On this week’s episode of CEO Sales Strategies, Doug C. Brown is joined by Steven Norman, the founder of Growth Acumen, author of Future Proof Sales Strategy, and business acceleration growth expert, to discuss what to do when your deals go dark. Doug and Steven discuss how to strengthen your sales deals for success, how to improve your sales processes, and much more.
Steven is giving away a free Sales Assessment Tool for sales leaders, as well as his ‘Selling in a Crisis’ framework. The framework guides sales teams on how two manage successfully through the massive changes seen in the business and sales environment in the past couple of years.
Learn more here: www.growthacumen.com.au/sales-assessment-tool-3/ and here: www.growthacumen.com.au/selling-in-a-crisis/
We are having another great conversation with a man named Mr. Steven Norman. He is a business acceleration sales expert. He’s a growth expert when it comes down to it. He’s from Australia, and he has a company called Growth Acumen. It’s at GrowthAcumen.com.au, and we are going to talk about why are your deals going dead and why are things getting stopped now. That’s only one thing we are talking about. There’s a lot to unpack in this episode. This guy is smart.
We are going talk about how to do the peer-to-peer 1% earners-type selling throughout the process, why deals do go quiet, why deals are not qualified well, and why people are presenting demos long before they are even due. A lot of things along the sales process that if we tighten this process up and make the expectations from the company side and the sales side congruent, how your sales can go up. Without further ado, let’s talk to Steven.
Steven, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for being.
It’s great to be with you, Doug. I am looking forward to this.
I am excited about our topic. We are going talk about something I think everyone would be interested in, which is how you stop deals from going quiet, how we take this process of what we are doing, and how we get it to continue so that we could close more sales. Why do you think deals go silent in the first place?
There are a lot of issues that we will get into and not understanding the sales process. It’s not having a solid sales process, and we will get into the key elements there. It’s a perennial issue. Many sales organizations I go into talk about deals being stuck in the funnel, deals rolling over a month to month or deals where the customers were very enthusiastic in the first meeting or two but not returning our calls now.
It’s having a massive cost on businesses. Especially as we are going into this tightening economy, we can’t get away with this anymore. We might have skated by when things were booming, and business was coming at us but we are going to have to be much smarter. We are going to have to have a much more solid sales process to be successful going forward. The first thing to understand is that this issue of deals going dark or quiet is having a massive cost on the company’s growth, salespeople’s performance, productivity, and ultimately, your business growth.
It also has growth pushing on potential on our mind because if things are going silent on us when we are selling. We always like to engage people, and all of a sudden, it’s like, “This isn’t happening. What’s going on?” It beats up on the psyche of the individual, and certainly, as you said, it costs the company a ton of money. It costs the individual a ton of money too, because they are not closing.
You are a B2B sales acceleration expert. There’s so much you said, not only the cost of the business but I want to dive into the sales process because I have found that most people don’t even understand what a sales process is. They think they understand it but it’s cursory when I look at a lot of sales processes versus something that you would recommend. Let’s talk about sales processes. What is a sales process?
As you are growing your company or you are managing your sales team, there are a couple of ways you can go about it. The way most folks run their sales operation is that they hire salespeople. They give them territory. It’s up to the salesperson to work out how to close deals, find customers, and progress deals. You are managing all these individuals in different territories, and it’s up to the individual skill of that person if they are successful or not versus bringing folks into a process or to a system. “Here’s our target customer.” That would be the start of the sales process. “Here’s what’s important to them. Here are the typical pain points they have that we solve.
We start there. “Here’s how we prospect those customers. Here’s what we’ve found is most effective. Here’s a bunch of tools. Here are some email scripts, call scripts or some examples of what works well in that prospecting process. Here are the company’s expectations and prospecting activity. We expect you to generate two leads a week. We expect you to spend 10% of your time connecting each week or 20%.” This is the company’s expectations of a sales process, and you can imagine applying that. I won’t go through the whole A to Z but you imagine applying that to qualifying, discovery, building commitment, the proposal, and pricing.
