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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”.

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!

“How’s It Going?”

29 Apr

Okay, so the big-big boss is in town and asks how it’s going.  I know it’s tempting to tell her how well your son is doing on the little league team…but fight off that temptation.  I’m only saying that your boss may be a nice woman, but let’s put business first and then brag about the home run later.

A good top sales boss wants to know five things;

  1. Results – past quarter, last month?
  2. Status – how do the future results look?
  3. Focus – what are you concentrating on?
  4. Needs – how can I help you succeed?
  5. Other than 1-4, how’s it going?

So when you’re asked the question, have the answer ready.  Wait a minute.  When will I be asked the question?  How will I know when to have the answer prepared?

Well, let me go through the answer to the original question then you can decide.  Is this a question I should wait for the big boss to ask, or is this a question I should ask myself everyday?

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Think of yourself as a manufacturing plant.  Raw material goes in the front door, workers convert the raw materials into components, assemble the components and poof, finished products roll out the back door.  Every plant has a general manager whose job it is to continuously make sure that raw materials arrive on time, that the plant is operating at capacity, and that the quality and quantity of the products rolling out the back door meet expectation.  In our profession the raw materials are prospects, the components are presentations & proposals, and the end products are contracts or sales.  Guess who the general manager is?

So whether you’re answering the question for yourself or the big boss doesn’t really matter, the answer should be the same.

Results – How many sales did you close last quarter?  Were they the right size?  Are you happy with those results?  Was last month better?

Status – This is really a question of sales pipeline.  Is your “real” pipeline bursting at the seams or is it chock full of “pipe dreams”?  How many prospects do you really have and where in the sales cycle do they reside?  How many are closeable in the next 30 days?  I hope your pipeline is healthy because this is going to become your commission check over the next several months.  If you have to admit to yourself that your pipeline is really shaky, then what are you going to do about it?

Focus – This is the “what are you going to do about it”.  You are the general manager of your sales territory.  If there’s a pending problem then your job it to fix it before it gets worse.  If your pipeline of prospects looks good on paper but you know that most of those prospects are on life support then it’s up to you to flush out the real prospects, and put the others on hold.  If your real pipeline is anemic you’re going to have to rightsize your hot prospect list and develop an action plan to bring it back into a healthy state.  If you’re not sure what that action plan should be then you’ll have to muster up the courage to ask for help. 

Needs – Okay your results have been acceptable but not to your expectation, you’ve gone through your pipeline and admitted that of those 50 prospects only 15 are healthy.  You’ve decided that you’re going to commit yourself to adding another 10prospects this month, while moving the 15 forward at least one step in the sales cycle.  Fantastic!  But now is not the time to be a hero.  Ask for help.  What is the one tool that would help ensure the success of your action plan?  Is it an improved presentation?  Is it better sales collatera material?  Lead generation?  The bigger question is, when I ask for help will I be considered a complainer?  I will tell you in no uncertain terms (as an experienced big-big), that if you have given me short concise answers to results, status and focus…I’m am going to listen very closely to what you need.  And when I get back to my office I’m going to make sure you get it.

So as a former big-big here is what I always was hoping for.  I arrive in town, sit down with the regional sales director, go over results.  Tonight we’re having a team dinner.  Since I haven’t met you before I sit down next to you at the table.  After letting everyone settle in the RSD gives me the big intro, then I give everyone my business overview and reaffirm the top 3 iniatives.  I answer a few questions then it’s time to place our orders.  While we’re waiting for our salads I introduce myself to you and ask how’s it going?  What are you going to say?  Here’s the worlds most perfect answer (please edit according to your territory).

“Thanks for asking Greg.  Last quarter was okay, last month was even better (you may want to add in a FEW numbers).  But I scrubbed my pipeline and I need to add no less than 10 more good prospects if I’m going to reach my goals…I’m willing to do all the hard work to get these prospects into my pipeline but I need a little help from you…”  WOW!  Someone this organized and such a good manager of their territory is going to remain on my radar screen for a long time.  And if someone like this tells me our lead generation program isn’t working, I’m going back to HQ and make sure it get’s fixed.

Now that we know each other…tell me about your family.

The Best Cold Call Script…Honest!

