What is the Single Biggest Differentiator Between Top and Bottom Salespeople?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Oct 03, 2016 @ 06:10 AM


Thanks for continuing to read my Blog - I appreciate it.  There is one Blog that I never fail to read, and that's Seth Godin's Blog.  Seth doesn't write about sales - he pens a thought leadership Blog - but sometimes his articles are very applicable to sales and selling.  Recently, he posted two very short articles - each is less than 30 seconds to read and I believe they are both well worth your time.

The first is Fully Baked.  The second, on a related topic, is Skills vs. Talents

Over the years, I have seen first hand that one of the major differences between great and mediocre salespeople is that great salespeople want to improve - they made themselves great - and mediocre salespeople aren't willing to make the changes to become more effective.  Great salespeople strive for mastery while underachievers don't.  Back in the 1950's Albert Gray said something along the lines of, "Sales winners do the things they don't want to do and the others don't."

All professions have their small percentage of practitioners who aren't very good, but can you imagine the impact we would experience if attorneys, accountants or engineers underperformed to the same degree as nearly half of the sales population?

You can see evidence of that in this article where the data shows that the best salespeople have twice the level of commitment to achieving greater sales success than their underachieving counterparts.  You read that correctly - that's twice as committed!

All salespeople can develop the skills to achieve greater sales success, but only those who are committed enough to make changes can overcome Sales DNA that doesn't support the execution of those skills.  Even so, most salespeople fail to learn even the skills necessary for sales effectiveness in 2016.  And improving their Sales DNA?  Most salespeople have never even heard the phrase and aren't aware that their sales DNA needs to be improved.  We know you can't fix stupid, but how do you fix uninformed?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Sales DNA, sales excellence, sales commitment, Seth Godin

Top 10 Reasons Why Sales Don't Grow

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Aug 24, 2016 @ 06:08 AM


Have any of these things ever happened to you?  

  • Physical issues - low energy, prolonged pain or discomfort
  • Automobile issues - vibration under the seat or in the steering wheel, car accident
  • Home issues - leaks, faulty electrical, down trees or power lines from storm damage
  • Legal or Tax issues

If they did happen to you, what did you do? Did you call the doctor, car dealer, electrician, plumber, insurance company, lawyer or accountant?  Or did you hope it would all go away by itself?

Of course you made the call because things don't fix themselves.

Yet, despite knowing that things don't fix themselves, thousands of executives believe that sales problems will resolve themselves, change, and improve.  Why?

That's the key question.  Because when you don't know exactly what's wrong, it's much easier to remain in denial.

Most companies all deal with the exact same issues with their sales organizations. Flat or lethargic sales growth, the bulk of the revenue coming from a small percentage of the salespeople, not enough new business, difficulty selling against low priced competition, longer sales cycles, lower win rates, and on and on and on.  It's universal frustration and companies seem to fall squarely into one of four categories on this:

  1. They identify the cause and fix it.  "Hooray.  Sales and profits are on the rise!"
  2. They don't identify the cause but try to fix it through guesswork.  "Well, that didn't work.  We wasted another year!"
  3. They identify the cause but don't fix it. "We can do this ourselves."  Sure you can.
  4. They don't identify the cause and don't fix. "Hey, everyone has these issues!"

While most companies have similar issues, the causes are usually different.  There can be any number of problems that contribute to the observable issues, but these are the 10 I see most often:

  1. Recruiting - ineffective process and/or inconsistent sales selection
  2. On Boarding - is neglected, shortcuts are taken, or it's done poorly
  3. Coaching - sales managers don't coach enough and don't do it effectively
  4. Accountability - there isn't any so it's very easy for salespeople to fall behind
  5. Messaging - you wouldn't believe how bad - how inconsistent - the messaging is at most companies
  6. Sales Process - there usually isn't one and when there is it's either awful or nobody follows it
  7. Training - it's usually either do it yourself bad or it's not provided at all
  8. Gaps - skill gaps that prevent salespeople from being able to take a consultative approach or sell value
  9. Sales DNA Gaps - the strengths required to support tactics, strategies, process and methodology are missing
  10. Pipeline - usually a mess - filled with unqualified opportunities that will never close

Yet it's not enough to simply acknowledge these problems. Even if you are aware that some or all of these problems exist, whether or not they can be fixed is another story altogether!  That's because it is all about capabilities.  What are they capable of today, can they become more capable, how much more capable, and what will it take?  

To answer those questions we need to know if the people trainable and coachable.  Can sales leadership learn to coach effectively and hold salespeople accountable for the required changes?  Can the sales culture be improved to become a coaching culture?  Is leadership strong enough to replace under performers who can't be coached up?  Which skills and competencies must be developed?  How do you deal with the weaknesses in Sales DNA?  If recruiting and selection are to blame, how can it be improved?  How do you incorporate best practices into a inadequate sales process and/or methodology?  Do we need a playbook?  Is it our scripts?

The problem with improving sales performance is that the more you know, the more questions there will be.  And that is why it is so insane when so many executives ignore the problem, pretend they know what to do about it, and don't call for help call until the revenue issue reaches such a state that there isn't enough time or money to fix it.

It is so easy to blame the sales force but don't. They didn't recruit themselves, they didn't train themselves, they didn't set unreasonable expectations, and they didn't make themselves suck.  The blame gets placed higher up - where a false sense of hope and optimism live.

Ask me about a sales force evaluation - knowledge is power!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales force evaluation, sales performance, sales excellence

What the Sales World Can Learn from Marathon Participants

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Apr 23, 2014 @ 16:04 PM

marathonEarlier this week, the world was once again focused on the city of Boston and the 118th running of the Boston Marathon.  I don’t run, but I know several people who do and the preparation for running this, or any other marathon, is daunting.

This isn’t an event that one can take lightly.  Consider the length of time that a runner must train to prepare for running a 26.2-mile race.  It takes up to 20 weeks to prepare for a marathon, while gradually building strength and endurance.  It includes several shorter weekday runs as well as a long-distance run of anywhere from 12-15 miles one day over the weekend.  Someone training for a marathon should run up to 50 miles per week.  It takes an enormous commitment – to a hobby!

While some professional runners enter a marathon, more than 30,000 people were simply participating because they could.  These participants have full-time jobs, careers and businesses.  This is a hobby.  Yet their commitment to this hobby should be embarrassing to most salespeople, who don’t put forth anywhere near this level of commitment, effort, time or practice into their own career!

If you’ve been reading my blog for the past 8 years and 1,150 articles, then you have no doubt read that salespeople can be categorized into 3 groups.  According to the data amassed by Objective Management Group’s (OMG) assessments of salespeople:

  • There is an elite group of salespeople, but it represents only 6% of the sales population.
  • An additional 20% of the sales population is good, but not great.
  • There is a bottom 74% and, for the most part, they suck equally.

This contradicts the traditional thinking that the bell curve has a top 20%, middle 60% and bottom 20%. 

So, perhaps our top 6% is the group who takes selling as seriously as those runners who train for a marathon.  But the question is, why only 6%?  Why not everyone else?

To answer that question, we need to better understand the differences between selling and other professions.  If you forecast a sale and it goes to a competitor, management says, “Too bad.”  Losing is OK.  But even an attorney who loses a case gets paid to lose…

If you’re a structural engineer and you screw up…if you’re a cop and you shoot an innocent victim...if you’re a bus driver, train conductor, airline pilot, or ship’s captain and you hit something…if you’re in manufacturing and you turn out defective products…if you’re a safety inspector and you “pass” a product that fails…

Most professions have no tolerance for failure.  In sales, because it’s not just possible, but likely that salespeople will fail, most companies have sales cultures of mediocrity, making it a virtual certainty that underperforming salespeople will continue on that track.

If underperformance is acceptable, then why would anyone, other than the most committed salespeople, put in the effort and time that a marathon runner would?

Can we change this? 

Not until we stamp out mediocrity.  That won’t happen until we raise the bar on sales management.  Only 8% of all sales managers make up the elite level and only a total of 18% are competent at sales management and coaching.  With 82% bordering on sales management incompetence, it’s no wonder that we can’t make improvements to the levels of commitment, effort, time, practice and effectiveness of most salespeople.

I’m one voice, but if you’re as disturbed by all of this as I am, perhaps you’ll share this with all of the CEO’s, Presidents, Sales VP’s and Directors, Sales Managers and salespeople in your circle.  Ask them what they have observed.  Ask them what they think.  Ask if they see the need to change something, anything, anytime soon.  And chime in with your own comments about this question – can we change this?

As long as we’re talking about the quest for sales excellence, check out Jack Daly’s new book, Hyper Sales Growth.  In his Weekly Insights Newsletter, Verne Harnish, the Growth Guy, wrote, "It's finally here! The book all the millions of fans (that's literal) of Jack Daly have been wanting -- a book that shares the same time-tested sales management techniques that work to drive the growth he's been teaching in his powerful and packed workshops. It's all about getting the sales management piece right - and this is the book that shows you the way."  

I don't know about you, but there just isn't enough good sales management guidance, and with only a handful of us devoting our blogs to it, a book from someone like Jack will be quite helpful.  To take a line from the old Smucker's jelly tagline, "...it's just got to be good."

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales excellence, sales commitment, jacky daly, hyper sales excellence

Great Salespeople Can See the Pixels - The Rest Watch the Movie

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Mar 06, 2013 @ 06:03 AM

lucyEach morning my son and I build a story from the playlist we hear on the radio.  Consider today's playlist from Sirius/XM's 70's station:

  • Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
  • I Wish
  • Skyhigh
  • Disco Lady
  • Diamond Girl
  • No Sugar Tonight
  • Could it be I'm Falling in Love

So the story goes that Lucy was up there in the sky with her diamonds and I just wish she hadn't been blown sky high because she's a Disco Lady who just loves those diamonds.  Because of this unfortunate incident, there won't be any sugar tonight.  Could it because I'm falling in love?

Forget for just a minute how lame this is and let's pretend that one of your salespeople just returned from a sales call and you debriefed him.

A seventy-four percenter, your "C" player said that he presented but the prospect rambled, complained about some problem with an explosion and some diamonds and seemed very distracted.  Your salesperson is going to send a proposal and follow up but he doesn't see much of an opportunity. 

Your "B" player is a top 26 percenter, good, but not a great salesperson, who said that she had a fairly strong opportunity.  She identified a problem - Lucy was blown sky high and is up there with her diamonds and the prospect needs to address the problem.  She is going to attempt to get him qualified before proposing a solution.

Your "A", an elite top 6 percenter who outsells everyone by a 3:1 margin, put it this way:  The prospect has a very compelling reason to get our help.  As a result of the "incident", the prospect will have no sugar tonight and worse, he is very concerned that he might be falling in love.  It's affecting his work/life balance and the money he lost when those diamonds were lost is preventing him from taking advantage of all the new opportunities being presented to him every day.  I really differentiated us from everyone else, listened, showed I cared, developed a strong relationship, and had the conversation nobody else had with him.  He thanked me for asking the right questions and helping him understand his real problem, and said he can't wait to work with us.

Every sales call has data points or dots or even pixels if you will.  In our pretend scenario above, we can convert those data points to a story line or pixels to a movie.  Great salespeople have the ability to see AND connect the dots as well as identify the dots that are missing.  An example of the missing dots in our story might go like this:

"You said that as a result of the incident you won't have any sugar tonight.  What about your prospects for sugar over the long term?  Why is the sugar so important?  What happens if you can't replace the sugar?  How will that affect your recovery from falling in love?"

Good salespeople identify only some of the dots and sometimes focus on the wrong ones.  

The remaining 74% of salespeople, the "C's", fail to see the actual pixels and they just watch the movie until it ends.

We have been describing the Consultative Sales approach.  How do your salespeople fare in their ability to sell consultatively and, more importantly, which of them can be trained and coached to effectively execute this with consistency and results?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales process, sales management, sales excellence, sales effectiveness

How the Landscape Quickly Changes on Your Salespeople

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Feb 27, 2013 @ 15:02 PM

winter in NEdirty snow

Do you see the two pictures?  Here in New England, we get perhaps one day each year when we are fortunate enough to see how beautiful the world can appear when it is covered with freshly fallen snow against a back-drop of sun and blue sky.  That was the case earlier this week.  Ironically, just 9 hours later, the scene had changed dramatically, from one of beauty, to one of pure ugliness.  The blue sky was replaced by clouds,  the sun was hidden and the fresh snow had melted from the trees.  Worst of all, the sand and salt that was applied to make the roads drivable and safe had turned those pretty white snow banks into brown and black crud.  Yuck.

Of course, if you weren't looking at these two pictures, you would have no way of knowing that prior to the snowfall, the scene had also looked just like picture #2.  Picture #1 was for show.  Picture #2 was the reality of winter in New England.

Isn't that a lot like the sales calls your salespeople are conducting?  Their prospects are very nice, say a lot of the right things, express interest in your offerings, request proposals, presentations and quotes, and promise to follow up.  Your salespeople return all excited about what they perceive as picture #1.  "It went great, they were very friendly, they liked me, and I think we're in a good position to get the business."

The reality is that if they had asked the appropriate questions, they would have discovered that the landscape looked much more like picture #2 - there was competition, an incumbent vendor, a decision maker who hadn't been identified, and the "interest" was to obtain pricing so that they could go back to their incumbent vendor, who they love, and leverage your pricing to get the incumbent to lower theirs.

