Process over Intuition: Wins 2:1

By Jim Hayden
November 23rd, 2015

The key to a successful B2B business is the discipline of an effective sales process that replicates success.  A core theme of Altus partner Jim Hayden’s and his book (….The Art of the Selling Conversation) is the choreography around the selling conversation and building that into a disciplined process which the Sandler Institute, and many others all agree will improve close rates by more than 50%. From several client engagements, we have seen lift improve by over 65% and millions in new acquisition revenue generated simply by incorporating the principles below:

  • Collect more sales data. Remove the guesswork and intuition about your pipeline, vertical market adoption, and sales people. Make every element of the sales process quantifiable. Detailed analysis comparing where and how leads start, what messaging is used, to whom, and by whom will uncover differences that can be replicated and honed for higher conversion and faster buying cycles.
  • Shared and common language. Rally the entire company behind a clear and focused dialog around customers, the sales process and revenue generation. Transparency around clear revenue traction keeps the entire team customer-focused creating lifetime advocates.
  • Precise pipeline stages. Avoid pipeline reviews where forecasting is grounded in the team’s opinions vs. definitions identifying the specific steps in the buying cycle. Knowing where you are and what helps drive the prospect through a smooth and logical process that the prospect will both respect and close faster.
  • Mapping sales tools to stages. Knowing what to say and when, is all part of the art of sales. Mapping collateral and tools at each stage can make the process more consistent and scalable to a broader team. 
  • Guided Listening. Listening skills are obviously core to sales success. However, knowing the path of least friction based on prior account closes will help guide the conversation through process you know yields the fasted path to closure. Prospects know their pain but often need your help in shaping the sequence of each step and corresponding stakeholder’s to close.

Building these fundamentals into a systematic and repeatable process will not only improve close rates, it will shorten sales cycles, help diagnose troubled stages, improve team onboarding, and increase customer satisfaction. Don’t follow your gut, follow a proven process.

Hiring The Right Sales Leader(ship)

By Wally Boos
June 18th, 2015

After the CEO, the next critical hire in an earlier stage company is the sales leader. Making a right hire at the right time enables a company to optimize top line revenue. Failing to make a stage appropriate decision or making a wrong hire can be devastating.

Hiring the right sales leader is consistently rated by CEO’s as the most challenging position to successfully fill. Market data supports this position as the turnover rate for sales leaders is higher than for any other executive position (Eyes on Sales data indicates the average tenure of a sales leader has gone from 24 months to 19 months). Of course the classic executive attributes of experience, past success, domain knowledge, work ethic, drive, and leadership all apply. Equally important they must be able to attract top team-oriented talent.

Most early stage companies make one or more pivot shifts – moving from the original business hypothesis to new markets or offerings. Your sales leader must be able to listen to the marketplace, support course corrections, and validate new approaches with paying customers. Cautions for the CEO and/or hiring executive when looking for a sales leader:

  • Different Bird – Sales leadership may not be a part of the CEO’s DNA, therefore making it more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff (re: candidates). Get input and help from those you trust.
  • Slick – Candidates are often best at selling themselves into a job, and not as effective driving sales strategy and execution.
  • Coin Operated – Hiring a proven sales leader from a large company means he/she comes from a mature market with established infrastructure. This person may not have the patience or skill set to design teams/processes from the ground up.

There are some other key indicators to look for in the interviewing/vetting process, which will increase the likelihood of making a strong hire:

  1. Giver – Count the number of times he/she uses personal pronouns (me/I) in describing past success. Strong sales leaders need confidence but will give credit to their team members and freely use we, they, and team.
  2. Curious – Are questions insightful and probing toward the company’s sales and market health?  Does follow-up indicate they are a good listener? If yes, it’s quite likely they will use that same skill set with your customers, prospects, and sales team.
  3. Credible – Does the candidate answer a $10 question with a $100 answer? Effective sales leaders will answer questions in a logical and concise manner. Less effective leaders will expound on other topics / personal traits they believe present them in a positive light. In selling and presenting it’s often true that less is more.

If your candidate is properly qualified for the position AND the above three indicators are green, you may have found the right hire, but if you have thoughts or comments on how to more effectively hire right sales leaders I would welcome your insight. I can be reached at or (206) 399-6035.

