Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

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

Sales Process Gone Wrong or A Negotiation Tactic?

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Jun 17, 2014 @ 12:06 PM

28604675 s Negotiating TimeToCloseThere are critical moments when many deals fall apart. It’s after you’ve gone through the whole sales process, have a proposal on the table, believe you have the right solution, and believe your prospect knows it. Suddenly, they throw a curve ball. “This is twice what we want to spend. Money’s tight this year and we just can’t do it at this price.” You scratch your head, “Where did I go wrong?” Failure to proceed, at this critical moment, the right way is likely to kill this deal.

Many sales professionals reading the above might be thinking, “You failed to find the budget. You didn’t do a trial close. Your ROI (return on investment) wasn’t large enough,” or some variation of, “You screwed up, silly. This is your fault.” But you’d be right…and wrong. You're right that it might have been possible to avoid this in the first place. But it might be that there something else going on.

Then you might be thinking, “Well, they just don’t like you. They want to bow out gracefully. You missed an important part of their buying process or overlooked key internal politics.” All very possible indeed, and you might not find that out until this deal is either won or lost – until the last phone call is made.

These are the moments where laziness and complacency lose. This is the moment when you need to look carefully at your schedule and figure out what you can move, because this is time sensitive. If you’re confident you've done everything right, then you are not dealing with a normal objection; you are dealing with a negotiator, and they just signaled that it’s time to close the deal.

It’s important to learn and understand the distinction between an objection and its close cousin, a negotiation. It is precisely your understanding of the mechanics of the sales process that will guide you. Executed properly, one must have faith in the process. Run through the checklist. Figure out if you missed anything. Read the cues from your prospect. Where are they coming from? What’s in their tone?

I’ve worked with a client recently who heard the phrase, “You’re really not treating me fairly, and I don’t like it. Who at your company put you up to this? Was it the president?” And they went on to close that deal. How?

An objection is a deflection. Treat it like an opinion. Don’t get caught up in it or there will be no end to them. As Dave Kurlan points out, an objection often comes when you are too close to closing the deal for comfort, in the mind of the prospect. Read his excellent article on the subject here

Objections throw you off track, put you on the defensive, weaken your position, and are meant to delay the process. In a negotiation, your prospect wants to do all of that and extract something from you.

Let’s get back to our example, “You’re not treating me fairly.” Inexperience or the tendency to get emotionally involved might lead you to defend yourself. “We don’t mis-treat people around here.” Big mistake. And this is why deals at this stage are often lost. Don’t get defensive. Don’t defend. Don’t convince them that they are wrong about you. The essence of getting too emotionally involved is getting yourself caught up in what you are going to say. Read another article by Dave Kurlan about getting emotionally involved, here. It’s when the chatter inside your head drowns out your prospect. You cannot properly hear them, and you lose control of the process.

Here is just one example of a response that might work better. “I’m sorry you feel that way. This is the solution that will work for you. Anything short won’t work and you’ll be wasting money.” Treat the harsh words like an objection and acknowledge their opinion. As soon as you feel accused, you’ve lost. Stay in control. If you’re right about this deal, then the response above does two things: 1) You avoided a battle you can only lose; and 2) You remained steadfast and gave them a reason to say ‘yes.’

There is a delicate moment here. If you even start down the road of defending the accusation, you’ve created a new environment where that concern must now be resolved before you can work together. By letting it run off your back and moving on, it might not need to be further addressed.

In these final moments of negotiation, it is important to stay on top of it. They’ve given you an indication that this deal will get done in the next couple of days by lobbing out something provocative. It is the time to focus and drive through a final deal. In this example, an agreement was reached the next day for a number close to the original proposal.

 

Can your people do this?

Can they recognize a negotiation for what it is?

Can they consistently “handle” objections properly?

Can they stay emotionally uninvolved and maintain control?

Will they roll up their sleeves and finish the deal?

Are they too complacent?

Do they have ‘need for approval’ getting in their way?

Do they have the necessary closing skills?

Do you have the right sales people?

How effectively does sales management coach through this process?

 

A sales force evaluation would answer these questions among many others. And to learn more about sales force selection, download this white paper. If you believe your sales force could or should be performing significantly better than they are, and want to chat about that, send me an email.

