Tag Archives: Interviewing

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.

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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.

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

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.

Psssst… hire the quiet one…

9 Feb

So which candidate is will you give the job offer?  The quiet one that answered all your questions very well, or that incredibly outgoing candidate that could barely stay seated?  Leaning towards the firecracker?  After all, who doesn’t prefer the smiley super enthusiastic candidate?  Besides everyone else on the interviewing team is going to have the same preference.  Right?

Don’t click that back button yet, let’s think this through.  Enthusiasm, defined by dictionary.com has an interesting definition for this word.  Enthusiasm is “a source or cause of great excitement or interest.”  So when someone shows a great deal of enthusiasm are they showing you a personality trait or are they revealing a very strong interest in the subject?  I’m all for great excitement as long as that emotion transfers to the prospect.  And just to throw a damper on this prospect… how long will that enthusiasm hold up under pressure?

However, if you want to be happy with this decision twelve months from now, you need to find out more about this enthusiasm, and I would beg you to consider “will” first.  Okay then, what is will?  One definition is “purpose or determination, often hearty or stubborn determination; willfulness: to have the will to succeed.”  Where does this will come from?  Strong will is a product of desire, incentive, security and confidence.  Interestingly security and confidence only come about once someone learns how to do a task well, and then repeats the act often enough for it to become second nature.

Just so you don’t think this is a semantics discussion let’s put the comparison to practical use.  Let’s say that you have decided that the four most important skills for this sales job are prospecting, presenting, probing and closing.

The enthusiastic candidate tells you he loves prospecting.  He can’t wait to learn more about your lead generation programs.  Your “composed” candidate tells you about her four favorite sources for generating target lists.  She tells you about her system of emails, sourcing for networking introductions, and finally about how she sets aside a full day each week to make old fashioned appointment setting phone calls.

Your enthusiastic candidate can’t wait to tell you how he likes assembling just the right team to make client presentations.  For weeks ahead of time he works internally to get the team excited about the prospect and the role they will each take in the meeting.  The other candidate makes it clear she has goals of making no less than three presentations each week to new prospects.  She works from a preset presentation format because she wants to ensure that she is able to focus on finding out current practices.  She reveals that if the prospect does less than half of the talking then she failed.

Your firecracker tells you how he likes finding out as much as possible about his prospects.  He can’t wait to learn of prospect needs so he can reveal how their company can satisfy those needs.  The other candidate tells you that she feels the questions she asks, and the timing of those questions are her secrets to success.  She talks about open ended questions, qualifying probes, directional probes, and using closed probes to confirm needs and trial close.

Finally, the more enthusiastic candidate tells you his closing ratio is the best in his current company.  He tells you he NEVER gives up, that his pipeline is filled with prospects who simply haven’t said yes yet!  The more reserved candidate tells you how she ensures she has enlisted a coach within the prospect company.  She tells you how important it is to ensure that her coach is highly credible with the decision maker.  Finally she tells you that if the final presentation with the decision maker has not occurred with four months she seeks out a new coach.

So it’s decision time.  Which candidate get’s the job?  High enthusiasm or high will?

Okay, I will make two admissions. 

First I have never been accused of being over exciteable.

Second, if it were my decision…I would keep interviewing until I found a very high skill, high will sales person with a good level of enthusiasm.  However, if these were my only two candidates, I would choose high will every time!