Sales & Sales Management Expertise

5 Sales Activities that Lead to Success: Are Your Salespeople Assertive Enough?

Tags: sales competencies, sales management, sales prospecting, Sales Strategies, asking sales questions

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Assertive (not aggressive) salespeople win more business than others.  They care so much about doing the right thing for their clients that they are willing to risk the relationship and the deal in order to make sure the prospect or client makes the right decisions.  Does that describe your people?  Are they assertive?

When we say assertive, what do we mean?  What sales habits do assertive and successful people do day in and day out?  In 2010, I wrote a blog entitled 5 Direct Sales Activities That Lead to Sales Success that has been one of my highest readership blogs.  I went back and reviewed and here are the five steps:

  1. Activities that lead to getting names - networking, speaking engagements, sponsored seminars, meeting with centers of influence and/or asking for introductions
  2. Calling a suspect on the phone for an appointment
  3. Conversations and meetings to qualify a suspect
  4. Gathering additional information that leads to a presentation meeting
  5. Presentations/pitch meetings that lead to decisions

Steps 1 and 2 have changed dramatically in the last 6 years.  Social selling and the evolution of the buyer’s process utilizing all of the multiple channels of information has completely changed the process of prospecting for business.  Step 2 - getting a suspect on the phone - is virtually impossible with voicemails and phone trees.

Our Own Prospecting Case Study

Earlier this year, we decided to test the waters for our hiring business solution, www.hirebettersalespeople.com.  We had some initial success right off the bat with our launch in January of 2016, but then activity seemed to cool down.  We purchased a local lead list based on company size and title and I began calling.  Here are the calling results:

  • 66% of the dials took me directly into a recorded phone tree
  • 25% of the calls took me to a receptionist who was very helpful and informative but transferred me to voicemail
  • Of the remaining 9%, I had in depth conversations with 3 people, met with one and generated one sale from that contact

3 people fit our profile; I met with 1 and sold that one… but not to help them hire better salespeople, but rather to help them test, train and track some of the salespeople that were not “hitting their weight”.  The second was not interested at the time and the 3rd introduced me to someone in the home office. That contact has put us in the middle of negotiations for a 5-figure initial engagement.

I tell you that story to make the following points about step #2:

  • Calling prospects on the phone doesn’t work like it used to.  
  • It requires more attempts and effort than ever before - you have to have a different tactic and message to differentiate yourself.
  • Once you make contact, you have to be extremely good at what you do and have a compelling reason for people to listen and stay on the phone. THAT is where being more assertive makes a difference.

Steps 3, 4, 5:  How to be More Assertive at Qualifying, Presenting and Getting Decisions

In our primary markets of financial institutions, investment services and insurance brokerage, we ARE the resource for sales growth solutions.  We coach our clients on the fact that the reason for either their sales growth or loss is due to their peoples’  1) effort or 2) execution.  But what does assertiveness have to do with Effort and Execution of steps 3,4 and 5?  In a word, EVERYTHING.

Steps 3,4, and 5:

  1. Conversations and meetings to qualify a suspect
  2. Gathering additional information that leads to a presentation meeting
  3. Presentations/pitch meetings that lead to decisions

In each one of these steps, the skill of asking the right questions, the right way, at the right time is critical.  In our selling system, we explain that -  in order for a prospect to qualify - they must:

  1. Have compelling reasons to buy, make a change, do something different
  2. Have the capability and willingness to invest the right time, money and effort required for the purchase/change
  3. Be in a position of decision making and be able to make the decision to find a solution to the compelling (have to fix) issue,  can make the money decision, can leave a current or add to a current relationship, and say yes or no.

There are lots of questions that need to be asked in order to find out if the prospect qualifies in these three areas.  Some of these questions require a sales person to be assertive.  Questions such as:

  • How will you go about telling your current broker/banker/relationship that you are no longer going to do business with them?
  • If you don’t have the money, how will you solve the problem?
  • The budget you have won’t be enough to get you the outcome you want. What part of the solution do you want to eliminate?
  • What will you tell your partner when they say they don’t want to make the change?

Additionally, sometimes statements are required that would be considered counter-intuitive to selling, gutsy and risky.

  • Based on our experience and deep domain knowledge about your business, your best action to take would be this: ________.  If that doesn’t seem to work for you, then there’s a possibility that we won’t be a good match.
  • If I treated my clients the way you’ve been treated, then I would expect to be fired.
  • When we finish our presentation, solve all of the problems you’ve asked us to address within your budget and answered all your questions, I’ll need for you to be in a position to make a decision on whether we’ll do business together or not.
  • Maybe the most important thing for you to consider is “fit”.  If there isn’t a fit between our two companies, then our products and pricing really don’t matter.

