Are You Really Sure Your Team Is Aligned? The Truth: Only 2 Percent of Companies Are Actually Aligned

According to a Build survey, 64 percent of the 600 respondents from emerging growth companies think their executives teams are aligned with regard to strategic priorities. In truth, in listing their companies’ top three priorities, executive team members matched up in just 2 percent of the businesses! When asked about their companies’ value proposition, the result was shockingly worse than the 2 percent.

In talking to executives about alignment, this is how a conversation goes with those giving the honest answer (the 98%!):

Me: So Ms. CxO, how aligned is your team regarding the company’s top priorities?

CxO: I really have no idea, but it feels pretty good.

Me: That’s good. So, what objective data do you have?

CxO:  <Silence for 10 seconds.> It’s a gut feeling.

But most conversations go like this (hence the 64%):

Me: So Ms. CxO, how aligned is your team regarding the company’s top priorities?

CxO: Oh, yes! We’re completely aligned.

Me: That’s great, I don’t often hear that.  So, what objective data do you have?

CxO: I’m highly engaged with my people, talking with them every day.

Me: That’s great.  To often people tell executives what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear.  And there are times all of us lead people into agreeing with us by our facial expressions and tone of voice.  If your staff were to respond anonymously to a series of strategic questions would their answers align with yours?  Would you like to be sure?

Alignment of an organization is critically important – and just as obviously not common – the question is, how can I have some objective measurement of our teams focus??

A baseline assessment (either organizational-wide or sales and marketing specific) provides an effective, objective and immediate method to identify areas where teams are not aligned. As the survey says, most executives assume their teams are aligned, but most aren’t. (64 percent vs. 2 percent!) It’s an important issue, because when teams aren’t aligned, they’re not moving together in the same direction as effectively as possible…and the revenue and employee retention impact can be substantial.

One of the big benefits of the assessments is that they help get everyone on the same page to find out things like:

  • Assumptions might be different.
  • Training might be lacking.
  • Employees might not know what’s going on.
  • “If I had only known” answers.
  • Employees might not know what’s available to them.
  • Missing tools and processes that could lead to more productive employees and higher revenue.
  • Employees might have a lower opinion of the quality or capability of some teams.

There are all kinds of reasons for conducting an assessment. It’ll uncover these things, and once you know it’s there, you can address it head on. You’ll identify your greatest opportunities for improvement so you see results faster.

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Need to Jumpstart Sales without Hiring a Full-Time Sales Expert?

Most startup and small businesses companies don’t have the luxury of hiring a full-time sales vice president or manager. Yet having that expertise can be the boost the company needs to grow – and to reach a point where it can hire a full-time sales manager. The solution? Rent a sales pro.

Crain’s Chicago Business shares the story of one company that did. Jupiterbay, a startup that provides interactive digital signage and kiosks, hired Accountability Partners’ J.R. Samples on a part-time basis to serve as the chief operating officer. Samples worked with Jupiterbay one or two days a week where he created the sales strategy and managed sales operations. As a result, the company’s sales doubled in six months.

Bringing in a part-time or temporary sales specialist can help small businesses and startups get the boost they need to build revenue. This approach avoids the costs that come with a full-time employee. Done right, the company can continue growing once the sales consultant puts a process in place and finishes the job. After J.R. completed his work for Jupiterbay, the company’s sales can continue to thrive for years to come based on the things he put in place.

Companies have a variety of options for engaging a sales expert on a part-time basis. Experts can coach for a few hours per month, call in once or twice a week, help a couple of days per week or work on a month-to-month basis.

Working with a temporary sales consultant offers business owners a way to get the expertise they need that would otherwise take weeks or months to figure out their own. They also get a fresh perspective, save on tax contributions and benefits and have the flexibility to call the consultant on an as-needed basis.

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When to Hire a Sales Consultant

There are different reasons a company may hire a sales consultant, as Inc.’s “When to Hire a Sales Consultant” illustrates. The article shares the stories behind four companies’ decisions to hire a sales consultant and the different experiences that resulted.

