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Proven Turnaround Sales Strategies For SMEs w/ James Obermayer [Episode 6]

In this episode, James Obermayer (founder of the Sales Lead Management Association, and the CEO of the sales turnaround consulting firm Sales Leakage) draws on his personal hands-on experience of turning around more than 30 underperforming sales teams, and shares his go-to formula for reviving stagnant sales organizations and achieving sales success (which involves marketing, too!).

About The Show

It’s time to Accelerate! Hi, I’m your host, Andy Paul. Join me as I host conversations with leading experts sales, marketing, sales automation, sales process, leadership, management, training, coaching, any resource that I believe to help you accelerate the growth of your sales, your business, and most importantly, you.

Let Us Introduce You to Our Guest… James Obermayer!

Hello and welcome to the show. I’m super excited to talk today with my guest, James Obermayer, founder and CEO of the Sales Lead Management Association. There’s so much action, confusion, change and innovation and the whole sales lead management space, doesn’t belong to marketing, doesn’t belong to sales, is it all about inbound marketing or is it about outbound proactive lead generation?

On top of which, there’s been this explosion, literally, in the quantity and quality of tools that are available to help with lead management lead generation. And Jim is going to help us sort it all out. Jim, welcome to the show.

Very nice to hear from you, Andy.

Before we get into the meat of the matter. Take a minute. Introduce yourself. Tell us what you do.

A Quick Summary of Jim’s Work History

I’m Jim Obermayer, I have founded the Sales Lead Management Association in 2007. The head, Sales Leakage Consulting, a consulting firm for 20 years.

Prior to that, I’ve been half my career in marketing, half in sales. And that part in sales, a good part of it has been in the sales consulting side, being an interim sales manager. So, I’ve been an interim sales and marketing manager for probably about 30 companies through the years.

Wow. That’s quite a résumé, right? Let’s talk about going from job to job quickly.

The Company

What was the impetus for starting Sales Lead Management Association?

Well, I’d written a few books on managing sales leads and I decided that with the last work in 2007 that I would start the association. And it’s interesting because I really started thinking, well, it’ll feed business into the sales like consulting business and I like it. And it’s a way to bring attention to yourself and the subject matter.

And within three or four months, we realized we had a business by itself and it virtually took over a lot of my life from that point on. And I didn’t worry about feeding sales like it’s consulting that did fine by itself. But I really became this crusader for people that wanted to know more about sales lead management. And with the advent of new marketing technologies today, marketing sales technologies.

It became easier and easier and more interesting to bring forward this message that if you manage sales leads, so manage sales.

Sales Lead Management really encompasses more than just managing leads once they’re in. And after all, it’s soup to nuts, right? It starts with the lead generation all the way through to the follow up with the customer.

Yes. This really started in many respects. And one of my first jobs in marketing as a marketing communications manager at Beckman Instruments many years ago in Chicago. And when I had a media space rep in and I thought I knew all about marketing, although I had never been trained in marketing and I thought I was very bright and very smart and supporting our salespeople. And I thought I had the keys to the kingdom. And this media space rep came in one day and he said, well, I understand where you’re going, and we can help you and everything. But I’ve only got one question. I said, Yes.

And he said, well, what is the quota for the salespeople and how many leads do you have to generate for them to make quota?


Yes? And the answer was?

I said, why should I care about the quota? Well, I don’t have a CRM system. We’ve got a lead management system on the West Coast. You mean I’m supposed to know about this? And they said, well, just generating leads as many as you can. I said, well, that’s my job. I’m generating as much as I can. And quality comes second because I think the quality will be in there. I just get them to follow them up. My job is the collateral.

And go to that trade show. Create those ads. Write these white papers and things like this. And oh, but keeping track of their quotas and closing ratios? Yes, I’ve got a firm that does that. Okay. I’ll get back to you.

I started to look at this and then I went through the order entry system in the company.

