doing today (and more importantly, how they’re doing it) isn’t enough to get them where they need to go.

One of the things I noticed about my client, which is very common across growth-focused mid-market organizations, wasn’t how committed and passionate everybody was. (Don’t get me wrong, they were those things!) It was how tired they were. They were busting their backends doing everything they could to make things happen. Meeting in early January served as a bit of symbolism. It was the beginning of the year, so they were all “hitting the reset button” to bust at it again.

I see a lot of top performers who are tired these days. Some of my best sales friends, while winning club and hitting new performance records, often spend more time sharing how exhausted they are and how they are striving to spend more time with family rather than sharing the stories of success and the challenges they overcome (which dominated our conversations just a few years ago).

Certainly growing a business requires hard work, often very hard work. But, I’ve learned that there’s only so hard you can work, and at some point working harder not only doesn't contribute to success, it gets in the way of it. The story of Sisyphus is supposed to be a parable of warning, but increasingly it’s becoming a descriptor for leading a growth team.

As I thought about this, I was reminded of the Predictable Success model (and book) that was created by Les McKeown--specifically, the transition from Fun into Whitewater and then Predictable Success

Here’s how Les describes the fun stage: You’ve broken through the Early Struggle—you have cash (at least enough to take the pressure off) and an established market. It’s time to have Fun! Now you’re free to concentrate on getting your product or service into the market, so the key focus now moves from cash to sales. This is the time when the organization’s myths and legends are built, and the “Big Dogs” emerge—those loyal high producers who build the business exponentially in this time of rapid, first-stage growth.

Fun is followed by Whitewater: The very success that you reaped in the Fun stage brings with it the seeds of Whitewater: Your organization becomes complex, and the key emphasis shifts once more, from sales to profitability. Achieving sustained, profitable growth requires you to put in place consistent processes, policies, and systems. Unfortunately, putting those systems in place proves harder than you expected. Making the right decisions seems easy, but implementing decisions and making them stick is incredibly difficult. The organization seems to be going through an identity crisis, and you may even be doubting your leadership and management skills.

The Third Law of Thermodynamics is that entropy is always increasing. Entropy represents disorder and randomness. In simpler terms it means that a natural organizational dynamic is that disorder and randomness is always increasing. In your business this disorder mean more friction. As a business grows (or simply survives), it picks up more complexity. That complexity creates friction, and before long, what seemed easy becomes difficult or impossible.

Friction is a part of growth. It should not be ignored. Frankly, whether you recognize friction or not, it will yield its sharp edge. The key to sustaining growth, and making growth manageable, predictable, and, yes even enjoyable, is to manage the friction. These tips are for those who are committed to managing friction to accelerate the momentum of their growth flywheel.

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What it Means to be Data-Driven, How It’s Different from Metrics & How to Apply it

Data-Imagine-ImageMy daughter is entering her senior year in high school. I have to admit that there are times where I stop and think how I wish I were in high school today. Now, I don’t have this wish for the common reasons you may be thinking.

You see, when I was in high school it wasn’t cool to obsess about things like data. But today, data is about the coolest thing in the world (well, except for maybe AI). Everyone is talking about data. Big data. Little data. Metadata.

Today, it seems, marketing and sales advisors pronounce their coolness by claiming to be data-driven. Everywhere I look, I see people claiming to be data-driven, but when I look at how they manage process and make decisions, it’s no different than how they did things a decade ago.

Sure, they may throw some numbers or vanity metrics at you, but the way they do it reminds me of how I used to describe statistics. Today, data is like a lamp post to a drunk - it’s used more for support than illumination.

Make no mistake. If you want to successfully grow a business today, you’d better be data-driven. I’m fond of Netscape founder Jim Barksdale’s philosophy: If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.

So, the first step to be data-driven is to understand what being data-driven means.

The first confusion is that there’s a difference between being goals- or metric-driven and being data-driven. There is probably no clearer illustration of the difference than using my favorite example: baseball.

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New Research from SiriusDecisions is Bad News for Sales Teams - Here’s What to Do About it

bad-news-for-sales-teamsA new research report from SiriusDecisions presents a pretty damning view on the state of sales today. The 2018 Global Chief Sales Officer Study surveyed the heads of sales from 250 companies covering a broad array of business, from small business through large multinational businesses.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Fewer than 50% of sales reps are hitting quota
  • At 70% of companies, fewer than 70% of sales reps are hitting quota
  • Marketing is contributing less than (a paltry) 25% to revenue
  • Sales cycles are getting longer for 64% of companies, with 27% seeing an increase of more than 30% in just the last year.
  • For the typical company, sales reps spend just 27% of their time on direct activities involved in selling to customer or prospects. Higher-growth companies reported their reps spent 53% more time selling (though I'd point out that’s still only? 41% of their time spent actually selling).

I’ve got to tell you, I had to read the report twice before I believed what I was seeing. The last five years have seen greater investments in customer acquisition and sales than ever before, yet these numbers indicate that nothing has improved.

Of course, I really shouldn’t have been surprised to see these numbers as I’ve got front row seats to this whole thing. While I caution people to be wary in reading too much in surveys, this report is another piece in a growing plethora of evidence that shows that selling organizations have still not made the necessary adjustments in their approaches to sustain and succeed.

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Conversations Don’t Happen by Accident: The 6 Strategies to Creating a Strong Chat Experience

CAPBot ChatYesterday, Drift announced the latest enhancement to their conversational marketing platform, called Leadbot 2.0. Leadbot 2.0 increases the power available to marketers and salespeople utilizing chat while also drastically improving the user interface and ease in building out strong chat experiences.