Walter (Wally) Boos, Partner

5 Immutable Laws to Cloud Channel Success

By Kirk Jones
February 18th, 2015

Reseller programs are designed to create leverage and scalability. The trick is building one that works. Cloud, especially SaaS, has redefined the fundamentals of building successful channel programs. The obstacles to success are the same but can be overcome with a few fundamentals:

  • First things First
  • Quality vs. Quantity
  • Good Things Take Time
  • Treat Them Like Your Own
  • Track and Adjust

First things First:

Before establishing a Cloud based channel sales program you need to define and validate your product positioning, value proposition, and message. It’s best to establish this with direct sales so you can control the testing and tracking of your results. If you roll out a channel program before these are validated it will be difficult for your channel program to gain traction. Channels can help you deliver your message but they don’t develop it. Start your channel program with a tested message to accelerate your sales traction.

Quality vs Quantity:

Your intention should be value and not volume when building a channel program. Bringing in a large volume of unqualified resellers will be counter-productive and will kill the program before it starts.

Target partners who sell and support Cloud services and have matured their models for SaaS. Many come from professional services groups at traditional VARs but have structured their sales model around recurring revenue models and Cloud sales make up a large portion of their overall profits.  Also understand the VAR’s core business model, skill sets is aligned with yours and are committing specific resources to your GTM, both executive management and the field sales managers. Everything begins and ends with the sales teams.

Good Things Take Time:

You need to set you budgets and expectations to go the distance. Like a direct sales team, your partners need to be trained on your message and how to deliver it then supported through their first sales. So it will take some time to find the right partners then recruit, train, and support them to establish the base for sales acceleration and replication.

Treat Them Like Your Own:

Training is critical if you are going to develop referral partners into resellers. Yet most companies invest only in basic online modules or leave training to channel account managers. Whatever you deliver to your direct sales team you should deliver to your resell partners and more often. One introductory webinar won’t cut it. Consistent training, delivered consistently.

Track and Adjust:

As Jack Welch says, “You can’t manage what you don’t track.” Most vendors only track current deal pipeline with partners. That is important but what is even more important is tracking the elements that lead to consistent pipeline. Tracking reseller investment (time and money) is the strategy you’ve both committed to. Tracking training plans, delivery, and follow up. Tracking changes in the reseller’s business model or overall strategy. One thing that research shows is that anything you start tracking improves…it’s even truer with Cloud channels. That data makes it easy to make adjustments and improve your program correctly (increase channel revenue). Track, analyze, and make adjustments.

Six Steps to Choosing the Right Target Audience and Increasing Sales

By Steve Litzow
October 7th, 2014

Choosing the right target audience may seem obvious, but many companies rush through it because “everyone can use the product” or the focus becomes the equally generic “CEO’s in Financial Services”. However, taking a more detailed approach and doing the research is probably the critical step in a successful sales campaign. We suggest considering the following:

1. Look at your current customers. By seeing which customers bring in the most profit, are easy to work with and are actually using the product, you can see patterns and the key criteria that makes them the right target to narrow your market.

2. Consider who has the need for your product. Examine industry verticals, key positions in the company, number of employees, company culture, geography, etc. Remember that not only should they have a need for your product or service, but also the budget to purchase it.

3. Who are your competitors targeting? Are they missing a market you can take advantage of? This of course begs the next question of who/what is your real competition? What are they doing today to solve the problem your product or service addresses?

4. Research! Find out what current surveys, studies or blogs are saying about your product, service or industry and who is interested in it. Better still, identify a couple of different segments and talk to a handful of prospects in each of those segments. They will tell you if you have anything that is compelling to them. If you can’t get them on the phone, go to segment conferences and events.

5. Be selective. Narrow down your target audience so that you have only those who would benefit today from your product or service. Remember, you can have more than one target audience, but be critical to assess if you have all the necessary resources to win in each.

6. Measure your results. Once you have chosen your target market, track your sales funnel to keep track of your success rate or lack thereof. You might need to make changes to your target audience if you are not getting the results planned.

