Top 5 Reasons Sales Prospects Ask for References

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, May 19, 2014 @ 14:05 PM

referencesEverything is going along great, your prospect seems quite interested, they've agreed with your points, accepted your pushback, you got them qualified and you're heading for the home stretch.

It doesn't matter if this has all occurred in the last 45 minutes, or if this took place over a series of meetings, calls and months.  

They ask for references.

The best example of doing a lousy job in this area is the salesperson who was referred in, yet still gets asked for references!

How a salesperson handles the request for references is crucial and most salespeople screw it up royally.

Consider the following 10 issues surrounding the reference request:

  1. Some salespeople dread the reference request.
  2. Some salespeople pray for the reference request and offer references if they aren't asked.
  3. Any reference request is a momentum stopper and at best and extends the sales process.  At worst, it will delay it indefinitely.
  4. Some prospects will never call the references, yet won't move forward without speaking with them.
  5. Some prospects will be so particular about references that you won't be able to meet their criteria.
  6. Some of your references won't return the calls.
  7. Some prospects will ask for references at inappropriate times - too early for the reference to be the final step in the decision-making process.
  8. Some references, in their eagerness to endorse you, will say too much and stumble onto something the prospect did not want to hear.
  9. Some salespeople don't ask what will happen after they talk with happy references.
  10. Some salespeople don't ask why they are asking for references.

Let's discuss the last one.

Do you know why prospects ask for references?  Here are 5 reasons:

  1. They're not sure yet - and they want to hear from someone else whether or not they should buy.
  2. It's a habit - they always do this.
  3. It's a put-off - they want to get rid of you.
  4. They need to make a recommendation and want to have their ducks in a row.
  5. They need realistic expectations - they want to learn what it's like to work with you.

While there isn't too much you can do about reasons #2-5, it's crucial to ask questions, not only to identify the reason behind the request, but to validate the condition.  We also need to know what will happen AFTER they speak to a positive, quality reference.  

You could certainly work to become more convincing as a way of dealing with #1, but for the purpose of this article, we will further discuss #5.

Most prospects really appreciate it when you can set their expectations in these 5 areas:

  1. What will be done - the cliff notes version of your scope of work,
  2. Who will deliver it and to whom it will be delivered,
  3. When it will be done - the timeline for #1,
  4. When they will experience results - especially if results are delayed or non-specific, and
  5. What the results could/should be - how the condition will change.

Try doing a better job of setting expectations earlier in the sales process and let me know whether or not that reduces the number of reference requests.

Image Copyright: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, Sales Coaching, sales tips, reference requests

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, "'s just got to be good."

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

Rejection - Why it is the #1 Enemy in Modern Selling

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Apr 03, 2014 @ 08:04 AM

rejectionFor a change, rather than contributing to all the noise about inbound replacing outbound, inside replacing outside, insights replacing sales steps, buyers' process replacing sales process, let's talk about something that has a huge, relevant impact on selling, regardless of how the opportunity came to be.

Most of the sales bloggers don't touch on rejection, but when it does comes up, it's usually in the context of fear, as in fear of rejection.  Objective Management Group (OMG) measures something a bit different: difficulty recovering from rejection.  Fear is real, but it's more telling to understand whether a salesperson jumps right back on the phone, is completely stable for the next meeting, or requires 10 minutes, 10 days or 10 weeks to fully recover.  When viewed as fear, we can assume that a salesperson will avoid scenarios where rejection is possible, but fear makes all salespeople with that weakness identical.  Looking at recovery, instead of fear, allows us to see the difference between short and long recovery periods.

In the past 6 years, rejection has become an even more impactful weakness than it already was.  Today, prospects are much less inclined to take a salesperson's call, return a voicemail or an email message, engage in a conversation, schedule a call or meeting, share important information, return calls to salespeople toward the end of the sales process or make a decision.  That's an awful lot of misery for a salesperson who finds it difficult to recover from rejection!

But rejection isn't that well understood by salespeople, their sales managers or even their sales VP's.  Do you know which of your salespeople have this problem and how severe it is?  Do you know which activities, questions and steps they are unable to execute as a result of their rejection weakness?  Do you know when their rejection problems will get in the way?

Rejection is relative.  The greater the risk, the more likely it is that an individual will avoid the possibility of rejection.  My longtime readers are familiar with our son, who stars in this great series of 32 articles called Salespeople are Like Children.  It's my favorite series, and I've been adding to it since the inception of this blog in 2005 when he was 3.

