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Are the ways you measure sales performance actually encouraging bad behavior in your reps?  Join Mo Bunnell, CEO and Founder of the Bunnell Idea Group, as he explains how the right focus, metrics, process, and team mentality can ensure sales success. Breakout success, according to Mo, happens when you first look at everything that reps have 100% control over, then select the metrics that actually move deals along. Measure those, build a process to raise them up, and you’ll come out on top.  

Leading indicators should elevate the position of the salesperson to where they're feeling like they're adding a lot of value and where the person in the buying position feels great because they're being helped.”

Mo Bunnell | CEO and Founder of the Bunnell Idea Group

Kevin Micalizzi: Welcome to the Quotable podcast. Today we're speaking with Mo Bunnell. He is the CEO and founder of the Bunnell Idea Group, and he is a passionate sales trainer. I'm Kevin Micalizzi. Let's jump into it.

So, Mo, thank you so much for joining us today. Mo, actually before we jump into it, would you share a little bit about yourself for our listeners?

Mo Bunnell: Yeah. What I love to do is help people improve their sales or business development skills and entire functions or organizations. So, teams of people. I grew up as probably not what you'd expect. I was an actuary, which is, if you don't know what an actuary is, it's a really geeky statistician. One of the harder math professions out there.

And I had to take 24 exams over eight or 10 years, each at a pass rate of about a third, so two-thirds of the people are failing. And I went through all that geeky statistical stuff. But if I have any claim to fame, it's that I was probably the only actuary ever that was studying at a university that was named a homecoming king. So, I had this really weird math and personality thing, and that just plays really well for our world now where we work with really deep experts that are trying to grow their businesses.

And there's a mathematical and efficiency component, there's a people side of it, and I just really love that balance of those two things.

Micalizzi: When you and I were talking and prepping for this interview, we were talking about measuring pipeline, we were talking about lagging indicators, and I really liked your approach to measuring how sales teams are performing and also to help motivate them. Would you share a little bit about the term you used? Your leading indicators?

Bunnell: Yeah. I think we can learn a lot in the sales and  business development space from high-performing sports teams. And if we think about high-performing sports teams, like think of your favorite baseball team, football team, whatever it is, they do an amazing job of not just tracking if they won or lost at the end of the year, what was their won, lost rate, which is sort of analogous to how many sales did I bring in if I'm a sales person or business developer.

But they track stuff all the way along. They track workouts, and they track effort, and they track average heart rate. And in the games, if they're a basketball player, they might track touches of the ball if they're on defense.

And they track leading indicators. And what we think of as leading indicators that can be used in sales — or business development, too — is tracking those things that typically are 100%, or close to 100% in a business developer's control, that we think if they elevate that leading indicator, if they get more of those, that then the lagging indicator of sales or contracts or deal flow or whatever we want to call it.

Average contract value. Whatever our lagging indicators are will happen. And what we see a lot of organizations do is only track the lagging. You know, did the people make quota or not? Did they bring in the deals or not? Maybe they track some leading indicators, but a lot of times — we can talk more about this if you want, Kevin — but a lot of times they'll track more activity-based things that aren't really that helpful and that can actually scare people —

Micalizzi: That was exactly what I was going to ask you.

Bunnell: Yeah, go for it.

Micalizzi: I know here at Salesforce we have what we call the AMP dashboard. So, activities, meeting, pipeline. So, really what's feeding into that whole process. I'm curious how your concept of leading indicators differs.

Bunnell: Yeah. Well, leading indicators have a couple differentiators. One is that they're more behavior-based, and I can give you an example in a second if you're interested, as opposed to activity-based. So, activity-based a lot of times can have more of a quantity metric, like how many calls are you making, but it doesn't necessarily tell us if they're good calls or not.

What we like to do is blend the quantity metrics that are more activity-based with a behavioral-based quality metric so that you can make sure you're getting both sides. That's where we really see breakthrough results.

Micalizzi: What would be some good examples of this?

Bunnell: Yeah. Well, really depends on the client we work with, but some examples would be, one example one of our clients used with huge success was give-to-gets offered.

