Author Todd Caponi, head of SalesMelon, tells B2B salespeople they can overcome client distrust by being transparent and authentic. An expert in decision-making, he tells sales managers to make sure their sales teams have “five Fs”: “focus, field, fundamentals, forecast (that is, the ability to predict sales) and fun.”Then he delves into behavioral science to explain how sales managers can foster their team’s intrinsic motivation by offering recognition, fairness, feedback, independence, security and purpose. This all adds up to a smart, applicable and science-based B2B sales and sales management toolbox.
- Sales leaders should be scientific and transparent.
- Provide your sales team with “five Fs”: “focus, field, fundamentals, forecast and fun.”
- Focus – Target the most promising prospects and use your time wisely.
- Field – The quality of your field sales organization depends on the quality of your sales hires.
- Fundamentals – Sellers must be experts on sales basics, such as prospecting and presenting.
- Forecast – To predict future sales accurately, sales leaders must pay attention to potential buyers, not just to their salespeople.
- Fun – Look for positive pleasure in each step of the sales process.
- Behavioral science finds that salespeople draw their drive or “intrinsic inspiration” from factors, such as purpose, that matter more than money.
Sales leaders should be scientific and transparent.
In the B2B marketplace, as in most sectors, sales and sales leadership are completely different. Salespeople are independent actors, responsible for their own results. Sales leaders’ success depends on the salespeople on their teams. If salespeople don’t sell, sales leaders fail. So how can sales managers improve their teams’ results? One way is to adopt more scientific leadership strategies, using both standard motivational approaches and guidance from behavioral science. This smart approach can help sales managers inspire their teams.
“The successful salesman hoards minutes and hours as a miser hoards gold. The spendthrift of time is a sure candidate for failure. (Worthington Holman, Ginger Talks)”
Behavioral science indicates that it’s important for sales leaders to be transparent, not just with their team, but with their colleagues, bosses, CEO and board. Being authentic supports sales team engagement and performance.
Provide your sales team with “five Fs”: “focus, field, fundamentals, forecast and fun.”
Sales leaders can use a research-based framework to help salespeople pursue their most promising opportunities. Provide these fundamentals:
Focus – Target the most promising prospects and use your time wisely.
The members of your sales team must concentrate on sales activities that deliver profitable results. Salespeople have limited time, their most valuable sales resource. Being focused demands spending sales time wisely. The way your sales team members allocate their time is crucial to their financial success. As a sales leader, help them be productive. For example, make sure they get the best information and guidance in targeting prospects. Experienced B2B sales professionals quickly learn which potential clients are worth their efforts.
“[Work] on the right opportunities in the right places at the right time.”
To illustrate, here’s how the leaders of a new tech startup in Chicago learned the value of sorting sales prospects in advance. After careful research, the firm’s leaders determined that their best prospects were US-based online retailers in the “general merchandise, apparel, health and beauty categories” with yearly revenues upward of $50 million.
Firms that fit this profile could manage the “purchase volume” necessary to become profitable customers. The startup decided to steer clear of firms with annual revenues of more than $1 billion because they were more likely to require a time-consuming sales process and to demand “super-unique,” unprofitable installations. The sales managers decided that all prospects, except online electronics retailers, should meet these exacting criteria.
The operative word here is “should,” because the startup soon violated its own prospect criteria for what was apparently a very good reason: Walmart wanted to do business. Even though Walmart is a $500 billion firm, 500 times larger than the startup’s targeted cutoff, as a potential customer it was too tempting to ignore. The startup agreed to explore the opportunity – and that’s how it made the wrong decision.
The small firm wasted months of its salespeople’s valuable time on countless phone calls and other communications, as well as numerous expensive trips to Walmart’s California offices, all in an unsuccessful attempt to meet Walmart’s demands. Because the tech startup burned through so much money trying to close a deal with Walmart, it had to shut down. These young entrepreneurs should have stuck to their strategy and told Walmart, “thanks, but no thanks,” when the giant retailer first called.
One way to determine which potential customers to target is to research your ideal customer’s complete profile. Determine the ideal title and authority level of the executives you want to call on at your chosen companies and don’t deviate from the path your research indicates will be most productive for you.
Field – The quality of your field sales organization depends on the quality of your sales hires.
Sales deployments call for costly investments in talent, sales tools and sales support. To achieve the best returns, you must optimize these efforts.
“Structure your field organization to maximize effectiveness, efficiency and output. Ensure…you are deploying the right team with the right tools and the right resources to best address your focus.”
When you set up your field sales organization, your goal is to put the proper people in the correct roles in the appropriate places with the best tools and resources. Securing quality salespeople is crucial. Make sure your recruiting efforts reflect well on your firm. To learn what you need to know about potential hires, ask them 10 useful questions:
- “Tell me your story” – This tests the recruits’ ability to create a narrative and to introduce themselves – essential capabilities for any sales professional.