You start having a structure that becomes something you can manage. If something is going wrong, when you have a process, you can identify which component is falling down or maybe which individuals are falling down at a specific gate in that process. When you don’t have a process, when you leave it to the individuals to do their own thing, it’s unmanageable.
Also, it’s unquantifiable except for, “Joe is selling a lot. Darrell is not right. What’s going on,” and that type of thing.
Something I hear that I hate is, “I don’t care how they are doing it as long as they are doing it.” It’s a very high-risk strategy for me because who knows how they are doing it? Is it sustainable? Is it good for the company? Is it repeatable? That concerns me. Is it ethical? Sure.
“Is it ethical?” is another one. I’m in full agreement and will tell a little story here. I know of a company that said those exact words, and they ended up getting fined $120 million for something that the sales channel did because the CEO and the management people within were doing exactly that. “I don’t care what you do. Just sell it.” They were in a highly regulated industry, and the United States government came in and said, “Heck no.” $120 million shut the whole company down. The game was over, and it was all because they didn’t manage that and didn’t have any expectations.
I want to go back to that because it drives me crazy. I look at people, and they are doing exactly that. I’m like, “What are your salespeople doing?” “Selling.” “What are your expectations of them?” “I want them to close this amount of business.” “What are your other expectations? What percentage of you said this keyword or keyphrase? What percentage of the time are they supposed to be prospecting?” If I can ask that of any company under $150 million or $200 million, and I can talk to the CEO, the head of sales or whatever, they can’t give me that answer. They are like, “Whatever gets the job done.”
It’s common. If you get your arms around, the sky’s the limit. I’ve had that experience many times in my consulting work, and also, when I’ve managed sales, teams are going to that situation. You start putting some structure in place and process. You started getting everyone rallied around how we were going to prospect, sharing their ideas, developing that system, and then executing it as a team. You start building a sales machine that’s very reliable. It’s a sales machine that you build up. You can point it towards a target customer group and know you are going to get appointments. You are going to get consideration and close deals.
The 1% elite performers, the one-percenters, spend a lot of their time prospecting, and this is what people don’t. They can spend more than 50% of their time prospecting. They know that the master prospector closes the master closer because they are qualifying these leads throughout the process. Let’s take a company that’s grown up. The CEO is the rainmaker of the company.
The CEO gets to a place, and then she, he or they walks out of it and says, “We are going put a sales team in place.” They put a structure for a sales team. It comes in, and they stop leading the sales team any longer because they are off on another play but there’s no application of how they duplicate their own success.
That’s a very tough thing to do. A very different process needs to be in place for employee salespeople versus a founder. The deals that the founder gets, I don’t want to say the easier deals but they are going to be the first, most likely customers with maybe very close connections or relationships. The founder has a lot of authority to redesign the product, reshape, change policies or propose whatever the customer wants. We don’t want to be doing that as we scale up. We can’t be customizing every deal and every product. A company is going to be a bit of a mess. Quite a bit of work has to be done to go from that founder-led selling to employee-led selling, which needs to be much more structured.
That is a fantastic concept. How do you transition that CEO that has been selling? They have the positioning. They own the company. They can make decisions. They can do whatever they want. Now, you have a team of seven who they hire. They bring them in and have to follow a process but there is no process there or it’s limited to personality, and it hasn’t been transferred. How does one transfer this success process from a CEO down into the employee ranks if we could go in that direction?
You almost have to start. Companies need to reinvent themselves constantly, and there are certain inflection points. When you go from that founder-led selling to employee-led selling in a structure, let’s say, you go from 15 to 20 employees to 50 or from 10 to 50, you have to change. You’ve got to change your business and your structure. When you get to a couple of hundred people, you got to change it again. You need to have different layers of management and systems.
