Last night Major League Baseball held its annual Home Run Derby. We've seen the home run derbies before. We watch them every year. They are always the same - each slugger tries to hit more home runs than the other sluggers in the contest. At the same time, they are always different and last night there were four stories that made this year's home run derby different from all the rest. Pete Alonso, Shohei Ohtani, Trey Mancini, and Juan Soto made the contest different. It is always the individual story lines that make the mundane different.
Speaking of the same but different, from time to time I've posted some compelling top/bottom sales team analyses using sales assessment data from Objective Management Group (OMG). From nearly 250 data points in 21 Sales Core Competencies, we identify the specific findings and scores that differentiate a company's top 3 performers from their bottom 3 non-performers.
There are several reasons for doing this:
Proof of Concept - to prove to non-believers that OMG can clearly differentiate between their tops and bottoms and would therefore be able to identify sales candidates who will succeed in their business.
Tailored Fit - we add those same differentiators to role configurations as additional customization and criteria on their OMG sales candidate assessments.
Understanding - it helps clients to know why some salespeople are succeeding and others are failing. These differentiators help them understand their sales teams, salespeople and sales bottlenecks.
I completed a top/bottom analysis for a large, well-known company and it doesn't get more compelling than this:
In this analysis there were 38 findings and scores that differentiated the tops from the bottoms. The three tops met between 89%-97% of them while the three bottoms met only 5%-13% of them. But the analysis is bigger than how many differentiating factors there are and how the final percentages are different. Look at some of the differences within the findings themselves!
The tops are 100% more effective at reaching decision makers which, by itself, is a game changer.
The tops are 266% more effective at using a consultative approach to selling and 193% more effective at selling value. Of course they are!
The tops are 187% more compatible with the criteria for being successful in their roles which points to very ineffective sales selection at hiring time. For example, in the screen shot above you can see that the tops, but not the bottoms, are generally more experienced and comfortable with hunting for business in the C Suite of institutional accounts. They are also more experienced and comfortable facing resistance and competition, asking for more than $250,000 in a long sales cycle, and selling conceptual services. Together, those are ten factors that should have been identified as crucial for sales success PRIOR to hiring any salespeople, and their candidates should have been vetted for those experiences and their comfort level!
Want to hit more home runs when you're hiring salespeople? Never will you have more confidence hiring the right salespeople for your company and selling role(s) than when you use Objective Management Group's (OMG) Sales Candidate Assessments. They are proven and time-tested to be the most accurate and predictive sales-specific assessment on planet Earth. Check them out here.
My wife and I recently watched the new funny but sad movie, Here and Now, written and directed by Billy Crystal, who stars as comedy writer Charlie Burnz. In one scene, Charlie recalled a happier time when his family used to have what they called "upside down day." On upside down day they started the day by eating dessert, had dinner for lunch, and finally ate breakfast for dinner.
Speaking of meals, we recently dined in a restaurant which had its rules laminated and affixed to the table. Their very first rule read, "Food must be ordered with alcohol" instead of what it should have said, "Alcohol must be ordered with food." Words are important and these words were backwards. (100 bonus points if you can guess the restaurant name.)
In between the meal and the movie, we attempted to shop at a well-known French retailer. Before entering, they required scanning a QR Code, registering on their website, and waiting to receive a call from an associate before being allowed to shop. Also frustrating was the problem that most of their products were not on display so you needed to know exactly what you were looking for because browsing in this upscale retail store was not encouraged. Retail is all about browsing and at this store, they forgot about making it easy to buy and replaced it with making it difficult to get started. Brand stupidity. (100 bonus points if you can guess the French brand.)
Last night I was pulled over by a Massachusetts State Police Officer for changing lanes when there are double solid white lines. I don't think it was the first time I've done that in 50 years of driving, but I'm certain I've never been pulled over for that before. I broke the rules.
Let's take upside down, backwards, rule breaking and stupid and use those four conditions to dissect sales processes.
When we look at the sales processes that most companies have in place, there are usually elements of upside down, backwards and stupid.
Some companies have a dedicated team of BDR's that work the top of the funnel before they hand-off the opportunity to an account executive. The very poor conversation to meeting ratios are an example of a serious combustion point with this scenario. There are many reasons for these unacceptable ratios that companies invariably find ways to justify (see my article about Why We Should Blow up the BDR Role). While inexperience and ineffectiveness are the two most obvious reasons, another significant reason is the use of BANT which stands for Budget, Authority, Need and Timing. (See my article about Why BANT Can Kill Opportunities.) Put another way, BDR's are not only charged with reaching decision makers, engaging them in conversation and scheduling first meetings, but many of them are also supposed to qualify those opportunities so that account executives don't waste their time. While it's smart to have account executives working qualified opportunities, it's upside down, backwards and stupid! A decision maker has no incentive to answer qualifying questions this early in the sales process before there is some compelling reason for them to buy what you have. In other words, while you want to start the sales process with a decision maker with authority, you start with whom you start and go from there. You can't qualify a prospect's ability to buy or get to the actual decision maker until there is enough urgency for them to take action! At that point, they'll ask you what you need from them! When it's done at the right time in the sales process, it's much easier!
