The Blue Sky Prospecting List

I’m a big believer in developing systems, and nowhere is this more important that in the sales cycle. It’s not rocket science–but at the same time, I have yet to encounter a business owner that can truly articulate the number of suspects needed to generate prospects, and then how many prospects they need to close deals.

In fact, when you talk to sales people about their pipeline, you get a lot of “blue sky” answers–which ultimately means that many are misplacing suspects in the prospect category when they haven’t actually earned the right to move them over.

Using a CRM such as Salesforce.com won’t solve this issue either. I’ve seen many companies that use these systems effectively across the organization with wide variances in revenue growth. This is usually because different departments are using different data points that determine if this is a suspect or a prospect with no real accountability.

This process is completely predictable if you’re inputing the right data consistently.

The question that needs to be asked at each stage is “what have we done for a suspect that qualifies them to be put on the prospect list?” Salespeople need to ensure that they have had discussions with the actual decision maker and have a good understanding of the customer’s procurement process.

Most of all, we (both you and your salespeople) need to be honest about what qualifies a suspect to be moved over to the prospect list. Using agreed upon data points, triggers or gates will create a significant improvement in predictability, and help you determine where you need to intercede in the process.

Book Review: QBQ! The Question Behind the Question

I recently read QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life by John G. Miller and I recommend it to eradicate “blame, complaining, and procrastination” from the workplace.

The biggest takeaway for me was Miller’s assumption that today’s business culture lacks personal accountability, and that many people blame others for their own problems and conflicts.

Instead, we should ask, “What can I do to improve the situation?” And only by being able to ask this “question behind the question” can we truly take ownership of the problem and start working towards a solution.

The essence of the book is to make better choices by asking better questions–such as how can this affect your life? Would you actually have more of your desired results?

We face choices every day, and indecision is what leads to much procrastination.

Miller offer three simple guidelines for asking better questions:
begin with “What” or “How” (not “Why,” “When,” or “Who”)
contain an “I” (not “they,” “them,” “we,” or “you”)
Focus on action

By asking the questions behind the questions, we move away from victim mentality into controlled responses–in other words, we stop waiting for something to happen and we make things happen.

Conducting Effective One-on-Ones

Most companies right now are pressing on increased revenue because of the economy–and we’re going to get through this just like every other downturn we’ve experienced in the past. Focusing on revenue production is the right path, but you must ensure that you’re getting maximum performance from your direct reports, and help keep their eye on the ball. Building effective one-on-ones are a great way to get connected.

We all have a tendency to start many projects, but end up completing very few of them. The reason for this is two-fold:
1. There is no established communication structure, or the accountability structure is weak.
2. Employees tend to focus on projects that they want to work on as opposed to the ones that are mission critical.

Every company that I work with can improve the way they conduct one-on-ones with their staff, and getting this right means better performance and increased engagement.

First, determine how often you need to conduct one-on-ones. It’s going to depend on the size of the tasks relative to the time it takes to complete them. Some salespeople may need this daily. Usually, once or twice a month is sufficient.

Second, you must both agree to the projects and activities that are mission critical. Fewer is better–it leads to better accountability and greater determination of performance. For example, if you’ve both agreed on three projects that need to get done this week, and those projects will go the farthest to drive revenue, then the objectives are very obvious. Also, if you’ve agreed that these projects are the most critical, and the employee completes them to your satisfaction, then you can’t fault the employee if those projects don’t end up contributing to the bottom line.

Thirdly, don’t ignore the personal. What have you done this week to make it personal for the employee? Remember, better engagement leads to greater performance. Don’t gloss over the importance of personality–is this truly the right person for the job? Are they motivated to get them done? What are their long term goals and aspirations? It could be that this person may be suited for another job in the company or elsewhere, and likewise, there could be someone else right under your nose that would be better suited for these tasks.

Most of all, we don’t want any surprises. If you regularly know who is working on what, and hold them accountable, you’ll see your productivity levels go through the roof, and you’ll know whether or not the right people are on the bus.