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The Board’s Role in Sales Oversight

The Board’s Role in Sales Oversight

00Blog: The Science of Sales, FeaturedTags: , , , , , January, 20

Think back to the last board meeting you attended that addressed sales. The directors likely looked at the sales numbers, compared them to plan, and probably noticed some room for improvement.


But for board members of early-stage or high-growth companies, a higher-intensity focus on sales is necessary since these organizations may not have the same resources as larger, well-funded businesses. If you are actively serving on an early-stage company’s board—or are thinking of serving on one—you should keep several key sales-related concerns in mind in order to help mentor leadership, improve results, and increase sales transparency.


Customer Acquisition and Satisfaction

While it is probably unrealistic for the board to be completely familiar with all deals and sales representatives, directors can help sales and business development departments work on potentially game-changing deals. These deals should be reviewed in board meetings, and chances are that the board may have other ways to reach those target customers or partners and influence decisions. Being aware of these critical deals can enable a board member to deliver extra value.


Go-to-Market Strategy

The board also should be kept abreast of the company’s current go-to-market strategy. Elements of this strategy may include an emphasis on direct versus channel sales or the introduction of new customer acquisition strategies (such as “freemium” models) since these elements can greatly affect the company’s growth rate and potential. Having objective measurements around the company leaders’ performance against the strategy is the key to rapidly scaling sales teams. Sales problems like slow ramping, low win-rates, long sales cycles, and call reluctance can be symptoms of a failure to execute well against the strategy.


As the company grows, the board’s role no doubt will shift; however, until that time, an all-hands-on-deck approach may lead to the best outcomes for the early-stage company.


Sales as Strategy

Early-stage companies are under a lot of pressure to grow quickly. Budgets and sales models that are presented to the board must be bottom-up models, not top-down, and must be updated monthly with actual results to provide an accurate and dynamic revenue ramp-up forecast. Many times, startups can benefit from using sales as a strategic lever, tweaking their approach to completely change the growth trajectory for the better. For example, one technology company obtained a distribution deal with a leading travel portal, which lent credibility and allowed the number of sales reps to be multiplied. A company I co-founded introduced a free, much simpler version of the product that put it instantly on the map in its target market and allowed the company to acquire new customers at a much lower cost.


Identify Underlying Issues

Many company boards have problems with the transparency of sales teams and in understanding why adding sales reps does not correlate with increased sales. An important issue for these companies and their boards is determining the factors that might be limiting sales growth. In fact, many sales teams struggle until something fundamentally changes. The underlying problem may not be attributable to the sales team at all but instead to imprecise marketing positioning, immature technology, and perhaps a lack of applicable reference accounts. If these types of problems are present, the sales team will almost always struggle. However, when such problems are appropriately addressed, sales can flourish, and the sales leader’s ability to recruit and coach his or her team can make a huge difference in growing the business.


As a company scales, the board can play a critical oversight role in vetting the go-to-market sales strategy, assisting with contacts for game-changing deals, holding leadership accountable, and looking for areas of opportunity to advocate for fundamental changes that can break sales teams free and accelerate results. Over time, the board’s role no doubt will shift; however, until that time, an all-hands-on-deck approach to sales may lead to the best outcome.


This article was written by Margot Carter. Margot is an experienced lead director recognized by WomenInc. as one of the 2019 Most Influential Corporate Board Directors. She is also a cofounder of Cien, an artificial intelligence-powered sales performance company. The original version of this article was published on the official blog of the National Association of Corporate Directors.


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Keeping the Human Element in AI for Sales

00Blog: The Science of Sales, FeaturedTags: , , , , , December, 19

Why do we accept 60% quota attainment? It seems every day I see another news story read or an article discussing the fact that somewhere between 40% and 50% of B2B sales reps in the US fail to attain their quota numbers. Why is that?

There is a plethora of tools and applications available to Account Executives, Sales Leaders and Sales Enablement and Operations personnel in support. How can the efforts of these talented and hard working folks lead to such poor results?

I have a theory. Actually, I have a couple of theories. The first cause indicated is tenure. A 2018 report from the Bridge Group indicates that B2B Sales rep tenure is less than 24 months. David Stein, CEO of ES Research, writes that Sales Manager tenure can be as low as 19 months. If you look through the marketing materials provided by ABM leaders like Terminus, you will see similar statistics quoted for marketing tenure. Time in position has never been lower and is continuing to shrink.

