Re-aligning Sales Efforts to Strategic Direction

Would you agree that prospecting for new customers or for opportunities within existing accounts is often relegated to salespeople, without any detailed strategic input from senior management?

Sure, we all have a general idea of what type of customer or new deal we want to close, but in 2021 we need to align our prospecting activities with the strategic direction our company is taking. 

Meaningful prospecting requires collaboration between senior management and the sales team.

Keep Your Sales Healthy – Prevention is Better Than Cure.


Prevention is better than cure.  We have to prevent falling into the “not enough leads” trap. We have to prevent losing sales through the cracks through lack of following up. We have to qualify prospects. We have to analyse account data. We have to really know our customers. We have to prevent poor customer experiences that lead to lack of repeat sales. We have to provide insights and expertise. Sales managers need to be coaching. Really basic sales stuff. Not rocket science.

There’s no getting away from preventative maintenance in sales in order to keep our sales results healthy. If we are not consistently (aka on-a-daily-basis) staying ahead of the curve in what is really just professional sales basics, we will end up in ICU trying to resuscitate old quotes and neglected accounts that are flatlining.

Hunker down. Focus on pumping up your immune system. Get back to healthy sales basics – more often than not, it will provide the cure.

The menacing tentacles of corruption affect us all in sales. Here’s one of my stories …

The minute I heard Agrizzi start spilling the BOSASA beans at the current State Capture Commission proceedings, my ears pricked up.

Here’s why:

At the time of the award to BOSASA of the many government tenders  – that we now know from the horse’s mouth were allegedly a ‘done deal’ from the outset – I was consulting to one of their major competitors – a major international facilities management company with unquestionable ethics and governance.

In South Africa, this international company needed to find new business – and fast. Our focus was specifically targeting lucrative, major multiple-site catering contracts. This included government facilities such as correctional services, provincial hospitals and more.

The team I worked with grew significantly in a short period of time. In addition to the seasoned team already in place, we also employed a number of new graduates, trained them, streamlined the sales process, implemented a company-wide CRM system and made significant improvements to impact their sales efforts. Over the months and years, we gained excellent sales traction.  A handful of major private sector bids worth many millions were awarded much to our delight. The 2-year pipeline started filling up with lucrative large opportunities of which the company was well-positioned to be awarded.  Or so we all thought.

When tailing off my involvement with the sales turnaround project  the national sales manager shared with me how they had been pulling “all-nighters for the past  weeks” in order to get their bids in for (another) major government tender issued at short notice.  I can’t recall the exact details.

I remember being a bit frustrated with what he told me because the team had been pulled off many other tasks on other bids that had been set for them in order to hit their new sales targets. However, I was assured that if they got the tender, it would be well worth the risk in delaying the other time-sensitive tasks.

We had also set up a bid department which included a full-time senior employee to manage bids as well as the creative process – this was not a simple “quick PowerPoint” type of presentation. The costs of submitting complex tenders (300-page documents)  ran into hundreds of thousands if you take into consideration the time and effort of the extensive senior team involved in getting right through to the final round of bid selection.

Needless to say, although terms like “preferred bidder” being mentioned, the company did not get that  multi-year, multi-million rand tender. The team was devastated  – so many hours burning the midnight oil, so much effort only to be pipped at the post.

Naturally, on a level playing field, it is a matter of “heigh-ho that’s how bids go”. We learn. We move on.   By the way, generally speaking I don’t think its worth bidding unless there’s a pre-existing relationship and/or at least insights into specs/needs etc.  Unfortunately, many organisations more often than not simply tick a box of getting 3 quotes for governance reasons even when they have already decided on which supplier to give the order to.  No-one wants to do all that work just to be “the third quote”.

Remember that ahead of RFQs or tender submissions – sales professionals have always tried to get the inside track. We’re all aware of wanting to influence relationships, product specs and buyer choices in our favour even before the tender documents are compiled etc. That’s acceptable.