He is relentless, fearless and passionate about anything he wants from us.  Nothing will stop him.  Ever.  What if Mom and Dad say "No"?  No problem.  I'll ask again.  Another way.  I'll beg.  I'll threaten.  I'll cry.  I'll use logic.  I'll use emotion.  I'll keep at it.  

However, raise the stakes, and everything changes.

When it comes to a certain boy showing interest for the first time in a certain girl, it took weeks for him to gather the courage to ask the question even with the aid of today's technology where he could text the question instead of actually getting on the phone or asking face-to-face.  

What if she says "No"? 

Even worse.  What if she doesn't respond?

In my opinion, not knowing is even worse than the finality of a "no" and that's why salespeople are finding it very difficult to cope with unresponsive prospects and prospects who go into hiding after expressing a desire to do business.

Further relating this example to sales, the stakes go up for some salespeople relative to:

  • the title of the decision maker or contact,
  • the revenue of the prospect company,
  • the name brand of the company,
  • the size of the opportunity,
  • the existence of resistance, 
  • the size of the carrot being dangled, and
  • the increasing likelihood of a sale.

Sales training will not make rejection-related weaknesses disappear.  With most training, the salespeople are given new words to use, but still have the weakness.  As a result, they fail to use their new words, continuing to do what's comfortable, rather than what's most effective.  Even though effective sales coaching can help, you must first know who is susceptible, how severe it is, how often it occurs and exactly when it will get in the way.

A sales force evaluation provides the answers to those questions.

Image credit: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, Sales Coaching, sales evaluation, sales testing, sales assessments, fear of rejection

Global Warming, Social Selling and The Sales Force of Tomorrow

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jan 08, 2014 @ 04:01 AM

global warmingGlobal Warming is a trend.  Its impact on our future and the role that humans played are both hot topics and subjects of great debate.  In my opinion, the globe has been warming since the end of the ice age.  Humans, with their man-made factories and ozone-depleting products, had nothing to do with the origins of global warming.

The origins of Social Selling go back to early human life too, although, the tools that have given social selling its name are relatively new.  Social Selling is also a trend.  The role it plays and its impact on the future of selling are also hot topics and subjects of great debate.

For example, you only need to read this article and the links within it to get a sense for how strong the opinions are and how much passion is driving those opinions.

Proving that social selling is having a positive effect on results is one of our greatest challenges.  In my opinion, the challenge is the data iself.  Social selling experts use data from the marketing, inbound and inside sales groups with whom they work.  As you might expect from groups who spend all of their time at the top of the sales funnel, there has been a positive impact on their ability to add opportunities to the pipeline.  If every other ratio remains the same, then more opportunities will translate to more sales and greater revenue.  

Experts who work with traditionally built sales forces look at their data and don't see the same impact, especially on win rates and sales cycle length.  The obvious takeaway is that social selling's greatest early success is not only its ability to help sellers move more opportunities into the pipeline, but to do it more passively compared with more traditional methods.

That doesn't mean that social selling has no place or impact on the traditional sales force.   Let's look at the impact from a different perspective.  How does Social Selling affect A's differently from how it affects B's and C's?

Let's start with A players which, according to our data at Objective Management Group (OMG), represent the top 6%.  They are great salespeople, performing at elite levels, and if you provide them with great new tools, they still will be performing at an elite level.  There won't be a statistically significant difference.  

How about the C players which OMG defines as the bottom 74%?  These salespeople are mediocre at best and that's being polite.  When I'm not being as kind, I would say that the bottom 74% just plain suck!  If you provide this group with great new tools and direct them to make use of the tools and methods, they would still be crappy salespeople.  Most prospects would decline to engage (just as they would with their traditional approaches) and the impact of social selling would be statistically insignificant.

That leaves the B's.  OMG defines them as the 20% of salespeople who rank between the elite and the crappy.  They are very good salespeople.  This is the group where we would see the most significant change in results from social selling.  These salespeople understand that Social Selling, used effectively, gives them an edge and this group will leverage anything and everything to improve their results.

Some might say that while this makes sense, it represents such a small percentage of salespeople that it can't have a significant impact.  That is short-sighted thinking.  It only represents a small percentage of salespeople when a company has a poor track record with recruiting and sales selection.  If more focus and attention were given to this aspect of building a kick-ass sales force, the entire team would have ONLY A's and B's.  There would be no tolerance for C's!

As with nearly every sales metric, results are directly correlated to the caliber of the salespeople.  When companies emphasize selecting the right people, most challenges (from the use of CRM, to following a sales process, to meeting and exceeding quotas) fade away.

In 2014, focus on upgrading your sales force, not on integration of tools.  The correct salespeople won't need to be led to the promised land.  They already work there!  The more immediate question is, how do you know whether or not you have accurately graded your salespeople?  After all, the only salespeople you can compare them with are those that have worked for you.  How would they compare with the other 650,000 salespeople that OMG has evaluated and scored?  Of even more importance, what will you do if you learn that the salespeople you thought to be A's and B's are really B's and C's?  We have sophisticated algorithms that tell us which C's can be saved and developed and which C's can't.  Isn't it time to learn the truth about your sales force?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales recruiting, sales candidates, social selling, sales selection, sales assessments, objective management group

What Would You Do? Sales Force Attempts to Maintain Status Quo

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jan 06, 2014 @ 04:01 AM

wrong stuffWarning - this story is disturbing and contains actual quotes from its participants.

The president of a small company, suffering from years of declining sales, asked us to evaluate his small sales force (3 salespeople and sales manager).  He hoped that our data would prove, both to him and his small sales force, that they could grow their revenue to the level of their peak years.

30 days later, when we met to review the findings from the sales force evaluation and answer his questions about potential performance improvements, there was some good news, but most of it was bad.

The good news was that with time (30 months), higher expectations, along with some training and much better coaching, his goals were achievable.  The bad news was that his salespeople were seriously among the worst we have ever evaluated and his sales manager, not much better than his salespeople, seemed disconnected and disinterested from anything other than managing his existing personal accounts.  Did I mention they were the worst we have ever seen?

We also produce individual sales and sales management evaluations for sales team members so that they can better understand their selling strengths and skills, and begin to overcome their selling challenges.  We always ask them to provide some feedback, some of which makes its way back to us.

Objective Management Group (OMG) has evaluated more than salespeople from more than 10,000 companies.  It isn't unusual or unexpected for a salesperson to disagree with a finding or two.  After all, if they were aware of their skill gaps and challenges, they might have attempted to work on them by now.  But in this particular company, everyone on the sales team believed that their sales and sales management evaluations were wrong.  According to this exceptional group of salespeople, all underachieving to the tune of more than 100%, OMG doesn't understand selling...but they do.

Here are just a few of their comments:

From the sales manager:

"First of all, management growth potential of 71%?...this is insulting and demeaning. I seem to have performed pretty well everywhere I have been employed for 44 years while providing pretty well for my family at the time. This is unbelievably pathetic."  [Note - 71% growth potential means he can improve that much and he is deflecting his and the team's pathetic results on our findings.  He also said the following:

"I don’t take responsibility? I do not handle joint calls effectively? How does he know? To my knowledge he has never been on a sales call with me or interviewed me. I do not have a selling system? Ever hear me talk about SIHBC which was taught to me by P&G over 40 years ago..."  [Note - this sales manager is still operating as if it was 1973 and that's what his salespeople were taught to do.]

From his salespeople:

"It's all crap" [Note - The strengths and skills that we identified must be crap too]

"You do not understand our industry.  I am the entire sales department, service department and customer service department for our company."  [Note - he is a bit overimpressed with himself.]

"My sales numbers could improve but my history has proven my abilities."  [Note - another one stuck in the past.]

"Too much talking - really?  Isn't this what we are supposed to do?"  [Note - like I said, stuck in the 70's.]

"The report said I do not have a “consultative sales approach”.  That is what we do every day.  We try to sell value and problem solve.  We do not sell “price” but we sell better results and we do save them money even if our [their products] cost more."  [Note - this salesperson believed that telling people what they should do and why they should do it equates to a consultative approach.]


This isn't normal or expected, so why did it happen at this company and what does the future hold for them?

This is what can happen when salespeople have zero concept of selling; when knowledgeable, technical people are moved into selling roles without being trained to sell; when the sales manager is more interested in selling than managing; when the president doesn't hold the sales manager accountable; and when there isn't a sales culture.

If the president of this company gets serious, replaces the sales manager with a motivated, committed and talented sales manager, and hires strong salespeople to work for the new manager, this company can thrive.  On the other hand, if he sits back and hopes for the same dysfunctional team to suddenly change their behaviors and performance, he will be extremely disappointed.

Was OMG wrong?  Yes!  We predicted that this group could be developed, trained and coached, but the sales manager-led rebellion against change from the status quo undid all of that.  Were we wrong about how bad this sales team was?  Not a chance.  They were statistically at the bottom of all sales teams.

What would you do if you were the victim of a sales manager-led rebellion against change?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales force evaluation, sales training, sales management, sales improvement, sales revenue, sales assessments

Top 10 Kurlan Sales Articles of 2013

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Dec 18, 2013 @ 23:12 PM


I wrote and posted exactly 100 new articles since my final article of 2012 when I announced your favorite all-time Kurlan article.  I've chosen 10 from this year's articles that were either very popular, contained many comments, or thought-provoking.  It's very difficult to narrow it down to 10, never mind to 1, but I went through 100 to pick the 10, and with all the votes that you were asked to cast last week, I decided to not ask you to vote again.  Also, I did not include the article that was awarded a Gold Medal for Top Sales & Marketing Article of 2013 earlier this week.

Here they are in no particular order - My Top 10 Articles of 2013:


Top Four Reasons Why Salespeople Struggle to Reach Decision Makers 

The Key to Powerful Sales Conversations 

Inc. Magazine Gets it Wrong on Consultative Selling


Actual Coaching Call - Use it to Coach Your Salespeople to Success

The Doctor, The Drug Dealer, and the User 

The Monumental Effort Required to Grow Sales in 2014 


Opinion - Why Sales Win Rates Have Reached an All-Time Low - this article led to quite a discussion on some of the other sites where it was republished.

We're Going Back to AIDA and You Should be Scared

The Challenge of the Challenger Sales Model - Just the Facts 

Get Sales Compensation Right to Recruit Winning Salespeople  

Which one is your favorite? 

Which one gets you upset?

Which one gives you an idea?

Which one resonates the most?

Please leave your comments below.

This is my last article of 2013 - Have a great holiday and we'll get back together here in January.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales consulting, sales expert, sales assessments, Top Sales Article, gold medal

Lost Sales, Deals, and Accounts - Fairy Tales or Dragnet?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Dec 03, 2013 @ 08:12 AM

DragnetYesterday, Dennis and I were reviewing Lost Deal comments for a client when we came across one that began, "In the end, when all was said and done..."

You really don't have to read any further.  You can easily recognize, from just the first few words, that this was going to be a fairy tale.  A story.  One salesperson's editorial.  A whole lot of words that will not be particularly useful for you or the analysis.  Webster's Dictionary defines a fairy tale as "a false story meant to trick people."

When it comes to analyzing lost deals, we should be far more interested in watching a police show, like Dragnet, where you are more likely to hear, "Just the facts, Ma'am." (Yes, I know my link goes to the TV show and the image goes to the more recent movie.)  

You don't want to wade through paragraphs of editorial to find the few facts that may, or may not, be included.  The facts allow you to determine whether or not:

  • there was ever an opportunity in the first place,
  • the opportunity was a strong enough,
  • they had a compelling reason to buy,
  • they had a compelling reason to buy from you,
  • the salesperson developed a relationship,
  • the salesperson effectively differentiated,
  • they were willing to spend more money to do business with you,
  • the salesperson was speaking with the decision maker,
  • the timeline was aligned,
  • our solution was needs and cost appropriate,
  • they were committed to moving their business or making a change,
  • you were well positioned against expectations,
  • you were well positioned against the competition, and
  • they intended to buy from you.

We must be able to have meaningful lost deal reviews.  While it is always important to learn if we lost for any of the usual reasons (price, timing, features, fit, etc.), we also need to learn if those usual reasons were the actual reasons or excuses, if these reasons came from the salesperson's best guess or directly from the prospect, and whether or not our salespeople could have changed the outcome if they had been more effective, more thorough, or more efficient during the sales process.  When you have facts instead of guesses, conducting a lost business analysis will reveal the reasons behind your win/loss rate.  Win/loss rates are at an all-time low.  If you didn't have a chance before the Thanksgiving break, read this analysis about why the win rate is at an all-time low.