 

Photo Credit: Copyright alphaspirit / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Emotionally Involved, Hidden Weaknesses, sales management, sales leadership, sales evaluation, negotiation, screwed

Sales Management - The Most Important Job in the Company

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Jun 10, 2014 @ 11:06 AM

12059360 s SalesManagement 061014When we see sales organizations move from a state of underperformance to a state of high growth, we’re consistently reminded that the sales manager has the most important job in the company.  If you’re a CEO, sales director, sales VP, and/or otherwise lead a team of sales managers, you understand the outsized influence this group plays on the success of their teams and the company as a whole, dwarfing the role of individual salespeople, and even sales superstars.

Yes, you need a great sales team, full of A players. Yes, you need great marketing to shout from the highest perch about your products and services. Yes, you need great organizational leadership. And yes, you need a good reason for anyone to do business with you. But it doesn’t mean a whole lot without sales. And sales will flourish or wither on the skills and mastery of sales management.

So what’s the single most important job of the sales manager? Coaching. And coaching should account for about half of your managers’ time. Yep. Half. The sales manager is not an administrative function. Watch how a basketball coach paces on the sidelines, calling out instructions or screaming at the refs, watching every player’s every move, gauging the resistance posed by the competition, and redirecting the team. That’s like sales management. It’s in the moment, real time, hand-to-hand, and total commitment.

I know I’ll get pushback from the folks who spend most of their time on business and product strategy, organization and reorganization, planning, managing compensation, internal company issues, dealing with crises, and direct selling. Some or all of those tasks are vital to your success and all are good functions of sales management, just like watching the tapes and devising a training program for your basketball players. Keep doing them, but make coaching a larger part of your day.

The coach watches how the job is getting done and provides expert advice on how to get even better. The coach turns a player with promise into a real contributor. A great coach can turn a star into a superstar. How many big stars have you seen fall off the radar after they move to a new team? How many salespeople have you hired that were superstars elsewhere but fell flat at your company. But for a precious few elite self-winding sales machines, often, their stardom was a function of the organization and the attention they received from management. Read Dave Kurlan's terrific article on the keys to making significant improvements in your team.

Sales Managers must view coaching as their primary function. But let’s break down what that means by first talking about what coaching is not:

Coaching is not…

  1. A pipeline review
  2. The daily plan
  3. Yesterday’s rundown of prospecting activity
  4. Tips on presentation skills
  5. “How’s it going with the Jones deal?”

Rather, these are all opportunities to advise, motivate, and hold people accountable – very important. And while one can argue that coaching is part of the discussion, they are not really getting at the heart of high-impact coaching.  Managers often do a good job of discussing opportunities as they unfold but it is often ad hoc and momentary – good enough to provide direction, but not deep enough to change behavior. It looks a lot like coaching, but it’s not enough. 

Coaching is…

  1. A structured, regularly-planned, one-on-one conversation
  2. A deep dive into a specific opportunity
  3. A careful strategizing of an upcoming opportunity
  4. Finding where the process broke down
  5. What went right; what went wrong
  6. How to do it better the next time
  7. How to go back and undo a mistake
  8. Elevating your salesperson’s game

Similarly, coaching sales managers means ensuring that these steps are taken, that administrative functions are minimized to what is truly important, and that a culture of coaching is fostered.

One measure of a good salesperson is how well they find and close opportunities. One measure of a good sales manager is how well they develop their team. To carry this one step further in the organization, a sales VP should be concerned with the development of each salesperson reporting to the manager.  This, and the corresponding growth of the organization, is the measure of the sales manager’s success. The manager makes sure he or she has the right team and coaches their people to close more business. The VP makes sure he or she has the right managers and coaches them to ensure they are developing their team.

A culture of coaching and constant day-to-day improvement is the secret to continual record-setting growth. The other functions of the sales organization support this activity. Does your sales organization have the skills, DNA, aptitudes, will, and commitment to get to this level? Maybe it's time for a sales force evaluation. The quality, ability, and willingness of your sales team to sell depends on the activities of your sales managers. If you believe you you’re not hitting your full potential, look carefully at this position, and ask if your organization regards it with the importance it deserves as the most important job in the company.

