sales management and sales experts

Why Aren't Your Sales People Selling?

Tony Cole

Tony Cole

Tony Cole, Founder and CEO of Anthony Cole Training Group


Does Your Team Need a Wake Up Call?

IgniteFireBoxTony Cole tailors workshops and keynotes to ignite the sparks of extraordinary motivation in your sales teams!

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THE Secret – Just One Secret To Getting Sales People To Sell More


I’ve been in the sales and sales management consulting business for 21 years.  Prior to that, I was an insurance wholesaler, an insurance agent, a Nautilus Regional Sales Manager, a Nautilus Regional Sales Rep and collegiate athletic coach.  During my 30 year professional career, I’ve read a lot of books, met with lots of keynote speakers and listened to hours of audio recordings.  Many, if not all, of my learning from others’ experiences include a common theme:  “Secrets”.  And several years ago, there was DVD, Book and Audio Series called just that - The Secret.

The Secret (The book)

I am one of those that have published several articles claiming 6 secrets, 5 secrets, the 3 secrets, etc.  If we aren’t using the word “secrets,” then we are talking about keys, components, factors, irrefutable laws/rules of… As I think about it, it’s kind of embarrassing and really egotistical to think that we know THE secrets, etc.

Despite the obvious confusion of how many “secrets” there really are to any kind of success, today I bring you THE ONE secret to getting your sales people to sell more, more quickly at higher margins.   I have come to this realization based on my last 4 sales.

Traditionally, I would tell you that in our business of selling business consulting services – specifically, evaluating sales teams, helping companies hire better sales people, sales training, and sales management development – the sales cycle is anywhere between 3 and 9 months.  Over the last years, when we project sales, our revenue projections are about 75% accurate.  The estimated due date is probably less than 33% accurate – I don’t track this.

In the last 4 sales, the sales cycle – from the moment we had our 1st serious conversation about the problems a company is facing to the time they said “Yes, we will pay you to help us” – has taken less than 30 days.  Why?

Here is the secret, and once I reveal the secret, this post is pretty much over because there really isn’t a whole lot more to tell.  If you understand what I’m about to say, then all you have to do is be strong enough, skilled enough and committed enough to get your people to do this.  (So, I guess this turns out to be 2 secrets – 1 for you and 1 for your sales people).

Here it is – Make sure that, when you are presenting your solution to their problem, you are presenting ONLY to those prospects that are qualified.  Qualified means – and it means only this and nothing else (assuming that, if you have any underwriting, they can be underwritten competitively) – that the prospect has described a problem that they have that has to be fixed.  That your prospect has committed in advance to spend money to fix the problem.  And that your prospect has committed to making a decision once you present your solution.

If you can coach your people to only present to qualified buyers 100% of the time, you will close more business, more quickly at higher margins.  Guaranteed!

For more information on executing the perfect sales process, call me directly today – but only if you are qualified – 513.226.3913.

Did you like today’s post? If so, you’ll love our weekly audio Sales Brew and monthly newsletter! Sign up HERE and receive Tony Cole’s eBook, Why is Selling So #%&@ Hard?, as our thanks to you!

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If A Tree Falls in the Woods, Do Your Sales People Hear It?


Ever wonder if your sales people are really listening to you?  Do they respond and react... or do they sit politely listening and then continue to do what they’ve always done?  As a sales manager or sales executive, you have many roles to fill in order to get the most out of your sales team.  You must coach them, you must motivate them, you must have some level of performance management and, in some way for some of them, you must mentor them.

In the woods

When I was coaching at Iowa State University, I was interviewed by a local TV sports reporter about my role as the strength and conditioning coordinator for the varsity athletics.  At the conclusion of the interview, she said, “Your job is really one of parent, teacher and sometime psychologist, isn’t it?”  “Yes, it is,” I said. I would say today your job/role as a sales manager is very much the same.

If I were to attempt to evaluate your effectiveness, there are a couple of things I would look at to determine the impact you have had on your sales team.  I would look at:

  • Are incorrect behaviors changing for the better?
  • Are the sales people all hitting their sales activity goals?
  • Is the sales cycle reasonable to the industry segments we market to?
  • As a team, are we becoming more productive? Is #5 on the team better than #5 from last year’s team?
  • Do we consistently improve the quantity and or quality of our pipeline?
  • Is our closing ratio improving?
  • Are we selling more today than we did last year?
  • How is our go-to-market message – is it consistent?
  • Do we have people that work well with our corporate objectives?

