7 Techniques to Power Your Quarterly Sales

By Robert Youngjohns, President and CEO, Callidus Software Inc.

At the end of each quarter, companies worldwide look at their sales figures and try to figure out what went wrong, and what can be done better going forward. Some will set unreasonably high sales targets, others will plan exciting sales contests, and still others will look to their top sales people and try to figure out how to infuse the same talent into the rest of their sales teams. But by understanding a handful of time-tested and universal sales management principles, any company can increase their chances of sales success – each and every quarter.

I started out selling IBM products to tire manufacturers in the midlands of Britain – thousands of miles from headquarters. The company tried all sorts of different things to motivate the sales team, but checks always spoke far louder than any of my sales managers’ words. In a nutshell, driving greater sales success is mostly about setting clear and simple goals, and delivering financial rewards quickly.

Here are seven tips to help any company achieve and exceed its quarterly sales goals:

Tip #1 – Avoid Goal Vacuum: Set Targets Early
During the time when management is analyzing the past year and working out sales goals for the present one, there’s a goal vacuum, and savvy sales people will often close deals less aggressively to keep from getting too far out in front of their target. Why? Because money is involved, and most serious salespeople want to do what will make them the most money. They will often wait until the company can tell them what the target is before they really get cracking.

So it’s important to communicate sales targets as early as possible every quarter. By simply getting the goals out there, even if they’re still rough and will need to be adjusted, salespeople will have something solid to shoot for, and they’ll start closing deals earlier.

Tip #2 – Don’t Pad the Sales Target
There’s a story of a CEO who attends a company function just days after the company has set its revenue targets for the year. He meets one of his salespeople there, and asks how it’s going.

“Not that great, I’ve been asked to do 40% growth, and there’s no way I’m going to make any money,” responds the account executive.

“I thought our growth target was only 15%,” says the CEO.

What’s wrong with this picture? It turns out that in the average company, as quotas push down through the management ranks, each manager builds a buffer, to make sure that the person below delivers the revenue needed to make the up line manager’s number. Eventually, what started out as reasonable targets are inflated into unrealistic goals, the sales team becomes de-motivated, and the company stagnates.

Instead, keep target allocations as close as you dare to the actual goal. In the end, it’s going to help everyone.

Tip #3 – Keep Goals Simple
Equally important, sales targets, or goals, need to be simple for both executives and the sales team to understand, and easy to measure. If you can’t properly measure sales performance, it’s crazy to put sales force rewards in place, because that investment won’t work toward your overall company goals, and neither will your sales people.

Tip #4 – Cash is King
Cruises, vacations and other prizes are great, but clear cash incentives are the reason we salespeople come to work every day. Good compensation plans lay it out – “if you do this, you’ll get that amount of money”. Cash incentives are the only way to be this exact. The problem with non-cash forms of compensation is that they’re often based on a bell curve of performance, or some other selection process where even if certain goals are accomplished, there’s still only a chance that a sales person will get a particular reward. So think of contests and promotions as fun ways to add to a cash compensation plan, don’t make them a substitute.

Tip #5 – Pay Incentives as Quickly as Possible
Sales managers often make the mistake of outlining too long-term a sales compensation plan, and wait too long to pay their sales teams. It’s better to set short-term goals, and compensate your team regularly, as they reach them. For example, quarterly compensation plans tend to work well – the longest workable time horizon is one year.

While intellectually very attractive and much discussed, long-term goals just don’t work. There are too many variables at play for a person to believe that by slowly executing toward a particular long-term goal, they’ll ever actually reach it.

Tip #6 – Everyone Loves Sales Heroes, But They Don’t Win the War
Sales heroes make great water cooler talk and give everyone something to shoot for – as in, “Did you hear about Joe’s $1 million commission check?” These success stories keep the sales team motivated, and give them something to aspire to. But the making of a sales star is as often about luck or timing as it is about hard cold personal performance. In many cases, territory, timing and customer factors outside any individual’s control are as responsible for large orders and big commissions as are the talents of the salesperson.