Another problem with most of the sales processes is the sheer number of steps that have nothing to do with selling. For example, Marketing has worked its way into the sales process and while the lead generation work flow is important, it does not belong in the sales process. A signed contract is an acceptable final step in the final stage of the sales process but the steps that legal undertakes are part of the legal team's process, not sales.
Sales processes tend to emphasize three major steps - prospecting, presenting and closing - but seriously lack the actual selling-based stages and milestones. If we wish to sell value and create urgency, a consultative approach is required. Without it, the conversation will invariably turn to price and your attempts to sell value will go right down the drain.
In this case, the sales process is not upside down or backwards, it is inside out - the inner core is missing! For a better explanation, watch this ten-minute video that explains the difference between sales process and sales methodology, the milestones a good sales process must include, and the differences between some well-known sales methodologies and processes.
Even when we have helped companies optimize their sales process, salespeople are multiple-time-offenders when it comes to following the new sequence of milestones in the sales process. Salespeople LOVE to skip steps. They break the rules!
The single best example of upside down, backwards and stupid occurs when considering the limitations of certain CRM applications and/or the limitations of the integrators who customize those applications. Your sales process must be integrated into your CRM application so some companies, acknowledging the various limitations of their CRM/integrators, include only those simple steps that they can get into their CRM. You can't dumb down your sales process because of limitations in your CRM!
For the complex sale, we recommend Membrain, a robust CRM that emphasizes opportunity and pipeline which is fairly easy and quick to customize, add content, create complex playbook scenarios, create stages and milestones and produce the reports you want. Despite the availability and recommendation of a perfect application like Membrain, some companies cite their accumulated investment and training, and refuse to give up Salesforce, MS Dynamics and others, despite the lack of user compliance, inability to make it user friendly, customization challenges and costs. Lack of compliance means very little realtime data and inaccurate forecasts and that's the reason you bought CRM in the first place! Upside down, backwards and stupid!
What are you doing that is Upside down, backwards and stupid?
We are finally doing things we haven't done for quite a while including dining inside restaurants, flying, staying in hotels, going to and hosting parties, attending packed stadiums for sporting events and more. Something else we haven't done for quite a while is revisit Objective Management Group's (OMG) sales selection statistics on the percentage of people that are recommended for various selling and sales management roles.
The last time we looked at recommendation data was in 2014! In the seven years since we have seen a sluggish economy (2014-2016) with lots of candidates to choose from, a robust economy where candidates were very difficult to find and attract (mid-2017 to early 2020), a non-existent economy hammered by COVID (2nd quarter 2020- through the 1st quarter of 2021) with a decent supply of good candidates, and now back to a robust economy with good candidates scarce once again (2nd quarter 2021).
I was interested to learn how the recent recommendation data compared with the recommendation data from seven years ago.
First, let's define what a recommendation means.
Every OMG sales, sales management and sales leadership assessment has some criteria that is set in stone, some that varies with the difficulty of the role, and some that is client-side specific. Candidates must meet the criteria in all three areas to be recommended. Good salespeople are sometimes not recommended for certain roles because they aren't a good fit while mediocre salespeople are sometimes recommended for certain roles because they are a great fit. It's too complicated to get into customization criteria in an article like this but the goal of OMG's candidate assessment is to get the right people into the right roles and there is a huge difference between all the possible selling roles in all the companies in all the industries where OMG assessments are utilized.
To get a sense for differences, even in the same industry, please refer to this article.
OMG allows five levels of difficulty for its sales roles, three for its sales management roles, and two for its sales leadership roles. To give you a sense for how those difficulty levels differ, consider the following examples:
Little to No Difficulty - salesperson checks stock, fills stock with order updates. An order-taker.
Some Difficulty - industrial sales of supplies used in maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) A better order-taker.
Moderate Difficulty - government sales, mostly bid work, but selling the reason to choose you at a higher price.
Considerable Difficulty - 6 or 7 figure consultative sale of capital equipment against formidable competition.
Significant Difficulty - 6 and 7 figure consultative sale of services to the C Suite in a long sales cycle competing against formidable competition
Now that you have some context for the difficulty levels, let's take a look at the before and after data and.
So what are the noteworthy changes?
The percentage of candidates being recommended for the most difficult and challenging sales roles has almost doubled!! That's right. Two exclamation points on that one. Unfortunately, it doesn't mean that there are more strong candidates than seven years ago, but it does mean that companies are improving their ability to target and attract the good salespeople into their candidate pool.
Similarly, a higher percentage of sales managers are being recommended at the higher levels. As with sales candidates, I attribute this to better targeting and attraction tactics.
The percentage of sales leadership candidates being recommended has dropped - a lot. There are a lot more sales leadership candidates out there today than in 2014 and most of the candidates don't meet the significantly higher bar that exists for sales leaders today.
Finally, some HR and Sales Leaders are horrified and all recruiters are pissed when so many of their candidates are not recommended. But isn't that why you choose an accurate and predictive assessment like OMG in the first place? You choose OMG to AVOID making the mistake of hiring someone who can sell but won't, who sounds good but isn't, who sells you but doesn't sell anyone else, or who simply isn't a good fit for the role.
