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I’m currently in the process of performing final edits to my book to ready it for publication. A big part of this process is modifying the manuscript to incorporate inside sales – which plays a much bigger role in SPE than it did when I started work on this book a few years ago. This chapter will probably end up being merged with the existing Chapter 3.

Introducing Inside Sales

This discussion is worthy of its own chapter for a couple of reasons.

First, as you’re about to discover, the odds are pretty good that you need an inside-sales team. And, what’s more, the creation of this team should probably take priority over whatever changes you plan to make to your outside sales activities.

And, second, our discussion of inside sales – is going to bring us face to face with a set of fundamental changes in the way most markets function. And that’s not a bad place to start.

The death of field sales

As I write this, The death of field sales is my most popular lecture topic. Most event organizers assume that I exaggerate in order to capture busy executives’ attention.

Well, it’s true that headlines often benefit from a little hyperbole, but there’s less exaggeration here than you might expect. In most markets, field sales is either dying, or its dead already!

Of course, I’m not heralding the end of field salespeople. There is a requirement for field salespeople in some (but definitely not all) markets now – and there will always be circumstances where face-to-face selling is indispensable.

What are on their way to extinction are environments where sales is essentially an outside activity. Even in engineer-to-order environments today (think JSG), only a tiny percentage of the total volume of activities required to originate and prosecute a sales opportunity are performed in the field. And those important field activities would simply not occur if it were not for the volume of work performed inside.

The fact is, sales today is an inside endeavor, supported, in some cases, with discrete field activities.

If you want proof, follow one of your field salespeople around for a week. What you’re likely to discover is that your field salesperson spends less than 10% of their time in the field. The balance of their time will be spent in an office of some kind (your head office, a branch office, a home office or a makeshift office in the backseat of a rental car!).

If my prediction is correct, your field salesperson is not really a field salesperson at all. They are an inside salesperson who performs occasional field activities.

There are still some markets where sales is essentially an outside activity. Trade tools, for example. Think of Snap‑on, whose operators pilot their white, red and black trucks direct to workshops and building sites and sell on the spot.

But, these markets are an exception, not the rule. It’s rare, today, to find customers who are happy for salespeople to drop-in, unannounced. Actually, in addition to making drop-ins impossible, most organizations go to quite some effort to rebuff even those salespeople who are polite enough to attempt to schedule a meeting in advance!

We have technology to blame for this disturbing state of affairs.

Fifty years ago, an organization’s (potential) customers were out there, in the field. Relative to today, they were isolated from their vendors. This is before fax machines and PBX’s were pervasive, and certainly before, email, websites and instant messaging. Salespeople bridged this geographic divide by visiting with customers in the field – and by ferrying information back and forth between their head offices and customers’ locations.

Today, customers are no longer isolated from their vendors. Vendors’ organizations are as close as the nearest web browser. And fax machines, private lines, email and instant messaging have made it easier for customers to communicate with representatives in organization’s head offices than it is to communicate with their salespeople!

That’s right, where field salespeople historically served to reduce the friction between vendors and their customers, today, it’s more likely that salespeople add friction! Certainly, it’s quite common to hear customers complaining that they can get better information and faster outcomes if they side-step salespeople and communicate direct with vendors’ head-office customer-service teams.

Salespeople have responded to this situation with a mixture of defiance and pragmatism. Continue reading “The Machine > Bonus chapter > The death of field sales” »


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I’ll let you in on a secret.

Here at Ballistix, we all love fixing customer service teams. It’s easy to do. The transition to an optimal environment is low-cost and relatively risk-free. And the pay-off is huge.

The pay-off typically arrives in two tranches.

First, you get an incremental increase in business as a consequence of customers discovering that, all of a sudden, it’s easier to transact with you.

And, second, you get the ability to scale-up your sales team’s volume of meaningful selling interactions because now – of course – salespeople are no longer involved in customer service tasks.

