with Mark Donnolo




by Mark Donnolo, Managing Partner, SalesGlobe

“In sales, everybody has a number to hit; there’s time pressure and numerous constraints that prevent people from taking the time to think creatively.” Can you tell us a bit about the concept behind Sales Transformation and if you believe that all business could benefit from making changes to their current sales approach?

Mark: Most sales organization have an ability to improve, often in the form of major sales transformations, if they understand how they can be better. From our research, the top sales organizations tend to do four things well.
Insight informs the organization about customers, the market, competitors, and how the business is performing. That understanding will shape the sales strategy, customer coverage, and enablement.

Sales Strategy defines the sales organization’s action plan to achieve its goal. The sales strategy will drive decisions concerning product and service focus, concentration on certain markets, value propositions, and the resulting approach to market.

Customer Coverage identifies how the organization will use its channels, roles, processes, and resources to go to market and put the sales strategy into action.

Enablement supports all of the upstream disciplines and includes areas such as incentive compensation and quotas, talent acquisition and development, and tools and technology to support the organization. What are some common quota setting mistakes you see companies make and how can they be avoided?

Mark: We actually do a survey every year on this topic. Quotas are critical for the sales compensation plan and the sales strategy to work; but every year we see companies struggling with the sale issues.

1. Companies don’t have their quotas ready. In our most recent survey, about 30% of companies did not have their quotas ready by month one. In some cases, they didn’t have their quotas ready in the first quarter of the year. Sometimes quotas are late because the numbers aren’t available from finance until the end of the year and the quota setting process can’t begin, obviously, until those numbers are ready.

2. Adjusting quotas mid-year. About 50% of companies adjust quotas during the year. Sometimes this is ok: if there’s a major change in the market or your production capabilities, for example. Some companies, however, adjust quotas mid-year to manage pay, which is usually not a great idea. When making quota adjustments it’s very important to have policies set ahead of time for why you would make those changes.

3. Base quotas on historic performance only. When quotas aren’t set correctly they don’t reflect actual market opportunity. Instead, they tend to be historic – just add a certain percent to last year’s quota. A better method combines a bottom-up perspective from the front line, assessing real market potential, with a top-down perspective on what needs to be sold in order to achieve the company’s revenue goals. Why do you think that the ability to incorporate creative thinking strategies to sales is so rare?

Mark: In sales, everybody has a number to hit; there’s time pressure and numerous constraints that prevent people from taking the time to think creatively. Sales organizations fall into the trap of then replicating customer solutions that they’ve done before. Too often we go into “execution mode” when we should be going into innovation mode to differentiate ourselves from competitors. It’s hard to be introspective when your pants are on fire, but having a set of principles and a methodology around innovation can help you be creative in an efficient way. In the end, most deals are won or lost not on price but on addressing the customers’ specific needs; more often than not, this requires some real thinking. What are some trends that you’re excited about or think that our readers should be paying attention to?

Mark: We see an emerging trend of innovation not being just about products, but moving into sales. People are starting to ask the questions, “How does innovation apply to sales, and how can we help the customer develop a better solution?” This requires us to make innovative thinking practical and provide access to innovative thinking to people that may not consider themselves naturally creative. Sales organizations are starting to ask how they can take the creative principles that have been developed over time in fields of the arts and design and apply them to a hard-charging, goal-oriented profession like sales. Sales organizations won’t tolerate pontification about creativity. They need answers they can apply quickly. We developed the Innovative Sale process to combine the best of left brain and right brain thinking around sales. Congratulations on your newest book, “The Innovative Sale: Unleash Your Creativity for Better Customer Solutions and Extraordinary Results.” Can you share a bit about the process behind writing it and what you hope the average reader walks away with?

Mark: The idea for the book has been in my head for years. I graduated from The University of the Arts and started my career in the arts as a designer in New York; then I followed my stockbroker roommates to UNC Chapel Hill and earned an MBA. Over the years I saw that the consulting work I was doing with sales organizations was different than a lot of my colleagues. We weren’t just benchmarking and replicating what other companies were doing. We were thinking about new ways to approach sales strategies. While I tried to put the art school days behind me to and have a serious business career, I realized all the creative principles came to bear in solution development for business. For example, sales organizations tend to jump to one or two solutions they’ve seen before rather than doing effective divergent thinking. They may also be dissuaded by barriers that prevent them from achieving their goals when in fact many of those barriers can be destroyed. It was at that point that I realized that sales organizations more broadly could benefit from this combination of creativity and sales effectiveness.

I went back to the world of the arts and talked to leading designers, architects, and advertising professionals about how they develop creative solutions. Then we went to sales leaders in major companies and talked to them about how their sales teams apply creativity in the sales environment. We told their stories in the book, and also drew upon our work in the field to develop an approach for creative solution development that anyone can apply. We also identified how to measure sales creativity on six dimensions so sales teams can become more effective at strengthening those areas. What advice would you give to a startup in need of a sales strategy?

Mark: I ran two venture backed companies, so I understand the importance of generating revenue and having a strong sales strategy. First, you need to understand the importance of generating revenue and not living off of venture funding. Too often start-up companies live on an idea and aren’t sustainable because their business model doesn’t generate cash flow. Always bring it back to how sales can contribute to the business model.

Second, understand your target market and your true accessible potential. Saying, “If we can just get 2% of the market we can go public” isn’t enough. You need to build your market one customer at a time in the right segments.

Also, set clear and reasonable goals. It’s great to think where the rubber meets the sky, but you have to work where the rubber meets the road. You have to set practical reasonable goals. Don’t bet on a buyout to save you.

And finally, hire true sales professionals. If you’re a founder or a leader in the firm don’t try to do it all yourself. There are too many other functions to be performed in the company to leave sales to the general managers. If you’re more passionate about your product and application than you are about sales itself, than hire someone who’s passionate about sales. If you can’t pay market rates, put a highly leveraged variable plan in place and sell the vision of the company to attract talent.