Michael Perla

Michael Perla is a contributing writer to Symmetrics Group's blog and co-author of the book "7 Steps to Sales Force Transformation." Michael specializes in providing actionable insights to marketing and sales organizations to help them increase pipelines, win ratios and productivity. In addition to working as a sales performance consultant, Michael has worked as a sales overlay, head of sales operations, and head of strategic marketing planning. Michael currently serves as a Director of Business Value Services at Salesforce.

Recent Posts

Your Sales Pipeline Can Get You Fired

By Michael Perla

He was at a risk of being fired.

It was the sales pipeline.

It wasn’t growing fast enough … and it wasn’t four times his overall sales goal[i].

“Michael”, the VP of Sales said to me, “I’m worried that we don’t even get to tell our story … and we are unable to create or uncover new sales opportunities … it’s depressing”.

Growing the pipeline. I’ve written about the pipeline quite a bit over the years (here, here, and here). It’s a topic that consistently rears its head in almost any discussion with a sales leader and for many of those in the executive suite.

The pipeline in business-to-business sales is often the key barometer for how a company is doing. Think about it, do you have enough of a compelling offering and message that prospects or customers put you in their ‘consideration set’ for a project or to help solve a problem?

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The 'Imperfect' Way to Sell

By Michael Perla

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

“The perfect solution never executed realizes no value.”

I’m always amazed in meetings with clients how much time is spent on wordsmithing[i] content.  It’s not that words don’t matter – they do – it’s just that fighting over different synonyms for the same concept feels pointless… or spending time trying to determine some perfect question to a prospect that accelerates the deal and saves the day.  Cut it out.

Anthony Iannerino recently wrote a blog entitled: “Stop Searching for the Perfect Way to Sell."  In it, he writes:

Selling is a complex, dynamic human interaction, which is to say, it doesn’t lend itself to a single right choice that covers all of the possible variables.  Because there is not one right choice for every situation, there is no perfect way; there are only choices.

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Getting The First Customer Meeting is Hard Enough – What About the Second One?

By Michael Perla

“It’s only getting harder to get a meeting with a decision maker today," the SVP of Sales was telling me, “and getting a second meeting can be even tougher.”  When I ask groups of sales professionals whether it’s harder getting a sales meeting with a decision maker or key influencer today, they all invariably agree that it’s harder.

These days, with the amount of information available online, a seller can’t be a ‘walking brochure’. And, when he/she initially engages with prospects or customers, they are often already behind the curve on their need if they didn’t create the demand.

The infamous 57% statistic from CEB research on how far along in the purchase process a typical B2B buyer is before engaging with a supplier has been debated (for example here and here). But the core message is very important.  If you didn’t create the demand or ‘write’ the RFP, you are already behind.

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"Stop Helping Me Sell More"

By Michael Perla

One of the perspectives I’m fond of is around the dose-response relationship[i]. In other words, what is the minimum dose I need to take (or do) to deliver the response I’m looking to achieve. In exercise, you often see this with high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is where you intersperse short-duration, high-intensity intervals (e.g., 20-40 seconds of hard running) with active rest periods (e.g., jogging in between). With a minimum dose – say a 20-minute session – you can achieve high-levels of fitness and health.

As an analogue in sales, an up-front dose of more researching and planning at the start of a sales cycle  – before conducting sales calls or targeting accounts – can help to accelerate a sales professional’s results later in the sales process. The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) – now part of Gartner – has found that top-performing sellers often spend more time planning and qualifying than average performers.

With this relationship in mind, it helps to create a frame around a dose that could potentially be harmful as well. As with most things, more is not necessarily better. More exercise can equal injuries and repetitive stress disorders, not unlike too many sales methodologies or technologies can create frustration, fatigue, and eventual turnover.

We are finding that a lot of our clients are much more conscious and intentional of what they ‘throw’ at their sales professionals in terms of change. Too many change initiatives can equal lower productivity and dissatisfaction, usually the opposite of what the sales organization is trying to achieve.

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“I Need to Grow My Sales Pipeline”

By Michael Perla

“Our pipeline is not where it needs to be”, the SVP of Sales said to me, “We need 30% more than what we have now”. “Our immediate focus is on growing the pipeline … How do we do that?”

I hear this type of refrain a lot in my work. It’s also an area that many CEOs are asked about on conference calls – how their sales pipeline is looking, which can be used to predict future revenue performance. The sales pipeline gets a lot of attention from C-suite executives to sales management to sellers. I wrote about pipeline dynamics last year and ‘Pipelies’ before that. Net net, the sales pipeline is the barometer of the ‘future’ for a lot of companies and its current market valuation is derived from future expectations.

In the most prosaic way possible, the pipeline is basically a pipe with lines – the pipe is the sales process and lines are stages. The sales pipeline represents opportunities that are arranged along each of the sales stages or steps that comprise the sales process. The de facto standard today is that your sales process should align to your customer’s buying process, assuming they have some sort of process, which is likely to depend on what they are purchasing.