 

Phote Credit and Copyright: neilld / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: sales, sales management, sales leadership, assessment, evaluation, sales VP, world class, sales conversation

Transcending the Transactional to Drive Better Sales

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, May 20, 2014 @ 04:05 AM

be the difference, selling against the tideA version of this article appeared in Building Products Digest in May, 2014.

After all the advice you’ve been getting from sales professionals, managers, trainers, and sales columnists over all these years, why is the transactional sale still so common? Why haven’t we swam against the tide and found a better way? Perhaps it’s because it’s easy. Someone calls, you quote a price, you get the order…or not. Move on to the next call. What’s wrong with that? In some cases, there’s nothing wrong with it; in other cases, there’s a lot. Let’s break it down.

 Transactional sales are easy and uncomplicated. That’s the irony. We love them. And that’s why your sales people gravitate to selling transactionally even when they know there’s a better way and even when they know that applying a sales process and applying better selling methodologies might give them better results. 

In an ideal world, we have the best product in a category with the best value that no one else has and everyone in the market knows we have it. Just sit back and let the phones ring, right? Imagine being an iPhone salesperson. I mean no disrespect to the helpful folks at the Apple store, but if there were ever a quintessential example of an order-taker, that would be it. And if your products were like that, you wouldn’t need sales people at your company either. Imagine if your people drove around with a hand-held order machine like those guys have. “And would you like your receipt emailed to you, Mr. Campbell?”

But your products might not be like that. There is always an alternative, to your product, to your company, to your category, or even to your people – more on that in a minute. And thankfully, this is so. It's why we need good sales people. It gives your people a chance to shine, to build value, to solve business problems, and to differentiate not only your products but themselves.

Maybe you sell a broad mix of products. Some are special. They might have a longer sales cycle as you try to get the product sold as a stock item, or at least regularly purchased as a tried and true product. Perhaps you’re hoping an end user will get hooked on a particular type of widget or that a dealer stocks a certain set of products. We’ve talked a lot about how to sell those items in other articles.

But what about the products that sell more like a commodity? What about the products for which customers call and say, “I need another 300 pieces.” What about the products that seem like price is the only thing that matters? That’s our domain today.

Let’s first divide the transactional sale into three categories so we can understand what to do in each case.

  1. First we have the customer calling who always buys this product from you.
  2. Then we have the customer who sometimes buys it from you.
  3. And finally, we have the customer who calls and never buys from you.

Case 1: In this first case, where they always buy from you, that’s as close as you’re going to get to selling iPhones. Be happy, but don’t be complacent. The key to it working long term is maintaining a great relationship with that customer. They’re not shopping you, therefore they like you. All of the other qualifications are there, by definition. So the only thing you can mess up is the relationship. Put your best account managers on it and cherish them.

Case 2: In the second case, where they sometimes buy from you, you’re locked in purchasing department purgatory. When I talk to companies about this group, I’m almost always told the same thing, “They only care about price.” I remember one such dealer many years ago who was purchasing primed wooden trim boards and everyone in distribution “knew” that price was all that mattered to him. Then one day, someone sold him PVC trim boards at three times the price. What happened? Different value proposition? Really? Are all primed wooden trim boards the same? This was a missed opportunity.

The key, in this case, is not accepting that the sale is transactional at all. They sometimes buy from you and sometimes someone else. Why? Is price all that matters? What is the product being used for? Are there alternatives? Have they ever had a problem? And what other problems did that problem cause? Does timing matter? Does having it in stock matter? What if it costs more to keep enough in stock to never run out? Who else is affected by this purchase? How often do they need it? How many more times this month? How else could we structure this to get more of their business? Why is this important? Who else cares? Should they be in the conversation? 

Find out who’s wearing the decision and get to that person. The best salespeople can do this. Then, have a business conversation. If all you do is quote the price, then you’re the same as the other guy but with a different phone voice. When the product seems the same, and the service seems the same, and the only thing that changes is the day of the week, then you need to be the difference.  Slow down the call, find out what other factors are on the table, and talk about their business. Be the only one who really gets it. When your people can do that, they are the difference.

