Building directly on our last #BTDT post, I want to take a deep dive into the strategy that had the most impact on getting us up and out of the plateau we were stuck in:
Optimizing our sales strategy for predictability.
And I want you to hear it from the horse’s mouth. You see, I knew the day would come when our initial sales process would begin to stall. In anticipation of that stage, I had been ‘cultivating’ someone I had worked with in the past for a while. I was warming her up to head up our sales and marketing and help drive us forward in a new way. She agreed and together, we dug our way out of the slump. For this post, I’ll have her walk you through how she approached the problem and laid the foundation for our new strategy.
(Just remember, as with almost all of our posts, on paper and in retrospect, the solution seems clean and somewhat obvious… but we had to dig through some messy stuff in order to get there.)
Over to you, G.
In my experience, there comes a point in every business when you’ve exhausted your Rolodex and “hustle harder” stops driving sales. What’s important is how you dig your way out.
In PivotDesk’s case, digging our way out meant reevaluating our entire sales process. In this post, I’ll walk you through what that looked like and how we turned things around when numbers were starting to look flat.
Let’s start big picture:
If you’ve got a product or service to sell, chances are you’ve been guilty of employing one of two schools of thought:
1. Build it and they will come (focus on the product and it will sell)
2. Hustle harder (hire more people, push them harder and they’ll close more deals)
The first is a bit outdated but I still run into people with that mentality. The second is more popular. It’s an approach we latch onto because… in a world of mass chaos… it feels tangible.
The problem? Both are inherently flawed.
“Build it and they will come” strips you of control.
You may be offering something faster, shinier and newer than what’s out there, but the chances of your audience organically adopting it are exceptionally low.
Because, while faster AND shinier may pique their interest, newer has the opposite effect. Newer triggers hesitation rather than adoption because of one key fact: people find comfort in routine and familiarity. As a result, your audience is much more likely to drag their feet and continue to support outdated processes simply to avoid trying new things (even if that thing is in fact faster and shinier).
“Build it and they will come” also assumes you know your audience inside and out. It assumes you know them so incredibly well that you’ve built a near PERFECT solution for their needs and you’ve found the EXACT positioning that’s going to effectively demonstrate your value. While I’d love to believe we’re all capable of that… claiming that level of psychic ability in business is a little far fetched for my taste.
“Hustle harder” — The truth is, it works… at first.
The key here is low hanging fruit. When low hanging prospects are a reality and ripe for converting, you can in fact do more, faster (hustle harder!) and see your sales output increase as a result.
The issue? It’s not sustainable. The very thing that drives this approach (low hanging fruit) is what causes its demise.
PivotDesk learned this the hard way. How? We ran out of fruit! We exhausted our relationships and no matter how hard we continued to push, results stalled.
Aaron Ross (Predictable Revenue) refers to this stage as crossing the “hot coals.” A plateau every business hits when you outgrow your initial adoption strategy and need to adjust to employ a new strategy that will power predictable growth.
*Image from Predictablerevenue.com
When PivotDesk launched, the team spent a good amount of time in Stage A — getting the marketplace up and running via pure hustle. Everyone in the company adopted the responsibility of distribution and sales. They hit the pavement hard to secure the first series of paying customers — exploring every relationship in order to close deals. Eventually, more people were hired to help and PivotDesk saw an increase in revenue as those new hires worked their Rolodexes. But it wasn’t long before that increase leveled off and close rates lost steam. It was then that PivotDesk hit Stage B, the hot coals.
I started at this stage — originally with a focus on lead generation. The thinking was that if we could gain more distribution, we’d see sales increase as a result. But it became clear that doing so would result in pumping leads into a leaky bucket. So instead, we turned to our sales process.
What did we do to change it? Nothing… at first!
The honest truth is the team had an approach they were familiar with so we kept pushing. We couldn’t pull the plug and halt sales all together and I needed a bit of time to gather information from the team and our data before making a call on next steps.
But it didn’t buy us much time. The harder we pushed, the crazier we looked. We were reliant on a broken process… doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We were guilty of executing the very definition of insanity itself.
Thankfully, we snapped out of it. But it wasn’t easy.
