Those who know me know that core my to values and methodology is that sales people must have business acumen. More specifically, a sales professional’s ability to demonstrate business acumen is a critical success factor to selling in today’s marketplace. One of the biggest challenges I face as a trainer however is getting sales professionals-and often times sales managers-to understand & commit to this. To a certain degree I can understand why. At a high level, business acumen can been seen as a bit abstract and at a granular level it can become overwhelming. I often hear:
- “What exactly is business acumen?”
- “I never studied business in school.”
- "I just want to make sales calls"
- "How is this information or business acumen going to help me make placements?"
- "I don't understand business concepts and financial terms"
I went to Michigan State University and studied Criminal Justice and Pre-Law. All my friends were in the business school. I had zero interest in business and coming out of college I couldn't have told you the first thing about profit margin, a balance sheet or risk mitigation. Then I took a job selling IT consulting services. My first employer had a subscription to Hoovers and OneSource. I was told to use those tools so that I could assemble key account data-balance sheets, working capital, customer satisfaction rates, market share, credit rating, yada yada, yada-to make an effective sales call or presentation. But, like many sales professionals I work with today, I was a fish out of water. None of that information helped me. It only made matters worse. It totally confused me and made me lose focus. Even if I took a class or read a book to understand all of the definitions, how was I going to translate that into my sales conversations with prospects? I wasn't and I didn't.
This is Business Acumen. And if I Can do it, Anyone Can do it
Fast forward a few years and hundreds of meetings with IT and business executives and I discovered that business acumen is not about simply knowing these terms or definitions. Business acumen is about understanding how all of the different departments in a company rely on one another in order to produce their product or service. Business acumen is the understanding of how these different teams and departments are interconnected and reliant on each other. It’s about understanding the cause and effect between each department.
For example, when the server that hosts the e commerce web site crashes, shopping carts get abandoned and sales are lost. Order fill rates go down and the customer service department gets flooded with calls from angry customers. As a result the sales team is not happy because they're orders don't get filled. The VP of sales has to have a talk with the IT team about why the server crashed and when it will be fixed. Emotions run high, relationships get strained. Subsequently the cost of sales goes up. Customer loyalty and retention suffers. Investors and/or analysts on wall-street are not happy because they missed their sales forecast. The CFO has to field calls from those angry investors and analysts. As a result the company loses market share and their stock price drops.
While this example is extreme, this is a real world example that happens to companies.
Being able to recognize and understand this is business acumen. Recognizing when something positive or negative (trigger event) happens (or is happening) within an organization and understanding who (or what departments) will be impacted and how they will be impacted is business acumen. It’s this ability to connect the dots or to see and recognize the “chain reaction” of these events.
Here’s the kicker. Corporate decision makers, executives and especially IT decision makers are constantly taking on new initiatives to apply metrics, processes and standards-let's call them critical success factors-to improve the overall performance of their department or business. When corporate decision makers make the decision to change or "re-engineer" a process and it has a positive effect on the business- there is inherit value. Keep reading……
Why Business Acumen is So Important
If you don’t have business acumen (can’t recognize the “chain of events” and interconnectedness of departments), you can’t recognize or understand what your customer values and why. Take the example from above. If you fail to uncover and understand the downstream effect of how rebuilding the server delivers value for not only the VP of Sales but the customer service team and the CFO, you can’t sell business value. Not only that, you will never understand your customer and what is important them. This is leaves you in a horrible position. You’re stuck with selling exclusively on price. Not good.
But if you can begin to build your business acumen and understand this “chain reaction” of events within your accounts, you will transition from “rookie sales rep” to “sales professional.” Why? Because now you can actually participate in the conversation you really want to be a part of. The conversation where you diagnose the problem with the client and offer ideas and co-create a solution with your client. But without business acumen, you’re just an order taker fulfilling a pre-defined need.
The last reason why developing business acumen is so important-and this is probably most important of all-is that more important than you understanding your customer’s business is that you make your client feel understood. Customers want to do business with sales professionals who understand their business. Customers want to feel understood. How can you make your customer feel understood if you don’t understand business acumen and what they value and why?
How to Develop Your Business Acumen
It starts with asking your customer’s well thought out questions. You might start off by asking them what goals they’re trying to achieve for the quarter. When they mention to you that they are having a problem or issue with “X” ask them “why do you think that problem is happening?” After their response you may reply with another question such as “how is this problem impacting your business?” Or “what departments are being impacted by this problem?”
