When Running the Sales Marathon, Mind Your Sales Reps’ Splits

In a marathon there are officially 26 splits, or miles, that a runner passes.   The runner focuses on hitting the splits to stay on track to finish the race in his or her target time.

The splits act as a leading indicator.  If the runner is under the split she’s on track to finish faster – or she could be headed for a crash if her pace is too fast.  Either way the split is information she can act on.

As a sales manager you’ll want to help your salespeople run the annual sales marathon by minding their splits.  We call these monthly 1:1 splits (conversations) Funnel Audits.  They play a key role in sales managers’ coaching.

The sales marathon over a year can be broken into 12 monthly splits.  Setting goals and priorities for 30 days is less overwhelming and more manageable than setting goals for longer periods.  You’ll want to have sound, meaningful and structured conversations every month (each split) to keep your reps running the race the right way.

The manager uses the Funnel Audit to make a couple of key assessments at each split.  The first one is YTD sales performance.  Is the salesperson at 100% of the year to date quota?  Usually this is a reasonable measure of where your rep could end up at the end of the year.  Unfortunately sales performance is a lagging indicator, valuable in looking through the rear window, but not looking through the front windshield.  Sales reps need to know where to put selling attention for the rest of the year.  That’s the value the Audits give.

Here are 4 things our clients do around minding the splits.

They manage to what the leading indicators tell them.  The main leading indicator they manage to is what we call TVR, Total Viable Revenue.  TVR is the funnel value.  The salesperson and manager both know exactly how much TVR should be on the funnel at any time throughout the year.   They compare how much TVR they should have to how much they really have and then manage to the delta.

They focus on what they can control. Salespeople can’t really control the outputs, sales, but they can control the inputs, that is, what they choose to prioritize and the selling activities to influence each sale.  At each Funnel Audit the manager and rep are deciding where to put selling attention now.

They mind the splits early to start fast. When you get your salespeople to mind their splits in January and February and not to wait until May or July they have more time to use the TVR leading indicator to make course corrections in their sales funnels.  Some of our clients even mind their splits in early Q4 or late Q3 of the previous year to start off the next year with a healthier sales funnel.

They keep the process simple and they commit to it.  Our best clients religiously do Funnel Audits every month.  They defend simple. They don’t drift out of the structure of the conversation.  They parking lot non-Funnel Audit issues and deal with them later.

Don’t forget to stretch before your next run!

Good selling,

Mark Sellers

Created the BuyCycle Funnel

Author The Funnel Principle

Author of soon to be released sales coaching book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

 

 

 

 

Managing the Sales Funnel with Channel Partners

How do you manage a sales funnel when a portion of your business goes through distributors?

For the purpose of this blog I’ll refer to all intermediaries between a manufacturer and end user as channel partners.  I don’t mean to deny any specific dynamics that must be addressed; rather, I’m choosing to comment on what’s fundamental about managing the funnel through this relationship.

Managing the funnel is every bit as important when working through channel partners.  Manufacturers need to know where deals are in the buying process.  This helps them influence the buying process – create funnel movement.  It also helps them forecast.

The channel complexity I’ve seen with my clients the past 20 years makes managing the funnel a challenge.  One challenge is when the channel partner won’t reveal much about the deal they are working on. They keep information close to the vest. It’s hard to ‘stage’ these deals.   Another challenge is when the channel partner doesn’t invite you to strategize with them to move the deal through the process.  This is particularly frustrating when the channel’s sales competency is low.  You feel defenseless.

Do you ‘stage’ deals based on where the manufacturer is in selling to the channel partner, or based on where the channel partner is in selling to the end user?

The answer could be yes!

One thing to keep in mind is that the funnel is based on ‘opportunities’. It’s not a funnel of accounts.  An opportunity has a dollar value and a purchase date, and likely a purchase order or contract that creates obligation.

If a channel partner can buy $200,000 of your stuff why not make that a funnel opportunity?  A PFA has to bless the purchase, a buying process is present.  Loading distributors has its pros and cons so beware.

You can also base your funnel on the end user purchases from the channel partner.  This is what pulls your product through and sustains revenue growth.  I’ve had clients that needed to pivot the sales team to be more focused on selling to the end user.  They used The Funnel Principle to do this.

Last, for now anyway, you can’t avoid channel conflict in most situations where a distributor is involved.  Here’s another reason to get good at your funnel management within this environment. The funnel gives you the necessary focus and allocation of selling time to what’s important.  Giving more than just visibility, the funnel gives insight that directs the team to the right selling activities.