BUT what isn’t acceptable is factoring into your bid the cost of buying luxury handbags and cars or paying huge sums of money in brown envelopes / grey cash bags to those senior people involved in awarding and/or influencing the bids. That is a criminal offence.

To hear all these years later confirmation of the many cash payments and ‘favours’  to those in high places ) just makes my blood boil. So much taxpayers’ money wasted.

And talking about money wasted, I know now that the team of top notch salespeople wasted their time and resources on submitting their bid.  And probably many other sales teams did too. Hopefully those involved will now get to waste their time. In jail.

In the sales profession, as in the procurement profession there needs to be zero tolerance for fraud, bribery and corruption.

Salespeople and sales leaders need to blow more whistles.  If you know about fraudulent activity, it’s your duty as a sales professional to contact Corruption Watch and/or the State Capture Commission with your evidence. Or send an anonymous tip-off to the investigative journalists at The Daily Maverick or Scorpio.

Welcome to Weekly SalesBrief Readers

Hello. If you’ve just made the changeover from my Weekly SalesBrief to following the Blog, thank you for taking the time to do so. This is an interactive platform and it would be great to hear from you in response to future articles and insights.

Here’s to a great sales year ahead in 2019.


This Will Help Bring in More Sales Than any Sales Tool or CRM System Available

A customer once told me that his decision to give me a 300k project was based on the fact that I personally responded to his enquiry via my website over the weekend within 15 minutes (note – not an auto-bot response, I typed a proper reply).
No “ten-trillion” customer relationship management system or company-wide 6 month sales training programme provides that advantage.
In today’s hectic world, the mere acts of following-up, returning phone calls quickly, replying to emails, sharing information of value and just being polite goes a long, long way to securing business. It’s that simple.
I often wonder if companies are so focused on implementing complex processes and procedures, creating innovative presentations and rolling out state-of-the-art CRM or lead-gen systems,  that they allow us as salespeople to forget the importance of the absolute basic principles of sales professionalism – responding quickly, showing respect, doing what we say we are going to do, being courteous and keeping the customer well-informed as to what is going on with his or her order/enquiry/complaint before they have to reach out for the answer. Basics that should come naturally but unfortunately don’t.
No crafty content-based marketing system that is triggered to send a series of emails to prospects because of what pages they visited or downloads they requested on your website will help strengthen the personal relationship if that’s what the buyer is looking for.  I download loads of stuff but it means absolutely nothing in terms of whether or not I’m going to buy anything or not from that vendor. It just makes me aware of what they offer. It’s only when I connect with a salesperson that I make the decision.
Heck, we all know that most of these “Dear …” so-called “personal” emails are generated automatically by the thousand and were probably not authored by the person whose name is in the signature line.  We all know that most call centre folk are reading off a screen (i.e. click here if the customer says this … ) and have very little ability or interest in deviating from their prompted script.
Use sales and marketing tools in the interests of increased productivity and service but keep it real.  And above all, get the basics right. The role of the salesperson in influencing the sale is far great that you might think.

4 Questions to Ask Your(Sales)self

team wondering

  1. How do I position myself in the mind of my customer?
  2. How do I increase my visibility in the marketplace?
  3. Why, based on the number of competitors and alternatives that are available to  customers, should they do business with me?
  4. What 3 words do I want a customer to use to describe me accurately?



Did You Know? Your CRM system will do far more than just manage your sales – if you set it up right.

As you probably know, I’m a huge fan of CRM (customer relationship management) systems in general;  having worked with and implemented many types of sales software systems over the past 20 years.

Right now I do quite a bit of work helping clients implement Maximizer CRM Live. It’s my personal favourite in terms of hosted CRM systems for SME’s.

Interestingly,  I’m finding that more and more business owners are open to using it “to the Max”.

