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Here’s a quick update.

As you can see below, The Machine is finished, it has a new cover, a handful of Advance Reader copies are loose in the wild and it’s so damn good that it’s even making Andrew Warner—the tough-as-nails interviewer of tech startups—smile!

Andrew Warner reads The Machine

In more news, The Machine will be available in bookstores and online retailers on October 20, 2015.

Prior to then, we’ll be running one or two webinars where we’ll offer some exciting bonuses to those people who preorder. If you’ve preordered already, don’t worry, you’ll be able to submit your receipt after the webinar to claim your bonuses!

Our distributor (Greenleaf Book Group) is reporting that the book is getting picked-up by all the major chains and by most independent bookstores too. The Machine will also be featured in Hudson Airport bookstores (though this representation comes at quite a cost, let me tell you!)

Fortunately, we’re not having to pay for all of our good news. Executive Book Summaries has selected The Machine as the one of the 30 business books they will summarize next year. (They pay us for that!) Here’s a direct quote.

“We look at business books every hour, every day, and got so excited when we saw your book. We vote by a large committee on which books we are going to cover as the Best of the Year. Your book got a unanimous YES vote. That rarely happens.

Rebecca Clement, Publisher
Soundview Executive Book Summaries

A huge thankyou to a number of clients and friends of Ballistix who read Advance Reader copies and who wrote reviews for the Advance Praise section of the book. You can read (heavily edited versions of) these reviews in the extract below.

Oh, and yes, before you ask, there will be Kindle and Audible versions in the weeks following the hardcover release. (And, yes, I’ll be reading the Audible book.)


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As I write, I’m flying back to LA after attending the Inside Sales Professionals annual conference in Chicago.

Today, I presented The Death of Field Sales, an introduction to our inside-out approach to the design of the sales function.

Here are my observations on state of the inside-sales community.

The good

First, inside sales is exploding. A number of speakers presented data that showed that, as field sales teams shrink, inside teams are growing. But not just growing. Exploding! Some are reporting a 300% year-on-year growth in US inside-sales headcount. And I suspect the same is true of other developed countries too.

The other exciting thing is that the inside-sales community seems to be well aware of the power of inside sales. Many organizations have inside sales teams that are outperforming their field counterparts and a number are prosecuting major sales opportunities inside.

The other good news I can report is that, when I posited my two starting assumptions for the design of the sales function, I got immediate and unreserved agreement from everyone in my workshop:

  • Sales is essentially an inside function
  • Sales is a team—not an individual—endeavor

The not so good

The not so good news is that inside sales teams have adopted a number of practices from the traditional sales model that would have been better off left in the field (or, better still, eliminated altogether).

For example, although everyone seemed to agree that sales is a team endeavor, inside salespeople are being encouraged to own their own accounts, to prospect and to engage in social outreach (including publishing their own blog posts!).

Although, many in the community reject that inside salespeople are second-class citizens (relative to field salespeople) I still heard a number of industry leaders admit (from the stage) that they employ low-cost, less-experienced candidates and introduce them to a career path that starts inside and delivers them, at some point, to the field (where, presumably, real salespeople work?).

And, need I say, talk of commission-based comp plans was everywhere.

My deck. For more information, read this.

My presentation

In my presentation, I lead audience members from the starting assumptions above through the process of reimagining their sales functions. Continue reading “The future is inside sales. It’s just not your momma’s inside sales!” »


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An introduction to unit economics (and to a drunk and his car keys)

This business is growing at a predictable 20% per year, but you can’t see that from the chart of top-line revenues below.

You can’t see this growth if you look at a profit-and-loss report or a cashflow analysis either.

Consequently, the board is pressuring the management team to shut down their expensive sales experiment. This doesn’t sit well with the management team’s intuition but the facts are the facts.

UnitEconomics1

This company is fictitious. But the story is a common one—and there’s a chance it might be playing-out in your organization right now. Read on to discover the backstory, why the facts are in conflict with reality and what management can do to reconcile this conflict.

The backstory

Our fictitious company commenced a new sales initiative on January 1. It employed two inside salespeople and, consequently, increased annual operating expenses by $200k. Now, 12 months on, the board is examining the organization’s financials and pointing out that it makes no sense to maintain this initiative.

Now, here’s the thing. The organization that generated that revenue chart above really is growing at 20% per year. I know that because I built the model that generated these numbers—and 20% annual growth is hard-wired into the model.

