April 2nd, 2013 | admin
Do you need a way to get faster improvements within your sales organization? What would you say if I suggested that you schedule more meetings? (I’ll politely hold my ears while you grumble.) But please hear me out, because I’ve got a solution that will result in a better use of your time and help you focus on strategies that get results. It’s called an SOS. Not the universal code for extreme distress but rather a Sales Operating System (SOS).
Is this you?
You may believe you’re already an effective sales manager because you’re in constant motion. You probably field nonstop phone calls and plenty of interruptions! You have brief ad hoc exchanges with your sales reps throughout the day.
You feel you have an “open door policy.” Reps can come to you at any time with any issues they have. But why doesn’t this work? How many of your underperforming reps ever walk through your open door and say, “I’m not doing well” or “I’m not sure what I should be doing differently to get better results?” My guess is never! So we let them continue to flail. We worry about being micro managers and want them to do their jobs. They should be able to. They’re Professionals!
Yes you talk with your people frequently. I call those “drive-by” conversations, but you may not be talking about the right things. Most drive-by conversations are about the status of a deal or a quick decision that’s got to be made. While you feel engaged and are extremely busy, it’s sort of like trying to manage a game from the sidelines. You’re yelling nonstop at the players from the bleachers when what you really need to do is to call a time out so that you can discuss strategy, get organized and get back out there.
The best way for any of us to improve anything is through structured learning and accountability. Whether it’s playing a musical instrument or speaking a foreign language, we learn best when there’s a logical series of steps, clear assignments and helpful feedback regarding our progress. An SOS will give your organization that structure, and help you develop a regular cadence of activities that will keep your people on track. Your days will be more focused and less hectic. Everyone will get more done.
An SOS is a structured series of meetings and communications with members of your team:
• Weekly meetings to talk about the rep’s activities
• Monthly forecast or pipeline review meetings to review the rep’s numbers
• Quarterly planning updates to look at how the rep is doing against the plan. What’s the plan for the next quarter? Can it be updated based on what you’ve learned?
• Annual meeting to set goals for the year and to create plans for how to achieve them
With pre-determined agendas, everyone will know how to prepare for these meetings and what to expect.
Why an SOS works
With an SOS, you will have better conversations with each person about their activities. How are they spending their time? What’s working? What’s not? As a manager, you will be able to provide more focused coaching and make more timely adjustments because you’ve got the broader picture, and you get it in a frequent and focused way. You’ll be managing from facts instead of listening to stories.
You’ll also reduce those time-stealing interruptions because each person has frequent scheduled meeting times with you. And guess what? When they save things to discuss later, the most important issues rise to the top and many of the less important ones will either go away on their own or the rep will learn to deal with them on their own, which is helpful learning.
There is one thing to keep in mind if you decide to implement it. Almost without exception, every time we help businesses put an SOS into place the sales manager will tell me it takes too much time, and the reps will say they hate it. But soon there’s a predictable shift. The reps start depending on the meetings, and say that the one-on-one time with their manager is the best thing that’s happened in a long time.
And managers discover that an SOS frees up their time to spend on the most important things. In a world of very busy people, you’ve got to think: “First things first; second things never.” With an SOS, you’ll soon discover that the rest doesn’t matter as much as you might think it does.
If you want to see a sample of an SOS or a one-on-one meeting agenda, click here and we’ll email one to you.
March 1st, 2013 | Mike Braun
Why do people hire personal trainers? They already know they need to eat better and exercise more, but a trainer will develop a customized work-out routine, push them harder than they’d push themselves, and hold them accountable for their progress. That’s the same approach you should take with your sales process improvement.
Just like the dieter who can never seem to lose that last 15 pounds, if your company’s sales are lagging maybe it’s because you need to change your focus and start doing things differently.
Step on the scale: Examine your starting point
Begin by looking at what you have been doing. What have you tried? What were the results? Companies typically try everything from training and incentives to re-dividing territories and even changing the players. Most of the time, they end up relying on the individual sales people to decide for themselves how best to do their jobs.
Develop with a more effective (sales) fitness routine
Look at your sales history. What can you learn about the companies that said “yes” to what you do? What did they like about you? What did the sales process look like? How can you teach all of this to your sales people?
A personal trainer’s fitness plan will describe which exercises to do and how many repetitions are needed to build up certain muscle groups. Likewise, you should be able to tell your sales team: “If we do it this way, in this volume, and follow roughly this approach, then we should get better results.”
This is the formula for what I call a company’s “secret sauce”, and the recipe is different for every company. Identify this and you’ll probably be following metrics you’ve never examined before.
To get in better shape, learn how to push through a few “walls”
Trainers show clients how to overcome each fitness threshold. Similarly, in your sales methodology, you’ll want to show your sales people how to push past objections.
In any competitive situation, for example, only one of you is ever going to be the cheapest. Learn how to win even when your price is higher. What is it about your company that will make the customer be willing to spend more money?
Why are so many people willing to pay $4.50 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks? A Starbucks coffee shop offers them something they can’t get at home, even if they brew Starbucks-brand coffee beans.