Here’s a few examples of clients who’ve set Maximizer up to manage more much than they first anticipated:

Client A:
– Suppliers of a massive range of high-end security-related items to all business sectors
– Imported and locally manufactured products
– Ex stock and custom made items
– 300 or more customer orders tracked monthly
– Team of 12

This team uses Maximizer for tight management of their sales pipeline, internal and external sales team activity and KPI management, as a customer communications and documents repository and as a platform to manage their email database as well as track and send out their marketing campaigns.

But here’s the “Max-up” part: Once they received those confirmed purchase orders, they  have to track and manage all of those backorders very carefully – those coming in from overseas, those made-to-order bulk shipments and those stock items transferred in from bonded warehouses dotted around Gauteng.

What we did was convert their customer service module into a “Orders-in-Progress” admin system and hey presto – the entire team has access to a “one version of the truth” view of every single order being processed right through to invoicing and delivery. That’s the beauty of a system like Maximizer – it can be customised quite intensively.

On top of that  – we’re busy setting up further admin views to enable the procurement and operations department to easily match up supplier orders with all those back-orders.

Next on the cards is light integration with their customer sales figures from their accounting software.

Client B
– Local manufacturer, importer of parts and exporter of heavy machinery into Africa
– Custom made and ex-stock equipment with a range of add-ons
– Extensive global TV advertising and email marketing campaigns drive large amounts of
inbound enquiries to their website
– At least 200-300 new website enquiries a month
– Regular technical product updates emailed to customers
– Team of 21

Apart from managing their sales enquiry along with sales opportunities, customer information and marketing database very closely, this client asked us to develop a link to their existing custom-built website in order to pull every new enquiry directly into Maximizer as a sales opportunity, and then assign it a unique reference number. A huge benefit in terms of workflow and faster response time. Once the enquiry is in Maximizer, the sales team then takes each enquiry through their sales process.

What’s interesting here is that again, after a sale has been won, the client then needs to track pre-payments and shipments along with the rigorous and lengthy documentation of both imported and exported orders. If you export or import, you’ll no doubt know just how vital it is to track every Bill of Lading, every bank transfer, every customs and excise document along with the final freight costs – from those initial requests for freight or shipping quotes through to the date of delivery. To manage this, Maximizer was custom-configured to help their ops team manage every order seamlessly – right through to it arriving safely and securely at the customer’s premises.

So to sum up:
If you’re investing in a CRM system or already have one that is perhaps under-utilized then I’m recommending that you think further than just getting it to help your salespeople keep track of their sales opportunities. Or for you to manage your team’s activities such as making customer appointments.

CRM software is not just for your sales team. By the way, I must stress that having a sales CRM system in place these days is a baseline requirement – it’s no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s a must have if you want your sales team to be highly productive and hitting their sales targets. I see access to a well-implemented CRM system as a vital sales tool, much like a cell phone, a laptop or a car. It’s a minimum requirement these days to attract productive sales professionals.

As a sidebar: If you consider yourself a sales professional, my advice is: When you’re looking for a sales position and a potential employer doesn’t have a good sales system in place – keep looking. Unless you want to work until midnight and on weekends, drowning in filing cabinets and pieces of paper.

Over and above it being a sales tool though, a CRM system adds seriously value to many aspects of your business – if you let it. If you’re in the market right now,  take your time to research what’s out there then plan the rollout properly with the right team on your side.

It’s been my experience that effective CRM pays for itself within months. IF and only if you implement it properly.

B2B Sales and Artificial Intelligence … Are You Ready?

Ok so we’re starting to hear more and more about Artificial Intelligence (AI)  in B2B sales. If the word AI conjures up images of Arnie’s “I’ll Be Back” and gives you the shudders, then simply replace AI with the words “new technology”.

The big question is what does AI mean in laymen terms for us joe-soap normal sales folks here in undeepest, undarkest South Africa?