25 Apr

Before writing this script to suit your business please consider this;

 

No one likes making cold telephone calls (or in person) because a similar number of us don’t like receiving them either.  Why?  Because there are several perceived risks;

 

  1. You are going to waste my time.
  2. If I agree to see you, you’re going to leave a great big feature dump on my shiny desk.
  3. You are going to ask for information that you haven’t earned the right to know.

 

So, what are the objectives of the cold call?

 

  1. Minimize the risk in speaking with you (that’s why you only ask for 2 minutes)
  2. Minimize the risk in setting up an appointment (only speak about benefits, never features, advantages or any other indication of a pitch)
  3. Don’t ask questions.  If they agree to the appointment you may be able to get away with one or two questions but use care!  You just distinguished yourself from everyone else who will call.  Why take a chance on ruining that first impression.
  4. The ONLY other objective of the cold call is to set an appointment.

 

Telephone Script – I would recommend not tampering with everything in bold type.

 

Hello Mr. Smith, this is Greg Deming with Sales Performance Advisors.  I’d like to take two minutes to tell you why I called then you can decide if we should talk more…are you okay with that?

 

Most of the sales leaders I speak with today tell me they are concerned with the same issues that I faced when I ran large national sales organizations:

 

  1. They know that individual sales effectiveness varies dramatically, with only 59% of reps meeting or exceeding expectations.
  2. Almost 40% of top sales officers say that coaching in the field needs improvement in terms of frequency and quality.
  3. Finally, less than 50% of sales management executives felt their organization was able to consistently hire reps who were capable of succeeding.

 

Does this sound familiar?

 

Companies that I have worked with tell me they are confident that struggling contributors are easily identified and that field managers understand how to develop people to the next level of productivity.  Field managers tell me they are better equipped to hire the right people to begin with, and also better able to help people succeed.  They feel they are a part of a high performance organization.  Most importantly an effective solution turns field managers into leaders & world class trainers.

 

Are you interested in meeting?  It won’t cost you anything to discuss this further, and who knows?  It may be costing you not to.

 

The key for you to follow is keep it short, honor the prospects concerns, summarize the needs you are best able to address and also summarize the benefits that your customers (clients) enjoy.

The One Best Sales Rep Interview Question!

22 Mar

Use the process carefully…choose you final question with care!

Interview questions fall into four categories;

  1. Functional Skills – Those “know how” skills that are necessary to perform tasks that are routine.  There are valuable questions here that can expose the candidates education, and training.  Some deeper questions can help you uncover the interviewee’s perception of their role, and understanding of sales process.  This is a particularly important field of questions for small to medium sized companies that may not offer in-house training.
  2. Product knowledge – Just how important is product knowledge?  Does a communication sales rep need to know what reports a call center system is capable of generating?  Does a cabinet sales person have to know how a compound joint is fastened?  The depth and breadth of product knowledge required is really driven by how your customers make buying decisions.
  3. Industry knowledge – Is it necessary for your sales people to understand your industry, and your customer’s industry?
  4. Leadership skills – This is the most overlooked line of interview questions, yet this competency is the primary driver of the sales person’s success.  Just because a sales rep does not have direct reports does not mean they do not need leadership skills.  Self leadership is the fuel that drives the sales person to utilize all those functional skills.  These are the “soft” skills that are more difficult to train.  Entrepreneurial drive, impact & influence, self-confidence, effective communication and identifying the needs of the prospect come to mind.

There’s no one question that can ensure you make the best hiring decision.  However, your hiring process should be organized enough so that you ensure that all four categories of interviewing focus are covered in the process.  If the last interviewer is asking the same line of questions that the first person asked are you really making the best use of the process?  Think of the interviewing process as a funnel where 100 candidates begin the process and 96 are eliminated.  So perhaps the first step is a 10 minute screening interview where the candidate’s industry knowledge is explored.  The next step may be a 30 minute interview focusing on product knowledge and some fundamental sales skills.  A traditional one hour interview is required to dive deeper into functional skills.  These interviews should always be conducted by a field sales manager.  If the field of candidates is still large I would advise that another field manager conduct a second interview drilling down further into functional skills.