Help your sales team understand why people should desire what’s in your secret sauce even if it stretches their budget more than your competition.
An ultimate fitness goal may be to finish a marathon but a first milestone may be to run a 5K. Similarly while it may take six to nine months to see the results in your sales cycle, you should start seeing improvements in your newly identified metrics after a few weeks.
Are your sales people changing how they do things? Are they calling on different types of clients? Are they chasing opportunities more like the ones you know you can win?
There’s a certain order to how your sales team will start flexing its new-found muscles. First you’ll start to see different activities taking hold. Soon, you’ll see the volume of that activity increasing. Before long, there will be more deals in the works with different kinds of accounts.
Then it will be time to start measuring actual sales revenue increases compared to last year and the last period. And get ready to celebrate a victory.
July 12th, 2012 | Mike Braun
As we move past the 4th of July, a number of people from the office are on vacation, enjoying summer and their families. It’s a great time to relax and indulge in those activities we work so hard to afford.
It’s also a time of potential challenges for sales leaders. As our people recharge and rejuvenate, we run the risk of having our revenue take a vacation and either losing some of our first half gains or falling behind altogether. Here are signs this may be happening to you:
• People are simply taking time off – While this is important, you’ll start to see a dip in activities (prospecting meetings, new opportunities and actual orders).
• Overconfidence in “finishing strong” – Sales people are confident and we want them that way. However, our actual selling time is getting shorter. Depending on your sales cycle, there are precious few selling days left to identify new opportunities where there is still time to close them before the end of the year. Many sales cycles are three to six months or longer. That means that by this time in the year, any new opportunities are likely to be next year’s business.
• Your team isn’t quite the way you need it – You may have open territories, new hires that are not coming along as fast as you had hoped or underperformers that you haven’t addressed. As you reflect on YOUR team, ask yourself: is it going to get you where you need to go and is it improving in a way that positions you for a successful 2013?
• Your top performers are communicating less – Top performers tend to drive more than 50% of the revenue for many sales teams. They’re also active in asking for time and resources and always seem to be generating “what’s happening” in the company. If they seem a little quiet, be cautious not to set it aside as summer rest. Many sales teams are looking for talent and this is the time of the year recruiters can get very active looking for new talent. Regular and routine communications can be helpful in demonstrating appreciation to keep them close.
So, what’s a successful leader to do to ensure that vacation is taken by their staff, but not by their revenue? Below are five things you can do right now to keep things moving and position yourself to achieve your goals.
1. Pause, reflect and adjust – Take some time (a few hours or half a day) to think about what’s worked well and what hasn’t. As we drive our people, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day stuff and not really sit back and feel good about the progress we’ve made and make necessary adjustments. Over the years, we’ve written, collaborated and reviewed hundreds of sales plans. Every one of them seems plausible and the spreadsheet always adds up. With that said, we’ve never seen one that didn’t require adjustments. It’s simply a fact that things don’t always go the way we planned. Products come out late, people quit, markets shift and competitors do things we didn’t expect. Now is the time to test your assumptions, recast your plan, make your best guesses and implement your changes immediately.
2. Dig into the pipeline – As true prospecting days diminish, it’s critical to really know what’s in your pipeline. At the same time, sales teams can tend to get a little lazy updating the CRM and really thinking about what their pipeline is likely to produce. The most successful teams spend time critically reviewing the pipeline to understand if there are enough opportunities identified to make the numbers. If not, which is very common at this point in the year, then Q3 should really be an all-out prospecting effort, so we still have time to guide prospects through the buying/selling cycles before the end of the year. A tip for managers: Conduct these reviews without judgment. Sales people are very aware of where they stand and criticism can lead to exaggerating the pipeline or the progress of specific opportunities. The goal is to gain a brutally honest and clear picture. Then you can make the necessary changes to activities to ensure your people are focusing on the right things.
3. Make people decisions – If you have open territories, fill them. Every day you go without someone calling on your customers and prospects is a day your competition is gaining ground. Make it a priority to get people in place. While you may get a little lift yet this year, you’ll be even more certainly positioned for the increases 2013 will bring. If you have new team members who aren’t making the progress that was promised at hiring, develop a specific set of expectations and timing for what they need to Learn, Do and Deliver between now and the end of the year. These milestones will serve as a gauge for them and you to determine if they’re going to make it. If you have underperformers, address them directly. There are usually reasons for the poor performance and they rarely go away on their own. Investigate what’s getting in the way and remove the barrier. If they’re simply not going to be effective, make the change now. A new player still has time to make an impact this year — any waiting will affect next year.
4. Sharpen the axe – Whether it’s a product, sales process or methodology, now is the time to brush up on relevant skills. When salespeople are in their stride, they sometimes feel they’re doing what’s necessary, but in reality are losing track of the subtleties that separate them from their competitors. Mid-year training can be helpful to sharpen the axe and enter the second half of the year with new confidence. As you think about training, be sure to check out the ES Research website or Dave Stein’s blog for some great insights on selecting a sales training partner.
