Tech sales legend John McMahon provides wise, actionable advice for sales managers by offering parables – which seem extraneous – and direct guidance – which seems priceless.
Tech sales legend John McMahon – a former chief revenue officer at five public enterprise software companies – offers a playbook on B2B selling. He simplifies enterprise technology sales and tells you how to avoid frenetic sales activity. He says sales managers must be teachers and role models. McMahon illustrates his inspiring sales management advice with educational stories, candid pointers and an animal parable.
A capable, cunning and talented fox named Sly Smartass lives in the forest. His speed, intelligence and agility make him a successful nighttime hunter. Billy Basics – a genetic anomaly who combines the traits of a hedgehog, porcupine and armadillo –also lives in the forest.Billy lacks Sly’s winning attributes and sharp vision. He can barely see. Sly can run at a blazing 40 miles per hour; fat little Billy waddles like a duck.
Don’t overcomplicate things that aren’t complex.John McMahon
However, like Sly, Billy operates only in the dark. If attacked, Billy rolls into a prickly ball of spines that bristle in every direction.Sly routinely attacks Billy, but he can never get around Billy’s spikes. When Sly tries new tricks, Billy sticks to the fundamentals to save himself. Turns out Billy is the clever one because he knows he’s safe if he keeps things simple.
Successful selling requires simply sticking to the basics.
Codified Sales Process
Long-term sales viability calls for having a systematic, structured sales process explicitly detailing all sales activities, including intelligent analysis of potential sales issues.
McMahon urges CEOs, sales managers and salespeople to prioritize foundational, codified, measurable sales procedures and proper sales metrics. A formal sales structure grants you understanding of your sales activity and helps you execute intelligent analysis of your products, salespeople, sales methods, likely customers and closing strategies.
If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.John MaMahon
Systematize and codify a repeatable sales process with consistent measurements. Accurate metrics give a sales manager control over the sales process and the ability to upgrade tactics and equipment as needed.
For most high-tech start-ups, a proper, formal B2B sales process would include a discovery phase for qualifying prospects according to the likelihood of their becoming clients. Identify the prospect’s important decision makers: IT and tech users, trainers and gatekeepers. Quantify the prospect’s needs your product or services could fill or its business challenges that your products or services could address.
Identify the economic buyer (EB) who can authorize the targeted firm’s purchase. That could be the chief financial officer, budget director or whoever makes the final purchasing decision.
Have your sales professionals “validate” how your offering can solve the client’s problems. Offer a logical case for the purchase and prepare your proposal. Negotiate and close while remaining aware that hurdles still may remain.
Qualified Sales Managers
Sales managers must evaluate and qualify sales deals and realistically forecast which deals will work.
Leaving the knowledge and skills of a sales force to chance was like coaching a sports team that lacked a playbook and didn’t bother with practice drills.John McMahon
Make sure your salespeople always use the same terms and definitions to facilitate intelligent communication. Prepare a list of preferred nomenclature for them. People can listen to 250 words per minute, but the average person speaks at 150 words per minute. This disparity generates impatience, which salespeople and sales managers must never show. Never rush or interrupt your potential clients. Pay attention, since you can’t understand anything if you don’t listen. Distracted sales managers miss important data, so keep distractions – such as checking your phone – to a minimum.
Gut instincts and a sixth sense combining experience and street smarts are a successful salesperson’s superpower. Intuition helps salespeople size up a prospect’s intention to buy.
As a sales manager, treat your sales team members with respect and care as you train and coach them. This means being Billy Basics: simplify, simplify, simplify and communicate clearly.
Too many sales leaders manage their salespeople’s level of activities – the number of phone calls and presentations or the number of proposals submitted – but not their sales techniques, strategies or accomplishments. You must prioritize and vest in the latter.
Good sales managers offer coaching and inspiration. Your interactions with your team should be intentional, not transactional. Before any meeting with your salespeople, identify the outcome you want to achieve for each rep and for the team.
Sheer Sales Activity
When high-tech start-ups first begin selling, they need sheer sales activity. However, this approach doesn’t help selling complicated products in large amounts to major accounts.
When it’s time to inspect, you want to inspect the why. Why deals progress and why deals stall…Help your people understand the why. Then coach them on how they need to change, what they need to know and what their next logical step should be.
In the initial phase of operations, McMahon finds, salespeople often sell software packages or technology to individual users. But, as their software or high-tech products gain marketplace traction, salespeople must sell on an enterprise basis to professional purchasing agents who represent entire divisions or companies. That means your salespeople – and you – must make the transition to handling complex sales to major corporations with multiple gatekeepers and decision-makers.
Sales managers must never confuse activity with achievement or push salespeople to shortchange the sales process in the name of speed.Sales managers must focus on selling business value and on developing metrics and methods to predict sales outcomes accurately. Avoid churning customers and getting bogged down in small, low-level transactions. Provide new sales professionals with solid onboarding, training and development, including management training as needed.
Advice, Not Stories
John McMahon’s sales advice is so clear, straightforward, direct and all-encompassing, that it’s too bad he weakens his book by not following his own advice to simplify. While his animal parable is tolerable because it’s short, the fictional company he describes to drive his points home seems to provide unnecessary filler and suggests an unfounded lack of faith in his capacity as a writer. All sales managers can benefit from McMahon’s solid guidance.
Other guides to sales leadership include The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes and Ziglar on Selling by Zig Ziglar.