From Sales Hero to Leadership Zero

17 Jul

I’m sure you’ve heard the notion that “your best sales person does not always make a good sales manager”.  Every time I hear this I just want to shake my head and walk away, but I can’t.

Okay, full disclosure here.  I do have a training session “BEST Sales Leader Training”.  But I’m not going to pitch my service.  I really just want to share what I know.  Second disclosure; there is plenty of evidence that the notion has is somewhat true, but not because your best sales reps can’t be a great sales manager.  The fact is most employers don’t have the time or resources to give the newly promoted rep a “push-start” primer on team leadership.

I always begin training sessions asking participants to think about the best leader they ever worked for, and to suggest a one to three word phrase that would describe what made this leader so great.  Their suggestions are fairly predictable; great coach, mentor, great communicator, strong character, trustworthy, and trusting.  If you’re interested in more detail you can read the post “Leadership from the eyes of those who chose to follow”.  After discussing the drivers of leadership, I ask for the same input on the worst leader you ever worked for, and those answers are also predictable.  Micro-manager, untrustworthy, unclear expectations, devious, lack of communication, and I often hear the phrase “my way or the highway”.

The comparisons are pretty obvious, but the more interesting thought is that there can only be one best and one worst in a lifetime.  Most managers are going to fall somewhere in between the best and worst, and if you took the time to formalize a 360′ upward feedback tool most managers would get mixed input from the same group of team members.  You might get one person who says the manager was a great communicator while another says he/she didn’t make it clear what was expected of me, and a third might report that he/she didn’t give me the freedom to do my job.  The conclusion is not rave-worthy.  Each member of the manager’s team is at a different stage of development and therefore have differing needs.  When the manager does not assess their needs the team member struggles.  This is not my theory, it’s called Situational Leadership and the theory was based on the work of Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard back in the seventies.  I’ve trained people on this approach and it’s very good, but it’s also very esoteric.  So unless it is routinely reinforced it fades away rather quickly.

However give this some thought.  Who is best at uncovering needs, proposing a solution, and then getting the customer to accept the solution as their own?  The best sales reps are the extraordinarily accomplished with these skills.  Sales skills, coupled with the ability to decipher a sales pipeline, can indeed be re-purposed to create a leadership approach which will take all individual team members to the next level of productivity.

So if you were a Sales Hero, and got the promotion but not the training; don’t despair.  Think of each member of your team as customers.  Use those same skills that made you a Sales Rock-Star to become “the best leader I ever worked for”.

Typical Sales Metrics…for sales managers who have never sold before.

6 Mar

Never been a sales person but now you find yourself managing a group of sales people?

Whether you’re the CEO of a midsized company or a senior manager who has been assigned the task, you’re going to get a lot of well-meaning suggestions on how to manage.  Press hard on results!  Inspect what you expect!  Always move out the bottom 20% of performers!  If you don’t show a willingness to move out non-perfomers then you’ll never gain their respect!  Expect a lot and you’ll get a lot.

Well I will offer up a suggestion also, based on decades of managing hundreds of sales people.  Here are a few thoughts for you to consider before I offer up some management metrics;

  1. Sales people are people.
  2. Sales people are one of the only employee groups that have to fill up their own in basket.
  3. Sales people are one of the few employee groups that have to fight through 5 failures to get one success.
  4. Sales people are one of the few employee groups where 30 to 100% of their compensation is entirely dependent upon their skill, will and tenacity to persevere on a daily basis.
  5. Sales people are the only people who actually go out every day with the sole focus of building your top line revenue.

If you’re going to be a successful sales leader then you should expect a lot.  But you won’t get a lot unless you give a lot…of yourself.

Okay so here’s the metrics I promised.  You should first identify the sales process (cycle) because all sales metrics spin-off the sales cycle;

