Sales processes are fantastic guidelines to ensure that you are doing the proper things to be successful in your sales career. However, it is important to pay attention to the customer and make on-the-fly modifications to your process as the situation changes. As an example, the other day we had a consultation for some work to be completed around our house, and it was a very uncomfortable process. The sales rep was a 30-year industry professional that at some point in time made the switch to sales… It was clear during this consultation that this rep was using the Sandler Sales Process, taking me down the Sandler Pain Funnel. He was following the process to a tee, which wasn’t the problem. The problem was that he was so focused on the process and the questions within the process, he forgot the most critical item in sales or any customer-facing role: listening. While he was asking questions, he would look to his notebook and scribble notes as I was answering them. But, it became apparent that although he was taking notes, he wasn’t really listening. Instead, he was focusing on the next question in the process. As a result, we found ourselves giving him the exact same information multiple times—information that was shared as part of an answer to a previous question. This grew frustrating overtime because it didn’t just happen once or twice; it got to a point where we were repeating ourselves after every other question.
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Firing an employee is a difficult and sensitive subject for most. It is something to never be taken lightly as personal ramifications always go much further than we may know. With that said, it is a necessary evil in the business world; employees that are left to their own accords while not carrying their own weight can have significant negative impacts on the business. Unfortunately in today’s age, we see many employers holding on to employees much longer than they should, and their businesses suffer as a result. Now, if your business is doing well and/or you have no aspirations to aggressively grow your business, this article is not for you… However, if your business has been flat or struggling to grow over the past few years, it could be a result of a bad egg or two. In this article, we’ll cover common scenarios of when a business should consider terminating an employee.
Even the best employees can have slumps, family situations, or other situations that affect their work productivity. Before an employee is even considered for termination, there needs to be multiple attempts to work with the employee to help get them on track. Start with having a real one-on-one with the employee to understand their situation. To help make it personal, take the discussion out of the office and make it more informal (maybe over a cup of coffee, a walk, or just sitting outside). The goal is to help break down the formal barriers and truly attempt to understand the situation at hand… The hope is to uncover a root cause and help develop steps to help improve the employee’s ability to be successful.
Hopefully, understanding the employee’s situation and putting a plan in place will be exactly what is needed to get them back on track. However, if not, we suggest some type of performance plan that aligns goals to success. Everyone knows of these types of plans, but unfortunately, many get them wrong by making goals impossible to obtain. This is setting the employee up for failure, and worse, all of the other employees know this. This situation can really hurt organizational morale. Instead, goals should be fair and manageable, with a timetable to match. This gives the employee actual obtainable goals and an opportunity to turn themselves around. It is also a clear indicator that if they cannot turn themselves around in a situation set up to give them every opportunity to be successful, it’s time to let them go.
Here are some cases that may cause you to consider the possible termination of an employee:
This happens to be the most obvious of reasons to let someone go, however, it is not as cut and dry as you think. Like mentioned earlier, before it comes to termination, first you need to truly assess the situation to understand what is causing the poor performance. At times, one may discover that the employee is not the root cause of the problem and that there are outside factors that need to be addressed. However, if it is uncovered that the employee is the root cause and they show no improvement, it’s time to begin the transitioning process.
Negativity breeds negativity—there is no way around it. In every organization, there is always at least one aggressively negative person that is not only negative about their situations, but directly imposes their negativity on others. We’re not talking about the person that tends to get frustrated from time to time, but the person that is negative toward just about everything and not afraid to speak their mind (all the time). Again, it’s important to explore any underlying issues that can be causing such negativity in the employee and find ways to fix. However, we find that in most situations these people are just programmed that way, and unfortunately, nothing can be done to improve the situation at hand—they just do more harm than good.
Ivory Tower Employee
These are some of the hardest of all situations. We all have that one former all-star employee that had their glory years many years ago, however, progressively over time, their performance continues a downward spiral. But it doesn’t stop there. Because of their prior success, they find most tasks beneath them or treat coworkers as peasants that should kiss the ring in order to get them to do their jobs. This is always a difficult situation as they have street credit from their prior successes and may have been a model employee at one point in time, but at the end of the day, there is a lot to be said about humbleness. If their performance is subpar and they refuse to work in a professional manner with co-workers, it’s time to move on.
There is always that one person that is so “busy” that they never have time to take on new work, and they struggle to complete the work that has already been assigned. Much like in the case of poor performing employees, there needs to be an assessment of what exactly is causing the issue. Are they truly overworked? Is there an outside factor causing things to be backed up? Is there a broken process somewhere? There is a case where the issue of workload (aka busyness) can be fixed. However, if the employee is the root cause, it’s time to transition them out.
Boy, is this is a tough one. In some cases, you may have an entire team underperforming, but it would be impossible to terminate an entire team. In this case, it may make sense to find the worst of the bunch to terminate as an example to the rest of the team of what fate lies ahead should their performance not change. This one is a tough one, as it may not always have the desired effect. However, some action is better than no action when an entire team is making mistakes.
There are some people out there that have a great heart and mean well, but no matter how many times they try, they always tend to royally screw things up. This is another hard situation, as they really may be a great person. If their fumbles are having significant negative impacts on the business, it’s time to either find a role where they will have a smaller impact on the business, or remove them completely
A few additional tips:
Never terminate an employee out of anger. Let’s face it, we spend more time with our employees than our own families and closest friends; you are not always going to agree. At times, an employee can anger you to a point where you want to terminate them on the spot. Instead, take a breath and remove yourself from the equation and have another manager or executive step in to review the situation. There may be a time where emotions get the best of you, and after a cool down period, you’ll be happy that the employee is still with you.
Once an employee is identified as “questionable”, begin documenting everything. One of the key reasons why employers are holding on to employees longer than they should these days, is the fear of litigation. What is worse, is we are finding terminated employees (rightfully or not) are more often seeking litigation for termination. The best thing for yourself and the business is to ensure you have everything you need to back up the decision.
