Challenges Don't Always Require a Complete Sales Force Makeover

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Apr 19, 2012 @ 07:04 AM

sales force makeoverMany of the Sales Force Evaluations provided by Objective Management Group (OMG) reveal that the company's problems run so deep that they will require a complete sales force makeover.  However, it doesn't always have to be that way.  Sometimes, a single word, question or statement will change how every prospect responds.

In one such company, most of their opportunities were found via inbound calls.  As you might expect, the first question from each prospect had to do with pricing and availability.  Salespeople weren't able to answer the pricing question and continue to keep their callers on the phone.  Selling was very transactional and they had little control over outcomes.

By only modifying how they responded to the price question, they were able to take the first step toward transitioning from a transactional sale to a consultative process.  They began having deeper and wider conversations which led to more closed business.  

The consultative sales process is more than just a sales approach.  When customers buy transactionally, they tend to repeat the same behavior, calling or clicking vendors for pricing, choosing the lowest price or most convenient option.  On the other hand, when customers are sold consultatively, they tend to remain that company's/salesperson's customers by making repeat purchases.  Isn't that a convincing case for transitioning from transactional to consultative selling?

Yesterday I had a discussion with an industry-leading company with 700 people in their sales organization.  Their competitors were closing new business but they weren't.  Why?  Their competitors hired strong salespeople to take away business from the industry-leading company while the industry-leading company was still hiring order-takers - a selection method left over from the days when people lined up to buy from them.  Their ability to make the transition from transactional to consultative selling will depend on several factors:

  1. How many salespeople have the incentive to change,
  2. How many salespeople are coachable,
  3. Which salespeople have strengths that support consultative selling,
  4. Which salespeople can make that change in a reasonable period of time,
  5. Whether their sales management team can drive that change,
  6. Whether they are willing to abandon their current set of non-sales specific competencies,
  7. Whether they have enough time,
  8. Whether they are willing to invest in training and development,
  9. Whether they will make the personnel changes that will ultimately be required, and
  10. Their willingness to embrace a new sales process that supports consultative selling.
The key among the ten factors listed above is #5 - Whether sales management can drive the process.  What is involved in driving process?
  1. Creating a proper sales coaching environment,
  2. Mastering the coaching skills to support the consultative selling skills training,
  3. Holding their salespeople accountable to the desired changes,
  4. Making the time to coach and hold salespeople accountable each day,
  5. Learning to recruit salespeople who already possess the ability to sell consultatively,
  6. Embracing the change,
  7. Ability to replace salespeople who aren't successfully making the transition,
  8. Motivating their salespeople during a time of challenging change,
  9. Staying 5 steps ahead of their salespeople in the mastery of consultative selling skills, and
  10. Leading by example.
You can jump start your ability to handle these 10 factors by attending my Sales Leadership Symposium next month in Boston.  If you would like to attend, send me an email for preferred pricing.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, Sales Coaching, Sales Force, sales management training, sales leadership training

Sales Leaders Got These Issues All Wrong

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Apr 16, 2012 @ 16:04 PM

Sales Leaders FailedThe weather, with temperatures reaching the high 80's, was completely unfavorable for the runners entered in the 2012 Boston Marathon.   Race officials discouraged amateurs from running by inviting them to use this year's registration fee for next year's event.  4,300 runners took advantage of their safety-inspired offer and opted out.  Despite that, 120 runners were sent to the hospital and and another 2,000 required medical attention.  The rule of the day was see the change in conditions, assess the situation, and adapt or suffer the consequences.  It turns out that more than 10% suffered the consequences...

A similar scenario faced hundreds of sales leadership executives.  I reviewed the 2012 Sales Performance Management Report, published by the Aberdeen Group and gleaned some interesting statistics.  The report's goal was to show that the practices of the best-in-class companies were different, even better, than both the average and below-average companies and it achieved that goal.  However, I couldn't help but notice that for most companies, including the best-in-class, their initiatives were not in alignment with the business pressures which they reported having.  Here are their business pressures:

  • 56% reported not seeing sufficient growth in top line revenue.
  • 32% reported that their sales cycle is too long.
  • 29% reported that they don’t convert enough leads to sales.
  • 27% reported that their sales forecasts are not accurate enough.

Despite those business pressures, these initiatives were put in place:

  • 53% want higher margins.
  • 52% want better visibility into reps' opportunities.
  • 21% want a better sales hiring process.
  • 17% want their reps to better understand their compensation plan.
  • 16% want to achieve more balanced territories.
  • 16% want to reduce the administrative time of their reps.
  • 15% want to reduce turnover.

Do you see what I saw?  Most of these initiatives don't solve the four business issues which these same executives reported!  Here are a few more facts to further question their sanity:

The middle 50% of companies had only 51% of their reps achieving quota and the bottom 30% of companies had only 22% of their reps hit quota.  That's pretty horrible, isn't it?  

If most of your reps are failing, you've either been hiring the wrong salespeople or you have failed to sufficiently train and coach them.  You also have inaccurate forecasts, a longer than necessary sales cycle, poor conversion ratios and insufficient growth in top line revenue. Shouldn't you want a better sales hiring process as your #1?  And, if you've been hiring the wrong salespeople, wouldn't you want to increase turnover?  And when revenue is suffering, why spend any time at all on administrative, compensation and territory balance when working on those things won't fix your problems?  

These are great examples of sales leadership paying attention to the wrong issues!

Best-in-class companies were 23% more likely to provide sales managers with role-specific training and tools.  You can get some of the best sales leadership and sales management training and tools next month at my annual sales leadership symposium.  I would love to have you join us.  Click here for details and if you would like to attend, email me for a preferred rate.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales leadership, sales management training, sales performance management report, aberdeen group

Does Your Sales Force Look Like This?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Apr 12, 2012 @ 14:04 PM

Yesterday, I spoke to an energetic group of sales leaders attending the EcSELL Institute Sales Coaching Summit in Austin, Texas.  EcSELL is different in that they won't place speakers on their event faculties unless their work can be substantiated by research and science.  As a result, their audience is a sponge for any and all best practices that are time-tested, proven and have confirming empirical data.

I shared just a few of the charts, graphs and tables, which we include in a sales force evaluation when we are answering common, but difficult, business questions such as:

  • Are the salespeople, whom you have today, the right people and are they in the right roles to help you reach your stretch goal?  If not, why and what must be done?
  • Which of your non-performers and underachievers can be saved (developed into strong B's and A's) and, if so, what will it take, how long will it take and what is the expected improvement?
  • Can the existing sales force execute your changing strategies?
  • What impact is sales management having on the sales team in the areas of coaching, motivating, recruiting, accountability and developing them for growth?
  • Which of your existing salespeople can make the important transition from transactional selling (hunt, present, propose or quote and close) to the more effective, but more difficult, consultative selling (asking many good, tough, timely questions to uncover compelling reasons to buy, and identifying an appropriate solution.)
In a post earlier this month, I shared some of the graphics from a pipeline analysis, one of the many data points we use to determine if the sales force can execute the strategies.  Here is another graph that we use to answer some of the questions above:
sales capabilities


In this graph, you can see that the three teams, making up this sales force, have some ability to hunt down new opportunities and they are most capable at presenting.  Unfortunately, like most sales forces, they have very little capability in the areas of selling consultatively, qualifying and closing.


I will be working with sales leaders in Boston on May 10th and 11th to help them develop the mastery to overcome problems like this.  Please join us for the premier sales leadership event of the year.  If you are interested in attending, notify me by email and I'll get you a preferred rate!

sales leadership event 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales force evaluation, EcSELL Institute, sales management training, sales leadership training, pipeline analysis, sales management seminar

A Different Look at Sales Compensation

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Apr 06, 2012 @ 10:04 AM

Sales Commission Calculator resized 600The pros and cons of both commission-based sales positions and salaried positions have been well-documented, so we won't be discussing that in this article.  Let's talk about something other than questioning which compensation plan is best for your company and its salespeople.

Suppose you're eyeing a new gadget; however, this must-have toy will set you back $5,000.  What if you also need to replace a couple home appliances, spend $20,000 on a landscaping project, pay for a funeral, dish out for a European vacation, and endure a new college tuition?  After all of that supposing, the calculator shows that you need to come up with around $75,000 - soon.

With a salaried position, salespeople are essentially on a fixed income - perhaps a more attractive fixed income than a retiree, but fixed none the less.  And these days, with most people living at or above their means, fixed simply becomes another word for broke!  The thought of coming up with $75,000 in discretionary funds is daunting unless a salesperson is the rare exception who has been squirreling away most of his income.  This is the world of the salaried salesperson.  Play it safe, but don't expect any big commission checks.

With a commission-based plan, the salesperson simply makes a decision to step it up.  How much more do they need to sell in order to earn an extra $75,000 this quarter?  Can they do it?  Can they come close?  This is how the commission-based salesperson thinks and functions.  Make a financial commitment to something and then earn the money to pay for it.  Of course, the obvious downside to this scenario is this:  If this salesperson doesn't have a big financial commitment at this time, there is a possibility for a period of complacency where s/he doesn't work as hard until performance finally suffers or the next financial opportunity appears.  While this does happen on occasion, it is an ongoing risk with salaried salespeople.

Even if you see the obvious advantage to commission sales (it doesn't have to be 100% commission-based), you can't easily change from salary to commission.  Why?  Most of your sales force will quit!  If they wanted to work in a commission sales environment, they wouldn't have gone to work for you in the first place...

There is a compromise though.  You can make both groups of salespeople happy.  I wrote this article two years ago to illustrate exactly how you can make this possible.

Sales Force Compensation is just one of many important topics we will discuss at Kurlan and Associate, Inc.'s Sales Leadership Event May 10-11 in Boston.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales leadership, sales management training, sales compensation, commission sales, salaried sales

Sales Education - New Events, Articles and Books

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Feb 28, 2012 @ 12:02 PM

Insightful SellingToday's article has a collection of links to help you, your sales managers and your salespeople become more effective.

A new book by Adon Rigg, Insightful Selling, launched today.  It's a nice collection of important reminders, tips and insights for all things sales.  There are a few things that I especially appreciated about his book and you might too.  There is a tremendous emphasis on using the Internet and especially LinkedIn.  For those who aren't up to speed on how to incorporate these tools into their day-to-day selling, this is invaluable.  Adon says that cold-calling is dead, and while it has become more challenging, I don't agree that it is quite dead yet.  See this important article for more on the truth about cold-calling.  The book provides some much needed assistance on how salespeople can more easily understand business finance!  In my opinion, this is a no compromise skill that salespeople must possess if they wish to sell more consultatively and become partners and trusted advisors.  Order the book today and receive dozens of free bonus gifts.

Seth Godin recently posted two articles that you should find helpful.  Read this one about misunderstandings and this one about how prospects check you out.

EcSell Institute is hosting it's spring Sales Coaching Summit on April 10-12 in Austin, TX.  This is a terrific event, I've spoken at it, and we like it so much that Objective Management Group is sponsoring it this year.  I'll be speaking on April 11 and my topic is "Sales Force Intelligence - The 5 Most Important Answers".  For more information and to register, click here.

If you can't make EcSell's Sales Coaching Summit in April, Kurlan & Associates is hosting its annual Sales Leadership Symposium on May 10-11 in Boston, MA.  If you are interested in attending or sending a team to this event, please contact me by email.

sales leadership event 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, EcSELL Institute, sales management training, sales leadership training, Seth Godin, bill eckstrom, adon rigg

The Latest Astonishing Findings about Sales Managers

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Nov 07, 2011 @ 09:11 AM

under performingThis article recently appeared at  The number that stood out for me in their report was 83% - as in 83% of first year sales managers don't make their number.  Is that possible?  Is it realistic?  Is it believable?  Can you explain it?

A few thoughts about that...

This is a recent study so we must place it in the proper context of the times.  We already know that depending on whose data you read, between 50%-75% of all salespeople did not make quota in 2010 and will not make quota in 2011.  If their salespeople aren't making quota, you can be fairly certain that their sales managers aren't making quota either.  So adjusted for the times, 83% may really be just 8% to as much as 33% worse than veteran sales managers.

Objective Management Group's data says that 18% of all sales managers shouldn't even be in sales management -  they're just not suited for it -and another 34% simply aren't trainable.  So 52% should really do something else - like go back to sales.

The SalesBenchmark article focuses on promotion criteria but I think it's a broader issue than one of inappropriately promoting salespeople to sales management roles.  Companies need to reevaluate their overall criteria for hiring sales managers because the problem is not limited to those that are promoting from within. Companies that hire sales managers from the outside select experienced sales managers that aren't capable of driving sales, leading the sales force, managing the sales process, coaching full-time, developing salespeople, holding salespeople accountable, recruiting/selecting the right salespeople, keeping the sales force motivated, managing the pipeline and forecast, and affecting the outcomes of the opportunities in the pipeline.

When I speak (if you're in the DC area I'll be there this Wednesday 11/9/11) to audiences of Presidents, CEO's and Sales VP's, one question I always ask is, "Are your sales managers doing everything possible to grow your company?".  And I am always met with a deer-in-the-headlights response.  The reason is that most executives - from sales management on up - don't really know what sales managers should really be doing!

We'll be hosting our annual Sales Leadership Intensive in Boston in early February 2012.  We haven't posted the dates/agenda/schedule yet but if you would like to be notified when it becomes available and have an opportunity to purchase the best seats, email me and I'll make sure you are among the first.  We are scaling it up this year - a bigger group means lower fees - and that's good news for you!  You can also count on us thoroughly covering all of the topics mentioned above.

Until then, focus on selection and if you haven't selected a sales manager that is native to desired competencies, it's all about development, assuming that you don't have one of the 52% that should be doing something else...

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Sales Coaching, sales management training, sales leadership training, sales management selection, sales benchmark

The Lion King - Watching a Movie Again Improves Sales Effectiveness

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Nov 02, 2011 @ 10:11 AM

Lion KingOur son, now 9, watched The Lion King about 250 times between the ages of 2 and 4, and saw the broadway show an additional 4 times between the ages of 3 and 6.

Then he got away from The Lion King, watching other shows and movies that captured his attention instead.

This past weekend, for the first time in 5 years, he watched The Lion King again - six times - and fell in love with it all over again.  Only now, the scenes and dialogue that captured his attention are completely different than those he focused on years ago.  Could it be that his favorite new scenes and dialogue weren't in the original movie?

Sales and sales management development is an ongoing process - multiple sessions over a period of 8-12 months - followed by periodic "refreshers".  The reason for the refresher is that your salespeople hear strategies, tactics, words and phrases that weren't in the original training.  The first time through, the salespeople were the 9-year-olds, capturing what they could from sales training, based on their context, reference points, and experiences, which were limited and varied.  Later, when being refreshed, their context, reference points and experiences have changed - for the better - because of the original training.  Now they recognize concepts that went over their head, that their old beliefs wouldn't accept, and that they couldn't imagine themselves actually doing months ago.  Now they're experiencing selling scenarios that had never previously occured and they need strategies and tactics for these new levels they are approaching on their sales calls and meetings.

You can watch a movie you haven't seen for a while and appreciate the things you missed before.  Your sales force will experience the exact same benefits from rereading the book, having refresher training, and focusing on the areas they didn't apply and execute the first time around.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, sales training, sales management training, sales development, Lion King, refresher training

Best Sales Leadership and Sales Management Training - Boot Camp

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Apr 07, 2010 @ 11:04 AM

How would you like to spend three days with me?

You can - in June - if you qualify.  I'm sure that only about one of every ten sales leaders will meet the qualifications for this comprehensive program. There's nothing like this program - anywhere.  Sure, there are a few other places where you can get basic sales management training but it won't be like this one.  This is my no-fluff, kick-ass, everthing that's crucial, original intensive Sales Leadership Boot Camp!

