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In selling, good and great are often only a few percentage points apart. Join Lisa Peskin, CEO of Business Development University, as she shares the secrets to triaging your sales so you can find the places where improvement will come most easily. Small tweaks or nudges to attitude, motivation, process, or pipeline can make a huge difference. Knowing what to look for in each of those areas can give you a competitive edge over other sellers.

There’s not a big difference between performing at a good level and a superstar level. Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a huge difference.”

Lisa Peskin | CEO, Business Development University
 
 
 
 
 

Kevin Micalizzi: Welcome to the Quotable podcast.

Today we're speaking with Lisa Peskin, CEO of Business Development University. Today we're going to be talking about the differences between the good salespeople and the great salespeople, or those who are doing well, but they're not quite in that best category yet, because usually the difference is not that great. We'll talk through how to triage your sales performance, the process, and all the pieces around it. I'm Kevin Micalizzi. Let's jump into it.

Lisa, welcome to the podcast.

Lisa Peskin: Thank you so much.

Micalizzi: For the listeners who aren't familiar with you, would you give us just a quick picture of who you are and what you do?

Peskin: Sure. Well, my name is Lisa Peskin, and I've been in sales for around 32 years now. I never quite thought that sales would end up being my passion. I had first thought I was going to be a doctor, then a psychologist. I knew I loved helping people. But now I feel the way we make a difference in people's lives.

If they're not hitting their numbers in sales, we figure out a way to get them to hit their numbers.

If they're performing at an average level, we love to figure out how do we get them to be good, and if they're good, we love to figure out how to get them great, and if they're great, we love to figure out how to get them to superstardom.

After 32 years in sales and many of those years in sales management and owning my own company, Business Development University, what we do is we figure out what we call the triage areas with the individuals and companies that we work with, what three areas that, if improved upon, are going to have the biggest impact on performance.

Then we figure out whether it's a training area of opportunity, whether it's coaching, whether it's accountability, so instead of selling training, coaching, or consulting, we basically work on helping our clients achieve results.

Micalizzi: When you and I were talking about doing this interview, we were talking about the triage.

I love that concept of really trying to triage what's going on and what's wrong in sales. I think there are so many possible causes for some of the challenges that sales reps and sales leaders encounter, and being able to drill down and sort what those are, I think, is phenomenal.

I wanted to go back to something you and I had talked about, and that was how you look at sales success, because I think that's a good starting point for this conversation.

Peskin: Sure. I've got two versions of that answer, but I'll give you the simplified version first. Whenever I work with an individual or a team of individuals, I look at three specific areas.

Number one, filling the pipeline with good, qualified opportunities on a consistent basis, which includes three different components. Are we maintaining our existing customers and getting repeat business?

Are we upselling and cross-selling those customers? And are we getting enough net new business into our pipeline? I know how someone's doing in that area with how well they're doing at maintaining their existing business, how much are they truly upselling and cross-selling, and how their pipeline's looking.

The second area is process.

Once they've got a suspect, prospect, customer, center of influence, what's the process that they take them through? How do they uncover key information? How do they present solutions? How do they handle objections? How do they close the business?

I know how someone's doing there based upon their close or conversion ratio. If we're talking about pure prospecting, if they're lower than 30%, three out of every 10, then there's usually an area that could be improved upon in the area of process.

The third most important area when it comes to success in sales is what I call attitude and motivation. Are you willing to do what it takes to be successful? But more importantly, are you committed to doing it, day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out?

At ADP, I was there for 12 years, and that was 12 years of weekly quotas.

We were very specific as far as the activities that we needed to do in order to get to the results that we needed, and there was weekly accountability.

The other piece of it — I say to my kids all the time — "Why wouldn't everybody in this whole wide world be in sales? You get to make unlimited amount of money. You get to meet new people all the time. Why wouldn't everybody be in sales?"

Because we get way more noes than we do yeses, and we can never go like this, take that big old sigh, because we're only as good as our last week, our last month, and our last quarter. Being able to deal psychologically with the noes and the fact that you're constantly having to perform — a lot of people can't take that pressure.

Micalizzi: There's a lot of baggage that comes with the name sales, just from some folks who have given sales a bad name over time.

Then I think you have to have a certain amount of that stamina to be able to do that day in, day out, and really deal with the rejection that comes alongside the great wins that you end up having.

Peskin: Absolutely. I say you really just need to be psychologically strong. The great thing is we have control over our attitude and motivation.