And what we mean when we say give-to-gets is those are little bite-sized experiences that we're going to provide a prospect, or an existing client if we want to expand work, say an hour, or 90 minutes, or two hours of where we'll spend, we'll bring an expert in, if I'm the organization, and we will, on our dime, we'll be helpful, roll up our sleeves, and not talk about what we do, but we will actually start solving the client's problem.

Now, we want to put a cap on it because, you know, we can't go too far or we're giving away our product or service for free. But a give-to-get does a great job of showing the client that they need us. We actually start adding a ton of value, start solving the problem, and then that creates pull-through demand for our full expertise.

With this particular client, track give-to-gets offered. And keep in mind, they didn't focus on acceptances. Of course they tracked that, but really their leading indicator was give-to-gets offered. What they found is that those give-to-gets offered spiked up over about two or three months. Oddly, I would not have predicted this; after about three months they started going down.

The reason they went down, from the sales team, the business developer team, is that they sold so much work that all their experts were busy and they couldn't offer the give-to-gets as much.

Micalizzi: Always a good position to be in.

Bunnell: Yeah.

Micalizzi: So, it's similar to a free sample, but in a context of actually solving a customer's problem?

Bunnell: That's exactly it. A great give-to-get has three criteria. Number one, it's valuable for the customer, or the client. Number two, it's — relatively speaking — easy for us to do. And the third criteria that's hugely important, a lot of people miss, is we want to design that give-to-get so that it naturally leads to the next step. It leads to them wanting to hire us.

And we find when our clients hit all three of those, give-to-gets have some of the best ROI of anything they could do.

Micalizzi: I know a lot of reps tend to go after people they already know. How does this work if you're going after, let's say, greenfield opportunities?

Bunnell: That's a great question. We've had a lot of clients that feel like they had sort of penetrated the accounts, or clients, that they've already got. So, for them, they wouldn't want to track give-to-gets offered like the previous example, but they'd want to focus on getting introduced to new clients.

So, examples of leading indicators that we might want to track would be asking for referrals. Or, we might want to get really targeted with that and have a very specific way of asking for a referral that gives value to the person that provides the referral.

For instance, Jane, if you'll introduce me to your friend Phil — I notice you know each other on LinkedIn — we'd be willing to offer Phil this really great thing, typically a give-to-get. So that Jane feels really excited about making the introduction because she gets to sort of give a gift to her friend — Phil in this case — and we get to add value to both parties at once.

We find tracking leading indicators like that can be really powerful where an entire sales organization might have a list of new prospects, greenfield opportunities like you mentioned, that they want to get into, and then they figure out what's that exact ask that we want to make to get introduced.

Who can we ask for the referral, or how do we get in? And then we can track those as leading indicators with sort of a publicly displayed leaderboard that creates a winning team mentality. Everybody gets excited at each incremental step that we get.

Micalizzi: Right. Well, you mentioned it differs depending on the kind of sales that you're doing. What do you counsel your clients to look at when they're trying to figure out what behaviors should serve as those leading indicators?

Bunnell: Well, that's a great question because a listener could easily jump to the conclusion, wow, I should choose one of these examples we're talking about.

Micalizzi: Right.

Bunnell: But in their instance it might be very different. So, we advise a four-step approach. It's super simple, and it gets you started. The first step is focus. What do you want to try to get? Is it greenfield? Is there a certain target list that we want, or are we trying to expand accounts we already have? Do we have a really great presence in one industry and we're moving to another?

So, the first step of focus is, what's really going to blow the doors off our growth numbers if we get that thing? And that you can usually want to crystalize in a sentence. Once you get that, the second step is saying, okay, what behavior would we want our client relationship force to do? And if we think if they did that thing over and over again, we'd get a whole lot of the focus that we want.

And we want to get that down to a behavior that, this is critical, that's 100% in their control. Thus, like give-to-gets offered as opposed to give-to-gets accepted. We want to just make sure they're doing what's in their control, and then there's no excuse for not doing the thing.

The third step is how are we going to track it? You know, maybe you're using your CRM. How often do you do that? I think of this as the process step.

