How to Convert Leads into Referrals

In “Lead vs Referrals” I talked about the difference between a lead and a referral and why referrals are superior to leads, but the question arises, “How do you get people to refer you instead of giving you leads?”  The answer is purposeful and tactful coaching.  The best people at getting referrals do not get them by accident.  They ask and coach.

The first step is networking.  You must have a business network that is actively looking for leads for you.  They must be the types of colleagues that are in the right place.  After all, sales is just two thingsBeing around the people who want or need to buy your product, or being around the people who are around the people who have the want or need to buy your product.  Many people try to do this at the networking event.  It usually goes something like this: “Hi, how are you?.  Will you please refer me because I do x,y, and z and it’s fantastic.”  This is technically selling which is one of the big no-nos of networking.  See point two in “Why Networking is important and Tips for Success.” (more…)

How much data do I need for Predictive Analytics

Leads vs. Referrals — Knowing the Difference.

If you can effectively develop relationships your sales efforts will go from good to great. However, it is important to understand the difference between leads vs. referrals. Most people who get leads from business relationships, think they are referrals and that they have succeeded. This is not true. There is a difference between a lead and a referral. Understanding this difference will change the way you call, email, or text leads, and a large difference in how you get the business from that person. Let’s look at the difference. (more…)

Effective Sales Process: Be a Billboard in a Crowd, a Therapist 1 on 1

This post is part of a series of interviews with experts in business intelligence, sales management, marketing, customer retention, management and strategic planning.  Everyday, the CAN team interacts with clients, mentors, and friends who are leaders in their fields, and we started this series to share their expertise.

One of my mentors and friends in sales, Vanessa Shoemaker, recently reminded me that salespeople need to be a billboard in a crowd, and a therapist 1 on 1. She reminded me of how easy it is for salespeople to get focused on being either a billboard or a therapist, instead of both.  Billboards piqué people’s interest to learn more. Being a billboard is essential to stand out in a crowd and to get meetings with new prospects. Therapists learn about people and their needs and wants, then prescribe the right solution. Being a therapist is essential to understanding your prospects enough to build trust and recommend solutions that are going to provide them the most value. (Related Post on Qualifying) A billboard says the right things, a therapists asks the right questions. (more…)

Contemporary Analysis: Focusing New Salespeople

New salespeople often struggle to focus on the right opportunities, and this often keeps them from meeting their quotas or closing unprofitable deals. However, new salespeople should not be faulted for their lack of focus, because generating an ever increasing number of opportunities is an essential responsibility of a salesperson. It is up to sales managers to focus their teams on the right deals. At CAN we use the following techniques to focus our inexperienced salespeople so they start closing the right deals as quickly as possible.

Focus on a Lead Product

Most companies have multiple products, and effective salespeople always lead with one product. They know that when meeting new people that they do not have time or the customer’s focus to explain each product. Without a lead product it is easy for inexperienced salespeople to come across as confused or under trained. We recommend having each new recruit select a lead product that they are most interested in or most experienced with. This will reduce training time, simplify introductions and increase confidence.

Client Profiles

Once salespeople have a lead product that they can use when meeting new prospects, the next step is to develop a profile that they can use to qualify prospective clients. For your profile to be effective it needs to reflect reality and then used to approve only deals that fit the profile. The simplest way to make sure that you client profile reflects reality is to describe your last 5 closed deals that were profitable, loyal and active.

Justify Opportunities

It is important to force salespeople to be realistic about the quality of the opportunities in their pipeline. Each sales person at CAN has to explain a prospects need, willingness and resources before an opportunity is added to the sales pipeline. Also, every 2 weeks the CAN sales team gets together to review current, lost and closed opportunities.  Our discussion focuses primarily on what actions each person needs to take to make sure they meet their quota, what sources and tools people are using to find opportunities, and how opportunities are changing based on changes in season or economics. At the conclusion of each meeting, the goal is to make sure that each salesperson has a plan for the next 2 weeks that will help them make sure they meet their quota.

