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The Qualified Sales Leader – By John McMahon, Five-Time CRO

The Qualified Sales Leader by John McMahon is unlike many other books about sales and sales leadership. It’s not about scientific research or study, but focuses more on the wealth of knowledge of a smart sales leader, who has built and led many sales teams to become the most successful in their industry and feared by competitors.

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I’ve personally had the chance to work with John McMahon at BMC, Aveksa and MongoDB. Throughout this time, I was constantly inspired by his leadership and holistic approach to hiring and developing salespeople, creating a structured sales approach and implementing measurable criteria to drive a reliable forecast. There were numerous occasions where his strong analytical skills and simple but clear communication around, as he calls it, “the fundamentals”, brought clarity to very complex situations.

Hero to Zero

I will never forget the discussion that we had during a sales leader QBR about a sales rep – let’s call him David – who used to hit his quota but then delivered 0 revenue 3 quarters in a row. While we all thought that David was on the verge of leaving the company, John asked the sales leader what happened to him. The sales leader responded, “oh don’t worry David is our best guy”. John replied, “Your best guy? He did not make any revenue for 3 quarters”. 

The area director then jumped in to support the sales leader by saying “John, we assigned David to develop the most important new logo account in the country. He has made progress but has not closed a deal yet.” John then asked: “If this is the case, what is your plan for him?”. The two leaders asked “Plan? We don’t have a plan for him.”

Making Team Members Feel Valued

John then stood up, turned to all the sales leaders in the room and asked “How do you think David feels about not making any money for 3 quarters in a row, after smashing quarter after quarter prior to being assigned this account?” He then paused. There was silence in the room, everybody listening out for what’s to come. 

John continued, “What is David telling his wife when he comes home late at night? When did you last talk to him about that?” Again, there was silence. John then commanded: “I want you to talk to David in the break and come up with a plan that will make him feel valued and rewarded for the hard work he is doing. Please show it to me tonight.” John then sat down. 

The sales leader proceeded to have a chat with David. David then shared with him that he was actually really frustrated with not being amongst the top sales reps. His wife even questioned him if it was worth all the effort. David had thoughts about leaving the company if this lasted longer. The sales leader and his director then proceeded to put a plan in place which would give him achievable milestones and remuneration for his hard work. David stayed with the company and closed a multi-million-dollar deal just 2 quarters later.

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Why You Should Read “The Qualified Sales Leader”

There are plenty of stories like that. In “The Qualified Sales Leader”, John packages his wealth of experience and shares it in the context of a consulting engagement at a fictitious startup and 2 of their sales leaders named Andy and Jim.

John’s journey starts with an invitation to a Quarterly Business Review (QBR), where he walks us through some of the typical issues that happen when inexperienced sales leaders interrogate their sales team without getting to the essence of the presented deals. This causes them to miss the chance to develop their sales team, which results in their failure to hit the forecast at the end of the quarter.

He then invites the reader to join the transformation of Jim and Andy, understand how they learn from the mistakes made during their QBR, and how to implement a B2B sales process in a detailed step-by-step explanation so it connects the dots for the reader. He also sheds light on how sales teams can gain control of the deal by using a structured sales qualification process around MEDD(P)ICC, how to apply it along the customer buying journey, how to slow it down in the beginning to uncover the underlying customer pain points and implications, how to build multiple champions and finally influence the decision criteria and drive deals to closure with confidence.

Mastering the Fundamentals

The reader also witnesses how Andy and Jim eventually master the fundamentals, become self-aware and enabled to nurture their teams. They learn what to look for when hiring players at the top of their game, how to carefully listen and distill the essence of every interaction with their team. John also shares the importance of building a common understanding and vocabulary to uniquely qualify the deals in their pipeline with measurable criteria to get a clear understanding of which deals should go into the forecast and which shouldn’t. 

And for those who know John, he of course also covers the lifeblood of a good sales rep. Yes – the rich pipeline of the ginger Prince Jeremy. How to stop confusing activity with accomplishment and how sales leaders sometimes need to make it rain to make change, plus many great anecdotes that you will remember for a lifetime.

All of the above is covered in a very simple structure, where he starts with describing the issue. He then offers clear fundamentals that are logical and easy to understand, helping sales leaders grasp the importance of a particular topic.

e.g. implementing measurable criteria to build a unified way to qualify, forecast and develop the sales team.

First, he describes how the inexperienced sales leaders interrogate their teams during the QBR and how they failed to understand the status of the deals as they lack a common criteria to qualify against. He then concludes with an explanation as to why this is needed.


“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually, improvement.”

  • If you can’t measure something you can’t understand it
  • If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it.
  • If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.

At the end of every topic, he offers a checklist of items that are easy to share with your sales team. (I wish he had written the book earlier :-))

Conclusion

This book is a valuable source of information for B2B sales representatives, managers, leaders and teams. John McMahon authentically shares his experience of transforming a low performing sales team into a great, effective selling engine, giving step-by-step insights on the what, how and why along the way. 

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