- “Walk me through the last X years of your résumé. Why did you take the jobs you did? Why did you leave?” – As in any court proceeding, discovery is essential in sales. You must determine if recruits can perceive whether a prospect will buy what they’re selling. You can make some legitimate assumptions about a recruit’s discovery abilities by the number of sales jobs he or she has held in the past. If that number is suspiciously high, look for reasons. For example, perhaps this recruit hasn’t been able to dig out pertinent information about whether any given job – or sales lead – will work out.
- If you suddenly had to give a talk to 500 people, “what subject would you know more about than anyone else in the room?” – You want to hire salespeople who are passionate and capable of deep interest in something – it almost doesn’t matter what – in hopes that they’ll focus their passion on your product. You can accurately gauge people’s ability to become passionate about a subject if you see that they’ve amassed encyclopedic knowledge about some subject that matters to them.
- “What’s your most significant career achievement?” – Did the applicant work hard to attain a milestone? That’s the kind of person you want on your team.
- “From what you know about (our company) and this role, what excites you most about it?” – This points to another important question: “Did you do your homework?” You don’t want to hire anyone who didn’t research your company before coming in for a job interview.
- “What…will be the greatest challenge you will face here?” –You want to hire people who feel committed to doing their best and who know what that will require.
- “In your career, who has been your favorite manager? Why?” – In 70% of cases, employees’ engagement ties directly to their immediate managers. Make sure any new salespeople you hire will fit into your corporate culture.
- “Tell me about a deal…you’re particularly proud of.” – Use this open-ended query to discover whether possible recruits describe deals that align with the way your firm and your sales team work.
- “What is the value proposition of your current (or last) company?” – Can the applicant intelligently explain a corporate value proposition? This points to another important question: Do applicants fully understand the products or services they would sell?
- “What…do you do to improve your selling skills?” – Sales applicants should have a drive to improve continually. If they don’t put any effort into self-development, don’t hire them.
Fundamentals – Sellers must be experts on sales basics, such as prospecting and presenting.
How can you make sure your salespeople handle sales groundwork properly? If you want them to get the basics right, you must coach them in sales fundamentals.Help them become experts on the basics.
“How good is your team at uncovering new opportunities (prospecting)? Think about their presenting skills, qualification skills, negotiation, and overall sales process execution. It’s on you to coach your team to get the right things right, consistently.”
Salespeople cannot accrue this crucial understanding overnight. Educating salespeople takes time and effort. Help them develop these foundational skills:
- Messaging – Salespeople must communicate the right information to prospects and customers.
- Prospecting – Salespeople need the right “focus targets.” They must know how to motivate and inspire prospects to become buyers.
- Qualifying – Your sales staffers must find prospects who fit your organization and your offerings.
- Presenting – Salespeople need to use the right words and images to engage prospects and heighten their readiness to buy.
- Negotiating – Salespeople should project honesty and “price integrity,” but, if necessary, they must be able to discuss discounts intelligently, knowing which strategies have their sales manager’s backing.
Forecast – To predict future sales accurately, sales leaders must pay attention to potential buyers, not just to their salespeople.
Effective sales leaders must have certain special skills. One is “psychic” ability. Of course, most sales leaders are not psychic, but they should be able to forecast future sales with reasonable accuracy. To make that reliably possible, you must be able to teach your salespeople how to forecast their future sales as accurately as possible and how to report on their progress, good or bad.
“The buyer has a viewpoint…we ought to look at a sales transaction through his eyes.”
However, most sales forecasting is inaccurate. Salespeople often resort to tradition, not science, to develop their sales forecasts. For more accurate forecasting, heed these tips:
- “Rethink…traditional forecast stages and milestones” – Salespeople rely on customer relations management (CRM) systems to stay organized. Most CRMs concentrate on such sales activities as discovery and presentation. They’re great sales tools, but don’t rely on CRMs for sales forecasting. A CRM system tracks what salespeople do, but sales forecasting predicts what prospects will do.
- “Rethink…traditional opportunity qualification” – All B2B buyers go through the “AIDA” stages: “attention, interest, desire and action.” To forecast their sales, salespeople need to figure out where their prospects are on this continuum and how to move them forward.
- “Celebrate the losses” – No sales professional closes every sale. Mature salespeople gracefully accept this eternal situation and factor probable sales losses into their forecasting.
- Make “commit a dirty word” – When it comes to forecasting, sales managers love to ask salespeople: “What’s your commit?” Usually, this happens in front of the salesperson’s peers. Often, to avoid embarrassing themselves, salespeople respond by shading the truth toward the most optimistic possibility. Obviously, that leads to specious forecasts. Ask about your salesperson’s prospects in private. Always be encouraging
- “Rethink…traditional key performance indicators” – Numerous metrics measure sales performance. Stick with these four for the best sales planning and analysis: the number of your sales team’s sales opportunities, the dollar value of these opportunities, your typical winning percentage for such deals and how long it normally takes your team to close deals.
Fun – Look for positive pleasure in each step of the sales process.
For your salespeople to be motivated and inspired, they must love what they do. To encourage such “intrinsic inspiration,” treat them well, understand what matters to them and make their jobs fun.
