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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.


Managing Sales Reps with “Attitude Problems”

21 Apr

Sometimes they simply have an opposing point of view.  Sometimes they are disrespectful of other team members.  Other times they simply refuse to do tasks commonly associated with what it takes to optimize sales results.  What’s their problem?  What’s your problem with them?

As a field sales manager you are accountable for delivering the optimal results possible with the assets assigned to you.  You are going to have a set number of sales resources.  Forget about the discomfort that you may feel from a rep with an attitude.  Stay focused on your job…optimal results!  First things first.  Are they making the goals? 

If not then you must take direct action by coaching and counseling.  You have to look at the territory as a resource and if the sales rep is not delivering that you’re not operating at full capacity.  You can afford an under-performing territory if you’re confident the numbers will improve.  You cannot afford to support an under-performing rep forever.  The next step is the most difficult one a sales manager has to perform…an autopsy of the sales pipeline.  Put on your stethoscope and begin to assess where in the sales cycle the problem resides.  Once you see where prospects, or lack of prospects, are clogging the pipeline you can next figure out what sales skills are lacking.  Most likely culprits?  Prospecting, presenting, probing or proposing are the most common ailments.  In this case the poor attitude is a symptom of a SKILL problem.  This is the most commonly overlooked solution because when we see a attitude problem we automatically begin inspecting the symptom instead of the illness.

If the rep consistently meets the goals but gives you or your team attitude problems then the plan of action is much more complex, but if left unaddressed it’s going to get worse.  High sales will is driven first by high sales skill.  But some people regress.  So I would recommend that you divorce yourself from the notion of “motivation”.  Motivation is what happens when there is a belief, held in expectation that something personally important will happend when a task is performed.  You need to go a little deeper.  Will is defined as the combination of desire, incentive, security and confidence.  When someone that used to have high sales will regresses, then one of those four drivers has reversed.  You need to figure out which driver has reversed then address the problem:

Desire – this is the closest to motivation.  It’s possible for people to lose the desire to perform tasks.  They simply feel that they have outgrown the need to perform the task, or that the they have already captured what was important to them and are now unwilling to perform certain tasks.  The most common example is prospecting.  Say the rep has a goal to make $100k per year.  Once they get to that level they stop performing a task they hate, like making old fashioned calls to set appointments. 

Incentive – there is a very strong link to incentive and desire, though incentive is a little more subtle.  Incentive can be a self imposed limit, such as a low income goal.  Incentive, as a driver of will, can regress quickly.  You see this all the time.  Outbound telephone calls disappear when the pipeline is full.  Then when the pipeline of prospects thins out people forget what got them there.  It becomes your job to remind them that the task of outbound calls is how they filled up their pipeline.  In other words, make sure they see the linkage between the task and their success.

Security – This is a tricky driver of sales will.  If you grew up in sales like I did then you know that security is fleeting.  You can feel a loss of security because of your own perceptions, or because of things going on around you that are outside of your control.  The most obvious are mergers or downsizings.  The less obvious are management changes or a change in the sales process.

Confidence – A change in confidence can come from within or from the outside world.  You can imagine what more senior sales reps felt when their company went from emailed weekly sales reports to an online CRM.  Confident people will speak out and ask for help.  Those that lose confidence will be afraid to ask for help, they don’t want to be discovered.  People are subject to a regression in confidence more today than ever before because the span of control for sales managers continue to get wider and wider.  The less communication there is, the more likely that a reps perceptions will cause damage to their confidence.

So, in the end, I hope that your view of attitude problems has been altered.  Your job as sales manager is to dig a little deeper and find out how you can help.  However, if the rep is the “bad apple” sooner or later they will ruin the rest of the team.  You may have to take action quickly.  Your team depends upon you to show composure and care for people.  Be the best coach and leader that your team ever had.  You’ll enjoy your job and over time you’ll create a team of winning professionals.

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.

Why Leaders Get Followed – Pointers From 297 People Who Chose To Follow

20 Feb

Does every manager lead, inspire and motivate their team to new heights?  Of course not, but some are remembered for years…even decades by members of their team.  People have told me they have fond, warm memories when I ask them to tell me about the best leader they ever worked for.  So instead of writing an article about the dynamics of leadership, I though it may be more useful to view leadership from the eyes of those that follow.

