Sales Metrics …

In my newest venture, we’re at that point where we have to start paying attention to classic sales metrics to start heading towards certain growth targets. As I’ve been going through the exercise with the team, I find myself being overly enthusiastic about how valuable the exercise is and how telling the metrics can be as to the health of the whole sales and marketing activity. Our focus has been on the following (we’re using simple Waterfall displays to visualize the results):

  1. Raw lead generation — a month by month capture of raw lead generation. I find this is typically the starting point for the sales metric build-up. As we’re in the critical period of our sales season, we started tracking by week for a while so we have a finer handle on whether the top-down goals can be met.
  2. Lead2Prospect – in our scenario this is when we convert a lead to a qualified prospect. This means the prospect is interested in our offering, will return a phone call or email and has expressed interest in visiting or learning more. We’re not sure what the conversion rate is as yet, but tracking this metric will start to generate a pretty obvious trend after a few months. We’re also fine tuning the message we deliver, the supporting materials that go with it and the systematic way in which we are staging the sales process — all things that are key to developing efficient conversion results.
  3. Prospect2Trial — this is our key metric as historically the trial tends to lead to a commitment event.  The challenge here is a lot of time is spent during a trial and we’re not yet sure we have enough people and/or an efficient enough trial process to handle enough trials to reach our overall goal for the season. Nonetheless, if we can ascertain the conversion rate, it’s the kind of problem I don’t mind having. Our emphasis here is on proper follow up and providing as good a trial experience as we can. It involves many people on the team and is something we have to mature substantially for it to scale to the next level as we grow.
  4. Trial2Close — we expect to be better than 50% on this metric but don’t have enough accurate history to really know. We also can develop sales cycle lengths at this point which can factor back into the Plan line on the Waterfalls for next season. For now, we’re assuming high conversion rate.

In parallel, we’re starting to keep an activity table aligned with the structure of the Waterfall that tracks each marketing event we undertake and how many leads come out of it over time. This will give us a feeling for the impact length of each activity and whether or not a ‘termite mound’ is building (credit to Cadman for this term). As an example, we’ll have an ad in the Toronto Star next week — which is hard to track but reaches a very wide focused audience for us — and are also going to regional sports events where families hang out totally in our sweet spot — easier to track these as we get calls or we don’t, more or less right away.

So, sales metrics, waterfalls, conversion rates — all simple to put in place but extensively important to providing visibility as to whether the business is in a healthy state from a growth perspective.

Some challenges:

  • being honest about what we classify as a qualified prospect
  • owning up to losses and reasons for losses
  • timely follow up — if its our sales season it is for our competitors as well
  • being professional when we review the metrics so everyone is on-board with their value versus using as a reason to be critical

There is some more detailed material on which goes into this in a more formal way. I’m enjoying this stage of our business development — let’s hope it allows us to get to the next stage efficiently.

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A Great Interview …

I found myself interviewing a sales candidate this week who did not have any business getting the interview. He had no prior experience selling, did not have the educational background, did not have any experience working in the relevant industry, yet their he sat for the interview.

His first approach was to impress upon me how excellent his interpersonal skills were. He moved on to how determined he is to pursue his prospect and then fell back on the usual ‘i’m a quick learner’ stuff.  He handed me a bit of a resume, very poorly organized. Oh boy.

My interview tactics quickly shifted to case study questions — i wanted to see how he would deal with some classic objections that get in the way of a sale. Although he did not have the specific company or product experience, he handled my questions well — his core skills were starting to show through — he perhaps had the right DNA.

I tried to put him on the spot by simulating a real sales situation, a mock prospect meeting — i was the customer, he was the sales person. We bantered back and forth going through many of the typical objections we’re aware of, and although he invented a few answers, he handled them well. In fact, better than the current team in some ways.

People with the right DNA don’t often fall into your lap for a role like this. But when they do, you’re faced with an important decision — do you grab them and quickly mentor/coach them towards success — teach them the things they need to refine their core aptitude into something that can be successful for them — or do you hold out for someone with experience that perhaps can accomplish more in the short term but be problemantic or expendable in the long term.