The CEO who spent too much time on sales

Savid Technologies’ CEO knew how to close deals, but not how to create and manage a sales team. He selected Accountability Partners because our CEO, J.R. Samples, had managed sales organizations for his own firms as well as F500 organizations. 

Samples grew sales 400% by refining their strategy, focus and sales tools – and then documented them for on-going execution in an 80-page Sales Operations Guide that has become its tool for on-going operations and on-boarding of new sales reps.

The owner who lacked sales experience

Despite having strong communication and management skills, ProMaster Home Repair and Handyman owner Don Kennedy had a poor closing rate. It wasn’t surprising because Kennedy didn’t have sales experience and knew nothing about the sales process.

He ran into a problem that many businesses encounter when seeking a sales consultant. Most had a cookie-cutter approach or classes that required too much time especially when he needed help now. He asked other business owners for referrals and found a consultant who could mentor him. The mentor taught Kennedy how to close, set up CRM software and encouraged him to raise his rates.

The advantage of this approach is that the consultant focused on where Kennedy needed help and skipped over anything he did well. The result was a 60 percent close rate, up from 17 percent and more than doubling revenue.

The sales team that spent too much time with technology

Netrics’ sales team spent more time updating data in CRM than selling. Its CEO hired a sales consultant who taught the team how to use CRM more effectively, catch any accounts trapped in the sales pipeline and coach struggling salespeople. As a result, the company saw its sales grow by 20 percent, and its salespeople sold more and did less data management.

The company that struggled with execution

CEO of Tone Software Shirley Balarezo had worked with sales consultants who created excellent reports. However, the problem was implementing the recommendations. She essentially rented a vice president of sales and marketing who developed the sales process and help with sales forecasting and tracking.

Balarezo plans to hire a permanent sales executive and the consultant will train that person. Another key success factor was including the sales consultant in company meetings with other departments and allowing the consultant to make changes.

These four success stories show four very different ways to use sales consultants. All of them more than paid off the investment.

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Are You Creating Bobbleheads?

If you want your own Dwight Schrute bobblehead, you can find them at

Have you ever been in a conversation where it looks like everyone has bobblehead syndrome? They nod, giving you the impression they are completely in agreement with what you are saying – except that they haven’t thought about it at all. They are just agreeing automatically.

Yet some executives create this culture in their organizations. Whenever they speak in an authoritative fashion, they see everyone bobbing their heads in agreement without a thought, without speaking up and identifying potential problems, and without considering methods to take a good idea and make it great.

The executive walks out of the meeting like a hero, feeling that everyone is in step and will execute the plan perfectly. But disaster is waiting to happen.

Even the greatest visionaries need to do more than put together a vision, strategy and execution steps. They also need to create a neutral, safe environment for collecting the team’s thinking. It is their active participation – their emotional engagement – that can be the difference between a failed initiative and success.

The need for a culture of open communication

When employees don’t have the opportunity to provide thoughtful feedback, they treat communication as marching orders to follow without question. As a result, the staff will find it difficult to execute the plan since the executive didn’t take steps to gain true buy-in or promote open, honest communication.

Creating a culture of open communication means involving employees in the business early in specific initiatives. This helps gain support and compels employees to feel like they have a stake in its success.

For starters, implement a process to collect feedback from employees at least twice a year to find out what they’re thinking. Make this process about them, about the company, about getting information on what they think is important and what they think is working. (Our Sales Baseline, as well as our other Baseline assessments, provides a great methodology to do this, but there are other inexpensive tools you can use too.)

Improving execution success rate

In “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done,” author Larry Bossidy advises testing to make sure the organization can execute. Too often, organizations fail not for lack of strategy or planning but because they’re not prepared with the resources to achieve the goals. When companies assess employees’ ability to execute a plan, they’ll have a better chance of knowing whether the plan will sink or swim.

The success rate is always higher when you take the time to go through the exercise of giving your employees a chance to add their perspective, and identify potential problems they recognize.

