The B2B Revenue Executive Experience
The B2B Revenue Executive Experience

Episode · 4 years ago

Brian Higgins on Sales Performance Frameworks

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Ask ten different people what makes an ultra high performer so successful, and chances are you’ll get ten different answers. That’s why leveraging a sales performance framework is so important, because it allows you organize and replicate success not just at the individual level, but across the organization as a whole.

We sat down with Brian Higgins, sales performance coach, consultant, and faculty member at the Leeds School of Business at CU Boulder, to learn how sales performance frameworks are key to educating sales professionals, assessing performance and setting up teams and sales executives for success.

You were listening to the BDB revenue executive experience, a podcast dedicated to helping the executives train their sales and marketing teams to optimize growth. Whether you're looking for techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's accelerate your growth in three, two, one. Welcome everyone to the BDB revenue executive experience. I'm your host, Chad Sanderson. Today we're talking about sales performance frameworks for individual contributors as well as sales leaders. How they're key component of educating sales professionals, assessing their performance, targeting areas for improvement and setting up the team hand the exact for success. To help us with this topic, we have with US Brian Higgins, sales performance coach, consultant and faculty member at the Lead School of business at the University of Colorado Boulder. Bran. Thank you for taking time and welcome to the show. Thank you, Chad, and I'm happy to be here looking forward to having the conversation with you. So, before we began, I've got to ask him of an awful little off the wall question. Nobody that I know, when they were little, was playing with their fire trucks or playing out the backyard and said I'm going to go into sales when I get older. So I'm kind of curious how you arrive at this point in your career not only a fascination for sales and a passion for it, but as a faculty member at a well respected institution and as well as a focus on sales frameworks. Can you kind of help us understand how we arrived at this point? Yeah, you know, I was like I was like most kids coming out of school Chad, where I wanted to do a lot of things with my life, things that I thought were going to be very important, and sales was nowhere on the list. And you know, it was only as a result of me finding that, you know, those were some of the few opportunities that were being offered to me as I was coming out of school that I ended up there and lucky, luckily for me, it worked out. You know, I found that sales was something very different than what I thought it was going to be when I was still sitting in the classroom. I joined an organization that was selling shared computer services to hospitals and medical centers. The sales team was led by a number of x IBM errs and x zerox executives who believed in the role and value of sales people and wanted to invest in their their education, their training and, you know, wanted to provide good coaching. And you know, those those first two or three years and sales were just eye opening for me. And you know, not only did I receive some great training and some great education and learned an awful lot about businesses and about people, but I found out that I was, you know, a pretty, pretty good at what it took to be successful at selling and and at that point I got the bug and I just I wanted to be the best of the best year in and year out, and became kind of...

...a junkie for all of what was being written about professional selling at the time and I was always the first one to pick up the new book on the subject. And, you know, parlayed that initial experience into higher levels of responsibility and sales join some some very interesting entrepreneurial companies where I was responsible for developing the go to market strategy for these products and, you know, really invested heavily in building the teams that we're going to take our products into those markets and made sure that they were always being challenged to do it better, and that served me very, very well for about thirty years and got to the point where I was ready to maybe slow down a little bit. I started doing some consulting work for some investment bankers who wanted to make a market in the space that I knew they would rely on me to help them do due diligence on companies that they were targeting, as well as to help those companies that were already in the portfolio, particularly where sales and sales management was concerned, and I've really enjoyed that. I got to see a lot of different kinds of companies and a lot of different spaces. But it got to the point where I began running into situations where the companies had recruited college kids out of the classroom to go and do their selling for them and the kids didn't have the benefit of any kind of formalized education around sales and the companies were not in a position to provide it to them either, and the and the kids were failing. They in and they weren't. They weren't just failing or making their number, but you know, they were feeling good about themselves, and it was at that point in time that I decided that I was going to try to repurpose my consulting practice to focus more on college aged students, to get them sooner and to make sure that we didn't lose them to other professionals when they had what it took to be good at selling, but then to also kind of get them propped up and ready to go into that that first sales job. And it wasn't sure exactly how I was going to do that. But I live here in Boulder, Colorado. The University of Colorado's right down the street. You know, we go to all the games, we go to all the concerts, and so is a as a part of my my due diligence, if you will, or my understanding better of where and how I could go, I went down to the university and I knocked on the door and I said, here's an ID I have for Your Business School and I think you ought to take advantage of my willingness to do it for you. And you know, they gave me a little bit of...

