How to Use Buckets to Improve Sales Performance and Coaching

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Feb 19, 2021 @ 07:02 AM


When it rains it pours, especially when it's coming down in buckets!

Buckets are important, especially when you're attempting to coach up a salesperson or even improve your own sales performance.  If you don't have the OMG evaluation at your fingertips and can't lookup the scores in 21 Sales Core Competencies, or see which attributes need to be improved, you'll need to think in terms of buckets.

When salespeople are struggling, there are five primary buckets to consider:

  1. Pipeline - Their pipeline sucks
  2. Urgency - they haven't been successful uncovering compelling reasons to buy so that urgency can be created
  3. Qualifying - they haven't been able to get their good prospects fully qualified
  4. Closing - they aren't converting their qualified opportunities
  5. Attitude - they lack a positive outlook.

All other issues you might identify should appear in one of those five buckets.

Now let's place the three traditional groups of salespeople into buckets:

  1. A players:  They are the best salespeople in your company and exceed quota and/or expectations, but outside of your company and industry they might not be A or even B players.  Everything is relative.
  2. B players: They're not as good as your A players but they do meet quota and/or expectations.
  3. C players: They are chronic under achievers who fail to meet quota.

Next, let's integrate the buckets of salespeople with the buckets of challenges.

Salesperson to Coach Up Likely Issue(s)
A Player Urgency
B Player Urgency and Qualifying
C Player Pipeline

Let's pretend we're dealing with a C player who has an inadequate pipeline.  We have five more buckets to explore:

  1. Effort - they aren't making enough calls or attempts
  2. Engagement - they aren't getting their contacts engaged in the conversation
  3. Messaging - they aren't using proven, time-tested, positioning statements to get contacts engaged
  4. Delivery - they don't sound very good delivering the message
  5. Conversions - they aren't converting their calls to meetings

In this scenario, you may not be able to identify a single bucket to blame but you have to start somewhere.  If effort is an issue and you don't fix the effort, the other four buckets don't matter. If effort is lacking due to discouragement from past ineffectiveness, you may need to work on the other four buckets before you can return to effort.

It can be overwhelming to identify exactly what you need to work on to improve sales performance.  If you can learn to think in terms of buckets, you'll have a better chance of working on the right end of the problem.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, coaching, Sales Coaching, sales performance, sales excellence

Sales Managers Must Make Sure That This Never Happens

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Sep 26, 2012 @ 07:09 AM

truck in the mirrorYou are driving down the highway and see an enormous truck in your side mirror.  The truck is moving very fast - twice your speed - and closing in quickly.  You continue to look in the mirror and because of the way your side mirror is shaped, it appears that the closer the truck gets, the more likely it seems that the truck will simply run right over you.  You accelerate a little, keeping watch on that mirror and then it happens.  You miss the sharp bend in the road and drive off the cliff.

This short story is the real-world equivalent to something which often occurs with your salespeople.  There are new opportunities to be targeted, as well as opportunities which already populate the pipeline.  The most promising of the existing opportunities seem to get most of the salesperson's attention.  One particular call causes the salesperson to become so excited that she devotes the rest of the week to developing an appropriate solution, value proposition, ROI, proposal and presentation.  She is so focused on this opportunity that she forgets all about what is up ahead.  Post-presentation and proposal, she begins making follow-up calls and over the course of the next month goes into full-chase mode.  When it finally sinks in that this prospect is not returning calls, has gone missing, and won't be buying anything from her soon, it's too late.  She neglected to continue filling her pipeline, has neglected to line up new opportunities, not stayed in touch with other opportunities in her pipeline and drove off the cliff.

It happens all the time.

It's not the salesperson's fault.

That's what sales managers are supposed to be doing.  Sales Managers must not only help, but hold their salespeople accountable to being focused on the right activities and behaviors, at the right time, on the right opportunities, and for the right reasons.  They must also provide coaching on each opportunity so the salesperson can see what is in front of them and avoid falling off the cliff.

