I am Captain of The Obvious

For a moment, allow me to be “Captain of The Obvious” in the sales world:

“You don’t know what you don’t know”

And another famous cliché:

“It is what it is”

Let me explain why I’m using clichés to begin this post. The essence of what it means to be a Sales Manager in today’s marketplace is to work in clichés. You sit in sales meetings reviewing pipelines, arguing (again) the definition of a “qualified” deal with each rep. Your team members passionately describe how “good” their deals are, but half their opportunities are “stretched” over 60 days, and nothing seems to be moving. You need to hire a new rep, but takes 3 months because your HR person “doesn’t have a good job description”. More important, you sense the frustration in your management team peers, and worse your CEO keeps asking, “Why can’t we change this situation?”

Arguably the clichés above point to a certain resignation in the sales organization, and in management itself, that these problems are commonplace. And by commonplace, it follows that somebody ought to know how to fix these issues, or at least know enough to have a plan for addressing them. But when push comes to shove, the “why” question continues to be asked and the problems seem to be chronic.

This disparity between “knowing something” and “doing something about it” is the essence behind the content of my book, “99 Questions for Achieving Your Sales Goals”. It’s been a year since the book originally came out, and I’d like to share with you how this difference in knowing and doing has been reinforced by my client experiences, as well as by the considerable feedback from all of you who have seen and read the 99 Questions book.

Principally it’s this: everyone who looks at 99 Questions agrees that the questions posed are obvious, or are at least concepts that common sense dictates should be addressed by any good Sales Manager. Ironically, over the past year, no firm with which I have had contact has been able to answer “yes” to even half the questions. The NET/NET: many, if not most Sales Managers are not attuned to executing “best practices” sales management and sales operations practices. (and yes, even that seems obvious!)

It could be argued that the 99 Questions are not really “best practices,” or that I identified the wrong practices. However, a year of research and feedback from more than 100 sales experts and successful sales leaders (both before and after the book was published) acknowledge if nothing else, that the practices in 99 Questions are at their essence a sales best-practices body of knowledge.

To reinforce the point, here is a story about a recent client. Without getting into detail, their Sales Manager is a veteran manager who works with experienced, tenured sales people. In other words, the practices described by 99 Questions are no secret to him. When I approached him during the consulting sales cycle, I gave him a copy of the book and proposed that he consider how his firm addressed the questions based on two criteria: first, I suggested that he should simply determine if his firm was actually performing each practice; second, he should evaluate each question on a scale of 1 to 5 to assess the “quality” of his firm’s execution.

The Sales Manager prospect took this to heart – he decided to read each question as I described above and document his answers in writing. I didn’t prompt him to do this; he did it completely on his own. After he got though the first 15 questions, he told me what he was doing and confided that he was a little embarrassed and disappointed when he determined his answers. His comment was that he assumed his firm did most, if not all of the practices, and at least would be average on quality of execution. But when he honestly evaluated what they actually did, he discovered that “common sense” was more perception than reality.

The truth is that sales managers often believe they effectively execute sales best practices because the practices are common sense: this is the difference between “knowing something” and “doing something about it”. So here’s my addition to the list of sales clichés:

Since everyone has “practices,” they may as well be “best practices”.

Yes, you qualify opportunities, but when push comes to shove, do they ever get eliminated from the pipeline? Does everyone even know what “qualified” means? Do your qualification criteria move your prospect to a meaningful Qualified stage in your CRM system, or do you just use the CRM tool’s default stages? (Surprisingly, not one client I worked with in the last year who had CRM had changed the default stages for their opportunities.)

As I related to my Sales Manager prospect, the first step in understanding any challenge is to admit the challenge actually exists. You don’t know what you don’t know. It is what it is. Why not be honest with yourself? If you have the 99 Questions book, just take out a pencil and go through each page, answer “yes or no,” and write down your 1-5 Quality rating. See where you stand and start the process of improving from there.

If you don’t have my book, fear not! In about 30 days, I will be publishing my first 99 Questions Sales Manager Survey, where you can go to my website and score your firm on the 99 Questions sales best practices. Or just give me call, and we can discuss your specific situation. Either way, become better educated about sales management best practices; plan to be more explicit and intentional in your thinking about what should be done and what is being done, and start incorporating these practices into your team’s sales efforts.


Author: Terry Walsh

Terry Walsh is a Trusted Executive Advisor known for his work helping clients create and execute revenue growth strategies, organize and build sales teams, and implement CRM systems. He focuses on helping sales leaders achieve their potential in building and managing effective sales teams. Author of “99 Questions to Achieving Your Sales Goals” (Amazon), which outlines a road map for success in both individual sales and managing sales teams, implemented in dozens of clients. Terry's 25+ years’ experience and a proven track record help organizations build high-performing, well-managed sales teams that drive maximum revenue and create enduring customer relationships to exceed revenue, operational and strategic goals. Terry is currently a Partner with Funnel Metrics, LLC, a leading professional services firm that offers a unique suite of sales enablement and performance management solutions designed to help businesses improve revenue growth and predictability.a Previously, Terry worked as an executive sales leader for major companies including Culligan International, Cendant Corporation, Whitman-Hart/marchFIRST, Digital Equipment Corporation, and others. He has supported dozens of clients as a consultant, trainer and project leader to enable effective sales organizations.

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