...a funny look, you know, kind of this is a little bit unusual for the way that courses start here, but I was able to hit it off pretty well with the assistant dean down there and he said let's do it, I'll give you a shot. And that was three years ago and we started with what we call the fundamentals of professional selling course, teaching it to thirty five students that signed up at the last minute. And you know, we're getting ready to go into our fourth year. We're teaching it to about two hundred and fifty students a year and it's become very, very popular inside the business school. We've we've added on to that with a sales management course, which examine sales through the eyes of the of the sales leader or the or the company, and now we're getting ready to take it into the graduate program so it's I don't know if that gives you what you asked for. Yeske me what time it was. I told you how to build a watch. No, that was perfect. That's perfect. It's an interesting evolution, right, because it wasn't up until the last few years that there'd been any as far as we were aware of those of us that are in sales. They before I was doing this, I was I was running teams. We always used to joke that there was no, you know, truly professional education for the sales profession. So to see the evolution of it is is excellent and I applaud you for it because if I know, having been that executive looking for good talent, if they have that foundational stuff coming in the door, then they're going to be a lot better set up for success. So excellent answer the question. Greatly appreciate it. So we were talking about sales framework, sales performance frameworks today. This is going to seem like, especially probably for our audience, kind of an obvious or odd question, but I really want to start with a definition of how you, as you're talking to students and working in the class, how you kind of help set the stage for what a performance framework actually is and how they might apply it, so we have that context as we go through the conversation. Yeah, for me a framework is is an outline. A framework is something that we can refer to when when we're thinking about any subject holistically, and you know, I'll point to some of the sales methodologies that are out there. I know you're familiar with with a few of them yourself, but you know, if you were to talk to someone in the executive ranks of a company about sales process. They probably wouldn't know what it is that you're talking about, but if you could lay it out for them to include these five or six steps or phases or elements, then they would have some context that they could refer to and you could begin to have a more meaningful conversation with them about the subject of sales process. You know, a doctor, when asked about, you...

...know, the health of the human being. It's a it's a big broad question, but that doctor would probably begin by referring to the eleven or twelve body systems that makes the human machine work and would begin talking about it that way. If you were to ask a Golfer you know why are why is tiger woods as good as he is and there are still guys that are trying to get onto the tour, they probably break it down using some kind of a framework or some some method of organization that begins with how how far they drive the ball, how accurately they drive the ball, how many Greens and regulation they make? So so for me, you know, a framework is all about a way to organize a subject so that we can talk intelligently about it and that we can refer to it for lots of different reasons. Does that? Does that resonate with Hu chip? Yeah, perfect. I mean it basically helps provide the context and focus for our conversation. So everybody has some level of shared understanding, some level of shared common language that allows them to not spend time and miscommunication but really focus on the meat of the issue. Right, so they're all within the same, same level of understanding, right. And the reason I ask for that definition is that I run into a lot of executives but organizations that don't have that and it and it shows up, it rears its ugly head in different ways throughout the organization. And when we started prepping for this and you mentioned you wanted to focus on performance frameworks, I got extremely excited, right, because everybody's always looking for better ways to understand how sales reps are performing, to help coach them, to enable them. But you mentioned in one of the emails. Went back for it. From your perception it's the critical first step, fundamental first step. I've lose what you said in creating high performing sales organizations and I want to dive into that a little bit. So, from your perspective, why is that performance framework so important? And then also why do we actually see so few companies making the investment in it, especially on the sales side? What? There's a lot their cham. I probably should break those questions up a little bit. I've let's start with why. So? Why so important? Why is that framework so important to an organization? I think because there are so many different elements of a high performing salesperson or a high performing sales organization that if, if we don't make some effort at organizing all of those things that you know, we could find ourselves thrashing around in a very unproductive way. And you know, if I kind of refer back to the point I made you earlier about you know, forty years ago I became a junkie for all that was being written and talked about sales performance. You know, I...