Whenever I was selecting people that I wanted to work for me, it was always those people that knew how to deal with adversity and had great work ethics, that were very goal-oriented, that would go after things with a vengeance, because, you know, it's very important that we make sure that, in order to be successful, we keep our head screwed on straight.

A lot of the times, when I'm working with individuals or companies, when their attitude or motivation or their morale isn't where they think it needs to be or where I think it needs to be, then we've got to make sure that's in gear and we've got them going in the right direction.

The other thing I want to point out — after being in sales for 32 years, I've come to realize that nobody in this whole wide world likes to be sold anything. I think everybody's got to stop selling their stuff. We talked about sales being a bad word. Well, I believe that sales is truly about figuring out a way you can help an individual or company with your product or service.

If we could figure out a way to help them out, we'll make the sale. If we can't figure out a way to help them out, we won't.

I also believe that not everything works for everybody and not everything works in every situation. When I managed over at ADP, my first year, I wanted everybody to be little Lisa Peskins.

I wanted them to have my same work ethic, my same drive, do things the way I did it. What I came to realize, which was eye-opening, is that everybody gets to the next point, but sometimes in a very different way, and everybody's got strengths, and everybody's got areas of opportunity. It kind of goes back to what we were talking about at the beginning of this conversation. It's all about figuring out those triage areas. What three areas that, if improved upon, are going to have the biggest impact on performance?

We've developed these tools that enable us, within an hour, to truly figure out, whether it's on an individual or a company basis, what those triage areas are, because, at certain points, even though I might identify for somebody else 10 areas that they might be able to work on, there's no way they could focus on 10 areas.

But if we narrow it down to the ones that are going to have the biggest impact on performance, now we could make a difference, because, whether it's what I do at BDU or whether sales managers are doing this for their teams, it's all about a one-line job description, and that's maximizing the performance and the potential of each of the people that you work with, because everybody's got a different level of potential, but it's all about making sure people are working to their best level.

Micalizzi: Right. I liked what you said when you were first explaining the different areas or the functions of success. When you were talking about the good, qualified candidates, you talked about repeat business. I work in a software as a service space. I have for years now. In our case, if the customer's not happy, they don't renew next month, next quarter, next year, whatever that cycle may be. I've noticed, in other areas where folks are not selling subscription-based services or products, that I don't hear as much conversation around the repeat business.

Are you finding that you really need to push folks to think about that?

Peskin: Well, I do. The reason why I feel that way is for a few reasons. The first one is it's a lot easier to keep an existing customer than to get a new customer. I was talking to one of my clients today, and it's a printing company.

They just lost a $1 million account that was huge for the salesperson, and it was also big for the company. Now, after debriefing, there was no way that they were going to be able to do anything to keep this existing account, but a lot of the times we get blindsided. Our competition comes in. We want to make sure that we're uncovering if there are any areas that they're not happy with, because, again, I'd rather rectify those areas than have to worry about losing the client and gaining them back.

A lot of the companies that we work with, whether we're talking about advertising, printing, insurance — a lot of the business, in fact, a lot of companies — the majority of their business, is their repeat business and their upselling and cross-selling of that existing business.

Micalizzi: I kind of want to pivot, and I was trying to think if there were any other questions I wanted to ask you on that line of thinking.

Peskin: There is actually one more really important point that goes along with this. It really comes down to developing game plans.

This is where Salesforce all comes in, because, no matter what, sales is a numbers game. You have to know your metrics and you have to know your numbers. The numbers always have to play out on a piece of paper, because if they can't play out on a piece of paper, they're not going to work.

Basically, when we're working with our clients, we've got to figure out what their annual quota is.

Then we're subtracting what repeat business we could count on. Then we're subtracting the amount that we think they could upsell and cross-sell. Now that's giving us our number as far as net new business coming in the door.

Then we've got to analyze the net new business by category type. The way we work with our clients, we use terms of home run, triples, doubles, and singles.

We identify those revenue levels and then identify how many accounts we want to bring in at those revenue levels that's going to give us exactly how many net new accounts we need to bring in. Then, once we apply the close ratio, we're able to understand how many proposals they need to be doing on a weekly or monthly basis to make their numbers. Then, once we apply how many appointments to how many proposals, then we could truly figure out how many net new appointments they need on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to hit their numbers.

Because once you reverse-engineer it and track it all properly, which is why I love Salesforce, then we have a systematic approach to getting to our numbers.

Micalizzi: Right. So you can really step it back, because you know, in a general sense, and if you're tracking this closely, hopefully, in a much more specific sense, exactly how many of those appointments you would need or how many of the proposals.