Imagine for a second that you had salespeople that were gutsy enough to have these types of conversations. What would happen?  You might fear that you would lose more business. But… suppose that wasn’t the case.  Suppose by being more assertive and gutsy, your salespeople eliminated tire kickers earlier.  Suppose this lead to the elimination of “think it overs” and actually got people to decide.  Imagine for a second that your salespeople stopped making presentations to people who could only say “no” and never had the authority or intention of saying “yes”.  What would happen?

Your people would sell more, more quickly, at higher margins.  They would stop wasting time, stop getting delays, stop being shopped by a prospect that was just trying to keep a current provider honest.  

Here’s How Sales Managers Can Get Their Salespeople to be More Assertive

Sales managers must hold their salespeople accountable to the right level of sales activity.  To do this, you must have a success formula and a well-defined sales process so that you can identify where the choke points are for individuals when they fail to close “sure thing” opportunities.  You must also have a pipeline tool that actually helps you predict the possibility of an opportunity closing rather than a tool that just reports that there is activity in the pipeline.  And, finally, you must have a full pipeline – an anemic pipeline makes cowards out of salespeople. These are the tools you will need to help your salespeople be more assertive and close more business, more quickly, at higher margins.

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Habits of Highly Successful Sales Managers

Tags: sales management, managing sales teams, sales habits, highly successful salespeople

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The sales management activities that we are performing today are creating the results we are achieving today.  What activities are you doing now that are creating your current unsatisfactory results?  It is up to us as sales leaders to set higher standards for sales behaviors and hold people accountable so that we get better results.

It is a given that successful sales management requires contributions on many levels:  skill, time, effort, effective execution and systems and processes to support coaching, performance management and recruiting.

To help understand what makes a successful sales manager, it is helpful to review the Habits of Highly Successful Salespeople. I recently asked the participants of a workshop to identify and share those habits that they believed contributed to the success of their best salespeople.  Below are some of the common habits identified:

  • Develops great relationships
  • Networks regularly
  • Good time management
  • Gets to decision makers
  • Is selective in prospecting
  • Provides exceptional customer service

Then I asked them to talk about the flip-side of the list – those habits that inhibited or hurt a salesperson’s ability to close more business.  Below are some of the habits they identified:

  • Sells on price
  • Inconsistent prospecting
  • Procrastinates
  • Presents to the wrong people
  • Sells to anyone that fogs a mirror
  • Poor prioritization
  • Is too comfortable

How about you and your habits?  What are those habits that you can point to that you KNOW have a positive impact on your team’s sales behaviors and results?  Here are some that I observe and hear about:

  • Coaches: in-the-moment to get a deal closed
  • Reports sales results
  • Makes joint calls
  • Sets goals
  • Conducts regular sales meetings
  • Reviews and reports pipeline

This is a good list and with some additions, it can become a great list when we identify the skills of a great Coach, one of the most critical roles of an effective sales leader.  To examine what else you might want to consider, take a look at the following list of elements necessary for successful coaching:

  • Debriefs sales calls effectively
  • Asks quality questions
  • Controls emotions
  • Allows salespeople to fail
  • Implements and manages the execution of a consistent sales process
  • Motivates when coaching based on individual/personal goals
  • Coaches to improve skill and change behavior
  • Gets sales people to follow through on commitments

It’s not enough to just have the skill.  In order for managers to be successful at having a sales team built for growth, the manager must be in the habit of using those skills.

Being an extraordinary sales manager is grueling and time-consuming.  It requires attention to detail, the ability to have tough conversations with those who are not meeting their numbers, the desire and commitment to grow yourself and your salespeople, consistent activity and patience.  Like the coach of a winning team or conductor of an extraordinary symphony, you have the ability to positively affect the success and the lives of your salespeople and company. 

