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Quotable Podcast Episode #41: “6 Tips for Accelerating Your Sales,” with Colleen Francis

Hosts: Tim Clarke & Kevin Micalizzi
Are you taking the right steps to accelerate your own sales? Join Colleen Francis, Owner of Engage Selling Solutions, consultant, speaker, and bestselling author, as she shares practical tips for accelerating your sales. By developing others, you'll give back and make yourself a better salesperson. Use your skills to full effect by paying attention to the numbers, keeping the focus on new and existing customers, leveraging the technology, and ensuring success.

It's amazing how, when you start to teach someone to be a better salesperson, you become a better salesperson and can accelerate your success.”

Colleen Francis | Owner of Engage Selling Solutions

Episode Transcript

Tim Clarke: Today, we'll be discussing how to accelerate your sales with Colleen Francis, owner at Engage Selling Solutions, consultant, speaker, and best-selling author, including her recent Nonstop Sales Boom. Welcome, Colleen.


Colleen Francis: Thanks so much for having me.


Clarke: So Colleen, I know we've the opportunity to work closely together. Perhaps, for some of our audience who aren't familiar with some of the work that you do, could you give a bit of background as to your experience in the sales world?


Francis: Sure. I am a career salesperson so I always like to say I started my career at an early age because my parents were those parents who wouldn't take my chocolate bars, or my poinsettias, or my wrapping paper, or whatever I had to sell for band and soccer to school. So I started selling at a really early age, but the bulk of my career has been in technology sales, both from a sales perspective and a sales leader perspective.

When I started consulting in 2001, what I discovered is that there were a whole lot of things companies were doing that were getting in the way of really accelerating their sales. They were making it a lot more difficult than it needed to be for buyers to buy from them, and for sellers to actually get out and do their job. And so, I became really passionate about helping companies accelerate their sales.


Clarke: Perfect. I'm Tim Clarke, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce, and I'm joined today by my co-host, Kevin Micalizzi, Product Marketing Senior Manager at Salesforce and executive producer of the Quotable podcast. Welcome, Kevin.


Kevin Micalizzi: Thanks, Tim. Great to be here.


Clarke: So Colleen, let's jump straight in. This is your second Quotable podcast interview. I know in the first one we talked about how some people were selling like it was still the 1970s.

Clearly, we're in 2017 now, and we want to use this opportunity here to really get some practical tips that could be applied for sales reps and sales leaders to be more successful, and to sell more, and to sell faster.


Francis: Yeah.


Clarke: So let's just start off there with a broad, general level for individual contributors and reps. What would you say the key areas are that they should really be focusing on to accelerate their sales?


Francis: A couple of things. One, really practical in a front end. They have to be paying attention to the numbers and the data. I just got off a call with a group of moderately performing salespeople, and they're just not paying attention to the numbers. And what I mean by that is they're not correlating: "What is my goal to what activities I have to do on a daily basis?"

Now, I know this doesn't even sound like Sales 101. This is like Sales 99. Pre-101, but far too many salespeople just go only with their gut feel, and they don't pay attention to the pipeline to say, "I need X in my pipeline in order to create Y goal." And why that's so critical is both from a mindset perspective — we are competitive beasts by nature — and you need to know how much activity is required in order to hit your goal.

But also, practically, if you know if you're ahead or behind, you can course correct. What I notice about top sellers who accelerate and are selling 110, 120, 200% of goal is they're constantly course-correcting based on what the data is telling them. And they're looking at that on a regular basis. So that's number one.

Number two is the best sellers, those who are really again, accelerating past their colleagues in the field, are those who pay equal attention to their existing customers and net new customers. So far too many sellers become stagnant because they get very comfortable selling to their existing client base. They can grow their share of wallet with those customers. Add on sales through cross-sale and upsell, but they're not adding new customers into the mix.

The best sellers are doing both, and they're using, they're leveraging their existing customer base to create referrals, testimonials, in a sense an evangelism in the marketplace, to attract new customers. And they're making those new customer calls as well.


Micalizzi: Colleen, I wanted to ask you. On the first one, where we're talking about really looking at the numbers and your goal versus your daily activities, what role is or should CRM be playing in that for the rep?