Here’s an interview with Keith Cornelius – the leader of the customer service team over at Blast-One International in Columbus, Ohio. Keith describes the journey he’s been on to reengineer his team and to increase both the velocity and the quality of customer service activities.

(Can’t view YouTube? Use this link.)

You’ll learn why he did it, how he did it and what the consequences have been, now that he’s done it.

Keith talks about the physical changes he had to make to his customer service environment.  You’ll hear all about the banning (and burning) of notebooks. The importance of short, daily, stand-up work-in-progress meetings. And about the technology that’s required to make customer service sing – and how best to use it.

And Keith will tell you about the human side of the transition.  The apprehension of team members at the commencement of the journey.  About team members’ transition from doubting Thomases to believers. And, importantly, about the significance of watching (nay, obsessing over) one critical number!

You might be tempted to skip over this case study because it’s not directly focused on generating sales but, before you do, realize this: if your salespeople are currently involved in quoting, processing orders or solving customer’s transactional problems, your constraint isn’t sales, it’s customer service. Continue reading “No more notebooks: how Blast-One International boosted customer service quality” »


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When executives are first introduced to Sales Process Engineering, they naturally assume that this new approach to sales will be tough on salespeople.

But, interestingly, it tends not to be.  Salespeople adapt quickly. They enjoy working in an environment that’s custom-engineered to multiply their productivity.

The individual who really suffers as a result of this transition is the Sales Manager.

While the Sales Manager may approve of SPE in theory, in practice, they find themselves presiding over an environment they no longer understand and, as a consequence, an environment they are ill-equipped to manage. Without executive foresight, this is likely to result in the sales function becoming rudderless at the very time you are trying to chart a new course.

This final chapter discusses management requirements of the new model – as well as the special requirements of the transition to SPE.

Why does management exist

It doesn’t hurt to start our discussion by reminding ourselves why management exists.

We touched on this in Chapter 2, when we recognized that division of labor creates the requirement for management.  When team members narrow their focus to a tiny sub-set of tasks, the responsibility for the synchronization of the environment as a whole needs to shift elsewhere.

Enter, the manager!

In practice, managers tend to be responsible for more than just the internal synchronization of their functions.  They are also responsible for:

  1. Maintaining the integrity of their domains: this translates into practical activities like hiring and firing, controlling expenses, ensuring procedural compliance and so on
  2. Managing the interface between their functions and other organizational functions

In the modern organization, management has become stratified:

All but the smallest organizations evolve three levels of management – each with quite a different set of responsibilities:

  1. Line management: the direct management of individual contributors (supervision)
  2. Functional management: the management of a department
  3. Executive management: responsible for long-range decision making and the architecture of the organization

Management and the standard model

In traditional environments, we tend to encounter managers at both the functional and executive levels.[i]

If the organization is large enough to have an executive-level manager with sales responsibility (a VP of Sales and Marketing, for example), we typically find that these individuals are very capable – and ideally placed to champion the transition to the new model.

However, where functional managers are concerned (the standard-issue Sales Manager), we tend to find that these individuals are either quite poor or quite exceptional (and they rarely fall anyplace in between!).

We have the design of the standard model to blame for this.

As we’ve discussed previously, the hallmark of the standard model is that salespeople operate as autonomous agents.  Of course, autonomous salespeople and sales managers are two incompatible concepts.  Salespeople either march to the beat of their own drums, or they don’t.

Sales managers develop two methods for coping with this conundrum.

The first, most common, method is to avoid managing salespeople in the traditional sense of the word.  The sales manager who adopts this approach tries to establish themselves as a coach or a trusted advisor to salespeople.  When there’s a requirement for the sales manager to exercise some control, they will attempt to exchange some of the goodwill they have established with salespeople for a concession or two.  They’ll call-in a favor, in other words.

The second method is to pay lip-service to salespeople’s autonomy but to ignore it in practice.  The manager who adopts this approach will use the force of their personality to overpower their team members’ autonomous ideals and rule them with a mix of fear and grudging respect.