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Variability and the 14-Letter Dirty Word – Accountability

Tags: effective sales coaching, sales management, performance management, sales accountability

Several years ago, as part of our sales team evaluation, the skills, tendencies and effectiveness of the sales leadership team was also assessed.  The findings indicated that of the 224 leaders, 23% had at least 60% of the skills required to be an effective performance manger.  Of the 5 sales management skill sets required - coaching, motivating, recruiting, mentoring and performance management – this last one, performance management, is where the team “scored” the best. The skills/tendencies within the skill set are as follows:

  • Doesn’t accept mediocrity
  • Has no need for approval from sales people
  • Takes responsibility
  • Manages behavior
  • Asks Questions
  • Manages pipeline
  • Has beliefs that support accountability

Before digging into this topic further, just take a minute to examine these results: 

  • 224 sales leaders
  • 23% (51) with the minimum % of skills needed to be successful in their role
  • 67% (172) sales leaders below the minimum standards of effectiveness
  • Only 1 out of 4 managers, hired to do the job of managing performance and holding sales people accountable, had the skills to do so.

Assume for a minute that this might be your sales organization.  Now, you might be thinking, “I don’t have that many sales managers and so my numbers won’t look like this.”  You are right; they won’t look like this, but consider the possibility that maybe you didn’t get the 1 out of four!  How would you know?

  • Do your salespeople meet and exceed goals?
  • Do your salespeople consistently have the right volume of pipeline?
  • Do your salespeople have a tendency to have up and down weeks, months, quarters or years?
  • Do your salespeople blame the economy, the competition, the pricing, the lack of marketing, lack of support, too much paperwork for failure to prospect?
  • Have you spent a small fortune for CRM and yet still struggle with trusting the reliability of the pipeline report that you get?
  • Are people late to meetings or fail to show up at all, or leave early?
  • Does your sales manager take bullets for the failure of the sales team?

Performance Management – Definition (As defined by the University of California Berkley)

  • Performance management is an ongoing process of communication between a supervisor and an employee that occurs throughout the year, in support of accomplishing the strategic objectives of the organization. The communication process includes clarifying expectations, setting objectives, identifying goals, providing feedback and reviewing results.

Hogwash!  This is part of the definition and this might suit the academics, but in the real world of business, there is something missing!  “What’s missing?” you ask.

  • Identifying and implementing Rewards for success
  • Identifying and implementing Consequences for failure
  • Implementing disciplined approaches (structured activities) to correct failure to perform effort or execution.

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The Berkley definition is kind of like the LifeLock commercial you see on TV commercials.  The bank is being robbed and customers ask the security guard if he is going to do something about the robbery.  His response is that he is not a security guard but rather a security monitor.  If all a manager does is communicates expectations, sets objectives, identifies goals, reviews results (“you are not hitting your goals”) and provides feedback (“You have to work harder”), then performance really isn’t managed; it’s just monitored.

As long had you have a sales team consisting of self-starters, self-managed, high figure-it-out people, then you are okay.  BUT, and this is a BIG BUT(T), you probably don’t have an entire team of people like this.  Short of having a team that just needs to be pointed in the right direction, an organization needs someone to manage performance and hold people accountable to individual commitments.

The organization needs someone that can reward people for success through compensation and recognition.  As important, if not more important, your performance management manager MUST be able to recognize early when people are off-track. This person must have implemented the right systems and process for early detection.  And the person must be strong enough to have fierce conversations with people when they are failing to perform.

Finally, there must be a process of disciplined and structured correction procedures so that those failing to execute have a chance to succeed.  PIPs are not the answer.  PIPs are to late to have a significant impact.  By the time you attempt to put someone on a PIP that horse has left the barn.

Additional Resources:

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Top 14 Truths About Managing Salespeople & Increasing Sales

Tags: sales management, managing salespeople

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If you’ve followed my blog for any period of time, you know that there are several phrases that I use when discussing sales outcomes, sales management, recruitment and talent development:

  • Your organization is perfectly designed for the results you get today.
  • When you evaluate talent that is not performing as expected, you must ask yourself: “Did I hire them this way or did I make them this way?”
  • Hire people you cannot afford.
  • Hire great people when you find them, not when you need them.
  • Catch them early (refers to performance management).
  • You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.
  • When all else fails, hard work works.
  • They (your underperforming salespeople) either are lying about their activity or they suck at what they do.
  • You should begin the exiting process of an underperformer the moment you have the first thought.
  • All prospects lie all the time.
  • Don’t look, act or sound like a salesperson.
  • When goals are clear, decision making is easy.
  • Events happen to us all, destiny is what happens next.
  • They’ll only do it once.

That's about it.

Do you have favorite business phrases? Share your feedback and comments below!

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Variability of Performance – A Side Story

Tags: individual sales success, sales management, Peter Jensen, the 3rd factor, variability in sales performance

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I’ve been writing about solutions to variability of performance and, as often happens, I see/find something connected to the theme of sales or sales management.

