Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

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

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

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

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

HR and Sales - Part 1: The Challenge of a Sales Candidates' Market

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, Feb 14, 2014 @ 12:02 PM

NeedleStack 250Today, Human Resource departments must find ever more skillful sales managers in a market where the number of skilled managers is actually declining.  The data supports this odd trend, made even more interesting when you consider the vast growth in online sales content and the proliferation of sales books in the last 10 years.  Last fall, Dave Kurlan reached into our vast database of sales assessments and identified the trend.  Read about it and view the graph in this article. You will see the trend in the declining percentage of sales people and sales managers recommended by our sales and sales management candidate assessments.  We have seen reductions of 6% for sales people and 15% for sales managers.

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.

What’s driving this trend, and what can business leaders do about it?  One of the most important reasons is that selling itself has changed.  When we assess candidates, we are looking for those who will actually succeed and make our clients successful.   While good selling skills have always been a virtue, it hasn’t always been necessary.  Not that long ago, during the internet age, but prior to the explosion in availability of fine-grained detail, sales people were needed to provide information that was relevant to prospects and unavailable any other way.  Today, they must reinvent their value to their prospects.

In 1995, there were 15 thousand registered domains.  Today, there are 350 million.  In 2000, there were 360 million internet users.  Today, there are 2.4 billion.  Do you think you should hire the same selling skills for 2014 as you did just 15 years ago?  This is a challenge for HR.

We no longer need sales people whose primary skill is giving presentations.  Prospects have quite enough information, thank you.  We need sales people who are more consultative, who ask good questions, enough questions, and tough enough questions to uncover the business needs and opportunities in a meaningful way for their prospects.  Salespeople who consistently hear the phrases, “I don’t know.” and “No one has asked me that before.” are doing it right.

HR owns the challenge of finding sales candidates who can do that.  What must they look for?

Some of the Required Skill Sets:

  • Consultative selling skills,
  • Modern hunting skills,
  • Lead qualification skills,
  • Account management skills, and
  • Business growth acumen.

Some of the More Difficult-To-Recognize Traits:

  • Rejection-proof,
  • Ability to listen,
  • Ability to stay in the moment,
  • Doesn't need to be liked,
  • Beliefs support success, and
  • Won’t get derailed at closing.

Some of the Near-Impossible-to-Recognize Traits:

  • Strong Desire,
  • Strong Commitment,
  • Positive Outlook, and
  • Takes Responsibility.

These are not easy to identify, but happily, there are ways to measure them.  Traditional selection criteria won’t work.  Most of the traits above cannot be easily discerned from an interview or a resume.  Have you ever made a bad hiring decision by hiring the one person who outshined the other 20 candidates?  Then you know this isn’t easy. 

We’ve already learned that traditional assessment tools won’t help either.  They are either based on personality or on behavioral styles.  Despite the sales jargon that might be added for effect, they are ineffective at predicting sales success.  We use the OMG tool which was built for sales and there is an interesting fact that emerged from a database of over 700,000 salespeople and sales management assessments.  Ready?  There is no such thing as a sales personality.  I was on the phone today with a self-described introvert who ran a public library.  He was an idea factory, full of passion for libraries and their many uses for making towns and cities wonderful places of learning and collaboration.  He too was surprised to hear that there is no such thing as a sales personality.

This is a good time to think about how to build a better sales organization by using the tools available today to find salespeople who can prosper in today’s market.  As we have seen, this represents a shrinking pool.  HR must elevate standards and find ways to efficiently and effectively do what Tom Hanks’ character described in Saving Private Ryan as “finding a needle in a stack of needles.”

If you are interested in learning more about sales candidate selection, click here.

If you are interested in evaluating your current sales team, click here.

Image credit: grekoff / 123RF Stock Photo

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

Inbound Marketing Part Two - Leads Are Up But Why are Sales Down?