This is normal reinvention. I’m not going to give you an easy answer. There’s not an easy way for the founders to transfer their experience because founders are often quirky and do things in different ways. Who can replicate Elon Musk or someone in that company? We all know what founders are like. They are different. They are special people.
Let me give you something. As I said before, who are our target customers? We get very clear on that. We get very prioritized on this segment we go after. We start there and then work out our strategies to get in front of them. How do we sell to them? What’s important to those folks? What are their pain points? You then go from there. Apply good sales process.
I am speaking to Mr. Steven Norman. He is a B2B sales acceleration and growth expert. He owns a company called Growth Acumen. It’s at GrowthAcumen.com.au. Do you work all over the world?
Since the lockdown and Zoom became very normal, I have done a lot of work in the US, in Asia, and lots of different places.
You said we got to create a structure. What I’ve noticed with CEOs is that there’s a lot of stuff. It’s like writing a book. It’s all locked up in their head or the founders of companies. If we can take that information out of their head and put it into a book like a playbook, and then we can break it down into the structure of those expectations that you were referring to, I have found that a lot of this is transferable. I haven’t found it all transferable because, as you said, Elon Musk is Elon Musk. Jeff Bezos is Jeff. Oprah Winfrey is Oprah Winfrey.
It’s going to be hard to duplicate but there is a success structure within. I find this amongst the top 1%, the elite earners in the industry. They do certain things consistently to boredom. They have a routine structure for this. Also, with professional sports, I watch a lot of hockey. I don’t know if there’s a lot of hockey in Australia. In hockey, let’s say the offense is coming, and the defense is going to defend. They have some structure and process in how to keep that offensive player to the outside of the goal.
It’s the same thing in what you would call your football or European football would be our soccer. You want to keep them away from certain areas because there’s a higher probability that if they get inside like that, they have more of the net to go for. I look at this as similar. If that owner-CEO can transfer that information to get their people in front of the net more often, they are going to be able to score more often. You brought up the keyword, though. It’s changed. Why don’t people want to change your opinion? They resist change.
It’s a big challenge. We are talking about change and a lot of what you and I do with our clients is about changing. If the sales team is doing X, we want them to do Y. The founder agrees we are going do Y, we get into the process, and start working. It’s hard work to get them to change. In more than 70% of change initiatives in companies, you have to do a lot of work on the alignment of getting folks onboard and on having folks help design the new process. We need to have a lot of alignment, maybe from other functions. I found that works very well.
If I get the finance folks, HR, and marketing involved when we are changing the sales process, you get all the different stakeholders coming in on how they can support and make this happen. Also, telling the sales team to change, going in and training them for a couple of days and going, “We are giving you the training. We are giving you the playbook.” Within a couple of weeks, they are going to be back to their old habits. We know that. There needs to be that sustained effort.
Something that I do a lot is I ran reinforcement sessions. I will come in every two weeks after we’ve done a project and go back to the process that we’ve agreed that we are going follow and say, “How’s it going? What’s working? What isn’t working? Let’s fine-tune this. Let’s change that and then come back in another couple of weeks. How’s this part of the process working? How are you guys finding running qualifications now? Who’s having success with that? Who isn’t? Let’s workshop that.”
You got to keep at it and then one-on-one coaching for salespeople as well. If you are expecting your salespeople to produce revenue and profits for the company, you need to invest in them a little bit. The training and potentially some coaching as well. The coaching gets down to the individual level of where they are struggling with the process. You can coach them through that and get them onboard but it all starts at the top.
The leader has to be involved and drive that change. The leader can’t come into a town hall meeting and go, “We are going from X to Y. Here’s the path. Here we go. They walk out, and then everyone is looking at each other. “Is this for real? Are we going to do this?” The leader’s got to be in those weekly meetings going, “Are we executing on this new prospecting cadence? Let’s see everyone’s numbers. How are we going to progress deals through the funnel? Is it moving on? They’ve got to be involved. You can’t be hands-off with this. Otherwise, no one else will take it seriously.