5. Stay true to your Sales Operating System (S.O.S.) – The sales operating system is the drumbeat you create as a leader. What are the weekly expectations (sales meetings, one-on-ones, activity reports, CRM entries, etc.)? How do you collect and report on those expectations? What meetings do you have and what do you talk about and reinforce? Research has shown time and again that sales people do better with structure. If you have one in place, be sure to keep it going. If you’ve loosened up the cadence, re-establish the rigor. It will truly keep people on track. Also, pay extra attention to your super stars. Let them know their impact on the company and how much you value them. Provide them an opportunity to be involved in a strategic discussion or have access to executives. These people want to be involved and we don’t want that to be with a recruiter.
The second half of the year brings great opportunity to make adjustments although time is precious. I hope some of these ideas will help ensure that your salespeople are taking off time this summer — not sales. If you have any mid-year ideas that have worked for you, I’d love to hear about them!
June 5th, 2012 | Mike Braun
In our last post, we tackled the interview process. In this one, our final installment in the Hiring the Right Salesperson series, I will leave you with specific questions to get at what a candidate really knows, how they work, how they learn and how that relates to the position.
There are literally hundreds of questions we can ask to gain insight into a candidate’s strengths, opportunities and fit for the job. But while a good 30-40 will suffice, sales leaders often tell me they couldn’t possibly take the time to ask them. They fear it will turn off the candidate and that they don’t have that much time anyway. They are very busy people, after all.
However, this is exactly when they should take the extra time. For both the company and the candidate, it’s important to uncover all assumptions and expectations, so that both sides are making decisions based on full disclosure. Most candidates understand that being thorough upfront is in their best interest and that it ensures their success on the job.
If time is a real issue, break the questions into groups for different interviews. If you can boil down the contenders to a select few that is even better as you only need this level of detail on your top one to three candidates.
Now, let’s talk about the actual questions. The following outline will give you a concrete idea of how to target your questions:
Situation – Tailor this question to the event or competency you want to explore. For example: How do you get your foot in the door?
Behavior – What did you personally say or do?
Outcome – What were the results of your action?
Learning – What did you learn? What would you change in the future?
Success Indicators – What are you looking for in the answers? This isn’t really a question as much as it is that the interviewer really knows what they are listening for when they ask.
Case in Point
To demonstrate, we’ll use the example of questions that uncover a candidate’s ability to generate leads on their own.
Situation: Describe how you go about finding and getting in the door with new prospects?
Potential follow-up questions can include:
• How do you know how many new prospects you should have?
• How much time does it take?
• How do you know if they’re worth continuing the process?
• What are the biggest things you’ve learned or adjustments you’ve made along the way?
Behavior: Tell me what you specifically did? Who else was involved?
Outcomes: What was the result of doing it this way?
Learning: What are the biggest things you learned and/or what would you change going forward?
Success Indicators: Again, this is what the interviewer should be listening for.
• Do they dedicate time on a regular basis to prospecting and do they prevent other tasks from distracting them?
• Do they use multiple sources to identify potential prospects (services such as D&B, Manta, LinkedIn, etc.)?
• Do they conduct research to warm up the lead?
• Do they develop a relevant personalized message (some even create scripts or talking points) for why the prospect would want to talk with them?
• Do they avoid selling too early – making sure to build credibility, qualify and set up the next step?
• Do they qualify and gracefully exit if the prospect is not a good fit?
• Do they understand their numbers (success rates) and adjust their approach to increase effectiveness?
We have worked with our clients to develop an entire interview guide following this format. It takes a bit of work and diligent thought to put one together, but you are making a significant — sometimes, million-dollar — investment in the people that represent your products and services to customers. It may be worth the time to really understand what you’re getting.
Does your company have an interview guide along these lines? If so, what questions have you found to be particularly revealing? If not, would it be beneficial for your company? How so?
May 8th, 2012 | Mike Braun
Sales is a contact sport! While I don’t use many sports analogies, I think this one is appropriate. The NFL Draft just concluded and I continue to be amazed by all the buzz and scrutiny these young athletes go through leading up to the big day. Then I realized how much it makes sense. As a team general manager, you invest millions of dollars in a new rookie player in the hope that they become a productive team member for years to come.
Then you need to worry how the draftee will get along with the coaches, team members, media and fans. You’re also going to be judged and second-guessed on the decision and it may be years before you even know if it was a good one. With so much risk involved, it’s no wonder teams spend months — or even years — scouting potential players.
As I was thinking about how carefully scouts watch prospective players as they are put through the paces, noting their specific performance talents, strengths and weaknesses, weighing each of these attributes before making a final decision, I was contacted by one of my clients. He was down to two sales candidates and looking for some advice on how to decide.
As is my way, I replied, “I’d be happy to help, but can I ask a few questions before I weigh in?” I wanted to understand what they had learned during interviews and how that had helped to distinguish the final two candidates. I was thinking of the in-depth NFL-level analysis and how they get to see the potential player perform before making a decision.