I love how you're suggesting to track that back so that you can figure out what level of activity you have to have at each stage.

Peskin: Absolutely, because most salespeople, their number one downfall, bar none, is they're winging it. They're getting up every morning. They're checking their voicemail. They're checking their email. They're seeing what appointments they've got on their calendar, but there's no true rhyme or reason to what they're doing.

I've never played football a day in my life, but, I mean, how many football coaches go into a game without a game plan? I mean, except back in the olden days, where Rich Kotite was the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. But this year I'm proud. I mean, our Eagles won the Super Bowl. But, I mean, our coach, Doug Pederson, was brilliant with his game plan.

Each salesperson, each sales team, each sales organization, needs to have a game plan.

That needs to have very specific activity goals and result goals, because there's a direct correlation between the activities that we do and the results that we're going to get.

Back in my ADP days, this was one week. One week. We needed to do five-to-seven net new appointments. We needed to do 10 CPA appointments, 10 client visits.

We needed to visit five banks, knock on 25 doors, and do two sets of 50 calls each. If we did that, we would hit our numbers. That was the formula for success. Again, nowadays, there's a lot of different ways we get our prospective business in the door. Basically, there's two steps in order to do that game plan.

We got to figure out where the businesses come from before and then figure out what are the smartest activities for us to do in order to hit the results. Again, using that metric of net new appointments, once we hit those net new appointments, then it becomes easy. We just have to apply average sale and close ratio, and we're able to work the numbers through. We've developed a methodology where, within an hour, we could get anybody their 30-, 60-, 90-day game plan.

Micalizzi: Right.

Peskin: Being able to use Salesforce to be able to track all this information is critical, and especially because nowadays it takes anywhere from seven to 12 touches to get in the door. If we don't have a multi-prong approach and be able to track it methodically in order to get in the door, then we're not making the most of our time. As a salesperson, our time is our most valuable resource.

Micalizzi: Most definitely.

In terms of the pipeline and the process, I think, in my mind, those are easier to measure because you're looking at the activities. You're looking at quantifiable metrics. But now, if you're looking at attitude and motivation, how do you drill down into those?

Peskin: That is such a great question. Attitude. Are they looking at the positives, or are they looking at the negatives? Are they letting things get to them? I would tell everybody about the rocking chair test. I said, when you're old and gray, sitting in a rocking chair, are you going to remember that, on March 19, a deal blew up on you?

How are they dealing with all the negatives coming in the door? How are they dealing with fires that they need to put out? How are they dealing with tough customers? Are they getting in early? Motivation. Are they getting in early, or are they staying late? Are they going above and beyond the call of duty? Are they setting clearly defined goals for themselves? Are they holding themselves accountable to those goals?

Micalizzi: I'm trying to envision how you measure that. I mean, it sounds to me like it's fairly subjective. Is it kind of a manager keeping a checklist, or are there better ways to not necessarily quantify it, but really get to the heart of how someone is doing on both counts?

Peskin: Well, there's a lot that's involved. When you're working and developing someone, there's different opportunities to do that. One is in a planning session.

For a lot of our clients, we do something called outsource sales management. If the owner's trying to manage the salespeople directly and doesn’t necessarily have the time, the energy, or the wherewithal to do that, we help the salespeople put together game plans. We coach them through situations and hold them accountable to their goals. There has to be that level of accountability. When you're working with someone, one is your planning sessions.

Two is when you have meetings, sales meetings that you might hold on a weekly or monthly basis. Then we've got our field time where we're actually going out with the salespeople. Then we've got our day-to-day interactions, the ad hoc interactions. All of those are opportunities to make an impact on a salesperson.

When you ask about the quantifiable ways that you could tell whether someone's head's screwed on straight and that their attitude and motivation is where it needs to be, well, a lot of it is doing what I call a head check.

I'll remember this forever. I remember doing a planning session. I am very organized. I had a very methodical approach to how I was going to run my one-hour planning sessions with my sales associates. The first thing I would do is I would go through what we set as our goals from the last session and how did we do as far as our goals.

It was accountability, what worked, what didn't work, what were the obstacles, because it was all setting little goals with the people. Then I would go to finding out — we'd go into the pipeline. We'd strategize on the pipeline. Then we went to set new goals until the next session. I thought I had a wonderful session. Afterward, I said to the person I was working with, "I hope you found this to be helpful. So what have you got going for the day?"

She said, "Well, my grandmother got rushed to the hospital two hours ago, so I'm actually going to go there right after we meet."