By asking some simple probing questions you can develop business acumen and gain great insight to how your customer thinks and what they value. From here you can get into some additional questions such as “What have you done so far to try to fix this problem?” And “why is fixing this problem so important to you?”
Possessing business acumen in today’s marketplace is a must have skill set for selling any product or service to corporate America. You can start to develop your business acumen by asking these questions on your next sales call.
If you are like most of my clients, you’re business is probably growing and you’re looking to add recruiters and sales professionals to your staff. I myself have been busy interviewing sales professionals on behalf of several clients. One of the first questions that I ask a candidate in an interview is “why are you looking to leave your current employer?” The number one response, by far, has been “I’m not really sure of the direction of my company.” When hearing this response the first few times, I didn’t give it a ton of tought….at least at the “macro-level” But then I kept hearing this response from multiple candidates and in different parts of the country. Then, just earlier this week it hit me like a ton of bricks. A client shared with me that the sales candidate she’s interviewing told her he is looking to make a move because the direction of his company is unclear. Coincidence? I think not.
Why is this so concerning? Think about it. When an employee shares with you they are leaving a company because they don’t understand the direction of the company, what they’re also saying or revealing is:
- Communication from senior leadership is unclear and/or conflicting
- There is not a clear strategy in place (or it has not been clearly communicated)
- Expectations are not clear
- There is a gap in communication between middle management and senior leadership
- Employees don’t understand the company goals and why they’re important
- Core values have not clearly understood by employees
- Employees don’t have confidence in the current business plan/strategy/my current manager/team members
- Employees don’t see a career path for themselves and how they fit into the “big picture”
- Employees are unclear on the long term plans
- There is no/poor alignment between goals, compensation plans, performance expectations, management style or philosophy and core values
- Employees feel they don’t have the tools or resources to be successful
- Employees feel it’s not clear what they need to do to be successful
As a leader or business owner it's real easy to get caught up in the day to day operations of your business. It can become difficult to see the forest through the trees. As such, you can easily loose touch of what direction you're headed in. It sort of reminds me of that hilarious scene from Planes, Trains & Automobiles where Del (John Candy) and Neil (Steve Martin) think they know where they are headed and ignore all the signs telling them they are in fact going the wrong way. So why is this so important?
This is actually concerning for a few reasons. First, you may be experiencing turnover with your existing staff for the reasons mentioned above, all of which senior management has complete control over. Thus, these mistakes can be avoided. But this is also concerning because “lack of company direction” seems to be more of an epidemic than a “one-off” issue based on how often my clients (and I) have heard this. And this leads me to my third point of why this is so concerning.
Ask yourself this. Can you, with a clear conscious, articulate the goals, values and overall strategic direction of your company to a potential recruit? Second, and most importantly, will the recruit see and “feel” what you articulated to them once they join your organization or will they feel that you simply gave them a “sales pitch” to join your organization? In other words, can you “walk the walk?” If so, good for you!! However, if the answer is no or you're unsure, how can you expect to recruit new talent into your organization? How can you expect to attract and retain top talent?
The first question to figure out is, is there a strategic plan in place? If the answer is yes, then the problem can be isolated to poor communication of the plan to the rest of the organization. Senior leadership needs to work on how to effectively communicate that plan to the team. Hint: your strategic plan needs to be communicated to your team over and over and over again repeatedly.
If on the other hand there is no clearly defined strategic plan in place or you have “lost your way,” here a few good questions to ask yourself to get things back on track.
- What are our core values? Having a few “rules” to live by and consistently behaving within those rules goes a long way in developing your company culture. This is akin to teaching your two-year-old child the difference between right and wrong. What behavior shall be rewarded and what behaviors shall be reprimanded. You must decide and stick to it.
- Why are we in business? And is this in alignment with our core values?
- What do we want to achieve and why? And is this in alignment with our core values?
- Who are the clients that we most want to work with?
- What business or clients do we NOT want and shall avoid?
The market has clearly picked up and people are looking to make a move. Perhaps it’s time to check in with your employees and make sure they understand the direction of your organization. And maybe it’s even time to review your core values and make sure you can clearly articulate to recruits the direction of your organization. And do it in good faith.