Sadly, a manager who has adopted the first method will find the transition to the new model very difficult (if not impossible).  Unfortunately, their history with the sales team has resulted in the establishment of a number of negative precedents.  Even if salespeople can put these precedents behind them, the sales manager very often can’t. Continue reading “The Machine > Part 2 > Chapter 11: Managing the sales function” »


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The Les Mills (East-coast, USA) story

Erin Kelly and I get on pretty well.  But when we first met, we argued about a bunch of stuff!

We disagreed on commissions, of course.  Erin wasn't so sure it made sense to convert salespeople from piece-rate pay to salaries.  Then there was the whole idea of centralizing the lion's share of sales activities — and even moving the locus of sales from the field to inside.  Erin had been around sales a long time and she wasn't quite sure how that theory would survive contact with reality!

This morning, two years on, Erin and I connected again (in the video below) and we chatted about Erin's experience implementing the plan we hatched together back in March 2011*.

Turns out that reality has been quite accommodating, where our theory is concerned. In Erin's own words, after moving all salespeople to salaries, downsizing the field team from 10 to just a few, building an inside-sales team and using events to generate around 50% of sales opportunities:

Productivity has definitely not suffered. It's actually improved. Sales performance has improved overall. Sales Revenue is up.  Costs are down, from an overhead perspective.

A big part of that is due to Erin's management capability (which is truly impressive).  But the story certainly is testament to the power of SPE.

Watch the interview and see what you think (let me know in the comments below)!

In case you're wondering, Les Mills is a really exciting organization.  It's the world leader in group fitness.  About 16,000 fitness clubs, worldwide, license Les Mills programs — and those programs are delivered by hundreds of thousands of accredited instructors.  In spite of the fact that Les Mills hails from a pretty small town in a pretty small country (Auckland, New Zealand), the organization is a global heavyweight.  It blew past $100m in revenues years ago and, in a number of countries, it's hard to operate a fitness center without providing members with Les Mills programs.

After I stopped recording the interview above, Erin mentioned that she has been attending a Challenger Sale workshop.  Over the course of this workshop, both the elimination of sales commissions and the team-based approach to sales were discussed.  In each case, Erin was the only executive in the room who had actually ventured down this path.  She was struck — as I am often — by the enormous divide between the incredulity of executives at the mere mention of these ideas and just how easy they are to apply successfully, in practice.

Why, do you think, is there such a divide?  (You can comment below.)

 

* We worked with Erin and her team for the first six months of the transition. (That was just before we transitioned from fixed-duration projects to ongoing engagements.)


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The Davcor story

Marc Cohen is no fan of consultants.

At the start of this interview, he discloses that he has a medical condition — one that results in him having a visceral aversion to consultants!

Nonetheless, Marc is here to tell the story of his first 18 months, implementing SPE.  He explains why he did it, the impact on his organization and his experiences working with us here at Ballistix.

It's an interesting story.  We discuss one particular division of Davcor (EKA) and Marc relates how:

  • He reduced his field sales team from 3 salespeople to zero
  • His opportunity pipeline exploded in size
  • Sales increased by 20% — with more good news in store as a number of high-probability opportunities move towards closure
  • His policy of giving rations to the strong has resulted in the rapid growth of a dynamic inside-sales team (where previously, there was none) 

Davcor is a $30m distributor of a range of physical security products, from locks and keys, though to commercial access-control systems. Davcor's EKA division distributes an access-control system that delivers the benefits of traditional systems to mobile assets (shipping containers, trucks, and gates).

In the interview, Marc mentions a brochure that's contained in the pre-approach package that's used to initiate approaches to potential clients.

You can page-through that brochure below.  

Growth hacking coming to Ballistix

Early next year, we will formalize the addition of a new service to our standard Ballistix (engagement) offering.

