The Bug-out Bag of a Sales Professional

I believe in being prepared. Not ‘bunker in the backyard with 25,000 rounds of ammunition’ prepared, but…Boy Scout level prepared. The kind of prepared that anticipates both likely and potential scenarios and has a plan for each. The kind of prepared that involves knowing how to do stuff and having the right tool for the job.

A fundamental component of preparedness theory is the concept of a “bug-out bag.”

A bug-out bag is a portable kit at the ready that can be grabbed if one has to bug-out, or leave quickly. Potential scenarios include earthquakes, forest fires, or even social unrest triggered by the impending end of Game of Thrones. But not zombies. There are no zombies coming. I’m reasonably certain about that.

A bug-out bag contains enough food, gear and clothing to support you and your family for a few days in the event that you need to leave your home with little warning. Recommended items include a first-aid kit, flashlights, necessary medicines, water, packaged food, copies of important papers, warm clothing, toiletries, etc.

This is not a fringe concept supported only by camouflage draped survivalists with a strange penchant for machetes.

This is basic good planning. The American Red Cross recommends and sells them. I have one packed and ready in my garage.

Which brings me to my work bag. I treat the bag that I bring to presentations and meetings as my professional bug-out bag, containing all of the gear that I may or may not require to conduct or support a successful meeting with my team or to deliver a talk to an audience.

Everything I may need is always in this bag.

I take nothing out of it unless I’m using it. I have 100% confidence that when I grab this bag to head to the airport or drive to a meeting, what I need will be in there.

I also have a backup of a lot of these items in my office, car or other bags so that I never have to pull something out of my core work bag.

Here is a list of the items in my bag, which is a Briggs & Riley Relay Convertible Brief. I like this bag because it is clean and professional but can serve as a backpack when needed with straps that stow in the back padding. It also travels nicely when set on top of my rolling luggage and moves easily through an airplane aisle.

  1. Video dongles. Both HDMI and SVGA. Not having a dongle is unacceptable. Period. Apple makes a Mini Display Port to VGA adapter, but for some reason they don’t make one to HDMI so you need to get an aftermarket adapter for HDMI like this one from Belkin. I don’t know what people with Windows machines do, presumably something involving string.
  2. Slide advancer. These make for a much smoother and professional presentation than hunching over a laptop to advance a slide. I like the Logitech R400.
  3. Dry-erase markers. My good friend and colleague Jon Ott turned me on to this idea and it’s genius. Whiteboarding is a critical skill, and meeting room dry-erase markers are notoriously unreliable – dry and faded. Bring your own.
  4. Portable Bluetooth speaker. Video is a great tool in presentations, ensure you’re able to provide your own amplification. The JBL Flip 2 is a good size and less than $100.
  5. Laptop. I have two laptops, a souped-up MacBook Pro in my office and a MacBook Air that I use for travel. The MacBook Air is lighter and slimmer. I keep everything synchronized between the two with programs like DropboxBox and iCloud so it’s easy to move back and forth from one system to the other and not lose work.
  6. Chargers. Phone, tablet, laptop – especially laptop. Plug in your laptop when presenting so the display doesn’t power down, unless you’ve changed your energy settings properly. And you probably haven’t, even if you think you did.
  7. Phone/audio headphones. It’s difficult to move through an airport and hold a phone to your ear at the same time. I have multiple sets of the standard Apple EarPods (some pilfered from my children) and keep them (and all my cords) bound with Nite-Ize cord ties so they don’t get tangled. I also have a pair of Klipsch in-ear headphones that are noise canceling and can be used for phone calls.
  8. Notebook. Don’t take notes typing on a laptop. It’s distracting and potentially disrespectful. Use a regular notebook. Moleskine notebooks are timeless.
  9. Pens. Good ones. Have extra in case someone in your meeting needs a spare. Sharing is nice.
  10. Business cards. You’re a professional. Always have business cards.
  11. Toothpicks. Minor in the grand scheme of things but very important when you need them. Nobody wants to watch a presenter with food in his or her teeth. Whole Foods carries these great Tea Tree Therapy mint toothpicks.
  12. Tissues. No explanation required.
  13. Meal replacement bars. Sometimes we don’t have time to eat – have a backup plan. I personally like Clif bars – they’re resilient, avoid getting horribly smushed in a crowded bag and are substantial enough to cover a skipped breakfast. I keep two in my bag and am happy about it at least once a week.
  14. Personal stationary. Handwritten thank you notes are a professional courtesy that is worthy of the time and effort. Have personal stationary in your bag so you can send a quick follow-up letter to the people with whom you’ve met. Have some stamps, too.
  15. Non-work book. Not everything in life is about work. Take advantage of airplane time or unexpected downtime by reading something that has nothing to do with work. Here’s an amusing piece from The Awl on how to read more.

