The Cure for the High Cost of Losing Customers

When you hear about businesses that have high turnover of customers you might be tempted to think there’s something wrong with the business.

After all, why do customers leave their suppliers?  Maybe it’s an operations issue like a product problem or delivery problem.  Maybe it’s a sales issue.  Isn’t sales supposed to retain customers?  Maybe the customer has outgrown the capabilities of their supplier. They need ‘y’ and the supplier can only provide ‘x’.

Before taking any course of action companies would do well to know how their customer attrition rate compares to that of competitors.  Maybe your competitors shouldn’t be the bar you set but falling behind is probably not optional.  You might even compare your attrition rate to other industries.

Customer attrition of any degree is another reason to have a sound funnel management process.  Reducing attrition gives you fewer lost customers to replace YOY but in the end you’re going to lose customers and you’ll have to replace them to get back to square one.

Build or test your funnel management process against the following 4 parts:

  • Do your people have a funnel? A funnel is simply a list of opportunities that are getting selling attention.  It doesn’t matter if the list is an excel spreadsheet (cost effective!) or a fancy CRM.  The list provides visibility to you and them.
  • Do you have a way to organize the list? The best way to organize the list is to define how qualified the opportunities are. We call these funnel or pipeline stages. Each stage has a definition of deals that belong there.  This is critical for communication and valuing the funnel.  Our clients organize their lists with our BuyCycle Funnel™ model.
  • Do you have a way to talk about the funnel? If you speak Italian and I speak Dutch we’re not going to communicate very well.  Or, if you’re the coach of a basketball team and you draw up plays to beat a press, and your plays look to your players like a 4 year old’s pre-school artwork, they won’t get your coaching.  Every funnel management process needs terms and phrases for things like stages, funnel value, win rate, and more to enable coaching and understanding.
  • Finally, do you have a funnel inspection process? Funnels need to be changing throughout the year.  If they’re not they’re not healthy.  If you’re not aware of how your reps’ funnels are not changing, you can’t coach to reality.  They’ll get behind and backed up and in a corner that you can’t pull them out of.

So how does your company’s funnel management process stack up against this framework?  If you have all four parts, you’re off to a good start. But – and I mean a big but – you still might have a long way to go.

For example, visibility is important but it’s not valuable if what’s visible is not real.  When it comes to funnels it’s GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

For example, if your funnel inspections are nothing more than going down the list of deals and asking ‘what’s next?’, you’re not coaching to the funnel.  That will eventually catch up to you and your reps.

And if your way of talking about the funnel isn’t focused on where the customer is in the buying process then you’re swinging a golf club with one arm.

No one said it’d be easy. But the payoff is worth it.

 

Good selling,

Mark Sellers

Author, The Funnel Principle

Named a Top Ten Best Book to Read by Selling Power

Author, Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching available March 2019

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel

 

 

 

 

A Life of Leadership

He was lovely.

This past week our 41stpresident of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush passed away. He was 94 years old.

Like most of you, I yearn to find those brief and random moments of civility as I scan the papers or scroll through the sound bites on my phone.  I was thrilled to read the tone of the reporting on the former president’s passing.  The New York Times reported that when James Baker, the former president’s secretary of state appeared at Mr. Bush’s side sometime during his final days Mr. Bush suddenly grew alert and asked “Bake, where are we going?”  Baker replied “We’re going to heaven.”  The president responded “That’s where I want to go.”

The Washington Post offered a wonderful reflection of Mr. Bush as a high school senior when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941.  Instead of choosing the security of Yale, he enlisted.  Before he was 19 years old he was assigned to fly torpedo bombers off of aircraft carriers in the Pacific.  On a sortee toward a Japanese island Bush’s plane was shot down.  He commanded his crew to eject before the plane crashed into the sea.  Miraculously Mr. Bush survived.  His two crew members died.

CBS’s Sunday Morning had a reporter who recalled the 1987 Newsweek cover story of George Bush that labeled Mr. Bush ‘a wimp’.  The reporter said man did we get it wrong.

This is the paradox of humility.  What looks like weakness is actually strength.  Thomas Merton might say when you’re humble you’re living a second half life, a fuller, richer and more meaningful life than the false impression that a first half life wants us to believe.

We applaud humility but would rather not wear those shoes ourselves.  It takes too much sacrifice, too much risk, too much vulnerability. We fear how we’ll be seen (weak). We fear being taken advantage of. We fear we’ll miss out on something. Which is true, but in an ironic way.