What I forgot to do as a manager is a head check and find out how my person was doing. A lot of times, as managers, we don't realize that one little thing we might say or do might get somebody's morale in the wrong direction.

The key as a leader is to get people to want to do things instead of force them to do things. I used to be flabbergasted when I'd say, "These are the three things that you need to do to be successful," and people would not do them. I was just, "I can't understand why." Then I came to realize they don't do them for three reasons. They don't want to do it, they don't know how to do it, or they don't see the value in doing it.

Then I came to realize, as a manager, instead of you saying "These are the three things that you need to do," you turn it around and say, "Where do you want to get to? Why is that important? And what are the three things that you think you need to do in order to get there?" Once the words come out of their mouth and they're very clear as far as what their motivation level is, now we could help them as leaders get them to where they need to be, and that's what it's all about.

Understanding their motivation level. I used to think everybody just wanted to be number one, because all I wanted at the end of the day was for me to call me up at the monthly meeting and tell me, "I won district manager of the month."

After throwing away over a hundred plaques maybe around eight years ago, I came to realize that not everybody cares about being number one. Some people, it's making X amount of money. Some people, it's getting promoted to X.

It amazes me what I hear most of all for either millennials or people my age and above — it's quality of life. That's their key motivation, is quality of life. As leaders and in our position as coaches and consultants, if we could figure out where someone wants to get to and then can figure out how to help them get there and get the buy-in, well, now we could make a difference.

I get your question is all around ascertaining their level of motivation and their attitude, but it's all people skills. It's understanding people, treating people like people. You know whether or not someone's motivated or demotivated just by their body language, how they talk to you, and whether or not they are keeping up their activity levels to get to the results that they need.

Micalizzi: I like how what you were saying is, in my mind, very much a manager needing to take a coach's mindset.

In the example you gave where you could tell them the three things that you believe will always lead them to success versus helping to solicit from them what they think that is, so you're not defining the outcome. You are really trying to guide your sales reps to come to their own conclusion and develop something on their own that they can hold onto, they can act on, they can really use to propel their selling.

Peskin: Well, that's when you get buy-in.

When you get buy-in, then they do it, because they believe in it and they see the value in doing it. Again, they don't want to do it. They don't know how to do it. They don't see the value in doing it. I could teach anybody how to do it.

Here's a great example. I recently started working with a company, and it's a financial investment company. They work with people that have a certain amount of money to invest.

The two guys were basically securing two appointments per week each, which, when you think about it, two appointments  that's not too bad, but then you take how many two appointments turn into actual appointments that turn into qualified leads that turn into proposals that turn into sales. We need a lot of those appointments in order to close the business.

After going in, I took a look at what they were saying and how they were doing it. Literally, the first week after we modified what they were saying, they were up to five appointments per person per week.

Micalizzi: That's excellent.

Peskin: They have maintained that for the past four weeks. I was worried it might be an anomaly, but we've kept that up. It's so much fun being able to figure out just a couple things. I'm working with a business owner right now that's built up his business quite successfully, but is now ready to take it to the next level.

He realized that there's just a couple key components that, if he adds to what he's doing right now, could have a significant impact on his pipeline and his close ratio, and just little things could sometimes yield such huge results.

One of the analogies I love to use is batting averages. If someone had a .280 batting average, 28 hits for every hundred at bats, we would all probably say, over the career, that this hitter was a very good hitter. Good hitter, we'll say.

But if I said someone was a .330 hitter, 33 hits for every hundred at bats, now we've got a Hall of Famer. What's the difference? 28 hits for every hundred at bats and 33 hits for every hundred at bats. The only difference is five hits for every hundred at bats, which is basically 5%. In my experience, over the past 32, 33 years, there's not a big difference in those people that are performing at a good level and a superstar level.

Sometimes it's the little things that can make a huge difference.

Micalizzi: Right. Really finding those areas to tweak. One of the things I'd love to do, Lisa — I know you have the visual of the different triage areas and things to look at within those. If you don't mind, I would like to share that in the show notes, so that our listeners can take something away from this and really use it to start looking at their own environments, their own performance, and hopefully find some areas that they can work on, they can tweak and tune.

Does that work?

Peskin: I would be more than happy to share any of the tools that we've developed.

Micalizzi: Excellent.

Peskin: I think I provided to you one of the triage tools. We have a couple. A lot of our tools are also on the website under resources, BDUtensils. Anybody can basically access a lot of those tools that they might be able to utilize. There's a source of business analysis. There's a goal sheet.