Align Incentives

Your incentive structure is essential to focusing your team because salespeople respond well to incentives. The best method I have found to design a sales incentive plan has been to describe my desired client experience from first encounter to close, and design my incentive structure accordingly. For example I would increase base salary if I wanted a more consultative sale instead of a commodity style sale.

Utilize Milestones

It is important to review relationships with your people, and one of the most interesting tools that I have used is to setup specific terms with milestones. Each term at CAN is 1 month, but that should vary depending on the natural metronome of your organization. The purpose of the terms is to have evaluate whether or not the relationship should continue. It is important that this be a two way process. You want to judge whether your salesperson is worth the continued investment, and also whether your salesperson could produce more value somewhere else in or outside the organization.

Make Employee Feedback Believable

Make Employee Feedback Believable

This post is part of a series of interviews with experts in business intelligence, sales management, marketing, customer retention, management and strategic planning.  Everyday, the CAN team interacts clients, mentors, and friends who are leaders in their fields, and we started this series to share their expertise.
Research shows that employees who focus on improving their strengths consistently out perform employees that focus on their weaknesses (Read a Related Post).  According to Gallup, employees that focus on developing their strengths are more productive and are 6 times more likely to be engaged in their jobs and 3 times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life.  However, it is difficult, demanding, and often counterintuitive to think through who you are and what you do best. Studies on the reliability of performance ratings have repeatedly shown that people struggle to rate their own performance.  The most accurate performance ratings come from others. Given this, it shouldn’t be assumed that we truly know our strengths or weaknesses.
One of the simplest ways to encourage employees to identify and focus on developing their strengths is by creating a feedback loop that connects an employee’s behavior with the results of their actions.  According to Industrial-Organizational Psychologist  Josh Kuehler, when feedback is more detailed and frequent, it creates more self awareness; a primer for performance improvement.
However, employee feedback is most commonly offered as a response to events that are negative, rather than positive, in nature. In other words, it is easy to see the performance gaps and therefore easy to offer employee feedback when performance falls short of expectations. Negative employee feedback also has a tendency to be more frequent and detailed, when compared to positive feedback. When the performance problems occur, it is easy for others to see the specific actions to fix performance problems. It is more difficult to recognize the specific actions taken that led to a successful task or project.  According to Josh, this can be attributed to the fact that while employees are expected to do positive things, typical management is focused on correcting poor performance rather than praising good performance.
This type of employee feedback as a response to negative events creates a negative loop of interaction between managers and employees where the employees act to avoid punishment, instead of focusing on developing expertise in their positions. Management by exception is a poor model, yet is too common. To help balance negative and positive feedback, Josh recommends that managers make providing frequent and detailed feedback part of their management routine, rather than solely in response to negative events.  Josh is currently developing software that helps managers support the expertise of their team by making detailed and frequent feedback a part of their weekly routine.
Josh recommends that managers provide frequent and detailed feedback to their employees in a way that connects how an employee’s behavior produces specific results.  Instead of using feedback only for correcting negative behavior, managers should focus on developing and amplifying the excellence of their employees.  This requires that the managers act as a sensor and decision system, monitoring behavior and outcomes, and providing the employee with an understanding of how their actions contribute and create outcomes on a grand scale.

Why and How to Develop a Reliable Sales Team

Every company has to have sales.  Most companies have a sales team, however very few companies have a true sales system.  Unfortunately without a sales systems companies are not able to sustain themselves during downturns or pursue aggressive growth trajectories.  The reason that most companies don’t have a sales system is because there are significant barriers to entry in time, money and talent.