Given the volatility of the original approach, it was difficult to study and/or optimize. Everyone had a unique process for finding and closing deals so we had very little insight into trends. There was also little to no accountability on individuals because everyone had banded together to fight the good fight — and that meant we couldn’t identify and learn from top performers. So, rather than optimize the way we were doing things at the time, we took a calculated risk and restructured the entire sales process. And we leveraged the Predictable Revenue strategy to do it. (If you haven’t read this book, read it.)
To start, we arranged our sales flow into segments:
Lead generation | Opportunity qualification | Closing sales
Next, we broke out the team so that each person had a specialty. Rooted in the concept that we’d see more results from doing fewer things better and faster, we had:
– A marketing manager focused on lead gen
– A business development person focused on qualifying the value and “close-ability” of each lead
– A salesperson focused on nothing other than converting those leads to sales
Later, we went on to add an outbound manager who would execute cold outreach to qualify another series of opportunities and a channel manager who would work to surface qualified referrals.
Note: The team wasn’t hired for these roles originally. We were very lucky to have a group of smart, adaptable people who welcomed the challenge.
First, this level of segmentation and focus made an immediate impact on efficiency.
I’d love to tell you how our sales conversions changed as a result but the trouble is… our first approach didn’t enable us to track that. So, our first quarter into predictable revenue, we locked in baseline conversion rates and optimized from there.
New revenue, however, was a different story.
In our first quarter, we matched what had previously been our highest sales month (an outlier in a series of low months). Only this time… we hit it three months in a row and by our third quarter, we were tripling that number!
Second, it drove transparency.
When there was a flaw in the system, we could identify it and solve for it. Quickly. This helped me manage both people and process effectively and made an immediate dent in our ability to perform against goals.
Third, it drove ownership.
Each person worked to become an expert on his or her segment, optimizing processes after each learning. We were developing mini CEOs who would later go on to manage teams against the processes they’d perfected.
And last but definitely not least… It drove predictability.
For the first time, we could anticipate our growth. We could identify behavior, predict outcomes and make decisions based on real math vs. guesswork.
If we knew that our conversion rates looked something like this:
Lead → Qualified Opportunities = 35%
Qualified Opportunities → Closed sales 55%
And that the life cycle of a sale looked something like this:
Then we could set a meaningful lead gen goal, a qualified opportunity goal AND a closed business goal — meaning each person had something tangible to aim for that would directly impact our success.
(From there, we got creative and designed lead gen strategies to power that funnel… We’ll dive deep on the strategies we utilized and the results we saw in a later post.)
To this day, we continue to meet weekly with the team to review our sales funnel. We talk through each segment and compare the goals we set out to achieve with progress to date. When we’re behind schedule, we know why and the team comes together to solve for it.
Here’s a quick example of what that looks like:
We’re on target to hit our lead goal and we’ve qualified enough leads to hit our sales goal. But it’s August and due to summer vacations, a lot of the qualified opportunities are non responsive this month and aren’t converting — meaning our 55% conversion average is off and we’re at risk to come in short of goal.
Marketing steps up to design campaigns to re-engage those opportunities and drive urgency.
Outbound steps up to bring in a few new opportunities that should be quick to close.
Channel steps up by running outreach to uncover a few extra referrals.
And eventually, we’re back on track — sometimes not fast enough to hit our goal for the month. But this activity pumps the next two months with sales and our quarter averages out to a success!
Below you can take a look at the spreadsheet we leverage to run those meetings and track progress against goals. If you’re interested in structuring a similar sales approach — or want to simplify a version of it you’ve been executing, I recommend starting here. It doesn’t get more black and white than this!
Thanks to this approach, in under a quarter, we knew our funnel inside and out. We could tell you where we’d end up, how we’d get there and if we were off, why and what we were going to do about it.
At this stage, there was an undeniable sense of clarity in the air. We weren’t out of the woods yet but we had a line of sight off of the hot coals — and it felt good!
As a bonus, having our team working this closely with our audience meant we developed a detailed understanding of their nature and we could leverage that to inform marketing automation and product enhancements to increase efficiency and complement our sales activity with organic growth.
Do things that don’t scale so they can drive the things that do later.
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