Tag Archives: coaching

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

Execution

  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

Leadership

  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!

What Is A Quality Sales Organization?

21 May

When networking with other sales reps early in my career I began to see correlations between the various sales organizations and the type of sales people they attracted & retained.  It was very interesting to hear people describe their sales cultures, compensation plans, management’s leadership style and the employer’s focus on client satisfaction.  Over time I was promoted several levels, each new role required a relocation to another part of the country.  Through networking I continued to accumulate a diverse collection of perspectives from sales managers from a variety of industries.

My career journey led me to NYC leading a National Account group.  This was more of a business development role leading a team of 8 people and managing the relationships with a dozen accounts that generated $1.3 Billion in annual sales.  This was the capper to my experience as business development forces you to consider client satisfaction, a strong interaction with operations, client profitability and new sales.  I won’t bore you with the details but we did create a very interesting client service agreement.  Each quarter we contracted four goals with our clients.   Two goals came from the client and usually included one customer service goal and one goal that would help our contact attain their major job objectives.  We also then had one goal that the Account Director was able to set that would help them achieve greater account profitability and one sales goal (like an introduction to a sister division) that would be validated only after the two client goals were met.  This was a great tool that minimize attrition and creating a very positive climate for cross selling & account expansion.  After two years this portfolio grew to $3 Billion annually and we did not lose any clients.

My final career destination was to build a new sales organization within an existing Fortune 500 company.  I poured everything I learned into the culture of that sales organization and it paid off royally.  In four short years we moved from non-existant to an organization acquiring over 5,000 new clients annually, producing an incremental $180MM in sales with each new annual batch of clients.  The NPV of these clients was nearly double that of any other client portfolio.

So here is what I learned about sales cultures and what makes a “Quality Sales Culture”. 

There are three parties (constituencies) that are affected by the culture you build.

  1. Clients – Your focus on making reasonable commitments and then driving over-delivery will payoff in a huge way.  The Net Present Value of your client base is driven by retention rates and gross profitability.  You can easily model the value of high customer satisfaction by raising your client retention rate by 5% and improving gross margins by 1%.  This is the value of ensuring that your culture demands a high customer satisfaction rate.  I dumbed down these numbers.  You can acheive much better benchmarks if drive customer satisfaction into your sales culture.  It will not only make them believers but their closing ratio’s will be dramatically better.
  2. Shareholders – This is the easiest constituency to satisfy or dissatisfy.  If your Business Development Efforts focus on customer service delivery within a cross selling framework, and your sales efforts are highly disciplined around skill, will, execution and leaderhip it is nearly impossible to disappoint investors in your company.  I do believe that investors have now learned that mid term results trump short term returns.
  3. Employees – Why bother?  Because clients and shareholders will never get the best possible outcomes if your employees are distracted.  Sales people and account managers should get all the direction & support they need to create healthy, profitable client relationships.  People who are distracted by poor leadership, non-existent training or poor customer service attitudes will never be able to deliver to their potential.

So what’s the conclusion?  Senior Leaders must balance their focus.  I know that in this economy the shareholder will get more attention than employees but in the end that’s a bad tasting medicine that we know is good for us.  But you still need to balance your focus reasonably.  Focus 80% on shareholders, 10% on clients and 10% on employees is a losing tactic.  When the economy begins to improve you will have a lot of issues to fix and you may miss out in that growth.

Assuming you have some employee goodwill on your asset sheet, in today’s economy I would recommend a focus of 45% on shareholders, 35% clients and 20% employees.  I think you can get through the next 18 months providing you keep the communication level high so employees know they’re valued but investments in them are on the back burner for the short term.

In the longer term my focus would be 40% shareholder, 30% clients and 30% employees.

If you are interested in more discussion on this topic please leave a comment with the specifics of your interest.

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.

Hiring The Right Sales Manager

3 Apr

The core theme of a sales manager’s role is to drive the team to sell.  Though they may be the best sales person on the team, if they spend 100% of their time helping close business then sales results will plateau when their selling capacity is reached, and you will find that other team members have not developed.  This “halter” is a problem that many companies face as they try to migrate to the next level of growth.  As usual the best approach to solving a problem is to anticipate it, and solve it before it emerges.  So this article will focus on finding a sales manager who can grow beyond your needs today.