And I started matching our database of inquiries and the lights went on. And one of the marketing managers, one day, and I said, hey, guess what I’ve done? I’ve matched the inquiries that came in with the sales leads. And I’ve done a couple of things, pulled some reports. And I find out that most of our leads are not being followed up. But I have found that a lot of our inquiries and leads are turning into sales.

And this is what I’m finding, and these are the dollars. It only took me a couple of weeks to go through the database to figure this out. And he stood there shocked because he was no more up on it than I was.

That became the direction I took. I was back then, was a five hundred million dollars at the time, and I was a small division. I changed the inquiry management company immediately to find a better one that would give me better reports. And then I got on the warpath. I got with the right company sales inquiry handling service out of San Fernando, California, really the company that started this whole business, managing sales leads. And I got on the warpath and started getting follow up of the sales inquiries. Got the quotas down pat. Understood.

How many leads had to be created? What the closing ratio was? The sales dollars that had to be sold by every sales rep by the six or eight major products they had tried to attach to the number of inquiries I needed based on their closing ratios. And from that point on, it was the basis of my career growth to be able to take that in the marketplace, because now I could foretell the future. Now, I knew where we were going. I knew if I did X, I would get Y. And if I didn’t get Y, I knew what I had to do to change it in order to make it happen.

The Unanswerable Question

Well, it still seems to me that this is really a sort of recurring problem, right? If you ask marketing people, especially in small midsize enterprises. Same question you got to asked. What’s the quote of your salespeople? How many leads you need to generate to fail to, given the conversion of various step ups of conversion rate from lead to qualified opportunity, qualified opportunity to order. How many leads do we need?

That’s the problem. Still unable to answer that question.

The majority of marketing managers can’t answer it. I give speeches here and there across the country and I stand up in front of the marketing people and I say, you, first of all, are the best, the best, the primary creator of wealth in your company. You create more wealth. Pound for pound in your marketing department than any of the salespeople in the company because you create demand.

But how many of you are attaching the demand that you create to the needs of the salespeople? Have you sat down with a sales manager? Do you know? Look, I’ve got to sell five products a month. Therefore, I need 25 inquiries a month. I need 15 qualified leads per month.

And I know how many of those are going to turn into proposals. And I know how many over 12 months are going to turn into a sale. Once you do that, you not only become a generator of wealth, but you can start taking credit for being the greatest generator of wealth within the company. Pound for pound, person for person.

Who’s responsible for lead generation?

It seems like this whole topic is really sort at this nexus of who’s really responsible for lead generation, whether it’s marketing or sales, right? There’s still a tremendous amount of discussion and debate within this sales marketing community about who really has primary responsibility for this. Including you still see and I still see discussions from sales thought leaders and sales leaders themselves saying, yes, marketing leads are no good. Unless I’m out there prospecting.

Unless I’ve reached out and touch this person myself, this prospect myself, they’re not a valid prospect. Well, have you see about that mindset. Yes. How do people go about changing that?

Well, it’s usually the older sales managers who had their head buried in the ground that say this kind of thing. And I confront them all the time through the years when I would take over as interim sales and marketing manager companies. At first, I just went in as the interim sales manager and then I was in fights with marketing. I stopped that, and I said, I only take assignments if I’m the interim sales and marketing manager because I don’t need marketing resisting me or the salespeople resisting me.

But to get back to your question is that most of these sales managers have never had a marketing manager who walked in and close the door and said, okay, you’ve got to sell five million dollars. My calculations tell me that with the average sale of a hundred thousand dollars or fifty thousand dollars, whatever it’s going to be, you need X inquiries to come into the company. You need X per sales rep, and you need X per sales rep per month that I’m going to give those to you and I’m going to give you X qualified leads per month. The only thing that I require from you is you have 100 percent follow up.

Well, by the way, yes, I put in place a marketing automation system because I know that follow up is sometimes difficult. And that’s why marketing automation systems grew, because sales managers and salespeople were not doing their jobs. Obviously, not all sales can come from inquiries. They come from existing customers. They come from the pipeline.