  1. Suspects – a list of prospects who are likely to be qualified for your products or services.  Most companies buy lists of prospects.  Most people call them “leads”, but that’s a misnomer.  Leads are qualified prospects who have indicated an interest in knowing more about your product or service.  If your database of suspects have not responded to your marketing efforts then they are suspects. 
  2. Prospects – These are suspects who have been qualified.  Generally qualifying prospects has to do with financial ability, a potential fit as a target and is likely to have latent or blatant need for your product or service.
  3. First Presentation – A first meeting between your sales people and a prospect.  There is an exchange of information, your sales person is trying to qualify the prospect and uncover those latent or blatent needs.  The prospect is trying to decide if further discussions warrant any further investment of time.
  4. Needs Analysis – The sales person has found out enough about the prospect to see a good business fit and the prospect sees enough potential benefit to investigate the opportunity in more detail.  This stage of the sales cycle is all about investigation.  The results of that investigation will populate a proposal which is usually presented in the form of a proposal.
  5. Formal Presentation – Your sales person has worked through contacts, influencers, gatekeepers and key influencers to get decision makers into a formal discussion of the needs analysis findings.  The sales person uses this meeting to shape a discussion around the business fit of a business relationship.
  6. Decision Pending – This is where great sales people separate themselves from good sales people.  A good sales person has done an excellent job in the formal presentation and awaits the answer.  A great sales person has developed their contacts over the previous five stages to turn-key influencers into coaches.  They artfully work those relationships so they have enlisted several “internal sales people” who are selling the product/service even when the sales person is not there.
  7. Negotiation – Usually at this stage the prospect is trying to shape the offering to further fit their needs around price, performance and image.
  8. Program Approved (Implementation) – At this stage a good sales person will hand off implementation to an account manager or service group.  A great sales person will stay intimately involved until they are sure the new client gets precisely what they wanted, and that their employer gets all of the potential revenue & account penetration possible.

Okay…so where’s the metrics?

The metics that define the effectiveness of the sales person are the success ratio’s (conversion or close ratio) from First Presentation (step 3) to Implementation (step 8).  For business to business sales people the overall close ratio is usually around 16%.  In other words for every 6 new prospects that a sales person meets with will become a new client.  And here’s your AHA moment.  If you have a sales person who is falling dramatically below expectation you have a choice to make.  You can fire them and hire another sales person.  I will warn you that you only have a 1 in 3 chance that your new sales person will be better than the one you just fired.  Your other option is to peel this onion back another layer and find out why that sales person is failing.  If you’re willing to invest that time your odds of improving results are greater than 1 in 3!

Here are some pretty dependable step by step close ratios;

  • 80% of prospects who receive an effective first presentation ( Step 3 ) will want to understand the potential benefit ( Step 4 )
  • 65% of prospects who participate in a needs analysis ( Step 4 ) will be willing to coordinate a Formal Presentation ( Step 5 )
  • 85% of prospects who participate in a Formal Presentation ( Step 5 ) will make a decision ( Step 6 )
  • 60% of prospects that make a decision ( Step 6 ) will want to negotiate ( Step 7 )
  • 60% of prospects that negotiate ( Step 7 ) will eventually implement ( Step 8 )
  • 16% of prospects that will receive a First Presentation ( Step 3 ) will eventually become a client ( Step 8 )

If you’re willing to peel back one more layer you can set up a sales excellence template.  Let’s say you need for sales people to deliver 16 new average sized clients every year.  You can now take that goal and run it backwards through your sales cycle and create a template.  On an annual basis your sales people should have a sales pipeline that looks like this;

  • 100 First Presentations
  • 80 Needs Analysis
  • 52 Formal Presentations
  • 44 Decisions Pending
  • 26 Negotiations
  • 16 Implementations


So now you know all the metrics you need to know.  But what are you going to do with that underperforming sales person?

If you compare an individual’s sales pipeline to the sales excellence template you can easily identify exactly where that struggling contributor is failing.  For instance you may find that sales rep. A is failing miserably.  But on further examination you see that they are extraordinarily good in the latter stages and extraordinarily weak in the early stages of the cycle.  Conclusion?  Improving this sales person’s ability to set appointments and make compelling first presentations may turn them into a sales star!  In other words…why start from scratch and take on all the risks of a new hire until you know if you can help struggling performers catch up?

Next steps?  Meet with your sales team.  Get them to validate your sales excellence template and step by step close ratios.  Then run your meetings based on these metrics.  Strugglers will begin to see where their pain is and ask for help.  If you are willing to help them…they will always return the favor ten fold.

Sales Managers! Sorry to be the one to tell you, but you’re not perfect.

21 Nov

Do you consider yourself to be an excellent sales manager?  I imagine you do, it’s difficult to imagine that any manager would continue to perform any task in a way that wasn’t working well.

But if you’re ever lucky enough to experience a formal upward feedback process fasten your seatbelt because you’re going to get some shocking results.

In my first sales manager roll I was ready to become that perfect manager.  I tried my hardest to be fair, treat everyone similarly, give clear direction and begin to build a high performance culture.  When I got my first feedback I got a lot of compliments, great scores compared to my peers…but I also read some shocking comments and saw that I had a lot of room for improvement! 