This list could go on for a while, but that is not my intention.  My intention is to help you think about your success and improvement as a sales manager and sales executive.  You have an awesome responsibility for the recruiting and developing of people. Even if you recruit the SUPERSTAR in your market, that superstar still needs a coach - someone to motivate them and keep them on track. The best in any profession are the best because they always work on their profession and most, if not all, of the time they do that with the aide of someone else.  YOU are that “someone else” for your sales team.

Back to the original question – Do your people hear you when you are attempting to instruct them, coach them or motivate them (tree falling in the forest)?  If not… or if not all of them… how come?

The easy thing to do is to blame them.  The hard thing to do is to take ownership of the situation and assess what it is about you or your message that isn’t resonating or having the intended impact.

When we evaluate sales management strengths, weaknesses, tendencies and areas of effectiveness using the Objective Management Sales Manager Evaluation, we get findings in several areas. Some of the key findings that could be related to this issue are:

  • The ability or willingness to understand what motivates the individual sales person
  • The belief that "it isn’t important for me to motivate my sales people"
  • The belief that "it isn’t my responsibility" to raise my team's self-esteem
  • The lack of commitment and desire to be successful as a sales manager
  • Not taking responsibility for results
  • Ineffective recognition for success or discipline for failure
  • Need for approval from sales people

If you have a strong ego, it will be difficult to admit that any of these can pertain to you. That is the wrong answer to the question.  If you are having the right impact on the sales team, then all of the answers to the questions in paragraph three should be "yes".  If you answer any of the questions with "no" or "not sure", then you need to address you.

You may not understand this or accept this, but when you took on the responsibility of sales manager, part of the job was to develop your people to be the highest and best they can be.  If that isn’t happening, then it’s time to do something about it.

Additional resources:

Top Sales World – Article on Sales Coaching Best Practices

Worksheet – Determine who needs what coaching on your sales team

Sales Coaching Skills – 9 Audio clips about improving critical coaching skills

One Up – Contact me directly to discuss the most important sales management tool you can have today to drive sales results.  513.791.3458.  Or email – subject=I want to talk about One up

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Sales Managers – Why Isn’t Goal Setting Easy?


I was first introduced to goal setting in sales when I was an insurance agent with National Life of Vermont.  The General Agent was Dave and his manager was Bob.  The company subscribed to the “Al Grannum” school of 10-3-1 - see 10 people, 3 will be qualified buyers, 1 will buy. Based on that equation, the established goal was to write 100 lives.  You do the math.

Al Granum

I never did write 100 lives but, based on the sales activity reporting I did every week, I should have.  When I fell short of my activity goal, Bob’s intense coaching often included, “See more people!”  Okay, Bob.  Did I see more people?  Nope, I just wrote down a bigger number to keep Bob off my backside. I failed in the life insurance business. 

Well, not entirely.  Towards the end of my career, I contracted with a sales trainer, Tom.  Tom introduced me to an idea of a sales cookbook.  Yes, the tenets for success was still based on a formula of sales steps and conversion ratios from one step to the next, but... there was ONE MAJOR difference – personal goal setting.

As I write this, maybe I should change the title to “Sales Managers – Why Isn’t Goal Achievement Easy?” Because in relationship to one another, the goal setting is easy compared to the goal accomplishing, but only if you take the easy way out when setting goals.

The easy way out – Take everyone’s number, increase it by the growth goal percentage of the company, and say to them, “Here is your goal for next year.  Or, if you want to leverage our compensation model, you need to exceed this year’s goal by x.”  Or, if you want to use incentive travel/excursions to motivate people to higher levels of performance, you raise the bar required for people to qualify for the “President’s Club” trip.

I have inquired about incentives and changes in overall production of a sales team.  I’ve talked to sales VPs, I’ve talked to presidents of companies that agree to spend anywhere between $100,000 and $1,000,000 in incentive comps and trips, and finally, I’ve talked to people that sell people on incentive trips.  No one – I repeat – no one has been able to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that any of this by itself improves top to bottom individual performance.