Give your salespeople these two pictures and the next time they begin to think that everything seems wonderful, make sure they remember to brush the snow away, take off their rose colored glasses, and learn what the landscape truly looks like underneath the false interest.

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

Sales Excellence Studies Propagate Mediocrity

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 @ 20:02 PM

googleIf you conduct a Google search for "sales excellence studies", you'll find more than 20,000 results.  I'm sure that some results point to surveys which were conducted by others, but either way, that's a lot of studies on sales excellence.  If any of those studies were actually ground-breaking, insightful or truly representative of sales excellence, there would probably be fewer than a dozen. But there are not.  There are many reasons why these studies are so lame, but let's name just a few:

  • They're not really studies, rather they're surveys.
  • They survey anyone who wishes to participate.
  • People are included in the survey regardless of whether they employ best practices.
  • People are included in the survey regardless of whether they're successful.
  • They take the successful companies' most popular responses and refer to them as best practices.
  • It's not a best practice just because a company is succeeding.
  • Most participants are from very large companies.
  • Most big companies are succeeding - not because of their sales organizations, but in spite of them.
Let me give you an example:  At Objective Management Group (OMG), we've assessed (not surveyed) 650,000 salespeople and sales managers.  One of the single most common findings (to the tune of 91%) is that salespeople are not following a formal, structured sales process.  The ironic thing is that if we surveyed those 650,000, many would have responded that they do follow a process.  That's what happens with surveys.  But, OMG's are sales force evaluations.  So, we ask multiple questions to determine for ourselves, based on our criteria, whether they do or not.  A sales excellence study using our data would likely show that not following a sales process is a best practice because that was the most common finding.
Here's Another Example:  Outsell's 2013 Sales Excellence Study identified six influencing factors which most affect a firm's sales performance potential.  This study is flawed simply by including the word "potential".  What does that have to do with performance?  One of their six factors is "salesperson compensation structure".  Again, this factor is made totally useless by including the word "structure".  While it would be a stretch to suggest that compensation influenced performance, calling it compensation structure is ridiculous.
If I wrote a Sales Excellence Study based on OMG's data from 10,000 sales force evaluations and decided to narrow it to six factors which impact sales performance, I already know that they'd be:
  1. Effective Sales Selection for Appropriate Sales DNA,
  2. Effective Sales Coaching,
  3. Effective Sales Accountability,
  4. Formal, Structured Consultative Sales Process,
  5. Sales and Sales Leadership Training, Coaching and Development and
  6. Hunting for New Business.
I don't need a survey to identify these, as most companies absolutely suck wind at all of them, but when they fix these problems, their revenue often doubles within 24 months.

Take most sales excellence studies with a grain of salt.  Most are simply seasoning to make their product offerings smell and taste better. 

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales management, Sales Coaching, sales excellence, sales personality test, sales aptitude test

What Happens When You Develop Sales Competencies?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Apr 10, 2009 @ 08:04 AM

Earlier this week I wrote an article for my Baseline Selling Tips Newsletter.  It was about 
What Sleep Apnea and Sales Improvement Have in Common.  If you don't get my Newsletter, you'll need to read that article in order for the rest of this post to make sense.

OK.  So now you have the gist of the process that your salespeople go through when they are being developed, trained coached and mentored.  And you'll go through that process too as it relates to what sales management must be able to do, sales management systems and processes, metrics, pipeline management, accountability, coaching, motivating, selection and recruiting, sales plans, incentives and compensation, trade shows, etc.

Rush Burkhardt, a sales development expert in Baltimore, sent this comment to me in response to the Sleep Apnea post:

"So, much like the situation regarding sleep apnea, the doctor (sales manager) had to make you believe that if you didn't use the mask (sales process), you'd die (fail to close business ergo lose your job). Fortunately, the doctor was able to convince you about the consequences you'd face if you didn't adhere to his recommendation, and you held yourself accountable! The Sales Manager must convince the Salesperson that there are consequences for lack of adherence, and, more often than not, hold the Salesperson accountable!"

Thanks Rush.  In holding salespeople accountable for change like this, it's important that management is leading by example, demonstrating their commitment, coaching to the process on a daily basis, holding salespeople accountable for application each day and evangelizing the successes of the change. When companies fail to include these steps in development, it is inevitable that they lose momentum and revert back to their old ways.

© Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales competencies, Dave Kurlan, sales, Baseline Selling, sales process, sales training, sales management, selling, Sales Coaching, accountability, sales improvement, selling process, sales excellence, sales tips, salespeople

Surprising Statistics from the Sales Force Grader

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Dec 22, 2008 @ 09:12 AM

The actual results are even more surprising than the number of people (several hundred) that have already visited the FREE Sales Force Grader.

To date, the worst score is 0 - definitely a surprise.  While we would expect there to be some sales culturally challenged companies, we didn't expect any to be that bad....

To date, the best score is 81 (out of 100) - a surprise there too since I would have expected at least a few companies to score closer to 100.  This tells me there is still work to be done to improve sales effectiveness at even the most effective companies.

To date, the typical score is only 30 -a surprise...while I know that most companies need a tremendous amount of help, I didn't realize that so many companies needed so much help - even the companies (maybe yours) who tell us that everything is OK...

In a related finding, we have also found similar statistics on the sister page, Free Sales Hiring Mistake Calculator.  The cost of a typical company's sales hiring mistakes is $1,367,250.00!  Yes, that's the typical company; the average company is even higher - $5,659,032.00 And the highest cost recorded so far? $32,583,450.00

What can you learn from all of this?

If your sales force scores below 80 and you need to positively impact 2009 sales, then passively waiting to see if things improve (hope) is not a strategy. While there are always some things you can do by yourself, most of the things that need to be done to make a sales force significantly more effective require outside help.  After all, you are already doing some of the things that need to be done - you simply aren't doing them effectively enough!

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan


Topics: sales competencies, sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales recruiting, sales management, improve sales, sales excellence, salesforce grader, hiring mistake, salse candidate, sales effectiveness

New Metrics for the Sales Force - Unusual Thoughts for Unusual Times

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Dec 11, 2008 @ 21:12 PM

Some unusual thoughts for some unusual times:

Less is more - you will get an increase in sales with fewer salespeople if you choose the right ones to go - and stay - and give them more attention.  The right ones may not be your "best salespeople".

More is less - you will close more sales if your salespeople book fewer appointments but concentrate on more quality appointments.  Quality is not how well your salespeople are received, it's the fit and need of the opportunity.

More is more - you will have more revenue if your salespeople book  appointments with opportunities with more potential. Potential is not the number of 0's in the opportunity, it's the long-term potential of the account.

Lower is higher - you will have a lower percentage of lost opportunities if your salespeople call higher in the company. Higher is not the tallest person they can get to.

Fewer is greater - you will find yourselves in fewer price-sensitive battles if you force a greater number of your salespeople to learn how to really sell value.  Selling value is not teaching them to recite your value proposition!

Bigger is smaller - you will close a bigger percentage of opportunities if your salespeople give proposals to a smaller percentage of prospects.  Proposals don't win sales, good questions do.

Would you like to contribute some sizable competencies of your own?

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales competencies, Salesforce, sales performance, sales excellence, sales assessments

Panic on the Sales Force and What to Do About It

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Dec 09, 2008 @ 23:12 PM

What gets you in a panic?  When I was a young, height, water and people were enough to cause shortness of breath, a lump in my throat and a stomach ache.  Today, I still have the symptoms, but not over any of the things that used to bother me.  Today it would take somebody or something threatening harm to my wife, son or me.

What about for you?  What causes a panic of that magnitude for you? I'm asking because I want you to know what it feels like, how difficult it is to function, concentrate, or breath.  Have you been there?

Now let's take your salespeople.  The economy and how it impacts them, either directly or indirectly, is having this effect on about one third of your salespeople right now - today.  Some are worried about job security, some about declining income, others about job performance, and others about their debt.  Some are worried about their retirement plans, others their investments and a few the health of themselves or someone they love.

If at least one third of your salespeople are in this state of panic right now, how effective do you think they are when attempting to sell right in the middle of all this negativity?

Your role changes because of this.  It is now your job to keep their heads on straight, to calm their nerves, to help them function, to keep them positive, to get them motivated, to challenge them to perform, to urge them to fill their pipelines and hold them accountable to all of that.

So far, the only thing that has changed significantly is that the combined pipelines of many companies have been thrown into a holding pattern. The business hasn't canceled or been lost to competitors; it is simply delayed.  The sooner that everyone gets over their initial reaction to the recession and gets back to just doing business, the sooner that money will loosen up and start changing hands again.

It has to start somewhere.  Why not with you?

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan


Topics: sales competencies, sales training, sales management, Sales Coaching, Salesforce, Sales Force, sales motivation, sales excellence

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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 eight 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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