How Soon Should You Make Changes to Your Sales Force?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Jun 28, 2012 @ 09:06 AM

The First 90 DaysThis month's newsletter from IDC's Sales Advisory Group lists 5 things which a new Sales VP should do.  Some of them are good, but others not so much.  Among their points were some that have nothing to do with being new, plus one with which I am in complete disagreement.  Consider 4 of their 5 bullet points below:

  1. They said: Tap into your organization's resources to get up the learning curve, fast.
    I say: You should tap into your resources whether you are new or not!  There is more to learn than your own business.  You should be learning about your competition, your customers, new verticals into which you can sell, and your team's capabilities.
  2. They said: Upgrade your sales operations team ASAP and lean on them to develop and drive the strategic agenda to improve sales productivity and effectiveness.  
    I say: If you don't have a large company, then you don't have a sales operations team.  You must go outside for that help.  But wherever you turn, you should follow this point whether you are new or not.  Sales operations includes systems and processes and most companies aren't even aware of the systems and processes which they should have, never mind the companies whose systems and processes are completely ineffective and don't support the sales force.
  3. They said: Leverage your strategy, operations and finance teams to quantify and assess your sales investment levels, resource allocations and future areas for investment to drive productivity improvements.
    I say: Once again, if you aren't in a large company, these teams don't exist and you must go outside for this help, but you don't have to be new to do this.
  4. They said: Assess your team and rapidly make changes.
    I say: You should absolutely assess your team, new or not.  But here is where I strongly disagree with IDC's suggestion.  If you are new, you should not change anything during the first 90 days.  The fastest way to alienate your entire team is to make changes too quickly.  In the first 90 days, you must build relationships, gain their trust, establish your credibility, lower their resistance and work on your strategy and sales plan.  Then, with the intelligence and action items, which come as a result of  the sales force evaluation, you can begin making the recommended changes based on science and data, not knee-jerk reactions or worse, historical numbers from spreadsheets and reports.  The goal is to determine who should be part of the sales force going forward, not who has performed in the past.  Watch this video about why you should evaluate your sales team.
Why You Should Evaluate Your Sales Force

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales force evaluation, sales management, sales competency, assessment, IDC, new sales manager, new sales vp, Sales Advisory Group

When are Salespeople Too Old to Sell Effectively? 10 Conditions

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jun 27, 2012 @ 09:06 AM

the beach boysFirst, let's acknowledge that EEOC guidelines in the US demand that you not discriminate against candidates based on age (40 and older), gender (non-males), race (non-Caucasians) or disability (Americans with Disability Act).  This article isn't about that, but I wanted to make sure that I put that out there before going any further.

Last night, we attended a concert in Boston.  On stage, 5 guys in their 70's, backed up by a younger show band, played and sang the songs made popular by a group of teenagers about 50 years ago.  When we closed our eyes, they pulled it off.  They sounded the same, perhaps better than the teenagers!  With eyes open, they demonstrated the same energy and showed that they really enjoyed performing and recreating that sound.  The only things different - and I mean the only things - were the wrinkles and sags on their faces and bags under their eyes.

I'm referring to the Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Reunion Concert and it was a terrific show.

When it's time to recruit salespeople, clients have often told me that they want a "less mature, more energetic, and fit" salesperson - code for "younger".

Like the Beach Boys, who can still pull it off with ease, salespeople can still pull it off with ease as they age, well into their 70's, as long as the following ten conditions exist:

  1. They have the same energy.
  2. They have the same work ethic.
  3. They retain the same motivation and urgency to succeed.
  4. They continue to enjoy selling.
  5. They have adapted to the changes of the past 5-10 years, including selling consultatively, using technology and working harder.
  6. They are fine being held accountable to a potentially younger sales manager/sales leader.
  7. They interviewed well.
  8. They are still quick on their feet.
  9. The OMG Sales Candidate Assessment has recommended them.
  10. They have prior success doing what you need them to do.
The interesting thing about this list of conditions is that it's not age-specific and should be used with all salespeople.  If they can still generate new revenue for your business, why would you care if their skin is wrinkled?  If the choice is between a performer with wrinkles and a smooth-skinned pretender, the choice should be a no-brainer.  Watch this video on Sales Recruiting Best Practices.
Best Practices for Sales Recruiting Process and Tools

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales hiring, sales recruiting, sales management, sales competency, sales candidates, sales assessments, beach boys, eeoc guidelines

Getting Reluctant Salespeople to Fill Their Empty Pipelines

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jun 25, 2012 @ 10:06 AM

empty sales pipelineLast week, I wrote this article about the best time to ask salespeople to fill their pipelines.  One reader asked how to get salespeople to fill their pipelines.

