Summary: Make no mistake, it is a huge challenge to implement and sustain a successful sales partnership and cross-sell strategy. All levels of management must model good collaborative behaviors.
But if you implement the four fundamentals of a successful partnership, the payoff leads to more revenue, better customer relationships, and less of a chance of customers looking elsewhere.
Crossing the sales partnering or collaboration bridge is a lot easier said than done. Yet customer growth and retention often depend on a successful collaboration between two organizations business units or colleagues.
Many organizations simply reorganize the office or modify the compensation plan to motivate their teams to work together. But these tactics don't truly motivate people to work together for each other's or their customer's best interests. And they don't address the salesperson's perceived risk that they'll lose control of the customer relationship in the new partnership situation. It doesn't even matter that the possibility of increased compensation is dangled in front of them.
In any situation where people are to partner or team for the collective good, you must know how to not just talk the partnership talk, but to walk the walk:
Get clear on how to meet customer needs. What must be done to satisfy your mutual customers? The first step is to understand, align with, and commit to the activities that are important to your customers. Gain clarity on those things that must be done well when interfacing with customers and how to meet and exceed their expectations.
Management, too, has to play nicely in the same sandbox. Everyone in the partnering organizations must play nicely in the same sandbox, and that's especially true of the management teams. They need to model partnering in both their words and body language. If they don't, and they start complaining about their new counterparts, their staff will quickly figure out they probably don't need to collaborate either.
Creating a productive, trustworthy partnership depends on three critical success factors:
Mutual goal setting (vs. dictating the goals they want the partner to meet)
Without this type of collaboration, the relationship can easily dissolve, breeding a lack of trust, lowering credibility, and creating mutual disrespect.
Constant coaching is key. Most managers don't stop to figure out how to change their coaching in the new partnership arrangement. They keep coaching as they did before, wondering why it's no longer working. The focus of their coaching needs to change to helping their team develop good partnering skills, because their team members may not trust each other or respect the value each other brings to the customer.
The new partnership may not generate short or even long-term success for the salespeople or their customers. Managers will need to analyze areas for mprovement and identify new activities that encourage collaboration. They must also refocus their feedback to include:
Identifing new potential partner products.
Positioning why the partnership is of value to the customer/prospect
Transitioning the customer/prospect to the partner and ensuring they meet the customer's expectations
Working with the customer to ensure a successful experience
Get the right people on the partnership bus. The right people -- people who are team-oriented in nature -- should be invited onto the partnerhip bus. Some may be able to learn how to cooperate, communicate and collaborate, while others can not. So get a good running start on a successful partnerhip by retaining and hiring those who naturally have a team mindset.
Presumably you are a sales manager or salesperson if you are reading this. If so, have you
ever wondered why when some managers or coaches seem to always be in control and everyone seems to get better when working with them? Their interactions are fluid and purposeful. How do I get that you think?
I see a lot of different sales managers in action, in-the-field, coaching their salespeople. The most productive and successful managers I've encountered have what I call a "three-dimensional" coaching approach. It's what I believe allows these managers to feel in control, proactively coaching their teams versus perpetually reacting. Conversely, those who aren't as effective as they'd like can't seem to put their finger on why; it usually can be tracked back to one of the following three dimensions that are missing:
The Three Dimensions of Coaching: Focus, Discipline, and Effectiveness
Dimension #1: Coaching Focus
Most sales managers were formerly successful salespeople. When going on a sales call as a salesperson, they always knew the objective of any client or prospect meeting. But in the sales manager role, I rarely witness that kind of clarity and intention. As you can imagine, or maybe have experienced, without clarity a session wanders around, loses focus, and inevitably ends up going down a path not anticipated. Control of the interaction is lost, the session likely went long, and no one got any real value out of it.
Do you have a clear improvement focus for each member of your sales team? Do you and they know the focus and understand its significance and why it will help them for their reasons? From what I've seen, the best managers do. In every interaction, whether it's a simple check in with someone or a formal one-to-one setting, the best managers have a clear picture (based on current and past performance insight) of where they want to take a person to best maximize that individual's success— and they link to it repeatedly.
Take Action:Before your next coaching interactions with each team member, determine what your mission is with them. Reflect on past and current performance results. Think about the behaviors you have observed. Ponder the obstacles you think are preventing them from great or even greater success. Then decide on one or two areas you will focus on to help them improve. Engage them in a conversation about that focus and how you'd like to make that happen for them. Make that theme central to each interaction.
Dimension #2: Coaching Discipline
There are only a handful of interaction types you engage in with your salespeople: sales and/or pipeline meetings, one-on-ones, a checking-in type of interaction, or out in the field working together. When working with struggling sales managers, I look at how they spend their time. Usually I find their interactions are unplanned, reactive, focused on trying to save the bottom 20% of their team, and are over-reliant on group meetings. I also find individual field work or one-to-one time is sporadic at best, and usually not frequent enough to build momentum or improvement of any significance.