Pipeline management including forecast accuracy and velocity has become a major challenge for IT staffing business owners and sales executives. Opportunities appear to be plentiful but business owners and sales managers alike share with me their frustration with stalled opportunities and “surprises” or new information that is not uncovered until late (often too late) in a sales cycle. Both of these challenges have a direct impact on pipeline management and forecast accuracy including:
· Poor qualification of the opportunity when taking the client job requirement
· The sales representative’s lack of or only superficial understanding of the client’s interview, decision making and purchasing process
· Sales professionals not recognizing (when they take the order) where the client already is in their interviewing, hiring and purchasing process
· Sales professionals making assumptions about their clients and subsequently taking short-cuts
The solution to preventing a stalled sales cycle is tied directly to detailed customer questioning and analysis during the initial qualification. Here sales professionals and managers alike should focus on understanding the business driver(s) for the project, who the business driver(s) are for the project and what their goals are for the project and why those goals are important. The other focal point should be on qualifying the compelling event and not only the problem the project (and/or consultant(s)) will solve for the client, but quantifiable business results the project will produce for the company. Time and attention also need to be focused on dissecting the approval process, decision makers and funding process. Additionally, you have to listen to the client’s tonality when they give you this information. In short, do they sound passionate? Are they convincing you this is a real need? If you’re not sure, the answer is most likely a “no.” Think about it, clients don’t just volunteer that information. Sales people must ask for it. Sales managers must take part in these conversations and coach their sales reps through these discussions.
Here is where things get interesting. Most managers focus the majority of their time on opportunities that are “closest to the money.” From my experience, sales managers in the IT staffing industry generally use this term, as “any opportunity in the final interview stage or awaiting a final decision.” As a result, sales managers focus almost exclusively on trying to get clarity around close dates for these late stage sales opportunities. The problem-for the reasons mentioned above-is the sales representative and sales manager are out of alignment with understanding their client’s needs and purchasing process. As a result they spend their time chasing, hoping, calling and emailing the client for an update.
Ask yourself this; out of 10 client job orders, how often are you facing one of the following scenarios:
· Client goes “MIA” and no longer returns your calls or email
· Budget changes later in the sales cycle
· Project/position gets put on hold or canceled
· Client is going to fill it with an “internal candidate”
If 10% or more of your job orders are being closed out for any of the above (or similar) reasons, your sales team including the sales manager need to focus more time on early stage sales opportunities.
According to research conducted by Huthwaite, a global sales performance organization focused on scientifically validated behavioral research,
"world class sales managers focus twice as much time on early stage sales opportunities as they do on late stage opportunities."
It’s pretty easy to see why. If the sales manager is just focused on getting accurate numbers and making sure the CRM/ATS system is updated with the latest information then they can’t coach their team members to properly qualify and choose which opportunities to pursue. They can’t help their sales reps foresee potential problems or bottlenecks and offer up solutions. In short, they let any opportunity into the funnel and then try to determine which ones have a chance to close. But by now it's too late, the opportunity to add value and coach the sales rep has been lost.
If you’re a sales manager responsible for your sales forecast and want to improve your accuracy, there is a simple answer. Spend more time with your sales reps during the qualification stage. And once the opportunity has been thoroughly qualified, continue to re-qualify the opportunity throughout the sales cycle. Doing this will not only eliminate those late stage “surprises,” but it will ensure your team members are spending their time on the right opportunities.
Most companies I see and work with in the IT staffing industry struggle to forecast sales revenues. In fact, some don’t even do it at all. Customers tell me they would love to be able to forecast their sales but they just don’t know how to do it. In fact, those companies that do try to forecast sales often refer to their forecast as “the crystal ball” or a “hope and prayer” indicating that they have no idea what deals are going to close and which are not. It’s like playing darts in the dark. Unfortunately, this problem has become an epidemic. But if you can’t figure out how to solve this epidemic, achieving long-term sustainable growth becomes increasingly difficult.
I’ve found that the root cause for poor sales forecasting is tied to a lack of a sales process and use of an extremely outdated (or lack of) forecasting methodology. First, most IT staffing firms don’t have a consistent sales process or methodology where they rely on objective and quantifiable or observable actions that tells them whether or not they have successfully completed a step in the sales cycle. Instead, they rely on “gut feel.” Gut feel does very little to accurately anticipate the successful sale of your service.