Another article highlighted the relationship that Mr. Bush nurtured with another former president, Bill Clinton.  With the game clock expired neither one had anything to do against the other so they joined forces.  They used their heavy weight influence to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for charities.

It’s ok to think that it’s hard to be a strong leader today.  It probably seems that every day there are multiple forces working against you, some as simple as a flight delay to an important meeting and others complicated like a poorly functioning salesperson or manager.  It sure helps to have something to believe in, or maybe multiple things to believe in. Your strength needs a rock solid base.

Mr. Bush believed in country, family, friendship, God, service, the power of kindness, collaboration.

As for lovely comment, that came from Mr. Bush’s longtime friend Mr. Baker during the 60 Minutes interview.  Mr. Baker was emotional.

I watched the interview at our kitchen table with my wife Sunday evening and said to her “when was the last time you heard a man call another man lovely?”

Me neither.

How lovely.

 

 

Mark Sellers

Author The Funnel Principle, named by Selling Power magazine a Top Ten Best Book to Read

Author of Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching, available late Q1 2019

Sales trainer, coach and consultant

 

 

 

 

Your Blindspots Are Killing You – and Everyone Else

If you are a front line sales manager looking for ways to be a more effective coach, you need to get to root cause to better understand the underlying motives and factors that prevent you from becoming more fully the person and sales manager you can be.

You may have to go somewhere you have not before been.  You’ll need to be vulnerable.  You’ll need to trust the process.

Most of all you have to learn to confront your blindspots.

Before I explain what a blindspot is let me suggest that there’s something generally accepted, fundamental, and even pivotal to your salespeople achieving quota year after year.  They’re more likely to hit that quota when they are motivated to sell for you.  And they’re more likely to be motivated if you make emotional connections with them.

As it is with people in general you’ve probably found it easier to make an emotional connection with some salespeople.  The conversations with them seem to naturally flow.  The coaching you give seems to be more easily received.  For these people you seem to know what to say and how to say it to get the response you want.   There’s a connection.

Making an emotional connection with other sales people doesn’t effortlessly come.  Maybe they repeat the same behaviors that you’re constantly trying to change.  They repeat the habits you’re trying to break.  This frustrates you.  It might drive you crazy.

The problem is your blindspots are out to sabotage your ability to create emotional connections, build relationships with your salespeople and motivate them to succeed.

So, what exactly is a blindspot?

Blindspots are unflattering behavior that you don’t know you do that prevent you from emotionally connecting with your salespeople.  Blindspots can also be unflattering behavior that you are aware of doing but you just can’t stop from doing it.

Here’s an example.

Urban Meyer, the head football coach for Ohio State, unwittingly confessed to a blindspot.  In the wake of a personnel crisis in 2018 that became a PR disaster involving one his assistant coaches, and that resulted in a 3 game suspension for Meyer, he was asked in a press conference the day before his first game back from the suspension, if he thought members of his staff were reluctant to bring him negative information, such as information that contributed to the crisis.  He said he hoped not, but then added “That’s something that (athletic director) Gene (Smith) and I have talked about that I need to do. I always thought I had that atmosphere,” he said.  Meaning, he was unaware that his super intense, intimidating demeanor could actually keep people from coming to him with potential problems.  Classic blindspot.

What do blindspots look like for sales managers?  One is being judgmental toward a salesperson.  If you’ve ever struggled managing a salesperson who is a lot NOT like you, you’ve likely shown some judgment toward this person.  If she doesn’t work the territory like you would, or if she has a very different personality than you have, you might show signs of judgment.  Or let’s say you think you always have the right answer for something.  You likely don’t have much patience to let your salespeople arrive at their own discovery.  Instead you tell them what the deal is and you expect them to get it and move on.  When they don’t you are frustrated, even angry inside.

These aren’t healthy attitudes to build a coaching foundation on.

If it makes you feel better, every sales manager has blindspots.  The more you can discover and acknowledge yours the closer you’ll be to dealing effectively with them.

Stay tuned. In future blogs I’ll help you do that.

 

Mark Sellers

Author of The Funnel Principle

Author of Blindspots: The Hidden Killer of Sales Coaching (due out in Q1 2019)

The Illusion of Humble Sales Leadership

I’ve been on a journey the past several years to better understand humility.  It’s personal.

Seems we’ve always been drawn to people who are vocal and physical about their pride.  We praise the government leader who takes a stand for something we believe in.  We cheer the athlete who celebrates after leading her team to victory.  We look up to the charismatic speaker who whips the audience into a frenzy.  If pride was a beer it would be a heavily hopped IPA from the pacific northwest.  Humility?  Maybe a lager.