So, how often are we going to revisit it? Are we going to share everybody's results with everybody, which we typically very highly recommend? How are we going to celebrate people getting incremental progress? The little things. And then the fourth step is, how do we get the word to everybody? How do we make this really fun? How do we create some passion around it? How can we promote the people that are doing it really well? That's where we really might get into celebration.

So, we see when people do those steps, sort of, what's my focus? What's my leading indicator or my metric, if you will, as step two? Step three is what's my process, how am I going to manage this? And then step four gets into, how can we create this winning team mentality around it where everybody's excited about every little incremental step? How do we celebrate success, in other words.

We find when people do those four things, this thing just is like running downhill. It just starts to create its own momentum.

Micalizzi: Yeah, I like that. I like the fact that you're picking things that they have 100% control over, and you're also going for that transparency.

Bunnell: Yes.

Micalizzi: Which I think just has such an impact on the entire process.

Bunnell: It does. If I can build on that, there's a ton of science actually around winning team mentalities. And a researcher of the University of Michigan, Dr. Marcial Losada, has done more research on this than anybody I've seen. And he studied high-performing teams in business, and he found that the highest-performing teams had a positive comment.

So, if you think of, hey good job, you did the thing. That's a positive comment. Or a constructive comment would be, you know, gosh, you could have done that better. Well, the highest-performing teams had a positive-to-constructive ratio of comments of 5.6 to 1.

Micalizzi: Wow.

Bunnell: Yeah, they're overwhelmingly positive. The leadership is looking for bright spots. They're finding the person that did the thing, and they're telling everybody about it. Now, they still are constructive, but by building up that ratio, that high ratio of positives to when they are then constructive, that 1 out of 5.6 times in Losada's research, they sort of earned the right to dig in and correct and make better.

And what we find is in a lot of sales organizations, they might have a flat ratio, sort of like the positive and constructive are equal. Or, what Losada found is the lowest-performing teams actually had an inverse ratio. They had more constructive comments to positive. And in those environments, they talked about how it was defeatist. The people just wanted to quit. Things like that.

So, what the four-step process does, especially with the celebration of the fourth step, is figuring out, what are we looking for and when people exhibit that behavior, how can we put them on a pedestal? How can we share that with the team? How can we make it public? And then the team gets that winning team mentality, the feeling of progress, the feeling that they're part of something really special.

Micalizzi: When you and I were prepping for this, we talked about the importance of being proactive. I'm curious, is that a part of the leading indicators and what you were talking about in terms of frequency? Like, how often are we doing this, or is there some other aspect to that?

Bunnell: I love that question. I was just with a group in Florida yesterday, we were talking about this idea. What the leading indicators should do is elevate the position of the sales person or business developer to where they're feeling like they're adding a lot of value.

We always want to pick leading indicators where the person on the other end, the person that's in the buying position, feels great because they are being helped. And we found that when the reps, or the client-facing roles, are being really helpful and proactive, that they feel better about this, and then we create pull-through demand for our services.

Micalizzi: Would you clarify what you mean by pull-through demand?

Bunnell: Yeah. Pull-through demand is really important for business developers and sales leadership to think about. What we find a lot of leaders do when it comes to sales is sort of measure, or track, activity, and it can actually incentivize the folks that are in the client-facing roles to ping their customers, the buyers, and actually put themselves in a lower-level position of sort of being a nag.

Micalizzi: Okay.

Bunnell: Hey, did you get the email following up on my voicemail asking if you like the contract? You know, and nag, nag, nag, nag, nag. What we want to do, is we want to elevate our role with our clients and our prospects so that we're adding value in really high-level ways.

And I loved your word before, from a proactive perspective. So that they feel good about being helpful, on our side, and the prospect, or the buyer, feels really great on their side because they're being helped. What we find that does, is it creates some likability, which creates some pull-through demand

And if we're doing things like adding expertise, or value, or advising even before we get hired, that give-to-get idea, then that creates pull-through demand for expertise. And we see those two levers are the two big ones. Likability, I can share some science around what we find correlates to more likability. That creates pull-through demand. We tend to spend more money and more time with those we like.