Your goal is to narrow down your audience so you are addressing only those customers who are interested and have a current need for your product or service. If you cannot easily identify who is NOT your target audience, then go back and get more specific. Once you choose the right audience, you can then choose the right sales strategy to drive revenue from that group. If you want a cost effective and scalable sales process, make sure you are focusing your sales efforts on the right audience.

The Nightmare of “Ready Fire Aim”

By Rich Stillman
July 15th, 2014

The phrase “Ready, Fire, Aim” (as opposed to the traditional “Ready, Aim, Fire”) seems to be all the rage now.  Do a Google search and there are over 29 million entries.  A best-selling book (by Michael Masterson, a highly successful entrepreneur) carries the title.  Aggressive start-up CEO’s seeking top performers weed out anyone with the old “Ready, Aim, Fire” mentality.  Too Slow.  Too Risk Averse.  So Yesterday.

In his book Masterson says, “Nothing matters more than selling.”  Naturally, we agree.  He says there are three key steps to getting a new business off the ground: Step one: Get the product ready enough to sell, but don’t worry about perfecting it.  Step two: Sell it.  Step three: If it sells, make it better.

But we’ll bet you that even Masterson wouldn’t dare use a “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach when he actually goes and sells.  If he did, he wouldn’t be nearly so successful.  Because translating that approach into a sales strategy almost always ends up being expensive, or a failure, or both.

Taking the “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach when you’re in front of a prospect is tantamount to going into a meeting without investigating the prospect’s industry, or their company.  It means not understanding how what you offer will make a meaningful difference in the business.  Not knowing what the competitive set is and how your offering is different and better.  You can throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.  But it’s messy and wasteful, and the cleanup isn’t fun.

We’ve seen all variations of this nightmare in our work with clients over the years.

We’ve confirmed repeatedly that it pays to take aim before you fire away in a sales process.  Your resources — time, money, people — are constrained.  Use them wisely.  Doing the right amount of analysis upfront (quickly, mind you) allows you to focus on a smaller set of Hot Opportunity Prospects, iterate faster to a proven sales process, and yield more closed business and more revenue than taking the shotgun approach.  You also end up with a more scalable way to generate predictable revenue going forward.

The flaw in the logic held by those that cling to “Ready, Fire, Aim” is believing that if their approach is “fast”, “Ready, Aim, Fire” is therefore plodding.  That “Ready, Aim, Fire” will miss the market in the search for perfect understanding.  That’s hogwash, based on the empirical results of our work with over 140 clients in the past 10 years.  We’ve encountered the financial and organizational mess created by the “Ready Fire Aim” approach more than we care to remember.

Failing is way less cool than taking a “Ready, Aim, Fire” approach when your business is on the line.

Others Online Gets Liquid

By Doug Schulze
July 15th, 2014

Rubicon ProjectRoughly 10% of the time, Altus is fortunate enough to take a client from first revenues, all the way through an exit event. Not bad when you consider the industry average suggests that less than 5% will earn a big surprise check for their efforts. The most recent member to the club was Jordan Mitchell and his team at Others Online, who had invented a proprietary algorithm for understanding what people care about online. We started working with the team in 2008 to define the target segments for his new ad technology, identify and close customers within that strategy.

Fortunately the ad market was red hot, and Jordan was spot-on with identifying the need for better ad relevance to consumer behavior. One of the up and comers in the ad space was The Rubicon Project (NYSE: RUBI) who we secured a meeting with at the 2008 AdTech conference in San Francisco. Once they saw what we had built and validated with early customers (especially Google, who saw a 70% improvement in ad performance), they agreed to pursue a partnership. Within six months of the meeting, we had inked the partnership and tested the technology across the Rubicon Project’s customer base.

Rubicon was very impressed with the Others Online technology and team, and made the offer to acquire in early 2009. 100% of the core Others Online team moved in with the new parents and faithfully delivered on every one of the earn-outs for the next 3 years. Fortunately, Rubicon Project also had a great team and technology, and together, they launched a successful IPO in April of this year, to the delight of all the Others Online investors. As you can see from the photo, Jordan and two of his original team members look to be living happily ever after.