Let me share some of the shock.  “Greg plays favorites”, “he doesn’t make it clear what is expected of me” and “he doesn’t give me the freedom to do my job.”

How is this possible?  Me?  But my overall scores were some of the best in a very large company!  How could I still get these kinds of comments?  Since my upward feedback came from direct reports and from another level down I began to investigate.  But first a little secret.  If you want to know more about what you are doing that will drive people’s impression of your leadership you’re going to have to share some of the information about your feedback.  In other words, you’re going to have to admit that you’re not perfect, but you care enough to want to change.  Once I decided that I was willing to do whatever it took to become a better leader the rest became a little easier.

So I began to call a few of my direct reports.  I shared with them where I was doing well but also shared my lowest scores.  And even though those lowest scores were not a disaster they were still my lowest scores and they needed improvement.  I shared a few of the comments made and asked them what I was doing that was damaging my credibility as a leader.  Once you’ve opened that door get ready for some very interesting information.  I remember asking one of my direct reports, (still a close friend today) what I was doing that would cause people to believe I played favorites.  Bob told me that when he held meetings that people would comment “Greg called me about that subject last week and he said…”  Well after several weeks of hearing this one sales rep nearly broke down and blurted out “Greg never calls me about anything”.  That was really interesting!  I thought it was a very good trait to always be reaching out and getting information about what was going on in the field, but was totally unaware that the way I did it was making some people feel left out.  You can say they’re too sensitive, but what I learned was that my intentions are irrelevant!  People will form opinions about your actions, not your intentions.  Bob gave me another example; he told me that some people commented that I always sat by the same people at meetings or team meals and this may be leading people to believe I had favorites.  From my perspective I was flying around the country nearly every week, sometimes visiting four cities…that’s four meetings, four half days of joint calls and four team dinners.  I was sometimes exhausted and probably did look for a seat near people I knew.  But if you put yourself in a sales reps shoes and think that Greg has come to town four or five times and always sits by the same people you’re probably feeling very left out.  Both of these were pretty easy to fix.  I continued to make calls to reps to get their input, but I kept a roster by the phone and put checks by people I called so that I wasn’t calling the same people all the time.  And I continued to fly around the country attending meetings, making joint sales calls and going to team dinners.  I just made one little change, I looked for a seat next to someone I didn’t know very well.  You know what?  Very small changes, very big changes in my leadership credibility.

So what’s the learning?  For me it was that I do not own my leadership credibility.  My credibility as a leader is owned by the members of my team and they will give me credibility when I earn it, not just because I want it.

So I think that you probably are a good manager…at least in your mind anyway.  Are you brave enough to find out if you’re as good as you think you are?  If you have the courage to open yourself up, then you have the potential to move from a good manager to a great leader.

Sales Team Effectiveness Assessments

1 Oct

“I need your opinion of my sales organization overall with a development plan…oh yeah…I need it next week.”

I have heard this before…and it spells trouble.  Four out of five times it means trouble for me.  Can I assess a sales organization in a week?  Yes, but your satisfaction with the output will be in doubt…and that’s how I can get into trouble.

I always work from a copyrighted formula;

Sales Results = (Sales Skill + Sales Will) X (Execution + Leadership)

Each of these variables has 8 drivers.

Sales Skills (primarily B2B)

  1. Prospecting Skills
  2. Presenting Skills
  3. Probing Skills
  4. Listening Skills
  5. Closing Skills
  6. Pipeline Management Skills
  7. Product Knowledge
  8. Industry Awareness

Sales Will

  1. Recruitment Process
  2. High Performance Focus
  3. Target Compensation @ Plan
  4. Peer Recognition
  5. Family & Friend Recognition
  6. Tactical Sales Plans Aligned with Strategy
  7. Incentive Plan Clarity
  8. Effective Field Coaching


  1. Goal Clarity
  2. Tactical Prescription
  3. Performance Metrics
  4. Defined Performance Management Process
  5. Joint Call Activity Levels
  6. Readiness Assessment
  7. Coaching & Counseling
  8. Culture


  1. Strategy Development
  2. Strategy Communication
  3. Tactical Definition & Measurement
  4. Readiness Planning
  5. Sales Participation
  6. Performance Management Process Execution
  7. Leadership Style
  8. Recognition & Communication

These are the 32 drivers of sales results.  Based on your industry and sales channels they will vary somewhat.