And then the give-to-gets are offering expertise and little bite-sized chunks on our dime. That creates pull-through demand because we're providing insights and the buyer is realizing they need our help because we've shown them something that maybe they didn't know.

Micalizzi: I am interested, what have you found in terms of likability?

Bunnell: This is some of my favorite science. It really is. And the reason is, a lot of people think of likability like this fixed, innate thing that they can't control, and it couldn't be further from the truth. There's a growing body of research around likability that shows that this is something that people can affect a lot.

We find three big things that people can do to be more likable. The first is finding commonality. Jerry Burger has done a tremendous amount of research on this. And what he's found, that as we find things in common with people, we tend to like them more. It's critical to define this a little bit because, you know, Kevin, if you and I both like water, that's not creating a lot of commonality.

Rather, it's the more uncommon commonalities that are important. You know, if we both found that we both went to the same New Order show on the Technique tour in Chicago in 1987, or whatever it was. And by chance we figure this out, all of a sudden we would run in conversation for 30 minutes and create a bond that we'd probably remember 10 years later. So, commonality is really important.

The second out of the three is mutual benefit. Adam Grant had done a massive amount of research on this. His book Give and Take is just fantastic. One of my favorites ever.

And what Adam found is that the deepest relationships aren't just with people who help us, that's sort of a first step, but they're also with people that help us, and we help them. And you're probably thinking of people in your life, you know, your kids are a great example, where there's people that we've helped that we have a very strong bond with.

And as business developers, we need not just be helpful, but we need to ask for help because we can deepen our relationship. When we receive help, it feels great from the buyer’s position, and then it gives us a chance to circle back and say thank you.

The third of the three is one of the most studied psychological principles ever. The research started in 1876, and it's called the mirror exposure effect. You know, if a psychological principle's seen three centuries, you know it's pretty well studied.

Micalizzi: You'd hope, at this point.

Bunnell: Exactly. And what the mirror exposure effect says is the more we see something, the more we tend to like it. And man, it is a nearly one-to-one correlation. So, what's important to that in human interaction is that we've got to stay in front of people. That's the idea of being top of mind. We've got to continue to be helpful with a certain cadence or frequency so that we can be top of mind, and we'll end up being more likable.

So, those three things are finding the commonalities and reinforcing them. The more uncommon, the better. Finding mutual benefit. Not just being helpful, but asking for help. And doing that over and over again with our very most important relationships. We find that when folks do those three things, likability scores just shoot through the roof.

Micalizzi: I love it. In talking about the leading indicators, it very much sounds like a top-down process. I'm curious, if I'm a rep, and I'm in an organization that really isn't adopting that kind of model, what could I be doing to, one, improve my own sales, but two, influence how my team is approaching selling?

Bunnell: I love that question because I skipped over that. I really made it sound like it has to be organizationwide, and it doesn't. So, I'm really glad you brought this up. This is something anybody can do, even if they're not in sales. One of the most important things you can do just as a human is figure out what your own important efforts are, the big initiatives you want to move forward in your life, and figure out if there's a leading indicator you can track personally to influence your own behavior.

So, if we go through those same four steps before. Several years ago I decided I wanted to write a book, but I was never getting the time to do it. So, if we go through our four steps, my focus was, gosh darn it, no fooling, I'm going to get this thing done. My leading indicator I chose was hours spent per week doing the deep work to start to map out a book proposal. That was sort of the first step.

My process, the third thing we're doing, is on a weekly basis, on Friday afternoon, I committed to myself, and I found a friend that I could call and I could say, Friday at 4:30 I'm going to call you and I'm going to tell you how many hours I had. And I want you to get in my grill if it's less than four or five. You know, if it's twenty minutes, I'm in trouble, and if it's five hours we're going to do a virtual high five over the phone.

It was that mechanism of the phone call that created the fourth step, the celebration, or the anger if I didn't get it done. So, that's something. I know that's not a sales example.

Micalizzi: No, but it's a great example also of how you are holding yourself accountable to others for what you are trying to accomplish.