In previous posts, I've talked about our successes with online promotion (pay-per-click advertising, webinars and the like).  As we've been generating results for ourselves, we've been packaging our learnings and pushing them to our clients — assisting them with the optimization of their websites, with SEO, PPC, Webinars, landing pages and the like.

Some of the results we have generated for our engagement clients have been nothing short of spectacular. However, because this growth-hacking activity (as it's now called) is currently performed by our creative team, our capacity is pretty limited.  

For that reason, we'll be adding a full-time Growth Hacker early next year.  This will extend the already impressive array of services to which our engagement clients have unlimited (all-you-can-eat) access. 


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If you listen only to Kirk Nelson's first few words in the interview below, you'll be missing out on one hell of a treat!

Kirk starts the interview by assuring me that ARCA has an accurate sales funnel and a good understanding of what's going on in the business.

That's good, right? But, where's the money?

Well, listen up, because after Kirk's understated opening, all hell breaks loose!  The real fun starts when I ask Kirk if Sales Process Engineering has had any impact on sales.

Turns out there has been an impact. Kirk started his journey in July 1, 2012.  By the end of the year, revenue was up 37%.  And Kirk expects to finish this year (2013), with another 40-50% increase in revenue.  Over this period the volume of units shipped has increased ten times.

We're delivering ten-times the number of units per month than we were a year ago

And, it gets better!  To achieve this, Kirk reduced his sales team from five people down to two.  He also scrapped the commission and bonus plan and put the remaining salespeople on straight salary. And, in spite of the fact that he has a mandate to add more salespeople when his existing team hits 80% utilization, he hasn't had to because the team is still only averaging 60%.

Bottom line, then, is that Kirk's organization has just about doubled sales with two-fifths of its original sales team and with the remaining salespeople operating at half throttle! And, no, before you ask, Kirk's organization is not a start-up!

ARCA: cash-automation technology

Kirk Nelson is an Executive VP at ARCA. ARCA provides cash-automation machines to financial institutions, retailers or anyone else who wants to automate the receipt or dispensing of cash.  (If you've ever cashed-in a pile of chips in a casino, the odds are that you've interacted with ARCA's technology.)

ARCA is both a distributor and a manufacturer of its own technologies.  The organization has been in existence for 13 years and has operations on a number of continents.  You can find ARCA here.

Ballistix's involvement: virtually none!

ARCA is another example of an organization that has implemented SPE – and achieved stunning results – with vitually no direct assistance from Ballistix.  I ran a two-day (Solution Design) workshop for ARCA in June 2012 but, aside from that, Kirk has produced this outcome using only The Machine (my upcoming book) as his guide.  (I think he also read my first book and attended a webinar or two.)

This is awesome, for two reasons:

  1. If organizations can implement SPE without the assistance of Ballistix (and a rapidly increasing number are), this is a powerful validation of SPE
  2. It's just not cricket for for me to crow about the accomplishments of our own clients.  However, if an organization can achieve a breakthrough by themselves, that's something I feel a little more comfortable making noise about!

So much value

As is often the case, the real value in this interview is not the headline.  The truly valuable nuggets are the casual revelations that Kirk makes as he tells his story: 

  1. Like when Kirk jokes that he would not like to have to answer to one of his salespeople's sales coordinators ("they are brutal", he says!, when explaining how Sales Coordinators genuinely own opportunities – in spite of the fact that they earn less than half what salespeople do)
  2. Like when Kirk reveals that he now has an uncanny ability to forecast revenues (he's close to achieving a forecasting accuracy of ±10% accuracy at 90 days)
  3. Like when Kirk explains why salaried (rather than commissioned) salespeople are actually more effective
  4. Or when he talks about how Project Leaders have been able to effortlessly convert small transactions into (much larger) enterprise-wide opportunities (and reduce opportunity-lead-time into the bargain)
  5. Or when he describes how SPE has united the organization's leadership by giving the executive team a common set of metrics (specifically, by allowing the sales function to be evaluated using metrics that make sense to executives who have been schooled in Lean and Agile)

The constraint shifts

The highlight of this interview, for me, was one of those interstitial moments when Kirk happened to mention that Mort (ARCA's CEO) had recently declared that Sales is no longer the organization's constraint.  "The speed at which we can step on the gas", says Kirk, "… is simply astonishing".