They come from salespeople who have had to go out and generate those leads themselves. But for the most part. Most organizations, if you get them on a track of generating qualified leads for them in the number that they need, then they become more efficient. They prospect less they get less turned down.

They get less people saying no when they make those phone calls because they are following up qualified leads. Well, if it’s a marketing manager can be indispensable. If he makes or she makes an effort.

Yes. I mean, I always like to say that prospecting and I talk about this in my latest book, Amp Up Your Sales, that prospect is fundamentally a marketing activity, right? If you have your salespeople out marketing, they’re trying to create interest in the product. That’s a marketing. You’re only doing that because hopefully you’re only doing that because you’re not getting a substantial enough flow of leads into that good quality leads into the company.

You’re doing it by necessity. Yes. And there’s an old argument about whether this prospect should be by choice or by necessity, and I think you’d do it by necessity. And I talk about what I call the lead deficit, right? As a salesperson need to understand, given the source of leads that are coming in. You need to quantify how many you need to go out and develop yourself in order to have a complete plan.

Because if you’re not getting enough for marketing, fine, you have to go out and do it. You got to do what you got to do to get your prospects. But cash an ideal world. Yes, marketing would be providing the entire lead flow. Yes, you should. That’s what they’re getting money for.

I had a company president stand up one time and said to me out in Arizona to be a main meeting. And he said, well, the problem with marketing people I hire is that every one of them that I hire cost me fifty or a hundred thousand dollars. And then he wants and he or she wants to spend a million dollars or five hundred thousand dollars. And I never know where it’s what it’s going for. So, it isn’t the spending of the money.

It’s just that they want to spend it. But they don’t tell me what I’m getting in return for that money. So that marketing people can be builders of wealth. But along with that responsibility comes this responsibility to report on the return on investment. I guarantee you. For anybody listening to this podcast in 90 to 120 days. If you put in place at one hundred percent sales lead follow up policy.

In other words, there are three things salespeople have to do. They’ve got to follow up leads. They’ve got to make quota and they’ve got to feel at their expense reports. And only two of those are really mandatory. The third one, the first one, if you have one hundred percent follow up with the sales leads, you’ll be doing three to four times better than your competitors. Who’s going to win?

Yes, absolutely. You know me. I mean, I’ve talked about that in Zero Time Selling as a minimum standard. You have to follow up one hundred percent of your sales leads and you need to do it quickly, right? Because it needs to be in place to build a follow up quickly with the inquiries that you get.

If they don’t do it, they get fired.

Well, ever since I’ve read your book, what, three years ago, I take it to every client and it’s become the mantra of when I go into clients, it’s become the mantra of the blogs. I mean, instinctively we’ve known this, but I just stopped making it an option and asking them to do it. If they don’t do it, they get fired, that’s all. Yes. I’ve gotten rid of salespeople who don’t follow up hundred percent of the leads.

And if they give me this nonsense. Right after I read your book, I was managing sales group and the sales guy said to me. They said, did you talk to this prospect today? Yes. What happened? Well, I told them I got a proposal by the end of the week. I said, call him back and say, you’re going to give him a proposal today.

He said, well, I’ve got to drop everything else. I said, the guy wants a proposal. Is there anything else more important today than giving him that proposal in the next hour? Can you do it? Well, yes, we’ll do it. If you can’t do it, I’ll find somebody who can. Well, he did it. Right.

Two weeks later, he had the sale. Most of the time he’s sitting there. Oh, I get the proposal out usually by Friday, sometimes by Monday. And then I give them two weeks to file. They’ll look at it and I go back in and they tell me they haven’t looked at it and I give another two weeks to look at it. By then, whoever did the best follow up, got the proposal in place, answered all the questions, has made the sale and they’re out of luck because they didn’t control the prospect.

There is for people listening and Jim will attest through his experience with more than 30 companies and so on, is there no faster, an easier way to grow sales than to follow up your sales leads?