It's an interesting question because your real performers don't have to be asked.  They will keep it filled on their own.  If you are having difficulty getting salespeople to fill their pipeline, then one of several things may be true:

  • They are relatively inexperienced and, while willing, aren't very effective.  This is your best scenario because training and coaching will help these salespeople, but you must both put in the work!
  • They aren't motivated enough to do it.  This describes most account managers who are happy to live off of their existing business.  Unfortunately, while this might be good for them, it isn't very good for you or your business.  While there could be a tremendous amount of business being managed by them, they are not setting a good example for others on the sales force.  The bad significantly outweighs the good unless all you can see is the revenue that they manage, and then you'll be blind to all the bad for which they are responsible.
  • They aren't committed enough to do it.  Bye - It was nice knowing you!  There is no place for this salesperson on your sales force.
  • Their hidden weaknesses prevent them from doing it.  This is your second best scenario, but it will take a lot of training, coaching and time to help them overcome their call-anxiety and some will never overcome it.
So, how do you get them to fill their pipeline?  You make it a condition of continued employment.  You'll provide training and coach those who don't know how; provide training and long-term coaching for those who are uncomfortable; replace those who lack commitment; and redeploy those who aren't motivated to an account management position.  The rest - the real salespeople - don't have to be asked.
How do you distinguish between lack of motivation, lack of commitment, hidden weaknesses and skill gaps? A Sales Force Evaluation will provide you with all of that intelligence and more.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales force evaluation, sales motivation, sales weaknesses, sales competency, sales commitment, sales skill gaps, sales assessments

Controversial "Best Time" For Salespeople To Fill Their Pipeline

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Jun 21, 2012 @ 15:06 PM

empty sales pipelineThe obvious answer is to make sure that they fill the pipeline when it begins to empty or is getting close to being empty, right?  

Wrong.

If the pipeline is nearly empty today, your salespeople are feeling scared, stressed, discouraged and demotivated.  If awful is how your salespeople feel, then do you really believe that NOW is the ideal time to get them prospecting?  I understand how badly you need them to get the pipeline filled, but from their perspective, and in the state they are in, are they capable?  Will they do it?

If their pipeline runs dry and that isn't the time to ask them to fill it up, then when would be the right time?

You won't like this answer, but it's correct.

Have them fill the pipeline, or in this case, add to it, when their pipeline is already full.  That's when they feel the most motivated, excited, confident, positive, relaxed and successful.  That's when they should look for more opportunities.  That's when they will be most effective and successful.  And adding opportunities to the pipeline is what will prevent them from ever having an empty pipeline.

This works just like the saying, "If you want something done, give it to a busy person."

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, Sales Force, sales pipeline, sales competency, sales funnel, Sales Accountability, sales metrics, sales forecast

Effective Selling Can't Occur Until Salespeople Perfect This

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jun 20, 2012 @ 07:06 AM

So much is written about consultative selling and the huge part it plays in the world of modern sales.  However, talking about consultative selling and actually selling consultatively are two entirely different things.  Actual consultative selling requires that salespeople ask good, tough, timely questions, and when appropriate, challenge and push back.  Most salespeople simply cannot do that, not because the questions are so difficult, but because the questions cannot be scripted in advance.  A salesperson's follow-up questions nearly always should be derived from a prospect's most recent response and that's where the challenge usually begins.  In today's article, we discuss five examples of what salespeople must do to sell more effectively.

Listening.  Many salespeople aren't even capable of stage 1 listening skills.

Here's an example.  Today, I was listening to the radio and for the very first time, I actually heard the words to songs I enjoyed when I was younger.  Back then, I felt and heard the music - the notes and chord changes - but never quite caught the words.  I'm one of those people who sings songs with all the wrong words.  So, why did I hear the words today yet not when I was younger and listening to the very same songs, over and over, many times each week?  Stage 1 listening skills.  I have developed them quite nicely over years, but did not have those skills back then.  Most salespeople have not developed those skills either.

Unselfish.  We live in a self-centered world and for many salespeople, it's very difficult to focus non-stop on what someone else is saying without thinking of themselves for the entire length of a sales call.  Until salespeople can focus on someone else, they won't hear all of what their prospects are really telling them.

Curiosity.  Salespeople must ask their prospects to tell them more about what they are hearing, but salespeople think they know what their prospects mean, so they rarely ask prospects to explain anything.

Patience.  Salespeople can't wait to talk about what they sell and how it helps.  As a result, they avoid asking more questions because it delays their presentations, demos, proposals and quotes - things in which they have confidence and believe they do effectively.  Salespeople must slow down, dig in and go deeper and wider with their questioning.

Counting Higher - Similar to impatience, salespeople tend to believe that they are selling consultatively when they have asked a few questions.  The reality is, until about 50 questions have been asked, a salesperson isn't close!  This isn't 50 scripted questions where one simply goes down a list.  This is 50 thoughtful, spontaneous follow-ups to perhaps one, or maybe two opening questions which were asked by the salesperson in the first five minutes.

Perhaps these examples will help you think of some areas in which your selling skills have tremendous room for improvement.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales management, Sales Coaching, sales competency

The Sales Leadership Landscape - A Different Perspective

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jun 13, 2012 @ 15:06 PM

sales landscapeCEO's are much more likely than Sales Leaders to pay companies in the sales development space for help, yet Sales Leaders are much more likely than CEO's to attend workshops, seminars and briefings.  (Speaking of events, if you are in the Washington DC area, I'll be speaking to a small group of CEO's over breakfast on June 26 at the Park Hyatt.  If you would like to attend, drop me an email and I'll arrange for you to be included!)

Why is that?  

CEO's typically want the help - right now - while Sales Leaders want to learn what they need to do and then do it themselves.  Sales Leaders haven't been trained to provide sales force evaluations and sales and sales management training, develop sales methodologies, selling models, custom sales processes, etc. They don't usually have the skills to effectively do this work and it shouldn't be in their job descriptions, yet many attempt it just the same.

Homeowner landscaping is a good analogy.  Many homeowners take care of their own lawns, plant their own shrubs, trees, and flowers, and maintain their beds and trees.  They get it done and it looks OK, but if you compare their properties to one professionally maintained by a full-service landscaping company (as opposed to a guy who just happens to have a truck and a tractor), you can see the difference.

Consider this algebraic formula:

FormulaSales Leaders are to Homeowners as Sales Development Experts are to Professional Landscaping Companies.  

Both can do it, but one does it much more effectively, efficiently, with more resources, better results and you can see the difference.  With property, it improves curb appeal and increases the resale value of the home or building.  In the case of the sales force, it improves performance, increases revenue, and you can see the impact on EBITDA.  It increases the value of the company.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales management, Sales Force, sales leaders, sales competency, EBITDA

How the Right Sales Leader Can Turn Around Sales Performance

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jun 11, 2012 @ 22:06 PM

KGWhat jumpstarts sales performance?  Here are the first 30 which I thought of.  Is it:

  1. Improved Selling Skills? 
  2. Change in Attitude?
  3. More Intensity? 
  4. Written Goals?  
  5. Effective Targeting?  
  6. Stronger Motivation
  7. Stronger Desire?
  8. More Pride?
  9. More Determination?
  10. Tenacity?
  11. New Sales Talent?
  12. Training?
  13. Coaching?
  14. Assessments?
  15. Tools?
  16. Accountability?
  17. Competition?
  18. Killer Product?
  19. A Sale?
  20. Buying Incentives?
  21. Performance Incentives?
  22. Optimized Sales Process?
  23. Better Sales Methodology?
  24. Improved Sales Model?
  25. Effective Sales Management?
  26. Ultimatums?
  27. Deadlines?
  28. Better Demos?
  29. Professional Proposals?
  30. Economy?
I was listening to a Boston sports radio show where the topic was on how future Basketball Hall-of-Famer, Kevin Garnett (KG), single-handedly changed the culture of the Boston Celtics when he arrived there several years ago. 
 