Success Factors for Selling Into Healthcare

By Sean Sigmon
April 14th, 2014

Launching a venture into healthcare is often considered “high risk, high reward.” A solid foundation can take some risk out of your sales model and improve the chances of achieving a big reward. Because healthcare has never been the earliest adopter of broad-based IT products, there remain many great opportunities within the sector. Entrepreneurs that can deliver efficient workflow and patient management solutions, analytics engines, and consultative services that help organizations evolve out of the fee for service model into a cost based model could strike it rich in the next decade. In order to succeed you will have to be resolute, make wise choices and, most importantly, absolutely execute when opportunity knocks.

Know Your Sales Cycle

Due to the highly regulated nature of the healthcare market, selling into the sector takes longer and often costs more than in other markets. It complicates everything from product development to the programs available to the marketing team. With HIT it’s necessary to develop value props around workflow advantages and prove your product solves age old analytical problems. People are cautious in healthcare, and without evidence and supportive beta customers, nothing sells in healthcare.

Encourage your team to report losses openly. You need to understand where you are winning, but it’s just as important to fully understand your losses and address the product features and marketing tools needed to change the pattern. Getting your team comfortable with reporting losses will enable them to accurately reflect the business’ legitimate market opportunity. Understanding when a deal is lost will help you know when to stop investing resources into a dead deal. Mastering the sales cycle will also help you be tenacious when things aren’t going your way.

Choose Partners Carefully

Large distribution companies thrive in healthcare. These groups are often challenging to manage, demonstrate little loyalty when things aren’t going well, and frequently underperform. A big reason for this lack of performance is that healthcare products are complicated to learn and demand more training time and more formal processes to develop a high performing team. These factors don’t always mesh with distributors looking to drive fast sales. Healthcare has an extremely high rate of specialization and therefore you need to be sure that your distribution partner’s broader book of business is highly aligned with your product or service. If you don’t have the “mind-share” of those reps, your product will never come out of the bag.

Deliver Again and Again

Epic, one of the nation’s most successful Electronic Healthcare Record (EHR) suppliers, built its business in a slow and methodical way. It took them almost 20 years before they were the market leader and they did it mostly by doing what other software vendors struggle with—meeting deadlines. Healthcare executives are risk averse and willing to reward for proven results.

Think of it as an evidence-based market where the evidence isn’t always just medical data in a clinical study, it’s proven in the form of highly targeted beta sites with CTOs, CFOs, and clinicians willing to speak openly about the success your product brought their institution, or the money it saved them. Successful selling in healthcare demands good reference accounts and you won’t earn those endorsements unless you deliver time and time again.

“Land and Expand” is a common tactic that can work in healthcare. It really helps to understand which department may influence future buying habits from other departments. It will help your team identify the correct champion necessary to shepherd the deal to success. There are only about 1,000 large hospitals in the U.S., so it’s also a good idea to make sure the first sale into an account can be leveraged again and again.


Despite efforts to curtail healthcare’s growth it remains the largest sector of the U.S. economy—almost 20% of GDP. There are incredible needs in the field around informatics, security, care coordination, and research to drive clinical breakthroughs. There will always be competition and internal challenges, but if you are tenacious and execute when opportunity arises, great rewards await you in healthcare.

5 (Hundred Million) Reasons to Look to Europe to Grow Your Sales

By Michael Ricks
February 11th, 2013

You work hard every day to sell and deliver great products and services. Your customers love you and investors wax optimistically about your future. Every quarter, you do more, better, and faster. Could you still be missing out on an important opportunity to increase profitability and enterprise value? The marketplace is globalised and increasingly competitive. If you are not growing in Europe, consider these five good reasons to start, now.

Reason 1: You already did the hard part, now you can cash in.

You have already made the investment to get your product or service right. Consider replicating your rollout in a less competitive market. Seize the easiest market share that you will ever win, the first-mover market share of a market with no competition. Much of what you have learned the hard way at home regarding customer needs and segmentation will give you a head start in new markets. Changes necessary to satisfy overseas regulation or language requirements likely require only modest additional investment. Amortize your investments and fixed costs over more units to create greater profitability.

Reason 2: You can reduce your risk.

Is your profitability sensitive to an economic downturn at home? Hedge your risks by generating revenues in countries with different economic fundamentals. Wouldn’t now be a great time to let the buoyant German economy drive sales, picking up the slack for flagging US turnover? With good reason, US firms’ foreign investment increased 27% from 2010 to 2011, with over half of that investment going to Europe, according to the Congressional Research Service.1

Do you source overseas, making currency fluctuation a concern? Consider how growing internationally could allow you to bank some Euros and stabilize your profitability.