Second, just about all IT staffing use a very old and outdated methodology for how they try to forecast sales. They simply look at where they’re at in the interview process and focus exclusively on the tasks they have completed. They say to themselves:
- Candidates submitted. Check
- Candidates interviewed. Check
- Candidates reference checks completed. Check
- Candidate pre-closed. Check
- Candidate background screen completed. Check.
Typically when a candidate has gotten this far in the interview process sales managers and sales people tend to think the deal is around 90% closed. It’s in this manner however where sales people and sales managers set themselves up to be disappointed, surprised and often very frustrated. How? Because it’s at this stage where salespeople make assumptions about their customer. A few classic examples of where sales people make assumptions include who was in the interview, the role that each interviewer plays in the decision making process, how a decision is reached, and how budget and a purchase order actually get approved. Far too often sales people make assumptions on these and sales managers don't ask enough probing questions to discern what their sales rep really knows and what they don't know about the customer.
As a result, sales people and sales managers alike wait and wait and wait for the client to return their numerous phone calls to get the final decision. Several days, a week, weeks or even a month or more goes by before he they finally hear back from the client. What exactly are we waiting on and why is it taking so long? This my friends is the question that every sales person must be able to answer BEFORE they start working on any client requirement (as well as the execution of an MSA or proposal). The answer to this question will enable you to accurately forecast your sales.
Today’s “best in class” sales forecasting methodologies are based on quantifiable and observable actions completed by the customer. In short, they are based on the steps or milestones that your customer has to complete in order to hire a consultant from you or sign off on your proposal or MSA. These steps or milestones have nothing do with the tasks you complete. So sending the 15th email or leaving the 20th voice mail message or delivering your client the most eloquent and persuasive pitch to hire you candidate often has no impact on moving your deal to closure.
To forecast accurately and consistently, you must understand your client’s hiring and purchasing process. You must uncover every single step that your client needs to complete to execute your contract or extend the offer. This requires a lot of preparation and questioning, much of which will initially push most sales people well outside of their comfort zone. But top performing sales people not only recognize this but they embrace it. They figure out ways to help their customer execute the steps of their purchasing process. In essence, they lead their client through the purchasing process.
Sales forecasting should not be about sales managers pushing sales people to commit to more simply to make their forecast look good. And it also shouldn’t be about sales people trying to impress their peers and their manager by over committing. Sales forecasting is about poking holes in your existing opportunities to uncover your “blind spots” so that you know exactly where you stand with each deal and what you need to do to close each deal. It’s like being a homicide detective-doing investigative questioning. But it all starts with understanding your customer's purchasing process. Your customer's purchasing process IS the sales process.
To learn more about sales forecasting, check out our white paper, Sales Pipeline Analysis
To learn more about how a sales process can improve sales performance, read our free white paper Boosting Sales Performance
What in the heck does foreplay, the movie Swingers and cold calling have in common? Quite a bit actually. You see, making cold calls to corporate buyers and getting those prospects to warm up to you is much like approaching an attractive man or women sitting at the bar. Come on too strong at the bar and you look foolish and totally bomb...and your friends make fun of you. Come on too strong to your prospect and they think you're just like every other aggressive sales person. They respond with objections. And most likely, you also bomb.
Let's take a look at this classic scene from the movie Swingers in which John Favreau gets some coaching from his buddies on how to approach an attractive girl at the bar (Heather Graham). DISCLAIMER: There are some "F-Bombs." Watch Here.
Metaphorically speaking, can you see the similarities between John's approach and why he is failing to get "digits" and how sales people often fail with their cold call efforts? We're (salespeople) the big bad wolf, with big ugly fangs! The big fangs and claws I'm referring to is when we sell using our broadcast message, sales people selling features and benefits, pushy sales people who never take no for answer and most of all, sales people pushing for meetings or information before they have earned the right to that meeting or information. These are the common "tools" that we sales people try to use to get the prospect to listen to us, to pay attention to us and to take a meeting with us. However, without realizing it, we're freaking the prospect out. They're scared to death of us. So they give us a bunch of objections and blow us off.