Case 3: In the third case, where the prospect frequently asks for a quote, but never, or rarely, gives you the business, we must take a different approach and it might sound something like this. 

Salesperson: “You call a lot asking for a quote, and you’re real nice; you say we’re competitive, and you say good things about us, but we never get the business, why is that?”

Prospect: “It’s just business.”

Salesperson: “Is it fair to say you’re in business to make money?”

Prospect: “Aren’t we all?”

Salesperson: “And if you never get the business, how can you make money, and how can you be in business?”

Prospect: “Look, I get a lot of quotes from people who don’t get the business, and I give a lot of quotes for my company and don’t get the business. That’s what it means to be in business.”

Salesperson: “That doesn’t work for me. With all this price quoting, I’m spending a lot of time and not getting paid. Tell me what it’s going to take to do business with you and if it makes sense, I’ll give you another quote.”

Often, what’s happening in this third case is that you are being used to keep someone else’s prices low. The prospect is behaving as if business is devoid of relationship, both with respect to you and to the incumbent. And they will keep behaving that way until someone shows them a reason to change their thinking. Why not be the first one to do that? You have nothing to lose. They’re not your customer, but they called you. Seize the moment.

In summary, we tend to like transactional sales because they are easy. But we are leaving much on the table. We’re either vulnerable to the competition, we're stuck in a price war and a race to the bottom that no one can win, or we’re getting walked on while letting good potential business slip away. 

Can your sales people cope with these issues and reverse the transactional tendency? Can they change the nature of the conversation and reverse the downward pressure on margins? Can they sell more consultatively and become the primary differentiator? Getting the answers to these questions could be the beginning of transcending the transactional sale and having your best year ever.

 

Image credit: ajcotton / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Consultative Selling, sales management, role play, transactional sales, better sales people

What NASCAR Drivers Share With Elite Sales Closers

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, Apr 25, 2014 @ 11:04 AM

RacingToWall BristolMotorSpeedwayImagine speeding down the straightaway in a racecar heading for the wall. You know you have to turn left at some point but when? At 200 mph, it turns out that you and me will start that turn 750 yards from the wall, assuming we find ourselves in that situation. And aren’t we pretty good drivers?  We can feel when it’s safe, right? When folks like us get behind the wheel of a racecar (a rare event for sure and not short of challenges), it turns out, we consistently start the turn at about that point. A professional racer, on the other hand, waits, to move the apex of that turn further along the corner, so he or she can punch it into the next straightaway with maximum speed and efficiency. Of course there are braking and throttle skills at work as well, but I'm more interested in the timing.

I confess I’m too afraid to try this myself so I learned about it from a former professional NASCAR driver turned businessman.  He said that he would start the turn closer to 250 yards. When common folk like me sit next to him for a spin, he said, many end up wetting themselves with fright. No joke. At that range, without understanding what the car can really do, we’re convinced we’re going to hit the wall. We turn too early. We believe there is no other option, for certain death awaits us with any further delay to make that turn. But if we make the turn when we think it feels right, we will surely lose the race.

What does this have to do with sales? Think for a moment about closing an opportunity. What is the difference between a typical salesperson, comprising 74% of all salespeople, and one of the elite 6% who can hunt and close and don’t have too many personal weaknesses getting in their way?

  1. Typical salespeople go for the close too early. They panic, afraid they'll hit the wall.
  2. The elite will wait for the right moment, further along the selling track.
  3. The bigger the deal, the more anxious the rest of us are to move things along. We're afraid we'll lose the deal.
  4. When home plate looks a little too fuzzy, the elite recognize it as a mirage and back things up a bit.

When typical salespeople ride shotgun with elites and watch them wait with patience through awkward silences, they wet themselves. I think this has actually happened. So might there be other times in the sales process that experience and knowledge will demand extra patience and thought? 

  1. When you get the call from someone who says they did their research, know what they need, and are ready to buy, what do you do? If you give them a price, what besides price will be your differentiation?
  2. When someone you just called says they want to see a demo and find out what you can do for them, what do you do? If you show them a demo and tell them what you can do for them, how will you find out what they really need? What do you have left to trade for that information?
  3. When someone says they are gathering information for the boss and need a proposal from you by Thursday, what do you do? If you give them a proposal by Thursday, aren’t you just one line on their Excel spreadsheet?