Most of us have strong passion in support of our own beliefs and opinions and the degree to which we are willing to embrace the opinions of others varies wildly. Allow me to provide two examples where people tend not to change sides:
Boston Red Sox fans "argue" with New York Yankees Fans and in rare cases, the arguments can get nasty. Personally, I am friendly with a boat load of Yankees fans and have never argued with any of them because I'll never say the words "Yankees suck." For the rivalry between the two teams to be at its best, both teams need to be good and when one team sucks, the rivalry ceases to exist.
Democrats disagree with Republicans and it goes without saying that liberals disagree with conservatives. Over the past five years, those differences have become filled with hate. I don't understand why we can't simply agree to disagree but for some reason, liberals think that all conservatives are racists and conservatives think that all liberals are socialists. While there is probably some truth to both arguments on both far extremes, most people are much closer to the center than everyone thinks.
I use those two examples as a context for the "argument" I am most likely to have on a daily basis. As regular readers know, I am the founder and CEO of Objective Management Group. OMG has assessed more than 2 million salespeople and measures their sales capabilities in 21 Sales Core Competencies. While some might not like their scores, most salespeople agree with our findings because they are extremely accurate. However, there is one competency of the 21 that causes salespeople to dig in, disagree, and push back. Today I will explain the competency and share yesterday's conversation with Bob. For new readers, and those who don't remember, Bob tends to get himself into trouble and is representative of all weak salespeople.
The 21 Sales Core Competencies fall into three major categories:
Will to Sell (Grit) - it's the difference between Can sell and Will sell.
Sales DNA - Six major strengths that support the execution of sales process, sales methodology, sales strategies and sales tactics.
Tactical Selling Competencies - these include the things you know and have heard of, like Hunting, Relationship Building, Consultative Selling, Value Selling, Reaching Decision Makers, Qualifying, Presenting, Closing, Sales Process, and Sales Technology.
The pushback comes from within Sales DNA in a competency called Supportive Buy-Cycle. Buy-Cycle represents how a salesperson goes about the process of making a major purchase. Like most of the 21 Sales Core Competencies, it has several attributes:
At what amount of money does something become a major purchase?
Do you comparison shop or just go to one store/vendor/salesperson?
Do you shop for the lowest price, buy value or is price not a consideration?
Do you conduct research?
When you find what you want do you make a decision or think about it?
Do you like or dislike being sold? (coming soon)
The science shows that there is a 100% correlation between how salespeople buy and what they are willing to accept from their prospects. And that's where the disagreement occurs. Everyone agrees that yes, what we report about how they buy is how they actually buy. But a small number of salespeople disagree over whether or not it affects the way they sell. They usually make their point by saying something along the lines of, "In our business, our buyers must shop around" or "must go with the lowest price" or "won't spend more than x" or "never make decisions before this happens."
And when they say these things they are saying, "This is how I buy so it should be obvious that everyone else buys this way too."
Bob messaged me on LinkedIn yesterday and to his credit, it was not an argument. This is the short conversation we had:
Hi Dave, I’m not sure nor clear on Non Supportive Buy-Cycle? I believe it is smart, normal, wise, fiscally prudent to shop carefully when making large purchases. I believe this for moderate purchases!!! I am not clear on how this would impact my ability to sell another human with the same characteristics? I do not know ONE person that would spend $580K without being prudent and it’s NEW technology. However, part of my role is to also transcend this.
Dave Kurlan sent the following message at 5:18 PM
Yup - you need to transcend and change your beliefs and your buying behavior. Your beliefs are totally non-supportive and you make the assumption that because you believe this then the people you are selling to must believe this. Sure, companies have processes, guidelines and rules for buying stuff. But those rules and guidelines are ignored all the time when a true decision maker has a compelling reason to buy from you, and some urgency that would allow for short cuts.
Bob sent the following message at 8:01 PM
Hummmm…..I can’t say I think like that or believe like that Dave, sincerely. My buying behavior is to use caution and be a great steward with the money I make. How else is there to be? We may part waters on this one respectfully and the entire Team is chatting about this topic
Dave Kurlan sent the following message at 8:26 PM
Let me put it another way. The single biggest differentiator between the top 5% of all salespeople and the bottom 5% is Buy Cycle. Period. End of story. The top 5% (67% have it as a strength) are 6700% more likely to have Buy-Cycle as a strength than the bottom 5% (only 1% are strong). And, those who have it as a weakness usually argue that "everyone buys this way." Don't know what else to tell you.
As I mentioned, I have this very conversation, albeit usually more heated, by phone, email, text, InMail, in the hallway, over Zoom, with at least one person EVERY SINGLE DAY!!
Bob revealed three self-limiting beliefs associated with Buy-Cycle.
You should have read:
"it is smart, normal, wise, fiscally prudent to shop carefully"
"I do not know ONE person that would spend $580K without being prudent" (Dave's note - prudent has nothing to do with Buy-Cycle. Bob thinks $580,000 is a lot of money. But that is NOT a lot of money for the company that is spending it. A company that spends $580,000 on capital equipment is generating at least tens and probably hundreds of millions or more in revenue and it's money they were going to spend with someone. It's not new money.)
"My buying behavior is to use caution and be a great steward with the money I make. How else is there to be?"