Whether you terminate an employee or they leave on their own, once they leave, there is a gap left in their wake. Recruiting is hard at times, and it can take weeks or months to fill an open position. This can have significant impacts on the business. We recommend to be “always recruiting”. This means always talking to possible candidates for the business. This allows both you and the candidate to get to know each other longer, helping both parties feel more comfortable when it comes to bringing them on to the business. This strategy can significantly reduce the downtime when you find yourself in need of filling a position.
We may sound harsh with what we shared in this article, however when it comes to your business, these hard decisions need to be made in order to be successful. Now, we always look at termination as being the last resort in the employee journey. We are strongly suggesting that employees are given every fair opportunity to turn their situations around, but some just can’t. Good luck, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Every time we read a new article on increasing sales from sales coaches, consultants, or the media, we see them hyping up social selling. This is a great suggestion, as we couldn’t agree more. Why? Because social selling does lead to an increase in sales. Here is the problem: a majority of sales reps and leadership have no clue what social selling really is or how to properly employ social selling tactics. Furthermore, most organizations as a whole have no clue how to sell socially or provide any real training around the topic. So, while everyone is hyping social selling, there is little about how to actually socially sell. In this article, we plan on reviewing Social Selling 101 techniques.
The first thing to understand when it comes to social selling or social media is that this stuff does not happen overnight. Social media is a process that takes time in order to develop a true online presence and impact revenue. We point this out because even at the executive level, we find that social media at its core is not properly understood. This leads to people being quickly discouraged when they do not see immediate results. Social media is an intangible marketing channel as it takes time to build up an online presence, and those results are not as directly trackable as traditional lead generation campaigns. Like TV or magazine advertising for example, it is understood that the ad is making an impression, and that those impressions lead to sales. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to track which specific ad led to which specific sale. There are tools that can be used for social media that will make tracking of social campaigns easier, but that’s for another article.
How does social selling work? Traditionally, the only way to educate prospects or clients is to be in direct communication with them via phone, email, or face-to-face meetings. Social media breaks into a new dimension of indirect selling. When social media is done properly, it becomes a new channel to educate your prospects about you, your company, products, success stories, and the industry at their own pace. Essentially, it is a new channel for brand education and impressions, which eventually leads to more educated and confident buyers. Another aspect is that people buy from people. Again, you only traditionally interact with your prospects and clients in a very limited window of time, which does not give them time to really get to know you. Social media gives them more exposure to you as a person, and overtime, it helps them become more comfortable with who you really are and builds up a trusted advisor status. It’s all about breaking down the traditional selling barriers.
With all of that said, here are a few tips to get you started:
Choose Social Channels – The first thing to figure out is which channels should be included in your strategy. LinkedIn and Twitter are pretty much a given for most professionals, but then there is Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest. In reality, if your business is heavy B2B, it is best to stick with LinkedIn and avoid the others. If your business is heavily consumer-focused, I’d put more emphasis on channels like Facebook, Instagram, and others. The key is to put yourself into the seat of your consumer to figure out what channels they may be using.
Set Up Social Accounts – This should sound basic, but as a next step, set up social accounts across the different channels you picked. Ensure that usernames are either your real name, a similar variation of your name, or something related to the industry. They need to be professional and convey exactly who you are. Also, this is the time to pick a profile picture that is actually you and a bio that makes sense. Again, people buy from people, so you want your community to know who you are professionally.
Start Following – Avoid following random people that have nothing to do with your industry. Start by focusing on people that are key influencers in the space, competitors, industry news outlets, your account base, and people within your accounts. People buy from people, and the more connected you can be with your industry, prospects, and accounts, the more familiar they become with “you” as a person. The key thing to remember is that this is not a onetime activity. Personally, every time I meet someone new, they get a LinkedIn and Twitter follow request. This is where the time aspect comes into play; you will start out with zero followers, and it will take a while to build up more followers.
Start Sharing – The second step to becoming social is to actually share content… This is also where the rubber meets the road when it comes to “social selling”. The first thing to note when it comes to sharing content is that under no circumstances should you directly message prospect sales pitches, or really anything; this tactic does not work (it pisses people off more than anything). Sharing content on social media should be educational; typically, we recommend sharing content, such as case studies, press releases, marketing content, trade articles, industry news, and other material such as that. The shelf life of a social post is usually minutes within certain channels—once you share content, after some time has passed, the likelihood someone will see it drops significantly. With that in mind, you want to continuously share content. We typically recommend sharing a minimum of 3 – 6 pieces of information a day.
Start Communicating – The third step to social selling is interacting with your connections. This does not mean sending a LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter sales message (as mentioned earlier, this does not work). Instead, read the various feeds to see what your community is sharing. If you see something interesting, Like, Share, or Comment on it. Another option is if you see some news on one of your accounts and/or contacts, you can mention them when you post content. Again, people buy from people, and this just helps bring in the human element back into the picture. There are tools available, such as HooteSuite or TweetDeck, that are free and can help with the monitoring aspect.
Recruit New Departments – Social selling is not limited to just the sales team—get other teams involved too. The companies that do it right have executive leadership, marketing, product, and other teams involved as well.
The key with social selling is to actually be social and educational without being a typical sales person. Also, it’s important to note again that social media takes time, and results are not seen overnight. Furthermore, social media is not a one-and-done event. The main mistake we see all too often is someone setting up their various profiles and walking away thinking people will magically come to them. Instead, dedicate a few minutes a day to social media; it truly doesn’t take much more effort than that. There are a few organizational examples to check out, such as @Drift and @HubSpot. They have some of the most socially-minded employees out there, and much can be learned from their use of social media.