Here are ten of the things for which they said he was responsible (in no particular order):
  • Holding everyone accountable,
  • Team dinners,
  • Leading by example,
  • Taking younger players aside,
  • Intensity,
  • Raising expectations,
  • Presence,
  • Physical Play,
  • Attitude and
  • Unselfishness.
The Celtics were a struggling franchise and KG, along with his 10 competencies, led them to an NBA championship and playoff competition each year that he was there. 
 
So is there anything that KG brought to the table that a key sales leader couldn't introduce to his sales force?  Not a thing. 
 
While each of the 30 sales-related items (yes, there are more) listed above are important and some are instrumental, it begins with people who can make a difference.  Do you have the right people?  Do you have people who can step up?  Do you have people who should have stepped up but didn't?  Did the wrong people step up and model the wrong attitudes and behaviors? 
 
One of the biggest mistakes that companies make with their people is allowing or asking the wrong people to take leadership roles on their sales force.  It doesn't have to be a VP, Director or Sales Manager.  Even a salesperson who is well-liked and/or respected by his peers, who doesn't model the right behaviors, skills and attitudes, will have a significant, detrimental effect on the entire organization. 
 
What kind of people problems have you created?
 
How can you fix them?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, sales leadership, Sales Force, sales leaders, sales competency, people problems, sales issues

How Selling is Just Like Driving a Car

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jun 04, 2012 @ 22:06 PM

selling like drivingMy last 7 cars have all been luxury foreign makes including Lexus, BMW and Jaguar.  On a recent trip, my rental car was a brand new Dodge Challenger.  It looked nice enough, and drove OK until I merged onto the highway, where the first of the major differences, and the topic of this article, became obvious.  When I'm on the highway in my Lexus, I don't have to do much more than point the car in the direction I want to drive, and the car holds the road and goes where I pointed it.  In the Challenger, when I pointed the car in my preferred direction, it wandered quite a bit and I was constantly adjusting the steering wheel.

The Lexus is like being in account management in that it's nice, does what is asked, and doesn't offer up any resistance.  The Challenger is more like consultative selling where you set your destination, attempt to navigate from point A to point B and make constant adjustments as you proceed.  The car disagrees, provides some resistance, and continues to ramble and go off track.  You ask it to do one thing and it does another. 

If you can make the adjustments when you are driving, then you should be able to make similar adjustments when you are selling.  Those adjustments, in no particular order, include being sure that:

  • you don't have "happy ears",
  • your prospects answer the questions you ask and not a question you didn't ask,
  • you don't skip ahead to another stage of the sales process, 
  • you ask if the conversation was productive for your prospect,
  • you prevent your prospect from rambling and
  • you ask if the problems or opportunities you learned about are compelling.
You always manage to get your car where you want it to go, even when you have to manage the steering.  Manage the steering of your sales call by keeping the resistance low, making very small adjustments to the conversation as you go, applying the brakes if you or your prospect is moving too fast, and shifting into reverse if you find yourself deeper into the sales process than you should be.
 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales training, sales management, Sales Coaching, sales competency, sales tips, lexus

5 Ways to Motivate Your Salespeople

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jul 14, 2009 @ 14:07 PM

I was coaching a senior leader today and the conversation turned to motivation, specifically, how to be a better motivator.

I believe that motivation is very misunderstood.  You can't motivate by being a cheerleader, nor can you motivate by reciting somebody else's inspirational quotes.  Motivation comes from within and you must find out what your salespeople's internal motivators are.  Why are they doing this thing called selling?

The other thing that's important to know is that everyone reacts differently to motivation and motivation takes many forms.  For instance, perhaps you have some people who respond to one of these methods when trying to get them to perform:

  • Challenge them (I have a challenge for you...do you think you're up to it?)
  • Lose faith in them (tell them that you don't think they can do it and they'll say, "oh yeah?")
  • Encourage them (I just know you can do this and they say, "thank you")
  • Demand that they perform (You are required to do this and they say, "OK")
  • Ultimatums (If you don't do this you'll be out of a job and they either do it or not)

Here are some additional sales personalities and the ways to get them motivated.

So here's the assignment I gave this leader today.  Match up the method with the people (right people with the right method) and use the appropriate method to motivate each of them to achieve something you need them to accomplish.  Then report back to me with how they responded.

You're welcome to take on the same assignment and report back right here.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales leadership, selling, Salesforce, Sales Force, sales motivation, sales competency, salespeople

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned a medal for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for six 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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