Earlier, I discussed three reasons for variability of performance:

  • Situational Factors
  • Task Characteristics
  • Individual Differences

Dr. Peter Jensen, sports psychologist, founder of Performance Coaching, instructor at Queen's School of Business, Canadian Olympic Coach and author of Ignite the 3rd Factor, states the following:

“The developmental potential of human beings has three major components: nature, which establishes the physical and mental road map of an individual; nurture, which includes social and environmental factors that help would an individual; and the Third Factor, which is the factor of choice or "the important role an individual plays in his or her own ‘becoming’.”

Nature, nurture and The Third Factor define individual differences.

I was taking my morning walk when I noticed a young boy and what appeared to be his dad riding their bikes in the cemetery across the street from our house.  The boy seemed to be enjoying himself and feeling the excitement of peddling his bike faster and faster.  I turned my attention back to my walk and then looked back one more time.  I noticed the young boy on the ground, his bicycle a few feet on the ground away from him and his dad dismounting from his bike.  It appeared that the boy had tried to take the corner too fast, lost control of his bike and fell.

I stopped to watch and make sure that there wasn’t a serious injury. The dad walked over to the boy, bent down and spoke to him. Then he sat down on the ground and the boy moved over to sit on his lap; it appeared the man was checking for any injuries on the boy’s arms, legs and head.  All seemed to be well.
I continued walking and then crossed the street like I normally do.  I looked over to my right and again saw the man talking to the boy. The boy climbed back on his bike and continued riding.  And then I pondered.

The boy didn’t wait until the next day to start riding. He didn’t push the bike back to his house.  He didn’t sit there for an hour looking at it, debating if he should try again or not.  He didn’t appear to cry or be afraid.  He just got back on the bike and peddled away.

The Third Factor at work.

As a sales manager or hiring manager, it is difficult to assess talent.  There are many contributing factors that make recruiting difficult.  At Hirebettersalespeople.com, we define 8 steps that, when implemented and executed well, can help eliminate hiring mistakes and improve the probability of success once the hire has been made.  But, one of the steps – the vetting step (assessing, qualifying and interviewing) – is always challenging because of the human factor.

Specifically, the vetting process is difficult because of how hard it is to determine “the will” to succeed in selling rather than “the can” succeed in selling.  The will to sell = The Third Factor.  Objective Management Group’s sales talent assessment and pre-hire assessment does the best job of this (Worlds #1 Sales Talent Assessment) with the following findings:

  • Desire
  • Commitment
  • Responsibility
  • Outlook
  • Figure-it-out factor
  • Source of motivation

Why is this important do know?  It’s important to know because resumes and application answers are great works of fiction.  Over the last 22 years in this business, I’ve seen the development of resumes go from a bullet-pointed document about the history of a candidate to a short story of great accomplishment and adventure.  There are no “bad” resumes anymore.

When you calculate the cost of bad hires, hires that don’t produce as expected, hires that are there and then gone in a blink of an eye (calculate the costs of ghosts), the problem can be, as Roy Riley described it, a two-comma problem.  Yes, you want people that have the required technical expertise; yes, you want people that have experience in your industry; and yes, you want people that have experience selling in your environment and have success selling to prospects you are looking to sell to.

But, if you don’t know exactly how they have succeed in the past, if you don’t know if they are wired to sell and help your company grow, if you don’t know the “third factor” choices they make to succeed in spite of all external factors, then you will continue to fall victim to hiring people that fall off the bike and have a difficult time getting back on the seat.

 

Additional Resources: 

 Assess a candidate

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Variability in Performance in Sales Teams, pt.3

Tags: Sales Tracking, sales management, sales accountability, variability in sales performance

It all starts with people, right?

Wrong… or at least I believe that to be wrong.  When I was the strength coach at Iowa State University, we had a debate/discussion/disagreement on in-season strength training.  Actually, the disagreement was with just one person, our defensive coordinator, who eventually went on to be a great success in the NFL while I went on to start and run a success business in sales training, coaching and consulting. 

The reason for the discussion was to eliminate variability of performance mid to late season. At the time, I didn’t recognize it as eliminating variability of performance. I just suggested to our football staff that, if we wanted to eliminate or minimize injuries to our players, we needed to keep their strength and endurance at a high level.  Other consistently high-level performing teams, like Nebraska and Penn State, had very aggressive in-season conditioning programs.  I respected the conditioning coaching at both of those programs and the records of the teams spoke for themselves.