One additional note: there is a byproduct of becoming social. It is that you begin to build your own personal brand in the market. The more information you share, the more people will take note. Future employers may take note on how influential you’ve become. Your community also becomes an additional asset that can come into play regarding how valuable a company may believe you are. Plus, social media is not easy, so it shows that you know how to put in effort.
Good luck and message us with any questions and/or tips!
Busy isn’t always productive… Let that sink in a bit.
How many times has someone told you about how busy they are, or how they can’t complete a new task because they have so much on their plates? We hear it all the time, but being busy doesn’t always equate to being productive. It is extremely easy for someone to have the appearance of being busy, but it is actually hard to be productive. In this article, I wanted to share a few tips for converting busy into productive.
Let us first say that there are some people out there that are always going to be “busy” and completely unproductive. No amount of training, education, and guidance will fix their habits; it is their way of life. In these cases, it really comes down to analyzing their work output to understand if they are net positive or negative to the business as a whole. If they are net positive to the business, then great, let them continue to add to the business in their own way. However, if they are net negative to the business, it might be time to remove them from the equation.
With all of that said, there are absolutely some easy steps to becoming productive:
Make a to-do list – A running list of items to do is an absolute must in today’s work environment. It is very rare that someone is working on only one task at any given time; for most, the amount of items needed to be completed is endless. By having a list of items, it allows for a visualization of what needs to be accomplished. This helps with movement from different tasks without taking up additional cycles figuring out what needs to be done next. As an added bonus, it always feels nice to strikeout completed items.
Prioritize – Hate to say it, but not all to-do items are created equal. As a list is created, assign a prioritization to each item as you go along. This will allow for identification of which items to tackle first.
Plan ahead – Use the final minutes of a day to plan the day ahead. Typically, towards the end of the day is when things tend to wind down. Use this time to reflect on the day’s activities of what was accomplished vs items that still need to be completed. Then, work to create a plan of action for the next day for tackling tasks that still need to be completed. This allows for structure in the early morning and helps get a jump start on the daily activities.
Start calendaring – Use your calendar like a daily planner and block out time for accomplishing tasks throughout the day. This allows for structure around items that need the most attention, while giving yourself a virtual timeline for completing each item. One tip: I’ve seen people attempt to do this a month (or months) ahead of time. This almost never works out the way it is intended. Because other priorities come into play over time, only look a day or so in advance.
Group related tasks – It seems like commonsense, but sometimes without taking a step back, you may not recognize the pattern of items in front of you. Grouping similar items together will allow your brain to take advantage of the patterns that begin to emerge, and you will accomplish tasks in a shorter amount of time.
STOP – We’ve all been stuck on a difficult task or something where the answer may not be coming to us. In these cases, instead of banging your head against the wall, stop, move on to another task, and come back to it later. The mind works in mysterious ways, and it will continue to work on the issue subconsciously while you move on to other items.
Limit distractions – Even the best of us can become distracted with e-mails, IM, phone calls, etc. when working on a task that is either time intensive or requires concentration. Turn distractions off: this means close down email, turn off IM, flip your phone over, and close the office door. Distractions cannot always be taken completely out of the picture, but they can absolutely be mitigated.
Work from home – This goes in line with distractions, but sometimes the office in general is distracting, especially with many organizations moving to open concept. When struggling with tasks, sometimes you’re best-served to work from home. Keep in mind that when working from home, you have to be self-motivated, and the home needs to be distraction-free as well.
Keep tabs on breaks – Breaks are a good thing but can quickly become a bad habit. Some people find themselves getting up from their desk to talk to a co-worker, hit the kitchen, or whatever else they can find to take their mind off the task at hand. Taking a break from a project is always recommended, but if you’re taking a break every 15 – 20 minutes, that could be more of a distraction than productive.
Delegate – It’s okay to delegate. Some people attempt to take on tasks that are completely foreign to them, or they overload their plates with too many projects at once. It’s okay to delegate tasks to people that may be better suited for them. At the end of the day, how productive is it taking three hours to complete a task that someone else can do in one?
Busy isn’t always productive, and over time, it can lead to burnout… Furthermore, employees and coworkers can always tell when someone is always “busy” but never really gets anything done. No one wants to get burnt out at their jobs or be known as the person that never gets anything accomplished. The tips we shared above have been proven many times over to help people become more productive… It only takes a few small steps. Have tips of your own, we would love to hear them!
Most CRM systems these days such as: Salesfore.com, Zoho, SugarCRM, Infusionsoft, and HubSpot are highly customizable, yet, even at their bases, they have enough capability to have significant impact on your business and efficiencies within it. In spite of this, you wouldn’t believe how many small businesses still run their firms with a piece of paper or Excel spreadsheet! What is even more unbelievable is that most small businesses have some type of CRM within their organization, but it sits to the side like some leftover desktop computer from the 90’s collecting dust. When used properly, CRMs can be one of the most useful and time saving tools within your business. In this article, we will cover how a CRM can be used to optimize your small business, and we’ll cover one of the most challenging topics when it comes to CRM in any organization—usage.
While CRM implies a tool for the sales team, when properly implemented, a CRM can be used as a single point of reference throughout the organization. However, at its base, a CRM is only as effective as how it’s being used and the data quality inputted. When it comes to CRMs, the expression that I like to refer to the most is “garbage in, garbage out,” and a CRM is pretty much useless without the various teams using it properly. Before we get into the mechanics and usefulness of a CRM, we need to first talk about usage.
When it comes to CRM implementation, especially when first being implemented into an organization, usage is typically the biggest hurdle. Most people see it as an additional step to their already busy and packed daily schedules as they are not aware of the downstream effects of a system like a CRM. The first step to usage is to implement a system that measures the team utilizing the reporting capabilities of the system and keeping the mindset of “what gets measured, gets done”. This means that essentially every team connected to the CRM needs to have some type of measurement: sales – pipeline and connections, marketing – lead counts, customer service – call resolution count, etc.
