Breaking the Sales Prevention Barrier: A Guide to High Performance Sales Operations

“What does Sales Operations do?”

The answer to that question is critical not just to my clients, who are trying to build their own high-performance Sales Operations, but to the Sales Ops professionals who find themselves struggling to describe the various roles that they play in their company.

I like to answer with another question: “what should Sales Operations do, at your company, at this time?”

Because Sales Ops is a pendulum for most successful companies – it will swing closer to sales (field-facing) in times when top-line growth is the highest priority…. and swing closer to finance (operations-facing) in times when fiscal controls are the highest priority. And Sales Ops ranges from the highly strategic planning that occurs on an annual basis to the tactical day-to-day support of a sales force.

In those moments when Sales Ops is highly operations-facing, they can alienate the sales teams by seeming to be a barrier to getting sales done quickly. More than once, I’ve heard a sales rep joke about Sales Ops as more like “sales prevention”!

The key to a high-performance Sales Operations function within your company is maintaining that balance, not in the middle but at the point where Sales Ops can help a company best meet its strategic goals at that moment in time. And to be seen as a partner to the sales teams across every aspect of Sales Operations – that’s how to “break the sales prevention barrier”.

The below diagram is a synthesis of my work with the Sales Ops teams across hundreds of companies across a wide-spectrum of industries and size.

In a small company, a single individual may play all of these roles – it may even be the VP of Sales themselves.

But in larger companies, you will see a wide range of roles that are “sales-related”, all reporting under a single VP of Sales Operations. Those teams are often tasked with defining what’s within their scope of responsibilities and I hope this graphic helps in that discussion.

Please add your comments to this post with how this matches to your own experiences!


The Greatest Executive Challenge: Changing an Organization’s Culture

One of the greatest challenges faced by Executives today is how to change their organization’s culture. Here’s a helpful hint: Culture is established from the inside out, not from the outside in. It is the natural result of the common habits within a group of people. Great leaders shape their cultures not by controlling their team members, but by influencing and inspiring them!

I recently published two blogs:

Their combined message produces the following powerful principle:

    You will have maximum cultural impact when you can cause people to want to take a certain action, and enable them to cause others to want the same.

There is a big difference between influence and control. Influence is the ability to affect the decisions of others, where ultimately the decision is still theirs. It leverages and even empowers the will of another. Control, on the other hand, determines the actions of others, regardless of what they think or desire. The following four characteristics highlight the power of influence and why it is more effective than control.

1. Influence Grows. Control Creates Resistance.
People don’t like to be controlled, even if what they are forced to do is right. As soon as they don’t have a choice, they automatically want to do the opposite. It’s natural. Therefore, in order to comply, they must resist that natural sense of resistance. And compliance at its best will only meet the minimum requirements to stay out of trouble. Now, if an individual sincerely desires to do something and communicates that desire in a compelling way, then it is likely to influence someone else. You must be that first individual to duplicate your desire in your team members. A sincere desire, communicated effectively is contagious.

2. Influence Learns. Control Remains Blind.
As an executive, it is easy and even tempting to exercise your authority by mandating a certain change. When this approach is taken, team members tend to withhold their true reactions in front of leadership. Instead, they share their opinions behind closed doors, often producing a negative vibe towards leadership. Transparency and trust are diminished between executives and their teams. Instead of forcing a matter, paint a compelling picture of a world that is better with the change than without it. Then listen to their honest responses. If others buy into that vision then they have also validated that the vision is desirable and achievable. If they don’t buy in, then either the vision was not communicated effectively, or it was not considered desirable and achievable by your audience. Now, even if they disagree, you have learned and can adjust if necessary.

3. Influence Continues Beyond You. Control Ends With You.
The moment you influence another person to take action is the moment you stop being a dependency for that action to occur. When it can occur without your involvement, you have succeeded in your goal to produce change and you are free to move on to the next objective. If you are in control, however, then the moment you take your finger off the pulse is the moment it stops beating.

4. Influence Requires Consistency Over Time.
Let’s bring a little balance to this. If you are having difficulty gaining adoption to a change, it doesn’t mean the change is bad or unnecessary. It may simply require greater education and reinforcement. Don’t quit on your idea just because it was not adopted quickly by the majority. Remember that people cannot easily change habits, even if they want to! Change requires consistency over time.

We see that influence grows, learns and continues beyond the instigator. Change, on the other hand, creates resistance, remains blind and ends with the instigator.

Have I influenced your perspective on influence vs. control?

