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I criticized the religion of Inbound Marketing in a previous post.

Inbound Marketing: Retards Growth and Turns Marketing Folk into Zombies.

I complained that marketing folk were swallowing the dogma and failing to recognize the practical limitations of inbound (or content) marketing.

But what I didn’t address are two deeper points:

  1. Inbound vs outbound is a false distinction
  2. The inbound vs outbound discussion distracts from a couple of more important (but less sexy) considerations

False distinction

Inbound Marketing is based on the idea that it is better for an organization to get its prospective customers to initiate the buying conversation than it is for the organization to initiate it.

So, cold calling is bad. But compelling a prospect to submit a form on a landing page and request content is good.

Well, it’s true that cold calling and driving landing page submissions are quite different activities. But it’s not true that they are fundamentally different. After all, in both cases, the organization is initiating the conversation. In the case of the landing page submission, the organization must have done something to compel the prospect to fill in the form. And that something most likely constitutes an advertisement or a promotional email.

So, at root, all marketing is outbound. In fact, if you have a marketing department that has a policy of not initiating conversations with your marketplace, I think it’s fair to say that you don’t actually have a marketing department!

If we turn our attention back to cold calling vs landing page submissions for a minute, I don’t think it’s even possible to argue that one is fundamentally better than the other. (Bear with me here!).

Cold calling is not 100% evil

Cold calling has a bad rap, undeservedly. If you consider the prospect’s perspective, what’s annoying is not that they have been interrupted—it’s that they’ve been interrupted for no good reason. In other words, their issue is with the content of the call, not with the call itself. After all, if prospects didn’t want to receive calls at all, they could simply disconnect their phones.

The good thing about cold calling is that it scales. I mean, the results don’t diminish with scale. They may not improve much, but they don’t diminish! If you sit down and call a list of 100 prospects, the outcomes from calling the last 10 will be roughly the same as the outcomes from the first batch of 10 calls.

Another plus is that you got to choose exactly who you were going to initiate contact with.

Landing-page submissions are not 100% virtuous

Compare this with landing page submissions. In order to get someone to submit a form on a landing page, you need to attract them to the page in the first place, and then you need to bribe them to submit the form with the offer of something appealing.

Advertising is expensive. And the more you do it, the more expensive it becomes. Furthermore, market segments get less responsive, the more frequently you put your ads in front of them. So the consequence of increasing cost and decreasing productivity is that you find yourself under enormous pressure to write the kind of hyperbolic ads that drive lots of submissions. (You’ve heard the term click bait, right?).

Here’s a visual representation of what happens.

In summary, inbound and outbound are not fundamentally different. And, at scale, even the quality distinction between cold calling and landing-page submissions becomes questionable. Continue reading “Marketing: Inbound vs Outbound is a False Alternative” »


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You know, there are two types of people in the world.

Those who tolerate complexity, in pursuit of simplicity. And those who revel in complexity, having long forgotten what it is that they’re actually pursuing.

I write this a little exhausted, after spending countless hours debating technology, terminology, definitions and process with a parade of potential and existing clients.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy those conversations. I do! The reason these debates have become tiring is that I’ve started to suspect that many on the other side of the table are enjoying the exchanges more than they should be, given their current circumstances.

Take phone technique for example. Fascinating subject. But, if your business has no growth targets and no formal plan to drive growth of any kind; if your salespeople are essentially highly-paid, mobile customer service reps and your marketing folks have been turned into mindless zombies by the Hubspot hype machine; then debating the merits of injecting a synthetic laugh into the opening line of a salesperson’s telephone call is probably not the best use of your time.

It’s a champagne problem, to quote the Texan rocker!

The growth formula

If you like the idea of sharpening your focus on the simple, I have a growth formula for you. Actually formula is overselling it. A growth idea, maybe?

Estimate the total number of sales conversations that are performed in your marketplace each week and then do whatever it takes to ensure that your salespeople participate in more than your fair share of them.

That’s it. Simple, but powerful, nonetheless.

Let me walk you through its application. Continue reading “A simple growth formula (for folks who’re tired of needless complexity)” »


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Sayfa Systems experienced a period of rapid growth a year or so before they started working with us, here at Ballistix.

This growth exposed weaknesses in Sayfa’s operations and caused the senior team to worry about their ability to continue to scale the organization.