I wanted to know what people thought about the best leader they ever worked for.  I had asked the question numerous times in leadership training classes, but the people attending were speaking out amongst peers so I wasn’t sure they were speaking from the heart.  So I posed the question on LinkedIn, a business oriented social media site.  In LinkedIn there are groups where you can post a discussion/question and members of that group are free to comment.  I posted the question on two sales groups, a CFO group, two HR groups and a general executive group.  297 people responded, offering 495 words and 132 phrases.

The results were both confirming to some of what I have seen before, but at the same time I read words I had never hear in a classroom environment.  Words like “servant” were offered more than once.  I followed up with some people to ensure I understood their meaning as many comments came from around the world.

Visionary was the word most commonly mentioned 1st, and was the most common word offered overall.  Integrity and inspiration came in tied for 2nd.  I won’t bore you by listing all the words, but the longer I thought about them, the more clearly I saw what people thought differentiated this leader from all the others.  When I began to bundle these words under 5 traits it became clear what people value most from leaders vs. everyday managers.  The traits I identified were; technical competency, leadership competency, character, composure, and care for people. 

Competency/Functional – I was surprised that this trait was not more highly valued.  Comments from around the world with many submissions from the technology world still barely registered.  The two most commonly offered words, knowledgeable and competent, only appeared 9 times out of 495 words.

Competency/Leadership – This trait had double the offering of the next most valued trait (of course leadership was part of the question).  The most common submissions were visionary, inspirational, empowering and mentoring.  Of interest to me was that when I sent an email to thank people for commenting in the discussion they offered more information about these traits but rarely mentioned the leader.  I only note this because I found it very different from those who wrote back about character and care for people.

Character – This was the 2nd most commonly valued trait, and easily the most common word used was integrity.  Honesty, humility and trusting were all mentioned often but integrity was offered more often then the other 3 combined.  The tone of follow up discussions was interesting.  This trait was definately highly valued but again, they spoke more about the trait than the person.  My inference was that this trait was the entrance ticket, not the main attraction.

Care for people – This is the 3rd place trait but don’t dismiss this if you aspire to be someone’s best leader!  The words most commonly offered were; Trustworthy, caring, supporting and compassionate.  Now for the most interesting part…this is the trait that naturally evokes the most emotion.  I got unsolicited emails from several respondents thanking me for posing a question that reminded them of a particular person.  More than one told me how warm the memories were.  This was inspirational to me because it seemed that even though this was the third place trait in my survey it may be the trait that many good leaders do not have, or at least do not display.  Statistically this may be in third place, but those that experienced it absolutely loved it.

Composure – This is an interesting trait because people seem to appreciate behavior in a leader that is opposite to those that are following!  In a time of dramatic change, they speak of being calm under pressure.  When the environment is calm and sleepy, they appreciate passion over any overlooked principle.  The top two words were passionate and listens.

This was a very interesting excercise for me and I hope enlightening for you.  If you are inspired to become that one leader that someone will remember…maybe even decades after they worked for you then I would suggest you focus on the following.

Leadership competency – the most high valued trait.  Driven by perceptions of vision, inspiration and empowerment.

Character – the second most valued trait.  Warning!  If anyone spots ANY lack of integrity then move on.  Always do the right thing even when no one is watching.

Care for people – maybe 3rd place in people’s mind but 1st place in their heart.  Perception will be driven by your trustworthiness, compassion and support.

Composure – 4th place BUT a lack of composure will always ruin all the hard work you put in the other traits.  People appreciate calm under pressure and passion over principal.

Sales Will

10 Jan

Sales people armed with world class sales skills may still produce sub-optimal sales results.  To produce optimal results sales skills must be complimented with a strong sales “will”.  The will to succeed is far more than outward enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm is contageous and exciting to be around but by itself will not push the organization to the highest level of output.

