This week, we chat with Brad Mandell, a sales leader with vast experience in both large companies and startups across networking, security, SAAS, and big Data industries. Brad has built and lead both direct and indirect enterprise, commercial and consumer GTM teams.

Brad shares why sales leaders should build a sales culture of trust and transparency to win and how to leverage data to do so. 

—- What are the forecasting challenges that sales leaders face in today’s virtual selling environment?

Brad: Trust is a challenge— trust in the methodology, trusting your reps, and trusting your customers. As a sales leader, how do you build that trust, and then how do you verify and ensure that you indeed have that trust?

There are sales leaders who will either under forecast and be the hero because they always beat the numbers or the other kind of leaders with an over-optimistic approach, trying to be the best and then fall short each time. These are two different prophecies that can get perpetuated by the misguided or optimistic view from the board or investors. They want sales leaders to deliver a certain number regardless of what the analytics show. They ignore the available data and expect the sales leader to achieve these results and often that leads to a lack of trust in the forecast or disappointment in the results.

The next challenge is determining the trust factor of your reps. Are they capable and how willing are they to fully disclose what they’re doing? Reps fear if they underperform or do something wrong, they will be let go from the business. Therefore, a lot of reps under forecast. They hide deals. They don’t tell you what’s going on. They won’t enter the data into the system. They may make deal situations look worse or better. How close can you get to the actual picture is always a big challenge for leaders.

Another glaring shortcoming in sales is hearing what one wants to hear and not asking tough questions, both with reps and customers. A lot of reps are afraid to ask customers tough questions. Without these tough questions, reps get caught unaware, and such surprises from customers are the worst thing that can happen to your forecast.

Thus the ability to build trust and transparency to get an accurate picture of what’s really happening on the ground continues to be a challenge for sales leaders.

—- How does data help sales leaders manage these challenges?

Brad: In the past, forecasting was driven by each sales manager or leader’s methodology based on the details the rep shared and in fact, it was the rep driving the probability and the chance of success of the pipeline. As a leader, you had to take that at face value because there isn’t enough time in your day, week, or quarter to drill down every single deal to understand what was going on. So you just went with the feeling about the people on your team, how they were going to deliver results and it became more of an art than a science.

In today’s environment, science has gotten way more invested in the sales process, and that’s where the analytics come in. You have a much better understanding of the sales rep productivity and accountability. Given the ability of analytics underneath the team’s inputs, you have a much better view if your rep is truly pursuing the deal and is deliberate about their forecasting.

A sales leader can now lead business discussions with stronger analytics supporting their forecasts. e.g., This is what the data tells us we’re going to deliver, and this may deviate by a certain margin or these are some identified outlier deals that are changing the forecast dramatically. 

With data on their fingertips, a sales leader is now able to share what they are going to do, why they’re going to do it, and their risk mitigation. It becomes a business discussion versus a constant push back conversation on either under forecasting or over-committing on forecasts.

—- How can sales leaders keep reps focused on winnable deals?

Brad: In a virtual selling model, you will always have a high volume of deals to manage and to track. As a sales leader, you want to spend time on the deals that are on a lever between winning and losing, and those are the ones that you can add value. Identifying those deals at the right time becomes essential. Historically it may have been gut, but today it is being driven by the available analytics.

Further, in your team meetings or 1:1s, you have to cultivate strong trust with the entire team so that people feel comfortable talking about their best practices. A lot of people want to reflect on what they do, but they don’t because either they are embarrassed or they don’t want to give away trade secrets and neither of those approaches works. A sales leader needs to create an environment of disclosure and transparency so reps can learn quickly from others and then the whole team rises.

And lastly but very important is how you compress the sales cycle, so your reps get either yes or no from prospects as soon as possible. Where reps spend their time is critical. You don’t want them to spend time on wasted deals that will be ultimately lost. Every rep wants to look good, wants to try hard to get to the close. But they need to learn to come in first or last as soon as possible.

As a sales leader, you have to enable reps to disqualify themselves out of an unwinnable deal at the earliest so they only focus on deals that they can truly win.


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