Those viewers with an operations background will really appreciate the significance of this statement.  If ARCA (or pretty much any organization) can scale sales rapidly it enables that organization to keep the constraint in production – to keep operational infrastructure operating at full utilization at all times.  

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how real money is made!

 

Update (Oct 7, 2013): An article on ARCA's progress appears in News Observer, here.


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Most managers are excited by technology.

Technology enables us to get more done, faster. And technology is practical. Concrete. It’s not about ideas; it’s about execution.

This is certainly true in sales environments. It’s almost impossible to propose any initiative without prompting the question: is there software for that?

In sales environments, the answer to that question is yes. There is always software for that. In fact there are many thousands of software applications promising to automate every step in the sales lifecycle, from the generation of sales opportunities through to the provision of management information.

Broken promises

The dirty secret of sales environments is that, with few exceptions, this technology has done nothing to improve productivity. Nothing!

After a generation of investment in sales (and marketing) automation technologies, sales environments look (and operate) essentially the same as they did 20 years ago. There is little credible evidence that the tens (or, more commonly, hundreds) of thousands of dollars that a typical firm has spent on sales technology has caused a rise in revenues, a reduction in costs or even an improvement in customer-service quality[i].

This chapter addresses three critically important questions:

  1. Why is technology failing to produce the productivity improvements in sales that it has in other parts of the organization?
  2. What role should technology play in the design and operation of the sales function?
  3. What are the practical technology requirements of an organization transitioning to the new model?

At the end of the chapter we’ll tackle another more fundamental technology issue. We’ll explore who in the organization should accept which technology responsibilities and, more critically, which responsibilities should never be outsourced.

The sales software system

If the multitude of sales-related software applications was a planetary system, the sun around which all other planets would orbit would be called CRM. CRM stands for customer-relationship management. A CRM (application) is designed to automate the numerous workflows that exist in and around the sales environment – and to store the data that’s generated as a result of those workflows.

These workflows include the generation of sales opportunities, the prosecution of sales opportunities and the management of customer issues.

The other software applications that orbit the CRM in the sales system are dependent on the CRM, either because their reason for existence is to feed it data (new contacts, perhaps) or because they leverage the data that sits within the CRM to perform specialist functions (email broadcast, report generation and so on).

CRM is a subset of a larger class of software, known as ERP (enterprise-resource planning). ERP is the software that manages operational workflows in the organization as a whole. Things like the generation of orders, the scheduling of the production environment, the management of inventory, the processing of payables and receivables, and so on.

Although ERP and CRM are now intertwined, the two technologies had quite different beginnings. ERP evolved out of inventory control systems in the 1960’s. And CRM evolved out of contact-tracking applications in the 1980’s. Contact-tracking applications (like Act!) were software equivalents of salespeople’s day-planner calendars.

Although the two technologies have grown together over the years, their usage has not. In the modern organization, ERP is pervasive – if you removed it, the organization would simply cease to function. This is not the case with CRM. In fact, in many organizations, the removal of CRM would actually unencumber salespeople and increase their productivity!

What’s wrong with CRM?

Consider the list of standard promises made on behalf of CRM by CRM vendors:

  1. CRM will increase salespeople’s productivity
  2. CRM will cause an improvement in customer service quality
  3. CRM will drive a tighter integration of sales and marketing
  4. CRM will provide management with better quality information

As I mentioned earlier, most organizations have invested a king’s ransom in CRM but few have seen any (let alone all) of these promises realized.

Technically, however, there is nothing wrong with CRM!