However, it doesn’t stop there; management needs to adapt a policy of then tracking these metrics on a consistent basis and using them for corporate reporting & meetings (not Excel Spreadsheets). Too many times, we see leadership defaulting to Excel spreadsheets, emails, or a piece of paper for tracking details, and this will frustrate employees. The question of why take the time to input information into a system that is not even being used by management always gets asked. Furthermore, another fix to ensure usage of a CRM is to directly tie compensation to stats and usage. As an example, no sales rep should ever receive commission if an opportunity is not in the system and doesn’t have proper documentation. Similarly, if your Customer Service team has a call resolution quota attached to their bonus, this information should be pulled via the CRM and not by other methods like Excel. At the end of the day, to ensure proper CRM usage throughout the organization, it truly does need a top down approach reflecting on the actions of management in what gets measured, gets done. As a tip, we have a habit of pulling up our CRM reporting in meetings and forcing the team to talk to their stats based on the reporting in the system.
As mentioned earlier, CRM is not just for sales. A properly implemented CRM can be incorporated throughout an organization making it a single point of reference for the organizations and improving efficiencies across the board. Remember, at its base, CRM is not meant for “oversight”, it’s just a byproduct of proper usage. Below we’ll review some of the departments and use cases for proper CRM implementation.
The sales department is clearly the best use case for a CRM; however, to ensure you are getting the most out of the system, do not limit usage to just sales opportunities or contacts. Sales should be using their CRM as the sole system of record and ensuring that they are transcribing all conversations, connections, and actions in the system. This will allow sales to ensure that they have a working knowledge of all their activities within each account—and most important of all, a proper pipeline. With so many conversations happening within a sales person’s day, it is fairly easy to forget conversations that happen earlier in the morning or throughout the week. With proper usage, they can use a CRM as that system of record, which allows them to keep tabs on past conversations and actions needed. Furthermore, as other departments interact with these same accounts, the sales notes become equally important to understanding the history of an account.
Marketing has changed over the years from being completely independent from sales, tending now to being fully integrated with sales, and in some cases, having the same leadership teams. Years ago, Sales had their CRM, and Marketing had their Marketing Automation Platform where they were two completely separate systems. However, as an example with Salesforce’s purchase of Pardot, marketing capabilities are now being built directly into CRMs. Especially with small businesses, this means that there is no need to purchase expensive marketing automation software anymore. This integration also allows sales to have a complete view of prospect and account activities leading to more efficient sales cycles.
Customer Service / Tech Support
Most organizations look to deploy separate systems for these departments, which might work for larger enterprise type organizations, but in small businesses, it is a key mistake. Small Businesses should look to take advantage of their existing CRM which may already have these capabilities out of the box. As an example, Saleforce.com has “Cases”, a complete section built out of the box for Customer Service or Tech Support. A few key advantages of using your CRM for these teams starts at simplicity, where there is no need to duplicate information across multiple systems. Not having to purchase a separate system keeps software and software management costs down as well. However, another advantage is that these teams now have access to critical sales notes to understand more about the history of an account. This leads to faster and higher quality closed calls ratios, as well as an overall better customer experience. Also, as sales is interacting with these notes, it gives them the ability to see call history which also leads to better customer experience from a sales perspective.
Most likely, one of the most overlooked departments from a CRM perspective is Product Development. However, companies like HubSpot have fully integrated their product teams into their CRM. Why? It’s simple: within their CRM, they actively track each and every customer’s usage and apply a score to that usage. This score can then measure how active or inactive each client is; this allows for sales and support teams to take actionable steps within each account to improve customer experience as it relates to their software. The overall effect is more customer usage and happier customers. There is also another byproduct; this view gives HubSpot’s entire product team access to usage data allowing them to pivot and make changes within the software. Although this information can be pulled from the software itself, the benefit of having it tied to the CRM is that they can have visibility into the specific accounts and history, giving them a more holistic view.
Finance is another overlooked department for CRM usage. Typically, like Customer Services and Support, organizations will deploy additional financial software. However, within a Small Business, it is not necessary. Although most out-of-the-box CRMs are not built for the financial department, small customization or plugins can offer solutions. For example, FinancialForce will give most financial teams the full capabilities needed in order to do their jobs. Again, this leads to a single system of record and decreased software cost.
Executive & Leadership
Executives are hit and miss when it comes to CRM usage, however, most are unfortunately a miss. Typically, you’ll find CEOs and Leadership running around at the end of the quarter with a piece of paper or some type of Excel spreadsheet looking for “real time” updates from their teams on opportunities to close or other stats. However, with a properly motivated team, a CRM can be updated in real time along with reporting functionality displaying real time updates directly to the CRM. Some areas included, but not limited to, are total pipeline, pipeline age, average close time, average deal size, average collections outstanding, call resolution times, etc. Many executives believe there is a need for an expensive EPM system in order to obtain cross-organizational insight, however with a properly set up CRM, a Small Business can get all this information and more in one spot.
Again, it is staggering the amount of businesses that do not have a CRM, and the ones that do barely scratch the surface of functionality. With a small amount of customization, a CRM can become an extremely powerful tool to optimize the performance of a business and get everyone on the same page. Most importantly, remember that “what gets measured, gets done”; your CRM should not be a set-and-forget system. Finally, management, once your system is set up, drop the Excel spreadsheets!
On Wednesday, January 10, 2018, AOTMP entered into an agreement to purchase Blue Hill Research and all of its assets, including existing employees: https://aotmp.com/aotmp-acquires-blue-hill-research. This is an interesting acquisition as AOTMP historically has been 100% focused on the Telecom Expense Management industry practitioners. In contrast, Blue Hill Research has a much wider focus on additional markets and the vendor community. The firm’s coverage includes areas beyond Telecom Expense Management, such as the Internet of Things, Mobility, Enterprise Analytics, Financial Operations, Governance Risk & Compliance, and Legal Technologies; Blue Hill Research clearly has a wider industry focus. Along with this wider industrial focus, Blue Hill Research also has a strong focus on marketers within the vendor community as a key buyer with a product set to match in areas like marketing content, infographics, Pod and Webcast.