So if we get back to the question in the title of this post, there is a bit of work to really understand what’s going on with a sales pipeline. First off, are you even assessing the complete picture?

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When Is It Time to Optimize Sales Resources?

By Michael Perla

“History is filled with brilliant people who wanted to fix things and just made them worse.” – Chuck Palahniuk.

If you've ever been into jogging, you know that you usually get injured if you violate one of the three “too’s” – too much, too soon, too fast. It’s easy to get carried away when you first start an exercise program. Similarly, in managing sales, if you don’t take a good assessment of where you currently are, you are bound to miss something and spend more time, resources, and effort than necessary.

I’m not talking about months-and-months of research, but it’s never a waste of time to ask yourself some key questions before you start most endeavors, especially since it’s easy for us to ‘lock-in’ on a single alternative or fool ourselves into thinking we are in a better state than we are.

What are the key questions to ask to determine if you need to optimize sales resources?

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The Sales Technology Challenge - How Much is Too Much?

By Michael Perla

According to CB Insights, in 2016, deals and dollars invested into sales tech startups reached all-time highs of over $5B invested across 425 deals. Moreover, sales organizations spent an average of $4,797 per quota-carrying rep on enablement technology annually, according to a Gartner (formerly CEB) analysis. Net net, more and more money is being spent on SalesTech and sales enablement and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon.

You can’t read much today that doesn’t mention or involve technology. I just read an article on digitizing the customer journey and processes. There are now SalesTech (think FinTech, AdTech) awards that recognize products and companies who exhibit excellence, innovation and leadership in the sales technology space.

Suffice it to say, the technology wave has not bypassed the sales function. Most B2B sales professionals would be lost without some basic sales tools - a smart phone, an audio or web conference line, and a way to keep track of contacts, opportunities, and their pipeline.  Per a recent Techcrunch article I read, the authors ask a good question in their title: 

How Much Sales Technology Is Too Much?

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The Sales Resource Challenge -- How Many, How to Align?

By Michael Perla

According to Harvard Business Review, companies spent $800B on sales force compensation and another $15B on sales training in 2015.  If you add in another $15B investment in CRM according to Gartner, companies spent $830B on people, people development and enabling technologies, which is roughly 5% of total US Gross Domestic Product.  This is a staggering amount of money invested to deliver revenue growth. 

Contrast this figure to the investment we make annually in optimizing the return on that investment.  Once a year, typically during the budget process, we sit down and think through how many sales people we need in the organization.  We may base our sizing assumptions on how we performed this year, our revenue targets for the upcoming year, or a financial analysis of the costs (e.g., recruiting, on-boarding) versus the benefits (revenue ramp-up time). 

More often than not, we devote too little time prioritizing our customers, determining our coverage model, and sizing our sales teams. Our need to reassess our go-to-market strategy is magnified when there have been major market or competitive shifts or if our company has grown through acquisition.

We all know the value of rebalancing our 401K to drive greater returns on our investment portfolio.  Yet, as collective stewards of nearly $1 trillion in sales investment, the question remains – why do we place so little time and effort in driving a greater return on our investment in sales? 

To answer that question, we developed an in-depth guide around the components of Sales Resource Optimization (SRO), including the 4 C’s of customers, coverage, capacity and capabilities. More and more of our clients are annually re-assessing how they organize and deploy sales resources to ensure they are keeping up with market/customer changes, which are happening at an accelerated pace today.

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5 Steps to Find Your Actual Cost of Sales Training - Part 2

By Michael Perla

Part 1 of this blog began with a statistic showing that U.S. firms spend just south of one trillion dollars on their sales forces. A portion of this spend is on sales training, which can be off-the-shelf content/training, custom training, or some combo thereof. We developed this two-part blog with the premise that your sales training is unlikely to hit its target if you don’t first define your desired outcomes (Step 1), your adoption strategy (Step 2), and your optimal modality mix (Step 3), all of which were addressed in 5 Steps to Find Your Actual Cost of Sales Training - Part 1. In Part 2, we explore the specific sales training investments (Steps 4 & 5), as well as a hypothetical example between off-the-shelf vs. custom approaches.

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5 Steps to Find Your Actual Cost of Sales Training - Part 1

By Michael Perla

Annually, U.S. firms spend approximately $900 billion on their sales forces, which is greater than three times their total media ad spend and 20 times their spend on all digital marketing[i]. Based on various sources, there are between 4 and 5 million business-to-business (B2B) sales professionals in the U.S. and approximately $20B is spent on sales training alone, not including sales enablement technologies, tools, and aids.

As a firm that often develops customized sales training, we are frequently asked about the costs over and above our fees. As you can imagine, it’s not a simple answer, but this two-part article highlights the 5 steps you should take to define your cost of sales training and determine whether custom or off-the-shelf training is a better option for you.

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