I am in full agreement with this. There’s so much you said. I wrote down five things here. Leaders learn from this. I find people don’t get leaders. When I use the word executive sponsor, they seem to go, “That sounds better.” Here’s what it means. As Steven said, you must be involved in this thing. It’s like parenting when it comes down to this. I don’t want to say that our salespeople are children but what I’m saying is that you and I have run lots of sales organizations.
I have never found one organization that I could run that I didn’t have to be in there every single day being a dad in some capacity and asking questions like, “Why is this happening? Did you think about this? What’s the rationale behind that?” I’m in there every single day. If I own a company, I’m in there. If you are not a leader, what I have found is that just like kids, they grow up and try experimental things. They go out on their own path.
Sometimes that’s good. There’s innovation in that but in many cases, it’s like, “Why did my best client leave? Why is our close rate dropped from here to X?” It’s not always the economy that’s doing this. One-on-one coaching is a big pet peeve of mine, Steven, because a manager’s job is to grow the revenue. Part of growing the revenue is to coach. What percentage of organizations or sales teams that you look at that the manager is not one-on-one coaching people?
Mostly, they don’t understand what coaching is. I saw a survey of entre companies. Eighty percent of the managers said they coached, and 40% of the employees said they got coaching. There’s a massive gap there, and coaching is not telling people what to do. That’s like your management hat in some ways. You are managing the business. “What’s going on here?” You are interrogating that.
Coaching is about helping that person develop themselves through a very structured and thoughtful question, “How are you going? Where do you need to improve? Where do your results need to improve? How do you think you can get there? What are you going to do to make that change or improvement?” It’s leading them down that path.
You can give some advice as well but we can’t tell people what to do and expect them to take that onboard. It’s much better if they internalize that and change themselves. We will need to unlock that, and I find that it’s very powerful. You don’t have to do a lot of this but do a little bit. People will appreciate it. You do this once a month. You have 30 minutes to 45 minutes that’s about them and their own personal development and a couple of actions they can take. You will get a lot out of that.
I love what you said because here’s the thing. We can coach from the executive level to the mentoree or the salesperson but I have found that the one-percenters, the people who get into the 1% earners categories are also willing to be coached. I’ve found the ones who are not willing to become.
Isn’t it amazing? If you see someone like Roger Federer or Justin Thomas in golf, these guys are getting coached all the time. They are never satisfied with their performance. Roger is slightly unhappy with his forehand volley. He gets the best coach in the world for forehand volleys. He gets the best coach for his diet. “How can I improve my flexibility? How can I jump more?”
That’s what the top salespeople are doing. They are getting great results but are going, “I’m not world-class in negotiation. How do I get there? I’m not world-class in running discovery. I’m not world-class in making cold calls. What do I need to do to close those gaps?” They are always searching and reaching for that. Whereas you know your average or your poor performers are not that motivated about it. They go along and will do what they need to do. The ones that need coaching don’t seek it.
I always say, “Your brain is the game.” Our brains get us to go because the information and the help are there but for a lot of people, their ego gets in the way. I love what you say about world-class. Let’s talk a little bit about one of the world-class mistakes that people make in sales, and it’s jumping into the demonstration part long before they should. That’s kind of a pet peeve of yours because you see this all the time based on our previous conversations. Why don’t they jump into the demo part too quickly?
It’s crazy to me, and it’s become ingrained, particularly in the SaaS world. There seems to be this SaaS sales model where you get leads in, and you lead customers straight into a demo. I was doing research for 1 of my clients for a SaaS sales tool and contacted 3 companies over there in the US. They put me straight into the demo. On the first two calls, they take me into the demo.