...was absorbing it, but I wasn't organizing it very well. I wasn't putting it into, you know, any kind of of a bookshelf, if you will, for myself, and I probably would have been been better able to not only absorb but then to to make good use of all of that material that I was absorbing if I had had some kind of a framework that I could plug it into, and so I think it is fundamental because without it we're just we're we're just hitting, you know, we're swinging hoping that we hit something, and I think we need to be a little bit more deliberate in our approach to to improving our performance again, both as individuals and as organizations. Then so when it comes to the organization itself or that, to me it feels it feels like a very fundamental concept, right to have that common legs. Now, everybody out there nose. I'm biased, obviously because of what I do for a living these days. I install those types of frameworks and those methodologies, but it seems so fundamental. Yet we see so many organizations that look at it more as a check box than a journey right, and I'm kind of curious. You know from your experience, if you've seen you know why. Why is it that that that foundational making sure that foundation is set extremely solid inside of an organization, doesn't happen as often as perhaps it should? Because I don't think the majority of people, both inside of our profession as well as those that are looking in from the outside. You know, understand that. You know it kit, that it's not just it doesn't come naturally. You know, and and maybe you've had this experience as well, where you know you've asked people what's the key to what's the key to being a great salesperson, and and typically they'll give you an answer of one or two things. They might say, well, it's they're great listeners, or they're great presenters or they've got a tremendous amount of charisma. Right, but you and I both know that there's so much more that goes into be by performing salesperson and just those three or four things. And and the same is true when it comes to sales management. Typically what we do is we take those high performing sales people and we put them into sales management roles, assuming that they'll know what to do, that they'll just figure it all out, and that high performing salesperson gets there and doesn't really have a framework for him or herself and just begins kind of feeling their way and they don't realize that if they had a map that they could follow, if they had, I think a checklist is a good thing. You know, when you're getting ready to build and manage high performing organization, all the things that go into it. I don't know if I've answered the question, but I...

...think a lot of it is just not realizing that that high performance, either on the individual level or at the organizational level, lends itself to a map, lends itself to a plant. Yeah, and without that I see a lot of the people foundering, a lot of the people, you know, organizations as a whole. It becomes that. I think it lends itself to. I had the latest stat I saw, and I think it came from serious decisions. Don't hold me to that, was something like the average tenure of a sales executive these days is like seventeen, eighteen months right, and it's because, I think a lot of what you just pointed out. You Take Your Ultra high performers that have mastered or are mastering sales as an individual tribute, you put them in a management position. That's not the same thing. I mean it's just not great ultra high performers don't necessarily make great managers. Then you start to see this churn, as I how sales, especially when I talk to some cfos, it's just sales people will just, you know, if these guys don't have their numbers will find something that will rather than understanding the discipline behind it, the focus and commitment that it takes. And so when you've been out there working with students or other companies, can you kind of compare and contrast what you would expect to see from a team that using the performance framework versus maybe a team that's not as focused on it or not leveraging one? Well, you know, there's typically one that has more of a a tangible plan in place is going to correlate to high performance. I get a little nervous when I start showing correlations between the use of a performance framework and high performance or the use of a sales process and high performance, because which you'll find is that the companies that are they're doing one of these things, are doing all of those things and that they therefore or going to they're going to perform at a much higher level. where I think the the evidence of the value of a performance framework at the organizational level is concerned is that they're going to have a much more stable machine in place here after year, and and what I would look to for evidence of a stability in the machine is that your turnover is going to be less among the individual contributors, that the variance between the high performers, the core performers and the low performers is going to be is going to be less that, you know, you are going to see a consistency in the career paths of the individuals that move into leadership positions. Their forecasts are going to be more accurate, their use of technology is going to be more effective. Those are the I see more stability in the machine. Is kind of the way that I refer to it, at the organizational level, and then I think that the same...

