Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

Telling it Like it Is - How Candor With Your Team Improves Sales Results

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 @ 20:12 PM

In his book, Winning, GE’s ex-CEO, Jack Welch wrote, “I would call lack of candor the biggest dirty little secret in business,” adding, “Lack of candor basically blocks smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got. It’s a killer.” These are hefty words for a topic that, in your leadership role, I’m guessing is probably not at the top of your list of improvement initiatives for the year. But according to Welch, you might be missing the “biggest” secret and end up a victim of this “killer.”

We could spend more time on why it’s so important to have candor as a primary component of your culture and why the practice of “telling it like it is” is so important to your team’s success but I’m going to focus on how to do it. And you can get amply educated for the benefit of your sales team, executive team, or any other team where there’s hierarchy and structure and where a leader can shape her own environment. You can also read Mr. Welch’s book or you can read Dave Kurlan’s article about your role in the sales environment, where he shares another important book recommendation. But read on if you want to know how to do it, what approach to take, and what must be present in your team environment to make it work.

Let’s look at two important areas of candor:

1. The environment required for candor

2. How to give feedback, especially criticism

And let’s face it, candor is not simply “telling it like it is” when things are great and when you have good news, no criticism, and nothing to worry about. Anyone can do that, and we don’t need to write about it, do we? Candor is a mindset, a habit, and a conviction about honest and direct communication, especially when the message isn’t all sunshine and cookies. It’s a commitment to open and direct honesty with your people. When there's concern the message won't be well-received, one could be uncomfortable delivering it, thus the need for commitment. When you reach a point where no one on your team is wondering what you really meant or believe and there is no mystery about how you will react and behave, then the corresponding trust frees them to get to work on the business problem, confident that they understand the full meaning of your communication.

 

THE ENVIRONMENT REQUIRED FOR CANDOR

First let’s talk about the environment, which we can break into two parts:

1. The conditions that must be present

2. How you can actively shape that environment

Conditions for an Environment of Candor

This one is simple: trust. Business author and thinker, Patrick Lencioni writes about this at length in his book, The Advantage. Starting with trust, he builds a case that there are building blocks one can visualize in the form of a pyramid that will lead to a healthy organization and to the top of the pyramid, which he defines as “Results.”

To build a healthy organization, start with trust. Trust allows for conflict, which is vital to airing out and understanding the issues. The team has to have trust in the leader and in each other to ensure that sharing ideas, no matter how radical, will be taken in the proper context. To fully vet an issue, opposing views are necessary, leading to conversational conflict or what Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy refer to as “Robust Dialogue,” in their important business book, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.

Once there is trust, there can be a healthy form of conflict that gets to the decision more effectively. In Execution, the authors write:

“Robust dialogue starts when people go in with open minds. They’re not trapped by preconceptions or armed with private agenda. They want to hear new information and choose the best alternatives, so they listen to all sides of the debate and make their own contributions.”

 

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Sounds like utopia, doesn’t it? That’s because none of that can happen if there isn’t a trusting environment, and what’s the probability of that? Zero, if there isn’t a purposeful effort to create it. And it won’t rise out of nothing all by itself. There will always be someone putting their own interests above that of the group, sometimes more than one person. When it is tolerated by leadership, it festers and grows like toe fungus. You have to own your environment and insist on ensuring its health, precisely so you can tackle the other building blocks that lead to the Results at the top of the pyramid of healthy organizations.

Lencioni puts them in sequence to build the pyramid:

1. Trust – in each other, and bringing our authentic selves to the table

2. Conflict – so we can be heard and so we can listen to understand the issues fully

3. Commitment – to the decision once it is made

4. Accountability – to the leader and to each other so we do our part

5. Results – what naturally follows from getting all this right

How You Can Actively Shape Your Environment

This is less simple. But here’s how. As a leader, get to know each of your people and develop a relationship with them, not so much to be friends, but to have mutual understanding and appreciation for who they are and how they see the world. Know them well enough, and understand their lives just well enough, and know how they interact with others well enough to be able to answer some fundamental questions about how they contribute to the environment you are shaping.