One problem with this dilemma — would you see through the person with experience to be able to determine if they have the right DNA? Is it more valuable to understand whether the DNA exists during the first interviews or whether the candidate has the relevant experiences instead. I think there are more cases — perhaps in Sales roles more than others, where the DNA sniff test is well hidden behind the experience the sales person picks up from a few jobs. The interviewer gets clouded judgement — clouded by the prepared answers to typical interview questions. Even a roll-play does not often reveal the true nature or capabilities of the candidate.

I’ve concluded I’d rather have the DNA — especially if the work ethic goes with it. The candidate can be shaped into a successful performer, no need to worry later that some lack of aptitude needs to be overcome for the candidate to be successful. No need to fight with someone who thinks they know things that they do not.

I have not yet decided if we will give the person the job — but I am leaning that way. I need to make sure the team chemistry can be maintained. I need to make sure we can take a chance on some early stumbling in exchange for down the road excellence.

DNA wins!

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Some site feedback on Inside Sales topic …

Recently someone posted the following question as site feedback for the Inside Sales article I wrote. Unfortunately they did not leave a return email or contact name, so I could not respond. I thought I would post to Blog as an alternative. Here is what was posted:

“I am a part of a short term project team – we have been assigned bi-monthly sales goals. Each sales rep has been asked to identify their targeted leads.  Some members of the team have complied and others have chosen not to but have identified associations by which they intend to prospect ALL of the members.  A concern was raised around the cost of sales and compensation with respect to the possibility of cross selling leads. The sales managers expect the sales reps to resolve their own conflicts rather than requiring all to comply with the expectation that they identify the lead that they will sell too.  This situation has already begun to take the fun out of this opportunity for many.  Instead of reconciling the lists and then analyzing the shared leads to determine who should pursue the lead – determine whether the sales members should partner together.  The sales management team seems solely focused on achieving the numbers by any means necessary.  Please share your thoughts. ”

From my perspective, this seems to indicate an overall lack of maturity in the sales process. The weak spot is probably the lack of a balanced compensation strategy that can accommodate sales conflict while being fair to all of those involved. I have found this to be one of the hardest element of sales compensation to set up properly — new situations always arise and often have to be dealt with after the fact — not easy to do, especially if sales numbers are not being met, which is likely what is happening in the above situation.

Many companies, especially public ones, will pull out whatever stops it feels it needs to do to make quarterly targets — i’m guessing this is one of those scenarios as the person states this as a “short term project team”. Many things get compromised, least of which is the long term morale of the sales team.

Perhaps the best advice I can offer is to look at the sales leader and decide whether there are some hidden objectives driving this behavior. If the team is a quality sales team, they should be trusted to do what is right to make sales targets. Having everyone pursue their leads regardless of overlap and duplication does not seem like the right approach, and will quickly be laughed at by the prospective customer when they find multiple people from the  same company trying to sell them the same product — maturity shows up in many ways, immature sales teams don’t do well long term.

Compensation is the key issue here — fairness is the best way to maintain team loyalty, efficient processes and ultimately to maintain great relationships with customers. Sometimes a Company has to pay a bit more to reach this level of maturity but in the long run, they will have a sales team properly focused on the goals for the company and enjoying doing so. I assume this is what they want.

PS: If you are the author of the feedback on and read this article, please drop me a line so we can talk about this further. Hopefully some other comments will appear with this Blog as well to get other perspectives.

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Getting Ready for a New Year …

I always take a few days of peaceful time (or I need a few days of peaceful time) to reset myself for the new year. I’m sure everyone has their own routine — or at least should. It’s a chance to take advantage of that inherent skill we all have to pack away a year’s worth of memories into one package and file it away under “Experience”. Here is what I like to do before I go back to work at the start of each year:

  1. I clean up my home office environment. If you’re like me, you usually have an accumulated mess of papers of both a work and personal nature. I always have some little dust bunnies behind things and in particular, in my drawers. I dig down deep and clean them up. The more I throw away, the more I feel good about it — makes me feel clean inside. The more I can say goodbye to things, the more I close out chapters. One key thing — don’t just create a new pile somewhere else, actually go through the effort of throwing things away, recycling, whatever – the jobs not done until you do.
  2. I start a new notebook for work. I start a new one as I have always found it easier to organize my notes by year if I was ever looking back for something. One would think you could just write the time period on the cover or something, but starting fresh at the start of each year also helps to clear the mind. It helps to use big notebooks so they last at least the year otherwise you might only have a few pages used in the last one for the year — which is a bit of a waste.
  3. I go through my work notebooks for the year looking for incomplete tasks. I often go backwards as it helps me remind myself of how the year went. I look for tasks I want to bring forward to the new year and they become the first pages in the new notebook. Given this approach, the last pages I see are the first ones from last year which contain my start of year to-do list. You can quickly assess yourself to see how you did during the year. Are there a bunch of items from the start of year list undone — do I now have 6 pages of items carrying forward? It’s surprising how revealing this is.
  4. I clean up my email inbox — i never actually do this enough. I am an email horder, so email organization is important. I start a new Outlook PST file each year and use it to store a copy of my entire inbox from the year as well as the emails sent. I also file away active business folders for all the companies or projects I work with. The side benefit of doing this is my PST file never gets soooo big that Outlook starts to have problems with it — Microsoft still has not solved this issue well from what i can tell. I’ve met my inbox goal if it all fits on one page again — oh BTW, i often have a few carry forward to-do items from this exercise.
  5. I make sure my computer environment is properly backed up. I take my CD’s off site (just in case). I invested in a blue-ray writer so I can pack a lot onto one CD — important if you accumulate a lot of useless photos and home movies that you never go back to.  I think last year’s collection of family media was about 25GB!

The last thing i typically do is make a whole bunch of promises to myself about how next year will be better than the previous. Resolutions that reflect my forced reflection of the whole year that came from the above 5 items. I’m like everyone, i often break them early on — but there is always next year!

PS: Forgot to mention:

  • what to do with those unread magazines (probably should start considering on-line magazines instead)
  • the pile building up at the shredder — no time to sit there and watch them growth through
  • the unused clothes in the closet that once again did not get used this year (we try to be good about donating them a few times a year, but there is always some)

Anyway — a new year is fast approaching — i’m on the job again with a fixer-upper (my 3rd). I thought i would mostly be golfing. It’s starting to turn around and take some steps forward — perhaps I can get it on the Profit 50 list in a year or two — fast growth, here we come!

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Someone wants to be CEO

I’ve written a few times about leadership, about being a CEO and about excellence. Arguably, InsideSpin is mostly about these three topics. As I reflect on all that I have learned, i am amazed again to see someone go through that awful cycle of clawing back the role of CEO — because! Blinders on to what it takes to build a real business, one that can scale and operate with long term success in mind. No concern for how their personal desires affect the people around them.

This one is a bit closer to me as it is impacting a handful of the key people we had at PlateSpin. It makes me want to jump in and shake someone by the collar, but all that would do is likely entrench the person even more in feeling they can do a better job than the professional they had not long ago hired.

The first step is to call the team together and roll out the new operating mandate — by tradition, these types of wannabe CEO’s start by undoing all the good work their predecessor has done so they can make everything be like it was before the ‘bad chapter’ in their professional lives started. It’s so predictable — i wish I could turn it into a reality show where the audience rates the performance of the main characters and offers predictions of where it will be in season 2 or is it season catch-22.

It’s not all one-sided — when stepping into a situation with founders who have the ‘I wanna be the CEO — because’ syndrome, the new CEO has to define the operating parameters right away. If they fail to establish who is in charge, who makes decisions and fall back to consensus as the way to rule, they play right into the hands of the founder. In my book, CEO’s have to be leaders, be seen as leaders and this case brought in as a leader.

I’ll keep an eye on this one, help anyone looking to escape and hopefully not have too many more reasons to write about how predictable these situations are. I’m sad for the Company, its products, its hard working team and the other founders who are caught in the hard place, not likely able to influence it in the right way. I saw it, i said it and now I’m seeing it — this was so predictable.


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Tired of being on the RIM of Danger (Blackberry)

RIM was Apple, Apple became RIM. RIM, a disruptive force that redefined the concept of the mobile business device. They understood the need for simple yet reliable business tools that you could carry in your pocket. The keyboard accommodated big fingered people, email worked whenever, wherever — some apps were available, it was cool to carry one, funny commercials appeared on TV.