The Ammo: While there are sales people that can close deals with their bare hands, they are rare, expensive and often temperamental.  The first step in building a system is to develop the necessary marketing strategies and materials.  Marketing is the ammunition of sales.  The important pieces in your arsenal are having a defined product, price, placement and promotion.  Once you have the basics down, I recommend developing your most important piece of collateral, your business card. Once you have built your marketing arsenal, the next step is to develop your sales strategy.
The Strategy: The key to developing a sales strategy is to make sure you understand the factors that determine the capacity of your sales pipeline and how much cash flowing through it at any specific point in time.  For example do people purchase your product on a daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly cycle.  To keep your sales strategy grounded you need to develop and test a variety of hypotheses.  If you want help developing your sales strategy check out how we can help your sales team.
The Tools: A Customer Relationship Management System is the most important tool to building a sales system, because in addition to allowing your sales team to track their prospects, deals, tasks and cases, the data from your CRM can be used to influence your operations, customer service and marketing efforts.  For more information read Why and How to Use a CRM.  At CAN we use 37Signal’s Highrise.
In addition to the Highrise CRM we also use the following tools as apart of our sales systems:

  • Easy Virtual Meetings: When you request a meeting with a client you want to make joining the meeting as quick and simple as possible.  At CAN we use for virtual meetings, because the software is ridiculously simple and requires virtually no resources from our clients or their computers.
  • Contract Management: At CAN we use EchoSign to make it easy to send contracts, our clients to sign them, and to store them.  Even if you don’t process hundreds of contracts a month, EchoSign can be an essential tool, because it eliminates any hassles/excuses keeping your clients from signing your contract right now.  At the end of the day a prospect only becomes a client when they sign on the line that is dotted.
  • Coordinating: In order to know what to promise and ensure that their promises can be fulfilled Salespeople need to be able to coordinate with Operations, Customer Service and Marketing.  At CAN we use Skype to handle informal meetings and communication between salespeople and other departments.
  • Standardize Customization: Customers like and often require customized marketing materials, communications and contracts, however it is not economical to create everything from scratch.  At CAN we use Backpack to keep clean copies of all of our standard marketing, emails, and contracts, that salespeople can download and customize for each client.
  • The Moneyboard: At CAN we use Geckoboard to keep the important numbers in front of our sales team at all times, letting them know how much money we need to bring in in the next 15, 30 and 60 days, what money we need to collect and what opportunities are about to close.

The Incentives: The first step when building your sales team is to develop and fine tune your sales structure and incentives.  Most people become salespeople because they are hunters and respond well to direct incentives.  It is important to strike the right balance between salary and commissions.  In addition to having your salepeople be invested in your success, it is important to have them know that you are invested in their success.  You want to provide your sales people with enough of a base that they aren’t distracted or pressured to close unqualified prospects.  However, you also want your salespeople to be incentivized to close deals and be invested in the future of your organization.  A basic rule of thumb is to set someone’s base salary just below their cost of living, and set their commission rate so that if they sell an average number of contracts they will receive an average total compensation when compared to other professional positions.
The Team: Some of the best sales management advice I have ever received was to make your first sales hire a sales manager.  However, hiring a sales manager is no easy task.  If you hire someone who is a good fit for your organization they will hire, train, and lead your sales team to victory.  However, if you hire the wrong person for your organization, industry or product, they will quickly dry up your coffers and leave you for dead.  They key is to carefully understand the drivers of success in your industry, carefully craft your job description and screening process, and actively avoid hiring a false positive.
Sales Managers are not necessarily the best sales people, but instead are people that are able to consistently execute a specific sales system to produce reliable results, and have the willingness and ability to train others on their sales methodology.  Other than that what you look for in a sales manager should be unique to your company, product and industry
The Targets: Once you have everything built it is time to aim your sales sales system at your ideal client.  Narrowing your sales on a specific target can be challenging, however without a clear target or directive it is nearly impossible for your sales people to achieve their goals.  Also, setting a specific target will also help your sales team avoid wasting time on unprofitable, unloyal or inactive prospects that are not likely to purchase.  For companies with thousands or millions of customers a mathematical system is essential to segmenting clients and determining the drivers of profitability, loyalty and purchasing activity.  For companies with hundreds of customers one of the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to build a sales target is to have your sales people describe their 5 most recent closed sales, and look for patterns in demographics and psychographics.

