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Benchmarking Salespeople Sounds Great but Has Many Flaws

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Apr 21, 2014 @ 05:33 AM



Dave Kurlan is a top-rated keynote speaker, best-selling author, sales thought leader and expert on all things sales and selling.

benchmarkYou want to hire better salespeople, don't you?  And you've been told that if you use a sales assessment, you will be able to select better salespeople, right?  And if you have a strong HR background, you may believe that benchmarking is a good first step.  There are many uses for benchmarking in sales, and while the approach taken by most assessment companies helps them, it doesn't really help you.

Let's say that you're speaking with a company that provides a personality assessment or a behavioral styles assessment.  The personality assessment can clearly help you with cultural fit and the behavioral styles assessment can certainly help with identifying the best ways to manage an individual.  But, neither assessment is predictive of sales success because their core competency is not sales and their assessment is adapted, not built, for sales.  In this case, adapted means that they change the names of the findings and the descriptions of those findings to sound more like sales findings.  But what they actually measure, and the questions your salespeople actually answer, have nothing to do with selling.

In an effort to combat the lack of sales specificity in their assessments, many of these companies offer to benchmark your top performers.  It sounds terrific - really - and they can always get you engaged by finding traits and styles common to your top performers.  But these benchmarks are flawed - for several reasons:

  • What you consider a top performer in your organization may be very different from an actual top performer in the general sales population, so sometimes they are looking at the wrong people!
  • They don't look at your bottom performers, but know that your underachievers have some of the exact same traits and styles as your top performers.  These commonalities are the traits and styles that caused them to enter sales - not the traits and styles that cause them to succeed at sales!
  • The personality and behavioral styles assessment companies are not experts at selling and don't understand the nuances in marketplace, pricing, selling value, competition, verticals and variations in roles that cause different salespeople to have different results.

Consider Objective Management Group's (OMG) approach.  Back in 1990, OMG developed the very first assessment specifically for sales.  OMG's sales assessment is an executional sales assessment and scientifically shows not only if a sales candidate can sell, but whether or not they will sell and succeed - for your company, in a specific sales role, against your competition, at your price points, calling into your market, and from the challenges they'll face.  It is not based on personality traits or behavioral styles, and we don't need to run a benchmark in order to figure out what causes salespeople to be successful because we already know.  We have done this nearly 750,000 times!  And we customize every role configuration to marry our criteria for sales success at various levels of difficulty with a client's requirements for the role.  However, companies that are used to running these benchmarks still ask for them and we take a completely different approach:

  • We look at both groups - top performers AND bottom performers.
  • We know that both the top and bottom groups will have some common findings, usually indicative of what the hiring managers were looking for, like motivated salespeople.   
  • We identify the differences between the top and bottom performers, not the commonalities of the top performers.  For example, members of both groups may have a particular finding as a strength, but only the top performers have a score in a certain range.  Or only the top performers have a particular finding as a strength and the bottom performers have it as a weakness.
  • We can usually identify 10-15 findings that are unique to the top performers and, more importantly, predictive of sales success in their particular role at their company.
  • We build a third layer of customization to identify candidates that will not only succeed, but perform at an elite level.

Benchmarking can be useful when it comes to training your salespeople.  If you have two regions that are performing similarly, selling the exact same products or services to the exact same types of customers, against the exact same competitors, you can benchmark the training.  Group 1 is your control group and receives no more help than they received previously.  Group 2 is the training group and they get the optimized sales process, their sales managers are trained to coach, and the salespeople are trained on both sales process and methodology.  At the end of the agreed upon time period, compare the before and after results of the two groups in the following areas:

  • pipeline quantity and quality,
  • conversion ratios,
  • pipeline velocity or sales cycle length,
  • opportunity size,
  • time wasted with prospects who don't buy,
  • percentage of new accounts,
  • growth of existing accounts,
  • average margin,
  • ratio of proposals per opportunity, and
  • win rate.

Benchmarking can be quite useful, as long as it doesn't cause you to look at the wrong data, send you down the wrong path, or make the wrong decisions.  When it comes to sales selection, make sure science is on your side.

