The ONE secret of rainmaker sales teams

Sales Teams Quarter end is typically a time of great stress for sales managers and sales reps. Often, nearly 80% of the quarterly target is achieved in the last 20% of the quarter! In this time-horizon, quotes are intensely followed up with customers, quotes revisited and emails furiously exchanged. Everyone runs around like headless chickens attempting to get signed contracts before the window closes. That’s also when the executive management is following the daily progress or lack of it, the ‘numbers’ and financials are constantly crunched and re-crunched, with the EVP and CEO are breathing down everyone’s necks. This stressed process gets repeated at the end of every quarter. As a sales professional in such an organization, who wouldn’t prefer having a nice afternoon playing golf even at quarter end?

“Our goal is to achieve sales targets by design, not by chance”
A stronger trend developing in many industries nowadays is a disciplined approach to sales from the get-go in order to avoid stressful end-of-quarter situations. During planning cycles, sales leaders first design sales outcomes they need. They then work backwards to ensure that every week or month is meaningful in revenue generation. This is similar to how marathon runners pace themselves with ‘splits’ and build their numbers up to finish the marathon on time. Designing outcomes in a disciplined way starts with executing a plan that maximizes sales productivity. Many sales leaders do this, but the remarkable ones focus not on one rep at a time, but on the entire team together at the same time. And there is a simple way to do it. Let us refresh our understanding of sales productivity, which, in and of itself, holds the key for achieving sales targets by design - the ONE and only aspect of rainmaker sales teams - and getting a calm, results-achieving quarter end.

Increasing sales productivity - The ONE secret of rainmaker sales teams
Sales Productivity Sales productivity is measured by the revenue a rep generates in a unit of time ( i.e, month or quarter or year) for the company. If you want to increase your sales productivity, it is important to focus on becoming more efficient with your time and your effort. The more productive a rep is, the better they are at selling. Productivity and efficiency are two sides of the same coin.

Efficiency has two parts - time efficiency and effort efficiency. Time efficiency is simply doing more tasks in less time. And when reps use tools to speed up things that would otherwise take time to do manually, they become efficient with their time. For example, manually entering accounts and contacts data can be sped up by getting a CRM system that uses just an email address to automatically fill up the name, address, company and the title of the contact. Similarly, many CRM systems now come with pre-built email templates that reps can use for prospecting, for setting up appointments or even sending out reminders to customers. Reps can just click on the template they want, make any minor changes to the content and click ‘Send.’ More and more of such mundane activities are now being automated with tools. Automation makes sales time efficient for reps.

While time efficiency is a measure of productivity and highly productive reps are efficient with their time, the converse is not true. Why? Because productivity requires both time efficiency and effort efficiency. Effort efficiency is also called ‘sales effectiveness’ and that means getting better results with the same or lesser effort. For example, asking better sales questions or saying the right ‘sales phrases’ to customers may make the difference between closing the deal or losing it altogether. Clearly, this is not a matter of being efficient on time - it is about talent, skills and sales capability and knowing what to say and when to say it in order to persuade a customer to take action. Just like high- and low-impact exercises in fitness, there are high- and low- impact actions (efforts) in sales, that make reps more or less sales effective.

Sales effectiveness is how well you use your skills, talents, resources and tools to accomplish sales goals. Reps with higher sales effectiveness typically outperform the others, regardless of how they are efficient with time. To be effective, you have to be passionate about your products and customers (that’s a given), but you also need to maximize high-impact actions and minimize low-impact ones. Examples of high-impact activities are generating new leads, following up to move the lead forward, face-to-face interactions, doing demos, sending quotes etc. Low impact activities are things like entering data into a CRM system, working on contractual documents, finding the right marketing collateral to send to a customer, emailing for a status check etc.. Simply put, anything that help build ‘the buying vision’ for the customer is a high-impact activity, while activities that don’t are low impact. Sales requires both high and low-impact activities. And rainmakers tend to do more of the former!

Generating leads: How rainmakers do this differently
We all know that leads are the most important thing for a sales rep. A rep needs to continuously find new leads in order to have a good pipeline, and a good pipeline is what will get the rep to achieving quota. If there is no good pipeline, you are not going to close enough deals and you would not achieve your quota.

There are 3 ways to build leads:

  • Hunt them yourself - using LinkedIn, going to conferences, networking etc.
  • Get leads from marketing effort - through SEO, content marketing, outbound campaigning, referrals etc.
  • Regenerate from previously inactive prospects or stalled deals

However we analyze this, these are the most often-used ways to generate new leads. Other ways like ecosystem partnerships, inorganic growth, farming etc. are not included in this discussion. It so happens that every rainmaker rep we have talked to has almost always kept lead generation as primary in their sales efforts. Lead generation for consistent producers is not the spray-and-pray approach of emailing everyone and asking whether they are interested. It is not sitting around and waiting for the right leads to land on your lap either. On the other hand, rainmaker lead generation is a disciplined focused approach with specific goals in mind that is done with judicious patience.

“Productivity is just doing more high-impact activities and less of the low-impact activities”

Lead Generation The way that top reps do lead generation & qualification (almost consistently in any situation, in any industry) is a series of steps that all tend to be high impact. They do research in advance of talking to a prospect, construct a meaningful conversation with them, network with them, build tribal knowledge about the account, learn spheres of influence inside the account, know what matters to them and what doesn’t. Bear in mind that we are not talking about closing deals here. This is just a sample of the modus operandi (high impact activities) done by rainmaker reps to generate leads. More often than not, these end up becoming high-quality leads that will eventually lead to good sales opportunities both for the customer and for the rep.