Review the comments that your salespeople are providing relative to why you don't win the business and make sure their reasons read more like Dragnet and less like a fairy tale.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, win-loss analysis, low closing percentage

The Monumental Effort Required to Grow Sales in 2014

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Oct 15, 2013 @ 05:10 AM

BroncosRegular readers know I'm a baseball guy, but that doesn't mean I ignore football.  Sunday, the New England Patriots needed 30 points to win their game over the New Orleans Saints 30 - 27.  But that's nothing.  The previous week, the Denver Broncos needed...wait for it...51 win their game over the Dallas Cowboys.  51 - 48.  99 points in a single football game.

It takes 51 points to win a football game now?

When game planning for an opponent, I don't think any coach, anywhere, could have prepared their team and said, "Look fellas, it's gonna be a real high scorin' game, so let's plan to score 6 touchdowns and add 3 field goals for good measure."  

But that's what it took.

When you look ahead to 2014 sales, are you using the same assumptions as always?  If you want to grow by 20%, do you use the same metrics for next year that you used for last year?  Will the plan that got you there last year continue to work next year?  Have you accounted for any of these changes?

  • What if customer retention worsens?
  • What if your average sale or account drops?
  • What if the closing percentage changes?
  • What if it takes 15 attempts instead of 10 attempts to reach a single prospect?
  • What if 10% fewer conversations convert to meetings?
  • What if your margin drops by 10%?
  • What if you lose 10% of your salespeople and you aren't able to replace them for 6 months?
  • What if your sales cycle extends by 2 months?
  • What if it takes 25% more of everything in order to reach the promised land next year?
  • What if your competition introduces a better product for less money?
  • What if it takes the sales equivalent of 51 points to meet budget?

While a customized, structured, optimized, formal sales process and targeted, effective, and integrated sales training and coaching will address and improve all of those metrics over time, you also must assume that your assumptions with regard to metrics for next year are wrong.

But how will you know which ones are most likely to be wrong?  How long will it take to notice?

You can't possibly know whether or not your metrics for sales cycle, margin, closing percentage, retention, or average sale are going to change until you have completed enough sales cycles to collect the data for an appropriate sample size.  For those, you'll have to head into 2014 and leave margin for error.  However, within one week you should know the top-of-the-funnel metrics like attempts to conversations and conversations to meetings and whether those have changed since 2011.  By the way, they have!

This is one of the advantages of pipeline management and CRM.  If you have the applications tuned to report on the right metrics, getting this information in real time is not a problem.  The real issues are:

  • Will sales managers pay any attention to the metrics or look only at sales?
  • Will they notice if the metrics change?
  • Will they change the metrics on the fly and provide training and coaching to help?
  • Will they demand more sales without providing tactical and strategic support?
  • Will they be lazy, ignore the changes, but later cite changing metrics as the reason they missed quota?
  • What will you do? 
By the way, this is World Awareness Week - a celebration of Top Sales World. Click the image below to visit.
Top Sales World - World Awareness Week

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales management, Sales Coaching, sales growth, sales metrics

The Real Problem with the Sales Profession and Sales Leadership

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Oct 01, 2013 @ 06:10 AM

The folks over at Insight Squared recently posted this interview with me.  It touched on sales management, but there wasn't enough time to do it justice.  I have written about sales management a lot in my Blog over the past 7 years with at least 75% of the roughly 1,100 articles on the subject.  If you are a new reader, there is a lot of material to sift through.  Start with my article series by scrolling down the left-side navigation panel.

In the context of best practices, the sales management role is now 50% coaching.  The problem is that according to data from Objective Management Group, 82% of sales managers make very ineffective coaches.  Just yesterday alone we had conversations with sales managers who:

  • Weren't able to recognize what their salespeople were doing wrong;
  • Had the ability to listen in to sales calls, but weren't doing so;
  • Heard how bad their salespeople sounded on the phone, but weren't able to correct them;
  • Struggled to onboard new salespeople, but hadn't realized that lack of sales experience added at least a year to the ramp-up period;
  • Couldn't identify who their most effective salespeople were;
  • Were afraid to present critical feedback to their best salespeople;
  • Couldn't terminate their worst salespeople;
  • Couldn't differentiate between nice and friendly, versus nice and effective;
  • Didn't have the time to spend with new salespeople.
There is very little of the right modeling taking place for sales managers of the future.  They weren't exposed to it as salespeople.  They weren't trained to do it when they became sales managers, and as a sales manager said to me last week, "I can't come to your Sales Leadership Intensive because when I was hired, the expectation was that I would be able to do all of that stuff."
Are you serious?  You're expected to be an effective sales manager or leader, but you know you aren't a master at sales coaching.  You know you could have a tremendous impact on the sales force if you became a better coach, and you don't attend the very program that could help because it was expected that you could coach effectively when you took the position?  You do know that doctors, attorneys, teachers and other skilled professionals are not only expected, but required to continue their education, attend workshops and conferences, and learn the latest from the greatest minds in their field.  Sales managers, when compared with doctors, attorneys or teachers, have not had years of education and training in the field, but probably less than 10 hours of training in their field.  Why do they believe that:
  • they don't need the help,
  • their boss would have a problem with them getting better,
  • they already know it all,
  • they can't take the time,
  • it's not important?
This is a prime example of what is wrong with the sales profession in general.  There are no requirements to enter the field, no requirements to get promoted, and no expectations of self-improvement.  While there may be exceptions in some companies and certain industries, overall, it's an embarrassment.  What can we do about that?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales management training, sales leadership training, sales leadership intensive

Can You Improve a Kick-Ass Sales Force?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Sep 11, 2013 @ 17:09 PM

Most of the calls and emails which we receive come from companies with flat or declining sales.  However, some of the greatest successes occur when we help companies who are already kicking ass.  

Mark Roberge, Sales VP at Hubspot, is responsible for building one of those kick-ass sales forces and he contributed a guest post to Software Advice on Building a Sales Team the Hubspot Way

When I read the article, I noted a couple of things that I really liked:

  1. They learn very little about sales in the first 30 days.  Mark said, "Instead, they start a blog, create a website, open a Twitter account and begin email marketing campaigns.  By the time training is over, they will rank in Google for a few dozen keywords in their market, have a few dozen followers on Twitter and have written a few dozen blog articles.  HubSpot’s content marketing strategy allows the rep to establish online credibility before even getting on the phone with his or her first prospect."  Cool.
  2. A steady flow of inbound leads.  That sure helps new salespeople get started, doesn't it?
Like all kick-ass sales forces, they could do better.  I read a few things that surely aren't as good as they could be and with some tweaking, would significantly improve sales:
  • Mark identified 5 traits that he believes correlate to success and hires salespeople who have these traits.  He identified Coachability, Intelligence, Prior Success, Curiosity and Work Ethic.  While most top-performing salespeople have these qualities, it does not necessarily work in reverse.  For example, top-performing salespeople are also great at developing, building and maintaining relationships.  However, people who are good with relationships do not necessarily become good salespeople.  In fact, most of them don't!  So while it's important to identify predictors of success, predictors that correlate in only one direction will often disappoint.  The problem with the 5 that Mark identified is that none of them speak to either sales DNA, Commitment, Desire or selling skills.  Hubspot has so many leads that their salespeople don't have to be nearly as strong or effective at overcoming resistance as they would if the company were an underdog as described by:
  • Really expensive products or services; 
  • Not the market leader; 
  • Higher priced offerings than their competition; 
  • Have a story to tell; 
  • New product or technology;
  • New company or brand.  
If you are reading this, and your company matches up with any one of my criteria for underdogs, then you couldn't possibly get away with what Hubspot can get away with.  You must have strong hunters who are adept at overcoming resistance, can differentiate by selling consultatively, and ask the kinds of questions that develop respect, allowing prospects to open their mind to the possibility that you can help.
  • Hold Them Accountable to a Predictable Sales Process.  I completely agree with the premise, but the example is not a sales process as much as it is a set of metrics measuring conversion ratios.  This too - having a set of KPI's that drives revenue - is extremely important, but you can't choose between KPI's and Sales Process.  You need them both.  I speak with many CEO's who think they have a solid sales process in place and what they actually have are some steps - not necessarily the right ones, and never in the right sequence.  There are two things you can do to determine if your sales process is any good.  The first is the eye test.  Does it always yield predictable results on a predictable timeline?  The second is a graded test.  Use our complimentary Sales Process Grader and get a score!

sales process grader
In summary, Mark has done a great job, written a great article and achieved greatness for Hubspot.  But like any kick-ass sales force, they can do even better.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales leads, HubSpot, sales process, sales training, inbound, sales KPI, Mark Roberge

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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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