Why?  *Locke, Shaw, Saari, and Latham (1981) concluded that the relationship between goal setting and performance is reliable, persistent and strong.  Specific, difficult goals led to higher performance than did nonspecific, “do your best” goals in 90% of the studies they reviewed in which the goals could be assumed to have been accepted by the subjects.  However, the strength of the relationship varies considerably from study to study.  Despite care considerations around performance variability, a large amount of performance variability is unexplained by goal condition.  Three potentially important contributors to performance variability are  Situational Factors, Job Characteristics and Individual Differences. 

Just for the sake of simplicity, lets’ assume that all of your sales people have the same situational factors (market conditions, competitive issues, compensation, and tenure).  Let’s also assume the job is the same: Call suspects, meet with suspects, qualify them or disqualify them as prospects, gather appropriate information, present a solution, close.  Given these two assumptions, that leaves us with one variable – Individual Differences. This is what I believe makes goal achievement so difficult and, by extension, makes goal setting difficult.

In our Sales Managed Environment (SME) program, one of the important functions of the sales manager is to motivate the sales team AND keep them motivated.  Years ago, I heard Mark Victor Hansen say that motivation is an “inside/out” job.  In other words, it isn’t something that you can do for someone; it’s something they need to build internally for themselves.  You cannot motivate them; they can only motivate themselves to achieve those things that are only important to them.  If you were to inquire as to what was important to your sales people, way down on the list would be company growth, increase share holder value or demonstrate internal organic growth so that, when the company goes IPO, they can receive a premium multiple of earnings.

If you asked them what was really important, you would probably hear the following: pay for an upcoming wedding, eliminate my debt, plan for retirement, pay college tuition, build an addition/new home, replace old car, give to the community, achieve job satisfaction, contribute to life, and maintain life balance.  Unfortunately for you and them, they probably don’t have any of this in writing, don’t have a plan, don’t have a clue as to what they have to do to get any of this done.  This is where you come in; this is where you can help them make their dreams come true.

Over the next 3 weeks, I will be working with two companies to facilitate a personal goal setting/business work plan workshop. This is one of the deliverables in our SME program.  We will spend a minimum of 3 hours facilitating a discussion that is designed to help the participants dig into their own lives and identify what is important to them.  What motivates them? What are the objectives/goals in their life that are non-negotiable?  What is it that they are so committed to that nothing will stop them from doing the required activity/behavior that will eventually lead to the success they seek?  Once this is completed, we then will help them translate that into a work plan - a formula for success at work so that they can enjoy the freedom of time and choice they are seeking.

What you can do to help them and to make your goal setting easier is to create an environment where goal setting and goal accomplishment is possible.


Personal Goal Setting Workshop

Pre-workshop preparation (Audio clip) What is your Dream?

Call me directly to discuss this topic – 513-226-3913 (mobile)

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Do You Have a Recipe for Sales Management Success?


I’ve been trying to find a way to tie cooking to sales management.  I love to cook (and eat) and I love selling and coaching sales management.  I often tie sports stories, analogies and themes to sales and sales management, and I generally have at least one in the crowd that doesn’t/cannot relate because they have not played sports or are just simply not into sports.  Thus my attempt to find another way to explain concepts of sales management:  COOKING!


When you cook, assuming at sometime you cook something for someone (even if it’s just a hot dog for you), how do you determine success? 

  • I didn’t ruin the cookware
  • I didn’t burn the food
  • The house is still standing
  • No one got sick
  • Everyone loved the steak, but the steak fries were a disaster
  • I got a standing ovation 

Aside from preparing a good meal, what else are you trying to accomplish? What is the final outcome you desire?  Is there more to successfully preparing a meal than just providing something for someone to eat?  I think so… and I think the entire process requires a “recipe” for success.

Let’s think about your relationship with your sales people. Those are the people that are dining at your table of sales management.  When the day, week, month, quarter or year is finished and your sales team says, “That was a great year (meal)”, what has to happen AND how do you make it happen?  What are the different metrics/determining factors that your sales people will use to decide if the year with you was a great year?  Assuming you can arrive at that answer, then just like any cook, you must have a recipe for success!

Success factors – let’s start with those.  If you are like most sales managers, you came from sales and you were successful. This is the generally accepted practice (though not a very good practice) for selecting sales managers.  What did you want/need/expect from your sales manager?  If you let your ego get in the way, you say, “I didn’t need anything except for them to stay out of my way, let me out of meetings, provide me with a great support team and bail me out when I got in trouble when I didn’t follow procedure.” Those are not good performance metrics, but they will do for this discussion. Suppose you have people, or at least one person, on your team that thinks that way? What is your recipe for success for that one person?

