Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

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

The Overlooked Conversation Between Sales Managers and Sales People

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Jan 08, 2014 @ 11:01 AM

coaching,sales management,assessments,sales leadership,conversation,selling,consultative

Did you ever wonder what the sales conversation is supposed to sound like?  Not the one you’re thinking about (between the sales person and the prospect), but the other one.  The market is full of books, blogs, and articles on the important conversation between sales people and prospects.  This very blog space addressed the topic of using conversational skills to differentiate oneself in even the most lopsided of sales environments.  If you’re curious about that, click here to read the article.  And if you haven't read Frank Belzer's article from yesterday, click here.  He addressed the important topic of how organic growth impacts sales architecture.  In that article, he gets more to the point of today’s topic by looking at the structure of the sales team as it grows.  When it has grown organically (read “without strategic planning”), it is not always supportive of the kind of management required to compete and win in today’s business climate.  And it’s this very structure which helps create an environment to foster the right kind of conversation happening in your company, with discipline and skill, every day.

Very likely, the single most important conversation, which has to happen so that your salespeople can have the right conversation with prospects, is with their sales manager.  Do you know what that sounds like today?  We have metrics of all shapes and sizes.  We look at calls, leads, inbound leads, qualified opportunities, revenues, margins, recurring revenues, demos, proposals, and on and on.  Some sales organizations have a daily handle on these metrics and can even speak about the gap between exactly where they are today and where they want to get to.  Most can’t.

But, how many CEOs, sales VPs and other leaders understand what the conversation between sales management and sales people should sound like compared with what it sounds like today (that's if there is a conversation actually taking place)?  How many know how critical this daily activity is to the success of the organization?  How many are listening and measuring the quality of this conversation? Our research at Kurlan & Associates reveals that only a tiny fraction of companies can say they do.  And fewer know just what that conversation should sound like.

In today's sales environment, we now know that up to 50 percent of a sales manager's time should be spent coaching sales people.  This is not to be confused with mentoring, motivating, or jumping up and down with your hair on fire.  Coaching is different, and it's the key to sales success.

Coaching is a specific kind of conversation.  It is a formal meeting (not water cooler), occurs daily, and can last for 30 minutes with each rep.  That's every day, with each rep, talking about either an upcoming meeting or call, or a previous meeting or call that didn't achieve the desired result.

Do your sales managers know how to have that conversation the correct way?  Can they affect deliberate, incremental, meaningful improvements to the skills of each of their sales people everyday?  Here's an example of what such a conversation sounds like: [insert link to Dave's coaching call on Wistia]. 

  • How many of your sales managers could have a conversation like that? [Dave Kurlan 1-minute video on this topic]
  • Can they roleplay what the call will sound like before it happens?
  • Can they roleplay how the last conversation went and pinpoint where the wheels fell off? [Frank Belzer 1-minute video on this topic]
  • Can they make the proper corrections to prevent the problem from reoccurring?
  • Can they instruct how to salvage a deal going the wrong way? [My 2-minute video on this topic]
  • Do they understand the hidden weaknesses of their sales team and incorporate that into their instruction? [Chris Mott 1-minute video on this topic]
  • Can they help their people move past personal barriers and head trash to execute the skills which they are learning?
  • Do they understand their own weaknesses and work to overcome them?

What would happen to your company if your sales team were methodically improving every day for one month, six months, or even a year?  How much better would they be?  If you are not sure about some of these questions, you might be interested in learning more at our webinar on February 5th at 11:00 am Eastern Time.  And I recommend that you check back soon to read Chris Mott's article on the challenges of managing technical salespeople.   

The next time you think about the sales "conversation", think about the conversation your sales manager is having with the reps to understand the impact of the performance on the team. 

  • Does he or she have the capability, knowledge, and skill to impact the effectiveness of the team? 
  • Who on your team will accept daily coaching?
  • Who can improve, and by how much?
  • Is it worth training your sales manager how to do this? 
  • Can they learn or do they believe they have it all figured out?
  • How much better can this conversation be at your company?

Join me and a panel of sales experts for a powerful one-hour webinar which will address this subject on February 5 when we discuss, "Leading Your Ideal Sales Force - Part 1" at 11 AM Eastern Time. 