My client answered, “The interview team met with each of them for an hour, followed by a 15-minute debrief. Both candidates have pluses and minuses and we think either of them could be successful in the job. We were hoping you could meet with them for an hour and help us break the tie.”
I thought to myself, just like with the NFL process, what can the sales or business leader do to truly identify which candidate is the best fit? We want to feel confident in our decisions and we want our newly hired sales people to withstand the rigors of our expectations, but we lack the in-depth approach required to determine if they can truly perform.
Okay, so maybe you aren’t making multi-million dollar investments like the NFL, but you are making a significant — sometimes, a million-dollar — investment in the people that represent your products and services to potential customers. It may be worth the time to really scout their performance during the interview process. What should your scouting process include in order to really see your potential player perform? Can they really handle the contact?
Interviews that Scout for Performance
As we’ve discussed in recent posts, a little pre-work needs to be done prior to the interview:
• Be sure you know what you’re looking for and have defined your red box
• Then, establish an overall selection process that puts some objectivity into the approach and ensures the interview team is aligned around the goal
Once that’s all in place, design an interview that investigates what people can and will do and how they react in job situations. In other words, make them perform for you! We can’t make them run, jump and lift weights (although sales simulations can help), but we can structure the conversation and ask behavioral-based questions that provide deeper insight into our critical sales talent.
Let’s start with the structure. We’ve had the opportunity to participate in hundreds of sales interviews. What we’ve learned is that it’s easier to compare candidates when you take them through the same process and similar questions that target the same skills and abilities. We recommend your scouting process follow this format:
• Welcome and opening. This is where you’re selling the job and the company, setting expectations and helping them get comfortable.
• Set the agenda and the timing. It helps candidates know what’s happening, comes across as planned and professional, and allows you to keep the interview on track.
• Ask your questions. Depending on how much time you have, the questions can be separated into multiple interviews. Be as consistent as possible to aid in the comparison. We like to see questions in several categories:
o Competencies: Do they have the ability to do the job?
o Sales process skills: Can they describe how they go about their work and do they understand the intricacies of each step of the process?
o Cultural fit: Will they succeed in your environment and your management style?
o Interest in the position: Do they want this job or just any job?
• Allow the candidate to ask their questions. They should have questions and this can often provide a great deal of insight into how they think and what’s important to them.
After going through these, wrap up and thank them for their time and be clear about next steps. Many managers have already determined the candidate is not a fit but end the interview with “we’ll get back to you.” Believe it or not, it is infinitely preferable that you directly tell the candidate that they’re not a match, even though you’ve enjoyed getting to know them.
This may seem harsh, but candidates tell us again and again that they’d rather know this than go away wondering and hoping. It’s always better to cut them and let them catch on with another team! If the candidate is moving forward, be specific about when they’ll hear back and what will happen next. Demonstrating your ability to follow up and communicate says a lot about your company and how you do things. Remember: Top talent is looking for companies that “walk the talk.”
Watch for the fourth installment of this four-part post, where I will outline a format for asking questions and provide examples of how you can really dig into their performance.
Do your company’s interviewing standards go in-depth enough to determine if a candidate can truly perform? Why or why not?
April 6th, 2012 | Mike Braun
In my last post, I discussed the importance of identifying the type of seller who will succeed with your products or services. The next step is in the art of the selection process.
One very smart manager I used to work with stated, “It never ceases to amaze me how awesome, capable and motivated every seller is during the interview process. Then they get the job and I quickly hear how unrealistic the quotas are and how the competition has a lower price with more to offer followed by a demand that the company needs to do more to help them sell.”
This scenario is more common than you would think. Your best tool against it is to design a selection process that gives you the opportunity to allow people to reveal what they can and will do once they’re hired. Here are a few steps I recommend building into your selection process:
Stick to the Red Box
We recommended in our last post that people spend a significant amount of time identifying their red box — that intersection of skills, talent and selling style that fulfills your company’s needs. We often see companies do a good job at establishing these hiring criteria and then jump into an interview process where the interview team quickly abandons that criteria. Be sure to align the entire interview team around the goals. Otherwise, you may get post-interview feedback that has nothing to do with the red box. I recently helped a client evaluate a series of candidates. As we started the discussion, people quickly shared their opinions of the candidates. I heard things such as:
We didn’t make a connection.
He seemed to talk a lot.
I think he’d be fabulous — he’s a real people person.
I like him a lot. I’m ready to make him an offer today.
When I asked a few follow-up questions to learn more about why they felt this way, I got some blank stares. This problem arises when the questions asked are not designed to reveal the skills and characteristics designated by the red box and the interviewer seems to be bringing more of themselves to the interview than the interviewee. For example, if the interviewer is talkative, they like that the candidate was talkative. But, if the interviewer is quiet, the talkative candidate comes across as too expressive and not appropriate for the position.