But, let’s imagine for a second that your sales team isn’t all like that.  Let’s suppose most of them need motivation, mentoring, encouragement, coaching and accountability.  They all need something slightly different in each of those categories, but they all need them just the same.  What is your recipe for success for delivering what THEY want and need?

Assuming the ingredients are, in fact, coaching, motivating, accountability and mentoring, then how much of each will you need, for how long and when?  Just like one recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of salt and another calls for ½ cup, your people have varying needs relative to amounts. Also, another example: when you prepare a frozen pizza, you bake it between 18 and 25 minutes, depending on the type of crust you want.  Some of your people need 5 minutes of your time every week, some of them need 15 minutes every other week, and some work very well if they get you an hour a month.

In building your “recipe”, consider this:

  • Regardless of their tenure or success, they all need something.
  • They all need to be coached – unless they are converting 100% of every step in the sales process, then they all have room for improvement.
  • They all fall off the wagon. Even the very best suffer from ups and downs of sales cycles and moments of great prospecting effort and moments of zero prospecting.  You must ALWAYS provide a measure of accountability.
  • Coaching is about changing behavior and improving skill.  Changing behavior and improving skill is about not just teaching, but also spaced repetition.
  • Motivation is an inside-out job.  In other words, recruit highly motivated people and motivation gets easier.  But having said that, occasionally the very best also need motivation.  (Check out Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech)
  • Finally, check in with them to find out what they want, how will they determine success, and what will make this a great year for them.  When I prepare family Sunday dinner, I have to remember three really important things  (*Note: I do consider them, but don’t always alter plans for the meal): 1) Uncle Fred doesn’t like poultry.  2) My mother – in – law, Pat, loves “Tony Burgers” in the summer and 3) my wife, Linda, is gluten intolerant.

Additional resources:

Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame Speech  - Youtube Link – sorry I couldn’t resist the sports connection.

Best wings – Guy Fieri wing recipe

Sales Management Workshop – 7 Habits of Highly Effective Sales Teams

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Do Your Sales Contracts Have An "I Love Selling" Clause?


This is an unusual sales management blog post from me because it will be short. It is short because, this morning, I’m short on time. I am scheduled for a meeting at the Cincinnati Freestore Foodbank at 8:00am. From there, I go to the airport to fly to Hershey, Pa., where I will be presenting 3 Keys to a More Productive Sales Force and then I’ll be on my way to NJ. Not that you care - you're here to talk about selling.

I Love Selling

What I wanted to share this morning is two thoughts from a speech I recently listened to.  These thoughts are from Michael Jordan’s acceptance speech when he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. I’m going to go back and listen again as I am sure there are even more great nuggets of information that apply to living, sales and sales management.  However, here are the two biggies for today:

  • Motivating People: There are two things here; 1) Sales managers are consistently asking me, “How do I motivate and keep my people motivated?” I have always answered that the best way(s) to keep sales people motivated is to a) hire motivated, passionate, committed sales people and b) create an environment where personal goal setting is part of your sales managed environment. Michael added a new angle on this for me. He named a long list of people and events that had motivated him. Maybe the most important motivator was when he did not make his high school basketball team. He was bound and determined to prove to the coach AND the guy who made the team in his place that a mistake had been made.

  • Passion for the Game: This one is really cool. The owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, had asked Michael to NOT play basketball during the off-season as Michael was too valuable to the franchise to risk injury.  Michael’s response was, “Did you read the ‘I love basketball’ clause in my contract?”  He said that Jerry responded, “What ‘I love basketball’ clause?”  Michael said, “I have an ‘I love basketball’ clause in my contract that says I can play basketball anywhere, anytime, anyplace simply because I love basketball.”

My points in bringing these two items up today are this:

  • It is your responsibility to find multiple ways to find sales people that are motivated for various reasons, and it is your responsibility to find out what those motivators are/how they are motivated so that you can keep them that way.

  • Put an “I love selling” clause in your contracts and tell your new hires that you expect them to love selling and to sell anywhere, anytime, anyplace.

Did you like today’s post? If so, you’ll love our weekly audio Sales Brew and monthly newsletter! Sign up HERE and receive Tony Cole’s eBook, Why is Selling So #%&@ Hard?, as our thanks to you!