Francis: Well, ideally, CRM is the center of your goals, but there are listeners who might be working for companies that don't have CRM. And I can tell you I do have one client who does this on paper because his company won't invest in a CRM.


Micalizzi: Ouch.


Francis: Crazy, I know.


Micalizzi: Yeah.


Francis: I know. You should see, I have a photo of his note pads where he actually tracks his orders on a daily basis and compares that to what his goal needs to be. And then recalculates every week, but he does it, literally, on a flip chart.

And I know from coaching sales managers and business owners that if I can just get those numbers in front of them, whether they have a CRM or not, and they're paying attention to them, their numbers improve. In a perfect world, what I like to see, of course, is a salesperson that has a dashboard. And the dashboard shows a couple of things.

It shows what their goal is supposed to be for the year broken down into, let's call it a revenue or a gross margin target. However you measure that. And then calculated by the number of transactions, and the number of sales that you'd need to actually procure. So if you have a million-dollar target, and your average sale is $100,000, you need to bring in 10 if that's your net new customer goal.

So you can be tracking that. That gap to goal or gap to growth is an important number then because what we can do is, we can say, "Where am I today versus where do I need to be, and what's the delta?" A pipeline is great. You always want to be able to see "I've got 300,000 in my pipeline," but we also want to be able to see "How much should I have in my pipeline in order for me to hit my target?"


Clarke: I want to bring up one point, too, as well. I know a lot of reps struggle whether to focus on existing customers and upsell and cross-sell, or to go out and hunt the new customers. One of the things that we've heard about several times on the Quotable podcast is the difference between a deal lifecycle and a customer lifecycle.

How you really need to ensure the more successful reps are really focusing on the customer lifecycle and ensuring that they're happy customers. And then that's going to generate more revenue and retention. So really interested in your views on this, Colleen, with some of the customers you've worked with.


Francis: Yeah, this is exactly the concept of my book Nonstop Sales Boom, so a nice segueway.


Clarke: That wasn't even a ploy, but it worked well.


Francis: I know. You weren't even thinking about it.


Clarke: Right.


Francis: But I believe that to be really true that customer engagement cycle or customer lifecycle is really important because let's start at the beginning. Client attraction. So we do a bunch of things to attract leads to us, or we pick up the phone and we make a cold call. And then we qualify them. We get them to participate. We close them. That's very traditional, but then that customer becomes invaluable.

First of all, I believe salespeople need to stay engaged through the implementation with the customer to make sure that things are going smoothly and to get them up to speed as quickly as possible. Because what we noticed that our clients who get their customers onboarded and enabled quickly are able to convert those customers to evangelists quickly. And your most powerful tool for generating new leads is a happy, talkative, evangelistic customer base.

The more your customers are talking about you in the market, the more you're actually going to attract new customers to you so we want to stay engaged there. What we also want to do as sales reps is never make the mistake of thinking that the person who is our original buyer inside that current customer is the only person that is valuable to us inside that client.

I am very fond of saying that,"It's quantity and quality relationships that allow you to grow." So a mistake that sales reps make when managing their existing customers is — Tim, if you were my buyer — I continued to nurture you, and work on our relationship, and do all sorts of things to keep you closed and grow the business, but I don't ever ask to speak to Kevin. I don't get in front of groups of people who might be above you, below you, or beside you.

And so, I miss out on opportunities, and in doing so, I open the door to a competitor coming in. So I've used the concept of building walls on the inside, but what we want to do really clearly is build multiple relationships inside that account to protect both against you leaving if you should move on, but also to capitalize on our ability to grow.


Micalizzi: When we're talking about getting customers to advocate for you, what's the role of social media in that process? Because I know you've written about the need for reps to build communities and to leverage social media. I'm curious, what are the best reps doing? How do you balance what product info you're sharing versus thought leadership?


Francis: Yeah, it's a great question because as you said, what role does social media play? I immediately put an "s" after the word role because it plays multiple roles. First of all, it's a great publishing tool, so you can use social media to publish your client's happy reviews, videos, testimonials, all those kinds of things. Case studies.


We can also use social media to showcase our customers from an event standpoint. Through interviews using tools like Facebook Live, for example, or any sort of live media. So we can really use it heavily from a publishing standpoint, which I see as valuable because it's going to help attract a broader base of customers than would normally be coming to you. You're using the bigger world, so to speak, which is critical.

