Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

Sales Accountability Lessons from the Emergency Room

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Aug 15, 2016 @ 10:08 AM

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I noticed the nurses and doctors rushing past me one afternoon as I lay on a gurney, parked in the hallway of a busy ER. Reasonably sure, by then that my spooky, painful experience was just kidney stones, I turned my focus to all that rushing about.

Over the course of a few minutes, a nurse, then another nurse, then a doctor, and several more, rushed by, all moving quickly to the same place past the central desk and part way down one of the halls. They weren’t running, exactly, but they were moving pretty fast.

Then I overheard one of them yelling over her shoulder, “I’ll look that up in five minutes,” she said, “I have to get to our huddle!” I felt like a kid hearing a siren and waiting to see the fire trucks, only to realize that it’s just the noon alarm in the center of town.

One of the more indispensible tools for the world-class sales manager is the huddle. Yet it is often neglected due to real or imagined time constraints. Why?

For sales managers, the morning huddle is primarily an accountability tool, to help salespeople stay focused on the most important top-line pro-active behaviors that will help lead to the results they want. That might seem like something salespeople wouldn’t love. However, executed properly, by a sales manager that has embraced the huddle, sees the value in it, and wouldn’t live without it, the salespeople in turn, also love it. And here are the top reasons:

Top Three Reasons Why Salespeople Love the Huddle

  1. Gets everyone feeling like they a part of something bigger.
  2. Creates a team spirit.
  3. Leaves them uplifted and energized 

And here are the Top Three Reasons Why Sales Managers Love the Huddle

  1. Creates peer-oriented accountability
  2. Builds bonds and energizes the group
  3. Provides a daily conduit to provide strategy, direction, and clarity to the team

Of course, this assumes it is done right. On the flip side, can you imagine that it doesn't always go this way? It’s probably not hard to believe that there are some real time-wasting huddles out there. Welcome to the land of Dilbert, where the manager drones on and everyone is checking their emails. Okay, when I hear about how much people don’t like it, these are the usual reasons:

Top Three Reasons Why Salespeople Hate the Huddle

  1. Too much criticism or too negative
  2. Always runs long so cannot plan around it
  3. Types of activities reported are inconsistent with stated goals
  4. Boring waste of time

When the Huddle has been commanded from above because of something an executive read about online or learned at a conference, and the manager herself is not bought in, the results are predictable.

For the past 30 years starting with my first introduction to huddles from a coating manufacturer, I have found this tool to be one of the most indispensible for the well rounded sales manager who shapes their environment and gets results; the same kind of manager who has mastered coaching. For more on coaching, read this article. I consistently hear that huddles are the one thing they would never give up. 

If doctors and nurses in a busy emergency room put saving lives on hold to have their daily huddle, we can certainly take 10 minutes a day from our 50-plus-hour weeks to make sure all those hours are used in such a way that success is unavoidable.

Topics: Sales Coaching, accountability, top sales leadership, sales managerment, daily huddle

Consultative Sales Lessons from the Beach

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Apr 06, 2016 @ 11:04 AM

Parrots-BeachHawkersArticle_3.jpgCan you learn something about selling from a trip to the beach? I hope so, or I'll have a hard time writing off part of my trip. When I go there, which for reasons that will become apparent is not often, I cover myself completely and sit in the shade of a large umbrella. Then, like a pre-historic sundial, the umbrella is moved around the chair as the day passes, keeping me in the shade. It's a lot of work. Clearly, visiting a sunny place wasn't my idea, but let's make the most of it, shall we? Have you ever noticed the people who walk along the beach selling stuff? How would you like that job? At some resorts, there will even be a few vendors invited onto the property to sell people by the poolside, and this is where I got the chance to observe hand-to-hand sales up close. What fun!

Two salespeople walked from person to person: one with a parrot, and one with a camera. The offering was to have your picture taken with the bird, and later in the day, prospects would go to their office and purchase the picture. Before I get too far in this discussion, I want to be clear that this is not an article about how to sell stuff at the beach. So if you sell cloud computing, staffing solutions, mobile apps, building materials, construction equipment, television advertising or one of 732 other product and service categories, I promise there are lessons for all of us. 

One of the more simple rules in sales, that some find difficult to execute, is that one should be focused more on the prospect than on the product, at least in the early stages of the discussion. Yet when most of us first start working at a new firm as a salesperson, among the first things we learn are the products and services we offer. So this is where the confusion starts. To be sure, knowing your products is critical to your success, after all, and your ability to present them is often the prerequisite for the sales manager letting you get out there all by yourself. There is little attention paid to your ability to sell, because most companies do not measure it, or don't measure it correctly. In the movie, Tommy Boy, we see that the "teacher" wasn't much better than the student in this area, even though he could say, "the spectrometer readout on the nickel-cadmium alloy mix indicates a good rich strobe and fade, decreasing incidence of wear to the pressure plate," as though he was describing the omelet he had for breakfast.