...could be said of performance at the individual level, that the people that are really committed themselves to improving in all aspects of their performance, using a framework to guide them with, or the ones that are going to be a club year after, year after year, where those that don't might be there one out of every four or five years. So that's that's what I would look to when I'm when I'm looking for evidence or I'm looking for the results of either individuals or organizations that have relied on a performance framework to help them in their journey. And so that's the kind of like taking the temperature of an entire team. So let's go a little bit, you know, a little bit more macro or excusing micro on it and talk about assessment. Assessment was always, from my experience, cannot can be a challenge in sales organizations, largely because of the types of personalities that are often attracted to sales, bigger than life sometimes, you know, all of those things you mentioned, charisma, highly emotionally sensitive, is the way that I used to to say it for my teams. But do the frameworks, from your perspective, provide easier tools to enable management to truly assess and coach sales executives rather than get around that kind of the emotional response? Right, get the emotion out of it and keep it more rational, linear, focused on okay, here's our framework, there's our plan, here's where you are against it. Can you get to illustrate a little bit how that might look in an organization if a manager was effectively using a framework to provide that assessment? Yeah, so, you know, when I when I recommend a framework to either a leader that wants to use it to coach his individual contributors with or when I use it to coach individual contributors on my own, I kind of start with this idea that there are really five basic elements to sales performance at the individual level, and those five elements are knowledge, skill, experience, behavior and intangibles. You know, it's probably something that lends itself to a graphic cha that you're just going to have to kind of imagine what it is that I'm talking about and in it and and the knowledge that's required to sell automobiles is going to be way different than the knowledge that's required to sell sales education and training services or payroll systems or, you know, blowing seven hundred forty seven or whatever. But typically it's you know, it's having a good knowledge of business practices in general. You know, particularly in the B Tob World, which I think is where most of your audience is certain need to understand the fundamentals of business. You need to understand how to read and income statement, a balance sheet, statement of cash flows. Those are all very, very helpful to then...

...being able to understand the industry and the companies that are in the industry that you're selling to. So industry knowledge would be second product knowledge, obviously, is goes without saying. You need to be knowledgeable of the products and the services that you're offering. A fourth area of knowledge might have to do with your competition. And those are just the first four to come to mind. There are probably another five or six categories of knowledge that a sales wrapped might want to dedicate him or herself to in an effort to become high performing. Then you move into skills, and again, the list of potential skills that would go into this performance framework vary from rule to roll, product to product, market to market. But it might be discovery. You know that you really need to be good with the questions you ask and the way that you understand the situation, your analysis of which you are able to discover, and then the way in which you are able to present that back. So presentation skills, negotiation skills, listening skills, the list could go on and on. It can't be. It can't be so much that you can't you know, you can't try to boil the ocean here. You got to pick the five or the six that are really really important to you in the role that you're in. That I would put skills as a second category. A third category would be experienced, and you know that. You might say, well, you can't teach experience, and know you can't, but you can sure do a lot more to get yourself the experience you need. So, you know, going to the conferences, networking with various organizations, putting yourself into situations internally that you could easily forego, you know, if you didn't make it a point to get there. So you building out that inventory experience is really, really important. And then we get into more of the what I would call the intrinsic capabilities. I start with behaviors. When I think about behaviors, I think a covey and the seven habits of highly successful people. But you know, are you organized? Are you practiced? Are you prepared? Are Your resourceful right, those kinds of things. And then finally the intangibles, which have to do mostly with the individual's personality. Or are they driven, are they empathetic? Are they curious, and are they as driven as they could be? Are they as empathetic as they could be? And so that becomes my framework and I start there. And you know, it might be a different we might fill this work out differently for you and what you're doing. Then we would, for you know someone that's in their first year of selling real estate. But this is now what I refer to and I'm thinking about improving myself. And you know, am I as good this...