Top sales managers know that in addition to the 10% of the sales stars who command the limelight, it’s really the other 90% of the sales force who fight the good fight day in and day out, and who are actually responsible for winning the war. It can be easy to perceive that it’s the heroes that save the day, but in almost all cases, it’s the rest of the team that gets the job done. So don’t ignore the rank and file.

People are always quick to say that the quarterback won the game, but in most cases, it’s probably not true – in all likelihood, without his team, he would have gotten rolled over.

Tip #7 – A Bit of Theater to Get Everyone on Board with the Plan
There’s an age-old battle between executives and sales teams when it’s time to review sales targets and results, but it can be prevented with one theatrical, but powerful step. When goals are missed, management says the sales force doesn’t ‘get it’ or isn’t motivated, and the sales team says the products aren’t any good. To keep people from passing the buck, just circulate the compensation plan, and get each executive to personally sign it, and voila, no more excuses.


Top 3 Fatal Sales Mistakes: What Not to Do to Succeed in Sales!

By Colleen Francis, President and Founder, Engage Selling Solutions

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself on the receiving end of a series of particularly heinous sales techniques – all of which were aimed at getting through a gatekeeper to a decision maker, and all of which ended disastrously for the sales reps involved.

I firmly believe that, to improve our skills and the relationships we have with our prospects and clients, it’s just as important to know what not to do as it is to know what to do. In that spirit, I decided to recount and dissect these painful experiences, in the hope of sharing with you where these sales people went so wrong – and what they could’ve done instead!

One word of warning: while I’ve chosen not to use any names in order to protect the potentially innocent companies who may be employing these sales reps (and may not be aware of the “techniques” they are using), the stories you’re about to read are, unfortunately, all true. Viewer discretion is definitely advised…

1: The Case of the Anonymous Acquaintance
First, a couple of weeks ago, I received a magazine article in the mail that detailed the benefits to sales people of taking a public speaking course. On second look, I saw that the article was actually an advertorial, complete with a registration form for the course at the end.

Attached to the piece was a post-it with a handwritten note which read: “Colleen, I thought you would find this interesting.” It was signed with an illegible initial – maybe a J? Maybe an I? – I couldn’t be sure. I had no idea who had sent me this “highly informative article,” but because of the handwritten note, I assumed I must know them. I looked at the envelope it had come in, and, sure enough, found no return address and an automated bulk mail stamp – sure signs of unsolicited mail.

I’d never heard of the company offering the seminar, nor anyone they were associated with. Clearly, they were trying to hide behind their anonymity because they knew, that I knew, that they did not know me.

Why is this crossing the line?
Because by trying to pretend that they know and have a relationship with me even though they don’t, they are lying. To me, an approach that is based on a lie is the worst kind of mistake – and the absolute worst first impression – that any sales professional can make.

This lie is being used in the hope that I’ll feel guilty enough about not remembering who they are that I will call the company to find out, at which point they can try to sell me on their seminar. Will I be in the mood to be sold anything once I figure out their game? Will I ever buy anything from this company, or recommend them to my colleagues and associates? Am I likely to respond warmly to any follow-up call that might happen to come along?

The answer is NO! So if you’ve ever been tempted to try to lure new customers with a lie, first ask yourself this: if the customer or prospect finds out what I’m really up to, will they be mad, or will I be embarrassed? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then find yourself a different tactic – fast!

How not to cross the line
The idea of staying in touch with your customers and prospects by sending them an occasional article or other information is a good one. But if you use this technique, make sure the following rules of thumb are applied consistently, and without exception:

  1. The article is relevant to the prospect.
  2. The article is simply that – an article, not just a glorified advertisement for your product.
  3. The prospect knows you and you clearly sign your name so they can see it is from you.
  4. You identify who you are on the envelope.
  5. You make a follow-up call after they’ve received it.