Now let's take a look at this clip of a sales person making a cold call. Watch Here
Notice right off the bat the sales person says, "We're the world wide leader..." and "I'd love to describe our new platform," and "we'll get ya on-boarded." Again, as in the Swingers example, the sales person is the big bad wolf with big fangs and claws-selling features and benefits and pushing for a meeting before he has earned the right. Also, notice the call immediately went downhill as soon as he started talking about his product. More specifically, the prospect took control of the call by asking questions and firing off objections. Obviously this is a fun little skit but the reality is, it's not all that far off from the real mistakes sales people make on cold calls.
People don't typically propose on the first date do they?
So what's the common theme between our friend in Swingers and our little cold calling buddy? There is no foreplay! I don't want to get too raunchy here but check out this definition I found on the web for foreplay.
"In human sexual behavior, foreplay is a set of intimate psychological and physical acts between two people, meant to build up sexual arousal. Psychologically, foreplay lowers inhibitions and increases the emotional comfort level between partners."
As sales professionals, I think we should pay close attention to two parts of this definition. First, the part that says "foreplay is a set of...." And second, "foreplay lowers inhibitions and increases the emotional comfort level between partners." My point is sales people should first focus on the latter by adopting a mind set and approach that will lower the prospects inhibitions and increase their comfort level for communicating with the sales person. In other words, stop focusing on your self-serving goal of landing a meeting! Second, sales people can accomplish this by focusing on and executing a set of acts that will encourage the prospect to lower his or her inhibitions for communicating with the sales person. Think of it like a relationship continuum. You don't go from cold call to inviting the prospect to your house for dinner right? Of course not. A number of other events will most likely take place before you're comfortable inviting your prospect to your house and before your prospect is comfortable in accepting the invitation.
One Last Example
If you were being "pitched" by a salesperson to buy his or her products or services, you most likely would not make a decision to buy based off the first interaction would you? And you certainly wouldn't do so within the first minute of your conversation. So stop expecting your clients to do so.
Here is how you can use a little "foreplay" in your sales efforts:
- Demonstrate some empathy and show your prospects that you care about them and their business. Remember, people don't care about how much you know until you they know how much you care.
- Focus on being genuine and sincere.
- Don't push. By this I mean have some patience. Be persistence in your pursuit for the prospects business but if the prospect has NOT demonstrated any interest in you or doing business with you, don't expect them to share information (their IT projects, process for using IT consultants, etc.) or schedule a meeting with you. You're just setting yourself up for rejection.
Sales is not about smashing a square peg into a round hole. It requires a little bit of finesse.
Follow these rules and......you're so money!
Jill Konrath, author of Snap Selling and Selling To Big Companies (excellent read) and Ardath Albee, B2B strategist and CEO of Marketing Interactions, Inc. recently published a report Cracking The Linkedin Sales Code where they set out to the answer the question, “Can Linkedin really increase sales?” To get this answer, they surveyed 3,094 sales professionals to find out how they use Linkedin. Below are some of the key takeaways.
Which of the following are you doing on a daily basis?
Top sellers ask and respond to questions online, start conversations and share resources with others on a regular basis.
Top performing sales people reported that they leverage linkedin to identify multiple points of entry into an account
Top performers reported that they pass on relevant information to other users and group members such as sharing links, e-books, case studies, analyst reports, white papers, articles and webinars on a daily basis.
Top performing sales people understand the power and value that comes from being seen as a thought leader in their market. This is why they use status updates and group interactions to showcase their personal expertise and share relevant content. Their goal is to establish contact with prospects, add value and create a reason to connect.
Top sales performers also join groups as a way to start conversations with people. They analyze the groups “discussions” to identify ways to interject and connect and they “follow” prospects to keep abreast of their status updates, comments and updates in their profile. They use the updates as a way to connect.
Top sellers understand that prospects today are checking out their Linkedin profile. As a result, top sellers enhance or optimize their profile to demonstrate the business value they deliver to their clients. They have moved away from the “resume format” and instead focus on articulating how they have impacted their client business.
Top performing sales people make sure they’re a first level connection with all of their customers and primary business associates.
Having professional recommendations and endorsements from clients is one of the best ways to enhance your professional profile on Linkedin. Prospects will notice both the number and the quality of the recommendation from your clients. This gives sellers credibility.