I also think that some tools such as LinkedIn provide a good way for us to create communities online, which can also help with that customer advocating on our behalf. So what I mean is making sure that we're recommending them.

Making sure that we're adding value to our customer. Making sure that we're producing content they can use to better themselves, or better their companies, or better their use of our product internally, and passing that out.

And I think that social media tools that have groups — so LinkedIn, for example, with its association groups — we can be using those kinds of groups to gain access to more people, but also to publish content that's helpful to those communities. So you used the example of how much product information do you give away versus content or thought leadership? I think it has to be all around thought leadership.


I would never suggest that social media is the tool to be pitching a product or "Hey, here's my product list or here's the products you can buy or we're having a sale." Those kinds of things. What we always want to be talking about is the value that we're bringing to the marketplace.


Micalizzi: Interesting, because I think it's so common for folks to think, "Well, I need to get my product message out there."


Francis: Yeah. Well, here's the fine line. I believe that you can use social media to get your product message out there, but it has to be done in a way to delivering value to the customer. In other words, let's just use me as a simple example. My product message is "Hey, I run workshops to help you accelerate your sales." That's not what I think you want to be doing as your dominant social media message.

What I do believe is that I'd want to write articles about how people are accelerating their sales, or I'd want to showcase customers who are accelerating their sales, or give people a quote that "Oh, this is one way to accelerate their sales." So that they're actually learning from you and learning about you at the same time.


Clarke: So following on from that, we know that time for sales professionals is absolutely vital. And so much research that is showing that there are so many different tasks that are actually non-customer-focused. Non-selling-focused, but they're done by the sales professional. So I want to follow on from this discussion around thought leadership.

I'm interested in your perspective on the role that sales plays as well as what marketing plays in terms of creating this content. Adding your own perspective and sharing it out. I think we've heard different perspectives on the podcast on who ultimately has that responsibility.


Francis: Yeah, this is a really fine line because your listeners are going to be vast and broad, so let's remove the highly regulated industries from our discussion for just a second. Because inside banks, and pharmaceutical and medical devices, I'm not going to advocate that any sales rep creates any content that doesn't go through their legal department.


Clarke: Right.


Francis: I don't want anyone to get in trouble, but I think for all other companies it is a bit of a balance. So if your company has a marketing department, they can be creating content that you can use individually. One of my clients that I work with, they do have a marketing department. The marketing department does produce some really good-value pieces for industry segments, and the sales reps then use that.


On the other hand, the marketing department isn't close enough to the customers to really develop great real-life value propositions or value statements. They're not going to go to their customers and get testimonials, or quotes, or use cases.

And so, the sales team needs to go and do that. I think even just having the sales team get together once a quarter or once every six months and say, "Hey, what are some of our key success stories?" Maybe they're doing this weekly on a sales meeting.

If you have one person share a success story about how a customer is using your product, then all of you can take that to the market as your story of how we enabled ABC to do something wonderful, so there is a balance. And then, of course, we have companies with no marketing department or little marketing departments at all. In which case, I do think the sales team needs to create that content.

And the easiest way to do that is to go to their customers and say, "What are the top three things that you got from our work together, or where have we added value to your community, or where have we added value to your company?" And just get two or three bulleted items that you can use to be publishing.


Clarke: Perfect.


Micalizzi: So I know we've talked about looking at the numbers. Making sure that you are actually tracking towards your goal. We talked about focusing on existing versus new customers. I'd like to change gears a little bit. You had written an article for Quotable a little while back about aligning your value proposition to your customer's value.


Francis: Yes.


Micalizzi: Would you talk a little bit about that because I think honestly, just in my experience especially, with some of the pitches I get on email, I think there are a lot of folks who aren't wrapping their heads around it.


Francis: [Laughs] I'm laughing because you're absolutely right. So how did this start? This started because I was doing work with a group of clients, and I always ask them — we're talking about opening calls —  and I say, "Why do people buy from you? What differentiates you from the competition?" And I get these bland, vanilla value propositions. You know, "We're better. Our products are better. Our people are better."

