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The Demand Creator Blog

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2 Simple Things To Do To Dramatically Increase Your Sales Forecasting Accuracy

sales-forecasting-accuracyQuiz Time! Here are two outcomes:

  • An opportunity in the sales pipeline was at an 80% probability that it would be won, and it was lost.
  • Another opportunity in the sales pipeline (all other aspects including the value, the customer type, the timing, etc., are the same) was only at a 20% probability of winning and was won.

Which outcome is worse?

Most of the people I ask this question to quickly look at me with a quizzical frown and ask, “Is this a trick question?” I respond, “No, no tricks.” They then confidently say the first situation is worse. I understand why they give that answer, and I’d certainly have to agree that when it comes to revenue, profit, commissions and things like that, the first is definitely worse.

The reality is that both are equally bad because both forecasts were equally wrong. If you’re looking to scale growth sustainably, you must have the ability to create a meaningful degree of predictability for that growth; to do that well, your organization’s ability to forecast must be an area of strength.

In addition to the obvious reason that strong forecasting, in and of itself, creates a level of predictability, an individual sales rep’s ability to forecast individual opportunities makes them far more effective at utilizing their time and enhances their effectiveness.

I often compare selling to playing poker. In both situations, you’re forced to utilize imperfect information to make bets (forecasts) about future outcomes within dynamic situations, and you must put your money where your forecast is. In poker, that means staying in the game and putting more money at risk. In sales, it means investing more time and resources.

While we could literally write a book on how to forecast effectively, improving your forecasting ability and improving your tactical sales decision-making doesn’t have to be complex or hard. Implement two simple ideas, regardless of the level of your forecasting proficiency, and you’ll be sure to succeed. 

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Sales Lessons From Better Call Saul

better-call-saulLast week as I was recovering from an amazing Inbound 2018 conference, I sat back on my couch, turned on the digital recorder and started the episode of Better Call Saul that I missed while traveling to Boston.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm about as big a fan of Breaking Bad as there is, so if I can't get me any new stories about Walter White, then the transformation of Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman (it's all good, man) is the next best thing.

So I sat back, ready to escape into Jimmy's world, forgetting (for an hour) all of the crazy sales and marketing strategies running through my head. Little did I know, that the creators of Saul were about to share one of the most important, and difficult to accept, sales lessons out there.

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5 Tips for Making a Strong First Connection with a Lead/Prospect

connect-calls-3More money than ever is spent on the technology, people and process to enable organizations to generate higher volumes of sales qualified leads at greater velocities. Research from Gartner CEB indicates that these investments aren’t working out too well. They found that, on average, companies are spending nearly $5,000 per rep more on technology alone, and they’re seeing their conversion rates drop almost 12 percent.

The growing tech stack, combined with maturing lead and demand generation tactics, have given sales reps an apparent playground. Gone are the days of not having enough people to talk with (or, at least, they should be). Despite all the investments being made to “reduce friction for buyers” and more activity, companies are still suffering from a dearth of qualified and engaged prospects willingly entering predictable sales processes.

Through our work over the last several years, I’ve identified two key causes for this problem.

  1. This first is likely not new to you, as it’s been highlighted, ad nauseam, over the last half-decade. Buyers have changed how they engage and sellers are not stepping up.
  2. The second doesn’t get anywhere near the attention, but may be just as big. The sales process has become, well, far too process stringent. This is not a slam on the relevancy and importance of defined and documented sales processes, but, rather, an indictment of how they’re being implemented and executed.

I’ve seen this from both sides of the table—advising and coaching sales reps and dealing with sales reps as a prospect and customer. The first call is painful. You would think that all of the attention and money that’s been spent on building sales development teams and designing prospecting processes, reps would have mastered the first call.

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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 Hiring Salespeople is the Wrong First Step for Faster Growth

7 Reasons Hiring Salespeople is the Wrong First Step for Faster GrowthI see it time and time again. A company, seeking to accelerate revenue growth and customer acquisition, makes the obvious decision to hire more salespeople. Every time (for purposes of accuracy, 95% of the time) I have the same reaction (as I bring my hands to my head in dismay):

NOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There’s a simple acid test that virtually any small or mid-market organization can use to determine if the time has come to hire salespeople. The acid test is “Do we have more high quality, right-fit leads than our existing sales team can manage?”

If the answer isn’t a definitive “YES!!,” then DON’T. HIRE. SALESPEOPLE. (YET).

