Tag Archives: performance

Sales Team Effectiveness Assessments

1 Oct

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

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

I always work from a copyrighted formula;

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

Each of these variables has 8 drivers.

Sales Skills (primarily B2B)

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

Sales Will

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


When Sales Promotions Don’t Work Out

10 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Single Biggest Impact On Sales This Year!

7 Mar

As a CEO or top sales officer you may be the cause of sub-optimal sales results.  How?

Field Sales Leaders generally have multiple accountabilities, each one competing for their time;

  • Revenue – overall production, margins, pipeline and making joint sales calls.
  • Predictability – forecast, CRM adoption and usage.
  • Cost of Sales – time utilization, resource application, pursuit costs.
  • Sales Development – quota attainment, turnover ratio, ramp up time, coaching, training and general development of team members.

Unfortunately the Time Management Matrix in Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” comes back to haunt us again.  In case your misplaced your copy, the third habit is putting first things first.  My overall take was that we are always reponding to those items that have a due date (urgency, but little importance). and in doing so we steal time from more important tasks simply because there is no due date associated with them.  Guess which of the tasks above does not have a time frame urgency attached to it?  Give up? 

If you guessed coaching, training and general development of team members you would be right.  So if the top sales officer of any company want’s to know the one thing that will have the single biggest impact on sales THIS YEAR it would be to free up time, and demand that time to be invested in assessing, coaching and developing all team members.  Okay, so you’ll get around to it next quarter, right?

In the movie “12 O’Clock High” (1940) General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) is assigned to a poorly performing bomber squadron.  The group was demotivated, and their current leader mired himself in administrative duties when he wasn’t busy commiserating with his group.  The first thing Savage did was to get out of the office and fly lead in the missions.  He didn’t do this to become a member of the team, or to show what a good pilot he was.  He did this to find out where the team’s gaps were and then lead them back into high performance.

General Frank Savage (in his first address to the squardron)  : “There will be a briefing for a practice mission at 1100 this morning. That’s right, practice. I’ve been sent here to take over what has come to be known as a hard luck group. Well, I don’t believe in hard luck. So we’re going to find out what the trouble is”.

So, Chief Sales Officers, if you want what ever the optimal results are for this year think about this option.  Clear out the in-baskets of your field managers and insist they invest no less than 50% of their time assessing, coaching and training their sales people.  It is more important this year than ever before.  Do it this week.  No!  Do it today!

Downsizing The Sales Organization – Ensuring The Best Possible Outcome

2 Mar

I was truly hoping that I would not have to write this article, but the reality is that the majority of CEO’s will need to include the sales organization in staffing reduction initiatives.  Is it really possible that your company will decide to eliminate sales or account manager jobs when client acquisition & retention is so important?  The answer to that is yes, and the higher the salary base (fixed compensation) of those positions, the more quickly that directive will arrive.  One last comment before we dive deeper.  Many companies will not be profitable in this economy.  Companies do not go out of business because they’re unprofitable, they go out of business because they run out of money.  Your job has always been to maximize the money coming into your company.  For the next several quarters, your job will also be to minimize the money leaving your company.

So, as the top sales officer in your company you have a choice.  You can wait for the orders to come down and scramble to meet whatever deadline is imposed on you, or you can begin now to think through the best possible method & process and have a good plan ready.  Hopefully you are that strong, credible person described in “Why Leaders Get Followers”.  If I were you I would create a -10% solution, and a -25% solution.  But first a few questions.

  1. Can you categorize your fixed compensation expenses?  You may want to consider the following;  A) Customer acquisition (sales),  B) Customer retention (account management), C) Operations (CRM, incentive admin etc.), D) Support (anyone in the field who does not have a quota or direct customer accountability).  You need to understand where the fixed compensation expenses reside.  Understanding these numbers will help you think more creatively. 
  2. Are there any other expenses that can be annihilated before eliminating jobs?  Company Cars?  Rent?  Memberships?  Travel?
  3. Are there any operations that are now out of alignment with your company strategy?  (i.e. inside sales group soliciting small businesses while your curremt strategy does not focus on small businesses)
  4. Are there any creative solutions?  Would your organization be better off implementing a 10% reduction in salaries rather than a 10% reduction in workforce?  Careful, this may be more palatable but you will have adverse turnover if you do not manage this correctly.

If there is no other solution but to reduce the number of sales and account managers you have a challenge in front of you.  You can huddle with your field management team and come up with a list of jobs to eliminate, or you can create a process that will distill the best contributors from your group.  I would focus on the process and the more transparent, the better.  I am creating an in-depth process for publication, but for now I would suggest the following:

  • Extract quarterly sales results from the prior 3 years.  You need to rank contributors by quartile and summarize.  Refrain from using performance evaluations if possible, they are often biased.
  • If you have a good CRM program run a sales pipeline report.  But be careful, the pipeline can be chock full of dead prospects.  You can easily scrub the results by putting a time frame parameter.  For example run a report that only shows the pipeline of those prospects which have graduated in the sales cycle steps within the last 30 days.  This should show you the pipeline of each person with “active” sales progress.
  • What are the three to five most important sales competencies?  You must identify the most important self leadership competencies, and define them in terms of the action steps are best practices.

Having led several large “right sizing” processes of sales organizations I hold a strong conviction that assessing sales people fairly is a three step process.  You must consider past, present and future contributions.  I know this sounds wacky, but it can be done.  In fact, when you perform the tasks bulleted above you are half way there.

  1. Prepare an assessment of the previous 12 quarters for all sales people with more than one year of tenure.  You can best compare results by characterizing results in quartiles.  Obviously this exercise summarizes past contributions.
  2. Each representative’s sales pipeline is the best indication of the contributions they will make in the near future (present).  Take care to sort and cut this data to eliminate “hope” from reality.  If your sales cycle is 6 months perhaps you should only count prospects who have moved cycle steps in the last 30 days.  If your CRM system is not robust enough for this excercise you’ll have to enlist the help of your field managers to manually scrub the pipeline.
  3. Assessing the skill and will of each representative on each of the 3 to 5 competencies will tell you the likelihood of future contributions.  This step is the most overlooked in downsizing processes, and that is a fundamental flaw.  Your company, products and competitive environments are continuously changing!  You should identify the most important skills today and assess or interview to ensure those skills are in place.  Your sales people also change over time.  Yes, unfortunately a person may have all the skills necessary to be a peak performer but they may have lost the will to do the task.  For more information see the post “Sales Will”.

This economy will improve and believe it or not, you will be in a recruiting mode again.  In the meantime you are going to have to help your company get through the next several quarters.  How you go about this process is going to have a dramatic impact on the perceptions of your leadership, and the culture of your sales organization.  Do a poor job and you may survive, but when the economy improves your best performers may seek a better working environment.  Do the right thing, do it well and show your trustworthiness, compassion and support for everyone in your organization.

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!