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Published Books
  • The Collaborative Sale: Solution Selling in a Buyer Driven World
    The Collaborative Sale: Solution Selling in a Buyer Driven World
    by Keith M. Eades, Timothy T. Sullivan
  • The New Solution Selling: The Revolutionary Sales Process That is Changing the Way People Sell
    The New Solution Selling: The Revolutionary Sales Process That is Changing the Way People Sell
    by Keith M. Eades, Keith Eades
  • The Solution Selling Fieldbook: Practical Tools, Application Exercises, Templates and Scripts for Effective Sales Execution
    The Solution Selling Fieldbook: Practical Tools, Application Exercises, Templates and Scripts for Effective Sales Execution
    by Keith M. Eades, James N. Touchstone, Timothy T. Sullivan
  • The Solution-Centric Organization
    The Solution-Centric Organization
    by Keith M. Eades, Robert Kear
  • Hope Is Not a Strategy: The 6 Keys to Winning the Complex Sale
    Hope Is Not a Strategy: The 6 Keys to Winning the Complex Sale
    by Rick Page
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Who Should You Choose as Your Next Sales Manager?

By Dave Christofaro and James Touchstone, Directors, Sales Performance International

Sales leaders face a challenging dilemma when promoting or hiring a sales manager. You’ve probably heard warnings about simply putting the best sales people into management - it doesn’t always work well. Wayne Gretzky was the greatest hockey player of all time, but not the best coach. The same was true for Isiah Thomas, Pete Rose, Bart Starr and Diego Maradona in their respective sports.

But, if you don’t always promote an elite performer, who do you select? Do you promote an average seller? Or hire an outsider who isn’t familiar with the nuances of your business? It’s a difficult decision - and one that can make or break the performance of a sales team.

It’s hard to know the answer until you understand each candidate at a deeper level, and how they fit against an ideal profile of a good sales manager for your organization. Picking the “best” candidate depends on how well you define what a “good” sales manager looks like for your team, validate that definition, and apply the model consistently in sales management selection and development.

To start identifying the traits you should consider, download our sales management competency and attributes listing.

While we find a diversity of competencies and skills in the management ranks of our clients, there are certain characteristics that all effective sales managers must possess. These common characteristics include:

  1. The discipline to manage systematically

    The most effective sales managers use a systematic approach. They establish a routine cadence for inspection and coaching, and conduct pipeline and opportunity reviews regularly. Most of these managers are former sellers who achieved their numbers consistently by developing, perfecting, and executing sales with a high degree of discipline.

  2. The desire to help others improve

    Sales managers must also have the will to coach and develop others. Notice that we say “will,” but not necessarily “skill.” Some competencies can be more easily trained and learned than others. You can train managers in coaching skills, but if they are not naturally inclined to coach, then they will not apply those skills effectively.

  3. The courage to ask hard questions
  4. Courage is another important trait that we see in effective sales managers. They must have the courage to ask tough questions about opportunities that may create discomfort with a “happy-eared” sales rep, or cause a rep to walk away from a deal because it doesn’t meet the minimum qualification criteria. A good sales manager needs courage to confront challenges that they encounter in the sales process. Courage is very difficult to train, since developing the self-confidence to cope with risk and uncertainty comes only with experience.

We’ve assembled a list of essential sales manager competencies and attributes to consider when evaluating candidates on your team. Download this list to develop your optimal sales management profile, and make identification of your next manager easier.

Dave Christofaro is SPI’s Talent Analytics Practice Leader, focused on providing sales talent optimization services for effective assessment of sales teams, and enabling improved hiring of sales professionals.

James N. Touchstone is SPI’s Director of Learning and Development, responsible for the creation and enhancement of advanced sales methodology and skill enhancement programs. He is also co-author of The Solution Selling Fieldbook.




Coaching to Standards of Excellence

By Timothy Sullivan, Director, Sales Performance International

As a sales leader, you depend on your team to contribute consistently and predictably towards achievement of sales goals. But what should you do if previously top-performing sellers on the team start to slide backwards? How do you get them back on track – and keep them there?

In working with our clients, we find that many first-line sales managers don’t really know what to do when top performers on their team stumble. Most of them feel comfortable when coaching rookies or average performers, but they aren’t as confident about how to coach an experienced seller with a strong record of success, especially when a high performer falters.

The reason for this is simple. Most sales managers, especially those new to the position, mistakenly believe that coaching is equivalent to providing good advice, based on their own past success and experience. As a result, when working with someone who already has a good sales track record and considerable experience, many sales managers are at a loss about how best to coach a veteran performer.

