Tag Archives: self improvement

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.

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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!

Sales Cultures, Is Yours Heart Healthy?

7 May

I know you’ve heard someone say, “We have a high performance culture here at Amalgamated.  We have high expectations of all our people!”  So, if you’ve been a member of a larger national sales organization how often did the term “high performance culture” turn out to have any benefit for you as a person in the trenches?  Did the leadership team have high expectations of themselves on creating a sales culture that was not only good for shareholders, but also good for clients and employees?

Sorry for a little culture slamming, and I won’t mention any companies, but here’s the facts m’am.

“We have a high performance culture” usually means we are going to expect a lot from you.  Okay, fine.  But what can I expect from you in return?  Can I expect a vibrant lead generation program?  Can I expect to have a manager in my corner who will routinely carve time out of their schedule to help me succeed?  Instead of telling me that I’m not doing enough can you tell me how to do more?  Can I expect to have up-to-date sales collateral so my presentations help prospects visualize the benefits of our programs?  When I bust my hump to over deliver can I enjoy even better rewards next year or will I bask in the sunlight with dramatically increased goals coupled with dramatically lower commissions?  In other words, will you invest as much in me as I am being asked to invest in you?

First I would like to propose a definition of what an organizational culture is;  The quality that arises in a person by virtue of belonging to a group.  That person’s behavior begins to reflect what they have learned through training and observing others in that group.  With time, the members form agreement with what the group prizes as excellence.  So with my definition of culture let me disclose something else.  I am a huge believer in building a culture that benefits clients, stakeholders and employees equally.  I believe strongly that satisfied employees will deliver a superior service, which customers will be willing to pay for…and stakeholders like that outcome.

So where do you begin to build a sales culture that will help develop a sustainable world class sales organization?  Essentially there are four drivers;

  • Sales Effectiveness – A bundle of skills that arm each sales person & account manager with the tools they need to effectively help prospects navigate through a buying process and end up with needs that are satisfied.  This isn’t just about holding people accountable to having & using these skills.  It’s really about hiring people with high potential and then provided them with the training they need.  This is much more than simply enrolling people in training.  This is field managers who are experts in all the skill areas, and providing them the training they need to be excellent coaches in the field.
  • Reward & Recognition – There is a lot more to reward & recognition than a compensation plan & an annual outing.  The compensation plan should produce a target income at sales goal attainment.  Your peak performers should earn two or three times what your average performers earn.  Why?  Because sales people are great understudies and peak performers are the people you want them to imitate.  Management reports should be shared throughout the organization and include not just the top performers but also the strugglers.  The only people that should not make the standing report should be untenured sales people.  Additionally there are all kinds of recognition vehicles formed around peer recognition, Sr. Management recognition and yes, family and friend recognition.  For those recognized this affirms their contributions.  For those that did not make the grade it affirms what the organization values.
  • Execution – Do all members of the team understand the sales strategy?  Good communication is the key and good communication is not solely reliant upon the message…good communication is driven by understanding.  Can people recite a summary of what the strategy is?  Do they understand the role they play in the execution of that strategy?  Has there been a set of metrics devised that will benchmark how well the organization is performing and how well each team member is doing?
  • Field Leadership – The Rosetta Stone of the quality of yoursales culture is the company’s investment in first level field sales managers.  If you’re expecting for your army of revenue generators to win battles you’re going to have to invest in field support.  Do your field generals understand their priorities?  How should they be investing their time & energy?  Is it 50% making sales calls, 30% admin., 15% forecasting and 15% coaching & developing people?  If this is the reality of how people are spending their time your organization may never get any better than it is today.  I have one question for CEOs and top Sales Officers.  How many leadership training courses have you delivered to your field generals in the last 5 years?  Don’t hold them accountable for moving from a peak performing sales person to an excellent management leader.  That’s your job.

Is a heart healthy culture worth the investment?  Only if you want the best sales people in your industry to aspire to work for your company. 

The sales culture that develops in your organization cannot be controlled, but you can influence it dramatically.  Your culture will be known for a theme, for it’s character, for it’s composure, for it’s courage and yes…for it’s care for people.  You must deliver results, but how you go about delivering those results will define your culture.

“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.

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.