Sales will, at an individual and organizational level is driven by four variables;

  • Desire – the belief held in expectation that something important will happen if the task is successfully accomplished.
  • Incentive – the individual or organization sees a benefit that is proportionately motivational to the the difficulty of the task.
  • Security – Frequently the security that sales people want is delivered by credible field leadership.  They want to know that when they open themselved up for a challenge that there is a fair exchange of risk and reward and that their manager is there to help and support their quest.
  • Confidence – First the sales person gains confidence in themselves as the learn, practice and execute critical sales tasks.  For instance, setting appointments with new prospects.  Only when one has learned a script correctly and made hundreds of outbound calls will they gain the confidence they need to do that task well.  However it is more than believing in yourself.  It is also a confidence that sales people are supported with the tools they need and that the sales resources are aligned with helping move the prospect forward in their buying process.

To have high will all four drivers must be high.  So even if you hire a sales person with high will, your organization can detract or compliment a sales person’s sales will.  Sales Will, can be driven by the sales person’s perception of the following sales resources and programs;

  1. Compensation Plans – The proportion of salary and variable compensation is important.  If you want peak performers to substantially out earn those who make smaller contributions you need to put more emphasis on variable compensation and less on salary.  Peak performers (the top 10%) should make double the total income of average performers and at least triple that of marginal contributors.  Compensation for struggling contributors should be minimal so that they are continuously motivated to improve.
  2. Incentive Plan Design – Incentive plans are the “Holy Grail” of what you want from the sales people.  No matter what you say in town hall meeting or field memos, the sales people will figure out how to maximize their income through the incentive plan.  Plans should reflect a clear line of sight from the lowest level of sales position through the highest level of field manager.  Also the KISS principal holds true here.  Sales people are goal setters and you should make it easy for them to translate their personal goals into tactical sales plans.  Finally the incentive plan should be aligned with the sales strategy.  Too many times I have seen sales strategies that rely on increasing acquisition of Fortune 500 clients while the incentive plan is tilted towards selling more smaller accounts.
  3. Peer Recognition – For the sales person being recognized this is a huge confidence builder.  For those that are not recognized this is managements chance to demonstrate an example of the the results & behaviors they are see at important.  Peer recognition takes place in a variety of ways; recognition at gatherings (especially national & regional meetings) but it can also take place through the generation of local, regional and national reports that are distributed company wide.
  4. Family & Friend Recognition – This may be one of the most powerful tools to grow sales will.  Trips and other events allow winners to proclaim to others that they have achieved a high level of recognition.  Many companies sponsor recognition events designed to thank peak performers, sometimes with spouse attendance, for the contributions they made.  Some companies will have two “clubs” that sales people can earn.  Usually there is a “President’s Club” for the peak performers and then there can be a “100%” club for everyone who succeeded in delivering to a challenging quota.
  5. Training – Until recently company sponsored training was held classroom style with all or most sales people required to attend.  The subject matter was broad and included lectures, discussions and role plays.  Today many very good training programs are available online.  It is very important that a combination of both are used.  When the field manager identifies a particular sales skill is needed they can require that sales person to take the appropriate sales training class.  However, the most important training activity is the interaction between the sales manager and the sales representative.
  6. Coaching – Everyone needs a coach.  Coaches help spot small changes, they help players train and most of all they help players try new approaches that may produce dramatically better results.  First level field managers should be a coach first and a manager second.  Coaches also hold us accountable to lean relearn and practice those skills & tasks that make us optimally effective.
  7. Sales Support – “We’re from HQ and we are here to help”…every heard that one before.  Sales support can help sales people succeed or they can make sales success harder than it should be.  This should be a primary concern for the top sales officer.  Every time a sales person perceives a sales support function as an attempt to catch them doing something wrong, the sales will dimishes.  Every time that same organization treats each sales person as “their customer” the will to do the sales job increases.
  8. Reporting – Sales reports can build sales will or begin to erode desire and incentives.  Many of the companies I consult with view sales reports singularly as a management tool.  I try hard to get them to see publication of sales results can be used as an exceptional peer recognition tool.  Publishing national sales rankings from a variety of sorts can be very motivational for your peak performers…and also very motivational for strugglers, especially if you publish standings all the way down to last place.  On the opposite side imagine being a hard working sales person hidden away in a secondary market.  You keep your self organized and push hard to show your worth!  However, no one in a management position or headquarters ever sees the reports that showcase your results.  How long will you continue to push yourself?

