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

 

 

Sales Process Core Values

Listening to Lyle Lovett reminds me of one of the keys to making sales process work.

He croons “you can have my girl, but don’t touch my hat”.   I admire a guy who respects his core values.

Applying core values to sales process?  Absolutely.  Let me explain why, what and how that should be done.

Why are core values important for sales process?  Why answers a lot of questions for all of the stakeholders that are affected.  The salesperson wants to know ‘why’ do I have to get training?  The managers want to know ‘why’ is this sales process the key to my region hitting its numbers?  The CFO wants to know ‘why’ are we spending ‘x’ to train the salesforce and what’s the return?  The CEO wants to know ‘why’ is this investment needed and now?

When ‘why’ is clearly established – after it’s thought through and justified – the front line sales managers can consistently refer to it at every step of the implementation.  Why can help smooth out the speed bumps in resistance. Why helps people get on board.

What do core values look like when implementing a sales process? For example, one core value could be ‘we will freely communicate what we’re doing regarding sales activities’.  I can tell you right now I have clients where that’s not a core value.  For some the problem is an over active sales manager being busy but not so effective for her sales team.  For another client it’s a salesperson who thinks she’s above that core value, it doesn’t apply to her because ‘she produces’.

Another example could be ‘we will demonstrate attitudes of continuous improvement’ regarding selling. In other words, if anyone rejects the idea that there’s nothing left to learn, you’re probably not a good fit here.

How do you use core values in your sales process?  I think it’s a bad idea to think you could lock your door and establish core values for the team.   It’s not that the outcome would be vastly different, rather, it’s that your team misses the journey it needs to experience in that exercise.  It might be easiest to establish core values for sales process when you’re establishing a new one.  Most of you don’t have that luxury.  Fortunately you don’t need it.  Why not assemble your team in an offsite and define core values at your summer meeting or next quarter?  They’ll have more buy in when they build it.  It will refocus their attention on fundamentals that they identify.

The exercise could be just the boost your team needs.

 

Good selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle

Founder Breakthrough Sales Performance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sales Manager Challenge: Negative Sales People

If you manage sales people long enough, you’re sure to encounter negativity. It can be frustrating to say the least. But it doesn’t have to hit as hard as it sometimes does, provided you take the right action to address it.

Negativity in your salesforce can come from many sources.  One of your reps could be disgruntled at the company’s leadership for making a string of fateful decisions and decide to take it out on you. A rep could be disappointed or angry because he or she didn’t get a coveted promotion.  Someone could be frustrated at decisions made that affect commissions, even if the decision still gives opportunity to meet income goals but in different ways.

A salesperson might express his negativity first by telling you directly. Regardless of the outcome he might recruit others to share the same attitude by airing negative comments in meetings.  I’ve seen reps even hijack meeting agendas.  Worse is when a rep works the back channel to get others on board ‘the problem’.

Here are some ways to deal with negativity.

1)    Listen.  Though it’s tempting to shut down a negative person try the opposite.  Sometimes people feel they haven’t been heard.  You don’t have to promise that you’ll fix the complaint.  It might be beyond your authority to do so.  Authentic empathy can have a significant impact.  Be genuine when listening.

2)    Stick to agendas for meetings.  When a negative salesperson tries to take the meeting off track you can refer to the need to get back to the stated agenda.  It’s ok to ‘parking lot’ issues that come up even if they are the same ones expressed earlier.  Including time frames for agenda sections gives you another defensible stand.

3)    Differentiate whining from complaining.  A complaint is a one time event.  Whining is incessant and highly distracting.  Accept complaints as the valuable feedback they are. Shut down whining quickly.  One way to shut down whining is to address it 1:1. Tell the person his/her comments have been noted and now you need her to respect the process and time it takes to deal with it.

4)    The best way to keep the weeds out of the lawn is by growing healthy grass.  Constantly reinforce where you want your team to focus.  Overcommunicate.  Repeat yourself to make sure your message gets through.

5)    Don’t take it personal.  It’s easy to take a salesperson’s negativity personally for many reasons.  It prevents you from doing what you’d rather be doing – focusing on the positive things and what can be controlled.  When you take negativity personally it takes your immune system down, and when you’re down you can’t be as productive.  Plus,  you’re more likely to read into some comments as personal attacks when they aren’t.

6)    Find sources of positive energy.  Maintaining a positive defense mechanism takes effort and intention. Don’t expect it to just come naturally.  Maybe get into a routine every week or even every day to feed yourself the positive thoughts.

Good Selling,

Mark

Sales Coaching: Where You Put Your Coaching Attention Counts

I have fond memories of 4th of July holidays as a kid, mostly because of the famous Black Cat firecrackers.

My friends and I would spend the months leading up to the 4th earning saving what I could. I’d look for money lost in the couch, I’d skip lunch and pocket the buck fifty, and I’d mow lawns or caddy, all to buy Black Cat firecrackers. Black Cats were the king of the bang, better than all the rest. They were like what digital is to analog, or what HD is to old TV.

The potential to make a big bang and have fun with the Black Cats was high but the margin of error could be very small. If you’re weren’t careful, that little thing could cause a lot of damage.

Coaching salespeople seems to be like the Black Cat. If you’re a great coach you can make a big difference in someone’s life, but if you’re average or worse you sure can make a mess of things for people.   Some of it has to do with where you put your coaching attention.

Is this where your coaching attention is?

  • Are sales tracking to plan?
  • What’s the forecast look like this month?
  • How can we accelerate the sales process?
  • What do I need to do to get my salespeople to prospect more?
  • How can I find better candidates for the two open territories I need to fill?

By all means these are important issues. But how much coaching attention do you put to these things below?

  • Is anyone on my team not motivated to work hard right now? What can I do to understand that better?
  • Does anyone feel like I don’t listen well?
  • Does anyone feel neglected?
  • Is anyone feeling that I’m not fully recognizing his or her efforts?
  • Should I reach out to Mary after being pretty hard on her at the last region conference call?
  • Is anyone waiting to get some feedback they should have been given already?
  • Am I doing enough to understand the personal goals of my salespeople?

I showed these questions to a client and he said the former set is more about business issues, or outcomes while the latter set is more about personal issues, or inputs. I’ll buy that.

I’m not asking you to choose to focus on ‘inputs vs ‘outputs. Your people need you to give attention to both don’t they?

Some of you might be thinking you don’t have this luxury. You’re putting out fires, trying to protect business at risk, you’re trying to fill an open territory, you’re spending weekends creating the forecast to send to your boss, you’re onboarding a new rep, you’re preparing for an upcoming regional meeting. I can’t say I know how you feel but I know how my sales managers feel when they’re loaded down.

I saw a quote last year at a conference I attended on sales coaching that read “salespeople don’t leave their companies, they leave their managers.” Why do they leave their managers?   Is it because their managers don’t have a healthy balance of paying attention to ‘outputs’ and ‘inputs’?

This week when you talk with your salespeople, ask them at least one question that has more to do with how they’re feeling, how’s their mindset, their motivation, even how’s their physical health. Show them you sincerely care. Even dare to be vulnerable and let your people see the full ‘you’.

If you liked this tip and want to learn more I encourage you to contact me at the information on the screen. I’d really enjoy hearing from you.

As always, I wish you the best success, and good selling.

Mark Sellers

Sales Trainer, Coach, Consultant

Author The Funnel Principle – Buy It Here

Book a meeting with Mark here