Usually, we need to back up to move forward, to slow down to speed up, and to go deeper to go further.  If we’re really paying attention, sometimes we can’t even start the sales process until we understand the organizational issues of the buyer. We may need to simply ask them. “Are you ready for the changes we might bring? Who is clinging to the older version? What happens if they get upset at the 11th hour? Who else cares about this? Why is it important? What if it doesn’t happen?”

Are you comfortable asking these questions? Who on your sales team moves too quickly, believes they have a deal about to close, and finds themselves chasing a prospect who’s gone into hiding? Who has the ability to walk a prospect back in the process to ask enough good questions to learn when to time the close appropriately?

I asked my racecar-driving business friend how the drivers could be so fearless. He said they weren’t fearless. They just appeared that way. They know exactly what they are doing. Elite salespeople appear fearless too. They use tough questioning, herculean patience, and controlled silence to create closing opportunities that actually close. Maybe it’s time to evaluate your sales organization, see how your team stacks up against these elites, and find out what needs to happen to get your whole team revved up to take your business to the checkered flag.

Image credit: actionsports / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: sales, sales management, omg, Closing Sales, NASCAR, Racing, Racecars, Elite

HR and Sales - Part 3: Top 7 Reasons We Make Sales Hiring Mistakes

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Mar 02, 2014 @ 11:03 AM

CrashedAirplaneDid you ever wonder why so few sales candidates become top performers, even when they survive the first six months? Take a look at the last five sales people hired at your company. Do you share this common experience - that they have not become top performers - with so many other companies? If you have less than optimal outcomes in your own business in this critical role, take a look at your selection strategy.

If you missed Part 1 in this series on HR and Sales, click here.

If you missed Part 2, click here.

There are many factors that can impact sales recruiting, but let’s take a look at the most common reasons for a failed sales hiring strategy.

 Top-Seven Reasons Why We Make Sales Hiring Mistakes:

  1. Success in another sales job - "they must be good"
  2. Infatuation – “such a great person”
  3. They came highly recommended
  4. Failure to understand the influence of their circumstances (baggage!)
  5. Poor on-boarding process
  6. Desperation to fill a vacancy
  7. Laziness - "let's just get this done"

So what should we do differently? Here’s an idea that will set you on the right course.

Five-Step Sales Recruiting Solution:

  1. Appropriate, repeatable, selection process – See Part 2 of this series.
  2. Objective sales-specific assessment with accurate interpretation
  3. Effective interviewing skills
  4. Supportive sales culture and leadership
  5. Proper on-boarding experience – Read this article from Dave Kurlan

If you missed our recent open webinar on sales leadership, you won’t want to miss Part 2 of the series. You can view Part 1 here and register for Part 2 here.  It will be held on March 12th at 11:00 AM ET.

You may download our White Papers on sales candidate selection by clicking here.

Image credit: csakisti / 123RF Stock Photo

Copyright 2014 Dennis Connelly. All rights reserved.

Topics: sales culture, sales, HR, human resources, hiring, recruiting, assessment, omg, hiring mistakes

HR and Sales - Part 2: How HR Drives Effective Sales Recruiting

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Feb 19, 2014 @ 14:02 PM

Interview 250W 2We’ve been talking a lot, this month, about how non-sales key executives in companies can impact sales. Chris Mott wrote about the role of the CFO in driving sales and Dave Kurlan wrote about the important and often overlooked role of the CTO in the sales effort. My recent article addressed Human Resources and specifically explored the traits sales people must possess to be successful. There’s a lot more to add in the HR category. Today, let’s look at what HR believes it should do when hiring sales candidates. And let’s talk about what goes wrong.

If you look at normal HR general procedures for hiring, you will find something like the following:

  1. Advertise for candidates
  2. Screen candidates
  3. Properly interview
  4. Understand personality
  5. Demonstrated skills
  6. Background checks
  7. Pre-hire physicals

The first five of these steps are meaningful for our purposes in talking about how to build a world-class sales organization. We’ll leave numbers six and seven for HR to work out on their own. I have heard that those two last steps are commonly skipped. So let’s look at the first five one at a time.