Why and How Using a CRM is Important

As a business owner and sales manager, I have found using a CRM (Customer Relationship Management System) to be priceless.  Its designed to keep me from becoming overwhelmed by the exponential growth of my sales team and their prospects, deals and customer service cases.  While I have used several CRMs, including SalesforceSugar CRM and Zoho CRM, at CAN we use 37Signal’s Highrise.  We use this one because its values align with CAN’s values.

If you are building your sales team and sales systems, I recommend that you quickly adopt a CRM, or Customer Relationship Management System, because it will allow you to manage your company’s most important asset, your customers.  As a sales manager, how you acquire and maintain relationships should be a top priority in developing your sales system. The difficult part is that no customer wants to be treated the same; every customer is different, Download our Case Study.  You need to quickly adopt a CRM if you can answer yes to any of the following:

  • Do you plan on writing personalized emails to your customers?
  • Is it important to you to remember personal details about your customers?
  • Do you plan on having more deals, customer service cases, contacts and customers than you can remember?
  • Do you plan on having multiple people working sales, marketing and customers service?
  • Do you plan on coordinating multiple departments, including sales, marketing, customer service and operations, in order to meet the needs of your clients? (more…)

Insurance Client Stories-Contemporary Analysis

CAN has been fortunate to help a number of Life and Health Insurance companies work smart.  It has been a great relationship because clients from Life and Health Insurance companies understand what we do as they are experts in using mathematics to forecast human behavior on a biological side, and CAN is an expert in applying predictive analytics to forecast human behavior on a marketing and sales side.  Our customers invest in developing new products, and we use math to make sure they can distribute them most effectively.  The following are some of the solutions we have developed:
Marketing ROI with Terrain: Our clients wanted to know the ROI of their marketing campaigns, but had been struggling to develop a system that was able to determine the impact that their marketing was having on sales.  We agreed that it would be too difficult to explain the impact that a company’s marketing was having and instead we used CAN’s Terrain system to explain the impact that the economy and seasonal fluctuations had on sales.  With every predictive model their is a residual x-factor that can not be explained in detail.  So instead of including the economy, a major driver of purchasing decisions, in the X-factor, we included the company’s marketing in the X-factor.  While they did not exactly accomplish their goal of measuring the ROI of their marketing activity, we were able to explain how economics and seasonality impacted sales and the residual could be attributed to marketing, competitors and other factors.  Now our clients can get a reasonable idea if marketing is impacting sales.
Client Management: Using Pulse, CAN helped our clients understand and improve their client portfolio by modeling the factors of client profitability, loyalty and claim activity.  Each week we provide our client with a list of the clients that are at risk of leaving within the next 90 days, and a list of sales leads that have a high probability of being profitable and loyal clients.  Each month we provide them with a report on their client portfolio relative to the population and their goals.

Sales Management: Using Beacon, CAN has worked to connect agents and brokerages to our clients home offices.  Beacon has been used to focus the development of leads and marketing materials to best serve the needs of agents and brokerages.  Beacon also has been used to improve communications with training, regulations and promotions between home offices and agents by segmenting agents by learning styles and providing communication guidelines to our clients.

Scaling 1 to 1

As a  business owner and salesperson I require time to myself to think, rest and connect with people, however their are always others that want my attention.  I have had to resort to locking myself in my office and forcing myself to focus at the expense of the world around me.  However this alienates people and can be very lonely.  The following is a list of my ideas about how to scale 1 to 1.  I decided to put my ideas into a blog post because I want to share my ideas about how to scale 1 to 1.

A Chauffeur to the Virtual World: It is important that you and your employees are always carrying business cards because they are the easiest way to chauffeur realtime face to face interactions to non-time sensitive virtual interactions.  This allows you to spread out interactions so that you eliminate bottlenecks.  It is important to ask for the other person’s business card to make sure they know that you actually want to connect.  Explain that as much as you want to jump into the relationship right now, you want to reconnect at a later time so that you can give your full attention.