Where Blue Hill Research has a strong vendor focus, AOTMP has a focus on industry practitioners (end-users). There are several ways that AOTMP can approach this acquisition as they merge the two organizations. As an example, over the years, the Telecom Expense Management industry has seen drastic changes and a push to move beyond data & telecommunications expense management. Telecom Expense Management originally started when organizations needed to get a grip on the rising cost of their overall landline communications expenses; they later shifted into data, wireless, and then wireless management. However, massive industry consolidation and fierce competition has essentially commoditized the market, and forced industry players to find the next frontier of industry growth. As part of this dynamic change, some have gone deeper into management, oversight, and procurement of mobile devices. Others have ventured into expanding deeper into IT departments looking to manage overall network assets and expense. As an example, the major industry organization TEMIA recently changed their names from “Telecom” Expense Management Industry Association to “Technology” Expense Management Industry Association. However, the jury is still out on whether this is the right direction or not for the industry as a whole. Some have even questioned the viability of the industry in future years for growth. With all of that said, the Blue Hill Research acquisition now gives AOTMP the flexibility to grow beyond the Telecom Expense Management industry into higher demand, faster paced industries.
Beyond the question of industry, the next area of focus is where to now draw their attention and business model. Again, AOTMP has historically had a focus on educating practitioners, where Blue Hill has been focusing on the vendor community with emphasis on marketers educating around the changing decision-making process in technology. In 2009, the IT industry went through a dramatic change in the way they purchased technology. Before the economic downturn of 2009, most IT departments were given their budget, and they made the decisions on what they thought was best for the overall organization. However, since then, power has shifted to the office of the CFO to make the final overall decisions, forcing the need for stronger ROI and business use-cases as part of the sales process. With this change, even with better business cases, you still ended up with financial decision-makers making decisions on items they have limited knowledge on. Furthermore, line of business who previously were not part of the decision process are now coming to the table with solutions of their own, bringing in IT to the decision-making process last minute. With this now complicated purchasing process, technology providers are struggling with this new buying process, and it’s leading to increased decision-making times and a growing list of lost opportunities. Blue Hill Research directed its attention on creating a research methodology focusing on these key decision-making groups, and helping to educate on the overall technological and financial benefits of a solution, along with guidance on the decision-making process. Integrating Blue Hill’s research methodology gives AOTMP a key advantage to move beyond the practitioners and further into vendor communities. They can do this while widening their focus to issues around the technology decision-making process—an area where traditional research firms seem to struggle in.
In summary, with the Telecom Expense Management industry struggling, the acquisition of Blue Hill Research may prove to be timely. This will ultimately allow AOTMP to expand beyond TEM, while widening its research portfolio and incorporating Blue Hill’s vendor and decision-making education methodology. The question is: what will they really do with the acquired assets?
If you live in New England, you’re most likely a Patriots fan. And if you live outside of New England, most likely you’re not. Whether you’re a Patriots fan or not, the Patriots’ ability to constantly win and execute almost flawless comebacks has essentially been unseen in football, or any other professional sport for that matter. They’ve triumphed over injuries, player trades and suspensions—and somehow over the past 18 years, they continue to win. Much of this winning tradition is founded off of some key principals of Bill Belichick with support from Tom Brady, Robert Kraft and others. What I find more interesting is that the same key principals can be applied to business to create a winning tradition as well. In this article we will cover the top 10 key principals the Patriots use to be successful that can also be applied in a business setting:
- Attention to Detail – The Patriots have a strong eye for attention to detail. Whether it’s on the field, training, or during press conferences, the Patriots pay attention to every little detail. Why is this important? In sports or business, the competition is constantly training and strategizing to find ways of winning in the field of competition just as hard as you. The small details are what will give your team a winning edge over the others, much like the Patriots.
- The Playbook – Every professional sports team has a playbook. However, the way the Patriots train and execute against it is at times almost flawless. What is a playbook? It’s essentially a set of plays based on foreseen scenarios on the playing field, typically put together based on past experiences. Much like in sports, business can benefit from a playbook as well—especially where most scenarios in business are not completely new. Creating and training your team to execute against a playbook will allow them to be more nimble and execute faster to achieve better results.
- Continuous Improvement – The Patriots may have a playbook, but it is not the be-all and end-all of their strategy. Bill Belichick and his coaching staff are always finding ways to improve upon their playbooks which allows them to continuously improve on their situations. As an example, the Patriots have an impeccable record coming into the second half of a game to overcome extreme deficits. How have they been able to do this? As the gameplay goes on, they do not focus on what went well; instead, they look at what went wrong, and during half-time, they strategize on improvements. Both coaching staff and team are attuned to this and able to pivot allowing them to come back to the field with a better strategy than they left. Business needs to have the same type of mentality. As your team progresses through a strategy or develops a business plan, they should always be looking to find faults and for ways of continuous improvement. Then the most important part: execution.
- Every Little Bit Counts – The Patriots are always working on ways to gain a few extra yards, and these extra yards, although small in nature, add up when the game is all said and done. Business is the same. Many organizations are always going for the long ball, when short gains will do. As an example, a $100,000 contract is a decent size, but how much effort can go into winning $100k? Now reflect upon how much easier it is to win $15,000 or $20,000. Start winning some of those $20,000 deals, and by year’s end, you find that you’ve earned yourself an additional $150k – $200k.