Let's compare Bob's beliefs with how great salespeople think. I don't usually do this but for this example I'll use myself.
I've never test-driven a car in my life. When I see a car on the road that I like I say to myself, "That's my next car." I call the dealer, order it, and ask when it can be delivered. I never shop dealers against each other, I never ask for additional discounts over what they offer me, I never think it over and get back to them, and I don't drag out the process. This is how I buy everything. Perhaps you can't imagine buying the way that I buy but it's worth noting that I've never had buyer's remorse, I've never felt like I paid too much, and I never felt like I wasn't being "prudent." For anything. Ever. I ordered my last two vehicles before they were even off the production lines! Not a single 2021 Genesis GV80 had been delivered to the USA when I ordered mine and not a single redesigned for 2019 Lincoln Navigator had been shipped to a dealer when I ordered that SUV. My process is order it, sign, and then wait for it to be delivered (months later) because shopping is a colossal waste of time unless you are doing it for entertainment, like, "Honey, would you like to go to the mall?"
I understand that MY opinion and behavior may very well be different from YOUR opinion and behavior but the science says that my opinion is shared by the best salespeople in the world. This buying behavior enables the best salespeople to push back, question, hang in, ask more questions and eventually influence or outright change buying criteria and processes so they can sell value, eliminate competitors, and reach decision makers who are typically protected from salespeople. Decision makers can change rules, take shortcuts, make decisions, and do it all very quickly.
Let's go back to the science. The top 5% of all salespeople are 6700% more likely to have Buy-Cycle as a strength than the bottom 10% of all salespeople and the top 5% score 279% higher than the bottom 10% of all salespeople on this component of Sales DNA. The science backs me up. Check it out here.
Bob and other weak salespeople understand the stated buying process with the keyword being "stated." When Bob follows the stated buying process without questioning it, only buyers have control! Great salespeople DON'T understand why the prospect is going to talk with five vendors, look for the lowest price, take a month to have six internal meetings, narrow the list, negotiate, send it to legal, and all the other stupidity that takes place. That enables great salespeople to push back, ask more questions, and get processes changed. Supportive Buy-Cycles win more business than Non Supportive Buy-Cycles.
Not 30 minutes after this article was first published, I received this email from Bill, who wanted to prove my points above. Bill wrote:
Your analogy between buying capital equipment and how you buy cars makes no sense Dave. What if you liked a Yugo you saw while driving down the road and bought one in preproduction. How would you feel if you bought one of the worst cars ever manufactured without one second of research? Heck, you bought one of the most inefficient gas guzzling monster cars that will only ruin the environment for my children and my grandchildren. How do you sleep with that? I guess you don’t care about the future. You only live for ‘now’.
Shopping is a pain in the ass. The Internet has made a lot of that much easier. Buying capital equipment isn’t an Internet purchase in the half million dollar plus category. Getting past the first purchase with a new sales person is a challenge. Are they competent? Are they knowledgeable? Are they fair? Do you have a rapport with them? Can They meet your expectations?
I just put a fence around my horse pen. One guy wanted $13,000. The other guy wanted $8500. I looked at both quotes, materials, workmanship, referrals and completion dates. They were virtually the same. which one would you go for? Is shopping worth $4500? Or is it only worth it with personal money and not corporate money? When I put the next fence up I’ll probably have my guy for all my fence work. But the first purchase, in my estimation, takes research. All the other purchases are based on trust and relationship.
I did respond, as I usually do, with this note:
Thanks for taking the time to write, make your point and include the personal attack. That’s the point of my article. People get nasty.
You already know my opinion and while it’s different from yours, you’re entitled to your opinion as I’m entitled to mine. The only difference is that when it comes to selling, the science doesn’t lie and while you might not like it, I happen to be the expert on sales science.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying the horse fence the way you did but it does impact the way you sell. It was right there in your first sentence.
No worries. Thanks again for your kind note.
Bill wasn't finished. He felt the need to get the last words in:
Just adding - They get nasty in politics. If you get nasty in sales, you’re in the wrong business. Actually Dave, it doesn’t impact the way I sell at all. You are incorrect. Have I made mistakes in the past selling, absolutely. Will I make them again in the future, absolutely. You may be the expert in sales science. I’m the expert in sales. I do it every day, every week, every month every year for over 20 years and I’ve been exceptionally happy and successful. I like what I do. I like my clients. And I believe Sales is more than boxes in complex sales that I do. Your car is a box.
And by the way, I’m not nasty. I just pointed out a car analogy just like you wrote about a car analogy. Next time I’ll come to you for the $3500 difference when I buy my next fence. I look forward to you writing a check.
We attended last night's Red Sox Game. Unlike most games at Fenway Park, this contest was a pitcher's duel and the Red Sox held a fragile 1-0 lead over the Toronto Blue Jays heading into the top of the 9th inning. The Red Sox closer, Matt Barnes came in and quickly struck-out the first two batters and that brought up the best hitter in the major leagues, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Barnes quickly got ahead in the count and was only one strike away from ending the game when Guerrero absolutely crushed a rolling curve ball, blasting it into the light towers in left field to tie the game. The mood in the park immediately changed from celebratory to morbid. But the game wasn't over. In the bottom of the 9th inning, the first two hitters reached base for the Red Sox and then Raphael Devers smoked a long fly ball off the wall in left-center field to give the Red Sox a walk-off win. From morbid back to celebratory and beyond to euphoric. Such is the feeling of a walk-off win.