Tenure of Reps and Managers is a Symptom

Clearly, tenure numbers like those indicate that there will be problems understanding products and customers, which will lead to poor quota performance. A new sales manager needs a year of experience to build an understanding of the product and the ways that customers use the product.

With such high turnover rates, sales onboarding becomes a very short runway that focuses on product knowledge rather than the skills needed to succeed in the new position. Kelly Riggs discusses this skills training topic very effectively in the Business Locker Room blog. I suggest that this is more a symptom than a root cause.

The underlying problem is twofold. There is an overwhelming pressure to deliver revenue within unprecedented levels of competition. In addition, there is the micro granular level of analytics focused on sales activities.

Take a look at SalesHacker’s 2018 Sales Technology stack. If you are selling sales technology, every one of those offerings is a competitor and more enter the fray every day. This market segment is far from unique, in fact every B2B market segment is fraught with competition.

A friend of mine is a Senior Director at a top 10 retail firm who prides himself on introducing effective new technology to the firm. He tells me that some weeks he gets 500 solicitations. Some of the products may be the next great thing, but he has no way of sorting them all out. If he did not know me, he would never open my emails or discuss my products. This is a good example of why sales longevity matters.


It’s time we balance the scientific and the human in B2B sales.

In this intensely competitive environment, the rep who only knows his or her product but may not have a strong grip on the overall technology market, or who may not be completely familiar with the nuances of the industry is at a hopeless disadvantage. This stresses the critical nature of making the most of each and every opportunity presented to a rep.

The second underlying issue I see is in the metrics surrounding sales. The volume of analytics and AI tools that measure sales activities, and I stress activities, calls to mind the early days of Taylorism and Scientific Management.

The theory of Taylorism was that all activities could be reduced to an optimal few repeatable steps and that each step could be patterned, models and measured.

The upside of Taylorism is that it facilitated the Fordist process of manufacturing. The downside of the Taylorist model is that it so dehumanized the worker that many unions insisted on not implementing the Taylorist process.

The Taylorist underpinnings matured and evolved and can be seen in more humanly inclusive terms in the Toyota Production System of continuous improvement and respect for people. I don’t want this to sound like a Luddite rant against new scientific sales methodology, so I will come to the point:

The Human Element of AI for Sales

I base my contention on two pillars. First, that the tool sets available today for Sales Operations and Sales leadership, whether they are metrics based or algorithmic, or employ Machine Learning (ML) and AI, are focused overwhelmingly on sales tasks. This is activity-based optimization.

The message is clear that the route to success is to define the most successful rep activity in infinite detail and then have every other rep emulate those activities as precisely as possible. This is classic Taylorism; one optimized size fits all.

The second pillar is that the tools available to sales leaders today do not help the sales leader understand the skills and attributes of the individual reps. The tools strike me as being prescriptive before there is a diagnosis. The tools want to provide the best average solution rather than the right individual training and skills enhancement needs for each rep.


One size fits all coaching systems are not an improvement over the status quo.

I would also suggest that the state of performance against quota discussed above argues powerfully that the current approach is not working well and that some key element of sales performance is being overlooked.

I further suggest that insight into the skills and attributes of individual reps in the interest of forming easy to use and effective prescriptions is the next step forward to start winning the war quota attainment. The new sales leader who is trying to make his numbers and manage a team and learn a new space needs the system to do the work for him or her; to shed light for him or her directly on the specific areas of performance that require coaching for each rep–not in activities, but in the skills and attributes that drive those activities.


Focus Your Attention Where The Most Benefit Can be Found

The sales team is a set of individuals with particular skills and attributes. Some team members are top performers, some are low end performers and most are in the middle of the pack. This is the classic bell curve distribution of human performance attributes.

The system provided for the sales leader needs to make it easy to see the characteristics of the team, not just the activities. The system needs to help the leader understand who needs help and who doesn’t; who can be coached to success and who should find success elsewhere and most importantly how to move the middle of the bell curve reps to the next level of success. Improve the performance of the reps in the middle of the performance bell curve and the entire team‘s quota performance will leap forward.


Why is this Important?

Improving Quota performance is likely the single most effective way to address the tenure issues discussed earlier. According to Sales Fuel, three of the five most common reasons for sales reps leaving can be managed through (1) better coaching from the immediate manager and (2) the opportunity to make planned money. A good, individualized insight system to help sales leaders get their teams to 100% quota attainment answers the call. If the team is making its quota and earning planned dollars, the impetus to leave is greatly diminished.


Measuring sales activities is not enough. To move performance, manage individual skills and attributes so that each team member can perform to the best of his or her ability.