Reason 3: You can acquire new customers more easily.

Have you got competition at home? Your product or service may be one-of-a- kind in a new market. Alternatively, the market for your product or service may be more developed, with a wide base of potential customers who already understand your value proposition. Consider that the European Union, with over 500 million inhabitants, has more potential customers for most products and services than the United States, but is potentially underdeveloped precisely in your sweet spot. Did you know that 14% of revenue of the S&P 500 companies comes from Europe?2

Reason 4: You can let your existing customers pave (and pay) the way.

One of the most promising growth opportunities is to follow your existing customers into new markets. If happy with what you are doing for them at headquarters at home, your customers will be pleased to have the opportunity to roll out your value proposition to their overseas operations. They may even distribute to other customers for you.

Reason 5: If you don’t, somebody else will.

Copycats are more than willing to duplicate and transplant your products and services that are successful in the US in new markets, harvesting the fruit of your labor. It was Apple’s Steve Jobs who said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal. And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” Once established, copycats may even block your subsequent entry to new markets. Proactively seeking growth opportunity in new markets and moving swiftly to introduce your proposition, on terms, can be decisive to bolstering your firm’s long-term value.

While it may make sense to get it right in the US first, for most ventures, it’s never too early to plan for international growth. You may well be able to rewrite your equity story by increasing revenues and profitability, reducing risk, and growing and protecting market share while cashing in on the unique selling proposition that you have worked so hard to achieve. You have several options: exporting, joint venture, and direct investment. Altus Alliance is on the ground in Europe and can be your guide in understanding customer needs, establishing a “market-driven baseline”, then guiding you on your journey to create sales traction abroad.

1, retrieved 11/21/2012
2 europe-idUSBRE86105D20120702, retrieved 11/21/2012

What and Who to Look For When Hiring a Sales Executive

By Kathi Jones
October 12th, 2012

The reality of every early-stage company is that there comes a time when you have to acknowledge the fact that your company needs a sales leader, and it’s no longer you. My assumption is that you’re a founder, or you’ve been brought in to “gently” take the company from the hands of the founder. But, either way, sales is currently a part of your role.

The operative word here is PART—part of a long laundry list of things like raising money, dabbling in marketing, managing and motivating people, and all the things that fit under the nebulous and ever changing bucket of “etc.” Sound familiar? If so, then it’s time to bring in sales experience, but what do you look for and who are they?

“What” you look for is dependent on a number of things, like your experience and interest in sales, the state of your product and if you’ve determined the market for your product or service. It may also depend on whether you have a sales process in place and what your funding situation happens to be. And then there’s whether you have a long or short sales cycle, and if you currently have sales people or you’re a one person sales team.

“Who” you look for is a bit squishier and more driven by your company culture and current team dynamics than anything else. Questions around integrity, what drives them, their focus, and leadership style are key in the “who” aspect of your hire.

To simplify getting to the “what” and “who” we’ve created a list of items that may help you design a checklist for this important addition to your team. Since the average sales professional’s tenure is about 19 months, you want to do everything you can to beat those odds, and that takes thoughtful consideration and a plan.

The following lists can help you create your own exclusive pros and cons list that leads you to the best hiring decision for your company.

What type of Sales Leader is right for your company? Who is the right sales leader for your company?
Can they recruit and develop a sales team?

This is key in any leadership role, but pivotal in a sales leader. They must be able to not only identify top performing sales people, but they have to convince them to leave a job where they are likely making good money. They have to be able to sell themselves and your company. They must also be able to coach salespeople, helping them adopt successful sales behaviors that lead to outstanding results, while creating a level playing field by objectively evaluating each team member’s performance.

Are they high integrity and are they motivated by all the right things?

Many people think that sales people are just “in it for the money”, and many are, but the most successful salespeople make lots of money without compromising their integrity. This is key in a sales leader, as they set the tone and culture of your sale organization, and without clear boundaries you may have sales people who take shortcuts in the hopes of a quicker outcome. They also tend to be the first to leave when a sales cycle is too long or they find another opportunity that allows for a “rebel” approach. A sales leader without clear boundaries has not instilled solid values in the sale organization and you are ripe for issues both inside and outside your organization.