Lastly, top sellers share their expertise and relevant content. Sellers should make it a daily practice to update their status and share information of value. This helps position sales people as thought leaders in their market.
To read the full report or download it you can visit Jill's website
I know many of you out there are doing some of these things, but are you doing all of them? Are you doing them consistently? Remember, there is a lot in this business we can't control, but there is so much that we can control.
Good luck and happy selling!
Have you ever heard the tale of the woodcutters? Woodcutter A cuts wood all day long. Woodcutter B keeps stopping and sitting down. At the end of the day woodcutter B has three times more wood than Woodcutter A. Woodcutter A asks "how could this be, you were resting all day?" Woodcutter B says, "I wasn't resting, I was sharpening my saw."
I remember after my first year in sales thinking to myself, "I want to double my income next year. I just need to double my activity level." While I did accomplish that goal, I also remember waking up to many cold Chicago winter mornings at 5:00 am so that I could get into the office and fit all of my sales tasks and activities into the day. Looking back on those days, I feel pretty foolish. What a rudimentary thought process! That was almost twenty years ago.
What continues to amaze me to this day however is that when I consult with IT staffing firms and work with IT staffing sales professionals, the mentality, philosophy and core strategy still hinges almost exclusively on activity levels. This philosophy is flawed because it's not scalable and it is rooted in the belief that sales is primarily a numbers game. But is it? Seriously, think about it. Is sales a numbers game? I think not.
Over the years I have learned that top performing sales people are usually not the hardest working nor do they work the longest hours. I could go on and on about the guys I worked with at Oracle (who killed it without working very hard) but that's another story. Top performers are top performers because of the quality of the work they produce and their ability to execute. It's not the number of meetings they go on but what they accomplish in those meetings that sets them apart.
Imagine if you could make three more placements per month without exerting any addtional effort? Even better, what if you could close more deals per month AND work less? There is a way to accomplish this. I know there is because I have done it and I have helped others do it as well.
Are You Ever Going To Get Off That Wheel?
Now please keep in mind that I have worked with thousands of sales reps in the IT staffing industry, so what I'm about to say is NOT bravado but based purely on experience. For the most part, IT staffing sales professionals "wing it." That's right. 2% call planning, strategy and execution, 98% "no guts no glory." How can I make such a generalization? Those of you who have been through my workshops know that I often start them by playing the objection rebuttal game. Real simple....I put people on the spot by giving them an objection and they have to offer up their best rebuttal. The objections are basic, stuff you hear everday. But 95% of the rebuttals I hear would never fly with a real client. Many of the rebuttals are not credible and the delivery of the rebuttal....let's just say it's not a smoothe and polished delivery. This little exericse tells me that most sales reps in the industry are investing little to no time at practicing and honing their skills. Instead of practicing and working on improving their ability to execute, they simply hop back on the hamster wheel. Why? Because sales is a numbers game. More activity means more deals right? Let me ask you, how hard and for how long can you run? Who are you, Forrest Gump?
Close More Deals....Work Less....How?
What if you knew exactly how to execute every possible sales scenario-objection, negotiation, candidate feedback, email response, f2f client meeting, etc-you face as an IT staffing sales professional? You'd clearly be a top perfomer. You can. You just need to create a sales playbook. What is a sales playbook you ask? A sales playbook is a documented guide containing content specific and experiences on the most successful ways to sell your service. Your sales playbook is the accumulated wisdom of your sales reps, and entire staff who have had experience selling to your customers. Every scenario that your staff enounters is documented so that you can learn from it and practice. The worlds leading organizations across a multitude of industries are utilizing sales playbooks. In fact, a recent study conducted by CSO (Chief Sales Officer) Insights revealed that the number one priorty on the mind of CSO's in 2013 is "improving sales effectiveness." Not on cross-selling, improving customer loyalty or opening new accounts. Improving sales effectiveness. This means improving how you execute each step of your sales process.
When you (or your employees) are in any customer facing situation, you're in one of two categories. Either you have practiced the situation before and know exactly how to handle it or you don't have the information and you have not practiced how to deal with it. Which category would you prefer to be in?
If we learned anything from our friend Woodcutter B, taking the time to sharpen your tools and hone your skills will make you FAR more productive in the long run. Think about that before you step back on your hamster wheel!