Providing useful advice is certainly a desirable outcome of coaching, but most sales managers need to rethink how they go about doing this. Effective coaching starts first with establishing standards of excellence, and coming to agreement with sellers about what those standards require.


Coaching sales behavior against agreed-upon standards enables managers to help each salesperson – regardless of their performance history — come to their own realization of what they can do to improve.

There are three steps to standard-based sales coaching:

  1. Establish standards for customer engagement

    If you don’t have agreed-upon expectations for how your salespeople should engage with customers and how your sales managers should engage with their salespeople, then establish those first. We help our clients do this through the development of dynamic, buyer-aligned sales processes, as we described in chapter 7 of our recent book, The Collaborative Sale.

    Standards for effective sales engagement should include:

    • Ideal pipeline characteristics – how large and how dynamic should they be?
    • Ideal customer profile – what do your best customers look like?
    • The customer buying process(es) – what are their buying preferences?
    • Aligned seller process steps, with verifiable outcomes at each step
    • Opportunity qualification criteria – when will you walk away from a deal?
    • Cadence and criteria for sales management inspection
  2. Train sales managers to assess and diagnose against your standards

    With clear standards, your sales managers then have objective criteria against which to assess and diagnose performance issues, regardless of any salesperson’s tenure or experience. By examining each seller’s pipeline shape, managers can identify skill, time and activity management issues. Standards enable your sales managers to proactively identify issues and prescribe corrective action, before they grow into big problems.

  3. Train sales managers to coach effectively against standards

    Effective coaching entails observing what happened relative to a standard, knowing why it happened, and then reaching an agreement with the seller on how they can comply better with expectations. If the manager’s diagnosis is based on objective criteria and accurate observations, then a high-performing salesperson will be more open to listening and acting.

But good coaching is both a science and an art. While coaching to objective standards is important, there’s also a human side to coaching. It’s important to understand the preferred work style of each seller, so that the sales manager can coach them effectively. Using an assessment tool like DISC can help sales managers better understand their preferred style and how to best align with those in their charge.

Too many sales managers rely on informal, on-the-spot coaching alone. The best sales managers also establish a regular cadence for formal review of pipelines and opportunities, and take the time to prepare for each coaching conversation. We’ve provided a complimentary coaching preparation template, to help your managers coach more effectively to your standards of excellence – and keep your sales team’s performance on track.

Tim Sullivan is Director of Business Development with Sales Performance International. He is co-author of The Solution Selling Fieldbook, and more recently, The Collaborative Sale: Solution Selling in a Buyer-Driven World.


How to Avoid Sales Slippage

By Timothy Sullivan, Director, Sales Performance International

For nearly all of our clients, the end of every quarter is an important milestone – each with sales goals to meet. As we approach another quarter-end, ensuring that sales opportunities close as expected is critical for every sales leader. How do top-performing sales teams avoid delays in closing sales, and minimize slippage of opportunities into the next quarter?

As we documented in our recent book, The Collaborative Sale, more organizations are increasing the use of well-trained procurement professionals throughout the entire buying process. A common tactic of procurement managers is to draw negotiations out until the very end of the month, quarter or year, because buyers know that sellers become increasingly desperate to close business as the clock ticks forward. To avoid delays at the end of the sales cycle, the sales team must be fully equipped to manage a formalized negotiation, not just at the end of a purchase decision, but throughout the entire sales engagement with a buyer.

Avoiding closing delays starts by knowing if and when a deal is closeable, as indicated by five indicators:

  1. Does the sales team have access to, and are aligned with, the individuals who have the power to buy? If not, the customer is more likely to use multiple rounds of negotiation with different levels within the organization, which could extend the final decision date.
  2. Has the customer agreed to the potential payback of this particular purchase? If they have not yet acknowledged the value of what you are offering, that will almost certainly result in a delay.
  3. Has the sales team and the customer received all the required approvals, not just from purchasing, but also from legal, technical, administrative, and any other customer groups that need to review the decision?
  4. Has the customer and the sales team completed all the required steps for the customer to complete a good evaluation? A good Collaboration Plan will include all of those steps. If your team tries to close before completing the evaluation process, expect pushback from the customer.
  5. How long has the customer known about the cost? The final negotiation meeting is not the time to reveal prices. Customers need a reasonable amount of time to socialize and come to consensus on anticipated costs within their organization.