2: The Case of the Schoolyard Bully
While on vacation in March, I received a frantic call from my office. My assistant was panicked because she’d gotten a call from a man who insisted that he had a meeting set up with me for that day, and that it was “critical” that he talk to me. He also told her that he “had talked to me directly,” that this was “a follow-up meeting,” that I had “promised to talk to him” – and even that he had “time sensitive information” he had to get to me.

When she finally got me on the phone, explained the situation and told me what company he was calling from, I realized it was all a ruse. I had never talked to that rep or his company before. I did know enough about what they did, however, to realize that what they sold was not relevant to my business and I was not, nor ever would be, interested in the service they offered.

In other words, this rep hadn’t even spoken to me before, let alone scheduled a “follow-up” meeting. He also didn’t offer anything that would be so “critical” to my business that I’d be glad to interrupt my vacation to talk to him.

Why is this crossing the line?
Once more: he lied. As far as I was concerned, that spelled the end of any business relationship he and I might ever have had.

To make matters worse, in order to get though to me (the “decision maker”), he tried to instigate panic in my assistant (the “gatekeeper”) by confusing her into thinking she and I had made a mistake, and I would have to be disturbed.

He knew we’d never spoken, and that we did not have a meeting scheduled. He was simply hoping that I would feel so guilty about the possibility that I’d made a mistake that I would be willing to cancel whatever else I was doing to take his call. He was probably also hoping that same unwarranted guilt would make me feel I “owed him” enough to listen to his pitch.

Whenever you use a tactic that requires making someone else feel bad simply to get what you want, you’re crossing the line not only between appropriate and inappropriate sales techniques, but also between being a smart or stupid sales person – and, to my mind, between being a decent human being and a schoolyard bully.

Just ask yourself: if your prospect found out what you were doing, would they want to have a relationship with you?

How not to cross the line
Assistants can be used effectively to secure appointments and get decision makers on your side. However, you should never attempt to manipulate them or their relationship with your prospect. If you do get a gatekeeper on the phone, try the following, and see how much farther it will take you:

  1. Show them respect at all times.
  2. Treat them like the decision maker, and try your opening lines or lead-in questions with them. They may be able to point you towards other decision makers in the company who could be important to your sale.
  3. Ask them when is the best time to reach the decision maker.
  4. Ask if they can schedule 15 minutes of time with the decision maker for you.
  5. Always thank them for their help.

3: The Case of the “Close, Personal Friend”
Finally, just a few days ago, a sales person called our office claiming to be a “close, personal friend” of mine. My assistant asked if I knew her, and while I didn’t think so, I decided to have her put her through to me anyway.

A couple of minutes into her pitch, I interrupted the rep and asked, “excuse me, do I know you?” She answered: “Not now, but if we do business together, I guarantee we will become good friends.”

Needless to say, we didn’t do business together, and we aren’t likely to at any point in the foreseeable future.

Why is this crossing the line?
Say it with me now: because she lied! Even worse, it was a really stupid lie!

Did the rep really not think that, as soon as she had me on the phone, I’d realize she wasn’t the “close, personal friend” she was claiming to be? Either she was hoping I would think her “idea” was clever, or that I was so stupid I can’t remember who my friends are. Any sales tactic that makes the prospect feel like you must think he or she is an idiot simply can’t end well.

Before you try any technique like this one, please ask yourself: if the prospect finds out what I’m doing, will they want to be my friend? Or will I be happy with the consequences of earning a bad reputation, and a lost opportunity?

How not to cross the line
Every time you call a decision maker, have a compelling reason to speak to them, and make sure your opening line or leading question is tuned to their needs, and offers them value. Then they will want to take your calls, without your having to lie to get them on the phone.

