Author: <span class="vcard">Cien</span>

sales operations experts2

The Anatomy of a High Performing Sales Operations Team

00Blog: The Science of SalesTags: , , , , October, 19

Do you have a sales operations team? Do you have a revenue operations team? It’s what all the fashionable sales teams are wearing this season.

Think of a high-performing operations team as the “sales enabler,” according to Matt Cameron, Managing Partner at Sales Ops Central, and right-hand-person to a Chief Sales Officer (CSO).

“If the CSO is weaving the blanket of revenue that keeps us all warm, then sales ops provides them with the pattern and tools to get it done.”

No single person could accomplish all the tasks of sales operations (unless your company is extremely small). These duties include:

  • Sales process development and improvement 
  • Reporting and analytics
  • The CRM database
  • Sales efficiency tools 
  • The widgets that draw marketing content into sales functions 
  • Sales training and certification
  • A framework for strategy and planning

No single set of best practices is going to fit every sales organization, but there are some things that high-performing operations teams have in common:


Keep Your CRM Data Clean

In quality management, there’s something called the “1-10-100 rule,” and it goes like this: it costs $1 to verify the accuracy of data while it’s being entered, $10 to correct erroneous data in batch form, and $100 per record if the goof remains uncorrected. The latter amount represents costs associated with low customer retention and process inefficiencies that dent performance.

So you have a big incentive to keep your CRM data clean.

But let’s face it: everyone’s CRM database has errors. Sales staff aren’t perfect, and they are often rushing data entry on their mobile device.

While careful data entry is still important, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help clean your CRM data automatically. In addition, AI-powered sales apps can identify lagging entries and adjust weekly activity levels to accurately reflect the entire week’s efforts. It also can identify erroneous and inconsistent entries and flag entries that are missing key data. 


Find the Right Number of Tools

Most large CRM platforms today support a variety of tools, apps, add-ons, widgets and gimmicks that (ostensibly) allow operations to use their data better. Individual salespeople may have their own personal favorites, or they might even be using tools unsanctioned by the company. 

The truth is that too many tools can kill performance rather than improve it. An Accenture study by Jason Angelos found that 59 percent of sales reps reported they are required to use too many tools. Furthermore, half of respondents felt that using too many sales tools was an obstacle rather than a facilitator to sales performance.


Assess Team Mood

Since your sales representatives aren’t robots, intangible, qualitative factors like team mood will have a direct impact on sales.

While nobody expects the operations manager to quiz each team member about how they feel each morning, it’s a mistake to discount team mood from a sales process development.

By analyzing a variety of activities, AI engines can accurately determine the team mood so it can be used as a factor for decision-making. Sentiment detection can analyze sales staff’s communications to determine the state of mind of individual reps and the sales team as a whole.


Determine How Much Value Each Person Contributes

“But I can’t quantify all my resources,” is a cry heard in sales departments around the world. It should be a core sales ops duty to find a way to do so.

For example, if you’ve just closed a big sale that came from a hot lead sent over by marketing, the lion’s share of the value of that sale should be attributed to marketing. If the sale came from a cold lead a sales team member carefully researched and nurtured into a sale, the value of that sale belongs exclusively to sales. 

AI-powered apps help companies understand who is contributing what to revenue by measuring the value generated by every person whose activities touch the sales pipeline (directly or indirectly). This makes factors such as closing ability, product knowledge and work ethic visible in your CRM. This way, managers can analyze each team member’s skills and attributes and hold them accountable for what they really contribute. 


High-Quality Forecasting

Accurate forecasting is a goal that all sales organizations chase, but some sales organizations do a better job than others. When a sales organization understands the value of every element of the sales pipeline, forecasting becomes much easier. 

Too much time spent on quantitative factors can produce lopsided and even wildly inaccurate sales forecasts. It’s operations’ job to ensure that qualitative factors are being appropriately weighed in sales forecasts. 


Solve Sales Performance Traps

Performance traps arise when human and business resources are not properly aligned. AI helps sales organizations understand the incremental value created by all sales and marketing leads, whereas managers can ensure that team members are avoiding activities that lead to little or no sales revenue. 

It’s not enough to estimate the average value of leads. For real sales performance, you need a way to determine how good a fit the lead is to your product or service, what that lead’s current level of interest is, and the true potential of the lead. When you know these factors, you can assign the lead a more precise value, and then rank leads on the to-do list. You can even understand which rep has the best chance of converting those leads to sales. 


Deconstruct and Rebuild Sales Processes

Your sales operations manager needs to be prepared to take all the data you have and find a meaningful way to look at and use that data. A new breed of sales performance apps such as Cien can help sales operations do all the hard work of deconstructing existing sales processes and rebuilding them in a way that drives maximum revenue. 

Sales operations teams are both useful and needed–but only when managed right, and with the right metrics. 