Next, take an inventory of everything that might impact the environment or indicate its current state. Make a spreadsheet so you can get a visual reference point when you have finished it. And then go to work on it and watch it improve. Place a check mark in every box where there is a gap. Examples might include is there mutual trust, is there respect, do they have the skills required, and do their beliefs support their success. If you are interested in finding out how hidden weaknesses limit their results, come to this webinar tomorrow.

These are just a few, and I do an entire workshop on this with sales leaders who consistently report that it’s one of the most impactful tools to building a world-class sales team. It helps them to see how they can directly impact the team and get results from any starting point with respect to the quality of their team. Our own research with clients who learned about shaping their environment has provided an interesting statistic: when leaders actively shape their environment, they hit their numbers. When they fail to shape their environment, they don't hit their numbers. There's a one-to-one connection.

One of the things that frequently comes out of my work with sales teams when managers do the above exercise, is that they find that it only takes one or two people to throw the whole environment off. They quickly see that a lot of their resources are wasted on the few to the detriment of the whole, leaving them with a caffeine-like boost of clarity on how to fix the problem.

 

GIVING CRITICAL FEEDBACK

Five years ago, I wrote an article on how to give criticism, parts of which I’ve revised below in the context of candor and the importance of “telling it like it is.” Most managers believe that when providing feedback, especially when it could be perceived as negative, one should pad it with positive comments on either side - a "criticism sandwich," if you will. It's Grandma’s mincemeat in between two pieces of cinnamon toast. Mmm. Sounds great!

In addition to the above approach, many managers will give a positive statement first, and then fire off the criticism, as if they've warmed them up so they're ready for bad news. The practice was studied by Clifford Nass and described in his book, The Man Who Lied to His Laptop. The brain goes into full alert, he explained, when hearing negative criticism, and enters a state called “retroactive interference” which results in near total loss of the memory of anything just preceding the criticism. It might take minutes, hours, or a couple of days for the memory to disappear, but your brain simply cannot hang onto those words of praise that came just prior to the criticism. If asked later if there was any positive feedback from the discussion, one simply can’t remember. "What cinnamon toast?"

But another interesting phenomenon occurs when you give someone 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, at this point, provide what they regard as a soft landing by giving positive-sounding generalities. That’s the slice of bread on the other side of the sandwich. Generalities, it turns out, by their very nature are hard to remember. So we soon forget that slice as well. With all of the bread missing, what remains might leave us a little unsatisfied and hungry for more.

So how do we improve on this model? When coaching your sales force, finding optimal mixes of positive and negative feedback, while important, is not the real goal. Rather, the goal is improving sales effectiveness with honest, useful feedback. Criticism is important, after all, 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 must-do steps for effective criticism:

1. Tone – How you say it is more important than what you say

2. Order – Negative first, positive second

3. Actionable – We handle criticism better when given the recipe for improvement

First, 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, love them, cherish 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. Second, the 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.”

Third, always provide actionable feedback alongside the criticism so 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?

Candor, as so many successful business people have echoed, is a requirement for success. It starts with trust. The supportive environment you build that you, as the leader, must own and insist upon, is the foundation from which to build trust, leading to candor and healthy conflict, and ultimately to buy-in, accountability, and results. When we get good at building an environment where there is trust and open honest dialogue, where people aren’t “trapped by preconceptions” and “private agendas,” the full potential of our teams and ourselves can be achieved.

 

Photo Credit: Copyright, Igor Zakharevich

 

 

 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, Criticism, Clifford Nass, Executive Team, Patrick Lencioni, Organizational Health, Candor, Jack Welch, Shaping the Environment

Top 12 Reasons Why Sales Methodologies Fail

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

sales methodologies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are my Top 12 Reasons that Sales Methodologies Fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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