Do they have a sales process and is it tested?

Any great sales leader has a process that is tested, but more important is that they are not a slave to that process, but are able to adapt their processes to reflect how customers are buying. They also must create analytics to ensure continued improvement across the sales organization. Basically, they must be open to adding, adjusting, and deleting aspects of their process and possibly reinventing the entire process. They must be life-long, continuous learners who never seem to settle. And they must be able to adapt proven processes to new scenarios and get their team to embrace and live with these processes as effective instruments for generating business and improving revenue productivity.

Do they have a competitive drive and a passion for what they do?

Running a sales organization in an early-stage company is no easy task. Whether an experienced consultant or a full-time sales leader, you need to find someone who doesn’t rest on their past laurels, but who is as passionate and driven to succeed at your company as they have been in the past. And I don’t mean succeeding at all cost, that goes back to integrity, but someone who approaches each challenge as a new opportunity to succeed in ways that far exceed what they have done in the past. They also need to be able to identify sales people with the same competitive drive, the same integrity, and the same focus on building a career not just hitting a few big wins and moving on.

Are they good at forecasting? Can they think in to the future?

All executives need to be somewhat of a fortune teller, but sales leaders need to be almost psychic at projecting what their ability is to deliver on a sales goal. The keys to success in forecasting, and more importantly hitting that forecast, is knowing their people’s strengths, their individual levels of optimism, and what drives them; this coupled with an uncanny ability to anticipate what is happening, or about to happen, in their market and the economy stacks the odds in their favor and in turn, yours. This is a unique skill of a successful sales executive that is really worth drilling in on.

How do they work cross departmentally? Can they manage up?

When you are starting a company or in a small internal team of a larger organization this becomes a very important attribute. Having a sales leader who understands the importance of marketing and appreciates the value it brings, one who understands that a solid relationship with development is a recipe for product success, and one who has the ability to help all members of their team understand the importance of open, honest communication (remember, sales is your most direct access to the Voice of the Customer) allows you to trust and get many more items off your checklist than ever before. A sales leader who is not afraid to tell you that they are missing the mark, or about a bad outcome with a customer, is one that will also come to you with a plan and be hell-bent on coming back next week with better news. Those that are secretive and float around the halls never stopping at the water cooler are sales leaders to avoid.

Do they have domain expertise?

This one is a tough one, as there are two solid camps around this question. Many CEO’s believe that a sales leader must have domain expertise to succeed. While domain expertise is a plus, I believe it is not as important as finding a sales leader with solid fundamentals. Top sales leaders can play in a number of domains and it is often extremely advantageous to have someone with a new or different perspective when you are bringing a new technology or service to market. Remember, the best sales leaders are creative, professional, articulate, adaptable, and most importantly life-long learners.

Do you need a Director or VP of Sales?

This question is driven by your sales experience. If you have solid experience implementing and driving a sales process, hiring and motivating a sales organization, are a “closer”, and want to “hold on to the sales reins”, then a Director may be all the fire power you need to start to off-load some of your sales responsibility. If you have had no sales experience (and what you are currently doing doesn’t count), then you will want more fire power by adding a VP to your ranks. And remember, if you are going the consultant route, you can get a VP with years of experience that will look and feel like part of the company, down to carrying your business cards and being listed on your website, for a very competitive price.

Do you need a full-time sales leader or an experienced consultant?

The answer to this question can be driven by the stage of your company, its product, your funding, and your sales experience. If you are early-stage with no process and no sales team to speak of, and you have never hired one, then a consultant is the best way to go. You can secure higher level expertise and experience at a lower cost, allowing you to build a solid foundation for the future. The risk of a mistake is also minimized. If it doesn’t work out it’s a single conversation that allows them to find the door versus an employee that could take months to exit and that exit may even come with an associated cost. And if you have cash sensitivities, the decision may be solidified, as an experienced consultant can come in with solid processes, tested tools, years of experience, and hit the ground running at a fraction of the cost of a full-time sales executive. Do you have enough disposable capital to pay the salary of a full-time sales executive? (Consider: base, bonus, benefits, equity, etc.) If not, then a consultant is your best bet.