“The minute you truly understand how your team members are driven beyond the dollars, they’ll stay longer [and] perform better.”
This isn’t a specious suggestion. Indeed, making sales jobs fun could be “your most important job” as a sales manager. To accomplish this goal, optimize every step of selling. The more you can make selling your products or services simple and smooth, the more fun your salespeople will experience in their jobs.
Behavioral science finds that salespeople draw their drive or “intrinsic inspiration” from factors, such as purpose, that matter more than money.
Human beings are driven by their emotions. “We are not thinking machines. We are feeling machines that think,” states neuroscientist Antonio Damasio in his book Descartes’ Error.Sales managers must understand the six main emotional factors that internally motivate their salespeople.
“Intrinsic inspiration is your actions being driven …by something inside of you, versus an external motivation provided outside of you.”
You can recall these six emotional motivators by using the acronym PRAISE:
- Predictability – People are always thinking about what will happen next; it is human nature to make forecasts and seek certainty. Your salespeople need to know what to expect from you, their jobs and their career path in your firm. Be consistent as a boss, keep your promises and establish a reliable structure. No one works well amid uncertainty.
- Recognition – People respond to being noticed and praised. Being acknowledged is validating and builds sought-after status. Create weekly opportunities for feedback, coaching and public appreciation. Give a salesperson one thing at a time to improve, not a “laundry list.” Always criticize in private and praise in public.
- Aim – Purpose gives people drive. Salespeople need a target – not just a quota but a purpose. Show them their work is meaningful on all levels, such as solving customers’ problems. Work has to matter to fulfill intrinsic drives. People who can see that they are making a difference feel inspired.
- Independence – Micromanagement is demotivating. To motivate people, trust them, acknowledge their autonomy, and provide the space and resources they need. Give people time for creative thinking and mental health breaks. Know when your daily performance peaks and respect others’ preferences.
- Security – Being on a team provides a sense of belonging and helps people feel secure. Foster your team members’ mutual connectedness and sense of safety. Be aware that sales management can be a lonely job; be sure you have a friend or mentor with whom you can share your concerns.
- Equitability – Salespeople work more enthusiastically when they feel their remuneration is fair. That doesn’t mean only money; it means fair treatment in all six of these emotionally meaningful areas.
About the Author
Sales Melon LLC leader Todd Caponi hosts The Sales History podcast. He also wrote The Transparency Sale: How Unexpected Honesty and Understanding the Buying Brain Can Transform Your Results.
“The Transparent Sales Leader: How The Power of Sincerity, Science & Structure Can Transform Your Sales Team’s Results” by Todd Caponi is a highly informative and practical guide for sales leaders looking to enhance the performance of their teams. Caponi introduces a fresh approach to sales leadership, emphasizing the importance of transparency, authenticity, and leveraging scientific principles to drive better results.
One of the key strengths of the book is Caponi’s emphasis on the power of sincerity in sales leadership. He highlights the significance of building trust and fostering genuine relationships with both the sales team and customers. By promoting open communication, embracing vulnerability, and leading with integrity, sales leaders can create a culture of transparency that encourages collaboration and drives better outcomes.
Caponi also introduces scientific principles and frameworks that can be applied to the sales process. He explores the psychology behind decision-making, the impact of cognitive biases, and the importance of data-driven decision-making. By integrating these scientific insights into the sales strategy, leaders can optimize their approach and improve the effectiveness of their sales teams.
The book provides practical advice and actionable steps for implementing transparency and scientific principles in sales leadership. Caponi offers real-life examples, case studies, and exercises that help readers understand and apply the concepts discussed. The inclusion of these practical tools enhances the book’s value and makes it a useful resource for sales leaders at any level of experience.
Caponi’s writing style is engaging and accessible. He presents complex ideas in a clear and concise manner, making the book readable and easy to follow. The chapters are well-structured, focusing on specific aspects of sales leadership, which allows readers to navigate the content efficiently and refer back to specific topics when needed.
One noteworthy aspect of “The Transparent Sales Leader” is Caponi’s focus on the development and growth of the sales team. He emphasizes the importance of coaching, providing feedback, and creating a supportive environment that fosters continuous improvement. By investing in the professional development of the sales team, leaders can empower individuals to reach their full potential and drive overall team success.
While the book provides valuable insights and practical strategies, some readers may find that certain sections could benefit from more in-depth explanations or additional examples. Additionally, the applicability of some concepts may vary depending on the specific industry or sales environment, so readers should adapt the strategies to fit their own context.
In summary, “The Transparent Sales Leader: How The Power of Sincerity, Science & Structure Can Transform Your Sales Team’s Results” offers valuable insights and practical guidance for sales leaders. Todd Caponi’s emphasis on transparency, authenticity, and scientific principles provides a fresh perspective on sales leadership, enabling leaders to drive better results and create a positive and productive sales culture. By implementing the strategies outlined in the book, sales leaders can transform their teams and achieve long-term success in the competitive sales landscape.