Connect with ACTG!

ACTG Twitter   Tony Cole LinkedIn   ACTG Facebook   Sales Brew

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Assets Under Management – A Sales Leader's Job!



I hate calling people “assets” or “human capital”.  They are people that take on careers to help them and their families achieve very specific personal goals. They do not take on careers, professions and jobs to further the growth of the company that hires them.  However, I was reading an article in Fast Company today about a diagnostic tool to help determine problems of the heart.  Not love problems of the heart, but functional problems of the heart. 

In 2002, Marie Guion-Johnson’s 41-year-old husband, Rob, died after going into cardiac arrest while swimming. That experience led Guion-Johnson to start the company Aum Cardiovascular and invent the CADence, a small device that doctors hold over a patient’s chest to detect blockages often missed by other tests.  At the end of the article, the interviewer asked, “What does the company’s name mean?”  Aum is an ancient Sanskrit symbol that refers to a low humming sound.  It’s the same sound that you hear from a diseased coronary artery. But, when potential financial backers ask her, she tells them it means “Assets Under Management”. That got me thinking about sales managers and their assets – people.

As a sales VP or manager, people are your only asset.  You don’t own equipment, buildings or other capital.  You really don’t “own” the people, but the company has put its trust in you to manage the asset that they have invested in.  And, believe it or not, some of the “assets” have put their trust in you!  So, how are you doing?

If you were to look at the assets as an investment portfolio, are you getting the ROI that you expected or must expect based on the investment of time, money and effort?  As an asset total, you maybe exceeding your objective, but how about the individual assets?  How are you doing with each of the holdings that you have recruited, hired and/or on-boarded?  Unlike your personal investments where you probably have an investment manager/money manager, YOU are the one managing the portfolio.  Are you doing the things you should be doing to maximize the return?

Here are 5 MUST DOs to maximize the Assets Under Management:

  1. Honest assessment of the individual holdings:  First, don’t treat them all the same. The bond isn’t supposed to perform like your growth fund or equity holding.  But, is it performing as expected?  If not, why not?

  2. Assess the “why not?”  Looking at the return (pipeline or sales results) is not enough.  You have to get beyond the symptoms – not calling enough, not converting effort to opportunity, not closing – and get to the underlying root causes for lack of performance

  3. Have the fierce conversation (not aggressive, not punitive) about current performance against what was expected and agreed to.  You must use data and your recruiting file to have this discussion:  This is what I'm getting (show the effort and results outcome data) and this is what I thought I hired (show the resume, the interview notes and the contract).   Then ask the question – “Did I make a hiring mistake?”

  4. Agree to what the problem is by asking them questions rather you telling them what you see is missing in their effort or execution.  Just like in selling, if you get the prospect to recognize and verbalize the issues, challenges, problems, then they own them.  When the discussion is finished ask them, “Is this where you want to be?” The answer will be “no.”  You ask, “Are you sure?” The answer will be “yes.”  And finally, “Does this mean you are willing to do everything possible to succeed?”  They will say “yes.” (assuming they pass the intelligence test).

  5. Develop a disciplined approach to get them back on track, either in their effort or execution.  Design a plan that has specific times to perform activity, specific behaviors you will be inspecting, details about joint work and coaching meetings.  All this is designed to get the person that you hired thinking they want to be and will be a superstar on track for success.

Here is the kicker – you must recognize this problem as early as possible and address it then.  Do not be satisfied with excuses of making progress, trending the right direction, haven’t met their stride yet…  Don’t make excuses for lack of effort or execution. Find the problems early, address them, take corrective action… or do like you would with an underperforming asset – sell.

Additional resources

Hire better sales people  - email Tony to have a discussion

Perry Marshalls 80/20 calculator - Identify the untapped potential of your sales team

Workshop – 5 Keys to more productive sales teams

Did you like today’s post? If so, you’ll love our weekly audio Sales Brew and monthly newsletter! Sign up HERE and receive Tony Cole’s eBook, Why is Selling So #%&@ Hard?, as our thanks to you!

Connect with ACTG!

ACTG Twitter   Tony Cole LinkedIN   ACTG Facebook   Sales Brew

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Sales Managers - Are You Thinking Presidentially?