...year as I was last year where my knowledge is concerned? Am I as good this year as I was last year where my skills are concerned? You know, am I? And I had a deficit in certain aspects of my experience. And if I am, am I going to do something about it? If I see a book, you know, called the seven habits of highly successful people, am I going to pick it up and read it because it's going to contribute to me better understanding how to behave on an hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month basis. So that's where I think the value of the framework is, or maybe the example of the framework where the individuals concerned, and then you can do the same thing with organizations. Excellent, and so okay, this is great. Is that something knowledge, skills, experience, behavior in Tangibles? Is that something you have in a graphic or is it? Was it not yet? I do, you know, it's pretty it's pretty basic. You know, it's using some kind of a power point table, but I do have it. I can make it available to you and others. Yeah, that would that would be amazing. That's great. That's one of the most concise ways I've heard that explaining there's all types of, you know, assessments out there for sales professionals, you know, objective management, group and disc and all of those types of things that are out there. That's probably the most concise and focus that that I've heard it, which brings me kind of my next question. And you've been doing sales for a while and now on the faculty road for three years. Have you noticed, and this kind of goes to hear a lot of sales executives that have been around a long time struggling to understand the millennials that are coming up in the sales I'm kind of curious as you've gone through your progression of your sales career, you know, what kind of changes have you seen from when you were, you know, running teams or or an individual contributor to the types of students that you maybe you're dealing with today on campus? What kind of changes have you seen and what might have or might not have surprised you about that evolution? So I'm sure that the student population of at every school is different and so I can only speak to the student population that I've observed at the University of Colorado and I would, and then I would even go further than that, to say that probably the students in the business school are different than the the students in the engineering school, across school or whatever, and so I'm careful not to go too for far with with my profiling of this generation of students. That being said, I would say that the students at the University of Colorado exhibit less characteristics of the stereotypical go millennial then I expected. I think that, for the most part, the students that I've had are extremely respectful, they're extremely ambitious and are pretty resourceful. All that being said, though, I think that,...

...you know, they're from the employer's perspective. What they need to be ready for with millennials coming in is that the millennial generation has, has had a lot dropped at their doorstep for them. And you know this might conjure up this idea world. That's because we had parents that were that were two. They were hovering right and I think you know, being the parents of some millennials, I'll say guilty as charged, we have done that. But it's also the fact that so much technology is available to them today that you know, they had. They don't have to go very far to find something. Right it says, it's as far as your keyboard to get information about almost anything, and it doesn't take long. And so there's this there's this issue of instant gratification and again, I don't don't mean for that to sound negative, but you know, if they don't if they don't get it right away, then frustration begins to set in right and I just think we need to understand that that's the that's the world that they've grown up in, where it's pretty immediately available. The one thing that I that I have seen, and I've seen this this in not just millennials but the parents of millennials, is this this is multitasking thing, this at tension deficit that occurs, and I think they're you know, we do need to do some extra work to get people to put things away, whether it's a device or report or a television show or whatever, and and just focus on the task at hand. And I've seen that in, you know, forty, fifty and sixty year olds as much as I've seen it in fifteen, twenty and twenty five years old. Twenty five year old is that, you know, we there's a lot more out there that's distracting us than there used to be and we need we need to make a concerted effort to get focused and stay focused on what it is that we're doing. And how do you end? So, how do you as as now, as a professor, how do you instill? I mean, one of the things that I constantly am having conversations about with sales reps of of all ages, as you pointed out, is that sales as a discipline and it requires focus and equipment just like anything else. It's not, you know, it might have been the wild, wild us at some point, but in order to compete today against all of the distractions that we have in the technological world that we live in, to capture attention and provide value, to understand the individuals that we're selling to, that requires a level of discipline and focus. That's kind of the opposite side of that coin and to the you know, multitasking challenge that you're seeing. So I'm curious, as a professor and an educator, how do you help instill that or...