Seldom is sales taught by companies specifically to improve selling skills. It’s like when teachers know their subject matter, but not how to teach it. Have you ever had a teacher like that? How was that class for you? What did you learn? One could ask the same about salespeople who haven't mastered selling. Have you ever run into a salesperson like that? How was that experience? At some stores, you’d grow old waiting for someone who could do more than simply read the product description on the shelf tag as easily as you can.

So back to the beach. The pitch goes like this, “How about having your picture taken with a parrot?” Let's look at the components of that question more closely. First, they mentioned the picture, which is essentially a description of the service they are providing. (So far, it's about them.) Next, they mention taking “your picture” which is how you fit in, but it's still part of the description of their product. (Also about them.) They just hope you have a need for such a thing. That’s not selling; that’s hope. I recommend the book, Hooked on Hopium by Michael Shannon for more about that. Lastly, they mention the parrot, which even though you can see the parrot, it is a just another feature of their product. (Again, it's them-based.)

So how did this play out? Less than 3% of the people encountered said, "yes," and presumably some of them only because they felt pressure, but with no intention of purchasing later. That 3% might be enough for them of course, but why not double or triple it, if you can? I bought the photo shoot of course, because I wanted a picture for this blog article, a fact entirely lost on them due to their ineffective sales process and inability to uncover any reasons why I might want to buy what they were selling that day. They must believe that the reasons to purchase are self-evident. How many of your people know your products and services so well, they believe your prospects' reasons for buying it from them are also self-evident? Sometimes, you still get the sale, as they did in this instance.

So how could they improve their odds of success and close more deals? How about using some of the same strategies that my clients use? What if we focused on the prospect? What if we made it all about them? It might be impossible to do initial research on our prospects in this case, but we are at a resort, after all, so we could assume that they probably have a smartphone and a Facebook account and they probably plan to tell their friends about the trip. If we're savvy enough to understand generational differences, then if our prospect is under 30 years old, they probably don’t use their Facebook account, and if they are under 20, they might not even have one, though perhaps they have Instagram and Snapchat, instead.

So we might ask something like any one of these questions, not necessarily in this order and not without waiting for responses and making it more conversational: “Have you posted on Instagram today to all of your fans? What are they missing out on today? Is it fair to say that you’re probably having more fun than they are? Is that the kind of thing you like to show each other? What are they expecting to see when you send them a picture? Are they expecting just a shot of you and your friend and that cool drink in your hand? What would it take to surprise them? Do you like surprising them? Is that what you guys usually do for each other? So if they saw a picture of a bird licking your face, would that do it? Would that be a "win?" Would that make them laugh? Tell me about it.” And so on.

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Okay, this is just one approach and there are lots more, and I was only giving you your half of the conversation. Use your sensory acuity to determine the best conversational direction for your prospect. The point is that you are focused on them, not you. You could ask them if they have a wall of photos at home.  “I bet you have lots of friends and family on that wall, and lots of faces, but no colorful tropical animals, right?” Once they are connected to the outcome – a unique post, a more interesting photo wall, or just more cheerful gloating – closing the deal follows naturally. "How about making that happen right now?"

As you read this, you might protest, “But the way they are currently asking is much quicker, ‘Would you like a picture with a parrot?’” See, they can quickly move from person to person, right? Yes, that’s true. But we aren’t interested in speedy conversations, we’re interested in closing more sales. Slow it down to speed it up. You've probably heard that many times before. In your business, ask yourself which part of the conversation you should slow down, in order to speed up the sale?

At a two-day sales training intensive in the mountains of Montana last week, we talked about slowing down the conversation to speed up the sale. “If they want a price now,” a salesperson asked, “why wouldn’t we give it to them?” And she continued, “I can only spend so much time with each prospect.” Hmm, I thought. “How long is your sales cycle?” She responded, “Averages thirty days,” So I asked, “How much is an extra 45 minutes going to throw that off?,” adding, “What if 30 days turned into 15 days as a result, or five, or one?”

How many of your salespeople can move past product knowledge and become more effective at selling? How many of your sales managers recognize that the products, services, and the intricacies of your industry are only prerequisites to selling and that mastering selling skills is the difference required for high performance? How much of your onboarding includes learning an effective sales process and helping your people clear away the mental blocks and self-limiting beliefs so they can execute it? Take five minutes and fill out this sales force grader to see where you stack up compared to other companies. And if you're interested, click here to receive a white paper on the Modern Science of Sales Force Excellence. The next time you're looking to unwind away from home, I suggest someplace cool and cloudy. It's less labor-intensive.

Topics: Consultative Selling, sales process, sales book, hunting, beach

The Emperor's New Sales Brochure

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Oct 27, 2015 @ 14:10 PM

In a coaching call early this week, my client asked me a marketing question that I hear quite often but never wrote about until now. To answer their question, I am going to divulge research results from a study we did here at Kurlan & Associates that up to this point, has not been widely shared by Dave Kurlan, who conducted the study.

