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Sales is not about personal relationships

Salespeople (and other folks who should know better) accept it as a given that sales is all about personal relationships.

The problem with this position is that:

  1. It’s not generally true.
  2. It’s a default assumption that informs the design of most sales environments.

However, because it sounds reasonable enough, this assumption rarely gets questioned.

So let’s question it now.

It’s easy to identify a scenario where the personal relationship between a salesperson and a prospect does add value. In a major-account-sales environment, it’s often not possible for the prospect to make a purely objective purchasing decision. They lack the knowledge required to do so (or a trading history with the potential vendor). So, in this environment, a prospect will (understandably) use their personal relationship with the salesperson as a proxy for the commercial relationship they expect to have with the vendor.

Fair enough.

However, in most organizations, only a small percentage of revenue comes from such transactions. Most revenue originates from existing accounts and, even where new accounts are concerned, must transactions do not fall into the major-account-sales category.

So, when we examine the assumption that sales is all about personal relationships, let’s consider the ordinary transactions that generate 80% of an organization’s revenue, not the extraordinary 20%.

Operational dysfunction enables salespeople’s personal relationships

Where ordinary transactions are concerned, the truth is that salespeople’s personal relationships add value to the extent that the organization is operationally dysfunctional.

Think about why customers make contact with your organization. Is it because they are in need of personal relationships? Unless you’re a dating agency (or similar), obviously not. They want whatever it is you’re selling. Legal advice, hydraulic componentry, custom point-of-purchase displays, or whatever. And they want a high-quality product (or service), delivered fast, for a reasonable price.

If you discover that your customers’ transactions are contingent on personal relationships you should be very concerned.

If you are operationally efficient, personal relationships will actually detract from most transactions—meaning that your prospects will avoid them. The reason is those personal relationships with salespeople will add friction (or lag) to transactions. In a healthy business, customers will naturally gravitate to the most efficient purchasing channel. Meaning, if they can, they’ll purchase online and, if they can’t, they’ll transact via customer service, inside sales or field sales (in that order of preference).

I’m sure you won’t be surprised if I suggest (humbly) that, if your organization is operationally dysfunctional, it makes more sense to identify and fix the root cause of the dysfunction than it does to deploy salespeople to treat the symptoms!

Operational dysfunction is just a simple way of stating that an organization doesn’t keep its promises. Or, to be more blunt, that it tells lies. It doesn’t deliver on time or it delivers defective products (or services)—which is the same as failing to deliver on time.

The root cause is simple to identify (but harder to fix). The root cause is that the schedule is not sacrosanct. An organization’s schedule is a log of activities that must be performed as planned for the organization to deliver orders on time. It might take the form of a job board in a production environment or a set of project plans in a project environment.

Most organizations know how to build an effective schedule. How to identify the sequence of activities that must be performed to produce the required product. And how to estimate both the duration of these activities and the safety that must be added to provide a high level of confidence that each order will be delivered on time.

Your schedule is valuable for as long as it is representative of reality. However, if you allow your schedule to misrepresent the nature of reality then your organization will quickly become chaotic. And it will become more chaotic faster if salespeople are involved in ordinary transactions. Continue reading “Mistruths, salespeople’s personal relationships and crashing the schedule” »


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A common problem our silent revolutionaries face is that they don’t know how to calculate if their new (or reengineered) sales functions are making them money.

A worse problem is that they think they know but end up massively under-estimating their performance.

Consider this scenario.

It’s the end of your calendar year.

This year, you started work building a new (inside) sales function. You added a couple of salespeople in March. A couple more in June and a couple more in September. Over that period, you’ve navigated a number of steep learning curves. You’ve had to learn how to generate effective campaigns. You’ve had to learn how to teach salespeople to function in this strange new environment. And, most importantly, you’ve had to learn how to ramp-up sales activity to at least 20 meaningful selling interactions, per salesperson, per day.

Your board would like to know if you’re making money yet. Simple request right? So, you’re sitting down with your financials (specifically, your profit-and-loss report), trying to figure it out.

I’m guessing you see the problem, here. There’s no way that you can extract the performance of your nascent sales function from your profit-and-loss report.

It’s impossible. Any attempt will yield an answer that’s precisely wrong (rather than vaguely right). Worse still, the error is highly likely to under-report the viability of your sales function.

The primary reason is that you’ve incurred greater costs during this start-up period than you would expect to incur in future years but you’ve booked significantly less revenue because, over that period, you’ve been opening an ever-increasing number of sales opportunities, many of which are still to close.

Another reason is that normal variation in your top-line numbers is likely to be disguising the performance of your nascent team. (More on that here.)

One thing I’ve learned over the last 20 years or so is that attempting to solve impossible problems is not a productive endeavor. So, if you’re in this position right now, my advice is to throw away your profit-and-loss report and return your high school calculus and statistics textbooks to the bookshelf.

Interestingly, it’s not that difficult to provide your board the numbers they’re looking for (there’s no integral calculus required). But it may require you to think a little differently.

Specifically, you need to do some forensic accounting and calculate the unit economics of a single hypothetical (and representative) salesperson. Continue reading “You are probably making a lot more money than you realize!” »


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I received the following email from Andy Watt the other day.

Four months earlier I had recorded the video case study below, but I’d been too busy to post the video here. The gist of the email is that, since recording the case study, Andy’s monthly invoices had grown by 30%, on top of the 50% increase we talked about in our interview four months earlier!

Andy is the owner of Goldratt UK. As you’ve probably guessed, Goldratt UK runs process improvement projects for UK companies, using TOC principles to build throughput in production, distribution and project environments.

Hi Justin

Hope you are well, it’s been a while since we met and 4 months since we spoke when I was in France.

It’s funny, but since the summer holiday we have really ramped up on the sales front. We are now invoicing 30% more than earlier in the year and have closed 6 more contracts. Now the Constraint is Operations and I have started to send Paul out with some of the Ops guys to give him a bit more experience.

Overall (though I am still waiting for the website—can you give a push) this year has been fantastic from a sales and marketing perspective we have gelled as a team and making good strides so now I am having to put people on a 3-month wait to start. Thanks for all your help, worth every penny!

You talked some time ago about you and I doing a joint presentation at TOCICO—is this something you still want to do? I see that the conference is in April and I need to plan that far in advance now!

Just drop me an email—thanks.

Andy

As you’ll hear in the interview below, it was a handful of small changes that made all the difference for Goldratt UK. They were already generating sales opportunities by promoting copies of The Goal—which is great—but follow-up was labor intensive and inconsistent, and there was a general lack of salesmanship at numerous stages of the process.

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

The changes we made include the following:

  1. A dedicated executive assistant for Andy (so he could focus on critical selling conversations)
  2. A dedicated campaign coordinator to run the marketing machine
  3. A mandate that ensures a consistent volume of daily sales activity
  4. More compelling sales arguments in promotional materials
  5. Stand-alone landing pages (rather than routing campaign respondents to the general website)
  6. A four-step approach to project sales (book request, executive briefing, solution design workshop, then project)
  7. The elimination of most face-to-face sales activity (with the exception of the solution design workshop)

Landing page dedicates over 1,000 words to
extolling the benefits of the book on offer!

Oh, and there’s a bonus in this video. I ask Andy how he goes about improving the performance of production and project environments. His responses to my questions, alone, make this video well worth watching.


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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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