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Is This an Example of Succeeding or Failing at Inside Sales?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Apr 17, 2014 @ 07:16 PM



Dave Kurlan is a top-rated keynote speaker, best-selling author, sales thought leader and expert on all things sales and selling.

forestYesterday I was in the office, preparing for the formal introduction of Objective Management Group's (OMG) award-winning, new and improved, fourth generation, Sales Candidate Assessment (view the 25-minute Webinar here) when the phone rang and I answered.

Not only was it a cold call, but it was one I could write about - the best kind!

The salesperson was from Oracle and wanted to know if I was aware of and had seen their CRM software demonstrated.  

It's bad enough when companies move to the demo too quickly, but it doesn't get any faster or more transactional than when they ask you if you've seen their demo with their very first question.  But hey, give him a break.  At least he asked a question instead of telling me he wanted me to see a demo...

I explained what my company did, and that we would normally be recommending CRM to our clients and he repeated his question - did I want to see a demo?  I repeated my statement, that among other things, we recommend the appropriate CRM solution to our clients, and don't need to see a demo.  His response was that he was from inside sales.  In other words, "I'm not supposed to figure out what you're trying to explain to me - I'm an inside salesperson!"

He said he was making a notation in the file (in Oracle's CRM application?) and he thanked me for his time.

Of course, if he was not an inside salesperson, he could have asked any of the following questions:

  • Do you recommend Oracle?
  • How many of your clients use Oracle?
  • Can we get you to recommend Oracle more often?
  • Which CRM applications do you recommend?
  • Why do you recommend those?
  • What do you think is the most important feature?
  • Why is that so important?
  • How do you think Oracle handles that feature?

On the other hand, his job was to schedule demos and I wasn't going to become one, wasn't going to count toward his quota, wasn't going to count toward his bonus, and wasn't worth another minute of his time.

From an inside sales perspective, he actually did his job because he cut his losses and moved on to the next call.  But from a practical, business development standpoint, he completely blew his opportunity to become aligned with a major influencer to the vertical into which he sells!

There couldn't be a better example of just how consistently misguided some of the inside sales experts are.  I just set myself up for two weeks of nasty tweets and comments from the entire inside sales community.  Most of them hate me for my opinions.  Most of them can't see the forest for the trees and the top of the sales funnel is represented by the first row of trees in the forest.

Speaking of inside sales, Dan McDade wrote a great post on everything that's wrong with inbound marketing and how it is causing inbounditis!  It's a must-read.

What is your opinion about the appropriate role for inbound and inside sales?

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© Copyright  Dave Kurlan All Rights Reserved





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Is There a Lack of Clarity on the Current State of Selling?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Apr 14, 2014 @ 02:16 PM



Dave Kurlan is a top-rated keynote speaker, best-selling author, sales thought leader and expert on all things sales and selling.

clarityLast week, I wrote this article questioning the Death of SPIN Selling.  Over the years, I have questioned the impending death of other important areas like cold-calling, selling, sales process, salespeople and more.  As we continue to discuss these issues and more like them, let's think about why there are two camps - those who continue to prophecise the eventual death of salespeople and selling; and those who defend its existence and continued importance as we march into the future.

I believe that if you do some digging into who is writing relative to each topic, it becomes fairly easy to see that most of the deathmongers hail from isolated areas of the industry. Some of them are marketers who, in order to push their applications, must convince you that marketing can handle both finding and closing sales - all via the internet.  Others are from the big, new, inside sales industry.  Those bloggers too must convince you that traditional sales is on its way out the door in order to get you to buy their services.  It's no coincidence that because most inside sales groups are responsible for the top of the funnel (following up on leads or generating leads and/or meetings) or selling low-cost, high-demand products and services (transactional of course), they have little insight into a longer, more complex sale.  Then there are researchers who simply fail to talk with the right people. 

On the other side of this discussion are those, like me, who are saying, "Sorry, you just don't get it.  You don't know what you're talking about."  We are actually in the field, working with companies, their leadership teams, their sales management teams, their salespeople and helping them navigate these choppy waters and develop modern, effective sales processes, strategies, tactics and styles.

