On the show this week we talk with the CEO and Chief Sales Strategist for Regarding Sales, Liz Heiman. Liz helps B2B companies grow by developing strategies and processes that connect a company’s vision to sales success. She is also a panelist on the Sales Expert Channel and an active member of both the Women Sales Pros and the Sales Enablement Society.
Sales isn’t magic, it can be predictable and manageable. For those dealing with the problem of too many ups and downs in sales, there is a solution and Liz has it! The sales operating systems that she builds for her client’s companies, work to clarify sales messaging from leadership, prioritize targets, and identify value propositions and market positions. In our conversation she covers the key considerations when building a system for the first time, including:
- How long it takes to build out a sales operating system
- Who needs to be involved in order for it to be successful
- How often to revisit and revise the system
- And more
Oftentimes companies don’t begin to think about their sales strategies and systems until their sales team has grown to 20 or 50 people. By then, inefficiencies have crept in. It’s necessary to have a sales operating system in place from the beginning, even if you are simply an entrepreneur who sells. Have a system and make it accountable. Listen now!
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: You’re listening to the Conversational Selling podcast with Nancy Calabrese.
Nancy Calabrese: Hi, everyone is Nancy Calabrese. And yes, it’s time for Conversational Selling. The podcast where sales leaders and business experts share what’s going on in sales and marketing today, and it always starts with the human conversation. Joining us today is the fabulous Liz Heiman. CEO and Chief Sales Strategist of Regarding Sales. She helps b2b companies grow rapidly by developing strategies and processes that drive revenue and create a roadmap for sale success.
As she states, sales isn’t magic. And we can have manageable, predictable sales. Liz is an active member of the women sales pros, the sales enablement society and a panelist on the sales experts channel. Now for those listeners who experienced too many ups and downs in sales, this is going to be a great show. There is a solution out there. And I know I am but looking so forward to hearing some of the tips Liz will share to help us avoid the swings in sales. Welcome to the show, Liz.
Liz Heiman: Thank you. I’m so glad to be here.
Nancy: Well, I think what you offer is such an important component to success in sales. And you know, you write a lot about productivity, and that it’s the act of prioritizing tasks and being efficient at carrying them out. Why is productivity so important in sales?
Liz: Well, I think the first thing is to back up. And around that word productivity, because we can be super productive. We can be doing tons of activities. But if they aren’t getting us to the place we want to go, we’re not really being productive. And so when we’re measuring the number of calls, and the number of face to face meetings, if they’re not the right calls with the right people using the right language, the right messaging, then they’re not getting us where we want to go. So the first thing is, the whole idea of prioritizing is making sure we know before we start, what we’re prioritizing, so we can be productive, and we’re on the right priority.
Nancy: Right. So you mentioned a couple things, you know what my next question was why aren’t sales people productive? You allude to having the right conversations, speaking to the right people. Why is that happening? If the goal is they want to make a sale, right for the right reasons? Why does that continue to happen?
Liz: So I think productivity starts at the top right, if at the very top of the organization. The messaging and the vision and the value proposition and the ideal customer, if it isn’t clear right from the top, then what trickles down to the salespeople is mixed messaging. And when I have a salesperson that has mixed messaging, it’s hard. Again, it’s hard for me to prioritize, it’s hard to know what to put first, hard to know what to pursue, it’s hard to know what to say. So it’s hard to be productive when you have all of these questions and uncertainties. The more certain we are, the easier it is to be productive. And then I think once we know that we can calendar it and really get a plan going around it. But but the lack of a plan, the lack of clarity, I think maybe very unproductive because emotionally it’s draining in addition to being confusing.
Nancy: Yeah. So what would you say are some qualities of a productive sales person?
Liz: Well, I think, this is going to sound funny, but I think one of the most important qualities of a successful and productive sales person is curiosity.
Liz: I know that sounds weird. But if I, if I’m not curious about my customer, right, and I don’t care, then it’s really hard for me to be successful on the phone with them, right? So if I’m curious, and I and I want to help them, then when I pick up the phone, my conversations are always going to be better, they’re going to be more fun they’re going to be they’re going to feel better to me. They’re going to feel better to the customer, they’re going to result in better, more positive activity. So this is a goofy thing to say but, but being curious and caring, is the start productivity because then it’s more fun. If sales isn’t fun, if it’s a drudge and, and unhappiness, then then why would it be productive? Now I’m just cramming things down people’s throats. And how can you be productive when you’re doing that?
Nancy: Yeah. I want to also tap, and by the way, I agree with the curiosity, you know, I don’t think you can be successful in sales without that curiosity to learn more about them, right? Because it’s about them, not about us.
Liz: Oh, yeah. And I feel like when I’m in a sales call, I’m always going, wait, can I just ask one more question. You know, we have to be respectful of their time and, you know, of their stories. But we do need to be, we need to ask the questions that help us understand them, not the list of questions someone gave us.
Nancy: So Liz help help me understand again, why is planning so important? I hear productivity, prioritizing, planning, I guess the three P’s right. Tell us why that’s so important.