Bunnell: Exactly, and it worked. Here is something I'd talked about doing for 10 years, I had never gotten it done, and within six months I had spent about 100 or 150 hours writing a book proposal. The whole thing was running downhill from there. Still a tremendous amount of work, but we've got a major book deal and a book coming out in the fall, in September.

And it never would have happened had I not done that little self-regulation, if you will, that you brought up.

Micalizzi: I love the book example. Do you have any examples of how this is applied in selling?

Bunnell: Oh yes. So, when we think of individuals that might want to use this type of process for their own self-motivation, we find a lot of great leading indicators. I can give you several examples right now, that people choose. And I'll bet when I give you these examples, you could probably think back to what their focus would be. You know, what they were trying to do to grow their own book of business.

But some of the best leading indicators I've seen that work really well are, number one, asks for the advance. What I mean by that is, it's an ask for whatever the next step is in the buying process with that individual. So, it could be something like, Mr. and Mrs. Buyer, we really need the contract signed by Friday if we want to staff the project by Monday. We've already worked through the planning details so we know we've got to get the project started by Monday to hit your due date three weeks after that.

So, an ask can be very specific, like, let's get started. Or it can be more vague, like, hey, it was really great having dinner, Jane. What else can we do to be more helpful to you in any way possible? So, an ask is a bit subjective, but it's an ask for any step next in the process. We've seen that one's tremendously valuable.

We already talked about give-to-gets offered. Oh, another one is the actual time spent on selling or business development. Boy, have we seen that helpful. A lot of roles out there, say, that are in account management, or that are hybrid between selling and servicing, or even ones that you're 100% hunter, and you've got a lot of paperwork and internal projects that you're doing.

Tracking the actual amount of time where you are talking to somebody or writing an email or at dinner, but you're actually doing the selling part of your job, that's a really helpful thing to track because in general, the more you can dial it up, the better when it comes to hitting your goals. And the world will pull you away from that. The world will ask you to do things that aren't as important to that. But, if you're a full-time sales person, that can be your most important thing.

So, those are a couple examples we see. Other quick ones. Asking for referrals, that can be a good one. How many meetings did I request? And I'll finish with this one that's sort of comprehensive. We've got a lot of clients that, say, on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, they pick their three most important things for the next week.

It  could be anything. They could be asking to speak at a conference. They could be trying to get a particular deal done. Most important thing might be sending an asset a prospect they just met at a conference two weeks before, but the relationship's very new and fragile, but it's important. It would be easy to blow off and not do it.

Well, MITs, or most important things, are a natural prioritization tool, and one of the leading indicators we've seen people track with a lot of success is to pick your three most important things each week. Say on Friday afternoon you pick your three for the next week. And then the next Friday afternoon you go back and you just say, how many of the three did I get done?

That's a really awesome leading indicator because it provides a lot of flexibility and it's ensuring that you're hitting the most important things, which many times aren't the urgent things. So, it creates this feedback loop, or this mechanism, to be proactive and do the higher-priority types of tasks. Does that resonate as I give those examples?

Micalizzi: Oh, it definitely does. We recently had Joanne Black on the podcast talking about referrals and referral selling, and the fact of the matter is most people do not ask. And if you don't ask, you're not going to get that referral.

Bunnell: I totally agree.

Micalizzi: And I think the other example you gave in terms of taking that time on Friday to plan out the three activities, it's similar to one of the behaviors that's cultivated by the sales leaders here at Salesforce, which is, actually, end of your day always plan what your top priorities are for the next day.

Bunnell: I love it.

Micalizzi: So, which accounts do you need to go after. Would you actually recommend going both?

Bunnell: Oh, yes.

Micalizzi: So that you're not only planning your following day, but you're also using this as a leading indicator.

Bunnell: Yes. I totally agree. And I'll tell you the three levels that I look at planning are quarterly, and that's where, every quarter, I take a step back, and we advise this to our clients, too, and say, hey, what are the big things you want to get done? What are the big, more strategic themes when it comes to growth?