Without question, the internet, inbound marketing, and social selling have replaced traditional sales - IN CERTAIN AREAS.  But they are relatively small areas and most B2B sellers will NEVER, EVER find themselves in that situation.

If your company has a long sales cycle, a complex sale or sells a high-ticket product or service, you will always require great salespeople.  If your company is not the market leader, low-cost alternative, or the maker of the products that people wait in line to buy, you will always require great salespeople.  And if your company and/or your technology is new, you will require great salespeople.  It's really that simple.

There is some clarity though.  It's clear that most of the inside sales/marketing folks lack clarity when it comes to writing about sales.  What they write about certainly applies to what they are doing in their corner of the sales world, but it is no more representative of sales and selling than Palm Beach resorts and Orlando Theme Parks are representative of Florida.  People who visit there experience life in a controlled environment.  It's an aberration - a bubble - because the real Florida has violence, crime, pick-up trucks, cowboy boots and large metal belt buckles. 

Yesterday, during our 2014 Objective Management Group (OMG) International Conference, I was speaking with Cliff Pollan, CEO of Postwire, my favorite content-sharing application and one of our great Strategic Partners.  Despite leading a company that essentially helps companies market via an ability to push, pull and track content engagement, Cliff sides with those of us helping traditional B2B companies to sell their products and services.  

OMG introduced its brand new, fourth generation Sales Candidate Assessments at this conference and they go live next Monday, April 21.  I will be leading a webinar and walking end-users through the new report on Thursday, April 17, at 11 AM ET.  Even if you aren't a current user, you are welcome to join us and learn why there is so much buzz about OMG's Sales Candidate Assessments.  Register here.

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Could it Really be The Death of SPIN Selling?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Apr 09, 2014 @ 07:33 PM



Dave Kurlan is a top-rated keynote speaker, best-selling author, sales thought leader and expert on all things sales and selling.

deathI read an article last month that actually had as its title, The Death of SPIN Selling.  Although the author tried, the article did little to convince ME that SPIN was dead.  Say what you will about SPIN, it was the most comprehensive questioning methodology of its day.  In my opinion, the only problem with SPIN was that most salespeople were unable to  execute it!

The author wrote that since most prospects today know what they want, they won't rehash all of the needs and decisions that got them to this point, and as a result, a salesperson won't be able to back them up to an earlier stage of the sales process to implement SPIN or any other questioning strategy.

Well, maybe.

I agree that most prospects are well aware of what they want and why.  But, and it's a BIG but, they WILL answer your questions -- if, and only if -- they are the right questions.  The questions must be good, tough, timely and relevant.  They must be different from any questions that have been asked by others, and must lead to the tough conversation that nobody else has had with them.

For instance, today I was training a great group of salespeople and we worked on that very scenario.  At the point where it would be advantageous for the salesperson to back up to an earlier stage of the sales process, I conducted a role-play to demonstrate.  If you were a fly on the wall, you would have heard the prospect quickly become engaged and emotional, feeling tremendous urgency and commitment to make a change.  Yet, I didn't ask any questions about why they were looking, how they were deciding, what was driving the decision, or how we could win.  Neither did I talk about capabilities, present or propose, or talk pricing other than to get their commitment that they would spend more to do business with me.  

I know.  It was only a role-play and it wasn't real.  But it was very real for them and it would be very real for you too.  And if there is one thing I know about the role-plays that I conduct with salespeople, it's that they will always play the part of an extremely difficult prospect - just to make sure that what I'm demonstrating WON'T WORK!  And they never succeed at that...

It's not that you can't go backward.  It's not that you can't execute the questioning in SPIN. It's not that you can't execute the questioning in Baseline Selling.  It's just that you can't ask the same, stupid, moronic sales questions that everyone has been trained to ask!  Prospects will not tolerate that.

In most cases, when you read in a blog that prospects know what they want and you have to find some value to bring to the table, it's being written by people who understand marketing and buying more than they truly understand selling, sales process, lowering resistance and psychology.  Selling is not dead and not dying.  And the good, modern sales processes and methodologies aren't dying either.  What's dying is the resolve to learn how to adapt the good processes and methodologies for the selling challenges of 2014 and beyond.  Don't give up and don't give in.  Instead, learn how to make these crucial tools work for you and your company.