The argument started and ended with this:

  • Coordinator: “What good is it if my linebacker can bench press 300 pounds but doesn't know where to go?”
  • Me: “What good is it if he knows where to go but gets his ass kicked once he gets there? Or if the guy that is supposed to be there is on the sideline because he separated his shoulder, blew out a knee or pulled a hamstring?”
  • Head Coach: “Starting next week, we’ll make sure our guys are working out at the end of practice every Tuesday and Thursday and we will include light lifting sessions during our recovery running and stretching sessions on Sunday.”

The variability of performance didn’t just apply to a single individual, but the performance of the team was impacted by the inability of one person to perform or perform well because of injury or endurance.  What an organization needs is a system and process in place to minimize lapses or lack of performance by individuals.

I believe it all starts with systems and processes in place to support the function and execution of the people expected to perform.  The organization needs to be strong and have endurance to support the skills of those going to the right place at the right time.

Take a look at the following findings from a Sales Effectiveness and Impact Analysis that we conducted for a sales team:

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Management is asked to identify, answer questions about the systems and processes in their organization that support the implementation and execution of effective selling by their sales team. The numbers and colors you see are reflective of how they answered the questions.  There are no “leap in logic” questions and findings here.  Just straight up math based on an individual evaluation by the manager.  If they said “yes” to five questions in accountability/tracking, they got a five.  In this example, the number is 2.

Forget about what the colors and numbers actually represent in terms of implementation or execution - just look at the variability of numbers in the red boxes.  This alone is a major contributor to the variability of performance expected of those to execute sales systems and processes that are designed to help them be more productive.  Looking at “accountability” alone should give you pause to think about your own organization:

  • Failure to have or execute a tracking system that looks at leading indicators for future sales success
  • Tracking frequency is hit or miss on critical “smart numbers”
  • There is a lack of automation thus making it easy for salespeople to make excuses about having time to record data needed to help them grow and improve.
  • If there is automation, in this case, there aren’t any standards or there is a lack of accountability to using the automation (score of 4). So, if you have incomplete data, or missing data or incorrect data, then how can an organization gather any reliable business intelligence to help support sales teams grow, correct problems or eliminate constraints in their sales approach?

If variability of performance is an issue - and it always is (see below) - then assess your systems and processes as you assess the variability of the individuals that make up your sales management and sales team.  That post is coming NEXT!

 


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Variability in Performance in Sales Teams, pt.2

Tags: sales management, managing sales teams, getting consistent sales results, variability in sales performance

Let’s start with the right people

This isn’t new.  Jim Collins in Good to Great clearly explains the concept of “getting the right people on the bus” and “getting those people in the right seats”.  Aside from that, however, there are other “people” components that have an impact on the variability of performance that are probably just off the radar of our thinking when we discuss ‘The Right People”.

There are three other contributing factors:

  1. The Executive Champion – The executive champion has to support the effort when things get tough. The executive champion has to be able to manage up and down when resistance begins to fight against change.  This leadership starts at the very beginning of the process of trying to get it right relative to minimizing/eliminating the variability of performance.  When we first started our engagement with the community bank at Key Bank, their fearless leader, Beth Mooney, stated time and again in all of our kick-off sessions that “This too shall NOT pass.”  Beth did a great job of anticipating the reactions of the participants and warned them early that they were not going to be able to “wait this out”.
  2. The people being trained/coached/motivated/instructed on what and how change was/needed to take place need to be coachable and trainable. In our studies of sales organizations over the last 20 years, it is clear that about 20% of the population is not trainable or coachable.  This doesn’t make them bad people. This doesn’t mean that they should be exited. BUT, if some of these people manage large books of business and, as a result, have become account managers instead of business developers, then there is going to be a variance in performance simply because they are unwilling to change.
  3. The trainers – Are they capable of leading people to a place where they themselves have never been? Think about a field general trying to lead a group of soldiers into a battle and that general had never experienced the stress, fear, and confusion of battle.  How can a trainer possible facilitate transformation discussions if they’ve never done it themselves?

Let’s talk about the right stuff

We are getting ready to submit a recommendation for a workshop at a conference where we’ve had the great privilege to speak for the last 6 years.  One of the topics we can submit content for is Insurance and Protection Products.  I’m anticipating that respondents attending the conference looking for a platform to speak about their insurance and protection products are also going to submit proposals. Those proposals, I'm assuming, will consist of how their insurance products can solve a variety of problems facing the prospects in the market that are looking to:  pass on an estate, transition their business, protect assets, avoid unnecessary taxes and avoid the risk of losing buying power to inflation. These will be very solid presentations…but they will focus on the wrong stuff.