Rainmaker reps do not just stop there. They do one more important step - figuring out which leads are the right ones!

Prioritized Lead Conversion - The most proven way to increase sales
The one ‘secret’ of rainmakers and rainmaker sales teams is that they judiciously spend their time and effort in converting the right leads. We all know that not all leads result in new business. Many leads aren’t the right fit, some are just kicking the tires and some may even show interest just to ensure their current solution (status quo) is still right . Therefore, selecting only those leads that are the most suitable for your product and timeline is what every seasoned rainmaker does time and again. They then focus on those leads and prioritize their time and effort to do whatever it takes to convert them. To continue our sales process from before, rainmakers use that ‘tribal knowledge’ to figure out compelling buying situations with the right pitch, provide genuine advisory, demonstrate customer empathy, show up when needed and stay in touch with their contacts (all of them from the account and throughout the sales process) and so on (again, high-impact activities).

While it is good to have a long list of ‘qualified leads’ that you can pitch to and gain as customers, isn’t it better to have a shorter list of great ready-to-move leads who have higher potential to purchase? Pitching your product to fewer but better leads will save time, effort and help you close more sales. By pitching to the best possible leads, you not only have higher conversion rates but you also get long-term satisfied customer accounts that in turn increase your productivity.

It is evident that productivity is just doing more high-impact activities and less of the low-impact activities. As every rep in the team starts following this method, the team becomes more and more productive as a whole. Such a team would be a high performing sales team, and this is what it takes to keep hitting higher and higher targets consistently!

We have a case study of a manufacturing company whole sales team scored its list of prospects based on six attributes and then worked the new list for a while. Something interesting emerged. They found that the top 30% of prospective customers were 3X more likely to do a deal than the bottom 70%. In other words, that top group was made up of the new highest-priority prospects—and yet only about half of them had previously been classified as high priority by sales managers. The company had, in effect, identified 3,000 new high-priority prospects that it would otherwise have overlooked. If you are interested to know more about such case studies, please contact us here.

Onboarding New Reps
Higher Productivity Onboarding new reps and making them productive is an important part of getting the sales team to higher productivity. Like anything else in life, it is about doing the right thing at the right time. Making new reps productive by reducing ramp-time by 10-20% can literally increase overall sales by more than 20%. This is because a fully productive rep also avoids opportunity costs i.e. other things they couldn’t do because they were still ‘ramping.’ And one of the best ways to reduce ramp time (notwithstanding product and market knowledge & expertise) is just about helping them find the right leads to start selling to. “So much of the process of ramping up salespeople is just pointing them at the right targets,” says a sales veteran of 2 decades . “If you can do that, you’ll get a big boost in productivity.”

What can sales leaders do to help?
Even though the world around them was changing, it is not uncommon to see sales organizations nowadays still handing down mathematically calculated targets to teams and religiously working on getting more feet-on-the-street, hoping that some of those new reps would once again save the day. Are you still following that wing-and-a-prayer style of giving each rep his or her patch of land and saying, “Good luck, and go get ’em?”

The savviest sales leaders today are dramatically changing the way they run their groups, by reinventing their sales approaches to respond to new market environments and boosting their reps’ productivity. As one of the leading sales thinkers, Bob Apollo, puts it, “Today's sales professional is benefiting from the application of a bunch of new thought-provoking research, to the point where there is no one off-the-shelf ‘universal best sales methodology’: the most effective salespeople and sales managers are synthesizing the most relevant elements into an approach that fits the unique dynamics of their markets.”

Effective sales leaders (sic) do not hire the most-gifted sales individuals at exorbitant costs, but help existing reps sell more, using technology that blends with the daily chores of the sales team. They follow a scientific approach to sales force effectiveness. It’s a method that puts systems around the art of selling, relying not just on gut-feel and native sales talent—the traditional qualities of the rainmaker—but also on data, analysis, processes, and tools to redraw the boundaries of markets and increase sales productivity. The goal is to bring the bottom 80% of the sales team as close as possible to the top 20% in results. “Our goal is to achieve sales targets by design, not by chance,” one sales leader put it.

Data-driven insights and new information also allow sales leaders to optimize territories and minimize direct or channel conflict. For example, the difficult job of restructuring territories, ensuring that each one contains plenty of rewarding accounts, can be made easier, simpler and faster with optimization tools ( here’s an example). In some cases, this might even mean narrowing assigned areas based on the caliber of leads, re-evaluating territories, or even creating new territories entirely. When you look at the market with a scientific and objective approach, sales leaders will never knowingly create territories that could intrinsically under-deliver.

Technology has been a great enabler in sales and the best salespeople synthesize everything at their disposal to make things happen. This also translates to sales managers and leaders knowing how to leverage their existing sales team, tools and resources in order to design the sales outcomes they need. Aligning marketing and sales efforts, building the right metrics, tracking meaningful activities (and avoiding wastage), setting the right short-term goals for their teams, choosing the right tools and providing direct oversight (or air cover) for their teams are some of the crucial responsibilities for those in management. The more aligned the activities of the leadership team is in helping reps focus on prioritizing time and effort on the right leads, the more successful the sales design and the more productive the sales machine!

Interesting Sales Productivity Stats:

About the author

Mack Sundaram

Mack Sundaram

I love sales, learning it, doing it and practicing it every minute of every day. Prospecting drives me to come to work and makes me a better professional. Let’s make it rain together as a team. You can find me on LinkedIn.

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