Regular readers know that right around this point in the article there should be a pivot to sales and I won't disappoint. The walk-off win in baseball, the buzzer beater in basketball and the field goal with no time on the clock in football are all terrific metaphors for certain types of wins in sales. Some deals are sure things from the get go and others stand no chance of going your way. However, some huge opportunities are truly nail-biters and could go either way. When those opportunities are finally decided and you win, they too are euphoric.
In today's article we'll use the walk-off win to show how a properly constructed sales process and scorecard will help you win the deals you are supposed to win, help you lose early on the deals you are guaranteed to lose, and give you a much better chance to win the nail biters that could go either way.
Coincidentally, today I will be working to improve a client's existing sales process. Their sales force evaluation results from Objective Management Group (OMG) pointed to three major reasons why they are losing business to their competition:
They aren't creating urgency,
They are failing to reach decision makers
Both crucial milestones are nowhere to be seen in their existing formal sales process.
Most companies don't have a formal sales process, so in that regard they are very much ahead of the game but let me be clear. Having a sales process does not mean that the process is any good, was well thought-out, properly staged, or sequenced so that it builds upon itself. Having a process does not necessarily mean that the process is predictive or effective. With or without a process, it's very likely that your salespeople don't follow the process and your sales managers aren't coaching to the process. In those cases your process has been neutered! You must have an optimized sales process which is formalized, staged, milestone-centric, customer focused and properly sequenced. That sales process must also have within it a properly built and tested scorecard that will accurately predict wins and losses. And, sales leadership must be diligent about four things:
The process and related pipeline must be fully integrated into the CRM application
This isn't optional. Every kick-ass sales team has this in place.
Every salesperson must follow it to the letter and keep it up-to-date in real time in CRM.
Every sales manager must coach to the sales process and conduct opportunity reviews in the context of sales process and pipeline.
An optimized sales process will all but guarantee that your salespeople don't miss anything when it comes to winning all the opportunities that should be won. An optimized/integrated sales process will sound the alarm to all but guarantee that your resources are not wasted on an opportunity that you have little chance of winning. And finally, to experience the euphoria of a walk-off win, you must rely on that optimized sales process integrated into your CRM application - and we love Membrain for this - to help you win the nail biters because nothing feels as good as a walk-off win.
Walter and I attended a recent Boston Red Sox / Houston Astros game at Fenway Park. It was my first visit to Fenway Park since 2019 and it was exciting to see most of the seats filled. It was exciting to hear all of the fan noise that has been missing for so long but there was one fan in particular that I heard louder than all of the others. Starting in the fourth inning, Timmy, the eight-year-old Astros fan sitting next to me, didn't stop chatting with me for the remainder of the game. When Timmy said he hated the Red Sox I had to ask him why. His answer is the focus of this article on selling! "Why do you hate the Red Sox so much Timmy?"
He said, "Because their faces are ugly." Wow. I asked how they were ugly and he said "They have zits - and they pick them in the dugout."
That might not sound like the basis of an article on selling to you, but it certainly does to me!
Timmy's grandfather flew him to Boston to watch his favorite team play the Red Sox in the absolute best ballpark to watch a game. He loves his Astros the way I loved my Red Sox when I was that age (OK, I love them at this age too) and as much as Ethan Bryan loves his Royals. Ethan still wants to throw out the first pitch at a Royals game this year....
Timmy was not able to provide talking points, data, facts, bullet points, or even anecdotal evidence of why his team, which cheated to win the 2017 and 2019 World Series, was the best and the Red Sox, who won the World Series in 2018, was not. He has an unexplainable emotional connection to the Astros.
Salespeople don't understand this phenomenon.
Customers often have unexplainable emotional connections to the salespeople, account managers and companies they do business with and it doesn't matter how much better your company is, how much more responsive you are, how much more capable your product is, how much lower your price is, or how much more motivated you are to win their business. Their emotional connection to their account manager and company will determine the winner every single time.
Don't let that deter you!
If you know that this happens, it should be your number one goal, with each and every customer, to build that kind of an emotional connection so that your customer will refuse to even consider moving their business to anyone else. This isn't easy, won't happen overnight, requires making every customer a much bigger priority than ever before, and is not for the salesperson who loves to hunt. But you can do this!
It is also important to know that most of the salespeople working for your competitors aren't good enough for their customers to have these emotional connections. Most salespeople can't and won't accomplish this. The salespeople who do accomplish this aren't particularly good salespeople but they are fantastic at nurturing and developing relationships and have probably been working closely with those customers for over a decade.
Remember, whether it's zits or chits, unbreakable relationships can't be undone by better pricing or specifications.
May 29 was the day that nearly all COVID restrictions were lifted here Massachusetts. How liberating! Or so I thought...
I went to the grocery store and was stunned to discover that I was the only person in the store not wearing a mask. Either everyone in the store was unvaccinated, didn't believe the vaccine would protect them, or they were afraid to go out in public without the mask.