Driving the team to sell is a three legged stool.  Being effective at all three is important and requires a different set of competencies.  You may not get all the competencies you’re hoping for, but you must have confidence that given support, the candidate you select has the will to learn the skills.  The components are :

1.  Selling to large Accounts – When larger prospects are identified it is crucial that the sales manager become actively involved in selling process.  Whether or not they take the lead role depends upon the skill and will of the sales representative.  Regardless, the sales manager must feel accountable for ensuring that this enterprise opportunity succesfully navigates through their buying process.  The manager must, at all costs, ensure that there is a complete understanding and consideration of customer requirements before making decisions and taking action.

  • Identifying the Needs of Prospects – The sales representative must gather timely, direct information about customer requirements.  If the sales person identifies the opportunity early enough in their buying process they can influence and shape those requirements.  If they enter the sales cycle later in the prospect’s buying process they will be forced to conform to whatever requirements are already defined.
  • Entrepreneurial Drive – Tenacity is the most important ingredient in any complex sale.  If the sales rep’s will begins to fade over time, the manager must insert themselves into the process.  To be of high value to the sales representatives your manger should demonstrate that they compete against a self defined standard of excellence.  They tirelessly purse a goal until it is successfully attained.
  • Meeting & Exceeding Customer Expectations – Retaining clients is equally important as acquiring clients.  The first step in client retention is to make realistic short & long term commitments, maintain contact and then to exceed expectations by ensuring delivery of promised service.  Your sales manager must understand that brand equity is built one transaction at a time.

2.  Managing the Team – No matter the tenure of your sales representatives, their skill and will to do sales tasks will change over time.  Your manager must create an atmosphere in which sales people are completely comfortable asking for help.  At the same time they must be able to rapidly determine developmental gaps that are becoming unrecognized sales obstacles.

  • Coaching & Developing Others – It is unfortunately true that 45% of managers hire sales reps that are not likely to succeed.  This problem is exacerbated by the fact that 56% of managers do not conduct routine win/loss reviews and 36% of managers do not effectively identify which sales reps need coaching.*  If you are not equipped to help the manager succeed then get them the help they need.
  • Creating & Maintaining Effective Work Teams – The manager must create an atmoshphere where individuals can work together as a team in pursuit of a common mission.  The behaviors you’re looking for are; encouraging multiple points of views, harnessing the necessary resources to help team members succeed, establishing a positive climate (see article on “Why Leaders Get Followers”) and nuturing a commitment to the mission.
  • Directing the Team – Your manager must ensure that the team completes tasks and delivers targets.  There are times when coaching & good relationships are not enough.  The manager must be more direct and take action if necessary, without inflicting damage to the team environment.  Behaviors to look for are; aligning people behind a strategy even when decisions are unpopular, using authority productively to achieve results and setting expectations clearly while communicating the boundaries that exist.  In short, the manager must be adept at managing performance.

3.  Managing the Territory – whether the assigned territory is national or market specific, you will depend upon the sales manager to optimize results.  In order to effectively manage the situation the manager must be motivated to reduce uncertainty and stay focused on those intiatives that will yield the greatest return.

  • Concern for Order – Reducing uncertainty requires an insistence on timely, accurate information.    You would see this drive expressed in such ways as; monitoring & checking information (CRM), insisting on clarity of commitments (conducting win/loss reviews), setting up and maintaining systems of information.
  • Analytical Thinking – This may be an optional skill for your consideration.  If the sales manager will be your “Top Sales Officer” (CSO) then I would strongly recommend you look for this competency.  If the sales manager will report to an RVP, who reports to your CSO then this is a nice-to-have skill.  I freely admit that it is difficult to find analytical thinking skills in a pool of sales management candidates.  You are more likely to see good lateral thinking skills.  But in this rapidly changing economy, where buyer preferences are changing at incredible velocities then this analytical thinking skill is very important!

The sales manager role requires broad and deep knowledge of selling, account relationship management and leadership.  One would expect that the candidate would have accumulated the knowledge they need for selling & account relationship management.  The company has a responsibility to provide the new manager with orientation & training around leadership.  Unfortunately most companies do not provide a shred of training on sales leadership.

 

 

* Statistics from CSO Insights “Sales Performance Optimization” 2009 Survey Results and Analytics