We get a lot of marketing questions but it should be noted that our primary area of expertise is sales and not marketing. We are concerned with the “top of funnel” hand-off from marketing to sales, however. And we are also concerned with the role that marketing can play to position products and services in alignment with sales messaging so salespeople will have better conversations. That's why we tend to get questions related to this crucial hand-off period.

So what was the question? It was this: “Would it help our cold-calling efforts to send out a brochure to prospects prior to calling them?” Have you ever asked that question? Have you tried it? Did it work? I bet it did. But I bet you’ll be surprised by the results of our study.

Here’s how the study worked. We divided prospects randomly into three groups. Let’s call them Group A, Group B, and Group C. To each group, we either sent a brochure ahead of the cold call or we didn’t, according to this schedule:

Group A
To Group A, we instructed our client to make a normal cold call. We did not send a brochure prior to this call. This was our “Control” group.

Group B
To Group B, we sent out a brochure to prospects. We then followed up with a call that started with, “Hi, this is so-and-so from such-and-such. Did you receive the brochure I sent you last week?”

Group C
To Group C, similar to Group A, we did not send a brochure, but we made a cold call and instructed our client to start the conversation with, “Hi, this is so-and-so from such-and-such. Did you receive the brochure I sent you last week?” If you noticed that Group B and Group C said the same thing, then you are one very astute reader.

So Here’s the Summary
Group A: No brochure sent. Cold-called the prospect.
Group B: Brochure sent. Followed up with a call asking if they got the brochure.
Group C: No brochure sent. Followed up with a call asking if they got the brochure.


Photo Credit: ©blotty/123RF.COM and Dennis Connelly

And Here’s the Results
Group A, the cold-callers, were able to convert the call into a meeting one out of 10 times. 1 in 10.

Group B, the folks who sent the brochure out first and then followed up with a call, did much better, converting twice as many calls into meetings. 2 in 10. So now you know the answer to at least one question. It’s better to send out a brochure first and then call. You will have a much better conversation rate than simply cold calling by itself.

Putting ethics aside for a moment, there are two reasons why you might want to try what Group C did – either you are pressed for time and don’t want to wait for a mailing, or you are short on stamps and don’t want all that return mail clogging your actual brick and mortar (or aluminum) mailbox. There’s a third reason I should mention that you might want to try what Group C did, which is that their conversion rate was three out of 10 calls. 3 in 10. This is 50% more than group B and 200% more than Group A. This result surprised us. We were expecting it to be the same as Group A and certainly no better than Group B.

How can this be? There are a few explanations that appear to be at work in Group C and not in the other two. 

  • Group C knew in advance that the prospect hadn’t seen the brochure so there was no worry about their opinion of it
  • They had a useful conversation starter
  • The prospect, feeling a little guilty for not seeing it, might have given them a little extra consideration
  • Knowing the prospect’s answer ahead of time gave the salesperson more confidence

So now let’s get back to ethics. Do you really want to start off your relationship with your prospect with a lie, acting as if you did something you didn’t do? Keep in mind that with Group C, there was no brochure sent at all. What made the difference was the mindset of the salesperson.

So how can we learn to bring the more successful, Group C mindset to the call every time without dishing all the bullcrap? Which skills and what hidden weaknesses might be holding us back?

  • Do your salespeople develop early rapport?
  • Are they confident and credible?
  • Do they ask questions easily, and listen carefully?
  • Are their positioning statements aligned with prospects real issues?
  • Can they create urgency?
  • Do they recover from rejection quickly?
  • Do they have excellent sales posturing?

How many of your salespeople can be developed to hunt and close new business effectively? How well does management coach them and hold them accountable? How motivated are they and what actually motivates them? Are you training the right people? How many cannot be trained? If these are top of mind questions for you, a sales force evaluation will answer them. Click here if you would like to learn more about that.

By getting salesperson selection right, training and coaching existing salespeople, and ensuring alignment with leadership and corporate goals, you will improve the quality of your sales organization. You will improve sales efficiency, preserve margins, and create more success for you and your people.

 

Photo Credit (Top): ©MarinaGallud/123RF.COM

Topics: sales force evaluation, sales training, sales recruiting, sales candidate selection, Sales Coaching, coaching salespeople, hiring sales candidates, coaching sales managers,

Sales Candidate Selection and the Product Knowledge Fallacy

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, Oct 16, 2015 @ 14:10 PM

16337353_s_ChicagoMercantileExchangeTradingFloorIn a recent sales management training session, one of the managers spoke up about what he believed were the qualities needed in sales candidates that would perfectly fit his business. “They must have,” he confidently stated, “at least 20 years experience in the industry. They must know the product, know the customers, and be able to price the stuff off the top of their head.” I thought he would add that they must also know how to ride unicorns without holding the reins, but he didn’t. Do you share this view about the requirement of industry experience and product knowledge?

I asked him how long he had been in the business. “Thirty years,” he said. I asked him if he sucked for the first 19. He said “no.”

Dave Kurlan recently wrote a fantastic science-backed series of articles on getting the selection criteria right for sales candidates, showing how to predict with 92% accuracy whether they would be successful. Click here for Part 1 and click here for Part 2 of that series. He even showed how to get at least as good as 83% accuracy predicting the success of recent college grads!