Not the Obama, Bush, Lincoln, Washington kind of presidential.  More like the presidential thinking of Larry Ellison, Alan Mulally, and Beth Mooney.  All are or were chiefs, and, at one time, were also presidents.  But, prior to that, at some time in their careers, they were managers of something.

What separated them, I’m guessing, is that they thought presidentially - they looked at the role of manager through the eyes of a president.  In other words, I’m sure they thought, “If this were my company, what would I do?”

Think Presidentially

In a conference I attended earlier this year, there was a break-out session on the second day just for “partners”.  It was a chance for owners of companies to sit and discuss the challenges they are having with building, growing or sustaining their businesses.  As I was looking through my meeting notes from that day, I came across a list of items necessary for growth and sustainability of a business.

  • Diverse Revenue Generation (products) – Are your people selling only one solution to your clients? OR are they developing multiple financial relationships through multiple solutions?
  • Diverse Revenue Streams (people) – As a manager, are your numbers (or is your success) dependent upon the few? (The 80/20 rule may be a rule, but your numbers can be killed if you lose 1 or 2 sales people from the 20% side of the equation.)
  • Systems and Processes – Think dashboard, not just odometer.  Knowing how much has been sold and how much is in the pipeline is a look back. What systems and processes do you have in place to help you predict?
  • Reasons to Stay – If you have only 2 or 3 people keeping your sales numbers healthy, what are their reasons to stay?
  • Management of The Firm – If something were to happen to you, what would happen to the team?  If the answer is “nothing changes,” is that because you are having that little of an impact on the outcomes or because you have built a structure that allows for sustainability?
  • Financial Predictability – This is tied to systems and processes. If your president asked you what you thought would be in the pipeline in 6 days/weeks/months from now, what could you tell her?
  • Cash Flow – How do the presidential numbers look? In other words, the “sales numbers” are just part of the equation.  You have business contracted for, you have realized revenue, and you have profit.  Ultimately, it isn’t contracts sold or just top-line revenue - it’s also “How much are we keeping?” and “When is the money going to be realized?”
  • Risk Management – Where are you at risk today?  Competition, losing key sales people, pricing, economy, investment in bad hires?  Are you aware of the risks and what are you doing about them?

When I saw the list this morning, I felt comfortable that, as president of Anthony Cole Training Group, we are addressing many, if not all, of these items. Some of the items we’ve looked at for years; others we have just recently been spending time on as a result of my attendance at that conference. 

More importantly, however, I read this list and thought, “Wow, this has to get into the hands of our clients, prospects and networks. This is critical thinking for anyone that is leading a team or managing a team.” 

Now is a great time of the year to work on your business.  If you are a September/October fiscal company, then you are done for the year – pretty much.  If you are a December/January business, then you are closing out your year very soon. 

Take a look at the list and do an honest evaluation of where you are/how you stack up. This maybe not be the end-all list of things to consider when building or managing your sales team, but it’s a great start.

Additional Resources:

Personal Goal Setting & Work Plan Development – Schedule a workshop

7 Keys to a More Productive Sales Team

Minimize the Impact of 80/20 – Hire better sales people

Email me directly to talk

Did you like today’s post? If so, you’ll love our weekly audio Sales Brew and monthly newsletter! Sign up HERE and receive Tony Cole’s eBook, Why is Selling So #%&@ Hard?, as our thanks to you!

Connect with ACTG!
ACTG Twitter   Tony Cole LinkedIn   ACTG Facebook   ACTG Sales Brew

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The Selling Process – Do We Have It Right?


I just finished reading a chapter from the book – Harvard Business Review on Strategic Sales Management.  The chapter is “Understanding What Your Sales Manager Is Up Against” by Barry Trailer and Jim Dickie.  I enjoy reading HBR publications even though some of the research findings they provide are way over my head. The various contributors always get me thinking and re-thinking about what I think I know about sales and sales management.  This article was no exception, especially when they were writing about the sales process.

Wrong Way

According to Wikipedia - A sales process is an approach to selling a product or service. Reasons for having a well-thought out sales process include seller and buyer risk management, standardized customer interaction during sales, and scalable revenue generation. Approaching the subject from a "process" point of view offers an opportunity to use design and improvement tools from other disciplines and process-oriented industries.