90 – 120 days sales increase every time. It’s easier for me to go in as a consultant and as an interim sales and marketing manager, because the first thing I do is a marketing plan.

  • Get the number of leads that are needed.
  • Put that in place.
  • Put a hundred percent follow up in place.
  • Start generating leads.
  • Follow up the old leads that have been sitting there doing nothing anyway.

 A sales increase in 90 – 120 days. I’ve made good on my promise. I got a new sales manager in place and I leave. But I know that what’s going to happen is they’re going to get an increase in sales because we’ve done all the other things I find that are wrong with the company. As long as I generate enough inquiries, and of qualified leads, enough for them to make quota. The rest is going to take care of itself.

Check Lead Follow Up

Right. And I had a client, love to tell the story about being brought into a client. They were not falling off their sales leads. The CEO thought his problem was that he wasn’t generating enough leads. And the fact he was. The ones generating, just ramping followed up. So, I said, here, I can change that for you in five minutes.

What I said is, here’s our process. Here are the leads being input into the CRM system and they’re being allocated to the reps by territory. So, the missing piece as I turned to the CEO. This is a compounded 20 million dollars a year in sales. I said here’s the missing piece. What you’re going to do every day at 4:30, you’re going to log onto your CRM system and just check to make sure all the leads are followed up.

And instantly within the first day. They had a hundred percent lead follow. The problem oftentimes the lead follow up is the managers don’t check to make sure it’s happening. They assume that it’s taking place like it was like to say. I think it’s like breathing out and breathing in, right? If I breathe, then I have to breathe out. If I get a lead, certainly we follow up the leads. That’s not happening. You have to be involved as managers to make sure that it is.

Follow Up 100% of All Sales Leads

Well, if you just give orders to salespeople, their first reaction is being a salesperson myself and managing somebody salesforce, sales so many salespeople is their first reaction is, well, I’m going to wait on that and see how serious they are.

They come back to me in two weeks and ask me to do it again. I’ll give it some consideration if they come back in a month at the next sales meeting. You get pushy about it. Maybe I’ll start doing it. So, they have to understand. I think that’s great. That’s the six most important words that a CEO can say is follow up one hundred percent of all sales leads. Right. Six words. That’s it.

I would add three. And three is, I’m checking.

All right. So, stay with us. We’re going to take a short break. As we come back, Jim Obermayer can share more of his tips about how to manage your sales leads, how get quickly amp up your sales.

Welcome back. My guest today is James Obermayer or Jim Obermayer, CEO of the Sales Lead Management Association. Also has his own sales consulting company, salesleakage.com. Great name. You can check out the SLMA@salesleadmgmtassn.com. Abbreviations for management association. So, sales lead management association.

A scenario…

So, I want to pose a scenario for you. Get your response. May we know the answer.

Here’s a hypothetical scenario. Ask this question of every guest as you’ve been hired as a new manager to come into our company as sales have stalled, right? Maybe you’ve been hired as a consultant even and you’re under pressure to make sure that you get things done quickly. The chicken produced an impact. So, what are the two things you do in the first week that would have the biggest impact?

Two things. First week. You set me up for this, didn’t you? Everybody is going to think this got set up. First thing I do, whether I go in as an employee or I go in as a consultant. The first day, the first day I start, the day I walk in, we do a SWOT. The first thing in the morning I do with strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities. I’m introduced to the company and I do a SWOT. That’s the four furry first day. In that four hours of having all those people in the SWOT.

I now know 90% of all the weaknesses. 90% of all the threats. I know what people are suggesting that we do about these threats and opportunities. I know more about the company than most people thought was possible. Even if they said all we had a SWOT two years ago, it’s not our kind of SWOT. We do a SWOT immediately. The next four hours we create a sales and marketing plan specifically to drive sales in the next 12 months. That plan is then finished, written up the next day and now we’ve got our marching orders.