People who are boastfully proud exhibit confidence and strength.  They command attention.  They have a presence.   This influences us.  None of these traits are by definition negative or evil.  Most of us want to be led, and to follow we must be inspired.  But like all of us, the prideful person is inherently flawed, albeit in his/her own unique way.

The Wall St. Journal recently ran a story saying that the best bosses are humble bosses.  They have data to prove it.  Studies show that humble bosses inspire better teamwork and faster learning.  Their humility encourages others to share opinions and be more transparent thereby improving communication.   By contrast, the prideful boss shuts down communication and puts a drag on higher performance.

Here’s the illusion of being humble.  Humility connotes softness, gentleness, being meek, being weak, maybe indecisive.  If you’re humble you can’t be competitive.  You can’t possibly be firm with someone and you’re certainly likely to put up with sub-par or even toxic behavior on your teams.  Right?

I’ve witnessed the opposite.  I’ve seen humble leaders put others in their place.  I’ve seen humble leaders put reps on performance improvement plans (PIPS).  I’ve seen humble leaders fire people that have become a necessary ending.  Strong leadership and coaching doesn’t have to have an ego-based center.

What’s it take to be a more humble leader of your salespeople?  For one, listen more and listen hard.  That means you have to ask questions.  It means you need to be open to what you hear.

Two, seek feedback.  Ask your direct reports what part of your coaching is connecting with them and what’s not.  Ask your peers to give you honest assessments of what they see in you and your behavior.

Three, admit your mistakes.

Four, practice saying I’m sorry.

It’s possible that humility could be one of those business concept hot stars that shines so bright but then burns out so fast.  I could imagine every MBA program in the country soon offering courses in humility.  I hope it does get legs and runs like Forrest Gump forever.

Though it might fade in popularity I’m convinced that humility in business and sales leadership has a long life ahead.  People are drawn to humble leaders.  The connection is refreshingly real, honest.  However, I won’t be surprised if it eventually gets moved from page 1 to the lifestyle section.  But humility will be ok with that.  It’s never sought the spotlight.  It’ll be just fine.

Bartender, pour me a pint of that lager, please.

 

Mark Sellers

Author The Funnel Principle, named by Selling Power as a Top Ten Best Book to Read

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

Managing Partner and Founder, Breakthrough Sales Performance, a sales training, coaching and consulting company

A Sales Managers’ Toughest Duty – Necessary Endings

One of the challenging parts of a sales manager’s job is to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em when it comes to retaining or firing a salesperson.

In Henry Cloud’s wonderful book Necessary Endings, he talks about the need to prune even the live branches of a rose bush for the healthier, live branches to thrive.  Sometimes the best thing a manager can do for not only her region but also for the salesperson is to let that salesperson go.  As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow says in his poem Elegiac Verse ‘great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.’

This metaphor applies to our personal lives too. We all have necessary endings that we must prune.  Habits we’ve fallen into, patterns of thinking that have become toxic, malaise, prejudices and biases that we’ve allowed to creep into our thinking, pride taking over, etc.

Here are 3 things to consider when going through the challenge of deciding if you’ve reached a necessary ending with one of your salespeople.

One – Is she coachable?

Maybe this is highest on the list.  When someone is open to coaching it shows several characteristics including humility and an acknowledgement of weaknesses.  Being coachable means he’s open to feedback and to getting better. This is a darned good start.

 

Two – Does she give a shit?

If a salesperson comes off as lacking the drive to make changes and to be open to feedback she could be missing the fundamental need to have the energy to change.  I’ve seen ‘veteran’ salespeople who are sort of mailing it in, not willing to do what’s being asked by the manager to adopt a sales process.  This is passive resistance.  I’ve seen stubborn salespeople who resist taking the manager’s coaching because they think they know what’s best for themselves.  This is active resistance.

In our Funnel Audit process we can see more clearly if a salesperson lacks give a shit.  We still need to get under that to understand the motives.

 

Three – is he capable?

In the end sales managers need salespeople who are capable in the job.  For example, sometimes the sales manager needs more hunting activity than farming activity. If a salesperson doesn’t show capability in doing more hunting that doesn’t bode well for the rep.  If they show willingness to be coached or show give a shit energy sometimes those can compensate for deficits in capability.

Underperforming salespeople deserve a thorough and objective assessment of the reasons for their performance.