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Are Inside Sales and Consultative Selling Mutually Exclusive?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Apr 07, 2014 @ 04:11 AM



Dave Kurlan is a top-rated keynote speaker, best-selling author, sales thought leader and expert on all things sales and selling.

headsetI don't write about Inside Sales as often as I should.  After all, everyone else is writing about it, some bloggers are devoted to it, and if you read what the inside sales bloggers are writing, you would think that inside sales is king.  Of course, it is the king of the top of the funnel where everything begins, but with few exceptions, selling rarely ends in that department.

It's important to separate inside sales into its five most common forms:

  1. As a replacement for traditional outside sales.  They are quota-carrying salespeople responsible for the entire sales cycle, but doing it from the comfort of a desk.  This is technically "inside", but the comparison to inside stops there.
  2. Traditional inside sales where salespeople field incoming calls from people seeking prices and quotes and placing orders.  This form of inside sales has been around since the telephone.
  3. Customer Service, where the focus may be upselling and/or cross-selling, has been around for ages.  
  4. The top of the funnel group is responsible for generating leads and/or scheduling calls and meetings for more traditional salespeople.
  5. Inbound, the newest group, where salespeople work the contacts generated by websites, social sites and from getting found.

In this discussion, we'll focus on group #2, traditional inside sales, where salespeople field incoming calls from existing loyal customers, existing disloyal customers, and potential customers.

Throughout the history of selling by phone, these calls have traditionally taken the form of, "Yes, can I have a price on 2,500 microwidgitettes?"

And during the same history, the inside salesperson responds with something like, "Sure.  They are $1.29 each, but with a quantity of 2500, the price goes down to $1.19."

Then, the caller either places the order or says, "Thanks.  I'll let you know."

That call is incredibly transactional and if they buy now, or later, a sale cannot be any more transactional than that.  So where does consultative selling fit into that approach?

To properly answer the question, we must explore the context a bit more thoroughly.

Are there any downsides to this?  Could this approach really be hurting us?  Is there a problem with this type of efficiency?  Hell yes!

Let's look at the three types of potential callers and the potential downside:

  1. Loyal customer - What could possibly be the problem with this call being so transactional?  After all, aren't we all in a hurry?  There are two problems though.  The first is that while this loyal customer will place their order with you, your persistent competitors are working their asses off trying to make your customer their customer.  The second problem is that when the average call takes just under a minute, it is impossible to develop relationships.  And one thing that hasn't changed in all these years is that without that strong relationship, especially with the people they call all the time, it is easier for your competitor to lure this customer away!
  2. Disloyal customer - They do buy from you, but only when your price is lower or your competitor doesn't have what they need.  It may not be possible to change this customer's behavior, but you can't even try unless you get more than one minute on the phone with them!  You need the relationship, even if it's to earn the right to have a deeper conversation about this behavior and how you can help them save time (less calling, fewer shipments to receive and fewer invoices to pay), and money (better prices when they buy everything from one source, in greater quantities, and over an extended period of time).  This requires having an actual conversation and taking a consultative approach.
  3. Potential customer - They don't buy from you today, but they continue to call for prices.  There could even be more of these calls than those from your loyal and disloyal customers!  How can you possibly turn these callers into customers UNLESS you take a consultative approach and have a conversation about why they call, why they don't place orders, what might be going on, displeasure or unhappiness with another vendor, changes in their strategy, or anything else that might provide a clue and topic for the appropriate conversation?

This is all fairly simple in concept, but executing is more difficult because inside salespeople have been trained to be efficient, not consultative.  Inside salespeople have been trained to do one thing well, not multiple things.  This really involves training inside salespeople to have conversations that are similar to those that should be taking place on the outside.

Are inside sales and consultative selling mutually exclusive?  They seem to be today, but they shouldn't be.  Companies are failing to leverage all of the calls they receive and seem intent to spend more money on marketing to generate more calls and inquiries!  It costs a lot of money to generate a new customer.  It costs even more to have a disloyal customer.  It's a waste of money to let potential customers slip right through the earpiece of the phone.

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