There's a wheel of fortune that helps people put together game plans. There's triage visuals. A lot of those will help — whether it be on an individual, team, or company basis — really analyze what those areas that if improved upon, will have the biggest impact on performance.

Micalizzi: Right. Right. We could definitely include a link to that resource center.

I want to ask you, for our reps who are listening, in your experience, what's probably the most important place they should look first, if they're looking to improve their own performance?

Peskin: Well, I'd look at some metrics. First of all, I would look at do they have a game plan, and do they have the numbers working on a piece of paper? Do they know exactly what activities they need to do in order to get to the results that they need to get to? If they use that same formula that we spoke about earlier, if they have that, fantastic.

If they don't have it, it's typically one of their biggest triage areas.

The next metric I would be looking at is close ratio, which I define as proposals to sales, not appointments to sales, but proposals to sales. If that close ratio is lower than 30% for business-to-business sales, then there is an area of opportunity with process.

Typically, when I look at process and I see areas of opportunity, it's typically that people are having trouble either uncovering key information at the start of the process or closing and handling objections throughout the process. Again, I would have to take a look at close ratio, but if it is south of 30%, there's typically something going on with process.

The next thing I look at is pipeline.

Once we could take into consideration what our close ratio is and how much business we need to bring in, we should know what our pipeline level needs to be at and how many accounts we need in the pipeline of different levels in order to hit our numbers. If the pipeline is full of qualified prospects, then that's fantastic, but if the pipeline is too light, then I know that they're having an area of opportunity with filling the pipeline with good, qualified prospects on a consistent basis.

So I would again look at their game plan for doing that. Do they have their home runs, triples, doubles, and singles laid out? Do they have good benefit statements? Are they using a multi-prong approach? Are they hitting a multi-touch system? Do they know how to get to decision makers?

Those are all the key areas that I'd be looking at whenever speaking with someone to figure out where I might be able to help them out.

Micalizzi: I love it. I think this has been a great picture of all the different areas that our sales reps, our listeners can take a look at to hopefully move that needle the 5%, like you talked about, really not that great a percentage between those who are great and the best. I absolutely love that.

I want to ask you our lightning round question. That 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?

Peskin: I love that question. I would tell myself to not put so much pressure on my shoulders, to not worry so much about the results. I would say what a mentor said to me in 1989, when I quit. Actually, it was 1990, after I quit, after my one-year anniversary for ADP.

He said, "Lisa, you're making a big mistake. You stick around three more months. If you're not successful, I'll help you find a job," but then he continued to give me the best piece of advice, bar none, I've ever gotten in sales. He said, "Focus on doing the right number of the right activities right." So that would be my piece of advice.

Micalizzi: The right number of the right activities?

Peskin: Right. Exactly. If you're looking at a manager level, I'm going to give you two more rights.

Micalizzi: Okay.

Peskin: If we're looking at a company level, do you have the right number of the right salespeople doing the right number of the right activities right? We might not have enough people. We might have the wrong people. They might not be doing enough activities.

They might be doing the wrong activities. Or they might be doing the right activities wrong.

Micalizzi: Right.

Peskin: If we go and diagnose it that way, we could figure out exactly how we could help them out.

Micalizzi: I love it, and I think we did it right, most definitely.

Peskin: [Laughs] I do have a blog that I could get you on the five rights, if you want it.

Micalizzi: Oh, that would be great. I would love to include that one for the listeners as well.

Peskin: Excellent.

Micalizzi: Awesome. Lisa, thank you so much for joining me today.

Peskin: It's been my pleasure. I think we could talk for hours and hours.

Micalizzi: I think we could, most definitely.

Peskin: Well, I'm here for you, if anybody wants to run any ideas by me.

You asked me a great question that I've thought about over and over. What would I tell myself back in 1986, when I started in sales? I think I mentioned this the last time we spoke, but I'm in the middle of writing a book to answer exactly that question.

What would I have done all over, if I could have done it all over in 1986? I made a lot of mistakes, and I had to learn the hard way a lot of different lessons. You asked me the top three areas of success in sales, but I do a lot of kickoff sessions, motivational speeches for sales forces on the top-10 secrets of success in sales.

The 10 chapters are going to be those 10 secrets. Right now I'm collecting stories from people that I admire that have had very successful careers in sales — their story that they have learned the most from, and whether it’s the one with the most obstacles and how they overcame it or the one that had the biggest life lesson.

If any of the listeners have any stories that they want to include in my book, and if you have any stories, I would love it. I'm hoping that the book would be completed by the end of this year.

Micalizzi: Okay. Love it. That sounds great. Thank you.

 
 
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