There is an “engineering” view of the sales process. In closing their comments, Trailer and Dickie clearly state that selling is both a science and an art.  I agree that the approach to selling and the skills required for effective selling require a mind that leans towards the science/process part of the profession. And, to execute the science/process requires a bit of the right brain art skill set that requires creativity and flexibility in order to develop relationships and negotiate through the steps of the buyer/seller relationship.

What really caught my attention though was the discussion around the buyer in today’s market and how the buyer has hi-jacked (my term) the selling process from sales people.  The reality is that we, sales people, are no longer in control.  With all the information available to the buyer and with so many more companies competing for the same buyer, the buyer pretty much calls the shots.  (VERY IMPORTANT - See, download this article from Google Research – ZMOT).

With that premise in mind, this article caused me to wonder if we shouldn’t re-examine our sales process at Anthony Cole Training Group.  The reason for this:  Based on research conducted by Trailer and Dickie, it is clear that the sale takes place at the pace of the buyer and the seller has less and little influence.  One of the long-held beliefs about closing a deal was that you had to get to the decision maker.  In one of their studies, they evaluated over 100 deals both won and lost and discovered that getting to the decision maker was not a key factor in the outcome.

Several years ago, my good friend, colleague and business associate, Dave Kurlan, wrote a book titled Baseline Selling.  It is an excellent book that helps the reader(s) build a systematic approach to identifying suspects, prospects, qualified buyers and closable opportunities.  He has taken these identifying steps and placed then around a baseball diamond.  I liked the idea.  I liked the idea so much that I asked Dave if he would be okay with us using a baseball diamond to describe and teach our sales methodology to our clients.  He said, as long as I gave him credit for the idea, he was fine with our use of a baseball diamond.

I will be looking at our effective selling system now from a new perspective.  For years, we’ve taught about the things we must do as sales people at each base.  I’m wondering today if what we really should be doing is mapping out the buyers’ buying process on the baseball diamond and trying to figure out where they are and what we can do to facilitate them crossing home plate to get what they want, how they want it, when they want it?

More to follow.

Resources:  In the meantime, here are some things that will help your sales team:

Disqualifying Buyers – An audio postcard that you can send to your team
Why Do Buyers Buy – An audio postcard discussing why compelling issues rather than "needs based selling" is a more effective qualifying approach.
Call to Action
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"American Icon" Has It Right for Sales Managers


Alan Mulally was an unlikely hero in American Industry when he took over Ford in 2006. Not unlikely because he was unqualified, but because he wasn’t a car guy. If you read the book, American Icon, you will enjoy a great story about guts, determination as well as unbelievable leadership and management.

I started reading the book about 18 months ago, but then got sidetracked by other books and my own business needs. Recently, while in an airport waiting for my flight, I happened to have my Kindle with me. I opened it up, turned it on, clicked to books and BAM! American Icon opened up right where I left off. Great stuff, this technology thing.

American Icon Book Cover

54% through the book (Location 3908 vs. page number), I read the following regarding negotiations between Mulally and the UAW union negotiator, Ron Gettelfinger:

“Like everything else, labor relations were all about teamwork for Mulally. He rejected the traditional adversarial relationship between companies and unions. To him, both sides were in it together. Both stood to lose if the company failed. Both stood to gain if it succeeded.”

I stopped reading, highlighted the passage and made the following note: “This pertains to sales managers and sales professionals in their relationship AND should also be applied to sales professionals and buyer relationships!”

How does this fit in sales and sales management? I have a couple of thoughts.

  1. I believe, in many cases, the sales and sales manager relationship is adversarial. Sales people believe that the sales manager is representing the best interests of the company and not the best interests of the sales people. Sales managers feel caught between meeting the sales objectives of the company and developing strong relationships with the sales team all the while attempting to “manage” the team to meet and or exceed goals.
  2. Although they may not consciously believe or think this, I believe that many managers act as if managing sales people has elements of being nice or being mean.
  3. I am convinced that sales people really do want to succeed, and they come to an organization hoping that THIS is the place where they can make personal dreams come true.
  4. I am also convinced that many sales people, with more than 5 years of experience and a modicum success, feel like they don’t need to be “managed” - “Just get me good products, good pricing, good service and stay out of my way.  And for good measure – How about good leads?”
  5. Finally, I believe what Alan Mulally believes: This requires team work. In order to make informed decisions, everything has to be put on the table so that everyone knows what the situation is. I am convinced that when you have a team of people that realize that they succeed or fail together and they decide that they would rather succeed together, then you can have an unbelievable winning sales organization.