The next thing I do is interview all the salespeople. You say two things the first week. I interview all the salespeople. If it’s possible. I get the marketing person on board, so I’ll start implementing the plan. And we’re off and running this. I’ve got to know what the salespeople stand. And I have to know where the company stands.

And once I’ve got those two things out of the way, then I’m in pretty good shape. Even with a marketing manager that resists and gives me problems. Once that marketing plan is in place, they have no choice but to execute or they’re going to be gone along with salespeople who are not executing.

Fascinating. I love it. I think this is a lesson for people that are listening to it. If you’re an entrepreneur or sales manager. Everything that happens in sales. We’ve talked about before the break, relative to your example, the salesperson who said, yes, I give a proposal, I wait a couple weeks and I follow up, that they keep adding time to the process. And would you describe a situation where you’ve just eliminated time, right?

You don’t need to spend two weeks to analyze the situation. You spent four hours. You have enough of the knowledge you need in order to put a plan in place. These planning exercises don’t have to take weeks. They don’t have to take days. You can make an impact. You can make a well-informed decision about the plan should be going forward within the first day.

This can be for a marketing manager who starts, the CMO that starts, a CFO, who starts, the company president, the CEO that starts. Don’t take everybody’s word for it. Get the people in the room that know what’s going on. A couple of marketing people, top salespeople, operations people see the finance people, manufacturing people. They’re all in the room.

When you do the SWOT and they’re all wondering why. And they figured out pretty quickly, as you get into the SWOT, exactly you’re trying to get all the problems out on the table. Invariably, the problems turn out to be a lot of weird things come up. But you’re looking for the sales and marketing issues that come up because you’re there and all the sales and marketing and sometimes it’s manufacturing. Well, we can deliver that product in five days instead of a month and a half. Why didn’t you tell me?

The CFO says, hey, I can get a proposal out in an hour. Why didn’t you tell me? Or I can give you better terms or we can drop our prices. We can do a lot of things. Nobody told me so. Nobody told me issue gets put to bed. So, the CEO coming in should start his first day doing us a companywide SWOT. And I’ve done these, and I’ve done that. It’s a standard format. Anybody can do.

And you’ll learn more very quickly. I always find out sales leads are not following up. They don’t have enough sales leads. They don’t have systems in place. Sales manager doesn’t believe in it. Marketing manager does know what they’re doing from a lead generation standpoint. So, I look at it that salespeople have to make quota.

And that’s what my job is as a sales manager and as a marketing manager. It’s from a sales perspective, I believe as a salesperson, I believe honesty, speed of response, persistence and lead follow up will win me more in my competitor. So, seals honesty. I don’t kid prospects.

They know right away. Speed response. I act very, very quickly. Right along the lines of what you said in your book. I am persistent. I never give up. And I make sure my salespeople don’t give up until the person dies or buys. And I have one hundred percent sales lead follow up, so I’m going to be successful. Whether the company is successful after I leave because they may go back to other habits is another issue.

Right. As they say, all the consultants would say that all the time now that they lose the recipe once the consultant leaves. That’s right.

To get salespeople to start producing is to control their day

As a sales manager, I figured out years ago the way to get salespeople to start producing is to control their day. And I can’t control their data. I have to control their day. So, I learned that if I can show them how to control their day, they will be more successful. And if they set individual goals every single day, they will be successful.

I start off having sales meetings and I say, Andy, what are you going to do today? Well, we make phone calls. How many phone calls you going to make? I make a lot of them. What do you expect to do by the end of the day? Well, I expect to make X sales. I said, okay, so you’re going to make how many calls? I’m going to make 28. You make 28 calls. Now you’re going to guarantee me you’re going to make those 28, aren’t you?

Yes. Then you start to wake up. What’s your goal by the end of day? At the end of the day, what’s going to make you happy when you go home? When you go home, your wife or spouse is going to say, did you accomplish anything today? Are you happy? And you’ve got to say something. Well, I made a sale.