If you are far enough along to have tested processes , have an existing sales team that needs a leader other than you, are ready to scale, and you have the financial runway to bring on a sales executive with an average price tag between $180-$300K, and your culture screams for a team member who is “all-in”, then a full-time sales leader may be the answer.

Do they fit your company culture?

Everything we have talked about above drives toward this important question. Is your company culture focused, driven, and powering toward selling an initial customer at all cost? Or, are you more systematic, process focused, and methodical but still moving at a fast pace? Are you a micro-manager who has your hands in everything, or are you a hands-off manager who delegates effectively and depends on your leaders to deliver? The culture you have created, and are working to preserve or evolve, needs to be considered when adding any executive, or employee for that matter, to your team. Be sure that you are not just making a “gut” decision here, but validate that feeling and make sure you know what you are getting and that it fits your management style and your company’s cultural needs. Adding one new person to your team changes it forever, adding a leader has an even bigger impact.

So now you’re ready to create a profile for your sales leader, and design some solid questions around those attributes and experiences in order to weed through candidates. Whether you decide to do the search on your own or bring in a recruiter, knowing what you are looking for and how you’re going to go about finding it will be key to your success. You create strategic plans for numerous decisions involving your business; this decision should be no different and will be one of the most important decisions you make. When you finally find someone who seems to be a fit, has all the right attributes and experience, be sure and do as many reference checks as you need to in order to feel confident that you’ve made the right choice—and this goes for either a full-time employee or a consultant.

The sales executive you hire, regardless of whether they are a full-time employee or an experienced consultant, is in charge of your most precious and important assets: customers and revenue, so take the time to think it through and understand “what” and “who” your organization needs to be successful and then go find them.

9 Steps to a Successful First CRM

By Steve Dearden
August 21st, 2012

Sooner or later, any group selling a product is going to need to adopt tools to consolidate the data and track/manage the sales process. This usually means a CRM system. When to implement a CRM system really depends on a number of factors, like the number of prospects and customers, the number of sales people, and the complexity of the sale. When the time comes, how you go about adoption will enormously affect the value you get from the tool.

We are not going to review tools and provide recommendations here, because other than obvious differences like cloud vs. local/server based tools, most CRM systems have similar feature sets. But before you chose the tool, it is vital that you understand how the tool will be used, and what each of the stakeholders in the organization is going to require from the tool.

The process MUST start with the sales team; each salesperson can (and will) use a rich feature set differently, so it is critically important to plan how the tool will be used before adoption. Without planning, you may end up with as many use models as you have salespeople.

Just like a finance department would not fire up a new set of accounting tools without carefully mapping the tool into existing accounting operations, a sales team should do the same before adopting a CRM system.

A structured approach to implementation is critical to success, and, in our view, more important than the choice of tool. Many sales managers, CEOs, and IT departments focus on the what, not the why and how of implementation, and then are less than happy with the results.

So what is the problem?

Small ventures may have only a few customers, their sales processes may not be complex and involve just a few touch points within the customer organization. For these ventures, managing the sales process amongst a few individuals using spreadsheets may be more than sufficient.

As the number of customers grows, and the number of sales people increases within a new venture, management is confronted with the problem of how to consolidate and interpret all the information that is being tracked by individuals on the team—to derive forecasts, metrics, and opportunity tracking to run the business.

For this to work, the implementation has to drive consistency in data capture and individual behavior – it has to provide an objective lens to monitor the business. This implies consistent and continuous use by the sales team. Adoption by all team members is essential to success. In turn, this means that each person on the sales team has to feel the tool is valuable to them.

Uses of CRM by constituent.

From the individual salesperson perspective, a new CRM system can be a painful requirement that management imposes on their daily activity. After all, for the individual contributor (and smaller ventures) a spreadsheet with good notes is often sufficient. If the CRM tool has too many options, is complex, slow, and difficult to use, isn’t this eating into valuable selling time? Management is going to ask a bunch of questions anyway about the forecast, so why spend time on a cumbersome tool?

CRM implementations driven by IT or by senior management naturally focuses on the summary data as the prime objective, so their needs are often what drive implementation. This top down approach can ignore the criticality of adoption by the sales team.