In recent years sales automation technology, particularly CRM/ATS has become increasingly popular and a driving force behind sales and recruiting management within the IT staffing industry. This technology has enabled IT staffing firms-sales professionals and recruiters especially-to create and act on valuable data. However, from my experience, I have noticed that many IT staffing firms have mistaken their CRM/ATS software for their sales process.
Many of the CRM and ATS software providers serving the staffing and recruiting industry began to boom in the late 1990’s and throughout the early 2000’s. However, much like what happened in the early and mid-1990’s, when CIO’s across the country quickly began to implement ERP (SAP, Oracle, Etc.) systems for the sake of technology (lack of business drivers), many IT staffing firms have adopted CRM and ATS technology without a defined and documented sales and recruiting methodology. As a result you have many IT staffing firms:
- Who are reporting on too much or too little data
- Who are reporting on the wrong data, thus driving poor & inconsistent sales and recruiter behavior
- Who are drowning in data; “Garbage in, garbage out.” Lack of data stewardship.
- Lack the insight to make timely, accurate business decisions
- Who fail to provide consistent coaching and development
- Who are incredibly inefficient: Recruiters running hundreds of “one and done” search efforts
- That are failing to obtain their anticipated ROI on their ATS/CRM implementation
The Case for a Sales and Recruiting Process
Most if not all of today’s CRM and ATS systems come with pre-set default lead and opportunity stages, default fields for accounts, contacts and in some cases, even dashboards. Many IT staffing firms however make the mistake of thinking this is their sales process. But this is not your sales process. The number one rule in implementing any new software system is that software should accommodate your business process, not dictate it. Your sales process should be defined ahead of time and be aligned with how your customer’s buy.
A sales and recruiting process provides a road map, and defines and documents the end-to-end steps that lead to a higher probability of success and increased sales productivity. A sales process allows you to identify, qualify, diagnose and measure sales opportunities and then determine the next step in selling.
If you’re considering implementing a new CRM or ATS software package this year, be sure that you have a clearly defined and well documented sales and recruiting process in place. A good sales process includes the following elements:
- The customers buying process
- Selling steps/tasks that align with the buying process
- Verifiable outcomes that let sales people know if they have been successful at executing each step
- A management system that measures the process and reinforces the behavior
- Sales play books and job aids that that facilitate the execution of each step in the sales process
Busy is good. Busy is productive. Busy equals success…or does it? When trying to motivate your IT staffing sales team to do more and work harder, it’s normal to push them to “get busy!” But busy work and IT staffing sales effectiveness are two very different things. Sales effectiveness is about improving your sales performance. Busy work is simply about maintaining the status quo.
The last thing any sales manager wants is a busy sales team producing little results and doing little to increase sales performance. So stop pushing for “busy” and start working towards improving sales effectiveness by aligning efforts with the indicators of highly effective IT staffing sales teams outlined below.
Highly Effective IT Staffing Sales Teams…
Work from an Established Sales Process. Providing effective, consistent sales coaching and achieving consistent sales results requires a clearly defined sales process. Performance can only get better if you have a baseline from which to measure. Nevertheless, I am constantly surprised by the number of IT staffing firms (large and small) operating without a sales process that defines sales activities and standards for results.
Those IT staffing sales teams that have a defined process are at a great advantage. Sales professionals know what is expected of them, exactly what steps they need to execute in order to be successful and sales managers can easily identify and diagnose where improvements need to be made and support can be given. And having a process allows all of this to happen on a consistent basis.
Use Objective Criteria to Establish Sales Milestones. While the power of “gut instinct” is important when it comes to qualifying, it’s better to check it at the door when it comes to sales forecasting accuracy. That’s because forecasting accuracy requires objectivity. If sales managers are using their gut instincts to rank the opportunities and coordinate the activities of their sales teams, they are promoting inconsistent, bad sales behavior.
Take for example the case of IT staffing sales managers who use subjective criteria for ranking job requisitions. Using subjective data implies that the criteria can change based on the "eye of the beholder." In this case the sales manager may boost the morale and confidence of the sales person by assigning the job order as an “A order” when in reality it is not. Under this scenario the sales manager (unintentionally) encourages poor sales behavior. The salesperson receives inconsistent coaching and subsequently delivers inconsistent results. An ego boost will not change the quality of the opportunity, but hard work on the part of the sales professional—such as going back to the hiring manager to get more information (verifiable, objective data)—can turn it into a qualified job order. Sticking to highly objective measures to rank requisitions and other IT staffing sales milestones is essential to improving sales behavior and driving consistent, long-term performance.