Last call for my Sales Leadership Intensive in Boston, October 3-4, when we will spend 2 days working on things like this together.  If you want to attend, skip the online registration and email me directly.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, coaching, sales management, sales leadership training, seminar, workshop, program, boston

Sales Coaching Lessons from the Baseball Files

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, May 24, 2012 @ 07:05 AM

baseline sellingAs evidenced by one of my book titles, Baseline Selling, I have frequently borrowed from baseball when the analogy is more useful than the sales message.  Although the following stories may appear to be about my son and/or his baseball team, they are actually about coaching and adapting.

Baseball - I brought my son to the batting cage to work out a swing flaw after his line drives had become weak ground balls.  He was bailing out (stepping toward third base instead of the pitcher), causing him to take weak swings at the ball.  After I got him to stop bailing, he began leaning away from the pitch with his upper body, causing him to take an off-balance swing.  When we fixed that, his front shoulder began opening too quickly, the head of the bat moving through the strike zone too slowly for solid contact.  When we finally fixed that, line drives began zipping off his bat again and he was able to carry that into the next game for 2 doubles and 3 RBI's.  

Sales -This sequence of analysis and tweaking works in exactly the same way when coaching salespeople.  You should be able to immediately identify what went wrong, when it went wrong, how it went wrong and demonstrate how to prevent and fix it.  The last two steps must take place through role-play.  Are you doing that effectively?

Baseball - I took some swings for the first time in 20 years.  I immediately realized that I couldn't track the ball with bifocals, so I removed them.  Without the glasses, I could barely see the ball at all!  My son said, "Dad, you don't have it any more."  That's all I needed to hear.  I wasn't going to let my 10-year-old get away with that, so I adapted.  I accepted that I couldn't see the stiches or the spin of the ball anymore, but I could see the fuzzy little round thing heading in my direction and resolved to just see that and hit that.  He said, "I guess you still have it after all."  

Sales - Your salespeople must adapt when the existing approach isn't effective with a prospect.  Instead, most salespeople take one of two actions.  They either continue to do what isn't working (stupid human trick) or they give up (typical human behavior). 

Baseball - As their coach, I offer 1-2 minutes of one-on-one pre-game or in-game coaching to each boy on the team.  They get more from their one-on-one time than they could ever get from a 90-minute practice and we see immediate results in that very game.  

Sales - Sales Managers must provide their salespeople with one-on-one time before upcoming calls and debrief calls that have already taken place.  There is no area that will have more impact on sales than coaching.

Sales and baseball are nearly the same except that far fewer ball players make it to the major leagues, but those who do so get paid a lot more money.


Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales, coaching, sales management, Baseball

The Impact of Coaching Salespeople and Sales Managers

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Oct 07, 2010 @ 12:10 PM

coachingYesterday I presented at the Sales EdgeOne Three-Day Sales Summit and my co-presenter, Donal Daly, cited a statistic from Gallop: Organizations that use coaches get a 26% ROI from that effort.  That statistic surprised me in two ways.  First, my experience is that the organizations that we provide coaching to perform much better than that (the quoted statistic is not 26% growth, it's 26% ROI!); and second, if more companies were aware of that statistic, they would embrace using outside coaches!

I was still thinking about that this morning. I thought back to my childhood and thought about the the coaching I had then, and later in life, and the impact it had on my success.

First there was music.  Through the years, I had a private piano teacher, 2 private trumpet teachers, and a private music teacher (all coaches). As a senior in high school, I was one of the top trumpet players in the state.  That would not have been possible without the coaching AND hours and hours of practice.

Then came baseball.  My dad got me started and taught me the basics. To become an all-star, it took two tips from my two coaches that made the difference.  Tip #1 transformed me from average fielder to an excellent third baseman.  Tip #2 morphed me from strike-out king to excellent hitter.  It was the coaching and the hours and hours of practice!