I returned to the store on Sunday and was stunned again when nearly everyone in the store was maskless. It seemed odd that the masked and maskless numbers flipped in twenty-four hours but I loved it. We were much closer to normal. But it did get me wondering what normal means for sales teams moving forward.
My first attempt to understand how 2022 might look was to survey Objective Management Group's Partners (sales development experts that provide OMG's assessments to their clients). Among other topics, we asked them two questions about travel and in-person training and here is what they had to say:
As you can see, roughly 30% are chomping at the bit to travel to an in-person event, but 20% are pretty sure they will be staying home. While another 20% could be persuaded to attend, a huge group - nearly 30% - are undecided and would probably lean towards staying home. So right now it looks split down the middle and these beliefs also reflect whether they would be comfortable leading in-person sales training events for their clients.
We also asked what kind of in-person event they would travel to attend and there was more clarity there, with longer, multi-day conferences having more appeal than shorter, one-day events.
Will salespeople be traveling in their territories, to their big customers, or to sales calls?
The answer appears to be, "It depends."
The decisions have a lot to do with what their companies are requiring them to do, what their customers need and are comfortable with, and salespeople finally being more comfortable selling virtually over video. For a lot of old-school territory salespeople the transition to virtual was like pulling teeth and many of them can't wait to get back out there. But will their customers allow them back on the premises?
Again, the answer is split with some customers saying, "Come on down!" and others saying, "No visitors." In the US, a lot of it depends on geography with customers and sellers in red states much more comfortable with the old normal and customers and sellers in the blue states much more comfortable with the new normal. In Europe, APAC, LatAm, and EMEA, the factors influencing a return to normal have more to do with containment of the virus with outbreaks continuing in many countries.
One of the big factors in all of this is school and daycare. With many schools still closed, and some teacher's unions resisting orders to reopen in the fall, some parents are still forced to stay home and that trumps all of the other factors.
In conclusion, we are making progress, but we are still a hybrid mess with two parts fear, one-part comfort and three parts of the unknown all mixed together. That means for the foreseeable future, there will still be a lot of virtual selling, servicing, training and coaching taking place.
Some random thoughts from the weekend and its impact on sales teams...
We have a twenty-year old gas grill built-in to a stone wall on our back patio and this year I decided to replace all of the components. New burners, new heat plates, new briquettes, new grates, new ignitor, and new wiring. All told, it took three-hours of work, much of it with the ignitor and the wiring. When I got it all reassembled, everything worked except the ignitor despite the fact that I smartly tested it prior to reassembly. I opened it back up and discovered that the battery had become disconnected. A tweak later, it was reassembled, the ignitor was sending sparks, but it was still failing to ignite the gas. After all that work, and despite all the new components, I still must use a hand lighter to light the grill and will have to call a gas grill expert to get the sparks to ignite the gas.
My project corresponds so well with how many executives approach their sales teams.
They do nothing for years, and then, after growing frustrated with complacency and inability to grow revenue, finally decide to make changes and rebuild their sales teams. They quickly reassemble the team by terminating the obvious liabilities and hiring replacements. Then, when the new salespeople don't perform to expectations, they make additional tweaks by adding hiring criteria, and try again. Lacking a real sense of what good looks like, they continue to get it wrong and are back where they started, needing expert help to select the right salespeople to grow revenue.
We went to an outdoor garden center - outdoors means no masks if you're fully vaccinated so it should be an opportunity to shop mask free! Not. Everybody - young and old were masked up because we've learned that if you remove your mask people give you dirty looks and employees refuse to help you. So we must continue to mask up. What does this have to do with selling?
The discomfort with removing masks outdoors speaks directly to our discomfort with, resistance to, and fear of change. After 14 months you would think that people would be excited for the opportunity to go maskless but it's not close to happening in Massachusetts. You would also think that salespeople would be quick to embrace strategies, tactics and sales processes that will help them dramatically improve their effectiveness, and help them differentiate and close more business. That has great appeal, but most salespeople are typically slow to adapt for the very same reasons. Discomfort with, resistance to, and fear of change. It takes time.
Like most spring weekends, we were watching our son play baseball (2 games each day) only this year spectators aren't allowed on college campuses so we were watching live streams. We wondered how we would handle not being present and cheering for him and his team, how disconnected we might feel watching him on a computer screen, and how much we would miss it. It was especially difficult this year since it is his freshman, or as they now say, "first year" season. We adapted. We had to adapt. The seating and food were both exponentially better at home, we didn't have six hour round trips to campus and back, and the bathrooms were sparkling! That said, we still missed being there for him and can't wait until we can return to watch him play in person.
This aligns with how sales teams pivoted to virtual selling in the spring of 2020. It worked, but many of the same differences were in play. The seating, food and bathrooms were better, but we missed being with our colleagues and customers. We adapted, although in the case of virtual selling, we didn't adapt as well. I am still very frustrated with the sales teams I personally train, who week after week, have failed to upgrade their physical appearance, wardrobe, and backgrounds. I don't want to see bedrooms, closets, kitchens, dens, basements or bathrooms! The lighting sucks! You've had 14 months to upgrade how you present yourselves, so read my article on upgrading your virtual presence and get with the program. Many of you will be selling this way, from home and/or office, for the foreseeable future.