To analyze the “Perfect Fit,” he looked at 26 different criteria related to things like selling skills, beliefs and selling-specific “DNA,” all within a selling context for that business in that selling environment. Guess which one was not on the list. You’re right! It was Industry Experience.

Now having said all that, to reduce, but not eliminate, the pushback to this article, let me be clear. Industry knowledge is important for selling. In fact, you better know it, because your prospect does. This is the internet age, after all, and working within that context is precisely the challenge of this new era for today’s salespeople. If you want to help your prospects, it’s good if you know more than they do. But in this same era, it is not often the case that you know more, and because of that, you need to bring something else to the table. Otherwise, you risk bringing nothing new but your price.

Selling is hard enough on it’s own. In widely-respected business author, Dan Pink’s book, To Sell is Human, Pink shares with the rest of the business community what you and I in sales already know - that sales is a profession. Knowledge about an industry, a product, or a service is just that – knowledge. Selling is a profession that requires skills and abilities that need to be learned, tuned, and practiced. Selling acumen, selling skills, and selling-specific “DNA” is more important to your success than industry experience or product knowledge, even if that experience and knowledge are requirements for your success.

In many areas of life, we see people getting stuck on details that masquerade as the real story. The map, after all, is not the real territory. It’s just someone’s representation of the territory. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who wrote The Black Swan, learned this on the trading floors of Chicago, New York, and London. In his book, Antifragile, he writes of a very successful trader of Green Lumber at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange who genuinely thought the lumber was painted green rather than that it was simply ‘freshly cut,” and this was after years of trading it! And he was darn good at it. That’s one example. Here’s another. The guy in the London Exchange considered to be one of the very best traders of Swiss currency at the time, could barely place Switzerland on a map and didn’t know what languages were most commonly spoken there. It was Taleb who coined the phrase, ‘Green Lumber Fallacy,’ to describe this phenomenon. We could call it the Product Knowledge Fallacy in our world.

Goodness! What’s wrong with these people who don't know what they are trading or who aren't superstar experts in their product? The answer is, nothing. They are excellent at what they do. The problem is with our observers' view of what we think is important. And when we’re immersed in an area of expertise and know all the players and all the nuances about the product, it’s easy to mistake the map for the territory.

Getting back to my recent sales management training session, this one manager, as stated earlier, insisted that any new sales candidates have at least 20 years of experience in working with ‘fluids’ such as hydraulic fluid and motor oil. After a five-minute role-play, with the manager playing the part of the prospect, he, and the others in the room comprising managers and VP’s, with an audible gasp at the conclusion, were disposed of this belief. For a transcript of the role-play, click here.

How often does your company get sales selection right?

  • Does your selection criteria need to change?
  • Do you attract the very best candidates?
  • Is your selection process efficient and effective?
  • Is your compensation aligned with the job description?
  • Will your on-boarding process support retention of the very best?

You don’t always have to know what green lumber means to be successful selling green lumber. Sometimes we miss what is most important because we are fooled either by conventional wisdom or by our own misconceptions. And just because sales candidate selection at your company hasn’t given you satisfactory results, doesn’t mean the selection process cannot be optimized going forward. Try using the same accurate and predictive sales candidate assessment tool that has been voted best Sales and Marketing Assessment Tool four years in a row at the popular sales website, TopSalesWorld.com. Learn more here.

Photo Credit: ©Demetrio Mascarenas/123RF.COM

Topics: sales, sales candidate selection, recruiting, WCSO, roleplay, evaluation, OMG Assessment, sales managerment

How Can Consultative Selling Already be Dead?

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Thu, Apr 30, 2015 @ 06:04 AM

 

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In this article for Middle Market Executive,Tom Searcy insists that Consultative Selling is dead.  He says that consultative sellers end up with buyers who can only make small decisions, experts end up in purchasing and only industry authorities can reach executive decision-makers.  He also says that consultative sellers ask, "what is your pain?", experts say, "here is your pain", and authorities say, "here is the pain your industry is having and how you can uniquely overcome it."

Is he right?

Read the entire article on Dave Kurlan's Blog

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales methodology, sales force evaluation, objective management group, Tom Searcy

Top 12 Reasons Why Sales Methodologies Fail

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Mar 09, 2015 @ 12:03 PM

sales methodologies

 McKinsey & Company did a study and documented that 75% of solution selling efforts were considered failures after only three years. I read this statistic in a book about sales conversations and was struck by it, but perhaps not why you might think. The authors went on to make a bold leap of logic. It’s the “messaging behind the methodology” that’s the problem, they concluded.

Why did this statistic jump off the page? It wasn’t because solution selling isn’t working. We know about its limitations. It wasn’t because they said “the right messages” are the key. I am sure that a good message is important. It wasn’t because I was shocked that most sales initiatives fail. That’s why I’m in this business.