Then came tennis.  My dad got me started and taught me the basics of tennis too.  By the time I was 13, he got me a coach.  Although she was 88 years old, she was sharp as a nail, had as much energy as me and got me to the next level - good enough to get to the finals of a New England 14 & under tournament.  At 15, a much younger, wise old coach helped me develop some "touch" and add some "shots" to my repertoire.  The summer after high school, yet another coach (the tennis/goal setting story I included in Baseline Selling was about this coach and it was the most referenced story in the book) helped me develop the mental aspect of my game and that was good enough for me to enter my freshman year of college as the #2 singles player on the team.  It was the coaching and, in this case, day-long practice sessions.

Then came sales.  The music, baseball and tennis coaches conditioned me to be change ready, always strive for excellence and outperform the expectations I had for myself. I competed with me.  The sales books, tapes and videos I devoured when I was a young salesperson, the lessons I learned from my early sales managers, my own ability to improve what already exists and my ability to develop what doesn't yet exist tells the rest of the story.  It was coaching and practice.

The Sales Force Evaluations we provide are important.  So are the candidate assessments.  Systems, processes, strategies, pipeline, metrics and recruiting are important too.  But without question, the biggest impact comes from coaching. Think of sales and sales management training as opportunities to develop best practices, good habits, important competencies and a complete framework of capabilities.  Then use coaching for tips, personalized adjustments, advanced skills, and subtle tweaks that result in significant, rapid improvement and results.

Coaching anyone?

PS - everything I wrote does not apply to golf (for me).

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, coaching, sales management, tennis, Baseball, sales assessments, gallop, sports, music

10 Steps for your Sales Force to Survive and Thrive in The Recession

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Sun, Jan 04, 2009 @ 21:01 PM

Like many of you, I'm back from a much needed vacation where I met a guy who could have been one of the sorry CEO's I have met over the past several months.

I was in the pool, playing catch with our six-year old son, when Henry began a "dialog" with me. He said, "You can't play catch in the pool.  It's against the rules."

I was stunned, but apologized, said I wasn't aware of that rule and removed the football from the pool.

There was another guy in the pool and he mentioned to me that the pool rules did not include an exclusion about playing catch.  I mentioned that to Henry and he became irate because he owns one of the resort's units, wrote the rules himself, and said, "It better be on that sign!"

So what's wrong with this picture?

  • Doesn't "resort" make you think fun, water and sun?
  • He and his friends were at the water's very edge but didn't want to get wet, so he didn't want any splashing which leads to no playing catch.
  • He and his friends were at the pool but in the shade.
  • It was 80 degrees but he was dressed for winter.
  • He was at a resort but wanted the quiet of a senior community. 

How is Henry any different from Bernie?

Bernie is the President of a company that had experienced flat sales for the three strong economic years leading up to the recession. He had been looking for a VP of sales for two years but hadn't found the right candidate or failed to pull the trigger.

He attended an event where he heard me speak and asked me to contact him. He asked for my advice and I recommended that if he was serious about finding the ideal VP, then he should:

  • Evaluate his sales force to better understand its real capabilities and identify the challenges a new VP would have to deal with;
  • Identify the changes that the sales force needed to make to be more effective;
  • Save the new VP at least a year by providing him with a comprehensive understanding of each salesperson's strengths,  weaknesses and coaching requirements. 
  • Identifythe salespeople that could make the transition to being more aggressive at finding and closing new business;
  • Identify the salespeople that could not be developed and plan to replace the under performers;
  • Use this intelligence to find the ideal VP of Sales Candidate.

Once in a while, CEO's and Presidents don't take my advice and Bernie, who was comfortable (hired gun, not an owner), over confident (he thought he knew better), and not afraid of failure (sales were flat, not declining), promoted one of his existing salespeople to take the VP of Sales position.

Ordinarily, this is not a particularly smart move but in this case, it was really dumb. His new VP had never managed a sales force, had no experience selling in a recession, had never reversed a flat sales trend and had never assessed a sales force.  What made Bernie think he could do all this effectively without experience?  Six months later, how do you think he's doing?  Last I heard from Bernie, George was "trying some things."