Unlike Apple, RIM never seems to have invested in becoming a software company. They may have missed the boat, like many hardware companies, on the need to look past hardware/infrastructure success to the invaluable role software plays in winning the long term battles. The early adopter phase is over, value is in the apps. Value has always been in the apps. Apple knows that Itunes is what made the iPod sticky with people — RIM has email, but that’s not enough. It could be enough, but their software development prowess is letting them down.

Do we write off RIM and watch them fall over the rim? Probably, they seem to be bungling so many things the biggest is maintaining a relationship with their customers. I pull out the battery on my Blackberry to reset it from time to time and have to wait 20 minutes for it to reboot — what could it possibly be doing? Why have they not told me they know this is unacceptable in a more competitive market? Even Microsoft understands Windows had to eventually boot quickly — it does!

I’m concerned for the last of our global Canadian technology icons. I’m sure there are other candidates on the horizon to take their place, but it’s hard to imagine RIM recovering their lofty position. I suppose they could find a Steve Jobs like person to take over and resurrect them, but they would need to fall a heck of a lot further before the current team steps aside. Like most teams, they probably don’t know the battle was lost a few years ago and the carnage is only now showing. They do seem out of touch.

What’s most surprising is that they still essentially have the best device for the younger generation but don’t seem to know it — even though they built their success around the business community, txt’ing is the new form of interpersonal skill, the Blackberry line of products is the best. If they dropped off 100 devices at any high school, most kids would trade in their current devices to get one. Why don’t they understand that — their not listening.

To get where they need to — mastering the art of software development is the key. It allows them to create the world they want to live in. It provides the stickiness needed to own the post early adopter market. It arms them with the weapons they need to compete with Apple and Google. It creates the only way to pressure others into exposing their weaknesses. Wake up RIM — before we roll you up.

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It’s been about 45 days …

InsideSpin and Brightlights are running a series of seminars over the next few months — we started promotion today and voila, i have a handful of new InsideSpin members. I’ve been very heads down with my e-learning activity, i forgot to tend to InsideSpin. I received one of the most useful pieces of feedback about the site today as well — change the color of the main text to Black from gray — i guess gray does not always show up on all types of monitors. I changed a few colors to hopefully make the site more festive. Unfortunately the person who left the feedback did not leave any contact details, so hopefully they come back some day.

Getting involved in a start up venture is all that I remember it to be. Not enough people to do what needs to be done, find funding, having to explain a lot of why we want to do some things now versus wait until later, find funding, institute some best practices about how we all work together so we can grow together, find funding and more (major challenge hint!). So many people with good ideas, so few people who know how to turn them into successful business ventures. So many obstacles created to prevent success from occurring, it’s a wonder a company like Apple ever came to survive.

Did you see the recent coverage of a company trying to re-invent the digital camera? Their device can correct for out of focus pictures afterwards, dramatically changing how people might approach taking pictures. Effectively makes everyone a top photographer — they should be a billion dollar company in a few years if they manage their path to market well, they also have to be careful how they explain what the magic process is as photo’s that undergo changes after-the-fact tend not to be appreciated in legal scenarios. Is it a touch up that shows the bad guy or was he there all along and just needed to be in focus. Anyway, it’s cool to see someone attempt to re-invent a mouse trap — imagine how many licenses they can sell if every phone camera wanted to have their technology?

I’m hoping our e-learning initiative can be that as well — i’m doing more than hoping of course, i’m reading InsideSpin diligently to make sure I follow that’s guys writing, he sounds like he knows what he is doing (or did when he was younger).

Still looking for our first sales guy!


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Here we go again …

As of Monday, I’ve taken up the CEO post of Everest Academy and Everest On-Line Learning Center (EOLC). A group of companies focused on helping youth excel at school while also achieving excellence at athletics and other high interest side endeavors.

Everest Academy is a new brand of private school built around our innovative S.E.L.F. (TM)  program model:

S – Skills (Sports (hockey, golf, lacrosse, tennis, …), Music, Technology, etc)
E – Education (K-12 is primary focus)
L – Leadership (under emphasized in traditional school model)
F – Fitness (health, strength, flexibility, nutrition)

The intent is to open many schools over the next 10 years based on licensing the S.E.L.F(TM) program model. Early indications are the model is unique and would be attractive to many places around the world, wherever  students are looking to excel at academics and high interest side endeavors — in an integrated fashion. The first Everest Academy, in its second year of operation, has quickly become recognized for its program excellence.