It was a great weekend for gardening and when the baseball games weren't streaming we were in the gardens. Pulling weeds, grooming the beds replacing perennial flowers and cutting down scrawny, ugly or dead trees were on the list. It's what we do in May.
This is a great time for weeding out your under-performers and negative, whiny liabilities, upgrading your sales teams, and replacing them with better salespeople who are better fits for the role. It's what we should do, not only in May but year-round. A sales force evaluation should come first so that you know who is part of your future, how to develop them, and how much more revenue they can generate. You must also know who is part of your past and whether or not to move on from them. You must understand why you get the results you get and what needs to change. You should also use an accurate and predictive, customizable, sales-specific candidate assessment to help select your new salespeople. Ask your sales consultant about Objective Management Group (OMG) for help with both issues. If you don't have a reliable, magical sales expert you can call, we can recommend one for you. If you have one, but they don't offer OMG, insist that they either become OMG certified or find one who does offer OMG. Just email me and I'll get you hooked up with someone who can help in a big way.
We shouldn't discuss that time you were in a meeting when, without warning, you had about 10 seconds to get yourself to the nearest restroom or you would need to drive home for a wardrobe change. Fortunately, you were able to gracefully excuse yourself and run down the hall as fast as you possibly could. THAT is urgency!
This is the fourth installment in the Bob Chronicles. Bob is the weak salesperson who represents the bottom 50% of all salespeople. You can read previous installments about Bob below:
You're probably wondering, what did Bob screw up this time? He screwed up urgency. You might be asking how a salesperson could possibly screw up urgency but Bob and the rest of the weak salespeople screw up just about everything else so why not urgency too?
As usual, Bob was unaware that Mary, his prospect, was also talking with three other companies. Mary asked for a proposal and Bob obliged, coming in well over the agreed upon budget and upsetting her in the process. Mary reminded Bob that the proposal was nearly 25% higher than the budget they had all agreed to. She asked Bob to stay within the budget and send a revised proposal. Did Bob follow up appropriately? No!
A couple of months had passed when Mary notified Bob that they were going with another company. Bob was crazed and in a panic. He reached out to Mary and requested a call. She said she was sorry but had already made her decision. Bob requested a call again and was told that she had signed a contract with another company. In the middle of an acute panic attack, Bob decided to send a revised proposal and discounted the original offer by 35%. Once again, Mary said, "This is too late - we already signed with another company." Bob said, "But I offered you a 35% discount - that's even better than what you budgeted for!" Mary disconnected the phone.
This is all about urgency.
Mary had a lot more urgency than Bob was aware of because Bob didn't ask the most important questions, like, "How big is the problem?" and "What is it costing?" and "How soon do you need it solved?" and "What happens if you don't have it solved by then?" and "Who else have you asked about this?"
Bob had a ton of urgency, but not until he realized he had lost the business. If he had exhibited half the urgency earlier in the process, while uncovering Mary's urgency, their urgency would have been aligned. Urgency alignment is crucial.
If the salesperson has urgency but the prospect does not, the perception is that of a pushy salesperson. If the prospect has urgency but the salesperson does not, the perception is that of an unresponsive salesperson. When both the salesperson and the prospect have urgency, they will easily work collaboratively to solve a problem.
Early in the process, Bob was perceived as being unresponsive. Late in the process, Bob was perceived as being tone deaf and pushy. However, when salespeople strike that perfect balance, magic happens. Salespeople who are effective creating urgency AND having urgency are 35% more effective than salespeople who fail to get their prospects to "must have" and lack urgency themselves.
Finally, why did this happen?
Early in the process, Bob didn't listen, didn't ask enough questions and didn't push back on the budget. By failing to push back, Mary believed that Bob would deliver a needs and cost appropriate solution. Then, when Mary pushed back, Bob was unresponsive. These two events suggest that Bob wasn't controlling his Emotions and Needed to be Liked. Those two weaknesses combine to make it difficult to listen, and too uncomfortable for him to push back and ask questions. As you can see from the table below, the bottom 50% of all salespeople tend to be especially weak in both of these Sales DNA competencies.
When things spiraled out of control, Bob's emotions caused him to panic. His non-supportive beliefs about pricing kicked in Bob always looks for the lowest price when he buys things for himself. Despite being too late to influence the decision, Bob believed that if he came back with an attractive offer, it would change the outcome. As you can see in the table below, 26% of weak salespeople need to shop for the lowest price and they mistakenly believe that their prospects behave similarly.
There is so much more that goes into selling than following your sales process and having sales strategies and techniques. There are 21 Sales Core Competencies and salespeople must be strong in all of them, not just some of them. You can see all 21 Sales Core Competencies here and while you're there, view, filter and sort the data on nearly a third of the 2,091,766 salespeople that have been evaluated and assessed by Objective Management Group (OMG). If you want an easy-to-use, accurate and predictive sales candidate assessment to select and hire your new salespeople, check out OMG's award-winning sales candidate assessments here.