Bernie and Henry could be the same guy.  Henry was probably an arrogant, over confident president who didn't fear failure just like Bernie. They both know better than everyone else.

Compare Bernie's story with Jack, president of another manufacturer with flat year over year sales at around the same time.  Jack already had a new VP in place, knew there was complacency, knew he needed change, and despite having the expertise to do it himself, knew that it had to come from outside, not within.

Just seven months after evaluating and training, Jack's sales force is accomplishing things today that they couldn't even imagine last spring.  They transitioned from account managers to hunters; they transitioned from making proposals and presentations to conducting quality sales calls where they do nothing except ask great questions; they've gone from selling on price to selling value; they've moved from believing they had to have the best price to selling at their price; and they're closing business at a much higher rate than at this time last year - despite the economic crisis.

Which type of leader are you - Bernie or Jack?

Here are ten steps that you can take to not only survive, but thrive in this recession:

  1. Size up your sales team - we have some free tools like the Sales Force Grader, the Sales Hiring Mistake Calculator and the Sales Achievement Grader; and fee based tools like our world-class Sales Force Evaluation
  2. Get the right people in the right sales/sales management roles.  Our Sales Force Evaluation will provide these insights.
  3. Talk honestly with your sales force about the tough times ahead. Tell them the truth!
  4. Gain their commitment and buy in to work harder, be tougher and do what it takes in these more difficult times.
  5. Perform a pipeline analysis and work the pipeline.  My sales development firm offers EPACS - Emergency Pipeline Analysis and Coaching Strategies where we properly stage, strategize and coach on every opportunity.
  6. Create the necessary infrastructure. This includes an appropriate sales process, recruiting process, sales management systems, and software.
  7. Develop Sales Management on accountability, coaching, recruiting, leadership and motivation.
  8. Develop the salespeople on process, skills and overcoming their weaknesses.
  9. Sales Execution - just do it.
  10. Sales Management Execution - make sure they do it and help them do it.

Ultimately, you must focus on the machine that generates revenue, not costs.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales, coaching, sales management, selling, Salesforce, accountability, assessment, recession, objective management group

Highly Successful Salespeople Can't Remember What They Say

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Aug 18, 2008 @ 10:08 AM

We were in an internal meeting last week and Frank Belzer said something really profound.  Chris Mott asked him to repeat it and he said, "I have no idea what I just said."

Light Bulb.

Chris and I can't remember most of the most magical, profound, insightful things that we say, whether they occur in sales calls, training environments or consulting scenarios.  The ideas come to us through intuition, they're based on experience and they're typically game changing, life changing, business changing or paradigm shifting insights.

Why can't we remember them? 

We don't remember these memorable sound bites because we didn't prepare them, haven't said them before, and weren't paying much attention to what was coming out of our own mouths.  We're focused on the other individual(s) in the room.   We're in the moment, with clear minds.   occurrences like these happen often for us and for other highly successful individuals. When you are in the moment, your own idle thoughts, strategies, tactics, next steps and scripts block great ideas from coming through.   Most unsuccessful salespeople aren't able to engage and persuade resistant prospects. They're too busy reciting their prepared objection handling scripts which, to their prospects, sound like high pressured sales pitches.

Instructions to Your Salespeople: Clear your minds.  You know enough and have prepared enough to succeed. Focus only on what your prospect is saying in that moment and question everything they say.  Ask lots of "why" and "how" questions to identify compelling reasons for them to spend money with you and only you. Refer to the sample dialog in this post from last week as an example.

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan         

Topics: coaching, sales success

How to Find the Compelling Reasons for Seth Godin's Intangibles

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Aug 15, 2008 @ 07:08 AM

Seth Godin's recent column on Intangibles was great.  As a matter of fact, I haven't disagreed in more than two years with anything he has written  about selling.  Today he provided many examples - great examples - of how your intangibles create value.  I'd like to explain how your salespeople can uncover these - and other - reasons why prospects would pay more to do business with you.