Understand Client/Prospect Purchase Processes: At the end of the day in IT staffing sales, we don’t get paid for what we do. We get paid based on what our clients do. Did they screen the candidates? Did they interview them? Did they push the hiring process forward? Have they committed to completing the next step in their purchasing process?
Good sales people understand their clients purchasing process. Great salespeople know how to lead their clients through their purchasing process. They do this by aligning their own sales activities and milestones with their customers purchasing process. Are you doing this?
Sales Management System & Business Intelligence: If you’re a sales manager, consistency is a critical success factor in working with your sales people. Sales people want a consistent methodology to follow that leads to predictable success. The best thing sales managers can have is a sales system and access to objective data that consistently prompts you to ask the right questions that lead to positive and predictable outcomes.
On Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 2:00 pm EST, you can join InsightSquared and me for a complimentary Webinar on sales pipeline management and BI best practices. You’ll learn about the qualities highly effective IT staffing sales teams share and see sales pipeline analysis and reporting best practices in action. Click here to register now.
I invite you to take some time to evaluate your IT staffing sales processes, behaviors and activities. Analyze whether milestones are objective or subjective and how much your sales teams know about your clients’ purchasing processes. And finally join Menemsha Group and InsightSquared for Boost Sales Performance With Pipeline Management & BI Best Practices to learn more about boosting sales performance with sales pipeline management, analysis and reporting excellence.
Selling in today’s IT staffing market requires more than elbow grease and good selling skills. Creating killer content and speaking the language of your customer is crucial for building credibility with your prospects. When you establish credibility, your prospects instill confidence in you. And confidence leads to trust….the holy grail of selling!!!
If you need help in this area, please sign up for my FREE webinar, Attract & Engage Coveted Prospects with Killer Content. Here is a quick synopsis of why this is so important (and what you can expect to learn on the webinar).
First, ask yourself these three questions:
- Are your prospects (IT executives/hiring managers) blowing you off by referring you to HR?
- Do you rarely receive returned phone calls?
- Are you struggling to land quality face to face meetings with IT executives?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions chances are you’re not speaking the language of your customer and/or your customers are not hearing any value in what you have to offer. Instead, you need to offer quality, relevant content to your prospects and you need to speak their language. In order to speak the language of your customer and offer killer content you first need to understand who your customers are and what is important to them. For example, you probably call on the following prospects:
- Director/Manager of Application Development
- IT Recruiter
- Director of Human Resources
These are four very different customer segments. That means you as the sales person must tailor your message for each of these four audiences. Why? The CIO has very different interests, responsibilities, challenges and priorities than the Director of Application Development. And the challenges that the Director of Human Resources faces are far different from those the CIO faces not to mention an IT Recruiter or the Manager of Application Development. This means you need to use different vernacular and use different content and speak different “languages” based on who you’re calling. So if you are leaving the same general voice mail message for ALL of your prospects and not receiving returned phone calls, you now know why.
To speak the language of your customer and create killer content that builds credibility and a loyal following you need to understand what it is they (each customer segment) think about, what they value and why those values are important to them. Finally and most importantly, you need to craft your messaging-voice mail messages, email, phone dialogue, marketing literature-around those values.
Most IT staffing sales professionals I hear on the phone with prospects typically talk about the following, using the following vernacular:
“I wanted to check in, do you have any needs?”
“We offer, contract, contract to hire and direct hire services”
“We cover the full spectrum of IT including .net, java, storage, DBA’s, QA”
“We have a team of industry experts who really understand technology”
Do you think any of your prospects fall asleep at night thinking about these things? And does speaking in these terms lend us credibility? Of course not! Which is why when you engage prospects in this manner they quickly disengage with you.
Instead, sales professionals need to engage clients with topics and conversation that are relevant and important to them. Remember, customers don’t want to talk about your service offerings. They want help in solving their problems. They want to hear fresh ideas and insight on how to achieve their goals. They want to hear about best practices.
To learn more, register for our FREE WEBINAR, Attract & Engage Coveted Prospects With Killer Content and learn to speak the language of your customers.