This means there may come a time when the roll-out plan has to be postponed to prepare the team, address ancillary supporting issues or wait for a better market window to emerge. This can mean enjoying a superior result in a few months versus a mediocre result forced through by strength of personality.

Gaining employee support

Yes, senior executives have a lot of experience on what works and doesn’t work. However, no one can think of everything and middle management and staff associates fill that gap. Given that execution will succeed or fail largely due to their efforts, engage them early!

Here are four steps to gain that support:

  1. Involve people early. Wait too long and it’ll be harder to fix the problems that could’ve been caught earlier.
  2. Tell them what’s in it for them and the company. How does this project affect them? What will it do or improve? Why do we need to do this? What’s the cost of not doing it?
  3. Identify person responsible for project. The executive isn’t always the one who is responsible for overseeing the project. Decide who owns the project and communicate this to employees so they know whom to talk to when they need to communicate or ask questions.
  4. Determine how long it will take. When everyone knows the schedule for the plan, they work to meet the deadlines. Again, it’s better to miss a deadline and get it right than to complete it on time with marginal results.

A bobblehead collection can make a great talking piece and add personality to an office or a room. But they’re not something executives want in their staff. Smart, well-executed ideas come from teams where everyone has a say without fear of backlash.

That’s what I think – what do you think?

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Under-performing sales results?

Maybe it’s the economy. But it might be not having the right people in the right positions, focusing on the right things.

When sales come in under projections for several quarters in a row, you have a situation that requires addressing. The problem is, it isn’t always easy to understand what’s really going on. Here are some symptoms you might recognize:

1. Sales reps complaining about leads. Sales might feel they are not getting enough leads or that they are poor quality.  There are various possibilities:

  • Previous marketing techniques aren’t delivering  acceptable results anymore.
  • Your sales team may not be handling the sales process as effectively as they used to, or
  • New reps haven’t learned best practices
  • Or possibly it’s as simple as sales and marketing being unable to agree on what constitutes a qualified lead

2.      Sales representatives not using the collateral the marketing department creates.

  • Instead they create their own material, which takes time away from selling.
  • And if you have multiple sales reps, each creating their own marketing pieces, you can have a mess – inconsistent messages, sloppy materials, mixed-up branding.

3.  Arguments over what’s working (or not working!) 

If the sales and marketing departments keep their data in separate silos, you can’t track which lead generation methods result in sales. Without shared data, marketing’s purview extends only to the point at which they turn over a lead to sales. Meanwhile, sales can trace a lead through to closing, but has no idea what brought that lead in. As a result, you’re not able to direct marketing expenditures and resources to the most effective vehicles, which results in fewer leads and a higher cost of making sales.

When you need to resolve a problem with sales and marketing, it makes sense to step outside the company and get an unbiased view – someone who can help you get past the finger-pointing and give you real answers. Let us help you! Contact us for a complimentary consultation.

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Hiring the right sales reps – Five issues to beware

Are you hiring your first sales representative? Or replacing sales people in a row who didn’t work out?

Whether you are building out a sales team for the first time or already have a team in place, you want to make sure you hire the right salesperson.  Here are five issues to be intentional about in your hiring process:

1. Know the type of salesperson you need.

You are more likely to get the right person if you have a very clear view of type of selling that is needed for your solution. You should be able to define the type of sales experience, level of education, desired personality and skillset you need for the position.

Behavioral issues are also critical. For example, do you require?

  • A hunter or a farmer?
  • Someone who works well on a team or works best on their own?
  • An appointment setter or a closer?

Think about the type of activity you expect on a daily basis – does your marketing generate leads for their follow-up or where they are inheriting an existing territory with relationships intact?  Or will they be developing new business where you have expectations of their being on the phone 4 to 5 hours a day?  Or do you require a mature business consultant who can make your case to the CxO of a Fortune 500 company.

2. Document your sales process. 

Nothing inhibits a new salespersons performance like uncertainty around qualifying and how to effectively engage with prospects.  Good preparation includes a professionally prepared Site Seller and Core Story, Prospect Profiles Demographics and lists of questions to create dialogue and credibility.

