SALES MANAGEMENT

Sales tales: success re-starts with just an hour per week.

Today’s tale: ten tips to make the most of your weekly sales meeting

by Stephen Allott, Venture Partner, Seedcamp Sales Tales

With thanks to my friends and colleagues Amy Chalfen, Wayne Barker, Ben Miller, Simon Johnson and Jason Ku

Of the 20 sales coaching meetings I have had with portfolio companies in the last 10 business days, over half have been about finding and working in new markets.

This Sales Tale is the story of how one software company learnt to adapt during this period of rapid change.

1. Our top ten tips on how to use your weekly sales meeting to find the new places where the money is hiding.

2. How you can use team-based Kaizen to improve your process using bottom up idea generation.

3. How to balance Oriental “O” shaped managed with Western “I” traditional sales management and get the best out of both East and West.

Many people have had to restart at the Search phase of the 3 Act Drama that is software sales.

This is the tale of a small fast growth software company who asked for my help 9 months ago. It’s been a great success. We have invented our new way to win. Here are the agenda, the tone and the tricks. Think intelligent design combined with natural selection.

At the end please join the Kaizen and add your improvement suggestions and what has been working for you.

Rising international tensions over Covid have also led me to realise that East and West have a lot to learn from each other. As you can see from the chart, East and West can be very different. East is “O” shaped. West is “I” shaped. Like Yin and Yang, both can be concurrently correct. One can aim to do both at the same time.

“O” or “I” thinking

Your weekly sales meeting is where you can use East and West concurrently and is the way to direct the search for more revenue intelligently. If you are a disciplined seasoned sales manager, using “I” shaped sales management tactics, broaden your repertoire to include “O” shaped thinking. Invite the CEO or other executive as a champiOn. If you are that CEO, add some “I” shaped sales management practices or even invite an interim sales manager to attend as a champIon. Individual accountability fits perfectly well with teamwork. Like Yin and Yang.

This is our tale.

Here are our ten tips.

First, hold a weekly sales standup. Ours is at 09:30 every Monday morning. It used to be in person in the Old Street office in London but Covid has shifted it online to a Google Hangout. It lasts exactly an hour and ends with a hard stop. The sales VP, sales reps and the CEO attend. And me. How your people look on video is important. The lighting, picture quality and background are what the customers see. Agility with presenting on-line and voice quality are not just hygiene. Bandwidth matters. And leave the video on.

2. We start with a round robin of the agenda items that people want to cover. I ask people what they want to get out of the meeting and what topics are on their mind. All the points raised go into the chat window. Pricing, highlights from the previous week, product issues and customers ghosting all come up. Our Google sheet sales forecast is always on the agenda. Our tool is better for our needs than the native CRM functionality. Data is more important than ever so we invest effort in getting it right. While the big top end deals are well inspected, scrubbing the fat middle and long tail of the pipeline is more important than ever. You can change the agenda order to suit the situation. It’s one of your levers. In a fast changing world, get up to speed first. Then plan.

3. We often start with celebrating the wins from the previous week; both new logos and base renewals. We talk about the final play that secured the PO. So we can learn. Dwell on the final victory steps and be generous in acknowledgement. Savour these moments. A hard fought battle that results in victory will have many lessons to share. But a bluebird deal that flies in and closes in a week because the customer had to spend their year end budget is also highly motivational. Your team can dream that it will happen to them. What about losses? Losses are analysed later in the meeting.

4. We then look at our sales figures to see the latest “Closed Won” number and where we stand against our target for the quarter. How far have we got to go? Are we on track? The 2 purple boxes contain a forecast calculated in 2 different ways so we can triangulate. The binary method is used for the “Closed Won (£83,349)+ Targeted to Win (£43,000)” number of £126,349. “Binary” because it’s either in the number or not. “Targeted to Win” is abbreviated to “Target” in the Goals column. we triangulate with the Factored Forecast number of £120,199. It is the sum of all the values in the Forecast column. We don’t use the common system of mechanistic factoring by sales stage because we like to have the debate on each deal. The factor % is finally set by the leader of the meeting not the rep.

5. The tone is supportive, learning, coaching. Problem solving is done as a team. Status free discussion and celebration of disagreement leads to creative ideas and solutions. None of this particular team are sales veterans and they don’t know how different this approach is from a traditional high pressure sales culture where reps have to present their deals, be questioned and then have to “commit”. “I shaped” survival of the fittest is what I call it.