In December I took delivery on my all-time favorite new car and I've been driving my Genesis GV80 for four months now. You probably saw video of the GV80 that Tiger Woods' destroyed and there wasn't a thing the car could have done to prevent him from crashing it because he had probably disabled the driver assist features and he may have been "disabled" when he got behind the wheel.
Last week, a crazy driver pulled out right in front of me and despite the fact that I anticipated his stupidity and would have been able to stop before smashing into this moron, my car wasn't as certain as I was. My Genesis took matters into its own hands and went into all out protection mode - making sure nothing happened to it or me.
As advertised, it took over the braking and steering to protect itself, sounded all the alarms to alert me to its strategy and then did two things that really surprised me. All at once, the seat enveloped me in a cocoon and the seat belt tightened around my shoulders so that there was no chance that I was leaving that seat. Going through the windshield? Not a chance unless the whole seat was coming with me!
That was cool.
And it got me thinking. Wouldn't it be cool if salespeople had a sales version of an early warning system/driver assist like my car has?
The car uses cameras and sensors to factor in conditions that would require emergency tactics. Salespeople have eyes and ears as well as wisdom that can all be used for emergency tactics. Let's start with the ears.
Prospects say things that are tell-tale signs that something is amiss. Anytime a salesperson hears any of these comments they could be swaying out of their lane or their opportunity might be about to crash. They include but aren't limited to:
Send me a proposal or get me a quote; both are bad if it happens earlier in the sales process than it should
We still have to meet with others
I've been tasked to gather information
We don't have a budget for this
We'll have to find the money
We're going with the best price
I need to bring this to [the decision maker] for approval
This is a future project
We're happy with who we're using
You don't need to know that
I need to get consensus
We don't have any real urgency on this
Our contract/agreement doesn't expire until [date]
There are things you don't hear but wisdom (experience plus lessons learned) communicates them through your inner voice:
They don't seem to have a compelling reason to do anything
They are withholding information
You think they're lying about something
It seems that this is only "nice to have" but you haven't gotten them to "must have"
The decision maker is not engaged
They are hesitant about spending the necessary money
You don't seem to have their ear because they aren't talking in terms working together
They have transitioned to a pricing conversation which suggests you haven't cemented your value
They see you a vendor or supplier; not a partner or trusted advisor
They have an existing relationship that they don't seem willing to blow up
They are not allowing you to follow your sales process
They are not allowing you to ask questions and you find yourself in show and tell mode
Then, there are the things you observe:
They aren't making eye contact
They are distracted
They are giving you short answers and not explaining themselves
They are in a hurry
They're looking at their watch
Their RFI/RFQ/RFP reads like it was written by a competitor
Some of the examples listed above are chronic - they occur most of the time to most of the salespeople. Half of them may not know any better - shame on the training and coaching they are or should be getting! But the other half have weaknesses in their Sales DNA which cause these things to keep happening to them. A Sales Force Evaluation can smoke out gaps in their sales competencies and Sales DNA. OMG measures all 21 Sales Core Competencies plus an additional 11, each with an average of 8 attributes. That's close to 250 sales specific findings for each salesperson!
Finally, your sales process which is integrated into your CRM application provides warnings, yellow flags, alerts, incomplete milestones, incomplete stages, time in stage too long, stuck opportunities...You do get those, don't you? Check out the Baseline Selling instance of Membrain.
Pivoting back to my car which takes matters into its own hands. The partial listing above is set to "alert-only" without evasive or protective measures. How can we get salespeople to perform evasive and protective measures? Evaluate/Train/Coach/Reevaluate.
The evaluation tells us what they're allowing to happen and why. Training provides them with the strategy and tactics to use evasive action and protect the opportunity. Coaching helps them master the strategies and tactics.
Improving sales effectiveness does not happen in isolation, automatically over time, or by magic. Improved sales effectiveness and the resulting increase in revenue requires proactive, purposeful intervention as described above.
By the fourth quarter of 2021, we will encounter some of the most difficult selling conditions since November of 2008 when, without warning, the revenue spigot was turned completely off. It remained partially closed through 2016 but from 2017 until the pandemic hit we were in full open fire hydrant mode. Business was booming and for most companies, quickly returned to booming by the fourth quarter of 2020.
Now we are faced with some huge impending corporate income tax and payroll tax increases and they will be larger than what has been stated on the news. Those large tax increases do one thing - they cause layoffs. After the layoffs, consumer spending and confidence drop. Then we see buying freezes and their related ripple effect where the companies that sell to those big companies experience cash reserve issues, initiate buying freezes of their own, which work their way down to businesses of all sizes.
This time around you've been warned. You have no more than eight months to prepare your sales team for some of the toughest selling ever and most salespeople have never experienced selling as difficult as what we will see in 2022. On top of that, you'll have more, not fewer competitors because when everyone is selling virtually, every competitor is just as close or just as far away as the next. And if you're not in the USA, don't think you won't be affected. What happens here affects you wherever you are.
Now is the time to install early warning systems, sales force evaluations, targeted training and coaching, and more. Prepare your sales teams now or pay the price in 2022!
Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader, Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog has earned medals for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for nine consecutive years. This article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016, this one earned a Silver medal for 2017, and this article earned Silver for 2018. Read more about Dave.