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What the Sales World Can Learn from Marathon Participants

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Apr 23, 2014 @ 03:29 PM



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

marathonEarlier this week the world was once again focused on the city of Boston and the 118th running of the Boston Marathon.  I don’t run but I know several people that do and the preparation for running this, or any other marathon, is daunting.

This isn’t an event that one can take lightly.  Consider the length of time that a runner must train to prepare for running a 26.2-mile race.  It takes up to 20 weeks to prepare for a marathon, while gradually building strength and endurance.  It includes several shorter weekday runs as well as a long-distance run of anywhere from 12-15 miles one day over the weekend.  Someone training for a marathon should run up to 50 miles per week.  It takes an enormous commitment – to a hobby!

While some professional runners enter a marathon, more than 30,000 people were simply participating because they could.  These participants have full-time jobs, careers and businesses.  This is a hobby.  Yet their commitment to this hobby should be embarrassing to most salespeople, who don’t put forth anywhere near this level of commitment, effort, time or practice into their own career!

If you’ve been reading my Blog for the past 8 years and 1,150 articles, then you have no doubt read that salespeople can be categorized into 3 groups.  According to the data amassed by Objective Management Group’s (OMG) assessments of nearly 750,000 salespeople:

  • There is an elite group of salespeople but it represents only 6% of the sales population
  • An additional 20% of the sales population is good, but not great.
  • There is a bottom 74% and for the most part, they suck equally.

This contradicts the traditional thinking that the bell curve has a top 20%, middle 60% and bottom 20%. 

So perhaps, our top 6% is the group that takes selling as seriously as those runners that train for a marathon.  But the question is, why only 6%?  Why not everyone else?

To answer that question, we need to better understand the differences between selling and other professions.  If you forecast a sale, and it goes to a competitor, management says, “too bad.”  Losing is OK.  But even an attorney that loses a case got paid to lose…

If you’re a structural engineer and you screw up…if you’re a cop and you shoot an innocent victim, if you’re a bus driver, train conductor, airline pilot, or ship’s captain and you hit something…if you’re in manufacturing and you turn out defective products…if you’re a safety inspector and you “pass” a product that fails…

Most professions have no tolerance for failure. In sales, because it’s not just possible, but likely that salespeople will fail, most companies have sales cultures of mediocrity, making it a virtual certainty that underperforming salespeople will continue on that track.

If underperformance is acceptable, than why would anyone other than the most committed salespeople, put in the effort and time that a marathon runner would?

Can we change this? 

Not until we stamp out mediocrity. That won’t happen until we raise the bar on sales management.  Only 8% of all sales managers make up the elite level and only a total of 18% are competent at sales management and coaching.  With 82% bordering on sales management incompetence, it’s no wonder that we can’t make improvements to the levels of commitment, effort, time, practice and effectiveness of most salespeople.

I’m one voice, but if you’re as disturbed by all of this as I am, perhaps you’ll share this with all of the CEO’s, Presidents, Sales VP’s and Directors, Sales Managers and salespeople in your circle.  Ask them what they have observed.  Ask them what they think.  Ask if they see the need to change something, anything, anytime soon.  And chime in with your own comments about this question – can we change this?

As long as we’re talking about the quest for sales excellence, check out Jack Daly’s new book, Hyper Sales Growth.  In his Weekly Insights Newsletter, Verne Harnish, the Growth Guy, wrote, "It's finally here! The book all the millions of fans (that's literal) of Jack Daly have been wanting -- a book that shares the same time-tested sales management techniques that work to drive the growth he's been teaching in his powerful and packed workshops. It's all about getting the sales management piece right - and this is the book that shows you the way."  

I don't know about you, but there just isn't enough good sales management guidance and with only a handful of us devoting our Blogs to it, a book from someone like Jack will be quite helpful.  To take a line from the old Smucker's Jelly tagline, "...it's just got to be good."

© Copyright  Dave Kurlan All Rights Reserved





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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.

Image credit: wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo

© Copyright  Dave Kurlan All Rights Reserved





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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?

Image Credit: Foto4u 123RF.com

© 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.

Image credit: rtimages / 123RF Stock Photo

© Copyright  Dave Kurlan All Rights Reserved





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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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© Copyright  Dave Kurlan All Rights Reserved





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