You see, the problem at this conference isn’t a lack of understanding of how and why insurance and protection products are important to their clients.  The problem isn’t a product knowledge problem.  And I would suggest to you that when you evaluate your sales team and your sales team’s results, you would probably rarely arrive at the conclusion that your people fail to sell because they lack technical expertise or that the technical expertise needed isn’t available.

What you would find out is that one of the two factors below is the significant contributor to lack of results:

  1. Lack of effort
  2. Lack of execution

Lack of effort is a recruiting and performance management issue that needs to be addressed by training and coaching your management team rather than training your salespeople to “do more”.  Lack of execution has a number of deep-rooted causes that keep salespeople from asking quality questions, getting to decision makers, and uncovering motivation to change or take action.  Salespeople have been taught the techniques and the language, but they still fail to execute.  Why?  Consider the following root causes for failure to execute:

  1. Lack of desire to commitment to success in selling
  2. Failure to take responsibility for outcomes
  3. Unsupportive belief system about certain aspects of selling
  4. Fear of rejection
  5. Difficulty recovering from rejection
  6. Too trusting of prospects

These are just a few samples areas that can be remediated by training and coaching the right stuff.

Lets talk about the right way

When we started our business over 20 years ago, the primary technology for delivery of training was face-to-face instructor-led training.  A lot has changed since then and now there are many options for distance learning.  BUT WAIT – distance learning has been around since the 15th century… in the form of books!

Distance learning isn’t new.  It’s been redefined by technology, but there have been hundreds of thousands of sales eople trained and coached by reading books and listening to audio materials.  What made those technologies work are the same things that make distance learning work today – the ability to learn and study when it works for the learner.

I have listened to hundreds of hours of David Sandler, Tony Robbins, Mark Victor Hansen, Og Mandino, Zig Ziglar and countless others.  I have bookshelves full of books that I’ve read at 5:30am on airplanes on the way somewhere and late at night in hotel rooms.  The unavoidable truth is your training and development program must be delivered the right way.

  • Get the technical information delivered via written, audio or video form,
  • Use live webcast for discussion principles, tactics and ideas
  • Use live – interactive – preferably face-to-face – instructor led training (from someone that has already been where you want your people to go) for the soft skill development needed via drill for skill, role play and strategy development.

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The current state of building and developing an effective and consistent sales team is as tough as it has ever been for many reasons, including the difficulty recruiting talent and keeping up with changes in the buyer’s buying process.  However, the mobility of people and the availability of information via technology allows for training/learning anywhere at any time.

Make sure, when looking to deal with the variability of performance, you are dealing with:

The right people, doing the right things, the right way!

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Is Variability of (Sales) Performance a Problem in Your Organization? pt.1

Tags: sales management, managing sales teams, factors affecting sales results, variability in sales performance, how to improve sales results

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Why does variability exist? Let’s check in with an article by the American Psychological Association written in 1982: *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.  In addition to goal conditions, three potentially important contributors to performance variability are:

  • Situational Factors
  • Task Characteristics
  • Individual Differences

In the world of selling, certainly there are situational factors that change from prospect to prospect, client to client.  But, generally speaking, if you have a tight niche/market that you are attempting to capture, you can identify, plan and train for the variability in situations.

Task characteristics should only be variable if you have failed to implement a mapped, objective, centric-measured sales process.  This is the “engineering” aspect of developing a sales managed organization. This helps minimize variability in task characteristics.

The biggest and probably most difficult variable is the difference in individuals. The uniqueness of each fingerprint is expressive of the uniqueness of each individual you hire when recruiting for a sales team built for growth. However, there is science available to help you identify the variables that are consistent among your top performers as well as your bottom performers.  By using that science and implementing a consistent system of attracting, qualifying, interviewing and onboarding, you can improve the probability of success and minimize bad hires.