The best sales managers are masters and commanders of their time. They schedule interactions with each of their people and balance the frequency and length based on need, style of the salesperson, and potential impact. They treat those scheduled interactions sacredly and never miss. They are focused and efficient, never wasting a moment of time on the non-important. Amazingly and eventually unplanned fires, phone calls, and emails seem to dissipate to a trickle. The predictability of the schedule and focused coaching of their people teaches them how to avoid fires or better treat them on their own. They create an independent accountable sales force through consistent involvement.
Take Action:Individual development happens individually— and needs to happen through your coaching or it likely won't happen at all. Therefore, take control! Get out your calendar. Map out planned individual one-on-one interactions for each of your salespeople on a regular basis. If you have a lot of people and a big geography, then space them accordingly. If you have a small team that's local, then increase the frequency. Start small but build consistency.
Dimension #3:Coaching Effectiveness
Are you adding value? Are you focusing on coaching and what the salesperson needs versus your own needs (such as asking for reporting information, or low-impact information)? Over the 20 years we've spent working with managers, we've detailedeight unique coaching effectiveness skills/orientationsthe best in the business seem to have. Check them outhere.
Just as we ask our salespeople to improve their skills, sales leaders have to constantly do the same. There is a lot of noise out in the market regarding "Leadership Training" and that each manager needs it. We agree. Work at theseeight skillsand we promise anyone you work with will label you a great leader.
Take Action:Read through the eight effectiveness drivers. Pick one you feel, or have received feedback from someone indicating, you can improve in. If it's "Ask More Than Tell" then write it down at the top of your coaching notes for each session. Catch yourself doing it right and wrong. Get a book on the topic. Make a conscious decision to improve today. When you've mastered one skill, add another.
Friday and the weekend are great times to step back and take a "clarity" break. I encourage you to do so. Are you minding each of these three dimensions as you go about your coaching efforts? If yes, excellent! If no, make some adjustments and I am sure you and your team will reap the benefits.
Pipeline is a measure of sales activity effectiveness and is the discipline of analyzing sales effectiveness.
Salespeople and sales managers who agree with this principle can gain a competitive advantage; but experiencing that advantage requires adherence to a few fundamentals. Skipping any one of the fundamentals fills pipelines with poor quality opportunities, inflates with too many opportunities that aren't real, and gives a false sense of hope. Executing the following three fundamentals provides invaluable insight on what is working and what needs to be done differently or better to drive increased performance.
Pipeline stages must connect to sales process stages.
Most companies have sales processes, or at least a process taught in a sales training class that incorporates how to identify needs, present solutions, and close with customers. One would assume that being successful at each stage of the sales process would be what is measured in the pipeline. Frequently what we see as we review pipelines is the two have no connection. It's not uncommon to see: companies with twice as many levels in their pipelines as there are steps in their sales process, or names of the pipeline stages that have nothing to do with the names of the sales process stages. Good luck using pipeline as a means to diagnose sales activity effectiveness if you haven't directly connected pipeline to sales process.
Pipeline opportunity progress must be based on clientandcompany milestones.
It is fascinating to see how frequently a sales opportunity is allowed to move to the next pipeline stage or get a high forecast probability because the opportunity has passed internal milestones (such as the company wants and/or believes that the business can be won). Sales is about getting the client to make a decision in your favor, yet many times evidence of the client moving closer to choosing the company is not even included in the definition of the opportunity having progressed. Best in class always have a client and company milestone for each stage of the pipeline. If the opportunity does not meet both criteria, it is not allowed to move to the next level. This prevents the salesperson or company from being delusional in their assessment of where the opportunity really is in relation to winning the business.
Pipeline opportunity movement gets date stamped.
Salespeople have a tendency to keep opportunities in the pipeline way past when the opportunity is alive. This contamination of a pipeline can easily be solved by the salesperson noting the date the opportunity moved to a specific pipeline stage. This allows everyone to see the reality of an opportunity. If a salesperson has not been able to get movement on an opportunity within an agreed upon period of time, that becomes visible and decisions must be made relative to additional actions or resources dedicated to winning the business. The saying "up or off" is a great mantra when pipeline management is done well. Most companies know how long a quality opportunity takes to move from one stage of the pipeline to the next so this is simple to execute. Any opportunity that is significantly outside the timeframe should be either moved back to an earlier pipeline stage or taken off the pipeline altogether.
Key Message: A well defined and executed pipeline discipline is invaluable. Take it on and stay with the above three fundamentals to experience the payoff.
New Research Study
We're conducting a survey - with The Sales Management Association - to determine the highest-return activities and best practices organizations are using to equip and develop new sales managers for success. To participate, and to receive a free copy of the results & findings, click the link below:
Read how we helped a division of a Fortune 500 Company become #1 in incremental sales growth. Read the Success Story here.
"New Client Acquisition was a very new measure for our team. We knew we wanted to focus on it, but we didn't really know how to effectively drive it. We had background on where we wanted to go and what we were trying to accomplish. Business Efficacy made us look at all the stuff we could focus on, make decisions, and instill in us a discipline of follow up that we really haven't had around here before."
-Division VP, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans