Manny Being Manny - When to Terminate Top Producers on your Sales Force

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jul 28, 2008 @ 07:07 AM

Our Boston Baseball team is having an acute case of Manny being Manny.  For the past seven years, when Manny felt like being Manny, it was sometimes comical, like when he recently made a great catch, high fived a fan in the middle of the play and then threw a runner out to complete a double play.  There were the two times when he entered the left-field wall to use the facilities and to talk on his cell phone.  But there have been other occasions when he wasn't so comical.  There were serious, but not career-ending moments like when he failed to run out ground balls or, during a pinch-hitting appearance, when he failed to take the bat off his shoulders. This year Manny has been the aggressor in two well documented shoving matches and there were two important games where he asked out of the lineup.  Now, for the 8th time in 8 years, he is asking out of Boston again.  It used to be that Manny being Manny was harmless fun, but when Manny has become a serious distraction to the entire team, all the home runs and RBI's in the world won't compensate for his behavior.

Most sales forces have a person - a maverick - like Manny; a top producer who marches to the beat of his own drummer.  We have a different set of rules for these producers and as long as they're not causing difficulties for anyone else we tend to tolerate what they do and don't do.  They don't attend all the meetings, aren't held to the same standards, regularly give us a load of crap and we tolerate it as long as they continue to produce.

Can you imagine Manny on your sales force?  He pushes your HR VP to the floor, slaps your hardest working salesperson, refuses to listen to your coaching, tells everyone he hates the company, doesn't attend company events or sales meetings, but comes through and brings in the business you need, just when you need it.

But when Mavericks become serious problems I usually get a phone call.  "I don't know what to do!" is the typical comment.  And it makes sense, right?  If this person didn't outperform everyone else in the company, the decision to put them on the first plane out of town would be an easy one.  Nobody would miss the antics and aggravation.  But all that revenue - the thought of losing it and the possibility of a competitor getting it - is too much for most executives to handle so they inevitably call and ask me what they should do.

I'm fairly consistent on matters like these.  As Bill Murray says when Walter Peck is being kicked out of the Mayor's office in Ghostbusters, "Bye."

Most companies do more with less.  After two basketball players are encouraged to quit the team in a disciplinary move, team members yell, "they were our top two scorers last year!" Coach Carter, in the movie by the same name, says, "then we'll have new top scorers this year!" 

If you were to interview the salespeople who are impacted by the behavior of your top producers, you would learn that they would be quite happy to see your Maverick depart.  It's not like they thought they could outsell him...and guess what will happen to their sales when they finally believe  that they can become the top producers!


(c) 2008 Dave Kurlan 

Topics: coaching, accountability, leadership, Motivation

Fear Factor for the Sales Force

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Jul 24, 2008 @ 14:07 PM

Sometimes, I'll write an article and think it's one of the best 4-5 paragraphs I've ever written on the subject of sales excellence - and nobody will care.  Other times I'll write an article and think nobody will care - and I'll get more feedback than I can believe.

Such was the case yesterday when I wrote this article for Baseline Selling Tips.  The title was How to Use Fear to Maintain Your Edge but the real basis for the article was that you shouldn't let fear prevent you from doing what you must do; you should use fear as a way to be more prepared to achieve the best possible outcome.

Well this article caused more people to write and express their thanks than any article I've ever written and between this Blog and Baseline Selling Tips, I've published more than 400 articles on Sales and Sales Management Excellence.

Read the article first.  Now rate each of your salespeople relative to how fear impacts them.  Be brutally honest in your appraisals:

A. Fearless  
B. Use Fear to Excel
C. They Sell in Fear
D. Fear Prevents Them from Being Effective
E. Fear Causes Paralysis

Now score your results.

A: 4 points x # of salespeople.
B: 5 points x # of salespeople.
C: 2 points x # of salespeople.
D: 1 points x # of salespeople.
E: 0 point  x # of salespeople.

Now take the total score and divide by the number of salespeople.  The resulting number is your Sales Force Fear Factor.

5 - awesome! 
4 - excellent
3 - good
2 - you don't have a sales force
1 - set the date for closing your business
0 - why are you still reading this?

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan 

Topics: coaching, leadership, Motivation

The Former Car Salesman That Didn't Know Why He Failed

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Jul 18, 2008 @ 16:07 PM

George was at the house today, reinstalling our home theater projector.  He asked what kind of work I did and when he learned I was a sales expert he told me two things.  First, he said that his company needed some help. It seems that their salespeople were great when people were spending money but now that people have stopped spending money they're not really so great after all.  He said, "they were great at being near the phone when it rang!"

Then he said, "I tried selling cars once - I wasn't very good at it so I quit. I went to the same training as everyone else, sold the same products as everyone else, had the same management as everyone else, but got different results.  I don't know why I sucked, but I knew enough to get out."

I said, "I can tell you why you struggled.  You're a nice guy and you want pepole to like you, right?"


"So you couldn't say, do or ask the things they taught you to do because it didn't feel right, right?


"You probably shop around and think things over when you buy things for yourself, right?"


"So none of the techniques to stop them from shopping or to stop them from thinking it over came from conviction, right?"


"You're a pretty trusting guy, right?"


"So when they told you they'd be back on Monday to buy the car, you believed them, right?"


"And you never handled rejection real well, did you?"


"So that's why you weren't any good as a car salesman, George."

"Thank you SO MUCH.  I feel so much better knowing why."

"You're welcome."

Don't make the mistake of believing that this conversation only relates to selling cars.  These are a handful of the common reasons why salespeople struggle and what's worse, is that many of the salespeople who are IN sales today and struggling have these among dozens of other issues getting in their way.

Recognize any of this in any of your salespeople? 

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan


Topics: coaching, assessment

Sales Resistance and the Recession - 7 Steps to Turn Prospects Around

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Jul 17, 2008 @ 08:07 AM

You learned the three R's when you were in grade school but selling in today's economy is about two R's - resistance and recession - and they are related.  While resistance is always lurking in the background, the recession brings it to the forefront and your salespeople must be able to sell - despite it - and therein lies the problem.

Most salespeople, upon hearing "not interested" or "we're all set" or "we're not spending any money" or "we'd like to do this instead" usually utter some form of "OK" and end the call. 

A much smaller percentage of salespeople try to turn it around but in doing so sound like high pressure salespeople.  Any presentation in the face of resistance, regardless of how short, is perceived by the prospect as pressure.  There are a very small percentage of salespeople who will turn it around by asking permission to challenge or push back - I actually use these words: "Is it OK if I push back on something you just said?"

As long as your salespeople let their prospects talk - taking notes about the cracks in their argument and the discrepancies in their logic - it doesn't really matter when your salespeople make the attempt to turn their prospects around.  And once they make the effort, it shouldn't take more than a few minutes.  It might sound something like this: "I heard you say that you're most interested in providing moon travel and that's important.  But I also heard you say that you're struggling with your existing tours of the earth and your fleet is unreliable, in disrepair, and customers are getting upset.  Why wouldn't you want to solve the existing problem first?"

There are seven steps for turning prospects around in the face of resistance. 

  1. Listen
  2. Take Notes
  3. Ask Permission to Challenge
  4. State Their Goal
  5. Note Discrepancy 1
  6. Note Discrepancy 2
  7. Ask the challenging Question

And there is one rule for turning prospects around in the face of resistance.

  1. Do not present facts or logic 

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan 

Topics: coaching

Turning Order Takers into Salespeople

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jul 15, 2008 @ 07:07 AM

Last week we brought our six-year old son to the batting cages where, for the first time, he hit against little league pitching.  Big deal?  You bet.  Up until last week, he was clobbering whiffle balls with whiffle bats from about twenty feet away.  At the cage, he was wearing a batting helmet, swinging a heavy metal bat, and seeing baseballs thrown at 35 MPH from 45 feet away.  It was a huge difference.

How did he do? He missed the first 10 pitches.  He missed the second 10 pitches.  Then he made two adjustments.  He moved back in the batter's box, began his swing earlier and began making contact.  Then, as his confidence grew, he made better contact until finally, he was hitting baseballs with the same authority we saw when he hit whiffle balls.

At six years old he is way ahead of where I was when I was ten years old - very cool.  Now the sales analogy.

Lesson #1 - Salespeople need to make adjustments. New competition, new buying strategies, unfair competition, price competition and the resistance brought on by the recession all change the way they need to play the game and they need to make adjustments too.  They need to be quicker, sharper, more strategic and much more effective with their use of  selling tactics (skills, not tricks). 

How do your salespeople make these adjustments? Some, as many as 30%, can't and/or won't make changes and what you see is what you will continue to get.  For the remaining 70%, change can be as easy as showing them the way and as difficult as pulling teeth. Few have the strengths and skills required to simply sell differently and even fewer in management have the skills required to help them make these changes. You'll have to bring in help from the outside to help an entire sales force make the complete transition from order takers and account managers to effective, proactive, impactful salespeople. Your expectations must be realistic too.  You can't simply tell them what you want and show them how to do it and expect them to be able to go out and execute.  It could take a few months of telling and showing before they'll be comfortable enough to try it themselves and even then, they'll probably be ineffective the first few times.  There will be a need for repetition and you won't see the impact on revenue for about six months plus the length of your sales cycle. 

Lesson #2 - New salespeople ramp up at different speeds based on their ability to figure it out.  Some of the more talented new salespeople will quickly figure it out and out-perform your veterans, who failed to make adjustments to the changing sales challenges. You can read more about new salespeople ramping up in this comprehensive post from June 28.

Six-year olds are conditioned to change - they're expanding their sights and abilities every day. Veteran salespeople are conditioned for complacency - taking the known way, the comfortable way.  Are you ready to challenge them?

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan 

Topics: coaching

Sales Training - Handling No Responses and Negative Responses

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Jul 03, 2008 @ 00:07 AM

I write for two different audiences. On the blog I write for management, while I write for salespeople over at my Baseline Selling Tips.  Today I'm killing two birds with one stone, a case history for both audiences.  Click here to read Case History - Dealing with No Responses and Negative Responses.

Now the sales management lesson.  Do you train and coach your salespeople on how to effectively use voice mail and email?

When you conduct strategic account management, pre-call strategizing and post call debriefing, do you help your salespeople reach prospects that haven't responded?

What can you do better in this area?

(c) 2008 Dave Kurlan

Topics: coaching

Fact Based Reasons Why New Salespeople Fail - Data Points

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Sat, Jun 28, 2008 @ 12:06 PM

Did you ever have a new salesperson fail?  Did you ever have one who was highly recommended fail?

Depending on how effective your recruiting, selection and on boarding processes are, you may experience new salespeople that don't work out.  Let's explore some of the factors that impact short-term success.

  • Ramp-Up Time - an important factor in determining whether a new salesperson is succeeding or failing is your baseline ramp-up time.  When you don't know what your ramp-up time should be, you will be guilty of either not giving a salesperson enough time to succeed, or being overly patient, allowing too much time to pass before calling the newbie a failure.  My formula for calculating ramp-up time is to add your sale cycle in months to your learning curve in months and then add an additional 30 days.  So, if you have a six month sale cycle and a three month learning curve, your baseline ramp-up time will be 10 months.  Complicating the matter even more is the fact that some salespeople will not ramp up exactly as the formula suggests, based on three additional factors:
       So we can modify the formula like this: add 2 more months if sales experience is less than five years, add 2 more months if industry experience is less than 2 years, and add 3 more months if compatibility is less than 75%.  Depending on these 3 factors, ramp-up could take as much as an additional 7 months!
  • The Assignment - The assignment is a huge part of this equation.  If your new salesperson is assigned existing accounts, you'll probably be happy with his work unless he quickly loses some accounts.  On the other hand, if 80% or more of the assignment is hunting for new business, you may conclude that the salesperson is failing unless the pipeline gets filled rather quickly with new opportunities.
  • The Assessment - Clues abound here.  As long as you are using Objective Management Group's Sales Candidate Assessment (92% of recommended candidates that are hired wind up in the top half of their sales force within a year, while 75% of those who were not recommended but hired anyway fail within 6 months), the answers are at your finger tips.  Review these four sections:
    • Hunter Skill set - which attributes are missing? 
    • Conditions for Hiring - what are the conditions listed and did you follow them?
    • Likely Problems - are the issues your struggling salesperson is running into listed among the likely problems?
    • Skills - how many are there and are they representative of the entire selling process or just the front end, middle or back-end?
  • The Sales Manager - The sales manager is usually the biggest determining factor of sales success and the first place to look when it appears that salespeople aren't working out. 
    • Supervision - Are new salespeople being micro managed or at least closely managed?  They should be.  Are any of your new salespeople in a remote territory?   A sure fire formula for disaster is a remote salesperson that is not being closely managed. 
    • Expectations - Have expectations been set?  Do your new salespeople know what is expected of them in the first 30/60/90 days, how they will be measured and how they will be held accountable?
    • Support - When two seemingly identical salespeople with identical assignments and territories have opposite results, it's usually because neither of them got the attention, direction, guidance, coaching, support, motivation and accountability that was needed, but one of them was better when it came to figuring out what it would take to succeed (see The Salesperson). 
    • Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) - Sales Managers that manage results (history) are months behind when it comes to being able to impact a salesperson using coaching and accountability.  Sales Managers that manage activity (today) can see into the future and change it.
  • The Salesperson - New salespeople can figure it out when the right mix of these next 14 factors, all found in OMG's Assessment, are in place - The "Figure it Out" Factor:
    • 5+ years in sales
    • 5+ years in the industry
    • Strong Desire
    • Strong Commitment
    • No Excuse Making
    • Self Starter
    • Works well independently
    • Works without supervision
    • Will Prospect
    • Prospects Consistently
    • No Need for Approval
    • Recovers from Rejection
    • Greater than 75% Compatibility
    • Effective Time Management
  • High Turnover Factors - Depending upon these three additional factors, turnover could approach 150%.
    • Compensation - Turnover is higher in straight comission environments.  Straight commission with a long sale cycle will be even worse.  Straight commission with a long sale cycle and a salesperson without the financial stability to stick it out will exceed 100%.
    • Industry - Turnover in insurance (personal lines), telecommunications (long distance phone service) and automotive (car dealers) is very high because many companies in these industries don't have a selection criteria that extends beyond "breathing and willing" and don't invest time and money on development. 
    • Mindset - Companies that are resigned to high turnover and that are making a lot of money despite the turnover don't do anything to change it.
  • Psychological Factors - Every once in a while you'll get a new salesperson who is emotionally unstable and you won't know it until it's too late.  There is no better reason to use a psychological assessment at the time of hiring that to uncover this!
  • Liars - I've even seen salespeople who took one base plus commission sales job while holding down another.  The only thing better than getting paid for not performing one job is getting paid for not performing in two jobs!
(c)  Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

Topics: coaching, recruiting, accountability, leadership, assessment

Top 10 Ways to Drive Sales

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jun 25, 2008 @ 07:06 AM

Let's assume that you have the right people, compensation, incentives, systems and processes in place.  Are you all set?  Hardly.  You still have to drive sales because in most companies sales don't happen by themselves. The companies that do that the best follow these steps:

  1. Evaluate their sales force 
  2. Set clear expectations
  3. Identify necessary behaviors required for the results
  4. Get buy-in and commitment from their salespeople and managers
  5. Support the effort with training, development and coaching
  6. Hold their people accountable for behaviors and results
  7. Frequently and clearly communicate the expectations
  8. Demonstrate top management's commitment to the expectations, behaviors, training, development and coaching through participation and communication.
  9. Replace non-performers
  10. Hire A players

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

Topics: coaching, recruiting, accountability, leadership, assessment

Sales Improvement and Raquetball

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jun 23, 2008 @ 01:06 AM

Brad Ferguson suggested that there might be a correlation between racquetball and sales improvment!