It all begins with the environment your salespeople create with their prospects.   I'm talking about the relationship your salespeople develop, their ability to show they care about their prospect and the role they play in their business, and their ability to create trust.  It is only in this environment that your salespeople can ask dozens of good, tough, timely questions.

Those questions have to be better and tougher than anyone else's. Here's an example and you can apply this example to your business by substituting what your prospects usually decide to do for the one in this example, and then punch holes as I do below:

Your Salesperson: It sounds like you've determined that you need to advertise on the web rather than in print, but I'm curious  - how did you reach that decision?

Prospect: Well, we just know that more people are on the web than reading print publications.

Your Salesperson: It's true - sometimes.  Tell me, who do you need to reach?

Prospect: Our target audience is men 45-70.

Your Salesperson: Why are they your target?

Prospect: They always have been.

Your Salesperson: But aren't women more likely to buy it for their men than men are to buy it for themselves?

Prospect: Great question.  I guess they are.

Your Salesperson: And what happens if you fail to target the right audience?

Prospect: We'll waste our ad money.

Your Salesperson: How much would you guess you wasted over the last five years?

Prospect: Most of it.

Your Salesperson: And how much is that?

Prospect: Several hundred thousand dollars.

Your Salesperson: Is that alot of money for you?

Prospect: Yes - it's huge. 

Your Salesperson: Would you like to fix that problem?

Prospect: Yes, very much.

Your Salesperson: Would you like my help?

Prospect: Yes. 

Your Salesperson: Are you willing to spend a little more with me to get the problem fixed, the right way, once and for all?

Prospect: Yes, certainly, if it solves the problem. 

So rather than presenting how great your ability is to place web advertising, and rather than providing prices for web advertising, the salesperson asks questions to identify a problem (wrong demographic) the prospect wasn't aware of along with a compelling reason (wasting ad money) to do business with this salesperson alone (SOB Quality) - because of the questions that were asked.  If the salesperson now recommends print advertising as a solution to the problem, it will be accepted as expert advice in the context of a problem to be solved.

How is this different from what your salespeople are doing?

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan 

Topics: coaching

Salespeople are Like Children - The Series

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Aug 13, 2008 @ 21:08 PM

I have written many articles based on the insights of our son, most when he was between the ages of 3-7.  Each article has profound lessons and they're fun to read. Readers have enjoyed these particular articles so much, and found the lessons to be so good, that I compiled this series called Salespeople are Like Children.  As you might expect, some of these articles are my all-time favorites too.

Baseball and Selling Revisited - A Powerful Analogy

Salespeople Must Use & Embrace Life's Most Embarrassing Moments

Selling Styles - How Many Styles Should Your Salespeople Have?

Sales Coaching Lessons from the Baseball Files

Gaining Sales Traction is Like Talking to Kids

The Difference Between Sales Commitment and Desire

25 or 6 to 4 and Your Sales Force

The Lion King - Watching a Movie Again Improves Sales Effectiveness

Salespeople Should be More Like Children

Dicing, Shoveling and Training Salespeople

MLB All-Star Game Unveils a Sales Prodigy

Over Achievers on the Sales Force - We Have it Wrong

Will your Salespeople Change Behaviors to Improve Their Sales Effectiveness? 

Getting Excited About Sales Metrics

How To Get Salespeople to Leave Their Comfort Zone

Prospects Are Like Children

Turning Order Takers into Salespeople

The Emerging Boy, the Lingering Toddler

Helping New Salespeople Succeed

5 Sales Management Tips from my Five Year Old 

The Impact of Unhealthy Relationships on Salespeople

If Your Salespeople Can Spell They Can Sell

Salespeople Aren't Made of Glass

How Long Does it Take a Salesperson to Get It? 

What Can a Trip to Italy Teach You About Managing Salespeople?