This news, combined with the leaps HubSpot has made with their soon-to-be-released update to their chat product, Messenger (I’ve had beta access to the product for the last month), means that the momentum behind Chat and Conversational Marketing isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.

And for good reason. I’ve always believed that the mantra of the modern demand generation executive is “Solve for the customer!” Done properly, chat is a powerful tool to empower both the seller and the buyer, enabling them to have meaningful conversations in the most effective and efficient way possible. I’ve made no secret that I don’t believe Chat means the end of other demand generation tactics, but the compelling use cases for Chat continues to increase every day.

However, Chat is by no means an easy or “quick fix” solution. It’s not as simple as throwing some code onto your site, assigning sales reps to manage it, and then waiting for the people to ask you if you will let them buy your product/service. Make no mistake, there are far more bad chat experiences than there are good ones.

Implementing chat requires a commitment of time, money, and a solid effort to develop the strategies, plumbing, and training to make it work. There’s no question it’s a great opportunity to create leverage and lower costs, if - IF - you do it right.

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Why I Don’t Give My Head of Sales A Revenue/Sales Quota

No-Sales-QuotaMake the number! It’s probably the three words that dominate the thinking of salespeople and executives everywhere. I’ll admit that over my career I’ve literally had dreams--and nightmares--where making the number was the central theme. (Of course, whenever this happened, I knew it was probably time to take a week off).

Sales quotas (or revenue quotas) are a foundational element of the sales. For most, the only question to ask about quotas is “Where should the target revenue or new customer acquisition quota be set?” Questioning the need, appropriateness, or effectiveness of even setting quotas is sacrilegious in business circles.

But the time has come for those leading businesses into the future to admit that quotas aren’t working. Recent research from CSO shows that barely 50% of salespeople are meeting quota, a trend that has been steadily deteriorating. Anecdotally, many senior sales executives responsible for setting quotas adjust to this reality by setting artificially high quotas and putting more pressure on salespeople.

Earlier this week, I presented a webinar where I revealed some research that we just completed, along with ways to implement strategies that can double your pipeline in 90 days. In this session, I shared that the nature of sales continues to undergo rapid change. If selling is going to remain a viable strategy, leaders must rethink their fundamental assumptions about sales, how they allocate talent and resources towards the sales process, and how they assess and compensate performance.

At the beginning of this year, I determined it was time to take a lead in designing the sales model of the future. As a part of our 2018 sales plan, I eliminated the sales quota as a key metric for our VP Sales. Here's why.

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5 Steps to Design Your Pipeline to Shorten the Sales Cycle and Align Sales & Marketing

Sales-PipelineIf any of these objectives are a high priority for you, read this post (if not, feel free to skip it):

  • Create predictability in your customer acquisition process
  • Shorten the ramp-up time for new salespeople to be successful
  • Transform marketing momentum into sales momentum
  • Shorten the sales cycle
  • Improve your ability to forecast

While strong strategy, insight and execution are certainly crucial to achieving these objectives, what is all too often overlooked are two especially important operational structures that are 100% necessary for consistent success:

  • A clearly defined funnel structure
  • A clearly defined sales pipeline structure

You may be thinking, “Doug, you’re crazy. I haven’t overlooked a pipeline, it’s central to our CRM!” And while the vast majority of companies that I see do have stated deal/opportunity stages that define their pipeline; more than 90% of them aren’t worth the paper (or bytes) they’re written on. Not only do they fail to create any real value or insight, they are central to the problems that sales and demand generation organizations are working so hard to overcome.

This post will walk you through the key elements of designing an effective sales pipeline structure, as well as enabling you to diagnose some of the fundamental flaws that likely exist in your existing process.

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7 Reasons Your Sales & Marketing Organization Doesn't Need A Playbook

7-reasons-dont-need-playbook.jpgThe Imagine team has invested quite a bit of time and energy into mastering the design, development and implementation of playbooks that guide all facets of the customer and revenue acquisition, and retention process. However, we understand that not every company (or executive) feels the "juice is worth the squeeze.” You and your company might be one of the few who don’t need to spend time developing and using a playbook. Do any of these qualities describe you?

Rehiring Salespeople (and Marketers) is Fun for You

The mis-hire rate for salespeople is astronomical and the mis-hire rate for marketers is growing. Playbooks bring help you define the qualities of the talent needed, create a repeatable hiring process, and build a “genius in the system.” This means you get:

  • an increased talent pool capable of doing the job
  • higher likelihood of employee success
  • shortened ramp-up time

But, hiring new sales and marketing people means you have an endless stream of new people to meet. We know some people who use the salespeople churn process to get dates. We don’t judge.

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4 Resources to Get 2018 off to an Explosive Start

explosive-start.jpgI simply cannot believe how fast 2017 has flown by. Here at Imagine, we’re in the final days of getting things wrapped up so we’re ready to take our annual “week of rejuivation”. We have big plans for 2018 and some exciting announcements we’ll be sharing as soon as we’re back at the beginning of the new year.

Of course, even while I’m off and spending time with family and friends, there will be a part of me thinking and reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned in 2017, my plans and objective for 2018 and figuring out how to get out of the gate fast. I’ve always found that if I can make January and February strong, the rest of the year typically takes care of itself.

Over the years, we’ve developed a number of resources focused on the idea of getting initiatives off to a strong and fast start. For those of you still looking for ideas, insights and inspirations to launch next year, here are some of the best ones we’ve created.

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