I realize this advice is counter-intuitive. I understand that your board, your investors, hell, even your CEO (if she’s not the one reading this) are not going to like this take. I get that your VP of Sales quantifies his importance and domain by headcount (if some is good, more must be better). Your peers will look at you like you’re crazy, but I challenge you to think about this:

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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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3 Ways Salespeople Kill Sales at the End of the Month

salespeople-kill-end-of-month-sales.jpgWhen I was a salesperson, I loved December. It was the perfect time to close business. While December is a very difficult month to get things started, it’s a great time to “clean the slate,” take advantage of unused budget and leverage a natural deadline.  

One of the toughest strategies to execute in the sales process is to create a sense of urgency when there’s not a natural and obvious one present. It’s an area that is one of the biggest contributors to sales, less than professional reputation. From the great car salesman’s “If I can put you in a car you like at a payment you’re comfortable with…,” to the “last car on the lot” techniques, salespeople have been manipulating creating urgency for a long time.

It’s no surprise that selling organizations use the end of the month, quarter or year as a means to create urgency. Frankly, I’m waiting for the next evolution in sales: “Hey Mrs. Prospect, you know it’s coming up to the end of the week, tomorrow is Friday after all. Wouldn’t you be happier going into the weekend knowing that you’ve addressed blah, blah, blah.”

End-of-month and quarter tactics are so bad they’ve become a running joke among sales executives, salespeople and buyers alike. Though some of the jokes may be funny, end-of-month actions are not a laughing matter. They’re sales (and margin) killers. Here are the three primary ways salespeople are killing sales with end-of-month actions:

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5 Reasons Your Annual Sales Plans Fail

5 Reasons Your Annual Sales Plans FailIt’s that time of year again. All across the land, sales and marketing executives, as well as salespeople themselves, are scurrying to put their 2018 sales plan together (for those who operate on a non-calendar year, I realize you’ve already done this).  

Plans are in development (with some even near completion) for the next 12 months.  Fueled by the euphoria of ending of a healthy year, the frustration from closing out a weak one or merely the optimism of what the new year and new plans can bring, companies are pulling everything together, with the goal of clarity, action and success.

I know this from being on more than a dozen calls with clients over the last three weeks helping them put these plans together. While the work is useful (as the saying goes, the value is in the planning - not the plan), I also get an empty feeling from all this work.  

Rarely are these plans actionable or useful. While the revenue targets outlined may be hit, when they are, they’re achieved in ways that are, how shall I say, less than predictable. As with so many traditional business disciplines, the effectiveness of most annual planning should be questioned and adjusted.

With more than two decades under my belt studying the difference between sales plans that drive better decisions and actions, than those that don’t, I’ve discovered five key reasons that annual sales plans fail.
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Stop Closing & Start Selling

Stop Closing & Start SellingI honestly can’t believe I’m writing about this topic again. There was a period (probably about 3 - 5 years) where I thought selling organizations had finally evolved and understood that closing is an overvalued, overfocused and overhyped part of the sales/buying process.

To be clear, if you think you have a closing problem, then I’m here to affirmatively and conclusively tell you that closing is never the problem (hell, it’s rarely even “a” problem). The problem just manifests itself at that stage of the process. The problem always - ALWAYS! - occurs earlier in the process.

I used to talk and write about this regularly. I shared the need for sales (and marketing) to educate, “peel the onion” to dig deeper and lead the way for prospects (and customers) to learn and understand more about their problems (including those they aren’t even aware of) and how to solve those problems and/or capture opportunities.  

I have to admit that I enjoyed that period where I was able to focus on the more meaningful components of demand generation and sales. It’s a lot more fun (and valuable) when the focus is on what organizations and people should be doing and how to execute successfully than it is to admonish on what shouldn’t be focused.

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7 Ways Sales Managers Kill Sales

7 Ways Sales Managers Kill Sales ProductivityI have tremendous respect and empathy for sales managers. Frankly, I can’t think of a job that is more difficult and complex than managing salespeople. Effective salespeople, by nature, are pretty stubborn in their ways and are always adjusting things based on the specific conversation they’re having at any given time.

I remember when I was in a sales manager’s role, I often felt like I could never win. I was responsible for implementing the strategy and approach that was devised by others (my bosses and their bosses) and required to achieve results through others (the salespeople that reported to me) that I had, at best, only a slight degree of control. Having been a top sales performer, I was always fighting against my natural inclination to just take care of everything myself.

Yet, despite the challenge, sales managers can have great impact. For most organizations, it’s the highest leverage, highest impact position in the organization. For the company, a strong sales manager yields growth and results across multiple performers. For the manager, success at this level opens the door for lucrative opportunities in the future.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s nothing quite so good as a strong sales manager and there’s nothing quite so bad as an average or weak one. In my experience, there are seven killer habits that sink managers who would otherwise be strong.

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