Ensure Interviewer Alignment
After reviewing the red box with your interview team, as well as the job profile requirements, be clear about your interview plan. Our clients have done well creating two to three different questions for each skill or competency they want to learn about. Each interviewer should ask about all of the categories you’re interested in but with slightly different questions. That way the candidate has to describe different situations, which keeps them engaged and still allows for clear comparison on the requirements. Ensure the questions will produce the needed feedback and that the interviewers will be asking their questions in a consistent manner.
Here’s an example of what I’m suggesting. If you want to learn more about the candidate’s influence and persuasion skills, have each member of the interview team ask one of these questions with any of the listed follow-ups:
1. Tell me about your single most important sales achievement.
- How did you recognize this sales opportunity?
- How did this achievement relate to your overall goals?
- What was so special about this achievement?
- How did you leverage your strengths?
- What advice would you give others?
2. Tell me about a time you were able to use what you understood about a client’s situation in order to
make the sale.
- How were you able to assess their situation?
- How did you obtain useful information?
- What were the motivators you identified?
- How did you appeal to their motivations?
- What would you have done differently?
3. Tell me about a sale that was difficult to close.
- What made it difficult?
- What approach did you use to close this sale?
- Where did you learn this approach?
- What other approaches might have worked?
- How would others rate your closing skills?
Each of these can help you gage the candidate’s ability to influence and help the group assess similarities and differences in how the candidate approaches these situations.
Assess and Reassess
Assessment tools will help you determine things such as personality, cognitive ability, style and work preference. Other instruments will help you determine if the candidate is a risk-taker or cautious, if they are a workaholic or if they pace themselves. There are many tools such as Profiles International, Prevue Assessments, Predictive Profiles and others available to assess these traits. Look for a future post comparing these instruments and how best to use them.
Simulate scenarios where the candidate can show their stripes. For example, have them identify a client they believe you could work with, do some research and tell you their plan to approach the customer. They will not likely have enough information to get all the specifics right but you’ll sure get an idea of how they approach the assignment and how well they articulate their thought process.
Another example is to have them make a presentation of your products or services. Tell them they need to make a short presentation (20-30 minutes) on the problem they’re addressing, the solution they’re recommending and the business results you should expect as a customer. Again, you’re looking for their ability to be clear, articulate and effective in addressing the issue.
This is the work they’ll have to do, so why not see them in action? As a side rule, let them know they can ask anyone in your company for help. You’re likely to learn how resourceful they are and how they interact with your team. I’ve seen this separate the good ones from those that merely talk a good game. I also tend to learn more than I do with, “Tell me about yourself.” Or my favorite, “If you were a car, what kind of car would you be?”
In sales, providing clear and effective emails and proposals is critical to developing a credible client relationship. I suggest asking them to develop a proposal regarding a product/service you offer and using email to communicate with you on any questions or clarifications needed. Again, you’ll see how well they write and how they bring you into the process.
Check and Double-Check
Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a couple candidates, conduct reference checks.
Ask their professional references strategic questions
Many companies are counseled not to share information about an employee that could come back to haunt them. By asking strategic questions, you’ll be able to find out what they really think. A couple that have worked for me are: “What was the best thing she did?” or “If you brought him back and put him in the perfect role what would that role be?” Then listen as closely to what they say as you do to what they don’t say.
Their pay history will help you determine an appropriate offer and validate what they told you they make. Many sellers like to exaggerate what they could’ve made based on their incentive plan. I like to focus the offer on a balance between what the market studies tell us is appropriate and what their actual pay has been.
Run a credit check
You want to keep an eye out for salespeople who are in financial straights. Desperate people are prone to desperate measures. However, it is also important not to over react. If a candidate has a less-than-stellar credit record, consider engaging them on a trial basis before bringing them on full time.
Check social media posts
The person you hire is your representation to your customers. Make sure their character is on par with your company’s values. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can provide valuable clues as to how people conduct themselves outside of work.
I have many more ideas, but to get started I suggest adding these into your selection process, which will immediately give you greater insight into your candidates’ true capabilities.
Stay tuned for the third installment of this four-part post, where I will discuss interviewing techniques and best practices.
Does your company have a disciplined process for selecting sales candidates? What strategies have you found to be particularly effective?
March 12th, 2012 | Mike Braun
It’s early in the year and that means many sales leaders are still working hard to fill open positions. While the goal is simple enough — to improve coverage and drive growth — finding these diamonds in the rough isn’t always easy.
Much of the feedback we’re hearing from clients right now sounds like this: “I should’ve already filled this position, but instead I’m staring at 20 resumes. They all meet the requirements of the job description and somehow, they are all the TOP SELLER in their company, have GROWN THEIR TERRITORIES BY 50%, are STRONG RELATIONSHIP-BUILDERS and would describe themselves as ACTION-ORIENTED CLOSERS. Sometimes, I think the biggest sale they make is of themselves to get the job”
Invariably, these comments are followed by the remark, “It all sounds great, but how do I sort through this and get someone who not only produces what their resume promises, but who is also the right fit for our company — so I don’t have to do this all over again in a year? Our organization is very different and not everyone is a good match. We have a complex offering, a very different value message and a unique culture.”