You start the assessment process with the understanding that there is a limit to the organizations resources and ability to execute change.  With this in mind, the key is to find the largest gaps and then to formulate a “do-able” organizational development plan that will begin to close those gaps.

I begin my assessments by examining the drivers at a high level, identifying the major gaps and then drilling down.  This saves me time and saves my clients significant money.  Once the four to six gaps are identified I review and discuss them with the assessment sponsors to find those gaps where the solutions can be bundled into a singular development initiative.  Again, this approach is designed to save money, time and ensure execution.

Why bother with an assessment?  It saves time, money and ensures sales growth.  Why spend money on negotiation training if your issues stem from a lack of field coaching?  Why waste time perfecting a lead generation program when your individual contributors are handicapped in their search for client pain?  Why would you continue to give up margins just because your sales pipeline is anemic?  Why continue to throw good money into an incentive plan when your recruiting process keeps bringing in candidates with low skill and low sales will?

Great organizations have a common approach to problem solving.  Assess, plan and execute. 

If you want to grow sales, you’re best approach is to start at the beginning.

When Sales Promotions Don’t Work Out

10 Sep

So often you hear of sales people failing to make the grade after being promoted.  Why is this?  Are sales people simply not cut out for more senior positions?  Are the skills that make a sales rep. shine no longer valid as the promotions come?

Over the years I have witnessed sales people struggle mightily after promotions.  Usually they don’t fail, but they are not able to make the same outstanding contributions as a manager as they did as a sole contributor.  To understand this you should first think through how the roles change from sales rep. to field sales manager, to regional Director/VP.

Sales Representatives – The core them of any sales position is making the sale.  While each industry commands different responsibilities and practices, the primary focus is common to all – to successfully complete the sales.  This includes;

  • Making initial contact with prospects, qualifying prospects.
  • Meeting with prospects to identify, understand and seek concurrence of prospect needs AND the implications of not addressing those needs.
  • Maintaining continuous communication with prospects throughout their buying process, while building a coaching network.
  • Continuing to pursue the sale in the face of rigorous resistance.
  • Identifying & communicating the benefits of addressing the prospect’s needs to decision makers and key influencers.
  • Closing the sale.

So along comes the first promotion…field sales manager.  So the refined skills that made the sales rep. a stand out are a good basis to work from but look how the job changes.

Field Sales Manager – The theme of this position is driving the team to sell.  The sales manager cannot personally ensure goal attainment, they must reach goals through the efforts of others.  The first level sales manager is a player coach.  The best usually invest about 30% of their time helping close the most valuable prospects, and then invest 70% of their efforts ensuring that the team results are maximized.  This job is very complex.  It is most natural for a newly promoted sales person to mismanage their time.  They may very well spend 70% of their time helping close business and only 30% of their time developing the team.  This will most often result in a sales plateau.  So in addition to the skills listed for sales rep the sales manager has additional skills required,

  • Concern for Order – Like Stephen Covey documents in his 7 Habits book it is very easy for the manager to run from task to task trying to meet all due dates while investing what little time is left helping close business.  An effective manager will arrange their calendar to ensure they are spending time with all team members.  Maybe not equally the team results will drive more success than the manager’s personal sales contribution.
  • Coaching and developing others – This is more difficult than it sounds.  Many of the skills that made them successful as a sales rep have moved from conscious efforts to subconscious habits.  It is a difficult transition to move from doing to helping others do.
  • Creating & maintaining effective work teams.  This includes internal team members as well as collaborating with other symbiotic departments.

Okay, let’s say our candidate is an incredibly entrepreneurial and is able to make the transition from rep to sales manager.  What’s next?  Regional Director/VP.

Regional Director/VP – The core theme changes from driving a team to sell, to managing a larger organization.  The job has taken a turn towards analytical thinking, matching resources to potential, creating efficient infrastructures of materials and organizational resources to support the regional sales efforts.  The RVP does not create the sales strategy, but uses their skills to ensure execution of the plan.  The RVP must communicate upwards to clearly and honestly keep senior management appraised on forecasts, product and customer input.  Additionally the entire region looks to this person as the Company’s idea of how they define leadership.

