Sales Development is a Game of Professional Football

Sales Wars is pleased to bring you a guest blog post from Sales Jedi Luke Smith, Regional Sales Director & Area Leader at Act-On.

McKenzie Ingram, one of Act-On’s marketing journalists, sat down with Luke Smith, Act-On Regional Sales Director & Area Leader in the Portland office, to discuss his experience leading a sales team at one of the fastest growing companies in America. Luke has climbed the ranks within Act-On and is recognized as a leader in the SaaS sales space. And, in another life, Smith was actually a successful college and professional football player for the Idaho Vandals and the Houston Texans. Now that he’s hung up his cleats and left professional football behind, Luke shares with us what it means to be successful on and off the field, and how the two aren’t so different.

MCKENZIE: What’s the biggest barrier you see between successful salespeople, or SDRs (Sales Development Representatives), and ones that are struggling?

LUKE: Sales folks are measured by their weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly contribution. Sales is a timed event much like a football game except for there are no timeouts, no ties, and no overtime.  Time ticks down relentlessly every minute and we cannot get these moments back.  That is the expectation I set with my team. Successful reps must make sure that every single day that they are working they appreciate the value of the remaining time, or the lack of time, in order to make sure that tasks are being prioritized, placing top ranking revenue generating activities first and foremost above all else. The successful ones acknowledge this, the unsuccessful ones do not.

MCKENZIE: It sounds like time, or lack of, is a huge hurdle for salespeople. How do you combat that?

LUKE: When it comes to prospecting habits, what I see is that salespeople, across every industry, are having a hard time getting focused and pointed in the right direction. There's a lot of wasted time with calling the wrong person, with accomplishing the wrong task, with not navigating your strategic deals correctly, with not taking control of the sales cycle when it comes to really guiding our buyers through and eliminating time in between meetings.

If you were to take a look at those numbers at the end of a quarter and calculate how much wasted time there was doing non-revenue generating activities, or calling the wrong people that will never contribute to the desired result, that would be pretty disgusting from a sales standpoint.

So the real question is: how can you reduce the risk of not hitting your number by eliminating the wasted time that every single sales development rep is faced with on a daily basis?

MCKENZIE:  So what's the answer to that question? How do you eliminate it?

LUKE: There are a lot of companies that spend and make a lot of money attempting to help with this issue.  What it comes down to is that you're looking to call the right company, to call the right person within that company, at the right time. Those are the three things that will make for a good prospecting call. But how do you know what that is? That's the question. The downfall for a lot of people is either they're calling the right company and the wrong person at the wrong time, calling the wrong company and the right person at the right time, or any combination of those things, other than the right person, right company, right time.

So when every salesperson comes into the office in the morning and logs onto their computer, that's what is on their mind – “There’s people that are buying right now in my territory, there are people that are buying my product without my knowledge. They're signing a contract for a type of technology that I'm selling and I'm not involved in that conversation. So how can I make sure that I am involved in every one of those conversations?”

You're looking to call the right company, to call the right person within that company, at the right time.

MCKENZIE: Who does that apply to? SDRs, Account Executives, RSMs (Regional Sales Managers)…?

LUKE: It applies to everyone in an SDR, sales rep, or sales leadership position and then ultimately your CRO, your VP, your CEO. It's a numbers game. You need to be able to ensure that you're getting the maximum amount of connections for the day. But a connection is worthless if it's a connection to the wrong person.

That’s why you're seeing a lot of revenue leaders seek technology that helps point salespeople in the right direction. That's hard to do. People just call out of the database a lot of times. They'll call out of a list. They'll be cold calling. And they'll be lucky to get one person that day who would even listen to what they're saying, let alone book a meeting.

MCKENZIE: As your team’s “coach,” how do you help them be productive and successful?

LUKE: It starts by ensuring my team understands that by merely showing up to work will not deliver the promise land of commission, quota achievement, recognition, career advancement, and money. Everyone can show up. Showing up is a task, like brushing your teeth in the morning.  Everyone can do it.  Now, if everyone can walk through the doors in the morning and out in the evening, and there is a separation of top producers vs. bottom performers, there must be a magical combination of effort and skill that top performers showcase.  That showcase typically consists of a high sense of urgency, prioritization of crucial revenue generating tasks, 100% coachability, and violent execution of strategy without hesitation or procrastination.  If members of my team exhibit these qualities, they find that the time they spend drives their business forward more so than others.  If I can eliminate 25 percent of wasted time, I've all of a sudden just added 25 percent of production to a day, a week, a quarter. And that's a lot.

So, it's like in an athletic event where you have competition, you have your performance, you have your individual goals, you have your team goals. Individual goals roll up to your team goal. You have to be able to unify as a team to be able to accomplish your overall goal, which is winning the game.