Weekly, I like Friday afternoons, so I can sort of button up the week before I head into the weekend, and then I can focus on my family a little bit more. The weekly calendar item is a little more tactical, but it's got a [bit] of strategy to it in that it's saying, hey, say what are the three things I really want to get done next week?

And boy, the critical thing there is looking at the important, not the urgent. Because it's so easy, life will yank us away from the important stuff. And I really like that you added the daily. The daily is where we're going to say, okay, no fooling, I blocked off two hours on my calendar to do one of my most important things.

I need to do that first thing in the morning because I know that if I wait until 3:00 to 5:00 as the two hours, something's going to blow up and I'm not going to get it done.

And I really liked what you said about planning that out the day before, and to the extent you can, even scheduling time to do a most important thing, or a high-priority thing, the next day so that you can get it done and get it done early so as random things happen through the day, you can know, I did the important thing.

Micalizzi: Definitely. So, we've talked about adding, not necessarily adding new behaviors, but really trying to make sure you're identifying the right behaviors to be measuring to go. And there's so much pressure on sales reps and sales leaders right now as it is. Introducing anything new is always a challenge. I think we tend to think too big as we go after it. What's your guidance on how to tackle getting started doing this?

Bunnell: Kevin, I love that question. One of our clients gave us a mantra that we repeat often, and of course we give him credit. His name is John Hightower. And John, when he said this it stuck with me and it resonated like nothing I can remember since. His little quip, or mantra, is think big, start small, scale up. Think big, start small, scale up.

Those six words say so much. And whenever we think of any behavior change, maybe we're trying to get in shape, maybe we're trying to spend more time with our significant others, maybe we're trying to measure our leading indicators like we've talked a lot about today. That mantra holds true.

So, the think big part is, man, I'm going to double my numbers next year. I'm going to blow it out, and I'm going use this idea of tracking my behaviors, or my team's behaviors, to get there. That's my think big. I'm going to do this. I'm going to do the four steps.

The start small is, I would highly recommend, I would highly recommend starting with one metric. Don't start with ten. You'll kill people. They'll revolt. They'll say, I can't do it, I don't have time. Well, what we find is if you start with just one metric, maybe it's that give-to-gets offered, or ask for the advance, or the MITs a week. Those are typical starting points.

Starting with just one metric and a real simple way to track it, publicly display the data, typically what happens is people start to see their results improve just after three or four weeks typically. Then, all of a sudden, this gives you license. They start asking to scale up.

So, we might get to tracking eight things by the end of the year, but we're not going to start there. We're going to start with our most important focus, prioritize, and we'd start with one metric, get our process right, get our celebration right, hit that 5.6 to 1 ratio, create that winning team mentality. Then the team starts asking you to track more things. That's where we see the momentum really happen.

Micalizzi: Excellent. So, I want to ask you our lightning round question. Which is, if you could take all the knowledge and experience you have now, go back to the beginning of your career and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you tell yourself?

Bunnell: Gosh, I really think I would tell myself to track leading indicators earlier in my career. I really think so. I know that sounds crazy after we chose this as a topic and our prep and all that. But I'm telling you, I have seen my own performance improve since I did that. I have seen myself get to the deep work faster. Should have written a book 10 years ago, but I, in air quotes, never could make the time.

And then I've seen the results at our clients. Really big, Fortune 500 clients completely changing the nature of how they go to market because they start tracking leading indicators or behavioral-based metrics. And it just works. And what the crazy thing about it is, because sales is, it's so not reinforcing. Meaning you can craft the perfect email to a prospect, send it, and you never hear back.

There's probably nothing in life that's less reinforcing than sales, and that's why so few people are great at it. So that when you can create your own mechanisms for self-reinforcement, you know, if you're doing the right things, right things will happen later on. This idea of tracking those and celebrating the small incremental progress. It gets you to higher performance, and oddly, it's a lot more fun.

Micalizzi: When you put it that way it sounds phenomenal.

Bunnell: Well, I hope this was interesting.

Micalizzi: Definitely. Thank you so much for joining me.

Bunnell: Great. Thanks Kevin, I really enjoyed it.

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