It struck me because it’s almost exactly the same statistic as the number of salespeople who suck, 74%. Maybe they were rounding; I’m not. After assessing over 800 thousand salespeople, that’s the resulting number, and has remained consistent for the last three decades. It makes sense that the weaknesses at the salesperson level would scale up to organizations more generally. Without understanding why that happens and without understanding the impact of management, most sales process implementations will be doomed to failure.

Let’s take a look at what might be going on under the hood, but I’d like to start with two quick definitions:

What is a sales process? These are the specific steps you follow on your way from a lead to a closed piece of business. What are the stages along the way? What are your milestones within each stage? How do you know you completed a stage? How does that inform your pipeline and allow you to forecast?

What is a methodology? This is how you go about executing certain steps within your process. Solution selling, for example, is a methodology that suggests that you find out what your prospect needs and present a solution from your basket of goods or services. There are many others, including some that work well depending on the specific stage of the sales process.

We know there are lots of sales processes and methodologies. It could be that your “messaging behind the methodology” is not good enough, as the book suggested, or it could be that the messaging is only an important component of the execution of the whole process. Messaging, as described, is really a methodology itself. In a sales process, messaging is most important at the beginning, when you are getting the attention of your prospect, and at the close, when you are confirming your value differential.

In both cases, you are talking about whom you help and how you help them. At the beginning, your message refers to a hypothetical person, but presumably one just like your prospect with the same kinds of problems. At the end of the sales process, we’re talking about exactly your prospect, because now we have enough knowledge to do so, and furthermore, you identify the manner in which you help that highlights what your competition doesn’t have or doesn’t do well, but that your prospect needs. I believe that was the key message of the book I was reading.

Most salespeople don’t follow a process. To be precise, 90% of salespeople don’t follow a process. We know that because we asked 800,000 salespeople if they had one and 90% said they didn’t. Could that be indicative of the problem with your team? Just having a process, of course, won’t solve the problem, as the opening statistic from McKinsey pointed out. But without one, you’re wandering in a darkened Fun House at Coney Island hoping you bump into the exit door.

Most salespeople don’t use a methodology either. In my view, a good methodology should tap into what is already fundamental about selling and make it easier to follow so that everyone can use it. Dave Kurlan’s Baseline Selling, for example, accomplishes that.  Since Baseline Selling has a sales process built into it, the methodology component is comprehensive because it covers the entire process. When salespeople learn a methodology, sometimes it only covers a portion of the process.

To make matters worse, even when salespeople memorize a process and learn a methodology, they won’t necessarily execute it unless they have the skills and the underlying DNA. They might have to remove psychological barriers and other hidden weaknesses to clear the path. To learn more about this phenomenon, read this excellent article by Dave Kurlan.

So if most salespeople don’t have a sales process and don’t use a methodology, or if they do, it’s incomplete, and if most salespeople are missing important skills or have hidden weaknesses that prevent success, the fact that 74% of salespeople suck should be believable. As you might have guessed, that number isn’t a guess; it comes from those same 800,000 salespeople assessed by Objective Management Group, covering some 140 million data points.

It’s not enough to point out the failure of an incomplete and probably poorly executed launch of a methodology like “solution selling” and declare that messaging is the answer. There could be lots of other reasons for the failure rate.

Here are my Top 12 Reasons that Sales Methodologies Fail

  1. Leadership’s ability to create change
  2. Management’s impact on the sales force
  3. Inappropriate or incomplete methodologies
  4. Incomplete sales process
  5. Not following a sales process
  6. Too many skill gaps
  7. Hidden weaknesses
  8. Not enough training
  9. No reinforcement
  10. Ineffective coaching or simply not enough coaching
  11. No follow-through
  12. Lack of accountability

An evaluation of your sales team would reveal why your sales aren’t improving as much as you believe they could be.  It might be, after all, how you are messaging. It’s more likely, however, that it’s not that simple.

The first step is gaining an understanding of what is required to get your desired outcome. The next step is finding out what is standing in the way. We don’t have to guess, and we don't necessarily have to add a complicated message that only the elite 6% can execute. It’s best to measure precisely what is needed and construct a plan that results in a team that, regardless of your message, knows how to find a way to close more deals, faster.

By improving your sales force so that the bottom 74% are trained up or out; and by improving management to effectively recruit, coach, motivate, and hold people accountable; and by selecting the right processes and methodologies for your business, it’s much more likely that you won’t find yourself among the 75% in the graveyard of failed initiatives.

Topics: Hidden Weaknesses, sales process, sales methodology, sales management, sales evaluation, sales skill gaps

What Do Partisan Politics Have in Common With Hiring Salespeople?

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Dec 31, 2014 @ 12:12 PM

sales recruitingWelcome to a non-election year!  Isn’t it nice?  While last year is still fresh in our minds, I’d like to call your attention to that political noise once again.  Emory University did a study of partisan-political thought proving that we are not easily knocked out of our belief systems.  No surprise there.  More interesting about the findings is that once we believe something, our bias can run so deep that we’re unaware of our logical mind often disengaging when contradictory evidence is presented to us.  They could actually see this in brain scans.  Don’t we see this whenever we try to convince someone who just doesn’t seem to want to get it?  And how often are we that very person?