And I realized that, of course, everybody can say that, and everyone does say that about themselves. And so, I started pushing for proof. Kevin, if you and I were together on a sales call and I say, "We can help you sell more," you're going to say to me, "Oh, come on, Colleen, every sales consultant says that. Prove it to me."

So what we want our clients to do is to go out into the market and say, "Let's hear from our customers. What do our customers value in us? How are we enabling them to do these things better?” And then let's use those as our value propositions.

If the customer says, "You help us grow our sales by," and then add A, B, and C, then that becomes our value proposition or part of our value proposition. Does that make sense?


Micalizzi: It does.


Clarke: There's other research that shows — it's CB, the 6.8 stakeholders involved in a purchasing decision — so when we talk about aligning your value proposition, what's your perspective there? Do you create one overall proposition which aligns to all the stakeholders, or do you start to really tailor it, as you could end up with 6.8 individual proposals [next week] for value propositions?


Francis: Yes. Well, you're going to have some subset because I can tell you that if, let's say, well, if you're trying to sell a CRM into an organization, and you've got a decision-maker in finance, a decision-maker in sales, and a decision-maker in IT, those three people all have different value in wanting that CRM, right?


Clarke: Right.


Francis: Going to IT by saying, "Hey, we're going to enable your sales team to sell more and sell faster," they're going to go, "I don't care. That's not what I'm interested in. I want something that's easy to install. That's easy to integrate, and quick to bring up on multiple desktops and phones."

If you don't have at least two value propositions, the finance guy might not even care about the sales team rapidly growing sales. Their value proposition is all around reporting, data transparency, data integrity, and maybe maintaining SOX compliance.

And so, again, if you go in with one value proposition, the thing that you as a salesperson feels best to you, and deliver it to the wrong person, you're just speaking a different language to them. The other huge mistake that sellers make here or companies make is that they don't realize that value proposition of, let's just call it accelerating sales, has different nuances about whether you're telling that to the owner of a business or a C-level executive versus a sales leader versus an individual seller.

And I've seen projects fail when the sales team is delivered a message like, "Hey, this program, or this CRM, or this tool is going to help you sell more," because they don't care to sell more. They're like, "Oh, so really, it's going to make more work for me." And I know that sounds weird, but there are some markets or they just don't believe it.

"Our market is saturated. Our market is shrinking. We can't sell more so unless you can make it easier, I'm not interested." We have to be really careful about how to nuance it based on that job function as well.


Micalizzi: You've talked about the need to stay engaged post-sale. To Tim's point, there's so much pressure on sellers now. How do you find the time? What level of engagement should you be having with them post-sale?


Francis: Oh, that's a great question, and it's going to depend on, of course, the complexity of your implementation. So to a couple of things, and I'm just thinking about real-life client examples. In one case a client, they go through a fairly lengthy implementation process. The salesperson shows up to that implementation meeting because they're going to meet all the key players.

They get a chance to shake hands. Look at people in the eye, and make sure that the implementation starts off on the right foot. Then they might just participate loosely on a couple of key milestone or check-in calls. They might send an email to their implementation team to make sure things are going okay.


They might send a call or an email to their key stakeholder to make sure things are going okay. But removing themselves from that implementation would be a mistake because now, you are going to rely on third-hand information. And let's face it, you're only probably going to get called in when things are going badly, and you don't want that to happen.

I also think that the way a customer is handed off from sales to whoever is the implementer is important because the trust is with you as the salesperson. If they haven't met your consulting team, your training team, your IT customer service team, your drivers — if this is a hard product that's going to be delivered they don't know these people. They don't trust them.

And so, things can go badly up front because they’re standing back saying, "Well, who the heck is this person?" And so, some very smart salespeople that I know in the final stages of the sale, they talk about the transition plan.

And they even have pictures of the people that are going to be engaged with them so that the customers know who they are and can start to form an image of them in their mind. They're not surprised when they show up to deliver the product, and they start to have that personal relationship with them.


Micalizzi: I love that. Having an image of the person you're working with, I think, just personalizes it so much more.


Francis: Yeah, absolutely. It sounds kind of old-fashioned and a bit like real estate sales because I think they're the only people who still put pictures on their business cards. But in highly complex situations, and I'm working a lot in natural resources, and oil and gas, and the transition plans to move companies from one set of products to another are very complex, and a lot can go wrong.