- Never Give Up – The Patriots, especially over the past year (or so), have found themselves seriously behind in games. Most famous of these situations was last year’s super bowl when they came back from a 25-point deficit to win with seconds to spare. Where most teams shut down, the Patriots persevere; through following the playbook and continuously improving, they never stop. They know that with a few small changes in their game, there is always a chance to move the ball forward. In business, your team needs to have the same mentality to always find ways to win. As an example, I’ve seen organizations behind in their Q4 numbers absolutely fall apart. However, I’ve also seen some come together, strategize, and push as a team to meet and exceed their numbers.
- Team – Quite simply, the team is everything when it comes to the Patriots. They have set up the organization in a way that there isn’t any one single point of fault and everyone works together. Since Bill Belichick has taken over the Patriots, with the exception of Tom Brady, he has seen his fair share of “star” players come and go from the organization, but he always somehow figures out a way to win. This is because he ensures that when he comes up with his playbook, everyone has a part and everyone knows it. This also means that anyone is replaceable at any time. In business, you need to have the same mentality; too many organizations have a single point of failure. When that person goes on vacation, gets sick, or leaves your organization, there is a huge hole left in their wake. When setting up your organization and playbook, ensure you have a team effort in place with no existing single points of failure (including yourself). It’s a harsh term, but make it so that “everyone is replaceable”.
- Keep Your Cards to Yourself – Bill Belichick has been famous at press conferences for his stone-faced emotions and dry nonspecific answers. This is not because he hates press conferences (well maybe he does), but it is a key part of his strategy. When a player is hurt for example, he doesn’t outright share that the player is hurt during these conferences. He typically waits until the last minute to release this information. Why? It’s because he wants to keep the competition on their toes regarding what scenarios they should be planning for as they move into the next game. Businesses need to think the same way in order to keep a strategic competitive advantage. As an example in today’s market, “time to market” has significantly decreased, and companies can launch new services and/or products in days instead of years or months. Keeping new releases closer to your chest until launch allows for a greater amount of time between when your competition finds out and when they can launch a competitive service.
- Dedication – There has been no question of Tom Brady’s dedication to the team and sport. He is typically known to be one of the first players to show up for practices and even more well known for his eating and training habits. This is how number 199 of the draft pick has made himself one of the best sports players of all time as a 40-year old. As individuals, if you want to be top of your games, there needs to be dedication to your craft beyond the hours of 8 – 5. Always find ways to educate and keep yourself mentally sharp, and always hire someone with the same attitude. I’ll personally take someone with heart and dedication over someone with raw talent any day of the week.
- Zero Tolerance – Bill Belichick has been known for his zero tolerance attitude. Miss practice, and you’re benched for the next game. Speak negatively towards the team, and you’re benched for the next game. Too many organizations tolerate employees with harshly negative attitudes and poor work performance for too long of a time. Negativity breeds more negativity.
- Block Out the Noise – Almost at every turn through the season, there is a new article bubbling up in the news about something controversial with the Patriots. However, they do an impeccable job in blocking that noise out to focus on their jobs. As an example, the Patriots are infamous for their press conferences for frustrating the media by refusing to address or answer questions as it relates to the current issue at hand. Business can learn from these lessons of cutting out outside noise to focus on the task at hand. There are only so many cycles in a day to complete what needs to be done, so why focus on something you have no control over?
At the end of the day, it’s important to have strategy in order to be successful in sports and business. The Patriots have one of the most well-rounded strategies we’ve ever seen: a strategy that can easily be translated to business. As a word of caution, many of the items above seem easy at their base, but they take discipline and time for them to truly help you be successful. However, if you put in the effort and focus on the small details, your team will see success. And remember—if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!
Beats by Dre is arguably one of the most successful marketing stories in recent history. Sure, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine are very successful businessmen and music producers, but what really made the sale to Apple was their success in how they marketed the headphone company to the consumer market.
At the end of the day, Beats by Dre are nothing more than an estimated $16.89 pair of weighted headphones that Apple paid an estimated $3 Billion to acquire. How Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine made it to this point was nothing more than marketing genius. Founded in 2006, Beats became a household brand in a matter of months as a result of a marketing plan pushed by the duo. As Beats were just hitting the market, both Dre and Iovine worked closely with well-known music artists to ensure they were seen with the headphones by public eyes as detailed in their latest biography, The Defiant Ones. In short order, Beats made their way into music videos, artist social media accounts, and photo shoots, amongst other places. The pair then set their targets on professional athletes within the NFL, NBA, and other professional sports; this made Beats visible to a whole new market with major sports athletes now wearing Beats daily on national TV for tens of millions to see. The widespread use of Beats within the music and sports industries quickly skyrocketed the little-known venture into the national spotlight, and in 2012 Beats made their way into the global spotlight with Olympic athletes. The visibility with music artists and athletes alike made Beats a household name and at the top of every teenager’s wish list.
However, the marketing genius of Beats didn’t stop with celebrity endorsements. The design of the headphones themselves were straight out of a “how to” marketing playbook, starting with the iconic “b” logo on the side of each headphone. This simple but unique logo made Beats stand out, not only when celebrities would wear them, but when your everyday consumer would wear them as well. When someone was wearing Beats, there was no missing it. With brand recognition as a major influencer in today’s consumer market, the simple little “b” was integral to getting the brand the visibly it has today.
Beyond the logo, the headphones themselves were all about the design as opposed to one of their main competitors, Bose. When sitting a pair of Beats headphones next to a pair of Bose headphones, the differences were clear. Bose’s simple matte black finish with a chrome logo contrasted with Beats’ multitudinous array of glossy colors that not only stuck out in a crowd, but allowed individuals to personalize by picking their favorite color. As Steve Jobs did with the induction of the iMac, the duo did the same with Beats; personalization was a game changer for the high-end headphone market and everyone wanted it.
Finally, the pair didn’t stop at celebrity endorsements, a simple yet clever logo, and a look that everyone wanted, they also made a product that “felt” like quality. Part of the design included heavy metal components (that some say equates to about one-third of the total weight) giving the product a heavier and more expensive look and feel. With most consumer products, lighter tends to have a cheaper feel, whereas something heavier tends to lead to thoughts of higher quality. As an example, car companies spend millions of dollars to get the feel and sound of a closing door right because consumers want a product that feels quality.