 

Good Selling!

 

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle and soon to be released coaching book Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

 

Not so fast sales managers!

I often feel like I’m operating in hyperdrive, with 15 spinning plates of my everyday life wobbling precariously, getting light headed as my eyes race left then right then left, trying to spot the next one that’s about to fall.

I’m getting drenched with data and drips and insights and hindsights and quests and requests and all I want is a dry place to sip my coffee, or a little Kentucky bourbon at the end of the day. Just a little.

Therefore, to deal with all of this (all of my choosing) I work harder to get better at faster processing the flood of what comes at me. In other words I try to get to conclusions as fast as possible. Process this one. Then move on to the next one.  Wash.  Rinse. Repeat.

I’ve created an illusion.

I compare it in a way to multi tasking which apparently is not possible, they tell me. The brain isn’t capable of doing that. I don’t have time for that nonsense. I spin more plates.

Recently I was facilitating a coaching workshop with front line sales managers. One of them was new to his region. He was a veteran of sales and held management positions in his career. On the shuttle bus to the airport at the end of the week he said his strategy has been to get to know his salespeople first.

I said you’re brilliant.

My advice (since they were paying me to offer it) was this: resist the temptation of quickly coming to conclusions about your people. How long does it take to really get to know someone? Have you figured out your spouse? Your dad? Your sister? Your neighbor?  Do you really know all of the pivotal events throughout their lives that shaped their personalities and prejudices and cause them to do those little things that annoy the kabootle out of you?

I see this front line sales manager as sort of in a construction zone with his salespeople, needing to slow down and put both hands on the wheel.  Then, pave that new road that allows his sellers to get back to full speed as soon as possible.  Go.  Sell.  Now.

Leading people isn’t easy. Front line sales managers have a phenomenally challenging job. Manage up and manage down.  Manage sideways.  Manage high maintenance customers.  They process an avalanche of to dos every day. A fun house of spinning plates. But these plates are not all equally pressing.  Maybe some of them are able to crash to the floor and cause little damage.  The ones with salespeople’s names on them should glow, though it’s not always obvious.  Salespeople don’t want to be processed.

This manager also recounted an earlier job as a salesperson himself.  He said his manager called in daily to ask “what’d you sell today?  Why not more?  What’re you gonna do tomorrow to fix that?”  Coaching?  Maybe in some language I’ve never heard of.  Pity the fool for grabbing the pant legs of his people as he went down the drain.

Frameworks and methods and skills can certainly help sales managers do their jobs. Then there’s Empathy and Curiosity, supported by Patience and Vulnerability.  How do you teach that?  Who’s going to sign off on that training?

Drive Channel Sales with Better Sales Funnel Strategy

Over the past 20 years of training and consulting my firm has had many clients that use non-direct, ‘channel’ salesforces to sell.  So how does the sales funnel best work with channel partners?

Focus and alignment. How common is it that your channel isn’t focused where you want it to be selling?  The problem sometimes is they bring you into deals too late to differentiate or that aren’t in your strategic wheelhouse.  The sales funnel can align and focus selling efforts with your channel.  One of our first significant clients was a division of a large company that sold industrial hoses.  Management asked me how a sales funnel process would benefit their 125 sellers.  I said I didn’t know.  Fortunately, they were smarter than me and hired us to make it work.  The sales funnel process brought greater collaboration and coordination of selling efforts.  That division later was sold to private equity and then bought by another major player in the industry.

  1. Defining funnel entries. One of the considerations is to define the opportunities on the funnel as either end user or distributor/channel.  For example, if your team wants to sell through a new distributor to get better coverage then selling the distributor is the funnel entry.  However, if end user pull through is your focus then funnel entries can be defined by end users like a contractor, a retailer, or a manufacturer.
  2. Better qualification. It’s not uncommon for a channel partner to bring you into deals late in the buying process.  It’s hard to differentiate beyond price and harder still to shape the solution to favor your capabilities. Chasing these deals wastes time.  A sales funnel process doesn’t eliminate this but should surely reduce the times it occurs.  The key is to have regular funnel inspections with your channel sellers.  In these conversations you can reset and confirm the deals and accounts both of you should focus on.
  3. Better accountability. Improving sales productivity and performance ultimately comes down to execution and holding people accountable.  You can’t be shy about demanding that kind of relationship with your channel partners.  The good ones will respect it.