Sales is the most human of business processes and appreciation of the human elements of sales success along with the provision of tools that help incorporate human attributes into the management flow will help turn the tide in our favor in the war for 100% quota attainment.

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What the Board Thinks of Your Sales Numbers

00Blog: The Science of Sales, FeaturedTags: , , , , , December, 19

A few days ago, I had a conversation with a member of our Board.  As a Director who sits on several high tech start up boards, she has attended more than her share of Board reviews.

Her comments could be summarized in saying that Sales Leaders who are not making their numbers all say the same things. 

The head of sales provides some general reasons, like “Our sales cycles are getting longer”…“Some reps are not ramping up as quickly as expected”…“Our competitor loss rate has increased lately.”

Next, the sales leader shares the KPI dashboards tracking these areas and describes the new training program or sales tool being put in place to improve them.

As a longtime C-suite executive and board member, she has seen this scenario many times. Inevitably, the C-suite hears this tale and starts to wonder how much longer that Sales Leader will be in place.

She went on to say that sales problems like slow ramping, low win-rates, long sales cycles and call reluctance are the symptoms, not the underlying disease.


Just like a doctor performs a thorough examination when you show up with a fever, sales leaders need to diagnose the root causes of problems, and treat them with individualized improvement plans.

If you have a handful of sales reps, that’s easy enough to do. However, coaching at scale and keeping track of individual progress can be very difficult. 

Think about that the next time you are presenting numbers to C-Suite or the Board.  There is no cure-all solution for getting sales reps to 100% quota attainment. Go with a plan to make each rep the best he or she can be.

That happens to be why Cien was founded. AI excels at finding patterns. We know patterns exist in sales behavior that contributed to success or failure, and we want to harness the power of AI and machine learning to improve sales productivity.

Cien was established to help sales functions reach 100% of quota. No two sales representatives are exactly alike. What works well for one may fall short for another.  If you’d like to find out what lost revenue may be hiding in your organization, you may want to put our technology to work for you.


See if you qualify for Cien’s Hidden Revenue Assessment

As a result, instead of talking about mediocre sales results at your next board meeting, you may just be the one offering real solutions.

By Joe Lupton


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The Problem with Sales Performance Programs

11Blog: The Science of Sales, FeaturedTags: , , , , , , , December, 19

Whether you’re a numbers person or not, advances in technology and data management are continuously creating new opportunities for transforming and improving an organization’s sales effectiveness.

To understand how sales managers can improve their teams’ sales performance, we spoke with Mike Kunkle, founder of Transforming Sales Results, LLC and Vice President of Sales Enablement Services for the recently-rebranded SPARXiQ (formerly SPA and SPASIGMA). Mike is an internationally recognized sales force transformation expert with over 20 years experience designing sales learning systems and guiding companies through all aspects of sales transformation.

The Problem with Performance Management Programs

Mike points out that sales managers often lack an analytical approach to management which prevents them from seeing the forest for the trees. This should be of particular concern to sales leaders of fast growing companies as often the need for sales analytics increases with the size of the team. Research suggests that poor tracking of individual and team metrics is often the primary cause for low sales performance.

To achieve its full potential, a sales team needs to have reliable data available for analysis. While simple in theory, this is often trickier in practice, particularly for teams in which CRM adoption is relatively low.

For those teams, Mike recommends they make the move from CRM to DRM, from “Could Really Matter” to “Does Really Matter,” by ensuring that the CRM implementation, policies, and usage benefits the sales reps, as well as management.

In addition, most B2B sales organizations track team performance by focusing on low level activities such as the number of calls made or emails sent by sales person. And while the quality of these activities is often hard to measure, they can have a direct impact on how sales managers assess their team’s performance.

To address declining team performance many organizations turn to performance management programs. Dealing with performance improvement initiatives can often be challenging for certain sales organizations. When presented with more scientific approaches to sales management, sales leaders tend to stick to their tried and tested ways.

Spend More Time Coaching and Less Time Reporting

To help a sales team achieve its full potential, sales managers need to spend more time coaching and less time reporting. This can be complex at a collective level when a company has a culture that values “managing up” more than getting things done. This can also be challenging at the individual level because sales managers are typically gifted at selling, but not necessarily at managing and coaching.

Part of this, explains Mike, involves getting to know your team members better by measuring not their results vs. objectives, their activities (what and how much), and their sales methodology (how they do the activities – or the quality of the activities). Mike calls this the ROAM method (Results, Objectives, Activities and Methodology), which is a key part of his sales coaching system.