Image credit: Public Domain

 

 

Topics: coaching, assessments, sales management, sales leadership, conversation, selling, consultative

Breaking Through a Common Sales Management Hidden Weakness

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 @ 08:11 AM

HighJumpBarbedWireFence 200pxWe often talk of “breaking through barriers” as an important step to getting unstuck, achieving goals, and reaching full potential.  As many of us know, entire industries have been created around this topic.  When we speak of “living sales excellence” (the purpose behind these blog posts), understanding and overcoming our barriers is an important part of that conversation.  This might surprise you, but I’m not going to cover the whole topic in this article, partly because my limited knowledge on that very broad topic would endanger you, and partly because my computer doesn’t have enough ink.

So, let’s just look at one common barrier amongst sales leaders:  Need for Approval from Salespeople.  This differs from Need for Approval from Customers as the titles suggest, but they do not necessarily go together.  When we assess sales managers (and we’re up over 150,000 in our database), we find every combination of one or the other, prospects and/or staff.  In smaller companies, sometimes the sales manager wears other hats (including CEO).  Without the bandwidth to focus 100% attention on sales people, there is often less understanding of how to manage them and greater fear of upsetting them.

First, here’s a short explanation.  Need for Approval means that one needs to be liked.  It means that one is concerned enough about being liked that certain kinds of questions are not asked, certain topics are not broached, and a theme of avoidance of difficult topics permeates every discussion.  It’s difficult to properly challenge a prospect when there is need for approval.  So, how can you be consultative in your approach?  Similarly, when it applies to sales staff, there is a fear that actions, statements, or demands might diminish how one is perceived and lead to some form of mutiny.  If you have this fear, how can you really hold your people accountable?

Recently, I was working with a sales leader who had this particular weakness, which the OMG Sales Manager Assessment clearly indicated.  In his case, he was particularly good at motivating people.  It’s analogous to having one bad knee.  You limp a little and make the other leg carry more load.  This could lead to a cascade of other problems including back pain.  Interestingly, his weakness in the area of Need for Approval led him to emphasize his ability to motivate, in an obvious but subconscious attempt to overcome the weakness.

In other words, if holding people accountable is hard, one might look for alternative ways to accomplish that in the thinking that it might alleviate the need to stand up to your people.  “Gosh, if I can get them fired up and performing, I won’t have to have a hard conversation with them for not performing.”  The root cause of this particular brand of Need for Approval might be fear.  The “back pain”, however, is the lack of respect and corresponding ineffectiveness in holding people accountable.

If you’re starting a new job as a sales manager, or if you have just hired someone with this issue to lead your team, here is a way through it:

  1. Like all barriers, the first step in moving past it is acknowledging it.
  2. Start out on the right foot and set an expectation that accountability will be enforced.
  3. Tell your people that you will be “tough, but fair; confrontational, but kind.”
  4. Prepare your people for “hands-on, constructive criticism when appropriate, all in the spirit of making them better”.
  5. Now, go live up to your words.  It’s easier once you’ve set the expectation.

If you’re not new, but know you have this problem, it’s trickier.  You must now make a change in your behavior, and people notice changes.  If you are already worried about how your people view you, this might make it even more difficult.  Sometimes it’s helpful to combine this change with other corporate changes, such as new demands for higher growth, greater margins, expanding territories, increased market share, new partnerships, or any other goal to which you can reasonably tie your change in behavior.

You might say something like this: “Our shareholders are demanding 10% growth this year coupled with a 25% reduction in overhead.  These are big goals.  We’re a motivated group of talented salespeople, but we need to elevate our game.  I expect to lead the way by elevating my own game.  You can expect, going forward, that I will do a better job of clearly defining what I need from you.  My goal is to bring out the best in you so you can achieve the goals of the organization.  At times, I might be tough, but fair; sometimes confrontational, but as kind as I have always been.  It’s going to feel a little different to you and that’s understandable because you won’t be used to that from me.  But know that my commitment to your success is unwavering and together we can be much better.”

Is your leadership in fear of the sales team?  Do you or they believe that upsetting salespeople will put the company in jeopardy?  Are there certain sales staff around whom you walk on eggshells?  Are you in control of sales staff or the other way around?