We get so much satisfaction, and as the study revealed, even pleasure from what supports our beliefs that we’ll actually construct evidence if necessary.  Our emotions overwhelm our ability to think rationally.  On the brain scans, the reasoning area of the brain goes dark in these circumstances.

Okay, here’s another one.  When we are distracted, it’s hard to stay focused.  Again, no surprise.  But see if you can pass this selective attention test.  Go to this site and click on the arrow to start the video.  Do not read below as you will see the answer.  Read the question and see if you can do it.  It’s a lot harder than you think.  Millions have already tried this and perhaps you are one of them.  But if not, you might be surprised at how difficult it is.  Some of you might follow the action well enough to get the right answer, but you would be among the very few.

So if I told you that there is no such thing as a sales personality, how would you change your thinking about salespeople?  If I told you that your social impression doesn’t count for much when selecting a sales candidate, how would that change how you hire?  After administering over 800,000 individual sales assessments that includes over 140 million data points, Objective Management Group concludes beyond any doubt that this is true.  It’s worth noting that this OMG test has won the Top Sales award for assessment tools for the fourth year in a row beating out nine other finalists (if that helps convince you).

So what does count?  Following decades of groundwork laid by Dave Kurlan, here is my Top 10 list in no particular order:

  1. Desire for success in sales (not just success)
  2. Commitment to do what it takes to succeed in sales
  3. A positive outlook
  4. Doesn’t make excuses
  5. Not too many hidden weaknesses
  6. An ability to prospect
  7. The skills to close a sale
  8. Account management and farming skills
  9. Trainability and Coachability
  10. Prior success selling in a similar selling environment in which you operate

What’s not on this list?  Drumroll, please.  Here is my Bottom 10 list:

  1. A firm handshake
  2. A warm smile
  3. The gift of gab
  4. Great looks
  5. Perfect diction
  6. Ready with a good joke
  7. Promptness
  8. Has all the right answers
  9. A great resume
  10. Excellent references

Gosh, “excellent references” is on the Bottom 10 list?  Yup.  A poor reference would be valuable information.  An excellent reference isn’t very useful.  It’s rigged after all, isn’t it?  Many items on this second list might seem like nice things to have, but they won’t predict success selling at your company.  The right combination of the Top 10 list, plus a few other dimensions, can make that prediction with very good accuracy.  To find out whether your candidate possesses these attributes, one must gather over 150 data points.  How many skills comprise the Closer Skill Set, for example?  Try this sample assessment on one of your candidates.

Are you using the right selection criteria to hire your salespeople?  Are you expert at interviewing sales candidates?  Do you attract the best candidates?  Do you cast your net wide enough to ensure the best candidates are in the pool?  Can you change your beliefs when presented with facts and data?  When focused on one set of attributes, can you shift your attention and notice what’s even more important?  Like in partisan politics, we often believe what we want to believe about someone, such as a sales candidate, and overlook what really matters.  Are you able to transcend the lens of your beliefs and see the truth?

 

Copyright: 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Dennis Connelly, sales, sales recruiting, hiring, recruiting salespeople, hiring salespeople, sales selection tool, sales selection, objective management group

The True Meaning of Sales Coaching

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Sep 23, 2014 @ 09:09 AM

14563945_s-weights-CoachingThere is sales coaching and there is sales coaching. Let’s talk about the latter. The most important skill to master for sales leadership and effective sales managment is this one. As a sales coach for sales managers, sales VPs, and CEOs, I see what works and what doesn't work when working with salespeople. I have watched sales managers push through to a find a new, more effective way of coaching their people to greater success, even when coaching a seasoned veteran who is already successful.

The best analogy I can use for this skill set is exercise. Practice, as you may already know, does not make perfect; it makes permanent. So to achieve more effective sales coaching, we have to know what better is, and then take it one incremental step further with every session.

To do this well, one must spend at least three times per week for 30 minutes coaching salespeople. Help them push through a problem to gain better understanding. A formal, structured, planned coaching session every day is even better. The session must go deep enough to tax the brain a little. And the result is growth.

Are you ready to hear two surprising truths about coaching? Okay.

Surprising Truth #1: The best managers spend 50% of their time coaching.

The company grows through improvements from the their team. That could mean adding territories, adding sales people, and/or making the existing people better. It is the sales manager’s job to grow the company through sales. Read my earlier article on how sales management is the most important job in the company.

Companies suffer without creating a sense of urgency among their team. Therefore, regardless of other growth strategies, managers must be working on improving the existing team. Executives must help clear a path for managers to spend their time coaching, motivating, and holding people accountable. Coaching is the number one priority, however.

Surprising Truth #2: Ongoing daily interactions with salespeople about their opportunities is not coaching.