My reason for addressing this and referencing American Icon is I thought the timing was good. Timing relative to this time of year - August, 2014. The summer is about to close out, the third quarter is in its last month and companies of all sizes have already begun to think about next year. Budgets are being discussed, business plans are being reviewed and evaluation of talent is taking place. With all of this happening, why not take a different view of how “it works”?

Years ago, I was working with Dudley Fulton who is now President and CEO of Towne Insurance Brokerage.  In one of our meetings, Dudley asked the question: “Tony, couldn’t we just take this whole thing (sales, sales management approach), break up into pieces like a puzzle, put it in a bag, shake it up, pour the pieces on the table and start over again?”  I said, “Yes, we could do and SHOULD do that.”

If the idea sounds good, then let me make one final suggestion: Follow Alan’s lead - Reject the traditional…

Additional resources:

Workshop / Keynote - 5 Keys to a More Productive Sales Team
Sales Managed Environment Video

Survey - Do We Have What It Takes To Grow?

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What is YOUR High Payoff Sales Activity?


Today is the first day of my renewed focus on High Payoff Activities (HPOA) - those activities in sales and sales management, that when done well and done consistently, drive sales results to our company. 

There are just 5 steps to making this process of “focus” work and work well. 

  1. Recognize that the problem exists.
  2. Identify the HPOA (High Payoff Activities) and the LPOA (Low Payoff Activities). 
  3. Decide you will do the first and stop doing the second.
  4. Implement time blocking.
  5. Become a slave to the schedule (See, Paul, you’re not the only one with the problem.)

I was practicing my tennis yesterday.  Specifically, I was working on my follow through for my forehand, my two handed backhand and my serve.  My serve has been giving me pains in my elbow (recovering from triceps surgery last year) and pains in my a** (I keep double faulting).

Tennis Serve

I finished my practice with serving.  I had planned on hitting 100 serves.  My primary focus was to keep my toss hand (right hand for me as I am left handed) up in the air.  I have a tendency to drop it too soon thus hitting the ball into the net.  When you hit the net, you have no chance of getting points.  If you miss, miss long.

After several serves and several over exaggerations of keeping my toss hand up in the air, I noticed that I had not hit the net (served short).  I started to keep track.  1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8.  I hit 8 serves over the net.  On #9, I dropped my hand too soon and hit the net.  Damn!  #10, hand up, ball over the net.  I will note that not all of the balls that went over the net fell into the service area, but I did calculate that 2 of every three balls over the net were VERY good serves.

I kept serving and kept counting.  The numbers held true.  Every time I kept my toss hand up, the ball went over the net.  I did this about 8 out of 10 times.  Don’t ask me why I messed up twice, I just did.  And about 66% of the 8 balls over the net were solid good serves – 5.28 serves out of 10.  I realized that, if I kept this up, I would still get beat.  Hmmm.

What to do?  Keep the toss hand up 100% of the time, convert that number 66% of the time and now we have a chance to win 26% more points.  That is huge!

Now, what is it that you can be doing with your sales team that is a HPOA?  You know, the one thing that every time you do this activity, something good happens, sales get made, people close deals, company makes money?  What do you have to do to make sure that you do this one thing better and more consistently?

Bill Eckstrom, President/CEO of EcSell Sales Institute tells me that when sales managers “coach,” then sales happen.  He knows this because he’s done the research.  His research shows two very important things:  1) Sale reps feel that the most important thing a sales manager can do is help them achieve their goals.  2) Sales reps feel that the most important skill that a sales manager needs to have in order for them to reach their goals is coaching!

What we have found out through our years of examining the skill sets of numerous sales managers is that less than 5% of sales manager have 65% of the skills required to be an effective coach.

What does your research tell you about what you do that drives sales?  Don’t have any data?  Shame on you; that is a problem that should not exist in today’s world of technology. 

With data, you have business intelligence.  With business intelligence, you can duplicate what works and stop doing what doesn’t!


Additional Resources:

Ecsell Institute – Article on Top 10 Coaching Behaviors

Hubspot Article – A Failed Sales Manage Could Cost Your Company $4 Million

Email Tony Cole to discuss time blocking:

Sales Tracker – Sales Activity Tracking application

Distance Learning – Free Coaching Session Signup

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