Overall, the quality of the sound has been considered “decent,” not great, when compared to other competitors, but that’s not why Apple paid $3 Billion for the brand. The partnership between Dre and Iovine led to a brand that quickly became a household name with a significant fan base and sales numbers to back it up showing no signs of slowing down. The key to the story of Beats by Dre is that marketing should play a significant role in product design and everyday product strategy. In the social day and age that we live in today, having a great product is just not enough anymore—it needs to look and feel the part.
They all offer up their services for free either as a free trial or as a free service alternative to their premium paid service; they rely heavily on their free services to drive revenue for their organizations. Most of these organizations even used a free version of their services as a launching pad for the business. Case in point, there was a time when you could not buy a DVD player without getting a free 30 day trial Netflix coupon inside the box. At this point, Netflix did not have the name recognition they currently have, and it was their free trial that truly helped them become the household name they are today.
If you run either a software or a services based organization, it is in your best interest to establish a free trial or a free version of your service. Not too long ago, I made this recommendation to an organization. Their CEO’s instant reaction was, “No, offering free trials will give people the ability to sign up for the trial and download our entire library. As a result, they will have all our content for free, and no one will pay for our service”. Sure, that was a valid statement as some people will sign up for a trial, use it for all its worth, and never become a paying customer. However, the first thing we say to that is when it comes to free trials, there will be some people that will take advantage of the free trial and never become a paid customer. At the end of the day, these people will never become a paying customer, regardless of the free trial’s availability. A free trial of a software or service must have a delicate balance between showcasing enough of your solution to allow a buyer “to want” to become a paying customer, and not giving away too much for free. When it comes to free trials, there are a few stopgaps that should be put into place to ensure you’re providing enough value, but not letting people take advantage of your service. In this article, I’ll review some of the basic steps your organization can put into place to launch a successful free version of your solution.
- Time Limits: Most services offer a 7 or 30-day trial. Choose what is best for your organization; 7 days may not be enough, but 30 could be too much.
- Qualification: Some free trials do not need much qualification beyond an e-mail address. However, if you believe your service is valuable enough, set up a qualification process where a prospect must be qualified by an actual person on your team before being allowed into the trial.
- Limits & Gates: Do not offer up everything for free. Allow a prospect enough access to your solution to see the value, but limit access to premium items. This gives them more of a reason to purchase a solution. However, do not limit the trial to an extent that no value can be extracted.
- Cut-offs: Repeat offenders should be cut off when trying to sign up for another trial.
- Training & Communication: Many organizations fall short on training and communication. Assuming that the prospect knows exactly how to use your service is a surefire way to have an unsuccessful trial. Ensure that you offer training, guidance, and other communications with your prospects throughout the process as many prospects will abandon a trial when they are lost or not seeing the value they were expecting.
A free trial, although simple in nature and can generate customers on its own, must also have some structure in order to generate the highest numbers of conversions to paying customers. Here are a few things that you should look at when deploying a free trial.
- Trial Tracking: Whether it’s a piece of software or a service, it’s important to understand exactly how prospects are utilizing a free trial. Tracking trial usage can provide valuable insights to where prospects are getting hung up, tools that are used most often, and other actions that will help you understand the overall experience prospects are having. Armed with this information, your sales team can build a tighter bond with your prospects giving them actionable insight to progress successfully through the trial. Also, the data collected can be invaluable for improving your solution in future revisions.
- Training & Consulting: As mentioned above, do not assume that your prospect has the best understanding of your solution, or even the best use case. There should be several methods of communication, training, and assistance throughout the trial process. This will allow your prospect to extract the maximum value from a trial increasing the likelihood they will purchase.
- Customer Contact: Ensure that there is always an easy path for your prospects to reach technical support, sales, or any other relevant department whenever they have troubles, questions, or just want to learn more. Responsiveness is key in this situation, as your prospect can be evaluating other solutions at the same time.
- Ease of use: You would not believe how many free trials are out on the market today where you need a Doctorate in Astrophysics in order to figure them out. Prospects have extremely short attention spans and if they cannot figure out how to use your service in a few short minutes, they will most likely abandon your trial.
- Marketing: Many originations will hide their trial or make it extremely difficult to sign up. Instead, like the organizations mentioned earlier, put it front and center. Again, trials convert to paid customers at an exponentially higher rate than most lead generation sources.
Adding a free trial to a portfolio is not enough; take the time to think about how your trial is set up and executed for maximum benefit. Properly executed trials will increase an organization’s lead to customer ratio, shorten sales cycles, and ultimately lead to increased revenue. In conclusion, do not be afraid of the prospects that use your trial and never purchase—they were never going to buy in the first place. Instead, focus on the prospects that show genuine interest in your solution!
One of the biggest mistakes organizations make today is not having a “real” account management plan in place. Whether it is at the executive, marketing, or sales rep level, we’ve uncovered that once you peel back the layers of the onion, you find the strategy is nothing more than a bunch of names on a napkin defining a territory. Most organizations will define that account territory based on a list of accounts that match what “they sell,” starting with the largest or most recognizable accounts, and in some cases, every possible buying account in a given region. Once a territory is defined, it is then up to sales to start calling down the list and do their “sales” thing. Separately, marketing is on the other side of the wall doing their “marketing” thing. Sure it’s an okay place to start, but if an organization really wants to be successful, it has to take the account management strategy to the next level. In this article, we’ve defined a few strategies to tighten your account management strategy.