Everest On-Line Learning Center (EOLC) is a next generation implementation of on-line learning, targeting the Everest Academy style student who needs more flexibility to succeed in academics and side endeavors together. It combines the interests of the parent-student-teacher into an integrated learning system where all share in helping the student down the path to success. The first version is shortly ready to go for both internal use within a school environment (e.g. on-line course management, assignments, quizzes, shared calendaring, etc) as well as our first learning module centered on Grade 3 English and Math.

From an InsideSpin perspective, I now have to focus on some key startup challenges:

  1. Find the right group of early stage investors to back the initiative and help it realize its growth potential
  2. Find a core team to augment what is already in place who will thrive in early stage environments
  3. Solidify the business case that compels the target audience to buy
  4. Help establish an added value Board of Directors and Advisors
  5. Elevate the existing team to greater levels of performance and achievement
Hmmm – anyway — it will keep me moderately busy — fun, fun, fun.  Pass this on to the investor near you — i need lots of help finding them. Let’s hope they will think the management team is credible :)
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Moneyball — a prime example of excellence in action?

I’m a sucker for this kind of movie — aside from being a baseball fan of sorts (I finally caught my first foul ball last Monday — i smiled from ear to ear), I knew I would like the way in which focus and innovation was brought to the forefront. It did not matter whether or not the story is true, what matters is that great results came about as a result of a leader who was focused, beyond a reasonable doubt, to stay the course in pursuit of success.

To be a leader like the GM in the movie, there was a strong need to somehow infect everyone with the same conviction as he had. Convince everyone, not just to ‘try it for a while’, but to put aside all of the conventions and prejudices that often hold back success. Maximize the effort put out. Once infected, all the team brain power (or all the physical skills) are focused in a common direction, which often provides an edge against the competition.

Baseball, or sports in general, are often perceived to have an advantage in that team spirit and other intangibles can play a factor in winning. But this is true in the business world as well — it’s called building team culture. A well motivated team can ‘rally’ itself to catch up to the leaders, can overcome obstacles that hurdle them over higher challenges — that place them in the elite of the industry they are in.

Moneyball is a great movie to watch, regardless of your interests, but it is a great example of how perseverance and focus can pay off (assuming it is all channeled in a well-chosen way).

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I want to be a CEO

I recently met someone who wants to be a CEO. He wants it so badly he’ll do anything to assume and keep the role. He wants it so badly, he won’t accept that he’s not ready for the role. He wants it so badly, he is willing to ruin a great business opportunity so he could keep the role. He wants it so badly, he is willing to push away all those providing sound and sage advice about how to make his business successful. He wants it so badly, he thinks he will attract investors — because. He wants it so badly, he is unwilling to discuss in a non-emotional way, that the business could fail and what the consequences would be.

It’s a pretty common story in entrepreneur land. People have an idea, start a business and enjoy the notion that they are the boss. It often does not matter than they are not experienced to be the boss, but they like the ability to do what they want without constraints from any angle, including practicality. They start to develop acute ‘cataracts’ that prevent them from seeing properly, from seeing the reality that their dream is moving farther way and that being the CEO is what is killing it.

For certain, the fastest way to become a CEO is to start your own business. What’s unusual about getting what you wish for, is that if your business shows potential for success, you really do need to know how to manage it towards that success. It rarely comes any other way. The best CEO’s understand their inherent strengths and weaknesses surrounding themselves with people who can compensate as appropriate. The most astute entrepreneurs thrive on seeing their ideas become reality, it does not really matter if they are the boss, only that someone is working near as hard as they would to have it become a success.

I wish there were some magic potion people could drink to truly understand their strengths and weaknesses — to be able to see what they need to see in the mirror each morning, to get out of the way of what it takes to make things successful if success is to be had — to understand that they need not be the boss in order to realize all the benefits — but alas, the world is what it is, and many ideas go nowhere — because.

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