In addition to the preceding criteria, it helps to identify a compelling reason to act (CRTA). A CTRA is a time-bound occurrence, beyond which, if a customer fails to make a decision to act, bad consequences will follow. For example, a customer might be launching a new product, and they need your capabilities to make the results of this event a success. If you can identify a CRTA, it can go a long way in helping to speed up final negotiations.

Even with a clear CRTA, quantifying the cost of delay is a powerful way to emphasize the value of an immediate purchase decision. Every day that goes by is another day that the customer is not receiving that value, increasing the lost opportunity cost. The more quantifiable the value of a solution, the more a customer can be motivated to come to a decision.

We have found that a little planning goes a long way in making final negotiation discussions much more effective. Even just a few minutes of planning will improve the likelihood of coming to a satisfactory conclusion on schedule.

We recommend using a simple tool known as the Get/Give List. It enables sellers to think sensibly about agreements they might get from the buyer in exchange for concessions. For example, a seller may ask the customer to extend the terms of business from one year to multiple years, or agree to be a referenceable case study. In exchange, they can offer equivalent value concessions which would be useful to the customer, and not just price discounts.

Now is the time to review opportunities expected to close at the end of this quarter:

  • Is it really ready to close? Verify the five closing criteria.
  • Has a CRTA been identified?
  • Has the cost of delay been calculated – and does the customer agree?
  • Have “gives and gets” of equivalent value been determined, for use in final negotiations?

With a little extra diligence and discipline, the sales team can bring in every opportunity they expect to win by the end of the quarter. Remember: hope is not a strategy for success!

Make your end-of-quarter negotiations more productive, by downloading a free Get/Give List planning tool.

Tim Sullivan is Director of Business Development with Sales Performance International. He is co-author of The Solution Selling Fieldbook, and more recently, The Collaborative Sale: Solution Selling in a Buyer-Driven World.


Supercharging Sales Training with Enablement Tools

By James Touchstone and Ken Cross, Directors, Sales Performance International

Companies that offer sales skill or methodology training programs will sometimes provide automated tools to help improve post-training adoption of selling best practices. These organizations keep sales training and the use of supporting enablement tools as completely separate educational experiences.

In the past, incorporating automated tools as a wholly integrated part of a sales training experience entailed risk from potential failures in hardware, software or network connectivity. It was simpler and safer to keep technology and sales training segregated.

Today, however, it makes no sense to separate skill development and the tools that support new behaviors. In fact, we have been delivering sales training experiences with seamlessly integrated automated support tools to clients for the last several years, with excellent results. The benefits of such an integrated approach have been overwhelmingly positive.

What are the benefits of integrating sales training and enablement tools?

  1. Builds enthusiasm and support for change at the grassroots level

    Bringing sales enablement tools into the classroom is a novel and engaging experience for most learners. Today, these tools are powerful, but also simple and intuitive to use. Salespeople and sales managers see their utility immediately and quickly realize that this isn’t going to be an old-fashioned, “flavor-of-the-month” training program. 

  2. Makes the learning experience more realistic

    Bringing sales enablement tools into the classroom creates a more realistic learning experience. It removes any questions about what the salesperson will do and how they will work once training is complete. It create a smooth transition between the classroom experience and the everyday usage and application of the trained skill or methodology.

  3. Makes learning more digestible

    Bringing sales enablement tools into the classroom makes the methodology being learned really come to life in a way that’s more easily understood for sellers. Learning feels more real and less theoretical or conceptual, especially when the training requires salespeople to work on live deals or accounts.

  4. Enables better coaching and reinforcement

    Bringing sales enablement tools into the classroom creates better alignment between a salesperson and their sales manager. It more realistically establishes what “good” looks like, shows salespeople and sales managers what to do, how to do it, and how work will be inspected. Everyone leaves on the same page, knowing what they will do the moment they get back to office, in the field, or on the phones.

  5. Enables better and faster adoption

    When bringing sales enablement tools into the classroom, we go through extensive preparation with our clients. We start by deploying tools in advance and requiring participants to use tools to complete their pre-work. This enables participants to become familiar with basic functionality that they master as they go through the program. No momentum is lost since there is no lag time between training and the deployment of tools.

  6. Gives sales leaders insight into change

    Our sales enablement tools have robust reporting functionality that enables sales leaders to see the rate of new process adoption and the positive impact it has on performance. Since tools are deployed prior to training and used immediately, sales leaders have a window into adoption and performance improvement.

We strongly recommend incorporating the use of supporting enablement tools within the sales training experience. Do not implement a new process or methodology without first thinking through implementation and sustainment. If tools are not integrated into the training that you are considering, then you risk losing momentum and adding additional disruption and complexity to your sales performance improvement initiative.