Good Selling,

Mark Sellers

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

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel

How to Leverage 80/20 for Sales Success

You’ve all heard of the 80/20 rule.  Also called Pareto’s Rule.  It’s one of the simplest, hardest principles to consistently apply. But boy does it pay off!

Take a quick test.  Look at your reps’ weekly or monthly to do list.  How many times do they fail to completely finish it?  How does that make them feel?  Are they finishing the goals that will make the biggest impact on their quotas and their lives?

Do your salespeople a favor and help them apply 80/20. Here are some ideas.

One – work on selling deeper into their existing customers before letting them pick ‘x’ new customer targets.

Often I see salespeople that aren’t getting more share of their existing customer business.  They either don’t target getting more share or they assume that the customer that buys from another company wouldn’t consider buying more from them. But these are great ‘Stage 0’ conversations to proactively engage with the customer.  It might sound as simple as this:

“I’d enjoy the opportunity to learn more about your total business needs and how we might better serve you. Can we get together to discuss?”   

Two – consider firing some of their existing customers.

Who would walk away from existing business?  I have a client that does this through its ‘product line simplification’ process.  It’s in their DNA to do this.  They spot low volume, low margin products that hurt the bottom line. Not only do these products return low margin but they also gobble up production time that could be spent producing and selling higher margin products.

Three – practice saying ‘no’.

This might be the hardest for many salespeople.  They love the hunt right?  But getting better at saying no to business that will cost more to service and with customers that offer little potential for growth and volume is often good business practice.

What happens when your salespeople exercise any of these strategies is they are forced to double down on existing customers and those with truly attractive potential for longer term growth and volumes.

Good Selling,

Mark Sellers

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

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel

Think of Rebounding When Coaching Salespeople to Prospect

How do you help salespeople prospect when they struggle to do so?

As a sales manager you may have that rep (or more) who struggles to add new early stage opportunities to their sales funnel.  Sometimes it’s a ‘farmer’ type who you’re trying to get to ‘hunt’ more.

During our clients’ Funnel Audits each month we inevitably discuss how to prospect to build healthier sales funnels.  It takes only a few cycles of Funnel Audits for us to know if a rep is generally more or generally less naturally inclined, and therefore competent, to prospect.

I realize this topic is a monster of possibilities but here I offer some of the simple ways we help our clients with this vital function.

A Qualifier

Many of my clients are SMBs that don’t have staff or know-how for running email marketing campaigns or lead nurture programs. Therefore much of the job of lead gen falls to salespeople.  You see why this can be a problem.

Here are ways we tackle this challenge.

Identify The Main Issue

I try to dumb down the prospecting challenge by asking the rep and manager these two questions:

Is your challenge more about getting access to the stakeholders in companies you have identified to call on, or

Is your challenge more about finding companies to call on? 

When the challenge is getting access we focus on these tasks:

1 – Are you targeting the right stakeholders?

2 – Is your message compelling enough to get their attention?

3 – Are you being persistent enough?

 

When the challenge is finding more companies to call on we focus on this:

1 – Are you sure you’re getting as much share of current customers’ business as you could be?

2 – Are there divisions or business units or lines of business within current customers that you could be referred to?

3 – Do you have a vetted target account list of potential companies?

4  – Are you being persistent enough?

 

See what’s similar? Again, I realize there’s more complexity to this challenge, but we have to start somewhere.  Often I find in my coaching that salespeople lack the persistence element.

Finding more companies sometimes means the rep needs to have ‘shorter term memory’.  They’ll say they don’t call on ‘x’ because ‘x’ turned them down the last time they pitched some business, or ‘x’ has been buying from competitor ‘y’ forever.  This may be true but it’s also defeatist.  Sales managers have to encourage reps to get back up to the plate again, take another shot, and keep trying, albeit with different creative approaches.

I think prospecting is a bit like rebounding in basketball.  Several years ago I taught my son’s 4thgrade team how to box out.  But in the games the boys who grabbed the rebounds were typically the ones who wanted the ball more, not necessarily the ones that boxed out well.  College announcers comment all the time that the team that wins the battle of the boards are usually the teams that looked like they wanted it more.

Prospecting struggles often come back to how bad you want it.  If you give up after a few tries of trying to see someone or break into a new account you’re doomed.  In my experience highly persistent salespeople are often rewarded by a stakeholder who finally gives in or even feels bad for not returning the call.

Good Selling,

Mark Sellers

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

Creator of The BuyCycle Funnel