Sales Skills

22 Dec

There certain skills required for a sales person to help prospects successfully navigate through their purchasing process vary by industry and distribution channels.  For my purposes I will create a straw sales competency model for a company that sells products used commonly by other businesses and that the predominant distribution channel is direct.

The first four skills are critical skills that the sales person uses to gain access to decision makers & key influencers, to raise the prosects awareness of their needs, to probe for business fit and finally to help prospects make the purchasing decision.  The second four skills are those that are necessary for the sales person to become a knowledgeable resource, to effectively & efficiently manage their territory and prospect pipelines.

  1. Prospecting – The ability of the sales person to recognize potentially valuable customer relationships.  To find avenues of introduction to coaches, key influencers or decision makers.  The effective sales person will utilize a variety of tools to generate leads including networking, on-line sources, company originated leads and good old fashioned “dialing for dollars”.  It is essential that every sales person have a two minute sales pitch and a telephone script that is committed to memory  (my opinion).  All skills are squarely aimed at identifying opportunity and gaining access.  This is the one skill that fills a pipeline.  No matter how talented a sales person is in other skill areas, a gap here will always put a governor on their utimate contributions.
  2. Presenting – While prospecting is a sales person’s least favorite activity, most sales people feel they shine when it comes to presenting.  However presenting is so much more than standing in front of people and telling them everything you know.  Generally there are two types of presentations.  The first is an exploratory first discussion, usually with a coach or key influencer.  The intent of this meeting is to exchange information and to probe for a business fit.  I do suscribe to the ABC of selling (always be closing), it is most likely that the close on this call is to move to the next step of the sales cycle, usually a needs analysis.  The other type of meeting is a formal presentation (see #4).  This meeting is generally for a discussion of a proposal and to sell the business fit between the two companies.  This meeting may seem like a “love fest” when a talented sales person delivers a flawless presentation.  This presentation is complicated and many sales people are not as competent as they should be.  Topics, tones and delivery are critically important!  Senior level decision makers will buy more from people that sell business fit, and demonstrate a knowledge of the prospect’s company.  In other words they are more likely to buy because of the fit and what you know about them & their company than what you know about your own company and products.
  3. Probing – The most consistently high performing sales people are not surprisingly the best at probing.  They probe for decision making process, players & roles, current practices, potential obstacles, uncovering gatekeepers and they are always seeking out the components of a superior business fit.  This is an area that cannot be over trained, or over practiced!
  4. Proposing & Closing – There are several elements to the proposal presentation meeting.  Introduction, agenda, customer overview, your company overview, the business fit and next steps.  Depending upon your industry, company and products the amount of time invested in each element will vary.
  5. Industry Knowledge – Sales people must be infinitely knowedgeable about their industry and should have a good understanding of the prospect’s industry.  The more the sales person understands about the prospects industry the more referrals and recommendations they will receive.
  6. Product Knowledge – All sales people must know everything about their products.  The knowledge must go beyond the specifications of the product, the must know how the product is used!  Spending time with your customer service delivery group, your operations and within customer’s operations are all splendid investments that will yield great returns over time.  As important as product knowledge is, it is also important that this knowledge is shared sparingly.  Prospect are only interested in enough product knowledge to assure themselves that they are buying a product/service that will work for them.  Product knowledge should be crammed into a proposal, not a presentation.
  7. Sales Pipeline Management – With the installation of CRM the importance of the sales pipeline management has become increasingly important because many companies use CRM to forecast sales.  Errors in prospect assessment can make forecasting at least inaccurate if not misleading.  In addition to correctly assessing prospect pipeline each sales person should be able to correctly identify the obstacles and tactical plans to move the prospect to the next cycle step.
  8. Resource Management – Sales costs continuously move higher and it is the job of every sales person to judiciously apply the resources necessary to acquire new accounts.  Expense management is thought to be a task for sales managers but the sales representative can be the solely determine the necessity of utilizing some centralized resources such as the number of people attending prospect meetings, the utility of centralized prosposal development etc.  Great sales people will call in the cavalry to acquire new business.

This formula and a description of the drivers is copyrighted.  I am publishing this information with the understanding that readers are free to use the insights, provided they reference it correctly.