Salespeople are Like Children

Making it Easy for Salespeople to Succeed

Improve Sales Competencies at the Salesperson's Hall of Fame

Compelling Reasons to Buy

How to Start a Sales Call Over

Get Prospects to Make Decisions

The Importance of Practice

How Stealing 2nd Base is the Secret to Success in Sales Today


Topics: coaching, accountability, leadership, Motivation

Getting Customers to Flock Back to Your Salespeople

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Aug 11, 2008 @ 12:08 PM

Last night at dinner, my 77 year-old father showed us the obituary he had saved from when his father died.  Abe Kurlan died in 1968 at the age of 68.  Since I pick up the most subtle of patterns, the first thing that ran through my head was that I might make it to 86!  It also got me thinking about what Abe did for a living.  He was a car salesman back in the day when before he could sell you a car he had to teach you how to drive one!

I mentioned in a 2007 post that sales had skipped a generation and I provided some history about what selling was like back in the days of World War II.  But last night I got to thinking about what made him so successful at selling cars.  People loved him.

I remember conducting some training about 15 years ago for a local distributor and one of the salespeople took me aside and told me that I would never be anything like my grandfather.  He made the point of saying that my grandfather was so likable, so caring, such a good person, that his entire family returned to Abe to buy all of their cars.  He wondered why I couldn't be more like that!

But that's it.  People returned to him in much the same way they returned to their family doctor.  They made him part of their family.  He had a great reputation.  They could trust him.  And the incredible part of this?  He was selling USED cars for the last 25 years of his life.  Not quite what you think about when you talk about a used car salesman, is it?

We spend an awful lot of time helping salespeople with their process, mindset, tactics and strategy.  We spend a lot of time helping them to overcome and work around their weaknesses.  We need to spend some time helping them develop the kind of honest, caring, respectable approach that Abe had, that family doctors used to have, that will cause customers and clients to flock back to them and not consider anyone else.

I call that SOB Quality, when your prospect or customer pays more attention to you than to any of your competitors. You can read about SOB Quality in my book, Baseline Selling

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

Topics: coaching

Data Points Tell a Story - Prospects Buy Happy Endings

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Sat, Aug 09, 2008 @ 07:08 AM

Our son, who is now six, doesn't know the the full extent of what I do for a living. Rather than tell him that I'm a sales force development expert and explain the many facets of that, he knows that I have meetings (talk with people on the phone and in my office), that I do work (stuff on the computer), that I'm the boss of my office (12 people report up to me) and that I sometimes conduct training (show salespeople how to sell).  I haven't attempted to explain evaluating, compensation, incentives, metrics, recruiting, leadership development, executive coaching, consulting, strategies, systems or processes.

Thursday, after a full day of training, I picked him up from camp and realized that we had to return to the office to retrieve my laptop which I had left in the training room. He's been to the office many times but he has never witnessed any training. 

While I was disconnecting the cables from my laptop, he sat down in the trainer's chair at the front of the room and in a loud, deep voice said, "OK people.  Let's talk about selling.  Let's talk about selling cars and homes.  Come on now, let's talk about getting cars and homes sold, people!"

Think of all the dots he connected!  He knew I showed salespeople how to sell but didn't know what that actually looked and sounded like.  He has accompanied me to the Lexus dealer for the last 3 cars that we bought. He can't help but hearing the non-stop news stories about home sales being on the decline. He strung those three data points together and put the data to life in that chair in the front of the room.  The data told him a story.

Data points always tell a story.

If you are fortunate enough to use our sales assessments in your company or you provide them to your clients, you know that there are dozens of findings or data points.  Individually each finding stands on its own but when you connect the dots and ask yourself, "what do these data points tell me?" there is always a story there.

It's the same in selling.  If your salespeople are selling effectively, then rather than presenting features, benefits and capabilities, they are asking dozens of good, tough, timely questions.  When the questions are good enough the combination of answers and non answers are the data points.  When your salespeople connect the dots and ask themselves, "what do these data points tell me?" there should be a dramatic tale of woe.  If the story is compelling enough, the prospect will pay for a happy ending.

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

Topics: coaching

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader,  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned awards for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog for eleven consecutive years and of the more than 2,000 articles Dave has published, many of the articles have also earned awards.

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