So the 20% annual growth isn’t in dispute (you can download my model and check for yourself). However, the board’s conclusion isn’t in dispute either. Their conclusion may be in conflict with reality but it’s NOT in conflict with the evidence provided by the organization’s management team. Even the most rigorous analysis of the organization’s financial reports will not reveal the truth. Consequently, the management team is about to agree to shut down their inside sales team—a move that will do serious damage to the longer-term outlook of the organization. Continue reading “This business is growing at a predictable 20% per year. So why does the board want to shut-down its growth engine?” »


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Sales meetings, properly run, have a tremendous impact on sales performance.

But most sales managers are reluctant to run them and, when they do, they run them in precisely the wrong fashion because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of motivation.

Why run a sales meeting?

We should touch on why before we get to how.

If you believe all of the common assumptions about sales commissions, you could be excused for presuming that sales meetings are redundant. After all, if salespeople are motivated to sell by the comp plan, why interrupt them with a sales meeting?

Of course, the comp plan does not guarantee positive behaviors (although it’s pretty-much guaranteed to drive a handful of negative ones) so it’s incumbent upon managers to engineer environments that harness salespeople’s natural motivation.

Sales meetings are the most important element of a carefully engineered sales environment.

Sales meetings:

  1. Enable salespeople to understand the relationship between their activities and the performance of the overall organization
  2. Provide salespeople with short term feedback on their performance – which is particularly important when they are working on longer-lead-time deals
  3. Enable salespeople to benchmark themselves against their colleagues
  4. Enable salespeople to drill critical communication techniques

How NOT to run a sales meeting

I suspect many sales managers are reluctant to run sales meetings because they believe that they need to put on a show for their salespeople. They need to train them and motivate them, after all.

But a good sales meeting is not a training session and it’s definitely not a motivational talk. A good sales meeting is an opportunity for salespeople to get reacquainted with the larger machine to which they belong and to compare their performance with that of their colleagues. For salespeople, this is inherently motivational.

Sales managers should be facilitating sales meetings, not presenting them. (It’s all about the salespeople. Not the sales manager!)

Sales meeting: run sheet

Let’s start with a run sheet for an ideal sales meeting.

7:45Team lead reviews reporting dashboard and ensures all reports are accurate: remedies if not
8:00Team gathers (or logs-in) and prepares for meeting
8:10Meeting starts
Review high-level metrics, in aggregate. Sales this period, activity this period and current queue sizes (forward-booked meetings, opportunities and prospects). Confirm health of overall system.
8:15Review metrics for each salesperson (sales, activity and queue sizes). Review list of last period’s activities and discuss what went well and what didn't go so well. Dig deep!
8:25Select 3-4 late-stage opportunities and discuss what’s required to increase their velocity.
8:30Select problem area (communication skill) from previous discussion, agree on ideal technique and drill as team.
8:40Meeting ends

Data first

The first thing that you should notice about this sales meeting is that it’s data driven.

The sales environment is a complex one. Sales opportunities are complex. The sales value chain is complex too (with researchers, campaign coordinators, sales coordinators, salespeople and project leaders all working together to originate and prosecute opportunities). And the larger organization adds still more complexity (with sales needing to interface effectively with customer service and engineering, etc). Plus, to add insult to injury, each salesperson is likely to be engaged with up to 100 sales opportunities at any one point in time.

It’s simply impossible to have a meaningful discussion about sales without all team members staring at the one dashboard. It’s okay to voice opinions as long as they are opinions about data – as opposed to opinions masquerading as data!

You should design your dashboard around your sales meeting – and not the other way around.

If you don’t have a fancy dashboard, at a minimum, examine salespeople’s calendars in your sales meeting (in conjunction with opportunity lists in CRM). Get salespeople to use group calendaring properly – and to color-code meetings by type. Continue reading “How to run a sales meeting” »


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One of our clients just alerted us to an end-of-year campaign opportunity.

It seems that, until the end of this year (2014), small business owners can deduct the entire cost of capital purchases, up to $500,000 in value.

This is an increase on the standard $25k limit. And it’s only available until year’s end.

If you sell high-dollar-value new or used equipment, you might be able to use this for an end-of-year sales blitz! If so, you’re welcome to grab and modify this pre-approach email template.

Just, let me know if you have any success with it.

For more information, go here: http://www.section179.org/

And Merry Christmas!

Gift from Congress: twelve days remain to blow a hole in your 2014 tax bill!

Hi Sue

If you’re still thinking about upgrading your telephone system, I have, what might be, very good news.

It seems, due to the impenetrable machinations of our Congress, you can claim a 100% tax deduction on capital purchases up to $500,000 in value — but ONLY if you make the purchase by year’s end!

There are conditions, of course. And you can read about them here: http://www.section179.org/

I’ll give you a couple of hours to run this by your finance people, then I’ll give you a call to see if we can use this opportunity to reduce your tax bill (and to upgrade your office communications, of course!)

Chat soon

Dave

[concept only]


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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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