Well, good. Is that what you’re going to be happy with him at the end of the day? Yes. Once I got salespeople to do this, create their own schedules within a couple of weeks, I don’t have to look at it anymore. I double check every now and then through sales meetings. How’s your schedule going? What are your activities? So, if I can control their activities and they can self-control their activities, they’re going to be more successful.

And the root cause of all that is speed of response. I’m going to follow up all leads immediately that come in. Those that need a proposal, I’m going to give it to them. I’m going to answer their questions immediately by the end of the day. I’m going to make sure every prospect has got the information that they need and expect. And I’m going to be probably 100 to 120% above my competitors. So, sales managers, I motivate them to control their time, their schedule and their speed of response.

Excellent. I think for people listening, pay attention this come back, maybe listen to it again as this. It’s really pretty simple, right? But you have to do. And Jim plays out the four things I talk about my book, Zero Time Selling. There’s no reason that things have to take so long. I wouldn’t take the time out of your process.

I was leaving a company after I’d been there for four or five months and they actually threw a going away party for me, which was really quite nice and touching. They gave me a gift and thanks a lot and which was the only time I ever had this happen. And finally, one of the salespeople stood up at the meetings. I’ve got to say something here.

He said, I thought I was a good salesperson. I was the top salesperson at this company when he came in, I said to myself, he’s not going to teach me anything. I hope he does better in marketing, but he’s not going to teach me anything. He said I figured out pretty quickly that I was not selling as much as I could. I was not controlling my day. I was not the master of my fate.

I was just allowing things to happen to me all day long. Once I took control of my time, once I control of my database, this is inside sales recalls. Once I took control of my database, control of my time and set goals for myself every single day, I have sold more than I have ever sold in my career. And that is the key to my success. And I sat there stunned.

Great testimonial. All right, Jim, I’m moving to the last segment of our show. We’re going to throw some rapid-fire questions at you.  You can give me one-word answer, or you can elaborate if you wish, but you’re ready to go? Okay. 

Rapid-fire Questions

What’s the most powerful sales tool in your arsenal?

 The CRM system.

 Who’s your sales role model?

Andy, you’re not going to like this, but my sales role model is, you, in your book. I’m not kissing up. It just it is what it is. Well, thank you very much. Amp Your Sales is just as good, but Zero Time Selling. I quote on my radio program all the time, at least two or three times a month. So, what you’re doing has changed my consultancy and how I approach the marketplace and also change things that sales lead management association.

 Well, thank you.

Your favorite music to listen to, to psych yourself up for a sales call.

I don’t have any favorite music. I don’t have time to listen to music.

All right. That’s fair.

What’s the first sales activity you do every day?

For sales activities that make up my to do list and I put a star next to those things that are goals that have to happen by the end of the day.

One question you get asked most frequently by salespeople

The one question most frequently by salespeople, how many leads am I going to get this month?

Love it. Excellent. Well, good.

Jim, I want to thank you for being a guest on our show. There’s been Jim Obermayer, CEO of Sales Lead Management Association. Tell folks how they can learn more about SLMA, as well as Sales Leakage.

They can just go to the slma.com. Sales Lead Management Association. It’s free membership. Got 8,200 members. 100,000 people a year hitting our website. We’ve had about 99,000 people download a podcast. We produce radio programs. It’s a free membership. We have a great time, a lot of fun. And we look forward to having you on our own program pretty soon.

Well, thank you. Let’s talk about this in the next couple of weeks, Andy. Thank you very much for your time today. It’s very gracious of you.

I appreciate it, Jim. And remember people listening. Make it a part of your day, every day to deliberately learn something new to help you accelerate and amp up your sales. I think if you listen to the show today, we help you with that. So, until next time, this is Andy Paul, good selling, everyone.

Thanks for listening to the show. If you like what you heard and want to make sure you don’t miss any upcoming episodes, please subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.com. For more information about today’s guest, visit my website at andypaul.com