This is no small challenge. During our most recent Sales Leader Alliance meeting, sales leaders cited their success rate in hiring someone who truly made a meaningful contribution to the company at about 1 out of 7. Sales people are, after all, some of the most adept interviewers on the planet. They can be warm, articulate and skilled at focusing in on your biggest needs. And it’s no wonder — it’s what they’ve been taught to do for years.
The Red Box
So, how do you find that person who’s going to drive the numbers, enjoy the work and be a solid contributor to your growth engine?
A good salesperson isn’t necessarily the RIGHT salesperson. Before you start to look at candidates, know what type of salesperson your organization needs. It’s not always necessary to have someone from your industry: Someone with transferrable skills may work just as well.
The key to hiring the right person lies in clearly identifying the type of seller who will succeed with your products or services. While it may sound straightforward and simple enough, it’s not nearly as easy to execute.
Sales leaders looking to score a trifecta with their next sales rep will benefit from answering the 10 questions below. Go through the exercise now and map out the “red box” your sales role falls into and thus the skills your sales rep will need to be successful:
1. Are you looking for a hunter or a farmer?
Hunters need to be highly skilled at finding clever ways to get in, creating referral networks and urgency for prospects to act even when they’ve never met. Farmers, on the other hand, utilize current contacts to build deep, credible relationships and create networks within a given account.
This is just an example of some of the differences in sales positions. As you work through the remaining questions, think about the skills required at each end of the spectrum.
2. Will the sales rep have to close many transactions or just a few highly complex, larger sales?
3. Will the sales rep be selling direct or through a distribution channel?
4. Do the sales people work autonomously or are they tightly managed?
5. Does the sales team need to be technical or do they have technical support resources behind them?
6. Is your brand easily recognized by potential buyers or does the sales person need to introduce you?
7. Does the sales rep sell individually or are they frequently part of a larger selling team?
8. Is your value based on low cost or value, or on selling a premium advantage?
9. Are the sales people expected to generate their own leads or does marketing create the demand?
10. How leveraged is the incentive plan — high commissions or significant base salary?
As you can see from the graphic, finding your red box, or even narrowing the search to a general area is critically important to finding someone who will be highly productive in your environment.
Does this sound familiar? What challenges have you faced in hiring the right salesperson? What strategies have been the most effective in meeting those challenges?
Stay tuned for the second installment of this four-part post, where I will discuss what to do once you’ve determined your needs — and how to apply a selection process that will truly unveil the right candidate.
August 12th, 2010 | Gary Braun
At the beginning of July, Pivotal Advisors and The Sales Association hosted a Webinar focused on the importance of sales plans. Many sales reps would laugh off the idea. To a great many, sales plans are a mere formality used by organizations at the start of the year to provide forecast data to C-level executives. Once those forecasts are adjusted to acceptable levels, what happens? Typically, the plans are filed away only to be glanced at quarterly, biannually or never again.
But the most effective sales managers and reps know that a well-devised and well-used sales plan can be an extremely valuable tool to better plan, operate, communicate and perform – no matter what size the organization. And we are not talking about sales planning that requires high-tech solutions or complex sales formulas. Basic, simple sales plans that track both sales activities (meetings, proposals, closed deals, etc.) and sales numbers (monthly and annual revenue goals) are as effective as any sophisticated planning tool or application on the market. In fact, the real key to sales plan success is not the format of the sales plan or the size of it, it’s the quality of the content.
To give you insight into the many sales planning tips offered in the Webinar, we are happy to share with you the Top Four Advantages of Practical Sales Plans below. If you would like to learn even more advantages and get specific input on what makes a sales plan effective, you can listen to the Webinar online here. And before we list the “Top Four,” we would like to thank The Sales Association for co-hosting the Webinar and all attendees for sharing their time and input.
Top Four Advantages of Practical Sales Plans
Advantage 1: Gives Reps a Well-planned Sales Activity Schedule
The fact is most sales representatives are creating sales plans each year. They fill in the names of accounts they are working on, those they hope to win and even some long shots just to be sure the plan leads to a strong bottom-line number for their managers and their managers’ managers. But if you ask those same reps how confident they are that their actual sales year will mirror their sales plan, most will have the same reply: “Not very.”
The true value of a sales plan is not the bottom line number it points to but the activities it maps out to get to that number. How many meetings do I need to average per week? How many proposals per month? How many deals should I be closing per month? All of these details can be worked into a simple sales plan, starting with the revenue goal and using prior performance to determine the amount of weekly and monthly activity required to achieve the revenue.
In addition, sales plans should focus on activities as much as on revenue to account for the natural differences in sales reps. Some sales reps succeed at selling bigger accounts and don’t need to close as many new deals per year. Other reps may be excellent at selling lots of small deals. Some reps may be adept at converting meetings into proposals. Others might need more meetings to get enough proposals into the pipeline. Well implemented sales plans allow sales reps individualized road maps for putting in the work needed to achieve revenue goals.