Consequently, as you’ll discover in the interview below, our engagement with Sayfa was quite different from our work with a lot of other organizations. Rather than looking to us to drive growth, the senior team at Sayfa came to us hoping that we could help them to fortify their their systems so that they could continue to grow.

In the frank and far-ranging discussion that follows, you’ll hear a detailed account of how Sayfa did exactly that.

Over the three years we worked together, Sayfa made dramatic changes to their core technology. They reconfigured operations, instituting formal divisions of responsibilities and work routings. And they created small sales teams to manage their installer network and to pursue specifications from architects and designers.

In spite of the fact that they were making fundamental changes to the organization, Sayfa was able to simultaneously effect dramatic improvements in both operational and sales performance over this three year period. (This really is comparable to changing the tires on a race-car without making a pit stop!)

Sayfa Systems is based in Melbourne, Australia. They manufacture and distribute height-safety and fall-protection equipment, Australia wide. (They also export to five overseas markets.)

In the video below, Doug Voss (one of Sayfa’s ownership team) and I reflect on both the journey and the outcomes.

We discuss the challenges in moving operations from overtaxed spreadsheets to a CRM–and the special technical difficulties associated with modelling the complex project ecosystem.

We cover the creation of a customer service team, and the benefits of progressing from 60% to better than 90% on-time case completion.

We talk about the internal tensions generated by growth–the requirement to rapidly add people, on the one hand, and the requirement to control costs, on the other (particularly when growth causes normal efficiency ratios to turn upside down!)

And we marvel at the incredible efficiency of Sayfa’s salesforce today, where a small number of inside salespeople perform the work that would normally be performed by around 30 field representatives!

I think you’re going to enjoy this interview, (particularly if you operate in a project environment, as so many of our followers do).

If you don’t see links below to download video or audio, click here.


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Real-time feedback enables miraculous feats!

Imagine standing on an overpass watching the traffic on a freeway below. It’s amazing more accidents don’t occur when you consider the number of cars being piloted, at high speed, in such close proximity to one another.

Imagine the same scene again without real-time feedback. Imagine you could pull a lever that caused all the windows (and windscreens) on all of the cars below to become instantly opaque!

You could cause similar chaos with a less radical experiment too. Imagine that, rather than turning those windows opaque, your lever somehow caused all the windows to impose a two-second delay on their feed of the outside world. With that two-second delay, those drivers would have to slow to an absolute crawl, in order to avoid accidents.

Such is the miracle of real-time feedback.

Sadly, in many work environments, team members either:

  1. Don’t have feedback at all
  2. They do have feedback but there’s a significant delay between cause and effect
  3. Or, they do have feedback but the effect is disconnected from the cause—encouraging behavior that is actually contrary to the interests of the organization

I’ve been presiding over an silent initiative for the last couple of years at Ballistix to try and address this problem—at least with the teams we build in our client organizations.

The obvious result of that initiative is a web application called Nsyteful. The other, less obvious, result are some conclusions we’ve reached (tentatively) about how to provide feedback that’s as close to real-time as possible without distorting the relationship between cause and effect. I’ll try and share some of those conclusions below.

You can see screenshots of Nsyteful as you scroll down the page. It’s a dashboard. It integrates into our clients’ enterprise systems (ERP and CRM) and it visualizes critical information on a large screen in each of our clients’ workspaces. All data is updated every 10 minutes.

Customer service

As is normally the case with dashboards, an Nsyteful board contains a set of widgets. The critical question, when we started designing widgets for our clients’ customer service teams was, what is the feedback we should be providing team members?

It was easy to identify feedback that we did not want to provide. I toured a customer service team once and the owner of the organization boasted to me that he measured the rate at which his CSRs keyed line items into orders and quotes. The advantage of this metric is that it’s easy to measure. The disadvantage is that it misrepresents the value that is being created by CSRs. After all, there are many ways that CSRs can solve customer problems without keying line items! (This is an example of the streetlight effect).

To arrive at our key metric (or key performance indicator), we started with the following assumptions about customer service teams.