Many managers believe that because they are frequently interacting with their team about all of the different opportunities and deals that they are working on, that they are coaching. But this is like saying that because I walk around all day and walk up the stairs occasionally, I’m exercising. Rather, this ad hoc interaction maintains current abilities, and does not lead to improvement.

So let’s get back to our analogy.

  1. Three times per week minimum: Exercising twice per week maintains current levels of fitness; exercising three times per week or more creates growth. Properly coaching three times per week leads to improvements and mastery.
  2. High Intensity: Exercising with intensity leads to growth; exercising at low levels maintains current fitness. The equivalent to "intensity" in coaching is to dive in more deeply, digging in to find the root issues, and finding the sometimes hidden diversions from sales process resulting in more “aha” moments, even for veterans and top sales people. I’ve witnessed this over and over. Our best people benefit from coaching.
  3. Variations: Mixing it up leads to better all around fitness and less injuries. Working the whole body is critical to long-term health. In sales coaching, work on the pre-call strategy one day, a post-call debrief the next day, sales process another day, and identifying and working on hidden weaknesses yet another day. The consummate sales person is a whole person who is able to listen, respond, show curiosity, and bring all of his or her character to the conversation.

Can your people coach effectively? Can they help all of your people to be even just one increment better every day? Do they tolerate non-performers too long? Will they take a discussion deep enough to find a lesson? Do they have the trust of their people? Are they seen as a master? Do they create a sales environment conducive to growth, energy, and enthusiasm? Are they in the right role? (Read Chris Mott's article on this subject here.) Are they building a culture of constant improvement?

What’s working well in your sales organization? What could make it better? Click here if you'd like to find out if your managers can achieve the level of skill required to meet your corporate objectives. And here is a link to a case study of a real sales force evaluation. A sales force evaluation will give you the action steps required to achieve your vision of success. If you are selling into a sales channel, you might be interested in reading Part 1 of my ongoing series on channel sales management. 

Evaluation Checklist

 

Photo Copyright: mindof / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: coaching salespeople, evaluate the sales force; sales assessments, sales leadership effectiveness, coaching sales managers,, constant sales improvements

Mastering Channel Sales Management - Part 1

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Sep 17, 2014 @ 04:09 AM

13300026 s ChannelSales tugpullingboatWhat is it about managing sales in the channel that is so much more challenging than managing direct sales? After reading about the perils of sales management over the past several years, it’s hard not to think of it as the hardest job in the company (though not the hardest job on earth). If you disagree, you’re right! But never mind, it’s not far off.

Your channel partners are the folks who sell your products to customers further down the sales or distribution channel. They could be distributors, rep agencies, value-added resellers (VARs), retailers, brokers, etc. To make it even more complicated, often we hire a sales agency wedged in between our company and our channel partner to act on our behalf leaving us even further removed from our end customers. That might be the right sales model for you, but the challenges are magnified.

In any case, with a channel sale, the front line sales people don’t actually work for your firm. At first glance, the regional manager for your products might barely seem like a manager since he or she might not have any direct employees. Where are his or her people? Or this manager might have five or six direct employees, two rep agencies, and five distributors and their respective salespeople to manage. It gets complicated, doesn’t it?

So how does this person hold all these groups accountable? How does he or she motivate the sales reps on a daily basis? Incidentally, Dave Kurlan wrote this terrific article on motivation. It’s worth a detour to read it. And perhaps still more challenging, how does one effectively coach these people who aren’t really your people so that they consistently improve and sell more of your products and services? I submit that this takes a manager’s manager. They must do what sales managers do but with one hand tied behind their back.

Since the start of this year, I have had the privilege of coaching sales managers in over 180 one-on-one sessions or as live coaching demonstrations of their sales people. About half of these managers work with channel partners. In fact, one such person manages several distributors, rep agencies, and a half dozen direct employees in one of the most far-reaching and complicated management arrangements I have seen. He raises channel sales management to an Olympic sport. Look for it in Rio 2016.

So let’s look at what these people must do to be successful.

Among many functions, a typical sales manager must do the following:

1)     Motivate their salespeople.
2)     Coach their salespeople to make incremental improvements every day.
3)     Hold their people accountable to agreed goals.

However, the channel sales manager must do a complicated variation on the above:

1)     Motivate their channel partners' salespeople.
2)     Coach their channel partners' salespeople to make incremental improvements.
3)     Hold their channel partners accountable to agreed goals, both in the field and at the level of the distribution agreement.

Channel sales managers must have all the people skills and sales management knowledge of a standard sales manager, plus the business skills to negotiate with partners, if not on the original deal (though they are often involved there as well), then on an on-going basis to get the results on which they have agreed. And they must do all of this without direct control over the salesperson’s day-to-day activity.

Under normal circumstances, the channel sales manager doesn’t determine who the front line sales people are, because they were hired by their partner. They must work with what they have, often in cooperation with distribution managers who might possibly be less skilled than they are. Here’s another article by Dave Kurlan that includes the top 10 problems with channel sales and how not to be held hostage.