To improve team performance, you need to identify who needs coaching and what type of coaching is needed for each person, to close key performance gaps.

A simple way to do this is to measure conversion rate across the different pipeline stages. Create a dashboard of the recent historical averages of top, middle, and bottom producers and compare the conversion ratios to a specific sales team or individual. This will allow you to see how each rep on a given team is doing at each stage of the buying process and identify the biggest opportunities for improvement, whether it’s help with generating leads, moving deals from stage 2 to 3, or closing.

Management Needs Coaching Too

Sales managers often get caught up focusing on ‘making the numbers’ when sometimes it’s their very own skills that need improvement. Management coaching often gets neglected because senior leaders tend to operate with a specific playbook in mind that was developed in the past. But the right thing for a sales team to do yesterday may not be the best way forward today.

The biggest risk in sales management is failing to recognize that contexts, people and businesses change.


Use AI to Identify What Works

Sales leaders need to rethink how they support and enable their teams. Supporting an effective learning system is one way sales leaders can improve their team’s productivity.  Another way is to implement AI and machine learning to help isolate each factor that influences the sales process.

While there are a lot of tools to help sales reps be more productive, few are geared at helping sales teams as a whole. Implementing new sales tools and training salespeople to use them is far from trivial, emphasizes Mike. The key is to incorporate the tools and training into a coherent and usable process that helps sales professionals rather than drags them down. If they can achieve this, sales managers can make better business decisions and their teams can enjoy greater levels of effectiveness and success.

About Mike Kunkle

Mike Kunkle is an internationally recognized sales transformation, sales training and sales enablement expert.

Mike has spent 35 years in the sales profession and 25 years as a corporate leader or consultant, helping companies drive dramatic revenue growth through best-in-class training strategies and his proven-effective sales transformation methodologies. At one company, as a result of six projects, he and his team were credited with enabling an accretive $398MM in revenue, year-over-year. At another, within 9 months, newly-hired sales reps with 120 days on the job were outperforming incumbent reps with 5 years with the company. Mike is the founder of Transforming Sales Results, LLC, and today, works as the Vice President of Sales Enablement Services for SPARXiQ (formerly SPA & SPASIGMA), where he advises clients, writes, speaks at conferences, develops and leads webinars, designs sales training courses, delivers workshops, and designs sales enablement systems that get results.

You can connect with Mike on Linkedin and follow him on Twitter.


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AI-for-Sales Company Launches New Hidden Revenue Assessment

Cien Launches New Hidden Revenue Assessment

01Featured, Press ReleasesTags: , , , , November, 19

Dallas, TX, November 20th, 2019 – Cien Inc., a leading provider of AI-powered sales performance solutions, today announced the launch of its new Hidden Revenue Assessment.


Cien’s Hidden Revenue Assessment applies over 100+ AI models to a company’s CRM data to reveal the factors that are preventing their teams from achieving their sales quotas. Proprietary AI models automatically create “scorecards” that help identify issues in sales enablement, training and onboarding as well as provide a basis for more personalized coaching.


While other applications focus on quantitative factors that can be typically found in activity-based dashboards and KPIs, Cien’s assessments stand out by measuring qualitative and intangible factors and tie them back directly to a company’s revenue. Examples of intangible factors measured by Cien include skills such as a sales person’s ability to effectively engage customers, a propensity to focus on smaller deals, closing skills, product knowledge or work ethic.


This allows sales leaders to prioritize and track the financial impact of changing specific sales rep behaviors. Cien’s Hidden Revenue Assessment typically uncovers 15 to 20 percent of unrealized revenue due to gaps in selling skills or inefficient sales processes. To date, the company performs more than 117M sales-related predictions per day and has uncovered nearly $130M of unrealized revenue for B2B technology companies. 


One of those companies, Wide Eyes Technologies, a leading visual search provider for global Ecommerce companies, used Cien’s Hidden Revenue Assessment to identify their team’s individual strengths and weaknesses.


“With Cien, we are better able to understand where each salesperson needs to improve from a training, coaching and enablement perspective,” says Lisa Farioli, who runs the company’s sales operations.


Currently available to customers, Cien helps SaaS leaders from around the world get their sales teams to 100% quota attainment.


“When it comes to managing sales teams, it’s important to understand that no sales rep is created equal, and no opportunity is created equal,” explains Cien’s Co-founder and CEO Rob Käll.


Cien’s Hidden Revenue Assessment is easily accessible and available free of charge for qualifying companies. For more information visit




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