If you want to develop commonality with your prospects without resorting to trickery, try the following simple – and honest! – approach:

  • Use a REAL reference from someone you both know.
  • Tell them a third party story about a customer you’ve helped who is in their industry, and/or who is in their same position (Director, VP, etc).
  • Offer a piece of information that shows you know something about their business or industry that you can help them with. One of my clients who sells to the medical research industry, for example, leads with “your research into XYZ disease caught my attention…”

When it comes to being honest and being branded a liar, the line between what’s appropriate and what isn’t, isn’t so much a “fine line” as it is a gaping chasm. Fall in, and you may never be able to find your way out.

Goodbye Sales, Hello Relationships

By C.J. Hayden, Author, Get Clients NOW

How many times today has someone tried to sell you something? Sales messages arrive by e-mail, postal mail, fax, radio, magazines, newspapers, TV, and your web browser; salespeople write you, call you, and approach you in the store or showroom. Are you even listening any more? How often do you actually buy something because someone you didn’t know tried to sell it to you?

Your customers are just like you. They are not only tired of being sold to, most of the time they don’t even see or hear it. Overwhelmed with communications, they tune out the vast majority of the sales messages they are presented with just in order to get through their day. Recently, after attending a race plastered with Coca-Cola logos, a survey revealed that only a third of the attendees could remember who the sponsor was.

Sales and marketing experts are calling this the Spam effect. With so many communications arriving all the time, your customers are filtering out all but the most essential information they receive not just via the Internet, but by mail and phone as well. If they don’t know who you are, you don’t get through. More than ever before, customers want to do business only with people they already know, like, and trust.

Relationship Selling What’s a salesperson to do? The answer lies not in trying harder to sell the old way, but in changing the way you sell. Relationship selling, simply put, is translating all the effort you currently give to selling into building relationships with people instead. Once enough people in your marketplace know, like, and trust you, sales are the natural result.

Building relationships is something we humans do naturally. We talk on the phone, have coffee or lunch, and work or play together. When you need to make a purchase, you call someone you know. If you don’t know anyone who offers that product or service, you ask the people you do know. That’s how most business actually happens.

The goal of relationship selling is to know a large enough pool of people so that all the sales you need come to you, instead of you having to go out and find them.

Here are the five requirements to make relationship-selling work:

a) You have to like the people you want to sell to. You need to truly enjoy their company — this isn’t something you can fake.
b) You must care about their problems, so when you tell them how your product will solve those problems, you are helping them, not selling to them.
c) You have to believe in your product or service 100%. You want your customers to trust you, so that means you have to be honest with them.
d) You must be patient. Relationships take time to grow, and can’t be rushed. You will make sales by building relationships, but you won’t get it tomorrow.

You need to have a plan. Building the right relationships won’t happen by accident.

If the idea of relationship selling appeals to you, but you don’t meet the first three requirements, there’s only one way to solve the problem. You need to find a different target market, or a different product to sell. Relationship selling is based on authenticity, genuine concern, and honesty. It’s not a sales technique that can be simulated without possessing those basic qualities.

Who to Relate to The starting point for relationship selling is building a pool of contacts with which you can exchange referrals, introductions, connections, and information. Here are some categories of individuals who should be in your contact pool:

a) Customers – You already look to them for referrals, but if you get to know your existing customers better, you may also uncover additional needs they have that your company could fill.
b) People in your target market – They are not just potential sources of business, but also can be excellent referral sources once they learn to trust you.
c) Others who serve your market – People who provide any sort of product or service to your potential customers. They can uncover needs for you with their clients or send you referrals.
d) Colleagues and competitors – The more people in your own line of business you know, the more information you can lay your hands on, making you a more valuable resource to your prospects.
e) Other salespeople – No matter what they sell or who they sell to, other salespeople understand the value of referrals. They’re used to exchanging leads and information, and know the payoff of keeping in touch over time.
f) High-profile organizations – Building relationships here can send you highly-qualified referrals. When someone at a university or professional association recommends you, your credibility has already been established.
g) Champions – These are the people in your personal booster club, who tell everyone how great you are. They may never have been customers; they just recommend you whenever they can.
h) Centers of influence – They are the folks who seem to know everybody, and because they have that reputation, people call them when they need a recommendation. You want your name to be in their database.