In short, the job is simply harder than normal sales management, and takes more skill. The most important requirement to success is gaining the commitment of the channel reps to listen, to get better, and to make changes where necessary. This starts with the quality and strength of the original partnership agreement, which leads to the commitment on the part of your distribution sales managers to use their leverage to ensure that their reps are supporting the sales effort and aligning with your growth objectives.

Distribution partners cannot use the excuse that they have other products to sell. That’s a given. The growth goals, time commitments, and accountability are a key feature of the deal. But none of that makes the sales manager’s job any easier. He or she needs to have the added skill of coming across as a helpful participant and not a threat. Do your people have that capability?

Do your sales managers have what it takes?

  1. Can they set up an effective environment of accountability?
  2. Can they coach their channel partner’s salespeople?
  3. Can they motivate the reps throughout the channel to push even harder?
  4. Are they well-received and not seen as a threat?
  5. Can they forecast sales and not just report history?
  6. Can they lead in a variety of circumstances without losing their eye on key metrics?
  7. Can they get CRM working regardless of the hurdles?
  8. Will they insist on coaching the reps for continuous improvement?
  9. At a higher level, can they manage the relationship with the partner and keep them in line?
  10. Do they have the sales management DNA to be successful in this context?

In Part 2 of this series on managing channel sales, I’ll explore the challenge of coaching the front line sales team of your channel partner, why it’s so important, and how to lower resistance so you can meet your sales objectives. If you have questions about sales management, channel sales, this series, or this blog, email me at dconnelly@kurlanassociates.com.

Incidentally, Hubspot’s INBOUND14 event is happening this week in Boston. Dave Kurlan, author of Baseline Selling, will be speaking there today at 4:15 pm. Malcolm Gladwell, author of David and Goliath and other great books, will be speaking later this morning at 8:30 am.

 

Photo Copyright: pius99 / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, coaching, sales management, accountability, leadership, Motivation, channel sales

Price and Substance of Sales Objections

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Jul 08, 2014 @ 13:07 PM

Objections 070814 175pxWe all know the prospect who waits to the last minute and then tells you everything is fine except for the price. “What can you do about the price?” or “If you can match these guys’ price, the deal is yours.” or “The committee is prepared to approve the start date with you, but we need to get to our budgeted number. If you do that, we're good to go.”

When coaching clients, I like to ask them questions when they have prospects who seem to be changing the game at home plate. Here are some examples:

  • What was the return on investment (ROI) at your quoted price? 
  • What was their compelling reason to work with you? 
  • Before you gave them your proposal, when you asked them if they could spend this much money with you to solve all their problems and/or realize all these gains, what did they say?

Is price really the problem? Or does the problem lie in the execution of the sales process? We shouldn’t be in a position where nothing matters at the end but price. If we find ourselves there anyway, then we must not have uncovered a good enough reason to buy, or there is not enough urgency, or we haven’t differentiated ourselves, or we don't understand the decision process, criteria, and timeline, or all of the above. In other words, we weren’t following an effective sales process. Or they’re bluffing!

Recently, I was coaching a client who faced another problem. His prospect told him at the last minute, “Your product needs to have this one other feature,” adding, “That would really make it work for us, and we'd be prepared to say 'yes' now.”

I asked my client the following questions:

  • Were they already getting this feature from the incumbent? No
  • Are there other features you're providing that were important to them and that they couldn’t get anywhere else? Yes
  • And without this ‘important’ feature that they 'really need,' do they have a compelling reason to buy from you? 
  • Can they spend the money? 
  • Do they believe you understand their issues and have the capability to solve them? 
  • Do you understand the entire decision making structure?” 
  • Etc.

In short, doesn’t this look a lot like the price issue?

At the home stretch, your prospects have one last chance to exercise their leverage before committing to the deal. At this moment, they believe they can extract stuff from you – a better price or more features. Why not try, after all? But if you have followed the sales process correctly, then you know where your leverage really is, and you know whether or not they are bluffing.

The trouble is that they might really believe that they need these issues solved at the last minute. They need that price lower. They want the additional features. It would be just great! And even if they are bluffing, it might not be conscious. Such a devilish place to be, no?

Moving past these objections means acknowledging their concerns and requests, and then reverting back to what's really important. "I understand getting to your budgeted number is really important to you. Can I ask you a few questions about what we talked about in our first meeting?" If you do this well, they might even forget they brought it up.

Following the correct sales process for your business is critical to avoiding this endgame. Does your team have a process that they follow religiously? Do your sales managers know how to effectively coach to your process? Do they hold their people accountable to the sales process? Are your sales people getting one incremental step better every day? Maybe it’s time to find out.

evaluation_checklist_cta

 

If you would to see Dave Kurlan talk about the value of an evaluation, click on the link below.

evals

 

If you would like to send one or more of your sales managers to a two-day Sales Leadership Intensive, or would like to learn more about it, click on the following link.

Sales Leadership Intensive

 

Image Credit: Copyright: icetray / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: sales process, sales leadership, Salesforce, kurlan, salesforce evaluation, objections, sales objections, handling objections



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