As a first step, you’ve identified your ideal account territory as it relates to the products you sell. It’s a start, but in order to be successful, more layers need to be put into place to identify where to start. A list of accounts is nothing more than a list of accounts; a lot of time can be lost before you find the ideal buying accounts within that group. However, there is a methodology that can be applied to that list of accounts that will allow your team to identify who they should be targeting first, and how much time they should be spending with each account. This is called the account tiering process. When you tier an account base, you are essentially grouping them into buckets in a fashion that gives focus to your account management strategy.
Factors in reviewing accounts:
There are multiple factors that should be reviewed when starting to tier the individual accounts. Here are a few:
- Website – Is it clean and does it look like they spend money on marketing? Or does it look like it was coded in someone’s basement back in 1999? This is important as an indicating factor of whether they spend money on marketing and technology. If they spend in these areas, it means they could likely have available budget in others as well.
- Employee size – Are they a one or two-person shop, a business of a few hundred, or an organization of tens of thousands of employees? Typically, you want to shoot for targets that fit in the middle. Midsize firm decision makers are easier to obtain direct access to, and the decision-making process is usually simpler. Stay away from smaller firms as they commonly have little to no budget and can easily turn into time sucks. Larger firms, although they provide great logos for the company overview deck, are usually extremely difficult to turn into buyers, take longer to pay, and typically have long vendor approval processes.
- Tenure – How long have they been around? Are they a startup that just received funding, or are they someone who has been around for a while? Although first round start-ups spend money, they are someone to steer clear of until they get more established. Even if you get a startup to buy, you will most likely take up most of their available budget, and their likelihood to purchase again is low. On the other hand, an established firm will have a firmer budget and be more likely to spend again.
- Pricing – How much do they charge for their product, and how much do you charge for yours? Are they selling high ticket items and can recoup their investment in one or two sales? Or is their sales price significantly lower, and if so, do they have the volume to recoup the investment? If you’re selling something worth $100,000 and their average sale price is $8 a month with a small customer base, you are guaranteed not to get a sale (unless they have huge funding).
- Prior spend – Have they spent with your organization before? Prior spend is a great indication that they could spend again. Getting someone to buy for the first time is the hardest part.
- Annual Reports and 10k’s – These are untapped resources for many companies. They will typically list key organization priorities, changes, and in most cases, budget for certain departments. Do their priorities fit yours?
All of these factors come into play with tiering your account territory as it all plays into ease of sale and their likelihood to purchase from your organization again. Once you’ve evaluated your account territory across the factors above, the next process is to begin to tier each account.
- Tier 1 – These should be the accounts that are 100% in alignment to what you are selling without question, along with checking every box in the criteria above. These accounts are a direct home run fit, and the very first place to start. They should be the focus of 60% – 70 % of all activity.
- Tier 2 – Although you cannot check all boxes from above, you can check most of them. And overall, they are in great alignment to your products & solutions. These accounts should be about 10% – 20% of your focus from an account management perspective.
- Tier 3 – They fit less than 50% of the boxes above, but are still interesting. They should be about 5% – 10% of your focus.
- Tier 4 – They fit one or maybe two of the boxes above. Focus 0% of your time on these accounts and figure out a nurture marketing campaign to target them. Let marketing automation do the hard work for you, as it will take too much effort to get a sale, and they will most likely not be a repeat buyer.
- Global Accounts – Finally, the F500 or above. These organizations hit every one of the attributes above, but are historically the hardest accounts to crack. Most organizations make the mistake of targeting these establishments first, but so is everyone else. Not only are these accounts hard to crack, there is also an extreme amount of competition in the mix. Focus around 20% – 25% of your effort into these accounts. If you do things right, you will get them to buy over time, and they will be your greatest accounts without you having to sacrifice your short term gains by working on other accounts.
You’ve taken your account territory, and you now have an organized list tiering out each target. What’s next? Name development! Both sales and marketing need to know who to target within each account. When it comes to name development, do not make the mistake of only finding one or two names within each account—it’s a losing battle. In order to set yourself up for success, you must target a minimum of five to ten names per account across multiple departments. Each account is a little different, and you never know who could be a key influencer, a core decision maker, or who left their position and didn’t update LinkedIn. Furthermore, as you begin to target these accounts, you should constantly add new names to grow out the list. With each new connection, you should go beyond your typical email and title, and ensure that you are connecting with them on social media profiles like LinkedIn and Twitter.
Sales & Marketing Alignment:
Finally, once you’ve identified your account tiers and key contacts within each account, you can now start the planning with marketing. In most organizations, marketing and sales couldn’t be further apart; instead, bring these two departments together and develop a strategy. Marketing should know who your most important accounts, contacts, and opportunities are in order to develop marketing campaigns targeting these accounts and contacts. The sales and marketing strategy should be updated each week to include new weekly targets.
As marketing and sales get together to develop a strategy, there are just a few things that should be covered:
- Social Media
- Have these key targets been followed on individual and corporate social platforms?
- How do we get these key targets mentioned in social media posts?
- Are they posting any content that can be commented on, liked, or shared?
- Has there been any content that mentions these key targets directly?
- Has any content published that they would be interested in?
- Do they have a key strategy or use case that can be covered in a blog?
- Have these key targets been added to the newsletter?
- Have they been targeted as part of an email marketing campaign recently?
- Can a special campaign be created for them?
- Are there any analytics that show they have been reading these emails?
- Do you know if they visited the website?
- What pages have they viewed?
- Does anyone have personal knowledge of these organizations?
- Has executive leadership reached out to them personally?
Many of the items above, can help create marketing air cover for sales as they are making direct contact with your key targets. These activities show your key targets that your organization has taken genuine interest in them, while giving them educational material to help progress them forward in the sales process.
A proper account management strategy does not develop overnight and does not only include sales. Knowing who to target and how to target individual accounts will increase an organization’s efficiency from both a sales and a marketing perspective. This will lead to a faster sales cycle and increase overall deal sizes. Just because you have a list of accounts to call, it doesn’t actually mean you have an account management strategy in place.