  1. Customer service is a task-based environment—CSRs perform a high volume of relatively simple tasks (as opposed to a low volume of projects, like an engineering team)
  2. To add value to the organization, CSRs should complete these tasks well within customers’ reasonable expectations (speed is important)
  3. Quality naturally subsumes under speed—after all, a task is only done when it’s done right

These lead us to the conclusion that the key metric for customer service should be on-time case completion. In other words, the percentage of cases, in a given period, that are completed either on time, or early. Of course, this is the customer service equivalent of DIFOT, in a production environment (the percentage of orders that are delivered in-full, on-time). Continue reading “The miracle of real-time feedback: an introduction to Nsyteful” »


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A particular conversation with Ted Fowler sticks in my head.

We were chatting on the phone and Ted was explaining the changes he had made to his sales function after reading The Machine. He was describing how they’d copied the model described in Chapter 1.

At that point, I cut him off. “I’m not sure that’s the right model for you guys. After all, you sell a commodity product. And, the organization described in Chapter 1 sells complex (engineer-to-order) projects.”

“That may be so,” responded Ted, “but, I’m not too concerned right now because the changes we’ve made so far have grown our sales by more than 30%!”

That was my first interaction with Westlab. A little while later, Ted commissioned me to run a Solution Design Workshop where he decided to build an inside sales team. And, maybe a year after that, I reviewed Westlab’s progress again in a web conference and Ted decided to convert his field salespeople into Field Specialists (as defined in The Machine).

That’s the sum total of my interactions with Ted and Westlab, meaning that everything they’ve achieved they’ve achieved on their own. And, as you’ll hear, they’ve achieved a lot!

This interview is another example of an organization that’s generated significant growth (doubled sales in less than three years!) with no direct assistance from Ballistix. Further proof of the power of Sales Process Engineering.

If you don’t see links below to download video or audio, click here.


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Over the last four years, Levitt Safety (Canada’s largest specialist safety and fire-protection company) has reduced the size of its field force and scaled-up its inside sales and customer service teams.

In this interview Bruce Levitt and Fraser Gibson share insights into their four-year journey (thus far) with SPE and talk about the challenges and the triumphs.

The good news is that they have been able to make the radical changes above with no initial drop in sales, predictable growth ever since and a significant improvement in customer service quality, almost from the get-go.

Over this period, Levitt has built all the elements of what we call the Standard SPE Model. This model consists of:

  1. A robust customer service team (who obsess over on-time case completion)
  2. An inside sales and promotions team (who work together to ensure that salespeople each have 30 meaningful selling interactions a day)
  3. Field specialists (who handle discrete tasks, pushed to them by inside sales or customer service)
  4. An enterprise sales team (featuring a BDM paired with a BDC: ensuring the former can maximize their face-to-face time)

This interview will appeal to serious practitioners of SPE. It’s a detailed analysis of Levitt’s journey thus far (not a breathless testimonial.) But, there are many gems.

Like, for example: Continue reading “Levitt Safety: their four-year journey with SPE” »


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I’ve noticed an interesting trend.

I’m seeing organizations starting to celebrate the fact that they’re implementing SPE—inside the organization, and even outside!

I’m thinking, maybe the popularity of The Machine is empowering executives to be a little bolder. Or maybe we’re just doing a better job of selling the end-state. Either way, it’s a nice trend.

Thermogroup UK

The boldest example is Thermogroup in Kent (UK). Thermogroup manufactures and distributes underfloor heating systems.

When I arrived at Thermogroup to run a two-day Solution Design Workshop, I wasn’t too surprised to find the room rigged with video recording equipment. Our clients often record these workshops for internal reference.

But I was surprised the other day when Thermogroup turned some of their footage into a promotional video and a blog post—heralding the SPE initiative. Think about the level of commitment this signals to the rest of the organization.

Carusele

Another example is Carusele in North Carolina (USA). Carusele sells branded content as a packaged media offering.

Shortly after their inside sales team kicked off with its first campaign, Dave Ryan (their creative director) stayed late and created a chalk mural to celebrate the initiative.

Furthermore, Jim Tobin, Carusele’s president took it upon himself to create a video for the sales team members, demonstrating how he handles common objections.

The Machine Chalk

Lamar

From day-one, Lamar made a significant commitment to their SPE initiative (a small, HQ based inside sales team). Lamar is one of the largest outdoor advertising companies in North America.

For starters, they made one of their most senior executives responsible for this initiative. When it came time to recruit inside salespeople, they ran billboards around Baton Rouge and threw a mixer to introduce candidates to Lamar. And, to date, they are the only organization we work with that maintains twice-daily role-playing sessions to ensure that their salespeople’s phone technique is always sharp.

