You Can Herd Cats and Salespeople

Anti-cat people, like I once was, are challenged by feline independence and the seemingly impossible task of training them. Training and herding top sales producers and cats are not very different, but both are doable.

The other day, I worked from the mostly empty patio of a local restaurant enjoying the warm spring sun and a glass of wine comingled with fresh crab cakes. The silence was broken by the distinctive voice of Bluto’s mews for my attention.

Bluto is a Maine Coon nicknamed for Animal House icon Blutarsky. He lurks the local restaurants for dinner invitations that significantly outnumber the offers I receive. Bluto parked himself in the chair next to mine and purred away while I worked. The patrons, who know him as a regular, were entertained through the window by our Hemingway imitation. OK, it was more like Austin Powers.

One couple came outside with some left over fish for him. When we were done, he followed me home. But our relationship did not begin this way. On the contrary, it was war.

Our furry, alpha male grandcat was inherited from our daughter when she moved out to dance. The first week we took over guardianship was hell. His attack on my wife left claw marks and scars that took months of vitamin E and Retinae to heal. A couple of chases through the house backed him down. It was not the best beginning for what eventually became a beautiful friendship.

Like Bluto, I was quite the rogue in the early days of my sales career.

Wally Bock, one of my favorite leadership writers and author of the Three Star Leadership Blog, recently wrote an excellent post called “You can be tough without being a jerk. We need to lead with firmness.”

“Being a tough boss means being clear about what you expect, taking away all excuses for sub-standard performance, and holding team members accountable for results.” – Wally Bock

The first summer with us, Bluto became very ill. He had an undiagnosed infection and would not eat or drink. I had to hold him gently under his neck to maintain control while I trickled water down his throat with an eye dropper. That’s when things changed. Don’t try this on sales people!

We win followers when we provide the support to get our team across the finish line. When the top producers follow us, so will the rest of the herd.

Now we talk. No, I’m not Dr. Doolittle, but he understands the tone, talks back, and I listen. We have a tonal understanding.

How we say things are as important as what we say.

Bluto is very particular about the way he is petted and he will let you know how you’re doing.

Everyone wants positive stroking, but not everyone wants to be stroked the same way. Observation of our the reactions to our behavior is our guidance.

When he eats or wants to be left alone, I give him his space. When he wants to hang out, he comes to my desk, couch, or bed and waits for my tap, tap, tap before he jumps on my lap.

Respectful behavior begets respectful behavior.

When we want him inside, I call him by name and usually comes running.

Salespeople respond to positive behavior with positive results.

When he catches a mouse or some other varmint, he deposits the remains at the door for the recognition that he earned.

Salespeople are results driven and thrive on recognition. Reward is the surest way to surpass revenue targets.

Our behavior defines the persona and outcomes of our team. If you’re not attaining the desired results from your team, take the recent advice of Trusted Advisor’s Charles Green:

“Learn how to seek, and learn from, feedback.” – Charles H. Green

ROI Benefits of a CRM for Your Business

Are you guilty of still using an excel spreadsheet to manage your leads, customers and sales pipeline? Think a CRM is too costly or not appropriate for your small or medium business? Wondering why you fail to grow your revenue? Customer Relationship Management (i.e. CRM) have been a key enabler technology for many successful business and have a very appealing ROI.

A few years ago, my two business partners and I agreed our product was ready for prime-time and the task of putting together a sales and marketing strategy fell upon my shoulders. I knew a thing or two about marketing but was pretty much clueless about sales. So I did like most sales leader back then and created an excel spreadsheet to start capturing our leads, customers, opportunities and create a simple pipeline. I placed the spreadsheet on our company intranet so my partners and sales team could access it and edit it. I had no idea what a mess I had created…

Our sales team, myself included, spent most of our time on the road visiting potential and current customers; connecting to our VPN in our hotel room to access our Intranet and edit our spreadsheet was a huge hassle. We had no automated way to notify the team when it was time to re-connect with a customer for a specific project. Creating a report for our Board meetings was a pain. It was nearly impossible to analyse our data and figure out where in the sale stage our opportunities where getting stuck. Leads were not assigned automatically to the right salesperson and had to be managed manually by me. And I could go on and on and I am sure many of you have similar stories to tell. The bottom line is that our sales were failing to meet our expectations. Instead of creating a growth enabler, my spreadsheet was a growth preventer.

After two quarters of snail-pace growth and two hellish board meetings, it was time to change. I consulted with my team and phoned a few friends with successful and growing businesses and asked them how they managed their sales process. The answer was unanimous: a cloud-based CRM, being the most popular choice.

Sure, it wasn’t free like a spreadsheet. But the time I gained by not having to manually managed the spreadsheet, assign leads and hassle with pipeline reports was spent instead in front of customers. According to Salesforce research, sales people spend 68% of their time not-selling! I definitively fit that profile back then. For this reason alone, our CRM paid for itself. Also, keep in mind that most cloud-based CRM like Salesforce offer monthly fees so you don’t have to fork out a costly sum up-front; making it ideal for small businesses. And with Salesforce partners offering quickstart implementations, you can be up and running with an efficient system in less than 30-days at a reasonable price.

As you can imagine, the ROI of our CRM was felt in less than 2 quarters. No more VPN’ing into our intranet for our sales team, they could access our cloud-based CRM and update their own pipeline. Back then, smart phones weren’t available but today, sales teams can update their pipeline on the fly directly on their phone. All of the pipelines rolled into one company pipeline we could share internally and to our board. It allowed us to analyse our data and figure out how to fine-tune our sales strategy. We constantly iterated our sales process based on the data we gathered. For example, we defined sales best practices and guidance based on the stage of the opportunity. This facilitated the on-boarding process on new sales reps. We shortened our sales cycle with automated reminders to contact our customers and follow-up on opportunities. And voilĂ , our sales growth was solidly under way. We later sold our company to French multinational Schneider Electric.

In sum, a CRM will pay for itself through better visibility, productivity and intelligence. Our sales team had better visibility of their pipeline, they were spending more time selling and they were more efficient. The bottom line can be summed up with this equation: monthly cost of the CRM license of 130ish $/per seat is always smaller than the hours wasted by salespeople without a CRM * their hourly rate; factor in their productivity increase and it is a no brainer. Are you sure you want to stick with your spreadsheet?