I welcome your ideas, challenges and further insights below…

The Lost Art of Lost Metrics: Turning Past Losses into Future Wins

Unless you expect a 100% win rate, a lost deal is not a bad thing. In fact, if you are capturing the right information about your lost deals, then you can turn past losses into future wins! You can identify exactly where to focus your sales training, competitive strategies and positioning. Many sales organizations track the reasons why their deals were lost, but this only paints part of the picture. Let us examine one highly valuable lost metric that is often overlooked…

Lost the Deal

Based on the manager’s response in the comic strip above, it may seem that while the sales rep lost his deal, the manager lost his mind! The manager, however, is asking exactly the right question: “Where did you leave it last?” In other words, “Where was your deal before you lost it?” It is important to capture in which stage of the sales cycle a deal was lost. I call this the “Lost Stage”, the stage where deals disappear.

The Lost Stage, coupled with the Lost Reason, together provide a more complete understanding of your sales challenges. Consider the following two scenarios:

Scenario 1:
70% of deals lost in a given year were lost due to price. The company doesn’t know where in the sales cycle they were lost, only that they were lost because of price. To address the problem, the VP of Sales invests in negotiation training for the sales team and increases the threshold for allowable discounts from 10% to 20%.

Scenario 2:
70% of deals lost in a given year were lost due to price, 90% of which were lost during discovery. Now the VP of Sales understands that reps are disclosing cost even before the pain is quantified and the solution is understood by the prospect. He therefore directs his training efforts to the front half of the sales cycle.

In the first scenario above, the VP of Sales would have invested significant resources on negotiation training, but to no avail. Decreasing allowable discount thresholds was likely to also decreased the value of deals won. This would have yielded the opposite result from what was intended because of the false assumption that the problem was in the latter parts of the sales cycle. Worst of all, they would never have known it!

Knowing why deals were lost without understanding when they were lost can sometimes be misleading. Capturing both the Lost Reason and the Lost Stage provides a more complete and accurate picture. This leads to wiser, more informed decisions, which ultimately leads to improved sales effectiveness.

Capturing the Lost Stage metric can help turn past losses into future wins!

Whiteboard Thinking: A Thousand Words are Worth a Picture

We’ve heard it said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If that is true then the converse is also true: a thousand words are worth a picture. What I mean is that if it requires a thousand words to explain, then it’s complex. If it’s complex, then it needs to be mapped out. It needs a picture.

One of Sales Ops Solutions’ fundamental principles is that every complex problem can be translated into a series of simple problems. Think about it. Your business has a lot of moving parts. A dashboard provides a series of simple charts that together provide an overall view of your business. The secret to solving a complicated problem is in mastering the art of translating it into bite-sized, manageable pieces.

I help clients solve complex problems. One of my first questions when I visit a client is “Can I use your whiteboard?” The whiteboard helps us to produce clarity around the problem we are trying to solve and how to prioritize its components.

I like to refer to the following simple steps as “Whiteboard Thinking”. They are designed to help you get started in attacking a complex problem with clarity and confidence:

    1) Settle in your mind that you will solve the problem. The only question is how.
    This will eliminate the fear factor, which often slows us down.

    2) Define the ultimate goal.
    What are we primarily trying to accomplish? Often in trying to solve one problem, we discover 3 more. This causes us to shift our focus on trying to solve all 4 problems at the same time. Bad idea. Define your ultimate goal and stay focused. Often this goal is refined through the process; that’s ok. But stay focused. Each problem will have its turn.

    3) Define the various components.
    What often complicates a problem is the existence of several interrelated moving parts. Define clearly what those parts are. Draw each one as a circle on a whiteboard. Literally looking at these circles helps to bring clarity to our thinking. If you have too many parts, then you may need to create sub-components, so each level contains no more than 6 or 7 components. Deal with the highest level first, then tackle each multi-component level. To demonstrate this step I have provided below a simple diagram that I created to help define Sales Operations. Viewing this diagram provides clarity around what I mean when I refer to “Sales Operations”.
    Sales Operations - Simplified and Defined

    4) Define the purpose of each component.
    Why does each component exist and how does it contribute to your ultimate goal?

    5) Define the relationships between components.
    How does each component effect every other component? This is often represented by a line interconnecting the circles. Often a matrix is helpful in this exercise, with each component having its own row and column. Does each effect strengthen or weaken the respective components’ purposes?

    6) Define the players.
    Who in your organization owns each component. If you cannot identify an explicit owner for each component, then this may be part of your problem.

    7) Define the problem.
    a) What are the fruits? These are visible symptoms that indicate that a problem exists.
    b) What are the roots? These are the ultimate causes of the problem. This is what needs to be corrected in order to stop the problem from recurring. Sometimes identifying the root cause requires digging deeply and speaking to several effected parties.