I’ve got a very narrow set of criteria and features I’m looking for but they are taking me into the whole sea, the whole ocean of their features and all this. It’s getting very frustrating in those calls. The third one, “Before we start, do you mind if I ask you a few questions,” was 5 to 7 minutes of some discovery of what I’m looking for, what my timeframe is, who my client is and what’s important to me. They set everything up. That’s a very simple example of where it’s crazy. It goes back to, “Why deals are going dark. Why deals are going quiet?” If we give the customer everything, we do the demo, give them pricing, a proposal, and a services plan, and we haven’t done our discovery, that’s a crime to me.
That is a crime to you, and if I were the owner of the company, I would feel the same exact way as you said. I’ve never heard it said that way but I wrote it down. Here’s the thing. What elite performers know that the average sales stars don’t know is that elite performers know they are an expense on the book. Intuitively, they know because most of them had to generate their own leads.
They’ve had to pay for this or pay for that. They understand. They get involved in coaching. They pay top dollar for this. They know there’s an expense. They know that when they burn a lead, especially if the lead comes from the company, it costs the company money. They don’t want to do that. They look at this as an ROI for themselves and the company but for somebody who’s not producing it at that level, goes, “It’s a lead. I didn’t pay for it. I don’t care,” or they weren’t qualified at all. They jumped into the demo so early. It’s overkill. The first two were overkill for what you were saying.
They missed the target. How can you do a demo if you haven’t found out what’s important to the customer? You can start creating your own objections because you are introducing all these features that I’m not even interested in. I start getting concerned about that I never even thought of because when I’m doing a demo, I’ve qualified that customer so hard. I’ve done my discovery. My demo is about this big compared to the breadth of my product or offering. I’m going to show them only what’s absolutely relevant to them to solve their business problem and their pain.
We bought our new luxury vehicle. That thing can maybe dial in Mars. I have no idea. It has all these technological bells and whistles, heated and cooled seats, and all this other stuff. When we were looking at the car, the salesperson was smart enough to listen to what I was saying because I knew what she liked but they started going into this and that. It will do that and this.
What happens when we do that is we start introducing objections, and people don’t realize that. They go in and go, “You have heated and cooling seats.” That person’s thinking, “I get cold all the time anyway. Now, my seat is going to cool me down on top of this. I don’t want cooled seats. I don’t want to feel like the air conditioning is on my leg. I wear shorts all the time.
We’ve got to get away from this, Doug. We’ve got to get away from what’s called the talking brochure. This is not the salesperson’s job. Our job and this sounds a bit weird to some people, is not to serve the customer very well. That’s not our first objective, and some people think, “I have to do what the customer asks. I have to serve the customer. That’s how I’m going be successful,” but all the studies show salespeople that go in with that attitude perform in the bottom quartile.
We don’t just give, especially when you get into larger deals and more complex deals. It’s got to be a trade. We need to be giving something but only in return, and that’s how we keep deals alive as well. We give a little and ask for a little. If the customer wants a demo from us, I’m going to want them to meet their technical people.
If a customer wants a proposal from me, I’m going to want confirmation from them on what their purchasing process is going to be and maybe an introduction to the purchasing manager. If they want the pricing from me, I’m going to want a commitment from them to review the pricing together on a call in two weeks’ time. I want to be trading, and it’s not about being the friend of the customer. You want to be a respected peer-level industry expert and not someone who positions themselves below the customer.
It makes total sense. In fact, I could show you my notes. I wrote a circle, a line, and a circle. What that means is you’ve got to be equal on the level of the prospect. As you are saying, if they are asking for this, you ask for that because that keeps you on that peer level. It’s not like, “The CEO of Procter & Gamble, I bow at your feet,” whoever it is. I don’t even know anymore.
The person who’s selling to that CEO of Procter & Gamble, if one doesn’t come in like, “I’m going help this person on that level,” and I’m an equal level and equal footing at that point, they will sense it right out of the gate and it’s like, “The sale is over.” They are looking for somebody most of the time who can be and stand at that level one way or another. This has been great. I appreciate you coming on here. How do people get ahold of you? I’m sure people are going, “Let’s get ahold of Steven.”