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Thu, Aug 15, 2013 @ 15:08 PM

Inbound Marketing, Inbound13, sales, sales leads, Need for Approval, Emotionally Involved, Dennis Connelly, Hidden Weaknesses, HubSpot, SalesShift, Baseline SellingIn Part One of this Inbound Marketing blog series, I talked about how the fundamental nature has changed of what we traditionally think of as a lead due to the profound impact of Inbound Marketing.  Hubspot has played a huge role in both the service which they provide and in their thought leadership.  Their too-numerous-to-count, value-added resellers are helping to determine the outcome of that change on a global scale.

How do we cope with these new, very different leads?  Inbound marketing has cast the net much wider and dramatically increased the potential prospects with whom to follow-up.  We find, however, that most of these leads are not very strong.  That doesn’t mean that they cannot be converted.  Frank Belzer’s book, SalesShift, provides great insight on how to do that.  There was, after all, some reason why your prospect expressed interest in the first place, regardless of their level of commitment to solving any particular problem or desire to find some great opportunity.

I promised, in the last installment, to share with you two of the most important selling weaknesses to overcome in order to be successful with inbound leads.  First, I’d like to make an analogy about inbound leads versus traditional leads so that we can better grasp how important it is to handle these leads differently.  Think of a traditional lead as a prospect shining a spotlight at you signaling their interest, “Hey, I’m over here! And I’m interested in what you have.”  Think of an inbound lead as a firefly.  It’s much less bright, and it’s fleeting.  Look away, and you’ll miss it, “Just browsing, thanks.”

The firefly analogy goes a bit further when you add the fact that inbound leads burn out almost immediately.  So one rule of inbound leads is to jump right on them because they dissipate quickly.  Another rule is to use consultative selling as your number one tool - ask lots of questions, research their business, dig around, challenge and push back.

  1. The first hidden selling weakness which might get in your way when you take this approach, is what we call “Need For Approval” from your prospects.  To challenge your prospect, you cannot shy away from asking tough questions.  “At first, you said everything is great at Spacely Sprockets. But then you shared some problems which suggest to me that everything is not so great. Have you lowered your standards?”  Learn much more about this kind of questioning in Dave Kurlan’s bestseller, Baseline Selling.  Of course, to ask a question like that, you need to have some rapport skills. But it’s important to ask and show your prospect that you can be trusted to be straight, regardless of the interpersonal consequences.
     
  2. The second hidden selling weakness which might get in your way is the “Tendency to Get Emotionally Involved” in the conversation with your prospect.  Can you be open, present, and in control at all times?  When we get emotionally involved, we go into our own head.  When that happens, we lose control of the conversation.

To be a successful consultative seller, we must overcome both of these weaknesses: need for approval and emotional involvement.  It is through consultative selling that we cut through the clutter and find the opportunity to close new business with these fleeting, dimly-lit, passers-by, inbound leads masquerading as hot prospects!

  • Are your people asking good questions?
  • Are they asking enough questions?
  • Do they build rapport quickly?
  • Are they making presentations too early?
  • Are the uncovering the real reason to buy?
  • Do they know exactly how their prospect makes buying decisions?
  • Do they take certain information for granted?
  • Will they ask tough questions even if they believe it will put the relationship at risk?
  • Do they have the presence to listen intently and ask follow-up questions easily?

In Part Three of this Inbound Marketing blog series, we’ll explore three other hidden selling weaknesses which could cause your salespeople to get in their own way and lose more of these opportunities than they need to.  

If you are interested, have your sales force evaluated to see whether they can be effective at selling in an inbound world and whether they possess any of the hidden weaknesses which could be preventing them from succeeding.  If you’re heading to Inbound13 in Boston, please introduce yourself to us at the Kurlan Lounge on the third floor.

 

Topics: Dennis Connelly, Inbound Marketing, sales leads, Inbound13, sales, Need for Approval, Emotionally Involved, Hidden Weaknesses, HubSpot, SalesShift, Baseline Selling

Inbound Marketing Part One - Leads Are Up But Why are Sales Down?