These 7 steps to Whiteboard Thinking will help you to define and simplify the complex problem so that you can tackle it with clarity and confidence. This exercise is worth your time, because a thousand words are worth a picture.


I welcome you to post your feedback.

How to Inspire End User Adoption

If your organization struggles with end user adoption for new processes and technologies then this post will help. The practical insights provided below have been proven to work whether deploying a new CRM system or a new process within existing technology.

The seeds of end user adoption are planted long before implementation. The secret is to create a sense of ownership and positive anticipation leading up to deployment.

Consider the foundational meaning of the word “adoption”. When a parent “adopts” a child, they take one that belonged to another and makes them their own. By this definition, true adoption goes beyond meeting the minimum requirements to a sense of personal responsibility and expected value.

To create a sense of ownership, create a committee (whether formal or informal) that is to actively participate in shaping the process or technology being deployed. This team should have at least one representative from each role being effected. Guide them to provide input at pre-established milestones.

Be sure to listen carefully and value their input. Give them a sense of ownership. Only the true owner of a project can offer a sense of ownership to selected others. If you do this well, they will advocate the new process to their peers well before implementation. You will have actually effected the culture, which will not be easily changed.

Now, what if we still have an issue with adoption; what if 100% of your sales team members are not passionate evangelists of your process (imagine that!)?

This is where the stick comes in. The stick is to be used only when the carrot doesn’t work. Willful adoption is always more effective than forced adoption.

The following guidelines will help you to continuously increase adoption:

1. Establish metrics to measure adoption AND the expected results of adoption.
2. Use the metrics you established.
3. Acknowledge those who are adopting well and highlight their positive results to their peers.
4. Point out those who are not adopting well.
5. Managers, hold your team members accountable. Manage beyond metrics. Interact with each member.
6. Executives, hold your managers accountable to holding their team members accountable.

How do you drive adoption? You don’t. You inspire adoption!

“Weighted BANT”: A Simple Lead Qualification Methodology

If you have any experience in Lead Generation, then you are familiar with “BANT”. Budget, Authority, Need and Time frame are commonly used criteria for qualifying leads. If all four criteria are confirmed, then the lead is considered “qualified” and it enters the sales pipeline.

The Common Challenge:
Here’s the challenge that many companies will admit: “If I hold to all four criteria, then I will not qualify enough leads. But if I remove any one criterion, then I will qualify too many leads. Either way, I can’t win!” Yes, you can win. There is another way…

The Simple Solution:

The following lead qualification methodology is easy to deploy and can be quickly configured in most SFA or CRM systems.  I call it the “Weighted BANT” methodology:

Apply a weighting to each of the BANT criteria (0, 1, 2, 3 or 4) and define each weighting. Below is a sample set of definitions for Authority:

0 = Has no authority and has no access to the decision maker(s).
1 = Has no authority, but has direct access to the decision maker(s).
2 = Has influence and has access to the decision maker(s).
3 = Is one of several decision makers.
4 = Has complete authority as the sole decision maker.

Define a similar scale for Budget, Authority, Need and Time frame.

Now qualify your leads based on the sum of all four scores. For example:

0-4 = Unqualified (don’t waste your time).
5-8 = Slightly Qualified (nurture it).
9-12 = Qualified (follow-up).
13-16 = Highly Qualified (follow-up immediately).

The “Weighted BANT” methodology provides enough flexibility to customize for your sales organization and enough simplicity to deploy and train quickly and easily.

If you choose to adopt this methodology, please share your results with me.


Character Over Talent: “What talent can build over a lifetime, bad character can destroy in a moment” – Roger Gushway

Three years ago I heard Roger Gushway speak these words: “What talent can build over a lifetime, bad character can destroy in a moment.”  Immediately I thought of various people who had reached great heights of success after a lifetime of hard work, only to see it all tragically destroyed because of one pivotal moment’s decision.  I had to ask myself, “Am I prone to the same tragedy?  When I achieve my desired success, will I have the character to sustain it?

As we aspire to achieve our goals in business and beyond, let us maximize every opportunity to build character.  Character is not acquired through learning or reading.  There is no “Character 101” course or “Character for Dummies” book.  Character is established through a series of daily decisions where the rubber meets the road.

When we choose not to compromise our morals, even if it results in loss, character is built.  When we insist on the betterment of someone else in stead of ourselves, character is built.  When our patience is tested in the fires of daily life, character is built.  When all odds are against us but we do not quit, character is built.  And as our character is built, so is our legacy.

Character does not have a time and a place.  It is always relevant, always appropriate.

In the business world, when I evaluate a vendor, a partner, an employee or a customer, I always look for character first.  I’ll take character over talent any day.