Liz: Well, the first thing I want to say about planning, though, is that planning has to start at the top. We often think a sales strategy starts with sales, but it doesn’t. Your strategy, your plan, your vision has to start at the top. And and it’s leadership’s job to decide where are we targeting? Who are we targeting? Which of our existing customers do we need to grow? Which are the most important to maintain relationships?
A lot of that clarity about what we’re selling and who we’re selling to, it has to come from the top. And once that’s decided, now, as a sales leader, I can make a strategy, I can make a plan because I know what we’re trying to achieve. And then as an individual as my responsibility as my goals have been laid out, and it’s clear what we’re doing, I can make an individual plan. But often what happens is leadership says, here’s your number, figure out how to hit it. Well, how do you plan around that? It’s really hard.
Nancy: It’s surprising to me that that is still prevalent in the sales community. So, you know, let’s let’s segue into what you do and what your unique idea is that really sets you apart.
Liz: So what I do is I help organizations that want to grow, build a sales operating system. So we often talk about process, and we talk about methodology, but what you really need in order to grow and in order to hire more salespeople, and to scale your sales organization is all of the pieces that help your sales team be successful, and help yourself and your help your sales, leadership and your corporate leadership, understand what’s going on and support the mission. So I, I help them build the pieces.
And those pieces include things like a strategy, you’ve got to have a positioning framework, a sales positioning framework that outlines your ideal customer, your value proposition, your positioning in the marketplace, your vision for the company, and then you need to have a sales strategy that says, okay, if we know this, if we know all that stuff, now we can build a plan to hit those numbers that that have been laid out, because we have a vision for what we’re doing. And we need a lead generation strategy. We need a sales process that matches the CRM, and we need a management process.
So everybody knows what’s expected and how to manage. We need a key account planning process. So we’re growing those key accounts. And those are just a few of the pieces. But instead of just haphazardly going about business, and wondering why we’re not achieving our goals, we need to target each part of the process and make sure it’s clear to everyone, how we do it, what the expectations are. And you know, that that we’re going to do that and be successful in it, and then to re evaluate and make sure it’s really working and doesn’t need to be revised. So that’s that’s what I do with companies.
Nancy: How long does it take, or your has your experience been? Does it take to really get a strategy in place? A sales operating system in place?
Liz: An entire sales operating system can take six months to a year to build depending upon the resources that the company has to allocate. Because you can’t just sit down and pull it out of thin air. Some of it’s going to evolve. Some as we build one part of the strategy and the process is going to change the way we do other parts. So it’s not something you sit down in an afternoon and build. It takes quite a bit of time and resource for a company to do it. But the result the result is clarity, predictability, ability to manage the eliminating the chaos and growth. data can be controlled and planned and organized. So it takes a lot of work, but it’s the value is there.
Nancy: Yeah, I can only imagine that it takes multiple key players to develop this as well. Wouldn’t you agree?
Liz: Absolutely. And it’s it. This is what part this is, you know, we always talk about sales and marketing alignment. Bringing marketing into this process helps to align the teams because marketing language and sales language is really different. So we we talk about buyers, but the marketing teams talking about buyer personas, and we’re looking for different things than the sales team is looking for in their conversations. And so we need to get the same language and understand why we use value proposition and how we use value proposition and get everybody on the same page about what we’re talking about.
So I like to have the CEO involved when I can. If not, we need the sales leader, we need, you know, if there are sales people have been around a long time, they need to help participate. So, you know, you could even have the COO or the CFO, because CFOs are often spending so much time pressuring salespeople instead of understanding how it works, that they become part of the process, and they become part of the success.
Nancy: Yeah. And once you do have an operating system in place, how often do you recommend to revisit the how it’s working, and if there have to be some changes made?
Liz: Well, I think your strategy, part of the process of the operating system gets looked at at least every year, unless you feel like something is wrong, and you need to pivot. And I think the same should be true. The leadership should be looking at the entire process at least once a year. But as the sales managers are meeting with sales people and identifying problems, asking what they identify as places where the system has broken down.
And every time they identify a place where the system has broken down, then the leadership needs to get together. They need to figure out what they think the result, you know, the solution should be. Then leadership needs to be together, fix it, and then train the team and reinforce. I think that reinforce is huge. We can’t just create a system and then expect everybody to follow it. They won’t. You have to reinforce it. You have to build it into the culture. You have to demonstrate it every day.
Nancy: Yep. A lot of repetition too, I’m sure.
Liz: Oh, yeah. And clear expectations. Right. If, if everybody understands what’s expected, they can deliver it?
Nancy: Yep. We call it here of mutual mystification. Meaning, you can’t expect somebody to do something if you haven’t communicated it with them. Right.
Liz: Right. And what’s really funny, sorry, in that leadership thinks they’ve communicated. So one of the things that I hear all the time when I’m talking to salespeople is, you know, we just wait until the CEO has said it for the sixth time. And then we’re sure he really means it. Or she really means that, and they’re really going to do that. It’s just not an idea that that just came up to the top of their head. And when you talk to the CEO, they’re like, no, we have a really clear mission. And we’re going along the same path. And we’re really consistent. Like, well, if that’s true, you haven’t expressed it clearly to your team. So they don’t understand how what you just said, fits into that vision and mission that you think you so clearly articulated.