Begin by organizing all of your existing contacts in any of the above categories in your contact management system. Don’t stop with your customer list — use your personal address book, holiday card list, alumni directory, membership rosters, and all the business cards you’ve thrown in a drawer. Your goal is to compile a list of people who already know your name. Be sure to include personal acquaintances and relatives as well as business contacts.

Then choose from your pool of contacts a group of people to start building stronger relationships with. The number can be as few as 30 or as many as 300 depending on your personal bandwidth. Don’t worry if you can’t yet see how your contacts will turn into sales. People who fit into any of the categories described above are excellent candidates to either become customers or refer them.

Start to Relate Make a phone call or drop a note to each person on your list. Your aim is not to sell them anything or even to ask for referrals, but for the two of you to get to know each other better. Your relationship should be based on reciprocity. An excellent approach is to tell your contacts you want to expand your business network and you would like for them to be in it. Ask them what they need right now in their business or career, and listen carefully for how you can help them find it. A basic principle of relationship selling is giving before you get.

When a contact needs referrals, look elsewhere in your contact pool for people who might become a customer or be able to refer one. If a contact is looking for a new job, give him or her three names of people you know who might have job leads. Help your contacts solve problems in their businesses, by providing information, suggesting resources, or making connections between them and others who might have ideas.

Make it a habit to keep track of industry leaders, trade events, and new developments in your field, and routinely share that information with others. If you can become a trusted resource for leads and information in your industry or geographic area, doors you used to have trouble getting your foot in will start opening for you.

That’s the giving part. The getting part works best when you ask your contacts not, “Who do you know that would like to do business with me?” but instead, “Who else do you think would be a good person for me to get to know?” Keep the focus on building your network instead of your business. Of course, in the context of getting to know each other better, you will be telling your contacts more about the products and services you sell. But now that conversation will be happening naturally instead of being a sales pitch.

How it Works This process of building relationships may sound a bit imprecise. But in fact, it can be done quite systematically. Kelly, sales representative for an accounting system, was given a Northern California territory. First, she started identifying which companies in her territory could potentially become customers, based on the number of employees they had. Her intent was to eventually have a complete list of every prospective customer in her territory.

As Kelly added each company to her list, she found out the name of their CFO. Then she looked for ways to eventually meet that CFO through her contact pool. Could someone she knew introduce her? Did the CFO belong to an association where they might meet? Who in her network could give her more information about that CFO to help make a connection? Kelly sought out how to make personal contact with each CFO, not to sell to them but to get to know them.

After Kelly had managed to connect with a CFO through her relationship network, she kept in touch at least once per quarter through a wide variety of means. She invited CFO’s to coffee and lunch, chatted with them on the phone, sent them articles and white papers through the mail, invited them to attend industry events, mailed congratulations when the CFO was in the news, and more.

Kelly always had a new tidbit of industry news to share when she got in touch. In every approach, she tried to let the CFO’s know that she was available to serve as a resource for them in any way possible. Not every CFO was responsive to Kelly’s relationship-building efforts, but enough of them were that she got to know some of them quite well. Over time, they all got to know her name.

As a result of Kelly’s relationship building, her customer base increased exponentially. She was in contact with so many people in her target market who considered her a trusted resource that it would have been almost impossible for a company to consider an accounting system implementation without her name coming up first. And the best thing about her method of selling was that people welcomed her phone calls instead of avoiding them.

Keep it Going How you decide to build stronger relationships will depend on the type of person you are and who you are making contact with. Some people you might call for lunch twice a year, others you could chat with on the phone occasionally, and still others you may send an article or announcement to every month or two. However you approach it, any salesperson can reap the rewards of relationship selling by remembering to serve as a resource, strive for reciprocity, and give people reasons to get to know you better.