Effective One-On-One Sales Coaching Sessions

4 Mar

Recently I have read posts on this subject on a several popular blogs.  My most recent “snooping around” session revealed on one of those blogs that an “effective One-On-One coaching session should be planned six months ahead of time”.  My curiousity ended, as did my snooping session.  If you are holding your coaching session every six months you should be fired as a sales manager!  You sales people are customers of your leadership, and they need service from you more often than every six months. 

There are four types of coaching sessions:

  1. Behavioral – something has come to your attention that must/should be shared.  Though we think of these sessions as addressing negative behaviors you should use them to recognize positive behaviors also.
  2. Discovery – As a manager you have uncovered a developmental issues that should be addressed.  This is the first session of a field training program that should end with a bi-lateral contract between you and the sales person.
  3. Follow Up – These are frequent mini-sessions to check up, and exchange feedback.
  4. Bottoms Up – If you are a great leader this should happen often.  Instead of you discovering a developmental issue one of your team members seeks out your help.  Why?  Because you are trustworthy and they know you are there to serve them.

First a note about tone.  Attitude is everything.  If this is a behavior coaching session do not send mixed messages.  If a negative behavior issue is serious enough to warrant exploration and coaching, don’t mince in other topics.  The outcome of behavioral coaching sessions are usually uni-lateral next step contracts.  If you have discovered a specific sales skill that needs improvement you do want to recognize those other skill areas that are best in class.  If this session is a follow up you should summarize previous discussions, recognize progress and discuss next steps.  The key to follow up coaching sessions is that this is a bi-lateral agreement to next steps. 

Coaching sessions should be orderly.  You should control some parts of the discussion and you should let your team member control others.  However, this is not a free flowing, never ending conversation.  You may end up being friends with some of you sales people but remember, friendship is the outcome of effective leadership, leadership is never the outcome of friendship.

The coaching session outline;

  1. Warm Up – I guess you could just hit them over the head, but why?  This is a team member.  The only reason to minimize this part of the discussion is if you have uncovered a negative behavioral issue that if not addressed could result in the termination of this team member.  Initiating a serious conversation with frivolous small talk is disingenuous.
  2. Orientation – If this is the first coaching session to reveal something you have discovered, particularly if the team members overall contributions are satisfactory, this part of the discussion is crucial.  For instance, if you are concerned with this team members prospecting skills you should discuss what lead to this discovery.  “Jim, thanks for your first quarter results.  It helped show the others that the goals are achievable even with this difficult economy.  But I was exploring our CRM system and think I discovered something.  I noticed that you not only made your goals, but had the highest proposal to contract closing ratio!  In fact, you also had one of the highest closing ratios in moving prospects from the needs analysis to the proposal, congratulations!  But that led me to think, are you motivated to dramatically increase your earnings?  Because if you are I think I discovered something that is holding you back…”  Now the stage is nearly set for you to focus the conversation.
  3. Focus – This is the meat of the conversation and two-thirds of your time should be spent here.  But step back a little.  Dust off those sales skills from your past life.  If you sold like I did, you’re best sales pitches were not about what you told a prospect right?  First you need to sell the need.  Continuing our conversation with Jim…”Since you have world class skills at the end of the sales cycle, I did a little arithmetic.  You may already know this but if you were able to put 3 more prospects into your pipeline every quarter your earnings would increase by 10%!”  My best sales presentations came about because of the questions I asked!  You need to use your open ended probes, your directional probes and confirming probes.  You need to find out if the lack of prospecting is a skill gap, or a will gap (see seperate articles on each subject on blog).  If Jim agrees he has a need to increase the number of prospects in his pipeline, you’re halfway home!  You now have to come to agreement on how to satisfy that need.
  4. Contract – Every coaching session should end with a contract.  Simply put this is the agreement going forward, which defines each person’s action plan and roles.  In my Sales Excellence Process there is a form which defines each person’s commitment.  The contract (unilateral or bilateral) should be driven by what you determined to be the cause of the problem.  If the issue is skill then you as the leader will have an obligation to the sales person to deliver the training.  If the issue is one of will to do the task then the sales person will have more obligations to the contract while your role will be inspecting what you expect.

Coaching sessions are the most important duty of a sales manager.  How you go about delivering a coaching session will define your leadership.  Get your mind right!  Are you there to help, or are you there to catch someone doing something wrong?  Remember “Cool Hand Luke”?

Boss: Sorry, Luke. I’m just doing my job. You gotta appreciate that.

Luke: Nah – calling it your job don’t make it right, Boss.