Of course there is nothing wrong with being optimistic in sales. On the contrary – if ever there was a sector that thrives on optimism against the pressure, the knockbacks, the expectations, an optimistic attitude is surely an essential personality trait for every B2B salesperson? What we’re talking about here though are the ‘random’ acts of optimism that many organisations can be guilty of. From unachievable targets to improbable customer outcomes – optimism has to be accompanied by a big dose of realism. A positive outlook needs to be based on strategic forward planning, forecasting and measurement. Get it right and those random acts of optimism can be turned into real opportunity for every organisation.
The stage is often set at Kick Off for the first random act – next year’s target. While the sellers and managers are busy celebrating last year’s wins, business leaders lay out the target for the next 12 months and announce the percentage of growth that is expected. The organisation may have great faith in its top performers and a strong belief that the numbers will be reached but what about the ‘how’? Is the figure feasible? Optimistic targets can lead to frustration for salespeople if there is a lack of clear guidance. With only 53% of sellers now achieving or exceeding their targets this is a random act that needs more clarity.
Generally, sales targets are based on market trends and economic factors from taking into account GDP, forthcoming product launches and entry into new markets. However, the most successful organisations concentrate their analysis on one critical area. The customer. A deep analysis into existing and potential customers can help leaders devise their financial targets for the salesforce and prevent the random optimism.
How much revenue will be recurring, will a price increase impact a particular upsell opportunity, could we prevent margin erosion with the buyer? Planning tools like the Ansoff ‘Z’ Matrix provides a framework to help leaders categorise the depth of the buyer relationship and the level of sales process the company has with that customer.Combined analysis into both relationships and processes will enable businesses to prioritise their efforts and set realistic annual targets.
Aside from the financials, another random act of optimism is based on targets set for account management. Metrics for growing and capturing new accounts are often limited to revenue numbers, as opposed to profitability and relationship development. There is still a ‘bigger is better’ attitude to the sales pipeline. Yet, not every customer is a good customer. Sales leaders can minimise the ‘random’ aspect by assessing the feasibility of growing an account. Asking basic questions such as ‘Do I want it?’, ‘Can I win it?’, ‘Is it going to be a right product fit?’ Sales people could be bolder, perhaps sharing the account plan with the client to build trust and honesty. Using simple tools like opportunity scorecards will allow salespeople to prioritise their work and better understand where to concentrate their efforts.
All too frequently sales teams get overly optimistic about the length of a sales call. “I had half an hour booked in but the client gave me 90 minutes”. Yes, that might be a positive sign but it doesn’t equate to a ‘good’ meeting. To get the best value it has to be properly planned at the right time, with the right people and be part of a deliberate strategy to win the opportunity. Sales people can demonstrate to clients that they’ve done their field research and have a precise plan in place to ensure their key objective is going to be met. Being frank and honest about an opportunity with a customer, assessing the ‘likeability’ factor of working together and gauging whether the solution is going to be the right fit can turn random optimism into a genuine opportunity.
Coaching is one of the most common acts of random optimism. Sales leaders regularly coach ‘on the hoof’ and take a reactive approach based on past performance and target tracking. Effective coaching should be forward-looking with planned, structured and scheduled sessions. CSO Insights’ latest figures show the 20% of top sellers drive 54% of revenue in some of the world’s most successful companies – yet only a third of those organisations assess these critical players to find out what is driving success. If a company doesn’t know why its top performers excel, then how can they coach the rest of the sales team? In the absence of that knowledge, coaching becomes a random act of optimism.
If we look at it in the context of Carol Dweck’s world-renowned Growth Mindset theory, the four elements are vision, strategy, execution and coaching. The leaders of an organisation will create the vision and the sales team play a key role in planning and understanding how the company is going to get there. Coaching the right behaviours will guide salespeople in the right strategic direction.
Recruitment also falls into the same category. We all know managers who recruit by gut feeling in the hope the person will be the right fit. But can the candidate meet the company’s core objectives? What behaviours need to be identified to demonstrate their performance potential? It takes an average of four months to recruit a new seller and nine months to fully on board them. A big investment in time. And a big risk to rely on someone’s gut feeling.
Random acts of optimism occur across the sales sector at every level. Optimism on its own can be hugely beneficial. In fact, the dictionary definition is ‘hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something’ and we all need that in bucket loads in this industry. On the other hand look up random and we see ‘done, chosen or occurring without an identifiable pattern, plan or system.’ And therein lies the problem.