Jim Keenan is not just any sales guy – he’s A Sales Guy, one of the most respected sales consultants in the business today. With more than 15 years of experience in sales leadership and leading sales teams, Jim has absorbed the lessons learned from his diverse sales experience and now uses that experience to help sales organizations improve their performances. It’s no surprise that he has been named one of the Top 50 Sales and Marketing Influencers, with one of the most widely-read sales blogs around.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Jim and picked his brain on his philosophies on sales, his experience working with startup sales teams and what reps can to do see their sales results soar.
1) As a sales consultant, how do you begin your diagnosis of a sales team or process? What is the first thing you are looking for?
I break it down into 4 categories: Strategy, Structure, People, Process. Success or failure in any sales organization goes through one or all of those pillars. I look to see, is the strategy sound? Will it get the company to their goals? I look to determine if the structure maps to the strategy? I evaluate the people. Do they have the right people in the right roles? Is the team capable of executing the plan? Do they have the right people, with the right skills working in the right direction? Finally, I look to see if the right execution and support processes are in place. Do they have the right processes in place to identify issues or problems, communicate, report, share, etc. Processes create efficiency and enhance the probability of execution, I make sure they bring everything together.
2) You espouse a philosophy that says, “Teaching is the new selling.” What does this mean?
Is your sales team built to teach or to pitch?
If, in your mind, you’re saying; “pitch,” it’s time to consider a new approach.
Customer buying habits have changed. They know who you are, what you sell, your competition, what people think of you, your customer service, your warranties, everything. In most cases they know all of this before they ever show up on your website or make a call. Customers and prospects no longer need us to talk about us. They don’t need our websites, our sales people or our fancy collateral to learn about us. They learn everything they need to without ever having to connect with us. Because of this, your customers and prospects are much further along in the buying process before they ever contact us and that, my friend, changes the game, BIG TIME!
Becoming a teaching organization takes a commitment. It’s a cultural change. It doesn’t mean you no longer sell. Selling is what we do, that won’t change. It’s how we sell that changes. Turning your organization into a teaching organization means providing your sales people with new customer centric information. It means providing customers with information and data that can help them run their business. It’s not more product information or product slicks. It’s not information focused on you and what you sell but rather information on what they sell and what they need to be successful. It’s creating a teaching organization that has more information and knowledge than your customers and prospects. It’s an organization that knows how to use the information and knowledge to educate the customer or prospect in something they didn’t know and needed to know.
3) You’ve mentored at TechStars and are familiar with startups. What do start-up sales teams need to do differently?
I think this is going to be a bit contrarian, but I believe the biggest challenge to startups when it comes to sales is the product team and the sales team have got to be absolutely embedded with each other. They have to be almost like Siamese twins. In the past, if there was a bad product, sales could sprinkle out magic sales dust by overselling or stretching the truth and the buyer didn’t know any better. There wasn’t the internet and they relied so heavily on the salespeople to educate them on their product. That’s not the case anymore. There’s so much information out there that a bad product is seen immediately that its difficult for sles to overcome that.
In startups, I highly highly suggest that the product team knows exactly what business challenges their product solves and who for and the impact of those business challenges. How does it affect their business – revenue, profitability, customer acquisition, etc. Product has to help the sales team truly understand the business value of the problem set and the impact to the organization of what we’re solving. They have to work symbiotically side-by-side.
4) How important are metrics and sales analytics today? What are the key ones to focus on?
I don’t think data or analytics are worth beans unless someone can tell me what to do with them. I’m waiting for some organization – and I hope it’s you guys – that can come along and say “I’m not just going to give you data; I’m going to tell you what the data says, and give you some suggestions on what to do with it.”
I’m a data hound when I build my own data because I know what I’m building it for but when someone else gives me data? Unless you can translate it and tell me why I need to pay attention and how to use it and what it means? I think that’s where most people fall short.
5) How is the sales industry evolving? What do sales managers and reps need to do to prepare for 2014?
The amount of information available to buyers. In the expectation of the buyer is the biggest change. Buyers expect salespeople to bring more value than they ever have before. There’s this part in the Challenger Sale is that the biggest impact to loyalty isn’t the product, it’s the salesperson. They deduced that if the salesperson or company knows their stuff, I can call them and they will help me out.
Salespeople need to educate themselves more. They need to read more, they need more business acumen, they need to understand the nuances and the business models of the customers they’re going after, they need to understand the complexities of their customers. They have to be able to have a business conversation with their prospects.
6) What is your best piece of advice for sales managers aspiring to be rock star sales managers?
Get out of the nitty-gritty detail and stop doing another person’s job. Learn to develop sales reps; not manage sales reps. I liken it to a coach. A football coach can’t go on the field with his players. Come Sunday, I gotta get the hell out of the way. I think most sales managers still have that mentality – “I’m going to go on the call with you, I want you to build this deal strategy, I’m going to play this role and you play that role.” Stop!
Look at the salesperson; what are they good at? What are their strengths and what are their weaknesses? Develop a coaching plan and a coaching cadence over every 6-8 weeks where you develop the skills that help them build pipeline, that help them close, that help them become teachers, that help them position products, to grow their business acumen. Focus on that, and then let them go on Sundays.
7) Over your consulting career, what is the one problem that sales reps struggle with the most? How have you helped them improve this?
The root cause is that sales reps lack the business acumen. The impact is that they are unable to a) ask the probing or unique questions or b) make the appropriate assumptions necessary to assess an environment or to come up with a solution.
I need information to ask questions. If I don’t have the business acumen, then I can’t ask those deep, powerful questions to figure out how fundamentally my product is going to change your business.
If you lack the business knowledge and the business understanding of the situations you are in, it cascades and then it relegates you to, “Let me show you what my product does. Let me show you this feature.” All they can do is pitch it and hope that something they say resonates with the buyer because they don’t have the knowledge to connect.
More about Jim Keenan
Jim Keenan is the founder and a Senior Partner at A Sales Guy Consulting, where he puts his more than 15 years of experience in sales and sales training to help organizations hire better and develop and execute sales processes that lead to improved results. Keenan has been named one of the Top 50 Sales and Marketing Influencers for 2012. He’s been cited in The Harvard Business Review, SoldLab Magazine and his blog was named as one of the top 50 blogs by Top Sales World, and Sales Crunch as well as being listed in Guy Kawasaki’s AllTop Blogs.
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