Remember about 20 years ago,  when CRM systems started replacing everything we reps did manually – like handwritten call reports, the A5 tickler box index cards for keeping customer info, the lever arch files of typed correspondence dutifully punched and filed? Took us all a while but many of us embraced CRM in some form or other (having said that, I’m still finding that many poor reps working for SME’s only have accounting software records to look at when it comes to their customer base). Get with the programme guys. Even the most basic CRM system has replaced much of the time-consuming stuff that your (expensive) reps are still doing manually. Free them up to sell more, more often!

All in all though, we’re quite a bit more effective and efficient. But .. still drowning in information, hence everything STILL needs to be simpler and faster – and better of course.   And this is where AI for B2B sales comes in.   AI is designed to further streamline what we do and set us free to do the truly human sales stuff (like talking to customers face-to-face). We shouldn’t fear it, in fact we should all be looking forward to it.

Have a mosey around Google sometime for B2B sales AI some time. Here’s what you’ll find is already out there for you to consider:    No more manual note-taking of telephonic discussions, on Skype or in face-to-face meetings: Just takes a few clicks to add Clarke into your meeting, then “he” silently listens, records and analyses the conversation and instantly gives you (or all of you) a summary and to-do – which I assume of course could be automatically added to the notes tab in your CRM if set up properly.  Clarke uses NLP (natural language processing not the other NLP).  And yes, there is a cost (in dollars).  Does something similar – it listens, records and analyses the conversation and points out key things such as when the prospect asks about pricing and how often – a useful tool if you’re trying to figure out their needs over the phone. No more time-wasting email ping-pong on trying to schedule meetings: Just cc in your email address when you send someone a meeting request and give the programme access to your calendar. It takes over the ‘discussion’ by email on finding a suitable date and time for the meeting. Try it.   I could go on and on but I’m sure you’ve already come across a whole host of them too – especially chatbots and general AI found in B2B lead generation and ‘big data’ marketing. I’m guessing that LinkedIn will come out with a big launch of some brilliant B2B sales tech for us to use locally in the near future.

Want to read a bit more about the future of the sales profession in general now that machine intelligence is chomping at the bit? Check out Harvard Business Review article here

But let’s keep it relevant between you and I on a cloudy Monday afternoon in Gauteng .. on an average sales day … it really won’t be long before Maximizer CRM and many other international CRM systems out there will have a big selection of AI ‘add-ons’ for us to choose from. The future of B2B sales is bright.

Very bright indeed in fact. And we humans still feature in it. I’ve just returned from a CRM conference in London and the focus is B2B sales apps and AI.  It’s all about integration.

‘I’ll be back’ on this topic again soon. I have some AI testing of my own to do  🙂

What Should You Be Tracking in B2B Sales?

I’m often asked by business owners and sales managers what metrics or numbers that I think they should be tracking.

Of course it’s a given to track sales revenues i.e. sales by customer, average invoice value, frequency of purchase etc. etc. You need to know who your largest customers are by revenue, which accounts have grown, declined, been lost altogether or have been gained in each relevant financial period. You need to be comparing year on year, month on month sales to monitor if you’re tracking to target. Not just to ‘have a look’, but to evaluate what these stats are telling you about the direction of your business.

In addition, you need to be tracking the leading indicators (revenues are generally historical/lagging indicators). Leading indicators are sales activities i.e. what your sales team is doing day in and day out. Are they doing enough of the right activities at the right skill level to generate the required sales in the future? For example if a rep only has R100k in their pipeline at the end of June and your average sales cycle is 3 months, it’s pretty obvious they won’t meet their R150k July sales target unless a large ‘bluebird’ sale swoops in unexpectedly.