He reminded me that years ago, the racquetball court was simply a claustrophobic white-walled enclosure where the play could only be viewed from above.  Then came Plexiglas walls so that more people could watch.  Finally, the court and its players could be viewed by anyone and everyone.

Brad believes that this transition from closed in to opened up caused racquetball players to improve - not because they wanted to be better, but because spectators would see them.  Their need for approval impacts the improvement process today while in the old days, improvement came only to those who were dedicated to improving their game.  Shame for gain vs. desire to be the best.

The analogy to sales is that we don't yet have the glass walls and that could explain why such a small percentage of salespeople are dedicated to improving their game. Perhaps, if others could see how poorly they perform on the phone and in face to face sales calls, they would be motivated to make improvements. 

I have worked with enough companies to tell you that most of the fourteen million salespeople in the US are proficient at making presentations but not at selling.  Unfortunately, they believe that presenting is selling.

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

Topics: coaching

Improve Sales Effectiveness at the Salesperson's Hall of Fame

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Sun, Jun 15, 2008 @ 23:06 PM

This weekend we visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown NY and I was struck by a few things:

1) Why don't we have a Hall of Fame for Salespeople?  I know that companies provide awards for their own salespeople but is that limited recognition enough for those who are motivated most by recognition?

2) Why don't we have a better historical record of the developments made in selling?  When I was writing Baseline Selling in 2004-2005, I had the advantage of being a 30-year student of sales plus a respect for the history of the profession. But memory and recollection are not enough to make the pages of a book accurate and there wasn't any one source I could rely on to get the facts, dates and experts nailed down.

3) Why don't we have a more effective marketing machine to promote the profession of sales to those who might enter the field?  As kids we were out there playing baseball whenever we could find the time and many of us continued to play through high school.  I haven't seen many kids playing salesperson.  Perhaps we need to promote and glamorize the greatest salespeople in our profession so that kids want to be like them when they grow up.

4) Our six-year old son thought the highlight of the Baseball Hall of Fame was Abbott and Costello's Who's on First?  While there have been quite a few movies whose characters were salespeople, the classic that people relate to is the depressing Death of a Salesman.  Why can't we have a movie or a short that represents salespeople in a memorable, positive and honorable way?

So what can you do about this?

  1. Recognize your salespeople.
  2. Promote the profession of sales in your community.
  3. Promote and call attention to your best salespeople beyond your company.
  4. Teach your salespeople about the history of selling and early sales gurus like Elmer Wheeler, Frank Bettger and Dale Carnegie.
  5. Comment right here on this blog with your ideas for how we can recognize salespeople for their accomplishments, but on a grander scale and stage.  What can we use for criteria?
  6. Make sure that everyone in your company understands how important your salespeople are to the health and well being of your company.
  7. You want your salespeople to be better at selling value and selling more consultatively, yet your advertising says that customers should buy from you because of your products, services, features, benefits and customer service.  If you have a kick-ass sales team, put them in your ads!
  8. Baseball players have hitting coaches, pitching coaches, baserunning coaches, bullpen coaches, base coaches, and infield and outfield coaches. Give your salespeople the world-class coaching, training, conditioning, and management that baseball players get. 
  9. Build more of a sales culture - demand that your passive salespeople, who take orders, become more effective hunting for and closing new business.
  10. Subscribe your salespeople to newsletters like Baseline Selling Tips or something else that provides consistent reminders and encouragement.

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

Topics: coaching, leadership, Motivation

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About Dave

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

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