Advantage 2: A Means for Seeing Where Activity Adjustments Are Needed
Sales reps can use their sales plans to see how they are meeting their activity benchmarks in terms of getting meetings, securing proposals, making cold calls, etc. Where performance is lacking they can adjust or ask for help. Where performance is strong, they can see what activities are working best and replicate them for continued positive results.
Advantage 3: Provides a Roadmap for Achieving Organizational Goals
Sales plans should go beyond the numbers to map out the actual sales work—calling, visiting, presenting, demonstrating, etc.—that goes into successful selling. For managers that means, they know exactly what each individual should be doing to meet those goals. Rather than making general inquiries to their reps, “Have you increased your pipeline, Steve?” managers can get very specific, “Steve, will you be able to meet your three meeting per week goal this month?”
It’s important to mention that sales plans don’t track every moment or contact in the sales process. It’s too time-consuming and such information doesn’t yield valuable insight. Instead, sales managers need to determine the best indicators of sales success for their organization and build them into the sales plans. For some companies, meetings and proposals may be the best indicators. For others, it’s cold calls and demos. Whatever those early indicators of strong sales performance are, managers should make sure they are limited to only two or three so they can be well monitored by sales reps and managers alike.
Advantage 4: Clearly Identifies Coaching Needs
Activities-based sales plans make it easy for sales managers to identify coaching needs among sales reps. If sales plans reveal that a rep is good at securing lots of meetings but only occasionally gets to the pricing/proposal phase, the coaching need is clear: It’s time to review the sales person’s presentation skills and sales pitch to find out where prospects might be losing interest. Another rep may be good at securing meetings and generating proposal opportunities but the average deal size might be too small. Here’s an opening for a manager to help coach a sales rep to try for bigger opportunities or learn to generate more from each account.
The sales plan not only helps managers identify opportunities to assist and coach their staff, it also can measure improvement to show whether or not the coaching is working and if sales reps are making the needed adjustments in order to achieve business goals.
Again, these are just a few of the advantages of strong sales plans. We hope you have time to listen to the Webinar to hear more and see examples of how sales plans can be used to better perform and better manage. To get an example of a winning sales plan, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be glad to forward one to you and your team.
May 4th, 2010 | Gary Braun
If you’re a sales manager, you can’t get it all done. As long as the laws of the universe keep the day 24 hours long, you cannot fulfill all the management, sales, marketing, coaching, networking and administrative tasks thrown in your direction. What you can do is win more time for the most important work you need to do—the tasks that boost team productivity and performance, resulting in more leads, more sales opportunities and more business wins.
Early this April, Pivotal Advisors partnered with The Sales Management Association to host a Webinar to give sales managers specific insight into how they can win more time for strategic, team- and sales-cultivating work. Titled “Visibility for the CEO, Sanity for the Sales Manager,” the Webinar was an opportunity for us to share proven best practices in managing up. It’s easy to get distracted from revenue-driving activities when one-off requests come in from your senior manager. But when those requests are frequent, brief distractions turn into giant gaps in your productivity and your ability to manage, develop and motivate your sales team. Our Webinar looked at how getting the right information and visibility to senior leaders can win sales managers more time to focus on team building and profit-driving work in addition to earning them the credibility to say “no” to non-critical requests for their time.
The Webinar is currently online and you can follow this link to listen at your leisure. However, because leisurely moments are so rare for sales managers, we have also summarized below the three best practices in managing up discussed in the Webinar. Just a quick once over and sales managers can get back to work with techniques for gaining more time for the most important, results-driving sales management tasks: sales rep coaching, strategic planning and discerning participation in sales efforts.
Sales Manager Insights: Three Best Practices in Successfully Managing Up
Provide the Right Reports
If your senior manager is constantly asking for data and figures outside of the regular reports you are providing, you are not providing the right reports or you are not providing enough information. A senior manager who feels like he/she isn’t getting the full story does not trust the information you provide.
Sit down with your senior manager and determine exactly what information is needed (content), how often (frequency) and how he/she wants to see it (format). Then build a report and reporting schedule that delivers that information. This process allows senior managers to think through exactly which numbers are important to them and gives you one, valuable reporting tool that meets those needs. That’s not to say that one-off requests won’t occur, but this process will cut them dramatically while giving your boss information he/she can trust. If the requests start to creep up again, revisit the reporting process and content with your senior manager once more.
Pivotal Advisors also strongly advises that your reports to senior managers give anecdotal sales team insights to demonstrate how sales are progressing. In addition, add a risks and surprises column to inform senior managers of any unexpected events or issues that could be putting accounts in jeopardy.
Ensure the Best, Most Accurate Data
Many managers—both senior and sales—do not trust the data in the sales management or CRM systems. How accurate is the data you are reporting up to senior management? If you’re not certain of the quality of the data, run a historical analysis and verify it. The problem with unreliable data is that it causes senior managers to rely on you to hunt down and vet the data for them. Work with sales staff to ensure information is reported accurately, on time and with integrity. If people are trying to sugarcoat results, put an end to it to ensure the reports you run represent the work and performance of your team. If the reports are true and the data clean, senior leaders will trust them and send you fewer questions and request for additional information.