What really impressed me, though, was that Lamar had one of their marketing crew attend a full-day phone-skills workshop we ran for them. After lunch this person disappeared and made a set of posters containing key ideas for the training. When the inside sales team arrived at work the next day, their work area was already decorated with these posters!

Lamar Posters

The power of celebration

It’s true that these are feel-good stories. But they’re not just feel-good stories. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that leadership teams that telegraph their commitment to major initiatives like this tend to inspire a similar level of commitment from their team leaders.

Consequently, these initiatives become shared adventures, rather than change management exercises!


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It’s all the rage nowadays. Build a team of Sales Development Reps (or SDRs) to multiply the productivity of your salespeople.

Thing is, as anyone who’s watched Boiler Room knows, this is not exactly a new idea. Boiler Room features a New York bucket shop that uses a call center and high-pressure sales techniques to move stocks of lesser-known companies. In the movie, junior salespeople make hundreds of calls, attempting to engage prospects, then, once they have engagement, they transfer those prospects to more experienced closers.

Today’s SDR is the same basic idea, with a fresh lick of paint (and a cool infographic). From the customer’s perspective, the experience is comparable. And from the organization’s perspective, SDR’s are a needlessly expensive way to improve salespeople’s productivity.

SalesDevRepwCallout

I’m a fan of applying division-of-labor to sales (after all, I wrote the book that advocates that). But I’m not a fan of the SDR idea.

Two reasons why:

  1. Your most valuable prospects find junior salespeople’s qualifying questions insulting and resent that these individuals cannot (or will not) answer technical questions
  2. Because SDRs churn through hundreds of prospects, your approach to the marketplace ends up being totally untargeted

The qualification fallacy

The SDR idea appeals to those sales managers who believe that you canqualify sales into existence. That is to say that they believe the essential nature of the sales process is to filter-out all those prospects who will not buy — leaving only the sure things, standing, with their credit cards at the ready.

In most environments, though, prospects cannot be qualified into purchasing — they need to be convinced, or actually sold. And the most critical selling conversation is — you guessed it — the very first one.

My advice, then, is that you should insist that your experienced, capable salespeople have those critical initial conversations with potential customers.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking! How do you avoid your salespeople’s limited capacity being consumed by people with no potential to purchase (non-prospects, in other words). Continue reading “If you really like wasting money and annoying prospects then, go ahead, hire a team of Sales Development Reps” »


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So, The Machine (my new book) has an easter egg in it.

At the end of Chapter 1, there’s a link you can use to subscribe (free) to a short course called, Beyond The Machine.

Since the release of the book, the BTM short course has been getting rave reviews. And, better than rave reviews, I’ve been getting serious heat from students of the course who want me to release classes faster!

The course contains 6 classes. Each takes the form of a video (with accompanying documents and a discussion forum) and each video runs for 20 minutes or so. Importantly, there is virtually no overlap between the course content and the content of The Machine. In other words, all the content in the short course is new stuff—stuff you can’t just get elsewhere.

The course is designed to teach readers of The Machine exactly how we go about implementing SPE for our clients, here at Ballistix. This is a step-by-step guide to the implementation of SPE. No theory. Only practice. And, let me tell you, almost everything you’ll learn in this course (if you’re brave enough to take it) is counter-intuitive.

The first four classes address questions like: (1) how to maintain sales activity levels while you are making changes to the design of your sales environment, (2) how to re-engineer your customer service function to get to >90% on-time case completion, (3) how to generate sales opportunities and (4) how to prosecute those sales opportunities. The last two classes (which I’m working on now) address: (5) how to use sales-related technology and (6) how to manage your sales and customer service teams.

The bad news is that you have to buy The Machine to get access to the entire short course. But the good (nay, great) news is that you can watch Class 4 right here and right now!

I’ve even included the course accoutrements below. So get to it, and let me know what you think in the forum!

Non YouTube link

If you can’t use YouTube or if you need to download this class for offline access, use this link.

Workflow Diagram

You can download the workflow referenced in this video as a PDF file and follow along. It’s here.

Discuss this Class

If you’d like to discuss the content of this class with fellow travellers—or ask a question of Justin—here’s the place to do it.

Schedule a Best Practice Briefing


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