Sales & Sales Management Expertise

Desire and Performance Variability

Tags: managing sales teams, desire for sales success, managing salespeople, variability in sales performance

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“What you can conceive and believe you can achieve.”  - Napolean Hill

This is so obvious that any meaningful information could probably be expressed simply by stating:

If you have people with various levels of desire for success in sales, you will have variability in performance!

Done. 

Not really, but this isn’t going to take a long time either.

Many years ago, I heard Mark Victor Hansen (author, speaker and all-around good guy) present to the Cincinnati Association of Life Underwriters.  It was at our annual conference and he was our keynote speaker.  His topic was “Visualizing is Realizing.”  During his presentation, he made the comment, “Motivation is an inside-out job.”  I wrote that down in 1990, and I’ve used that phrase over and over again in our 23-year history as a company.

Time and again, sales managers, sales executives and presidents of companies ask me, “Tony, how do I keep my team motivated?”  I tell them that they cannot do that because it’s something their people have to come wired with. That's mostly true. Companies do have to have an environment where it’s possible for people to create reasons for staying motivated.  Compensation, contests, incentives, and recognition all play a part in keeping people motivated.  However, in the end, people have to have a really good answer to the question: “Why do I desire success in selling?”

Success in selling is very specific.  It isn’t just success in a vacuum.  It’s success in a very difficult role with very difficult challenges.  I was once asked why I was in life insurance sales.  I responded that I liked people.  The prospect said, “Bullshit. You’re in sales because you want to make a lot of money.”  I said, “Fair enough; you’re right. I do want to make a lot of money.”

But, money in and of itself is not the root desire.  It’s one of the basics that drive the desire. It’s represented in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  Money is just a way to take care of food, shelter, clothing, freedom from harm and security.  Traditionally, people that are very successful in selling have this one thing in common – they have lots of s**t to do that requires money.

Yes, sometimes people have a desire to be recognized as the best.  And they want to have self-satisfaction for a job well-done; but I assure you that none of that matters if there are bills to pay, kids to be fed, a college/mortgage/wedding to pay for or new cars to be driven.

With that as the foundation, let me make this as simple as I can to help answer the question, “So, how do I minimize variability in performance by focusing attention on desire?”

  1. Recognize that it is an inside-out job… so that means you have to recruit people that have huge desire for success in selling.
  2. Traditionally, desire is a result of people establishing goals.
    1. Your manager has to be leader in this. If they are not a goal setter (personal goals), then chances are your salespeople won’t be either.
    2. Your manager also has to set the example of goal achievement.
    3. Your manager has to create an environment/opportunity for personal goal setting.
  3. Your manager has to have the mindset that they must know what motivates their salespeople – why do they desire success in sales?
  4. The sales manager needs to recognize that it is their responsibility to help people raise their self-esteem by recognizing success in all forms when it happens.

As I stated in the beginning, the connection between desire for success and selling and the variability of performance is pretty obvious.  If you want to minimize variability in success, minimize the variability in desire for success.

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Variability in Performance – Let’s Talk Recruiting

Tags: recruiting sales people, getting consistent sales results, variability in sales performance

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Earlier, I stated that eliminating the variability of performance all starts with people, right?  And then, I proceeded to tell you that I thought that eliminating variability starts with systems and process.  Now, it’s time to talk about people and that means talking about recruiting.  Here are the big ideas about recruiting:

  • You don’t have to like it; you just have to do it.
  • You must be excellent at it.
  • You must know exactly what you are looking for – What is your *Zebra?
  • You must stick to your plan of hiring nothing but Zebras!
  • You must have an excellent onboarding system and process.

Companies hiring salespeople do not hire talent intending for that talent to be average.  Companies creating business plans do not put plans together with an end game of “Let’s be average.”  No one starts a company, starts a career or initiates a marketing campaign with the excitement of “I think this is really an average idea that will bring us average results and make us average in the marketplace!”

So, why should we use average, above average, okay, trending, making progress and “in line with out peer group” when describing our results?  It’s the wrong way to measure success or progress.  If you don’t intend on having average results, then don’t intentionally hire average people and don’t accept it when evaluating effort, execution or performance!

How do we know that this actually happens?

  • Companies use stack ranking and the sales managers/executives reviewing the sales reports brag about outperforming their counterparts in similar markets. If the counterparts are successful, then that’s a good analysis.  If the counterparts suck, then one team just doesn’t suck as bad as the other teams.
  • Companies use year over year performance. I get it.  I understand it because companies are trying to demonstrate that they are improving. That makes sense, kind of.  But, let’s suppose you are a sports team that plays 10 games.  Last year, you won 2. This year, you won 4 – a 100% improvement; however, you still lost 60% of your games!
  • The 80/20 rule doubled. If you look at most sales teams that have at least 10 salespeople, normally you find that about 36% of the salespeople are responsible for 90% of the results.  What the heck is the other 64% of the team doing?

How does this happen?  Recruiting, on-boarding, training and development, sales coaching and performance management. 

It is possible to fail in many ways…while to succeed is possible only in one way (for which reason also one is easy and the other difficult – to miss the mark easy, to hit it difficult.)   - Aristotle

How do you minimize the opportunity for failure in recruiting thus minimizing the variability in performance?  Answer: Have a system.  Have a system managed by quality people that are more interested in hiring quality people that will actually sell.  Have partners internally and externally whose objectives are aligned with the ultimate goal – creating a sales team built for growth.  Manage the process like you would manage any other process in your organization.

With all of that said, here are a couple of key things to consider:

  • Have a pipeline process. Imagine for a minute that you were talking to your salespeople about their prospect pipeline and they informed you that they didn't have one. What would your reaction be?  Why then is your company allowed to NOT have a candidate pipeline or a process to build a pipeline when necessary?
  • Have huddles to discuss internal activities designed to generate candidate leads. Internal ownership in the recruiting process is critical. Hiring an outside firm and them blaming them or using them as the excuse for poor hiring is not an option.
  • Profile the results needed to be successful rather than write and publish a job description. Look into what is being done by your most successful salespeople (*Note- These may not be the same people with the biggest revenue contribution). What are they doing? What kind of activity do they have, who do they call on, what is their average size case, close ratio and sales cycle?  How are they being managed and at what level do they succeed? Attract those that aspire to work and succeed at that level.
  • Assess for job fit, sales skills inventory and WILL to succeed in selling. The resumes are going to look good. References are pointless these days and almost all of them will have a decent profile on LinkedIn.  So, use a pre-hire assessment tool so that you have the same set of sales skills inventory questions being asked the same way all the time.
  • Screen for the skills you need. Just as an example: If phone skills are important and the salesperson will often face prospects that are not terribly over-excited about getting a call from a salesperson, then you must first screen for that skill, that talent.  If closing for an appointment is important for sales people to do, then make sure that this candidate closes you for the next step.

These are the big ideas in recruiting. This is the start of the transformation of your sales team.  Stop hiring those people that end up on the wrong end of the 80/20 curve.  Be a leader and break the trend of accepting mediocrity from people you hired to succeed.

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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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