I’m generally not a big fan of doing quick calculations to determine “ratios” i.e. closing ratios, lead to proposal ratios etc. etc.  The reason being is that I prefer to delve far deeper into the quality of the activities and what the pipeline stats are really telling me. If you take a quick snapshot of “ratios” in a month – it is just that, a quick snapshot of THAT month at a moment in time. Some opportunities you think haven’t closed might  close on the first day of the next month. Some that have closed might have been in the pipeline for 12 months already. Some in the pipeline should never have been quoted on in the first place, so those opportunities were not “lost” – they were never even “found”. One massive opportunity might have landed in rep’s lap without any sales effort at all i.e. an inbound bluebird as I’ve mentioned before.

Measuring a pipeline accurately is not that simple – it’s a moving target, related to the length of your sales cycle amongst many other factors. Again, you really have to be close to your team to manage it properly.

So … what to measure?

  • Sales interactions.  In the form of telephone calls and visits.  Both quantity and quality – and again,  the latter you can only do by being close enough to each member of your sales team to know exactly what and how they sell/interact with prospects and customers. It’s dependent on their skill to advance the sale through your sales process, not simply how many calls they make. Who is the better seller? The person who makes 5 good calls a week and gets 5 sales? Or the person who makes 50 calls a week and gets 5 sales?
  • Pipeline velocity – how long those (qualified) leads, first appointments, quotes and follow ups have been sitting in your pipeline.
  • Average sale value – no point in chasing 50 deals of R1k each if you should rather be chasing 5 deals of R10k. Especially for a small sales team under pressure. I’ve just recently refocused a very enthusiastic, hard working junior internal sales rep on looking for sales of a higher value and she is set to make her target shortly for the first time ever.

The truth is though, that just getting reps to report their own numbers for you is pointless if you’re not interrogating their numbers properly. As soon as a rep knows that you just want a piece of paper for the file, that’s all they’ll give you.  Often referred to as a call report.

Work with them, get your hands dirty and you’ll soon get the ‘real’ numbers.

Quality will always beat quantity every day of the weekAnd weekend.



Why Today’s Sales Professionals Need a Good CRM System

I’ve worked with many companies over the years and have often had to implement a sales CRM (aka sales software) system, simply because what was in place was just not working.

Not working in terms of simplicity, ease of use, speed of response time, ability to analyse and manage the pipeline. In fact,  it was quite an eye-opener for me to see companies allowing their sales execs to manage and maintain all of THEIR (I mean the company’s) precious customer information on their personal laptop or in hard-copy format which meant that no-one else at the company had access to years of meaningful lead, prospect and customer history.

More often than not, when those sales execs left for greener pastures, so too did the precious details of many customer relationships. Their replacements had to start from scratch. Which would be rather annoying from a customer point of view don’t you think?

These days, it’s seriously a no-brainer that you need a CRM system. I’m a huge fan of Maximizer CRM – especially the new hosted version with the quote module now built in.  It’s just over R600 ex VAT per user per month and worth every cent. You’ll easily see an ROI from increased productivity and visibility into where you’re going wrong in your sales process.

Having said that,  I’m still happy to advise customers with zero, zero, zero budget to at the very least investigate some freebie CRM systems that are out there. Anything is better than nothing. The catch of course is that

a) the info you can get out is a tad limited and

b) most are pretty expensive in dollar terms if you want to upgrade to the paid option and

c) you’re literally back to square one if you want to move on again.

Talking about moving on … if you’re In the job market then please, if you consider yourself a professional, then only join a company that already has a great sales system in place. Ask the questions at the interview. Go into detail. It will make a huge difference to your earning potential. If there’s a mention of spreadsheets, paper-based systems or something that still uses on Windows 97, then run for the hills.

With the pace of business these days, you’re seriously shooting yourself in the foot if you are still going ‘old school’ with lists and scraps of paper and/or the company is only keeping track of sales in an accounting system. The days of thinking that a CRM system is there to police you are long gone. A well-configured, slick, streamlined CRM system is an excellent sales tool.

Quality sales tools are as important to a salesperson as razor-sharp scalpels are to surgeons. Sales tech is no longer optional. It’s essential.

Choose wisely. But choose must you. As Yoda would say.