It might be time for a sales force evaluation.  Try this handy sales force grader and see if you might be ready for that step.  Take a look at this case study to see what happens when, instead of reacting to the need to make changes, you stop and assess to find out what’s really happening.  Sales force development is a broad topic.  Dave Kurlan explains it well in a video found at this link.  How much better can you be?  What will it take to get there?  What would you do if you had no fear of negative reaction from your sales team?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, coaching, sales management, Management, accountability, sales leaders, leadership, change, changing salespeople, WCSO

3 Common Myths About Sales Managers

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, May 24, 2013 @ 14:05 PM

sales force evaluation, coaching, sales recruiting, sales management best practices, consultative selling, sales force development, sales training, sales call, sales competenciesI’ve heard several CEOs in the past few weeks make assumptions about sales management and I would like to set the record straight. In fact, I've heard them so much that they are starting to sound like those annoying song refrains that get stuck in our head from time to time. I must make this unwanted noise stop! But how? Here's an idea that might work.  If these management refrains are in your head too, reading about them might be your cure as I hope writing about them will be mine. Let’s try it.  Here are three good ones:

Refrain #1:  Great sales managers are promoted from within the sales team.

That can happen and often does. However, the skill set required of a sales person is necessarily different than that of a sales manager. Dave Kurlan has written extensively on the required skills of sales managers. Most commonly, it is believed that sales people who are promoted internally to sales management know the industry, customers and experiences of the sales staff day to day. So they must be the best people to relate to and empathize with the sales team, right?

Well, not exactly. It might be counterintuitive, but empathizing with the sales team can get in the way. It is as important to challenge a sales rep as it is to challenge the customer.  Many of their assumptions are born of their knowledge and experience with the company.  Too much empathy might cause a manager to omit an important question that a less experienced manager might not have known "not" to ask.

Refrain #2:  Sales managers are most effective when they know the industry.

Really?!  Before I explain why this is a myth, let’s first point out that after assessing over 700,000 sales people (many of whom are sales managers), we now know that sales managers who come from outside the industry have a slight advantage over those from within.  How can that be?

The reason is that the best managers have a toolbox which is independent of industry. Industry knowledge can skew their viewpoint and distract them from the essence of great sales management which should be focused on Coaching, Motivating, Recruiting and Accountability, among others specific skill sets.  The latter three look like areas which might be independent of industry knowledge.  But the coaching skill set has an aura that makes it seem like it must work better with experience in the industry.

So often, however, we at Kurlan & Associates coach sales people without any specific expertise in their industry because we're asking good questions and challenging their assumptions. For example, if a sales rep says that his prospect will improve his margins to 14%, an insider might think, "that's not so great in this industry." But we need to hear that from them. Maybe it's not true for them. I once sold a product to a distribution company that was not satisfied with less than 17%. They bought it, and they got their margin. My next call was to a similar company that said, "This looks good, I wouldn't be surprised if we could get eight, maybe ten percent." He was happy.

When coaching, we ask, what is the strategy for the call?  What questions will be asked? Where do we think the customer might need the most help?  After the call, we might ask, how did the call end?  How did it get that far?  Which steps in the process were missed?  How are we going to do it better the next time?  None of these questions are industry-specific.  If you can accept this analysis, then you’re ready for the third refrain I've been hearing.

Refrain #3:  The best sales managers lead by example and sell more than the sales people.

I was recently talking to a sales leader who was describing how much he learned from his first manager a long time ago.  He said, “That guy sold more than all of us.”  Here we are in 2013 and he still had the sense that the sales manager needed to outsell the team.  I said, “You must have been selling Cutco knives or something like that. What was it?” And he said, “Encyclopedias.”

How similar is door-to-door book sales to what you do today at your company?  The fact is that people are more specialized than ever.  And in the age of inbound marketing, it’s no longer about getting Mrs. Jones to make you a cup of tea so you can tell her about your vacuum cleaner.  Frank Belzer shows us why inbound leads are different and how you can prosper in this new environment in his new book, Sales Shift.

Today, selling is more sophisticated, sales conversations are more consultative, business is more complex, and the best managers are full-time leaders with no time for selling.  And the best of the best spend fully half of their time coaching.  We know from the data that 85% of all sales managers spend less than a quarter of their time coaching.  Most aren’t even sure what coaching really means.  Interaction is not coaching.  Asking “How’d it go?” is not coaching. And coaching is not training. It's the hand-to-hand combat of real selling situations every day.