And there's a lot of people in place, and a lot of moving parts. And so, first of all, by showing this project timeline you're enabling the customer to envision what it looks like to do business with you.

And then if you make those personal introductions, "This is Bob. He is going to be heading up the project. I'll make a phone call introduction, but you can connect with him on LinkedIn," sort of thing or, "Here's his picture," really helps to set the customer at ease.


Clarke: And following on from that theme of productivity and really maximizing the time that you've got available to you, I know at Salesforce we've seen massive interaction in the mobile world.


Francis: Yes.



Clarke: Really being able to access everything that you need, whether it's CRM. Whether it's social data. All these different sources from wherever you are. So do you have any tips for reps to really get the maximum output from some of the mobile technologies that are available?


Francis: Yes. So one, you have to use it on a regular basis. It's so interesting to me. People who don't get the most out of mobile applications are those people who only look at it once a week or once a month.

I know it sounds like a catch-22, but first of all, you've got to get into the discipline of opening the app or using the app on a regular basis because then you use it effectively. You learn how to use it. You're comfortable in it, and you can see the power in it.

You actually have to use that data on a regular basis in real time. One of the things I've found works really well is for a sales rep to do their planning, if they're on the road, if these are field sales reps — just take a few minutes before you go into that call. Bring up the data that you need on your mobile application. Get comfortable with it.

I've got clients who have developed these fabulous mobile applications for developing a return on investment and value calculators for their clients. And I always say to them, "Work with them because the best thing you can do is actually use this app in front of the customer in real time."

If the customer can see you using these tools in real time, it makes them feel more comfortable. They don't feel like, "Oh, where's the snake oil in that, or what kind of magic did you do to create those numbers?"

If you have got interactive apps I think that that's fabulous. If it's a CRM application on the mobile side then review the data before you go into the meeting, and as soon as you get out of the meeting use the app to record your notes. To set up those calls. To set up the next steps and enable the rest of your team that needs to be engaged, that do everything real time.


Micalizzi: We've covered a lot of different things that sales reps can be doing to sell better or sell faster. For those who want to continue improving — I think of it as a continuous cycle — what steps or resources do you recommend they leverage for their sales development?


Francis: Oh, that's a great question because there's so many things that they could be doing. One, I really think that they need to be looking to the top performers inside their own industries. So who is producing better than you? And learn from them. If they can be successful you can be as well. And so, I think learning their steps is critical.

Two, something we haven't talked about that I think is so important is sales reps tend to generalize from a negative. And what we need to do is generalize from a positive and learn from that. Rather than saying, "Oh, such a loser. I lost that sale. I always lose sales. I can't believe that," we need to say, "Hey, I won that piece of business. I can win more business. What are the steps that I did?"

If we can become very conscious of our successes then we can replicate our successes. So those are two things that they could be doing. That everyone on this call could be doing. And the sales leaders, your responsibility is drawing that positive out of the salespeople as well so you can replicate that success on the team.

And I know from practical experience the best sales reps that I work with are voracious learners. They are downloading podcasts like this one or whatever other ones resonate with them. They are reading. If they don't read books they're reading articles. They're reading white papers. They're consuming research on a regular basis.

And interestingly, they step up and help people who are struggling. Now, there's a balance here because we don't want to take all your resources away, but it's amazing how when you start to teach someone to be a better salesperson again, you become a better salesperson and can accelerate your success.


Clarke: Perfect. Well, Colleen, we're off on time, and I really appreciate all of the great tips that you've been sharing with the sales reps here. Thanks also to Kevin for co-hosting. Colleen, any final thought from yourself?


Francis: Well, I think that selling is a balance of strategy and tactics, which is why I really wanted to talk to everyone about the numbers. For me, if you're paying attention to those numbers you'll always know where you are. Ahead or behind, and then decide on the right tactics that you need to improve in order to continue success or move toward success.


Clarke: Perfect. Well, thanks, everyone, for listening and for these great insights from Colleen. And remember that the best way to keep up to date with all the great sales experts at Quotable is by subscribing at www.quotable.com/subscribe. And if you found this episode valuable please give us a five-star rating and feedback, and share this podcast with your peers, your prospects, and your customers. Thank you.

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