Nancy: Yeah. You know, share a story about your experience, that I know the audience will find interesting. You’ve got such a, an amazing background.
Liz: Thank you. I think one of the most interesting stories was, we were hired by a CEO to help. They were stagnant. In fact, growth was going backwards and they realized things had changed. Their marketplace had changed. Their product has changed, had changed. And their team wasn’t well positioned to deal with it. Meaning they didn’t have the training, they didn’t have the right processes that thing that what they were doing wasn’t working anymore. So we were brought in by the CEO and handed to the COO who was managing sales to take care of this.
And as we started working through the process, and we’re talking to the CEO, and we’re saying look at that, you’re you don’t have the right leaders in place to go to the next level. They have to either completely change their thinking and behavior or they’re going to have to go. But they have been there for 20 years, and the company had changed in those 20 years dramatically. And so we we came in we explained how to change the sales operating system, what we’re done all of the different pieces, and we’re developing it, process all of those things, and then it was time to re up the contract.
And the CEO said, or the COO said, we’re not going to continue. We’re we’re going to, we’re going to stop the contract, we’re not going to continue after this year. And like, okay, I can kind of understand that because you haven’t really been making the progress that you needed to make, and so on like that. Not much fun. But okay. And then the CEO called two weeks later and said, I’m so sorry to do that to you. I can’t pay you guys any more to do this, because my team’s not doing what you’re telling them to do. I hear you telling them, I see what you’re putting in front of us. And it’s not happening.
So I’m hiring a new CSO. And as soon as he’s in place, I’ll introduce you, which he did. And we started working again. But to change the culture of an organization means leadership has to be willing to make the change. And it’s a top down, it has to be bought into and supported by everybody on the team, they have to be a part of it. But it is a top down decision, and the whole team has to be willing.
Nancy: Yeah. So tell me something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Liz: I think that having a sales process and strategy and systems should start the day you start selling. And we often don’t talk about sales ops, until, you know, you’ve got 20 or 30 or 50 sales people. And then we start talking about sales operations, and hiring sales operations and sales enablement people. But before that, it’s sort of this mishmash of, oh, we’ll just try this and do that. But I think that really the day you start selling, you start thinking about how does this work? Do what you know, how am I going to manage my funnel? My leads my pipeline, how am I going to make sure I follow up?
How am I going to build this process so that when I hire the next person, they’re successful? And and I know what they’re doing and why it works, and why it doesn’t work. And then when I add the next person, we enhance that, that process so that more people can follow it. And then we keep improving and growing the process as we add people before we add the people. And I think that, that that’s not that’s just you know, people think small, you have a smaller organization, you don’t need any, you really don’t need sales process, you just need to sell. Just go sell. And I don’t think that’s true.
Nancy: Yeah, well, you know, I, I’ve been in sales for plenty of years. And if I didn’t have some kind of a process, or system in place, I would be all over the place, not knowing where to go and what to do. So what you’re saying is even an entrepreneur, who sells we should have a process in place, is that right?
Liz: Not just a process, but also an accountability. So who are you accountable to make sure you’re actually doing that? And I’m as guilty of this as anybody else. I have to have someone do a funnel review with me. Or I get lazy, you know. So I have someone do a funnel review with me and make sure that I’m looking at all of my leads, and I have a clear next action and they’ve thought about it. And you know, we all need accountability in our processes. Because if not, we all get sloppy.
Nancy: Yep. Human nature, right? Human nature doesn’t vary too much from person to person. So we’re at the end of our show. And I always like to learn one takeaway. What would you want the audience, my listeners to take away if they couldn’t absorb it all? What would be that one thing?
Liz: I think the one thing is that if you know where you’re going, you can figure out how to get there. So before you start taking actions, make sure you’re really clear about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. What is your goal? What’s the vision? How do these pieces fit together so that I can really make a plan, a map to get from where I am, to where I need to be. Whether it’s at the end of the year at the end of five years, but but to know where I want to go.
Nancy: Know where we want to go. Well, I think where we want to go right now and most important is how can my audience find you Liz?
Liz: Well, they can find me at Liz Heiman. H e i m a n on LinkedIn. They can go to my website, which is regardingsales.com. They can even find me on clubhouse, so if they go look for me on clubhouse, now they can find me there. I’m often moderating.
Nancy: Awesome, okay, well, another great conversation. Thank you so much, Liz for all of your great tips and thank you everyone out there for listening in. Have a fantastic sales day everyone and remember, reach out to Liz. I’m sure her operating system is probably something we could all use either to create or improve upon. Have a great day.
Voiceover: The Conversational Selling Podcast is sponsored by One of a Kind Sales. If you’re frustrated that you don’t have enough leads or your sales team complains that they just don’t have enough time to prospect, we can help. To work with Nancy and her team one on one to help you manage your sales team, install her proven outbound sales process and create more bottom line results, email her now at Nancy@oneofakindsales.com. To learn more about Nancy and her outbound sales secrets, grab your free copy of her book, The Inside Sales Solution at oneofakindsales.com/book.