 

Advertise for candidates

Almost all companies advertise for sales candidates ineffectively. This is usually because they believe that sales candidates are simply another employee just like any other employee, to fill a vacancy or to add a position. They are not. We want to attract normal employee candidates to the company. In sales, we want to reverse that. The advertisement is the first step. The ad must be written with the position in mind and it should address the nature of the selling environment so that the right person will see themselves in the ad. Start by looking at the selling environment from every angle and build your ad from there.

 

Screen Candidates 

Since sales candidates are different, we need to screen them differently. The trick is to set up an environment as part of the screening call to reproduce a challenging sales environment. The best sales people rise to that challenge and even relish it. If you’re concerned that you’ll scare them off, then your still thinking this is a different position. It’s not IT, it’s not accounting, it’s not logistics, it’s not customer service, etc. It’s sales. Make them sell, or live to regret it.

 

Properly Interview 

Like the screen, the first interview must re-create sales challenges. Do they know what they really want or are they throwing darts at their career? Is their resume real and do they own it? Are their inconsistencies we can call out? At this stage, we also want to carefully integrate the resume and any assessment tool we are using into the interview process. Interview skills can be learned that help you explore for issues and then dive deeper to uncover what’s really going on. If more than 50% of your interviewees aren’t stumped a few times and aren’t saying, “I hadn’t noticed that” or “I’ll rework my resume after this interview,” then you’re probably not doing it right.

Again, don’t confuse interviewing sales candidates with other positions. The object is not to be a jerk. It’s to create context for understanding their true skills and sales “DNA” and to see it in action. Let them perform. A recent interviewee insisted that he always asked lots of questions of prospects but asked me zero.

 

Understand Personality 

This one is tricky. There are a bevy of personality tests and behavioral styles tests on the market and here’s what they all amount to: Something is better than nothing. The addition of thought and energy into the selection process does far more to improve the process than an inadequate personality test. Once you’ve decided to follow a process, to be highly selective, and to involve top executives, you’ve moved the needle as far as you can without adding tools that are scientifically proven to help in this area. Unfortunately, the more commonly used tools won’t budge the needle any further, if they are appear to do so.

Having analyzed over 650,000 sales candidates using the top-rated OMG assessment tool, we can confirm that there is no such thing as a sales personality. So why use a test that measures personality? There are also behavioral styles tests. While there are certain behaviors that a good sales person might exhibit, the behaviors must exist in a sales context independently of a social context or any other context. An example would be a CEO who is driven for success but not driven to be a sales superstar. If the test only measures drive, we’re lost.

 

Demonstrated Skills 

Selling skills are important, of course, and this was the topic of my previous HR-related article. Click here read it. The takeaway is that often, the most important determining factors for sales success are hidden from view. The resume won’t reveal them; the interview won’t reveal them. Only a targeted assessment that specifically looks for them will do the job.

Demonstrated skills usually refers to specific selling skills. Does the candidate do the kinds of things that help them hunt for new business? Do they have the set of skills required of closers? Do their skills fit better with account management? Can they listen? Do they understand consultative selling? To find out if they are comfortable challenging prospects in specific selling situations is more difficult to determine. Sometimes candidates have all the answers and say all the right things, but due to hidden issues, cannot execute.

 

Now What? 

Hiring good sales people is important. Getting it right the first time saves time, aggravation, and money. The typical HR hiring process, while generally sound, needs a few tweaks to make it work for hiring sales people, particularly in the area of selection process and assessments. Feel free to comment below if you would like to add to this discussion.

If you missed our recent webinar on sales leadership, you won’t want to miss Part 2 of the series. You can view Part 1 here.  Register for Part 2 here.  It will be held on March 12th at 11:00 AM ET.

You may download our White Papers on sales candidate selection by clicking here.

It is usually better to evaluate your current sales organization before bringing in new sales people. It helps in determining the ideal candidate and to setting up an environment conducive for onboarding and retaining top sales talent. If you are interested in an evaluation for your company, click here.

 

Image credit: nyul / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: sales, assessments, HR, human resources, hiring, sales candidate selection, recruiting, selling skill sets, sales skills, personality



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