 

Good selling,

 

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle and soon to be released book Blindspots:  The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

 

 

Treat Success with Skepticism

Recently I attended the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) outside of Chicago and soaked in the ideas and wisdom of about a dozen speakers.  What an event!

Rasmus Ankersen is chairman of FC Midtjylland, a European football (American soccer) club in Denmark. He’s also the author of a best selling book called Entrepreneur.  He and senior leadership purchased the club several years ago and took a ‘money ball’ strategy to acquire competent but not high priced players.  The strategy is working.  He compared this strategy to that of another club that handed out big, long term contracts to the coach and players after an unexpectedly, wildly successful season.  This was an attempt to keep the mojo alive.  Unfortunately it failed miserably as that team collapsed the next year to the bottom of the league table (standings).  Ankersen says that a closer look at the data associated with the failed team’s one year success would have revealed its weaknesses and vulnerability.  Be skeptical of success.

One of my favorite stories in Henry Cloud’s excellent book Necessary Endings is the story of the remaking of Welch Allyn.  In short, a new CEO convinced the board and leadership that the strategy for the 100 year success of the company would be a recipe for failure for the next 100 years. They bought her vision, but not without intense and emotional debate, as you’d expect.  Who could be faulted for wanting to not change a thing associated with a generation of success?

For me, personally, these business stories mirror the individual journeys that we are gifted with while we’re earthly bound.  Like a contradiction, the solution is usually not obvious.  Internal maps and biases and selfish interests shield the view. It’s all the more confusing when the things that helped us climb and conquer in the first half life are now the things that hold us back from entering the second half life.

And yet within the contradiction is the hidden gem.  Cloud expertly says things almost always have to die first for other things to grow and prosper.  It’s easy to prune a dead branch of a rose bush, but do you have the wisdom and courage to prune the live branches that are the weakest and that will hold back the bush’s growth?  Great is the art of the beginning, but even greater is the art of the ending, says Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I ended a coaching session with some sales managers recently by addressing their frustration with some of their salespeople not embracing the new ways of selling that we’ve trained them in. Instead of letting that frustration bind them I said let it release you.  Ask yourself what this moment is trying to teach you.  Give it space and let yourself be taught by it instead of wasting the moment with haste to escape.  Instead of wondering how to get ‘Jack’ on board the program, ask why do I resist trying to understand better why Jack feels the way he does.  The short answer could be I’ve got a quota to hit and another meeting in 15 minutes and I need Jack to stop being so damned stubborn.  Asking and learning almost always gets you closer to a solution than showing and telling.

Ironically, one speaker at the GLS, a very popular guy these days, embodied the essence of treating success with skepticism.  His stories and anecdotes were oddly old and predictably lacked impact (how long have we been hearing the story of Kodak’s blindspot with digital photography?) Smart comedians don’t tell jokes about Cleveland anymore.  I’ll borrow a line from a column Peggy Noonan wrote years ago about an entirely different topic.  It’s as if this speaker has seen the movie but hasn’t read the book.

The speakers at the GLS that impacted me the most were the ones that were the most humble.  David Livermore took the top prize.  Toward the end of his talk he dropped a jaw dropping bombshell about his story that created a silence among the 10,000 attendees.  It was awesome.  It was real.  He not only read the book, he’s written it.

Years ago I was part of a company’s strategic planning efforts.  The board brought in a very competent, smart executive to forge new direction, to change the place up.  He told us ‘we can’t there from here. “ I took it to mean that the place we need to get to, we cannot arrive through the same paths nor with the same mindsets that brought us ‘here’.  Be proud of the success that has defined the past and be skeptical to think that ‘here’ will take you where we need to go.

Stay skeptical of success my friends.

 

Mark Sellers

Author The Funnel Principle

Author of forthcoming book Blindspots:  The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

Created the BuyCycle Funnel and Funnel Principle selling process

Does Your Sales Funnel Lack Bench?

All professional sports teams eventually experience the setback of injuries to key players.  My Columbus Blue Jackets hockey team, having another successful year, lost captain Nick Foligno to a season ending injury on ‘x’. They lost key defender Josh Anderson on ‘x’.  Top scorer Cam Atkinson was out for ‘x’ due to a ‘x’ injury.

Next man up!  That’s what the coaches say.  As they should.  Any team depending solely on its starting lineup surviving the physical bashing of the entire season is exposed to too much risk.  The successful teams have a strong bench that is ready to spring into action.