I'll be leading a three-day intensive Sales Leadership program limited to just 24 individuals. With a group this size, you'll get lots of attention, and you'll be able to report on your real progress, with your sales team, over the course of the three days.  For example, I'll teach you how to coach your salespeople the right way, then I'll play some recorded examples, then I'll coach one of your salespeople live, then you'll coach your salespeople, and then you'll be critiqued on your effectiveness. Intense!

You'll come away with every tool, system, process, strategy, tactic and metric you'll need to bring your sales force to the next level.  And you'll work your bottom off while we're together.

Annual Sales Leadership Intensive - The Premier Sales Leadership Event of the year.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line.


Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales recruiting, Sales Coaching, sales management functions, best sales management training, best sales leadership training, sales management training, Sales Accountability, sales management boot camp, sales leadership boot camp

Top 10 Sales Management Functions

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Nov 10, 2009 @ 09:11 AM

Sales Management Core Competencies










These are my Top 10 Sales Management Competencies.  The list, in no particular order is probably different, in many ways, as much for what's not on it as for what is:


The following competencies, which are NOT sales management competencies, do not appear on my list:

  • Personal Sales
  • Account Management
  • Closing Deals for Others

Also not in my top 10 are

  • Territory Management 
  • Paperwork
  • Meetings
  • Travel
  • Trips

Read The Top 10 Kurlan Sales Management Functions - What's Missing?

If you have been reading my blog for any duration over the last 13 years, the list should not be much of a surprise. 

Sales Process Grader

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales training, sales management functions, sales management training, sales development, sales management core competencies

Top 6 Reasons Why Most Sales Training Doesn't Work

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jun 24, 2009 @ 21:06 PM

If you invest in sales training, especially now, you also need it to work now, not in 12 months.  Why does it take so long for most sales training to make a difference and why does most sales training fail to make the difference you expect? There are a lot of possible reasons and I'll attempt to explain them here.

  • Sales trainers want to sell sales training so they skip or gloss over the more important issues like
This is why it's so important to work with a sales development expert - someone who takes an integrated, thoughtful approach to the sales force.
  • Sales training is too difficult to understand and apply and trainers make it even more difficult with their complicated processes, non-intuitive tactics and tricks. Instead, they should make it as simple as possible by making it memorable, intuitive, and easy to apply. 
  • They tend to demonstrate their strategies and tactics through role play, which is fine, but their role plays demonstrate more tactics than what they have already taught.  They should never include more in the role play than their audience has learned from them.  Here is an example.  You take a seven year old to the movies.  If it's an age appropriate movie, rated G or PG, all of the previews are age appropriate and the seven year-old gets it - all of it.  However, if you take the seven year-old to a PG-13 movie, then the previews are a bit overwhelming. The seven year-old can tell you whether it seems exciting, funny or scary, but the seven year-old doesn't understand the theme, content or mature dialog. They haven't been exposed to that stuff yet.  Same thing with your salespeople.  If the trainer has already exposed them to the basics, and includes only the basics in role play, the salespeople get it.  It's age appropriate.  But if the trainer includes material that the salespeople haven't been exposed to, they can only tell you whether they like it or it seems scary.  The role play is a bit overwhelming because they haven't been exposed to that stuff yet.
  • Some of the sales trainers just aren't that good. They fail to relate, engage, understand, entertain and change the salespeople they are training.
  • Much of the content isn't that good.  Some of it is just plain outdated while much of the other content around isn't complete, only focusing on certain parts of the sales cycle.
  • Some of them only know strategies and tactics but they don't understand the laws of cause and effect.  They can't get to the real reasons why salespeople fail to execute the strategies and tactics.

There are at least as many more reasons but this article is already longer than it should be.  We'll just call it part 1 and I'll circle back with part 2 at a later date.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales training, sales leadership, Sales Tactics, sales management training, sales evaluation, sales trainers, Selling System, sales strategy, selling skills, sales test

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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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