  • Analytical Thinking – The RVP must be able to rise above the level of any one particular customer or prospect.  They must look at the sales pipeline as an aggregate indication of the effectiveness of all teams.  They must be able to translate pipeline analytics into action plans including training, product/service redefinition and as a tool to coach & develop their sales managers.
  • Using Business Expertise – By now the successful incumbent has accumulated enough industry, product and customer experience to understand not only what the sales pipeline looks like…but is able to anticipate what it should look like and is able to formulate tactical plans to guide the regional to sales plan attainment.
  • Enabling the team – The incumbent is accountable to communicate to senior management exactly what is needed in order to make plan.  When sales teams face obstacles they rely on the RVP to identify & acquire resources to help them overcome these roadblocks.
  • Training and developing people – The RVP must make themselves accountable not just to their direct report’s development, but for every member of the regional sales team.  Keeping up routine inspection of individual, team and regional pipelines can help the RVP see trends.

So why do people struggle as they move along this track?  Well, I’ve worked within some very large sales organizations and made it to top sales officer.  From my perspective the failure of people falls on the shoulders of their employer.  Field sales is one of the only departments where you sit miles away from your boss.  You do not get the daily coaching sessions.  The accidental conversations that take place in the hallways simply never occur in field sales.  To make matters worse I have not seen leadership training offered to newly promoted sales managers.  There are not training courses on how to interpret the sales pipeline.  How to create developmental action plans around the analytics of the pipeline.  We do a disservice to the organizations most valuable commodity…people.  Not only do we leave the newly promoted manager swinging in the wind…but we withhold excellent leadership from the sales people who depend upon their manager to help them succeed.

I know this is ending up in a rant…but if you want different results perhaps you need to do things differently.

What’s More Important? Sales Cycles or Buying Processes?

12 Jul

Unformly CRM platforms focus on the user’s sales cycle.

No wonder so many sales pipelines can’t forecast sales with at least 90% certainty.  The sales cycle assumes that the sales person’s last task completed is a good indicator of where the customer is in their decision process.  Far too many sales people mislead themselves and produce a pipeline of prospects that is chock full of unqualified opportunities that may have already stalled out.

Think like a buyer…you’re somewhat interested in a new leading edge product, you think it may save your company some money but you need to collaborate with other department heads to ensure that the new service is good for all departments.  Meanwhile that pesky sales rep keeps calling wanting to know when you’re going to make a decision on the proposal they sent you.  What?  I’m not even sure I want any product, let alone if yours is the best.

Sales cycles are simply a list of sequential tasks that a sales person performs in order to move from introduction to close in an orderly fashion.  BUT please!  Align those tasks with the customer’s buying process!

Are You a Hard Helper or a Hard Closer?

24 Jun

I think most of us have the same visual image of a hard closer.  A slick dresser, everything’s perfect including the shiny shoes.  They know more closing techniques than anyone else on the team.  You say your prospect has put off the decision for a week or two and they chime in “you should have used the take away close”, before you can finish your sentence.  There are some things to be admired about hard closers and they will get a few deals that only they could have gotten.  But does that mean that they are the master sales people?

Then we have the hard helper.  They understand & honor the prospect’s buying process.  They work hard to collaborate with multiple contacts within the prospect’s organization…to build consensus & identify obstacles.  They are continuously active and prospects love them!  You know who else loves them even though they will never meet them?  Shareholders!  Clients that are sold by a hard helper stay sold for a very long time.  The net present value of these clients is markedly higher than the average client.

So which one is better?  It’s an interesting question.  The top 2% of your reps are actually both hard helpers and hard closers.  But they’re a little different from the person alluding to in the first paragraph.  They close very hard but asking tough questions about the impact of doing nothing!  They keep reminding the prospect of the agreed upon needs & benefits and emit urgency on taking action!  The next 18% of your top performers are hard helpers but not hard closers.  They do an excellent closing job but may back off when they perceive the risk of a no. 

The next 30% of your reps might just be going through the motions.  They are performing tasks.  Make a call.  Make a presentation.  Generate a proposal.  Follow up on the proposal.  Ask for an order.  It’s okay I guess because they bring in enough business to warrant a congratulations.  So let’s call this group the “as expected performers.”  So the question is how do you turn as expected into above expectation.

I don’t really know the answer to that question without knowing your company & products.  But I can tell you that most often I have found the issues to be;

  1. There has never been a core theme to sales training.  You can’t expect continuous improvement in sales effectivenss if you keep hiring the trainer de jour.
  2. First level sales managers are smart, but they need help.  Give them an ounce of leadership training and watch the numbers soar.

I’d like to know your thoughts on this topic.  Please leave a comment!