...inspire that in your in your students? You know, I I think that the answer lies in in shorter time segments. So, as an example, will in the courses I teach, the students have a responsibility for coming to the classroom prepared to have the discussion and they get prepared by either reading some material that I've given them or by looking at some videos that I've given them. I don't ask them to spend, you know, an hour or two doing it. I asked them to spend twenty or twenty five minutes to do it. So I try to shorten the span of time that I'm asking them to focus, but then I'm asking them to do it more regularly. Right. So that's the way that I've kind of broken it down and then I've given them some motivation to do it by giving them, you know, a quiz before we begin the classroom discussion, and the quiz has points associated with it. And then, as a result of them kind of coming in knowing that they're going to be tested, they're better prepared. They can then have a conversation and they know that I'm going to call on them and they know that they can't have their devices open while we're having the classroom discussion, and so I just kind of I try to get it to where ideal with it and smaller pieces, as opposed to letting them wander off get distracted by not paying attention to it for some long does that make sense? Yes, yeah, no, perfect, perfect sense makes sense. All right. So let's change the direction here a little bit. You know your faculty again, Highly Respected University. You've got a long career in sales. They're going to be a lot of people out there that want to get your attention and this is one of the challenges that everybody in sales has today. How do you capture someone's attention, build credibility and deliver value when you don't have a pre existing relationship or a referral? So I always like to ask all of our guests how would someone pull that off with you if they wanted to get in front of you and talk about something? I'm and you walked down to the university door and knocked on the door and and started talking to the assistant dean, but somebody who doesn't know you, what's the most effective way for them to capture your attention, build that credibility and capture some of your time? Well, for me, you know, I think if they show a healthy respect for me, and my time from the outside that they're going to have a better chance than if they just come into the conversation called assuming that I'm going to be interested in what it is that they want to talk about. And I think a lot of sales people, both those that are new as well as those that have been doing it for a while, you know, make an assumption that I understand, you know, why I should be talking to them, and so I'm I look at the outset for signals of respect,...

...you know, for me and my time and what I do and don't know. And if they can do that in the first thirty to forty five seconds, then good chance they're going to get another three thousand, two hundred and forty five seconds. And if they can get another thirty to forty five seconds, and there's a good chance that I'm going to I'm going to have a meaningful conversation with them for as long as it takes. So so I look for those things before I look for anything else in the way of, you know, substance about the product or service that they have to offer. Perfect. All right. So last question. We call it our acceleration inside. There was one thing you could tell sales marketing professional services people one piece of advice that, if they listened and applied it, you believe, would help them hit their targets, achieve their goals be more successful. What would it be and why? I tell them to understand what the framework for high performance looks like, Mapp it for themselves and then commit themselves to it. Easy Pass. Understand the framework, make it yours and then map your map, your plan to I love it. Excellent. Foret Brian. If a listeners interested in talking more about the topics we touched on today, what's the best way to get in contact with you? So I'm on Linkedin, like so many of your listeners are, and you can go that way. You can also email me directly at Brian Dot Higgins at Colorado dot et Edu. Well, both of those will get to my to my email box pretty quickly. Excellent, Brian. I can't thank you enough for taking time and being on the show. It's been an absolute pleasure. It was mine as well. Cheat I look forward to to following your work and, you know, would like to be helpful to you and your colleagues if possible. So so I'm in, I'm on the team. If you need me, excellence. All right, everybody that does it. For this episode, please check us out a be to be REV exaccom. You know the drill. Show the episode with friends, family's, Co workers. Right as a review, drop US suggestions on people you'd like to hear from and until next time, we have value prime solutions. With you all, nothing but the greatest success. You've been listening to the BB revenue executive experience. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show and Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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