But, none of this matters unless you have an answer to the question: “Why eliminate variability of performance?”  I cannot possibly answer that question for you. However, along with acknowledging the real costs of recruiting, training and paying those that fail to perform, I can list some additional possible reasons why you might want to eliminate variability of performance:

  • The HR cost of managing PIP
  • Additional oversight required by management to manage underperformers
  • Use of training time and money with zero impact on results
  • Perception in the marketplace about your company – churn and burn
  • Strain on other members of the team
  • Impact of poor work ethic on those that perform as expected
  • Interpretation by others on the team that “it is okay to not hit the goal”
  • Unknown cost of lost opportunities
  • The real economic difference between expected sales and realized sales
  • Drain on the executive committee members discussion about the continuation of employment by those not performing

If your company is experiencing any of these items, then eliminating or minimizing the variability of performance must become a front burner issue.

I am certain that, when building a sales team for success, there has never been a discussion between a hiring manager and an executive that signs off on the approval of a hire where the hiring manager and the executive have a discussion like this:

Manager – “I think we should hire Joe Smith.”
Executive – “I agree because I believe Joe is going to be the most unbelievable average producer we’ve ever hired.”

I don’t believe that conversation ever takes place, but somehow there are people in the sales team who are occupying the middle standard deviations space defined as “the average producer”.  But, you didn't hire them with that intent, so how did they get there?

Is it time to measure and address the cost of variability of performance in your company?

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What to Trust When Evaluating Sales Performance and Talent

Tags: Sales Tracking, sales management, sales assessments

When evaluating sales performance - past, present and future - it’s difficult to figure out what information or data to trust when making decisions.  Just like investments where past performance is not a guarantee of future results, past sales performance does not guarantee anything for the future.  It gives you some, not all, insight into sales results, but it doesn’t tell you how the result was created.

Pipeline analysis (a great performance management tool) is a lagging indicator that can be used to uncover previous sales activity and give you some indication of future sales, but there are problems with that data point:

  • The sales person might be putting in data just to keep you off their back
  • Unless your pipeline is mapped properly with check points,
    then the probability of opportunities is subjective, not certain.
  • If the CRM being used does not provide reporting on conversion ratios from one sales step to the next, you certainly don’t have information needed for intentional coaching.

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Linda and I went to a “box store” to find appliances for a townhouse we had purchased.  We needed to replace all four major kitchen pieces: dishwasher, refrigerator, range/oven and microwave. We were working with a salesman and we were getting close to making a selection between models.  As Linda and the salesman were talking, Linda asked me to search for the ratings on the appliances.  This is what I found:

  • Refrigerator/freezer – 4.3 – 1,200 ratings
  • Range/oven – 4.2 – 2,000 ratings
  • Dishwasher – 3.2 – 1,600 ratings

I hadn’t looked up the rating yet when Linda asked me what I found out.  I reported the 4.3 and the 4.2; however, as I reported the 3.2 on the dishwasher, the salesman stepped back into the conversation and asked what the 3.2 was.  I told him it was the rating on the dishwasher based on 1,600 customer ratings.  His response was “You cannot rely on those ratings.  Those ratings are based on this model two years ago when it first came out – this is a newer version of the model.”

It was so hard for me to not reply with, “So I should trust the 4.3 and the 4.2, but not the 3.2?”  I didn’t want to go there because I know how I get when I challenge someone trying to sell me something. I'm a pain in the *ss.  I cannot help it when a salesman screws up the opportunity to handle something the right way and fails.  But, that’s not my point here.  My point here in this story for this article is this:

Your salesperson, and any sales candidate you are interviewing, will also refute anything negative you ask about, but will never debate the positives.

And that is a problem if you are not aware of that and deal with it when it happens.  Case in point.  We use Objective Management Group for evaluating both sales teams that exists today and future talent to hire.  The tool has been “tested” hundreds of thousands of times and is the most consistent and reliable sales talent evaluation on the planet.  (check it out)

With this business tool, we find a mix of things that are supportive of successful selling:  Strong desire, commitment, responsibility, and sales DNA.  And there are findings that indicate hindrances to successful selling:  lack of skills in consultative selling, asking questions, hunting, closing, and qualifying skills.

Time and time again, when we review the results with the sales manager or the sales person and we ask, “What did you think?”, most of the time we can count on the following:

  • I thought it was interesting.
  • I’ve taken lots of these in the past and you just have to take the results with a grain of salt.
  • I thought it was dead on.
  • I thought the findings really depend on different situations; some of the questions didn’t fit the way I sell.
  • There were a lot of things I agree with and a couple of things I didn’t understand or agree with.

We ask the sales person to then discuss the finding they want to talk about first.  Almost 100% of the time, they will want to talk about the things they disagree with. Obviously, those are the things that are viewed as “negative”.  Never, not once ever in over 20 years, has someone gone to desire, commitment, responsibility, hunting or closing findings that are positive and said,  “I don’t agree with this.  I’m really not committed, I don't have desire for success in sales, I make excuses when I fail, I suck at prospecting and I can’t even close a door.”