6. When Covid struck we went into discovery mode to track how demand and the market were changing. We made plans to talk to every customer systematically about their spending plans and whether our product was still useful. We made a simple tab to collect the answers to our key questions and we analysed the findings. We found that demand varied according to our customers’ business health and varied on how fast they had travelled down their Covid reset journey. Typical phases are Freeze, Analyse, Replan, Reset, Restart. So now we often cover this market feedback early in the meeting agenda. We use React and Adapt.

Our Eastern inspired “O” shaped sales management approach

7. Getting to the Deal review, we go through the deals in order of factored value. We start with whether the action item from last week has been done and whether that has moved the deal forward. The rep will already have updated the probability % before the meeting. The team may challenge the new probability and we often fine tune it in real time. Then we hit the objection handling. No budget? So we learnt how to do a business case and found out that enabling our customer’s revenue growth was a big deal. Competition in the account? So we developed our competitor playbook and worked out the best plays to win. For us it was ease of use coupled with greater scale from extending our market leadership enabling better performance. Pestering the customer not working? We worked out reasons to call which would be welcomed. Payment terms coming under pressure? After discussion we decided to refer all pricing and payment terms decisions to the CEO who could operate like a dealing desk. Most important we brainstorm a closing plan and the next action step. Losses would get reviewed here.

8. We had to find out more about what was happening to our customers. So we started a fresh customer love campaign. More than just customer success, we now had to make sure they would renew because they were still getting real value from our products. And it gave us a great opportunity to hear about how their businesses had changed. We created a Red Amber Green (“RAG”) spreadsheet to track their status.

9. We then update the quarterly sales graph with the latest outlook and rehearse the headlines for the weekly team time lunch with all hands. Sales is the first topic the staff want to hear about

10. Finally we do our Kaizen session. We score each meeting at the end asking 2 questions: how good was it out of 10 and how much of each person’s potential to contribute was accessed out of 10. We then do a Kaizen round robin of what went well and everyones’ ideas for improvement which are noted in a Google tab. Every quarter I summarise our process improvements. People type their points directly into the shared Google sheet.

Our Kaizen sheet every week

Kaizen means “good change” in Japanese and it’s a good example of cyclic repetition to improve harmony within constraints; very Eastern and O shaped.

Combine that with innovative questioning to get straight to the right answer (truth) and you have the most powerful combination.

Going further, using Eastern and Western thought concurrently is truly game changing. Thorough internal reflection on a holistic basis about the impact on the community coupled with discussion on narrow aspects of how individuals are affected covers both sides.

One hour per week is all it takes to use the best of both worlds.

East or West. Use both. It’s best.

x x x

SALES TALES

12 Sales Tales episodes have been published so far (in bold below). Please comment saying which you would like Sales Tales to write next and any other topics you would like to be covered.

More about the Sales Tales series

WINNING YOUR FIRST CUSTOMERS

  1. Sales Tales Blog Series
  2. The first sale is the hardest — it’s a trial
  3. Enterprise sales closing checklist and tactics
  4. Your Customer Success team target is reference-ability
  5. Lead me on — all sales start with a qualified lead. Go forth and educate — make it personal
  6. How to write a business case: ROI business case development using ROCE trees
  7. Pricing issues (high or low, bundle or menu)
  8. Handling legal contracts and T s & Cs,

BUILDING YOUR SALES ENGINE

  1. Sales is a 3 Act Drama. How your Founder sales role evolves thru Search/Focus/Scale
  2. You’re selling not buying when sales hiring
  3. The first sales hire is the hardest
  4. Sales organisation expansion guide / Role and Territory design
  5. Recruiting Sales Reps: Top Ten Tips to catch the best
  6. China and USA market entry / when and how to open an office
  7. Sales / Pre-sales / Implementation / Customer success: how they fit

MAKING IT A SALES MEAN MACHINE

  1. Using your weekly sales meeting to innovate and find the money
  2. Make your sales forecast about action
  3. Sales rep Onboarding and Training
  4. Commission plan design / Monthly or quarterly targets?
  5. Channels and “partners”: when does it make sense?
  6. How to Diagnose and Fix sales problems
  7. Competitor playbooks; how to win every time
  8. The quarterly sales kickoff meeting is the place to start
  9. Sales tool stacks (Salesforce or not?, which CRM, Sales enablement)

Tech vendor scale upper. Decide market strategy. Plan the numbers. Hire the people. Hit the numbers. Solve the problems. McKinsey, MUSE, SUNW, XROX,