Get your free Hidden Revenue Assessment here


Subscribe to our newsletter


all reps can achieve quota - cien


What the Board Thinks of Your Sales Numbers

00Blog: The Science of Sales, FeaturedTags: , , , , , September, 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, he or she 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


Subscribe to our newsletter

all reps can achieve quota - cien


The Problem with Sales Performance Programs

11Blog: The Science of Sales, FeaturedTags: , , , , , , , September, 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 a respected sales transformation architect and internationally-recognized 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.


Subscribe to our newsletter


all reps can achieve quota - cien


Keeping the Human Element in AI for Sales

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

The 60 Percent Factor

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.

This article was written by Joe Lupton.

Subscribe to our newsletter

all reps can achieve quota - cien

acheiving sales mastery jim dickie cien

Achieving Sales Mastery with AI

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

Quota attainment went from 63% in 2012 to 53.8% in 2018 – that’s nearly a 15% drop.

Today, we constantly hear that “sales are harder than ever before”. The question is – is this just a perception or reality?

To understand how much sales have changed and how managers can improve their teams’s sales performance, we spoke with globally recognized sales expert Jim Dickie, founder of Sales Mastery.

Research shows that this is in fact a reality. Jim explains that there have been a number of changes, especially since coming out of the great recession.

“Research conducted on 18 different operational metrics such as the ability to carry out key account planning, market segmentation, needs analysis, etc., shows that from these metrics, 17 out of 18 are in fact down. Clearly, sales is getting harder.”

Jim tells us what is already being done with AI has either not worked or not reached its full potential, but at the same time there are still a great number of new capabilities out there that have never existed. Although AI has been out there for a long time, the attempts often failed in the past. It was not until recently that things began to come together successfully.

Is AI being used effectively?

A case study for AI in sales gathered data from 420 companies showed that one third had implemented AI, another third were evaluating its use and the last third had no sort of interest in using AI at all.

The thing about this representation of data is that it does not reflect the true figures of the marketplace for AI. In reality, these numbers are in the low single digits.

Jim explains that he wanted to look deeper into these three different constituencies as to what has encouraged them (or hasn’t) to use AI.

“If you’re not looking at AI, you’re looking in the wrong direction.”

With CSO Insights, Jim worked on gathering data to understand what challenges sales teams are facing, why these problems exist and more importantly what to do about it. It begins by looking at the tasks each sales team do to find, win and keep business. This is done by gathering data annually from about 1000 businesses, where they are asked to rate their ability to do key account planning, need analysis, etc., to configure their solution. This data quoted is across the salesforce.

One thing is that 80% of sales people think that they are above average, but often are not. With AI, we can find and pinpoint what is and isn’t working among sales teams and bring that number down.

Continually rediscovering the sales process

People sometimes find themselves staying in their comfort zone for sales processes. When it comes to using AI, it is important that teams continuously adapt to find out what works and do more of it.

Jim emphasizes how important it is to stay on top of sales processes and constantly be ready to adapt to change. For instance, a UK bank, felt that they had a great sales process in place as part of the EU. Suddenly came Brexit, meaning no one wanted to do business because of the potential for the UK to leave the EU, despite the bank being UK-based. As a result, people are moving their banking relationships over to another continent. Then, Theresa May announced that if people are willing to accept her Brexit plan she would be willing to put up another referendum. If the vote happens again, but this time the outcome is a decision to stay, the entire salesforce would need to be re-trained because everything they were told about how to sell in a non-EU country would become useless.

It is essentially about constantly being able analyze and gauge where there are opportunities to achieve gain or remove pain in the process based on changes in the economy, the competitive landscape, and the political environment.

Continuous improvement

We live in a frail ecosystem. Small changes can have large ripple effects. AI is huge today and people are constantly speaking on it.

“Using AI can be a small change but has the ability to greatly increase productivity.”

With sales, the aim is to continually improve processes to achieve increases in productivity. It can sometimes take a while to sink in if what is being explained is too abstract. Therefore, it is necessary to be specific on problem areas – for example, to start by tackling five main problems of sales processes rather than 50.

More people need to think strategically and look at the benefits of AI. Some financial services have the luxury of saying what is good for them right now because they have been working on their sales enablement for the past 9 months and thinking strategically. However, what they need to be looking at is what they should look like in a years time.

About Jim Dickie

Jim began his career more than 30 years ago with IBM and Sterling Software before launching two successful software companies. His client work spans multiple industries and includes world-renowned companies: 3M, ADP, GE Capital, Cisco Systems, Corning, Fairchild Semiconductor, Harte Hanks, Federal Express, IBM, Accenture, VISA, HP, Barclays, Rockwell and Intel. He’s a contributing editor for CRM Magazine, CustomerThink and, as well as a contributing author for the Harvard Business Review.
Jim is the author of The Chief Sales Officers Guide to CRM and Insights into High Tech Sales and Marketing, and he co-authored The Sales and Marketing Excellence Challenge and The Information Technology Challenge. He’s also served as an advisor to Baylor University’s Center for Professional Selling and as a lecturer at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.

Subscribe to our newsletter


all reps can achieve quota - cien