What do you keep in your bag that I may have missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you enjoyed the post, please share it with your network and click the ‘Like’ icon to let me know.

Ethan Zoubek is Regional Vice President of Sales at Krux Digital, an advisor and speaker, and author of the Self-Aware Sales blog.

The Most Important Sales KPI Isn’t A Sales Figure

(As originally posted on OpenView Labs)

Sales is primarily viewed as a numbers game, so it’s common for sales professionals to take a step back and ask “of all of these numbers that I’ve got in front of me – and holy mackerel there are a ton of numbers in front of me – which ones are the most important?”

The answers that most frequently come back are informed and appropriate considerations of metrics like lead flow, pipeline size/ratio, deal velocity, weighted pipeline average, conversion rate, etc. Those are all important, and while some are leading and others lagging, they are all good indicators of the health of the business.

In my opinion, however, the most important KPI relates to the proportion of time dedicated to enablement and training.

There are 21.75 workdays per month on average. At minimum, each person in the sales organization should dedicate one day per month to enablement. One full and focused day. Minimum. That’s less than 5% of their time.

Why is this so important? In sales, many times it’s a game of inches. The product sets of competing solutions are generally on par or they wouldn’t be in an evaluation. Pricing tends to settle into the same general area absent incredible skill at value creation that truly supports premium pricing. Delivery approaches and promises of timing to delivery don’t tend to vary widely.

How can a professional selling organization differentiate then, when all other things are created equal – and beyond our control anyway? I was given the answer by a mentor and sales leader of mine many years ago.

Sales execution. 

We differentiate with our sales execution. And the only way to continually impact sales execution is to foster a culture where training is valued and enablement opportunities seized wherever possible. Otherwise, reps fall back on habit, muscle memory and path-of-least-resistance.

Assume that an enterprise sales rep has a fully-loaded cost of $175,000. A 5% time investment can be equated to a cost of $8,750 per year. If that 5% of time investment in training nets a 10% increase in booked business – either by way of higher close rates or increased deal size, the impact is substantial.

On a $2M annual target that’s an additional $200k in bookings a year.

That’s material, and that’s a compelling return of $200,000 on $8,750 invested – more that a 20x return on money. I’ll do that all day long. All. Day. Long.

How do we accomplish this? We simply choose to make the time. We play the long game rather than lament taking our reps out of the field for a couple of days per month.

We support a culture where learning is valued, preparation is expected, and moving out of comfort-zones encouraged and applauded.

How else can we expect to get better? Great sales professionals weren’t born that way. They were taught by the mentors and leaders that came before them. They observed, they experimented, they worked at it. They were trained. They were enabled to become the skilled professionals that they are.

Without enablement, all we have a right to expect is more of the same.

My most important responsibility is to ensure that every person with whom I interact is better for the time they spent with me, even if the impact is indiscernible to me. Especially when the impact is indiscernible to me.

With my colleagues and reports – direct and indirect – I can do this by ensuring that they know that taking the time to learn and grow is encouraged and supported, that it’s viewed as an important component of how they spend their professional time. My job isn’t to drive yield – it’s to help my team become better versions of themselves. The rest seems to just take care of itself.

Sales Strategy – There’s No Way That Deal Should Be At 75%

The Importance of Objective Sales Stages

We’ve all been there. We look at a deal in the sales forecast with which we’ve been involved, see that the probability is set to a percentage that corresponds to one of the sales stages setup in our CRM system, and say to ourselves “WHAT?! I know that deal! There’s no way that deal should be at 75%! What is he thinking?” We then pick up the phone or pound out an email to the sales rep and/or his manager and ask for an explanation.

The response that we get is… sort of not terrible. When we listen to the explanation we understand how the rep could make a case for the later stage. We can see how they might feel that it’s further along than we believe it to be. We listen to the rationalization and it passes a loose sniff test. The logic may be a little flimsy, but we can see where they’re coming from. But here’s the problem:

 Sales Stages Are Not About How We Feel

There are two ways to structure sales or opportunity stages in our sales process: 1) based upon what our reps think the close probability is, or 2) where the deal is in the sales cycle based upon objective measures – upon what’s actually happened.

