SI Review: October 2012

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Power Seller

The Other R&D

The path to great sales success

By Tina Babbi

The last several months have been challenging for many sales professionals in the IT staffing markets. As the demand for talent heats up in the market, supply is constrained. Not only are we competing with other contingent workforce providers, but with full-time offers that are often arriving concurrent with confirmation of contingent opportunities. There is no more heart-breaking situation than to lose a confirmed candidate to another job opportunity — especially one that was introduced after the candidate already accepted the job offer.

Though you need to make sure you’ve implemented all the right candidate management techniques in your recruiting process, in the end the only way to ensure you make your number is to build some risk mitigation in your sales plan — expand your opportunity funnel so that you have more qualified opportunities to close. To do this, it becomes more critical than ever to build R&D into your individual sales process. Research and development you say? No. Rigor and discipline.

Accountability. Rigor and discipline in sales is the ability to say no to all the activities that interrupt in the day and holding yourself accountable to focusing and executing against your original plan. How often do you lose selling time by reacting to other happenings? This candidate needs coaching, that hiring manager needs guidance to better attract candidates, a client VP wants to talk to you about your candidates falling out of the pipeline, and there are five new candidates who need to get reviewed. Sound familiar? Before you know it, your day has disappeared and you didn’t make any progress finding new business opportunities. That forecast is not going to look very promising if you can’t find new business opportunities.

Recently I saw some astounding metrics on sales productivity — some claiming numbers as low as 90 minutes of selling time per day. Another report claimed that a typical sales professional is interrupted every 11 minutes and takes 25 minutes to recover from each of these interruptions. Scary numbers to anyone engaged in the sales profession but how can you change them?

Characteristics. Over the years, I have come to find that there are two characteristics that set great sales professionals apart:

  • They ruthlessly qualify opportunities in or out of their pipelines with every interaction — they do not live in a fantasy world of “hope”; and
  • They are selfish and accountable to the time they spend on outbound activities that benefit pipeline growth.

These two qualities are the cornerstones of building R&D into your sales process — not just talking about it. The first quality is about making sure you are not looking at opportunities through rose-colored glasses: is this truly a qualified opportunity or simply a conversation between two people? Ruthlessly qualifying opportunities in or out with every interaction requires some visceral fortitude — you may leave the discussion with your pipeline one deal smaller, but most important, you have just recaptured valuable time to further develop new opportunities.

The second characteristic speaks to regularly dedicating time, without interruption, to focus on growth of your business. You’ll hear these sessions often called power hours or golden hours.

I am amused by how surprised sales people are the first time they hold one of these sessions. Imagine having one hour where you don’t accept calls, emails, texts or drive-by attempts at meetings by other colleagues. I recently had a new account manager complete her first power hour. She made more forward progress with a key account in that focused hour than she had in the previous six weeks. These sessions have now become a regular part of her plan. We’ve even had some fun with this approach. We’ve even printed up signs so that the sales team can announce to the rest of the organization that they are on their power hour and are not to be interrupted.

Think about how R&D in your sales plan could potentially change your results. The good news is that you don’t need any new software, new sales methodology, new forecasting model or training to try it. How would five uninterrupted hours per week focused on specific tasks to build your business change your forecast? How would factual qualification of your opportunities change your pipeline development efforts? So get selfish — hold yourself accountable — you owe it to your sales plan.

Tina Babbi is vice president of sales at Akraya Inc. She can be reached at tbabbi@akraya.com.

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