So how do you in implement a system that gives sales and corporate management the summary data they need to manage the team and the business, and the individuals something that helps them organize and sell?

Understanding the uses and needs of the constituents in the diagram, and the quality of the data entered by the salespeople is the key to CRM success.

Here is a suggestion based on our experience from numerous Altus client engagements:

  1. Understand and document your typical or idealized sales process. Draw it in a diagram, and review with the key sales people. Will the process as drawn and all the deals in process mapped to this diagram facilitate them getting the job done with low overhead for the tool? Will it help the individual salesperson to organize and follow the process? Use the KISS principle here.
  • What are the important stages in transition from a contact above the funnel, through qualification, development, and closure? Keep the number of stages to a minimum; 5-7 stages should be your target.
  • Keep the terminology simple.
  • Think about process and gates. What has to happen (process) to move an opportunity to the next milestone (gate)? You should be able to answer simple yes/no questions for the gates. Is this lead qualified? Have we delivered a proposal? Do we have the PO?
  1. Then, and only then, pick the tool you are going to use. Choose one with room to grow, but also make sure that features can be turned off or hidden by the administrator. The first implementation should be simple, so make sure you can scale the product back. When making your selection, think about the process from the perspective of the individual sales user:
  • What is the information needed for them to track and close each opportunity?
  • What is the information needed to track contacts and accounts?
  • What correspondence and history is needed to record progress?
  1. Are there critical pieces of information missing? If so, go back and add them to what the sales team needs to input and work with. Will it then provide the metrics management needs to run the business? If the answer is no, then what additions do you have to make to Step 1 to get the data needed? Remember the balance between sales adoption and desire for greater management visibility. If you add too much, you actually may end up with less meaningful data.
  2. Consider operations. Usually it is best to use manual interfaces to start with; figure out where the interfaces between sales and operations are needed (for example, scheduling and provisioning a live demo). Work these systems and workflows manually until you really understand how they operate and what expectations, checks, balances, and approvals are needed. Then automate the process within CRM and other software components used by operations.
  3. Finally, look at executive management. Can they get the data they need from dashboards and summary reports? If they are really missing critical information, then consider going back to Step 1, but always look at alternatives for getting the same information first. The more you make compulsory to the sales team, the harder it becomes to achieve 100% adoption.
  4. Take the sales process and map it to the tool. This may mean working on drop-downs and disabling features. Salespeople can and will design their own way of doing things if you don’t establish standards. Similarly, leaving many features open will confuse the users and make it difficult to drive consistency. You need to make sure the tool is being used consistently, so take away the options—otherwise, summary data will be impossible to extract and interpret.
  • Decide what fields are compulsory vs. optional for an opportunity to move through the stages. Remember, focus on the minimum data set you need for the salesperson to do an effective job. Email address for a qualified contact might be a good example.
  • If you have decided that you only want to see percentages like 10, 25, 50, 75, 90, and 100, because they mean something in the process you documented, you have to prevent values like 49% from being used. Set the field up to only accept the entries you have decided are valid options.
  • For important summary data like lead source and lost business reason it is imperative to keep the number of choices restricted so the system does not accumulate data that is less than valuable. Discourage free text input for fields you may want to search on or gather data. “Trade Show,” ” tradeshow,” and “Trad show” will summarize into different data columns. Decide on the categories for these fields and use drop downs, where the user can only pick from a set of fixed values. Free text is appropriate for descriptions and notes.
  1. Run a pilot in parallel with your existing system (spreadsheet). For the individuals in the pilot, is it simple and easy to use for them? Is the consolidated data meaningful for management? Are there areas that you have not thought of that are being questioned by the pilot team? Take their feedback seriously and be prepared to act on it. Are there additional controls you need to construct or process steps that you need to clarify?
  2. Train and go live with the rest of the team. This needs to be a smooth process, and you may want to think about incentives during the start-up phase to get everyone onboard quickly.
  3. Monitor results and be prepared to modify the process and the tool as the organization grows.

Careful planning and implementation is critical to the early stages of CRM in a new venture. Focus on the primary user, the salesperson. The process they have to go through is key to CRM success. As the organization grows and scales, you can add features and have the tool grow with you.