The first way is the wrong way. End of discussion.

Sales reps are, almost as if it were a law of the universe, prone to hearing what they want to hear and destined – absent any structure and discipline imposed by sales leadership – to think a deal is further along than it actually is. There’s a name for it – Happy Ears

Without a degree of objectivity, forecasting falls into a world where reps and their managers end up thinking “well, this could go either way. We’ve got a 50/50 shot right now. I feel pretty good about it. Lots to do, but it really does feel 50/50. So let’s forecast this at 50%.”

What happens is that we get a TON of deals forecast at 50%. And that throws off our forecast. It reflects the wrong numbers to the rest of the business.

I know this because I did it myself over the years, probably hundreds of times. Even when I knew better. I got too close to a deal and missed my blind spots. I was thinking positively because I wanted to hit my numbers. I became friendly with the project sponsor and trusted that it would get done even though I really had no idea of what their legal review process was or how long it would take.

Whatever the reason – left to our own interpretive devices, we become optimistic and over-confident and we start to feel that a deal is closer than it is. Then the end of the quarter comes, deals start to slip, and everyone is wondering what’s going on.

The Path to Accurate Forecasting – Objective Questions

I operate with a tight set of sales stages that correspond to a percentage probability (with amounts of 0%, 10%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%) and I have found, working with other sales leaders and colleagues, that the easiest way to move toward accurate forecasting is to overlay a set of objective qualifiers on top these sales stages. These are binary, black or white questions that must be asked and answered before the sales rep can move the deal to the next stage. Think of each stage as a column, with a clear question at the top. Ask that question to see if it should be moved to the next stage.

Sales_Stages_Ethan_Zoubek

For example, an objective qualifier for moving a deal from 25% to 50% would be “has the prospect narrowed the competitive field down to three or fewer vendors and are we one of them?”

If the answer is ‘yes’, it can move. If it’s ‘no’, it stays.

It’s that straightforward. If there aren’t three or fewer vendors remaining, and we’re not one of them, the deal doesn’t advance to the next sales stage. It’s clear, it’s objective, it’s binary, and it is immune to subjective interpretation.

Here’s another example. To move from 50% to 75%, we must be formally advised that we are the selected vendor and we must receive a first round of redlines back from the account. These qualifiers have yes or no answers. Formally selected in writing? Yes – we have the email right here. First round of redlines back? Sure thing – we’ve sent them to our counsel. The deal can be moved forward.

Now, there’s a HUGE amount that happens between moving from 50% (field narrowed to three) and 75% (first turn of redlines.) A huge amount. And that’s the point. Which brings me to…

Why Sales Stages Are So Important – Reason #1

Deals are lost or slip because of things that we have missed. There are always a ton of moving parts. Managing to disciplined sales stages provides a predictable, repeatable system to apply to all deals so that things don’t get missed.

Some reps are great at discovery but start to fall apart during late-stage selling. Others are incredible at understanding the legal cycle and negotiations, but aren’t great at articulating business value early in the cycle. No one is great at everything. It’s natural for people to migrate to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. No problem, as long as the gaps are covered – and a clear and objective set of sales stages with criteria for each stage helps ensure that a rep and their sales leader can formulate a plan to cover all bases and ask for help where needed.

Why Sales Stages Are So Important – Reason #2

Beyond giving a sales rep and her leadership a means by which to understand deal progression and priorities, the point of sales stages is to enable the business to have visibility into pending transactions so that the business can plan – plan for necessary resources (both human and technical) plan for spending, etc. It allows the professional services organization to forecast headcount requirements and staffing needs. It enables finance to get visibility into things that are critical to run the business, like how much cash can be expected to come in at any given point in time.

It would not be an overstatement to say that the entire functional operation of the business is dependent upon accurate forecasting.

When sales reps understand this – when it’s clearly outlined to them that sales stages aren’t simply a mechanism by which to have their chops busted by their managers, we get more accurate forecasting. Reps start to understand that the forecasting goes beyond them and that doing so accurately helps the business – and most reps genuinely want to help the business.

When you start to apply these objective questions, the organization can look at any deal by stage and know what has or hasn’t happened simply by a function of the stage in which the deal is found. Sales leadership can start to identify falloff points in the process, indicating areas that may be in need of more enablement. What it provides is consistency and predictability, which is the greatest gift a sales leader can bring to their finance and executive team.