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Aug 07, 2013 @ 16:08 PM

Inbound Marketing, sales call, sales force evaluation, sales and marketing, Frank Belzer, Dennis Connelly, Dave Kurlan, Trust of Salespeople, sales leads, Sales, Social Media, Sales LeadershipIn Frank Belzer’s recent book, SalesShift: How inbound marketing has turned sales upside down making it more difficult and more lucrative at the same time, he convincingly demonstrates that the nature of the lead has changed and many salespeople are having trouble adapting.  It’s true that in an Inbound world, marketing must work in tandem with sales creating an information feedback loop which propels new sales.  That is also one of Frank’s points.  Where salespeople get into trouble is thinking that a lead is a lead is a lead.

The reality is that all leads are not created “equal.”  As different as a referral is from a cold call, an inbound lead is different than those generated through traditional marketing channels.  When marketing works well, it performs the first part of the sales function.  It generates interest, exposes a potential issue, and may even lead to someone picking up the phone and calling your company for a rep appointment.  When it’s done well, the sales department can get hooked on this approach, even to the point of developing an “order taker” reputation.  The prospect, in this case, is already interested.

But inbound leads are different.  They are born on a different continent.  They are ethnically and culturally different from a traditional lead.  A potential prospect might have been doing research on the internet, watching a cool video, or simply wandering around on the web when an opportunity presented itself.  Taking advantage of the opportunity might have involved a simple mouse click.  Then after typing in an email address and answering a couple of multiple choice questions where your computer usually fills in all the details for you - free stuff arrives on your screen.  Behind the scenes, a company is collecting that information and calling it a lead.  The “prospect” barely lifted a finger in this case, and might not have thought about it very much.

Now back to that lead that is sitting in the rep’s inbox. It has the look and feel of someone who wants your product - just like a traditional lead.  It looks "bigger and badder" than it is.  But it is fundamentally different.  The person on the other end actually might be stunned to get a call from you - “What?! You mean I triggered a sales call? I just wanted to see the video. I’m not in the market for anything.”  But this is exactly the point where the path forks.

What is this fork, you ask?  Yogi Berra said to “Take it.”  Okay, let’s take it.  And here are your choices.  You can continue reaching out to leads who appear to be deer caught in headlights, make assumptions, and watch them run away, or you can develop your selling skills, approach them differently, and convert them.  That’s why Frank said that it’s more difficult, yet more lucrative.  With a few critical tweaks, your sales team can convert more of these kinds of leads and outproduce the competition.  And isn’t that the point?  As the economy comes back and as it lifts all of the boats in your market, are you concerned that your vulnerability to the competition will be masked in the short run as sales increase?  The market winners will be those who outpace the competition or those who beat the competition relative to each other rather than where they were last year.

Throw away "solution selling".  Toss aside spin, dodges, and dropping five dollar bills.  (Reminds me of the Barry Levinson movie, Tin Men, about two rival aluminum siding salesmen!)  Read Dave Kurlan’s Whitepaper on Trust for additional insight in that area. Get rid of "technique" altogether and embrace a conversational and consultative style, like you might with a friend or an uncle.  Back off.  Don’t push.  Ask questions.  Assume nothing.  And most of all, slow down.

In Part 2 of this Inbound Marketing blog series, I will let you in on few secrets.  There are two key selling weaknesses, which most sales people have, that prevent them from having this consultative-style discussion.  Having or not having these two key weaknesses makes all the difference.  And there are three others which could also cause your people to get in their own way and lose more of these opportunities than they need to.  But your staff can overcome them with help, and open the doors to a wealth of opportunity generated by Inbound Marketing.  You may want to consider having your sales force evaluated to see whether the current team can executive your objectives and whether they can both embrace and be effective selling in an Inbound world.

 


Here is the link to "Inbound Marketing Part Two - Leads Are Up But Why are Sales Down?" 

 

Topics: Dennis Connelly, Dave Kurlan, Inbound Marketing, sales leads, sales, sales force evaluation, sales call, sales leadership, frank belzer, sales and marketing, Trust of Salespeople, Social Media

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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