As we’ll shortly discover, CRM has the potential to unleash enormous productivity improvements in sales environments. The problem with this technology is that it has been designed around the requirements of a sales environment that doesn’t actually exist.

It’s useful (and somewhat amusing) to understand why this has occurred.

A candid history of CRM

It’s arguable that the first contact-tracking applications solved a real problem for salespeople. These applications simplified the tracking of the numerous interactions between salespeople and their customers (appointments, phone calls, proposals and other tasks). Continue reading “The Machine > Part 2 > Chapter 10: Technology (why CRM sucks!)” »


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I’ve waxed lyrical about Mixergy before.

Andrew Warner is a successful entrepreneur in his own right and, every day of the week, he interviews a founder with a story worthy of note.

Typically, these founders have built (and very often sold) successful tech companies. Other times, they just have a particularly interesting story to tell.

The unbelievable thing about Mixergy is you can subscribe to Andrew’s site for free and watch each of his interviews as he posts them (all are live for a week before disappearing behind a paywall).

If my last story about Mixergy didn’t compel you to get over there and subscribe, you should probably do it now.

But first, maybe you should take some time to watch Andrew’s interview with yours truly on September 26!

In almost an hour and a half (yep, it’s an in-depth interview), Andrew covers a lot of ground. From my first vocation (ballet dancer) to my introduction to business (selling insurance) and the long story of Ballistix, including the four pivots (as they’re now called) that have lead us to our current model.  I think it’s a great interview (but I’m biased, of course).

Oh, and a big thank you to Maria Sipka (who has her own exciting start-up) for recommending me to Andrew.

The finest day of my life

In case you’re wondering why it took me so long to post news of the Mixergy interview, I have more news I feel compelled to share.

I don’t normally share personal stuff but this is so momentous, I’ll have to ask you to humor me.

On October 3, on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland (Australia), Bo and I were married.

bo_justin_wedding

I met Bo at LAX about four years ago. We were both checking baggage and we got chatting about software development and quality assurance (Bo leads the quality initiative at Guthy Renker).

Obviously, with such a gift for casual conversation, we couldn’t stand to spend much time apart – and so we’ve chosen not to!

(As I write this, Bo is working on a little Ruby on Rails application for Ballistix and I’m pestering her with unwanted advice on system architecture!)


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I love webinars and, increasingly, our clients are learning to love them too! In this post I’ll share some of our experiences with webinars over the last 7 months and show you why we’re so enthusiastic about them.

The results

In a previous post, I told you how we build our list (generate new relationships).  And I shared how our overall lead-generation machine is self-liquidating (the revenue from Solution Design Workshops  is more than the total costs associated with the generation of the sales opportunities for these workshops) – meaning that it costs us (less than) nothing to generate sales opportunities for our Outsourced Sales Operations engagements.

What I didn’t tell you is how we convert new relationships (people who have requested an extract from The Machine) into sales of Solution Design Workshops.

The key to that is webinars.

I’ll explain the why and how of webinars shortly. First let me share the results.

image

Since March this year, we have run 9 events.  Roughly half have been run in the morning (LA time), to suit our US subscribers and the other half in the evening, to suit our Aussie audience.

Across those nine events, 797 bookings have yielded 380 attendees and 116 requests for Best Practice Briefings. A Best Practice Briefings is the intermediate step before a Solution Design Workshop.

That means our conversion rates from booking-to-attendee and attendee-to-briefing are 48% and 31% respectively.  Actually, in recent times, we’ve pushed both conversion rates up to almost 50% which is much better than standard rules of thumb.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the following chart shows our numbers across all nine events.

image

And, in case you’re wondering, here’s the breakdown across each event type.  These numbers are of limited value because we have promoted the Death of Field Sales event more heavily than the other two. (We did this because the Death of Field Sales headline outperformed the others in tests we ran with pay-per-click advertising.) Continue reading “The wonder of webinars (our stats revealed)” »


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7 comments