Transition Meetings: In order to scale 1 to 1 it is essential to move interactions from the physical to virtual. I resisted moving my meetings from physical to virtual.  However, over the last year I have moved almost all of my meeting to the virtual world.  I was sick of spending hours driving back and forth, and showing up late to meetings because of traffic, exhaustion and bad planning.  The key to moving meeting to the virtual world is to properly set up your virtual meeting room.  At first my virtual meetings felt awkward and where full of technical difficulties, and thus it was difficult to establish rapport with the people I was meeting.  After investing in a camera, professional grade studio microphone, a professional physical space, and a wired internet connection, I was able to establish the same rapport with my clients as my physical meetings.  I think the key was that I was comfortable, especially since I didn’t have to hold a microphone.  On the software side of virtual meetings I highly recommend using Skype and  They are very simple systems that load very quickly.
A Lobby Full of Ideas: Developing a lobby allows you to add value to people that you have just met and also your current clients when you are not around. CAN’s lobby is composed of a set of standard emails that are well thought out with content specific to different types of people we meet in different circumstances.  For example we have a list of our favorite things that we send to people we have just met introduce them to a few of our favorite things, our products and our company.  The goal of our lobby is to enhance the CAN customer experience by introducing potential customer to CAN and our products so that we can spend our face-to-face time engaged in learning about our customers and not telling them about CAN.  CAN is currently working on a series of emails specifically for people we have just met, people interested in our 5 products, and clients of our 5 products.
Scale Conversations: You can use your blog to scale 1 to 1 by writing about frequent conversations that you have, and then inviting people you engage with to add their thoughts.  This moves your realtime face-to-face interactions to a non-time sensitive virtual interaction, and you can network your new connections with other people that are having a similar conversation.

Stop Persuading and Start Selling: How to Qualify Your Clients

Their are a lot of salespeople that are confused about their roles as salespeople.  Salespeople do not exist to persuade, manipulate or pressure us to purchase things that we don’t need.  Their job is to connect people to the resources (people, services, and products) that they need to do our jobs and enjoy their lives.
It is relatively easy to get people to sign on the line that is dotted, however it takes a true salesperson and a lot of work to get the right people to sign.  This requires that management holds salespeople responsible for the clients they sell, salespeople have to have a simple way to qualify prospects, and marketing to develop products people want.  This doesn’t mean that salespeople aren’t responsible to meet or exceed their quota each month, but that they need to fulfill their quote by closing people that have the need, willingness and resources to purchase.
If you qualify your clients to make sure they have the need, willingness and resources to purchase your products and services you will cultivate a loyal, profitable and active client base, have an appreciative operations team, and a more sustainable business.  The following are questions salespeople can use to make sure they are selling to the right prospects:

  1. Define the Problem and Solution: What problem does my prospect need to solve? What product or service (not necessarily mine) will be the best solution to my prospects problem?  If you can clearly define your prospects problem, and your product or service is the best solution then proceed with the sale.  If their is better solution that you don’t sell, provide them with an introduction to someone that can help them.  While you will forfeit the immediate sale you will help establish yourself as a trusted advisor, and the prospect and their connections will come to you first when they have a problem.  This will provide you with a steady stream of potential clients that will trust your advice when your product/service is the best solution to their problem.
  2. Priced to Deliver: Does my prospect have the resource to purchase my solution at a price I can afford to deliver an exceptional final product? While offering a discount might help you close the deal quicker, you never want to discount your price to a point where it becomes difficult to deliver an exceptional final product because you don’t have enough time, resources or you have to spend your time selling instead of producing.  In my experience people typically stop caring about the price once they have signed, and then they only care about the final deliverable, so it is essential to price your products or services so you can deliver an exceptional final product.
  3. Willingness to Close: Is my prospect willing to invest the required time to understand my solution, get the right people in the room, work to implement my solution, and make the necessary political and financial concessions?  Willingness goes beyond just acknowledging that they have a problem and you have the solution, and having them be willing to sign a contract.  Real willingness is a commitment to implement your solution and extract full value from your solution, and this requires willingness to promote your solution internally to get adoption, get the decision makers to buy in, and put financial and political capital on the line.


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