Check out the website, GrowthAcumen.com.au. I’m also pretty active on LinkedIn, and I have my own podcast called Future-Proof Selling. I would love to hear from any folks who are having any sort of sales challenges, and I would be happy to help out.
With that, Steven, I’m going to thank you for being on the show. It has been a lot of fun, and I learned a bunch here. I know a lot of people have probably got two pages of notes so that’s a good thing. I would like to have you back sometime. Thanks again for being here.
Absolutely. It has been a great pleasure. Thanks a lot, Doug.
I got a whole page of notes here on this. I love this thing about expectation. Here’s the thing. If you own the company or you are running the company, and we don’t set clear expectations for the sales team, it is going to be chaotic. It’s that simple. What are those expectations? Maybe it’s prospecting time. We expect you to be prospecting X amount of time per week or per day. “I’ve got all seasoned salespeople. They don’t need that.” Yes, they do. Everyone reaches their own potential, and once they reach their own potential in their head of what that potential should be, if you will, then they get more complacent.
Let me rephrase it like this. We have a certain earning capacity that we think we should have. When we reach that in selling, we feel more comfortable. Now, the top 1% of earners are at a very high level. That’s a million dollars and more for most people. Certainly, $500,000, depending on where you live, and more. They are going constantly trying to grow and keep growing and growing but not everybody on a sales team is a top 1% earner and they are going to have a thing in their head, “I’m making $350,000 a year. I’m living a comfortable life. I can coast along that process.”
There’s the Law of Decay. If we are coasting, what people don’t realize is that we are decaying over time. It won’t show up in month one but will certainly show up down the line. As that decay drops, then you start seeing the production drop. You will see the closes drop. You will see the revenue drop. Our job as executive sponsors and leaders in the company is to make sure that doesn’t happen. Make sure that those expectations are, “If you are at $350,000 this year, we expect you to be at $400,000 this year.”
Set it upfront. Expect growth and demand that growth from them in their process. Speaking about the process, you must have the process to make it easy for everyone. That means you want to automate as much as you possibly can. You want to have everything that’s quantifiable and measurable. If you do this, then you can pinpoint problems. Otherwise, what happens is that these problems go unchecked. We will see the top line. It looks fine. “Everything is looking good,” but then when somebody like Steven or myself will come into your company, we are going go, “What about this? What about that?”
All of a sudden, you are going find an extra 10% that’s lying there or 20% or maybe even 10% in profit that’s lying there. You are going to be like, “How long has this been happening?” Five years. “Let’s add the numbers up.” You lost $40 million or whatever the number might be. It’s not a fun day when you discover that. It’s a fun day to know you can get it and correct that in a quick manner.
If you like this episode, let me know. If you like Steven, let me know. If you want something and are like, “I want to know the information on this,” reach out to us at YouMatter@CEOSalesStrategies.com. Let us know what the subject matter is. Maybe you are an expert on that. Maybe you want to be interviewed on this show. If so, let us know that too. We will respond to you either way, either yourself or we will find the expert as long as it fits the show.
If you are looking to be a top 1% earner, you want to earn at least $500,000 or more selling. It means you are a solo entrepreneur. That means you are part of a company. That means you own a team, and you want your team to get there or whatever it might be because when you have all your team earning at 1% of the top earners in the world, your revenue grows. It’s that simple.
If you are in that position or you are a company and you want to have access to the top 1% earners, in other words, those elite producers, and you want them to work in your company, reach out to me directly at Doug@CEOSalesStrategies.com. My LinkedIn is @DougBrown123, and the phone number here at the company is (603) 595-0303. If you like this show, I would plea with you. Give it a five-star review and tell your friends. The more people that know about this, the more people we can help.
We are going to continue to bring you great content, and it’s free. Until next time. As always, sell something. Sell a lot of it. Sell it at a profit. Don’t discount when you don’t have to, and sell win-win. In other words, for them and you. Make it a win-win process. Make somebody happy. To your success.