Numbers – and making sense of them. Sales leaders, do these questions keep you up at night?
- "How do sales compare this quarter to last?"
- "What does that mean year-to-date?"
- "Why and what does that mean to our overall performance?"
A company called BlueGranite helps answer those questions and more. The business intelligence firm gives clients easy access to complex reporting and analysis of their business performance. In addition to sales leaders, the dashboard-accessible information is also of great interest to CEOs, CMOs, CFOs, CTOs and assorted senior execs.
The Kalamazoo, Michigan-based services integrator does such a good job, in fact, that Microsoft just named them "Exceptional Sales Management Partner of the Year" for 2011, and will hand out the award during Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference July 10-14 in Los Angeles.
The award recognizes Microsoft partners who demonstrate outstanding sales management practices and promote continuous sales improvement. BlueGranite, a Microsoft business intelligence partner, beat out finalists Quadrasystems.net and Quest Software for the honor.
In announcing the award, Microsoft said:
BlueGranite has multiple Sales Specialists and competencies, and they are an active participant in (Ninety Five 5's) Sales Success System. At weekly staff meetings, the knowledge, skills, relationships, and resources garnered from these programs are shared. Individuals maintain performance data to track goals vs. results, and teams use this data to forecast results and analyze operations from various aggregate views. Continuous group and individual reviews, along with defining personal, team, and organizational targets have yielded BlueGranite impressive results.
BlueGranite has been a Ninety Five 5 client since September 2010.
"Many of the concepts within Ninety Five 5's Sales Success System, which we simply call S3, have really hit home with us," said Mike Depoian, a BlueGranite partner and vice president of sales.
"For example, as a process, what we've done is taken the components of S3's ‘Opportunity Conversation' and physically built that into our CRM – into our customer relationship management system," he said. "So we've literally got fields in our CRM that align with S3's Opportunity Conversation."
Here's how they're using it
"Before we can turn what we define as a ‘lead' into an opportunity, we've got to identify key issues, priorities, the solution, and then go into resources – time, people, budget," Mike said.
"We're now much more efficient in terms of which opportunities we go after, and the team really appreciates that because it saves them time and increases win rates."
The ROI of Ninety Five 5
"It's hard to specifically quantity overall ROI because there have been benefits in all aspects of the business," Mike said. "On the whole, sales are up about 40 percent year to date. But in addition to sales, since we're operating more efficiently, costs have gone down in a number of areas."
- Operations: "We now have more accurate forecasting – and by being more accurate with our sales forecasts we can be more accurate with our scheduling."
- Human resources: "Our employee satisfaction levels are way up now that reps are no longer chasing unqualified opportunities."
- Finance: "If we're writing good contracts, then our finances are higher as well. Quality drives quantity."
- Client satisfaction: "We've adopted the S3 mindset in that we're client focused and want to help them succeed. Our team really likes the fact that we want to make sure everything's a fit – a win-win. For some of the people who joined us recently from other companies like ours, they like the fact that we will walk away from an opportunity instead of trying to ‘force sell' every opportunity from the start."
The S3 'Opportunity Conversation'
"Before a client can make a decision on a platform, in many cases we first need to understand what the real issues are – and if they were to deploy these business intelligence solutions, how it would benefit the business and what value it would bring back to the business," Mike explained. "Unlike many technologies, we're so close to the actual performance of the business that we must have that business conversation in order for our solution to make sense."
BlueGranite on the rest of S3
"We work closely with engineers and engineering-minded people, so the fact that you can put a system around the sales process was immediately appealing," Mike said. "We were already familiar with Mahan Khalsa's book, "Let's Get Real," and had gone over the material as a team, but not in such depth. S3 has given us a really great opportunity to break that material down and divide and conquer each topic."
Mike said his team especially likes tackling a specific S3 topic (the Opportunity Conversation is but one of several topics under S3's "Flow" module) on a weekly basis.
"As a team we've grown in how we qualify opportunities. It's difficult, sometimes, when we're asked to visit a client or prospect to simply do a demo – which for the most part is advocacy without inquiry. So we have to sort of change the game and turn that initial contact into more of an inquiry. It takes some finesse," Mike admitted.
"Advocacy is needed to build credibility and also help the client understand why we're asking these questions," he added. "We rarely give just a demo – we prepare for client meetings to ensure that we fully understand the client's needs, tailoring the presentation accordingly."
Get into the practice of practicing
Professional athletes train regularly. Musicians practice daily. Doctors are constantly reading up on the latest medical techniques. Mike said that sales was no different.
"Getting better and staying great at sales is about continuous improvement, follow-through and execution," he said. "Sure, we could slap ourselves on our backs and tell ourselves that we've arrived, but the reality is we have simply improved (quite a bit, actually) but we have a long way to go."
If only everyone used S3….
"Our success really depends on partnering well with other business partners in our delivery of services to clients – and we try to leverage the Ninety Five 5 process when we team sell with them," Mike said.
"I just wish more partners would participate in the S3 program – because sometimes I'm ready to pursue an opportunity but we first have to agree on the methodology with the other sales partner – one who might be willing to go in with a demo right out of the gate. And that's never a good idea."
Read more about BlueGranite by visiting their website. Get a tour of S3 and give it a test drive for yourself.