So if your interviewing process is working correctly you now have reduced the number of candidates from 100 down to 4.  And now there is time to change your focus from product, industry and functional knowledge to self leadership skills.  To this point you have narrowed the field to those candidates that are capable of doing the job.  Focusing the final interview on self leadership will help you make the best selection not on capability to succeed, but on the likelihood of that success.  Which is the one candidate that is most likely to succeed and become a peak performer?

Having interviewed thousands of sales candidates, hiring hundreds and seeing those people succeed I would offer this advice.  The one leadership competency that seems to always differentiate average performers & peak performers is entrepreneurial drive.  The only way to determine if a candidate possesses this leadership competency is to ask a situational question, and to listen closely for the behaviors that exemplify this competency.

So what is my favorite all time final interview question?  “Tell me about a time when you were driven to achieve a goal, you faced substantial resistance, and had little internal support.”  This one question should take 30 to 45 minutes to discuss.  And now for the hard part.  You must listen for the candidate’s behaviors.  You must guard against directing them towards an answer, and you can only give them credit for what they did.  Too often “we” slips into the conversation.  No credit for “we” in this interview.  So what behaviors are you listening for?

  • The candidate set their own objectives (probably higher than expected), and competed against a self defined standard of excellence.
  • Tirelessly pursued attainment of that goal, perhaps for years.
  • Showed tenacity by persisting, taking numerous, sustained actions over time in the face of obstacles.
  • Identifies the resources needed to attain the goal, and then takes entrepreneurial action to obtain those resources.
  • Never gave up.

In the end you’re looking for that special person with the attitude of Gene Kranz…remember him?  Ed Harris played Gene Kranz in the movie “Apollo 13.”  Gene’s most remembered quote was “failure is not an option.”  I believe that in every great sales person there’s a common theme.

What’s That Prospect Thinking?

17 Mar

At some point in your the sales cycle your prospect has decided they have a need, hopefully because of your world class probing skills.  As you try to help them move from need, through analysis and finally decision time…just what are they thinking?

At a conscious, or subconscious level buyers are always trying to get comfortable with the balance of performance, image and price (PIP).  Think of these three drivers as concepts that are perceived differently by each of us.  Also understand that perceptions change over time.  In our current economy we must all recognize that the relationship between these three drivers will be changing dramatically.  Marketing must understand these shifts and adapt products and messages that will be appealing.  Sales will have to rework sales presentations, ask new questions and think more about the answers they are hearing.

So what are these three concepts and how should I deal with them?

  • Performance – for consumers this concept is going to change dramatically.  Think about the most expensive purchase a consumer makes…a home.  Bigger is better is a dead concept.  Consumers will not sacrafice long commutes to work in trade for a McMansion.  Certainly families form, expand and contract so actual space needs will change.  But the concept, bigger is better is gone.  For business buyers there will be a similar shift.  Product/service claims will all be tracked.  Proof will be examined.  Investments that will not deliver a return for years will not be purchased.  If you thought companies were short sighted before, you haven’t seen anything yet!
  • Image –  this concept is alive and well.  Right?  Image is alive and well but constantly changing.  For consumers the image is more about what something means to me.  For the homebuyer they may want a smaller home closer to work, but they will still want that home packed with what is important to them and their lifestyle.  Some images may become anti-conspicuous.  Is the Prius the new BMW?  If you don’t think companies will change their views on image I have one question for you.  Would you apply for a job selling corporate aircraft today?
  • Price – despite the tone of this posting I do not believe that price will come before all other drivers, but price must make sense.  Consumers may be ready and willing to buy, but are wary about their ability to buy.  Staying with the home purchase example there is pent up demand for quality newer homes, but the fear of the unknown continues to keep these buyers on the sidelines.  Hyundai has done an excellent job in addressing this fear with their recent Assurance Plus program.   For businesses there will be a categorical shift.  If your product is directly related to their product/service core offering then your value proposition will get traction.  If you cannot prove this direct correlation, price will become more important to the buyer.

So the buying process is the same, more difficult certainly.  The shift will be in the buyer’s perceptions and balancing of performance, image and price is going to change dramatically for the next several years.  Consumer preferences will shift and so will business buyer’s.  If your sales presentation was about performance & image and you dismissed pricing as an issue, you are going to have a very difficult time in the coming months. 

Archimedes said “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.”  I have always loved that quote, but for the time being the earth is shifting and so should your sales approach.