Tag Archives: sales people

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.

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.

“How’s It Going?”

29 Apr

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

A good top sales boss wants to know five things;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Cold Call Script…Honest!

25 Apr

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

 

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

 

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

 

So, what are the objectives of the cold call?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Does this sound familiar?

 

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

 

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

 

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