For more insight into using technology to bridge learning and sales execution, download this free white paper, “Sales Enablement in the Era of Buyer 2.0”.

Ken Cross is SPI’s Director of Sales Enablement, focusing on advancing sales technology and process automation. Ken is a frequent contributor to this blog and to industry publications and forums.

James N. Touchstone is SPI’s Director of Learning and Development, responsible for the creation and enhancement of advanced sales methodology and skill enhancement programs. He is also co-author of The Solution Selling Fieldbook.

Ken and Jimmy will be speaking further on integrating learning and sales enablement technology at the upcoming Sales Force Productivity Conference, sponsored by the Sales Management Association, October 12-14 in Atlanta. They will also present a free webinar on “Learn-ablement, a New Approach to Sales Training”, on October 22, 2015 at 2pm Eastern Time.


First Steps for Effective 2016 Sales Planning

By James N. Touchstone, Director, Sales Performance International

This is an especially challenging time of the year for sales leaders – even more so for those in companies with a December 31st fiscal year-end. For them, in addition to working to surpass goals for this year, it’s also time to begin planning for success in 2016, as well.

When it comes to sales planning, most organizations begin with a top-down budgeting exercise - a new sales target is given to the sales leader, who then has to figure out how to reach it. Often, top-down goals present a difficult challenge, especially if they include high expectations for new business.

Bottom-up Pipeline Analysis

To help rationalize a top-down assigned goal, we recommend that sales leaders also conduct a thorough bottom-up analysis. Start by calculating the value of current opportunities and quantifying the expected recurring business that will carry over into next year. We’ve prepared a simplified Pipeline Analysis Worksheet tool to help you get started.

This analysis provides a clear picture of the value of opportunities still in play in the new year, and also what additional business the team needs to create in order to achieve the new growth targets. The question then becomes: how to fill the identified sales gap?

Practically, there are four things that sales leaders can do to achieve sales growth targets:

  1. Retain and grow existing accounts.
    Existing accounts are usually the most profitable source of revenue. Look at the biggest and most strategic accounts and perform a white space analysis on each. Determine the degree to which the sales team has penetrated each account, and consider the value of any additional capabilities that solve customer problems and thereby generate new opportunities.
  2. Find more new account opportunities.
    It’s well known that landing new accounts is typically harder, slower, and more expensive than growing existing accounts. Nevertheless, few sales teams can achieve their growth targets by relying on current customers only – they must also find new clients. A pipeline analysis will calculate the number of new opportunities needed, based on their average size. Plan to equip the sales team to be effective micro-marketers to stimulate the curiosity of targeted prospects. Collaborate with the marketing team to invest in demand generation activities that will support sales objectives.
  3. Increase average opportunity size.
    Simply selling more of the solution portfolio, in both existing and new accounts, always helps achievement of sales growth targets. Enable the sales team to cross-sell and upsell effectively by increasing their situational fluency. If a new product launch is anticipated, the sales team must be prepared to position and sell that new capability. Increasing prices can also help, but this may be viable only if market conditions permit. Regardless, equipping the sales team to better capture and communicate the value of solutions to customers will reduce concessions and discounts, and expand the size of each sale.
  4. Win more opportunities in the pipeline.
    Simply put, be more competitive. Analyze the current win rate – the number of opportunities won compared to total opportunities in the pipeline – and seek ways to improve it. This is probably the most challenging of the four options, as it requires investment in improving sales team competencies, providing sales enablement tools for knowledge and insight, and sales process execution discipline. However, these kinds of investments in improving sales team quality generally provide the longest-lasting and most sustainable improvements in productivity.

Fact-Based Sales Planning

After determining the realistic value of the aggregated pipeline, the sales leader can then more easily determine the ideal mix of actions to fill identified gaps and achieve top-down sales targets. This mix will drive identification of the resources required to support execution of a practical sales plan.

In a future blog post, we will provide a more detailed sales planning guide that assists in identifying the right tactics and resources for optimizing sales growth. But sales leaders can start now by doing the math, analyzing current pipelines, and identifying the principal sales growth actions that make the most sense for their organization. As a first step, a bottom-up pipeline analysis provides a clear understanding of the real numbers needed to succeed after New Year’s Day.

Download the simplified Pipeline Analysis Worksheet to begin planning for a successful 2016.

James N. Touchstone is SPI’s Director of Learning and Development, responsible for the creation and enhancement of advanced sales methodology and skill enhancement programs. He is also co-author of The Solution Selling Fieldbook.