A company that has a mature sales department will have an ideal client profile, a system that generates a steady stream of qualified leads, and a sales cycle with clearly defined steps. If you are building out a sales team for the first time, you probably don’t have much of that yet. So it will be critical to hire people who have experience creating a sales process, rather than those who expect to execute a selling system that is already in place.

3. Write out your hiring steps (or just ask for ours).   

It is easy to overlook and underestimate some of the basics in hiring.  Further, as the hiring manager it can be tempting to limit engagement with other staff so as “not to complicate” our selection.  We’ve created a checklist of 15 items for consideration as you begin your hiring activity and point out why having others involved in the interviewing si one of the critical aspects to candidate’s strong and successful start.  Most importantly, we’ll share the one most critical aspect over 80% of hiring manager’s ignore or are completely unaware.

4. Have a written training plan.

Remember the saying “You only get one chance to make a first impression”? That is especially true for a candidate’s first day, week and month.  Have multiple team members prepared to spend time with new staff.  You may need IT resources reserved, as well as human resource staff available.  Be sure to review the expectations of the position and reinforce any reporting requirements.  Have all appointments’ preset in your staff’s calendar s to be sure there everyone is prepared.

Having new sales representatives attend end user training and then shadow the CEO or one of your top producers is the way far too many companies train their sales associates.

For them to be truly effective – and ramp up quickly – you will need to transfer knowledge about the market, your marketing, the way you sell, what resources are available to support them, your current client base, your partners, your products, and your upcoming plans for R&D.

5. Be sure your sales compensation is competitive.

To recruit successfully, you need to have a good fit between the style and level of compensation and the type of sales person you want to hire. Sales force compensation has become increasingly complex. It’s well worth investing a little time and effort into defining a commission structure that attracts the type of person you want and motivates them effectively.

Executives who are concerned about hiring the right sales people may wish to utilize our Sales and Marketing Assessment. It’s an excellent way to understand where your sales organization is and identify the areas where you might want some assistance and support. Then you can leverage our years of experience building out and managing sales organizations to implement best practices in your company.  Mention our blog post and save $150!

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Six Signs Your Company Is Growing Too Fast

Is your company experiencing rapid growth?

One of the keys to keeping your company on track while you are growing quickly is to catch problems early and be aggressive about solving them. Here are some early warning signs to watch out for:

Sales forecasts are unreliable
You need accurate sales forecasts so you can budget, manage cash flow, predict production requirements, and staff appropriately in all departments. If your forecasting methods aren’t working anymore, it may be time to evaluate more sophisticated forecasting tools and techniques.

Sales compensation is out of control
Is sales compensation increasing faster that sales? If are paying more in sales compensation than is warranted – and it is coming straight out of your operating income. The causes of this can be varied; for example, salary bases might be larger than needed when combined with your incentive plan, or accelerators in your compensation plan might not be defined at the right points anymore, particularly if your deal size has changed.

Sales productivity drops
It’s not easy to spot a reduction in productivity, but this can be a critical issue. Companies that are under pressure to grow fast are not always as diligent as they would normally be in hiring and training. As a result, sales associates are not as effective and sales costs more than it should.

Peter Principle is beginning to rear its head
It’s not unusual for companies to promote people above their level of training and experience during periods of rapid growth. For example, the company’s best sales person might be asked to manage sales. While they might have a deep understanding of the market and be highly effective at selling, that doesn’t mean they know how to build out and manage a sales team.

Production gets surprised

Without proper coordination between sales and production, sales people can promise delivery schedules that production can’t meet. They might tell a client that software development will start or finish on a certain date when that simply isn’t possible.

Cash flow issues surface
As sales increase, working capital needs to be assessed. Exploding sales is exciting, but can significantly impact cash flow.

A Sales Growth Assessment can help you take a comprehensive look at your sales and marketing processes, diagnose your current situation, and make recommendations for next steps. Check it out here.

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