Practice Saying No
Your senior leader may ask you to participate in panels and attend numerous company meetings which greatly limit your time for team development and revenue-driving activities. Rather than taking them all on, analyze your calendar and agree only to the tasks that are truly important. No senior manager wants their top sales leader in a meeting room all day. If you find a large portion of your time is in meetings (say 20% or more) sit down with your senior manager and explain that you will need to say no to more meetings so you have more time for critical fieldwork, like sales and coaching.
And if you are asked why you, as a manager, are so dedicated to fieldwork, share this: The study “Redefining Sales Manager Excellence” from the Corporate Executive Board found that a minimum amount of mentoring/coaching (even poorly done) can improve bottom-line results by 19%. Consider then, what just an average amount of coaching will achieve!
If you are like most managers we talk to, you’ll find our advice compelling, but not exactly applicable to your circumstances—there is no chance you could or would tell your boss, “No.” If your senior leader is, let’s just say, really tough, and would not take no for an answer, you’re not alone. However, we have seen on many occasions sales managers explain to their bosses how they want to focus their time—working in the field, developing team members, etc.—and their plan for creating more of this time. You may be surprised to learn that the senior leader, even the very strong-minded boss, almost always agrees to the plan. The fact is, most of the time your senior leader has no idea how much time he or she takes away from your day. So, explain your day, what you need to accomplish and the disruptive effect numerous one-off requests have on your schedule and focus. Few senior leaders, even yours, can ignore the advantages that come with helping you get the time needed to improve sales team performance and results.
January 24th, 2010 | Mike Braun
Can you relate to this common sales organization predicament? Six months ago you promoted “Bob,” an outstanding sales rep who has great skills and the respect of the entire sales team to be a sales manager. Today, Bob is busier than ever — out on the road with the other reps, helping to close their deals. The new sales rep hired to replace Bob is struggling, generating less revenue than Bob made in the role. The rest of the sales team is producing about the same numbers they were six months ago making the net result of the promotion a loss because no one is replacing the revenue Bob brought in as an individual contributor.
This is a tale as old as time — or at least as old as cold calling. Businesses have the best of intentions in promoting a sales star to manage a sales team. They want to reward performance, retain a loyal and talented team member and leverage the demonstrated skills of one of their best business developers to improve the overall skills and performance of the sales organization. The problem is that outstanding sales skills and business development talents do not transform into great management skills after a promotion. Not without a focus on developing those management skills.
Without guidance, the Bobs of the world will typically only do what they do best: sell. They rush from account to account, helping to close deals because this is what they know how to do. While some sales reps may glean lessons by seeing the work of these sales-oriented managers firsthand, many learn to get a deal close to complete and then call in Bob to finish the job, thus halting their own sales development. Frustration (the kind that can erode morale) is common as sales reps feel Bob “just takes things over.” In addition, Bob is rewarded for being the closer allowing him to be the hero.
Can your business avoid this pattern and still cultivate internal talent to successfully lead sales teams? Yes is often the answer if businesses are willing to take the following steps to identify, develop and support new sales managers.
Watch for a Team Mentality – The best sales managers get great satisfaction from the success of others. When looking to promote from within your sales ranks watch for signs of team orientation. Does the sales rep have a record of willingly partnering with others for the greater good of the business? Does the candidate support colleagues in their efforts and openly share tips and opportunities? Is she/he good at managing the administrative side of sales operations? Use these questions and careful observation to identify candidates who will be able to adjust from measuring job success based on the revenue they bring in to measuring success based on how much they boost the performance of each team member.
Commit to Development – The skills it takes to manage a group, motivate people and coach are vastly different than the skills it takes to sell. Managers must be taught how to “coach” to develop the skills of their team members rather than “direct” or simply tell their reps what to do. They also need to encourage performance by setting clear expectations, holding people accountable, the value and skill of delegation, how to manage conflict, and how to prioritize their time in a very different way. . Rather than hoping for a sales manager to master these skills through sheer determination or the painful process of trial and error, invest in a more formal development process for your sales leaders. Also, keep in mind we aren’t talking about something that happens in a two-day class, but a combination of education and on the job activities that create strong, routine habits.
Define Expectations Early & Measure Them Regularly - If you are like most companies, you probably do not sit new sales managers down and tell them exactly what you expect. The first thing every new sales manager should hear is, “Your job is not to do it yourself, but rather to coach and improve performance so your team improves.” They need to understand that the new measure of success is not just an overall revenue number but the marked improvement of each member of the sales team. All sales people—from reps to managers to CEOs are motivated by performance goals. Tap into that desire to succeed by clearly outlining the new measures of success, giving your new manager the right goals to aspire to and measuring and rewarding accomplishments.
Would adding these management development and evaluation best practices to the way you currently operate be a serious departure from how your business works today? If so, it’s time to look at how you have been preparing and supporting sales managers. They are likely struggling and now is your chance to help them truly become leaders while making a big, lasting impact on the sales team AND your overall results.