As it is with your sales funnel.

A sales funnel needs the ‘strong bench’ of opportunities that make the funnel healthy.  Too often I see in our clients’ monthly Funnel Audit™conversations funnels that seemingly have enough TVR – enough funnel value to be 3:1 or 2:1 or whatever is the target size – only to see that most of the TVR is tied up in a very small number of opportunities.

The problem with that is it makes the salesperson vulnerable.  If one or two of those TVR deals falls out the funnel value is too low for the close rate to win enough of what’s left to hit the quota. There’s no bench to give the starters a break.

Here’s what you can do to manage through this.

Inspect the funnel regularly. Our clients avoid surprises by constantly looking at the ‘leading indicator’ of the funnel value, TVR.  If there’s not enough TVR they’re aware of it and can act on it.

Purge the funnel.  Purging the funnel once a year sounds wise but Lean would say that’s batching the work and it’s not efficient.  Instead, develop the habit of purging throughout the year. Every Funnel Audit™conversation is an opportunity to get rid of deals that artificially make the funnel look good. As they say, if it’s a pig lipstick won’t hide that fact.

Build a sales funnel full of singles and doubles, not home runs.  Who doesn’t like closing the home run sale?  But more hall of fame hitters get there by getting on base with a high percentage.  I’ve met a lot of successful sellers who close a lot of smaller or midsized sales. They make sure their funnel is full of those sales, as boring as they might be.  They pay lots of bills.

Good selling,

 

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle and creator of the original BuyCycle Funnel sales model

Author of soon to be released book Blindspots:  The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching

 

 

 

 

 

Sales Managers Can You Operate in Space? 

No, not that space. This is actually a photo of my brother in law Steve who once set the record for hours walked in space, but hey, records were meant to be broken.

The space I’m referring to is a brilliant phrase coined by a client of mine, the president of a sizeable industrial products company.

On a recent coaching call we talked about how the best sales managers he knows learned to operate in space.  When I asked him to explain he said these managers learned to think and manage in three dimensions, instead of being handcuffed by linear thinking.  You might call it situational adaptation.

For example, a manager that is hired from another company where she did the same job would have two options for how to do the new job.  One option is to fairly quickly apply proven processes, do some training, and make sure people get it.  That approach usually requires constantly hitting the compliance reset button.

Another option is to carefully observe the new environment over time, ask and learn a lot, process all of the inputs, then make conclusions about people, processes, about how things get done, whatever.  Maybe involve people in the solution design.  Eventually set a course and consistently lead it.

This made me think of someone I know who took a new job with a title similar to one he had in the past, but with a company that was in a wildly different industry than any he had experienced.  The worst thing he could have done was quickly apply processes, frameworks, systems, etc. that he used in previous positions to this new environment. Looking back we both believe he would not have survived.  Instead, he was patient in coming to conclusions yet aggressive in absorbing everything around him.  His superior and colleagues say he’s made an incredible impact at this company in a very short couple of years.

It also made me think about the careers of some musicians.   Neil Young didn’t seem interested in making Harvest 2 and Harvest 3 and 4 and 5 as much as he preferred to create new works like Live Rust (1979 with Crazy Horse), Trans (1982), Broken Arrow (1996), Everybody’s Rockin (1983 with the Shocking Pinks).  Compare those to Silver and Gold or Comes a Time.  Same with Bob Dylan. Compare Blonde on Blonde (1966) to Oh Mercy (1989). By contrast will Jon Bon Jovi be performing You Give Love a Bad Name at your local Holiday Inn in 2025? Sorry, I hear he’s a good guy!

In trying to figure out the secret formula here, this is as close as I‘ve come:

Operating in spacemeans you have learned how to learn.

This isn’t the same as what you’ve learned as in a body of knowledge, or how much you’ve learned about a subject or market.  This is more about how you take the lessons and learnings of your past and apply them to new situations in your present.  This is hard, but it isn’t hard like getting buy-in to something you did 3 times before at 3 different companies or forcing your process on a ‘skeptical’ group.

By definition isn’t every new rep that a sales manager hires an entirely new experience?  Doesn’t that new experience demand a truly fresh, unbiased and tailored approach to being coached?

If you’re up for the challenge your impact could be outta this world.

 

Good Selling,

 

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle

Founder, Breakthrough Sales Performance

Soon to be released sales coaching book Blindspots:  The Hidden Killer Of Sales Coaching