Are your sales managers too empathetic with the sales people?  Can they relate to the put-offs and excuses a little too much?  Do they know too much?  Remember how many crimes Columbo solved by not knowing anything and by asking a lot of questions. On his way out the door, he'd pause, look a bit perplexed, and then ask one more seemingly innocent question. Do you know what impact your sales managers are having on the team?  Maybe it’s time for a sales force evaluation to find out.

Topics: sales competencies, Consultative Selling, sales management best practices, sales force evaluation, sales training, coaching, sales recruiting, sales force development, sales call

Sales Coaching - When is Critical Feedback Appropriate

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sat, Oct 20, 2012 @ 09:10 AM

criticism sandwich, broken sandwich, feedback, foodback, coaching, bread, sandwich meat

What if you ordered a deli sandwich and after they thought about it for a moment, carefully made the perfect specimen, handed it to you with pride and suddenly took back the bread?  After the initial shock of such odd behavior, I’m guessing you might feel a little unsatisfied and hungry for more.  When coaching your staff, feedback is an important tool.  However, we often use the same idea as the sandwich. We give useful criticism but sandwich it between two pieces of positive encouragement.  Recent research has shown that this approach is surprisingly ineffective.  It turns out it’s a bit like handing out a thoughtful criticism sandwich and then taking back the two pieces of bread.  It’s more like “foodback” than feedback.  Let’s find out why.

This practice was studied by Clifford Nass and described in his book, The Man Who Lied to His Computer.  The brain goes into full alert when hearing negative criticism and enters a state called “retroactive interference” which results in nearly total memory loss of anything prior to the criticism.  It might take minutes, hours or a couple days for the memory to disappear, but your brain simply forgets those previous words of praise.  If asked later if there was any positive feedback in the discussion, one simply can’t remember.  Oops!  There goes one slice of bread from your sandwich.

But another interesting phenomenon occurs when giving criticism.  In that same heightened alert state, one also experiences a new sense of awareness that Nass calls “proactive enhancement.”  You’ve got their attention, so now they are ready to listen and absorb whatever you say next.  This is where the opportunity is often wasted.  Most managers provide what they regard as a soft landing by giving positive-sounding generalities.  That’s the bread slice on the other side of the sandwich.  Generalities, by their very nature, are hard to remember.  So, we soon miss that slice as well.  With the bread missing, what remains might leave us a little unsatisfied and hungry for more.

How can we improve on this model?  When coaching your sales force, the goal is improving sales effectiveness with honest, useful feedback.  Criticism is important if you want to improve a specific behavior.  And positive comments are also important to ensure you get more of the behaviors that are already working.  When both forms of feedback are delivered in the same conversation and you want both to be remembered, you need a better strategy.

Here are three crucial steps for effective criticism:

  1. Tone – How you say it is more important than what you say.  Your tone provides the signal for how you feel about someone. Is the person the problem or is it just their behaviors? If we stick to the behaviors, then we can still smile at them, be filled with gratitude for them and remain firm that the behavior needs to change. Keep the list of negatives short and specific. Too many criticisms will feel like a barrage which can be depressing rather than instructive. A few helpful points will provide focus.
  2. Order – Negative first, positive second.  Order matters. Tell them the positive comments after the negative ones and make the list of positives long and specific, rather than general. “You’re basically doing a great job.” can be replaced by, “You’ve been growing the front end of your pipeline by making more calls, which is really going to help you in the last quarter.”
  3. Actionable – We handle criticism better when given the recipe for improvement.  Always provide actionable feedback alongside the criticism so that they understand how to correct the problem.  Don’t leave them hanging and wondering what it all means.  General negativity makes us anxious and frustrated.  Specific criticism, with the steps to make it better, leaves us empowered and provides a sense that someone is looking out for us. 

Is coaching an important part of your culture?  Do your people regularly come to you for help?  Do you look for advice and feedback in your own organization?  When it’s time to serve feedback to your staff, what steps do you take to keep all food on their plate?

Topics: sales, coaching, sales management, Criticism, Sandwich, Clifford Nass, Feedback, Behavior, Management, Sales Coaching, Salesforce, Sales Force



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