NOT EVER!

What they all want to focus on is the 3.2 rating to try and convince me that the negative findings cannot be true, BUT all those positive things, “Yep, that’s me.”

So, there you go.  Your salespeople, as well as the candidates, will do their best to convince you that all the positive data and outputs are accurate and true, but anything negative can be explained away.

Buyer beware!

Additional Resources:

In Managing Salespeople, as in Life, Failure is Not an Option

Tags: sales management, sales goals, Sales Strategies

A year ago this past August, I was released from University Hospital here in Cincinnati.  Doctors Augsburger and Correa had performed radioactive plaque surgery on my right eye.  The plaque stayed attached to my right eye for 5 days with a lead eye patch covering it.  I was confined to a lead-lined room.  On the 25th, they removed the plaque (disc), sutured the eye and then sent me home for recovery. I was back to work the following Monday.

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I share this story in an attempt to relate “life happens” to sales management.

Life happens in sales and sales management.  When attempting to manage a sales team, “life happens.”

  • The economy tanks
  • A top producer leaves
  • A new producer that you thought would set the world on fire is going on a PIP
  • The company has changed its product mix, offerings or pricing
  • A new competitor has come to town
  • A new compensation plan is being implemented
  • A new CRM tool is being implemented
  • The Department of Labor passes new regulations, changing the sales landscape for an entire industry 

Despite all the changes and all the “life happens” events that come your way as a sales manager, you are left with one ultimate objective – meet/exceed the sales targets established by the company.  Despite all the obstacles and challenges, at the end of the day, someone in the company is going to look to you and want to know if your team is going to hit the sales goal.

A month after my departure from University Hospital, I met with an oncologist.  Prior to the meeting, I had a blood test completed and a CT scan.  Both tests are designed to look for cancer cells possibly lurking somewhere in my body.  I am to continue this testing every 6 months for the next three years.  I will see my ophthalmologist once every 6 months.  At the end of each time period, all that matters is this: Did I go another six months and stay cancer free?

So, what do you do to get from diagnosis – life event, business event, etc. – to whatever happens next?  Answer: You do everything possible to improve the odds for success. That is what you do.

I have another doctor.  Dr. Peter Shang practices eastern medicine and is a former practicing oncologist.  When I visited with him the first time, he told me one really important thing:  Cancer hates a healthy body.  He told me that we needed to find out how healthy my blood was and make it healthier so that it could effectively fight any cancer cells.  He also told me that cancer loves sugar.  And he told me that regardless of how healthy I thought I was, I needed to get healthier.  This meant exercising 5 days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes a day.

Here are steps that are similar in personal health related problems and business problems:

  • Pay attention to the symptoms
  • Get a diagnosis to identify the root cause
  • Analyze the root cause and identify solutions
  • Determine if the outcome for doing nothing is acceptable
  • If doing nothing is unacceptable, take action
  • Check your commitment to stick to the plan – you must have a non-negotiable reason to stick to it

I just had the second of my six-month checkups for eye, blood and body scan.  All are good.  Also, I’ve continued to work, play tennis and golf.  I monitor my steps, my workouts, and my food intake.  I’d like to report that I’m completely off of all sugar, but I have my lapses.  I was in a great habit of not eating sugar and then, when I hit a body weight target, I allowed myself to celebrate with my greatest food weakness – ice cream.  (If you see me and we are dining, don’t let me eat dessert!)

I work out consistently, and I am healthier now than I’ve been in at least 30 years.  Every time I work out, I talk to cancer.  I tell it that it had better be ready for a fight because that’s what it’s in for.  I work out and think about others who are fighting the fight.  Doug, Ray, Cherie, Brooke and Jerry all are fighting the fight for health.  But… the major motivation is my wife, Linda. She is my non-negotiable reason to stay the course and fight the fight.

In business, you have to have that non-negotiable reason to fight the fight, to overcome the obstacles, challenges, and setbacks.  You are not always going to win the battle every second, every minute or every hour.  But, win the battle every day. Then your days become weeks and the weeks become months and the months become the first year.

In the words of the flight director of Apollo 13, “Failure is not an option!”

Additional Resources:

10 Uncomfortable Deeds that Will Make You More Successful

Download our free eBook, The Extraordinary Sales Manager

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