That's the same exact way a sales team is constructed. You have your coach, your players, your individual and team goals.  Add strategy, coachability, sense of urgency, and violent execution of critical tasks without hesitation or procrastination and we have ourselves an athletic team focused on winning the game vs. a prepared and relentless competitor.  When the last second ticks down to zero, the quarter is over and the dust settles, there are winners (those that achieve their quota) and losers (those who do not).

There's always a winner and a loser.

MCKENZIE: What are the “winners” doing that the “losers” aren’t, or vice versa?

LUKE: The people that prevail in the field are the people that put in the time, put in the effort, make sure they focus their effort on prioritizing, making sure that the call that they are making is worthwhile. So the question then becomes: how do you decipher what's a worthwhile call and what's not a worthwhile call?

Then you have your strong performers and you have your weak performers. Who's your team captain? Who's doing it right? Who's exhibiting the effort? How are they able to make sure that the effort that they're putting in is yielding better results than their colleague who’s putting in the same amount of time, and perhaps the same amount of effort, but is not yielding a very good result.

Successful people are always pointing the finger at themselves. Unsuccessful people are always blaming outside influences for why they're not successful. That's one of the key things that I see in successful and unsuccessful people.

Successful people are always pointing the finger at themselves. Unsuccessful people are always blaming outside influences for why they're not successful.

There are not any resources that my team has that the other sales teams don't have. So given everyone has an equal playing field as far as the same amount of resources, then coaching does come into play. So I analyzed the traits of our top performers and there are three qualities that set the top people apart from the rest.

MCKENZIE: What are those three qualities?


Quality #1: Acknowledging You Don’t Know It All, But You Want To Try

One is no matter what level of mastery that you get to, I don't care if you're top gun performer, uncontested, the best people are always seeking betterment. Top performers are always leveraging resources, and opening their brain. The most successful people are the people that don't think that they know it all.

My top performer right now is at my desk constantly. We're collaborating on different things. He understands that he doesn't know it all or never will. But he understands he's good.

The most successful people are the people that don't think that they know it all.

Quality #2: You Have Control Over Your Effort, And You’re Giving It Your All

The next quality is giving 100 percent effort. One thing that we have complete control over is our effort. Everyone's going to walk in the door in the morning, and everyone's going to walk out of the door at night. If we’re going to put in a similar amount of hours then what are the things you have direct control over to make sure that you're putting yourself in the best position to succeed.

There are a lot of things that you can't control. You can't control what your prospects are going to do, what they buy, whether they're going to lie to you, whether or not they're going to buy when they said they're going to buy, whether or not they're going to introduce you to that VP that they said they were going to. All those things you don't have control over.

But you can control your effort. You can control the amount of calls you're making. You can control the amount of WebEx meetings you're having. You can control the amount of new business opportunities that you're adding to the pipeline. You can control your learning process.

The one thing that we have complete control over is our effort.

Quality #3: Consistency is Everything

The third thing is consistency. Anyone can produce and have those types of metrics for one quarter. But it takes a true all-star to stay disciplined to consistency, to the metrics, to the coaching, and to prioritizing their day to focus on revenue generating activities.

So those are the three things. If people bring those things, all the other stuff comes.

It takes a true all-star to stay disciplined to consistency.

MCKENZIE: In sales, you could have the best numbers of your career this month but on the first day of next month, it doesn’t matter. It all just starts over. What’s your take on keeping people motivated and prepared for this?

LUKE: You have got to be on your game at all times in sales, especially in these fast growing companies. It's exactly like professional athletics. In professional football particularly, it doesn’t matter if you're a rookie or if you're Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. They understand that there are so many people gunning for their job, that they could lose it on a daily basis. Even more so with the most premier athletes on the field, those guys are the most disciplined. And if they have even one bad practice, or they take the foot off the gas just a little bit, it could be career-ending.

And if people don't understand that in sales, and you think that you have this long-term career, and you can just sit there and hang your hat on the things that you've already done, then that's when you're starting to get really in for it. You have to erase the past. We are newer people now than we were five minutes ago, like Ray Lewis said. Whether you're growing or you're dying, that's your choice.

MCKENZIE: As a leader and a coach, how do you handle being a role model for your team?

LUKE: If I start saying I'm going to come in at nine instead of seven, that I'm going to start leaving at four instead of staying until six, if I start taking my foot off the gas even just a little bit, I will be replaced too. And I know that. And I welcome that. That's something that gets me out of bed in the morning. It's a challenge. It's something that makes the victory sweeter.

Account-Based Sales Development Playbook for Revenue-Driven Teams

Luke Smith

Luke Smith

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