Leading a Sales Force is Even More Like Baseball

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Nov 06, 2014 @ 12:11 PM


I miss baseball already.  Although I can't watch it right now, I still think about it.  I look forward to next season when, together with my wife, we'll watch our son strike out other kids, hit lots of home runs, and improve his baseball skills while playing close to 100 games!  I don't look forward to the seats...  

I've written plenty about the similarity betwen baseball and selling, but today I'm writing about the similarity between baseball and sales leadership.  If you're not a baseball person, you might not see the same things that I see, most of which can be applied to leading a sales force.  For example,

there are five levels of professional baseball:  a short season A team, a full-season A team, and then, as the player becomes adjusted and ready for the two higher levels in the minor leagues; AA and AAA.  Then, if and when he's good enough, he'll be promoted to the Majors.  

Most people can see the differences in the caliber of play when comparing a Little League game to a high school game, or a college game to a professional game.  Most people aren't able to recognize the differences between each of the 5 professional levels.  They may be watching a minor league game, but it sure looks like professional baseball to them - without the 35,000 people in the stands rooting for their team.  Pitchers make the pitches, hitters hit the ball, run the bases, and everyone make the plays.  It is professional baseball, but in the minor leagues, pitchers don't command their secondary pitches.  While they already have a major league-ready fast ball, they have not yet mastered the ability to throw their curve ball, change up or slider to the exact spot it needs to go.  Hitters in the minor leagues are able to hit a fastball with authority, but may not be  able to recognize, adjust to, and hammer breaking pitches.

The exact same difference exists between sales experts like me and sales leaders like you.

Most sales leaders can easily differentiate between salespeople who are awful and those who are not awful.  They have difficulty differentiating one awful salesperson from another.  If you're asking yourself why I'm placing this in the context of awful, rather than good, it's because 74% of the sales population is awful!

Based on Objective Management Group's (OMG) statistics, a sales force of 10 would typically have:

  • 0 elite salespeople who make up the top 6%,
  • 2 good salespeople who make up the top 26%, and
  • 8 salespeople who are awful, making up the remaining 74%.

A typical sales leader looks at the sales force and can differentiate between the 2 good and 8 bad, but isn't able to explain why.  Sure, they can point to sales numbers and activity, but those aren't reasons, as much as differing results.

It's very difficult to coach someone up when you don't know the cause of their ineffectiveness.

For example, let's take 3 awful salespeople who are each underperforming at a company we recently evaluated:

  • Bob has a full pipeline, but despite all of the opportunities, his win-rate is pathetic.
  • Mary has a nearly empty pipeline, but closes most of the opportunities she does uncover.
  • Bill has a poor pipeline - half way between Bob and Mary - but most opportunities get stuck and don't move through to closure.

You can easily determine that Bob is a successful hunter, but an awful closer.

You can easily determine that Mary is a successful closer, but an awful hunter.

You can easily determine that Bill isn't very good at anything.

Now let's pretend that they are your salespeople.  That shouldn't be a stretch because you probably have 3 salespeople who look like this.  

Do you know why this is happening?  Do you know how to figure out why it is happening?  Do you know that a seminar on prospecting or closing won't change anything?  Do you know what is in their Sales DNA, their Will to Sell, or their Sales Skill Sets that are responsible for these outcomes?  Do you know if they're even trainable?  Do you know if they're really coachable?  Do you know if you're any good at developing salespeople with these mysterious issues?

Of course you don't know.  You're not even supposed to know.  If you did know, they would each have been either fixed (because you knew what to fix and how to fix it) or replaced (because you knew it couldn't be fixed or you weren't capable of fixing it).  Right?

That example is only one of the reasons to evaluate your sales force.  Here are some more.


Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, sales force evaluation, Baseball, sales development

Did our Sales Evaluation Uncover Part-Time Job Selling Drugs?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Oct 15, 2014 @ 09:10 AM


A salesperson was arrested for growing pot and selling it. Can you believe it?

Recently, the same man participated in OMG's Sales Force Evaluation at the company where he worked.  The evaluation showed that he was a very strong salesperson with tremendous selling skills, but it also identified a few telling issues:

  • He wasn't motivated to earn additional money;
  • He didn't enjoy the selling that he was doing for this company;
  • He wasn't committed to his sales success;
  • He wasn't trainable or coachable;
  • He was unlikely to stick around.

The salesperson was terminated following his arrest. 

If you read a sales evaluation with findings like these on a successful salesperson that worked for you, would you discount them?  Disagree with them?  Challenge the evaluation?  Challenge the individual?  After all, it's not that unusual for a successful salesperson to no longer be motivated by earning more money, but it is very unusual when a successful salesperson no longer enjoys selling and isn't committed to sales success.

We know how accurate the evaluations are, so we urge our clients to challenge the individuals in question.  However, since the evaluations uncover hidden issues and the clients weren't previously aware of those issues, quite often they will challenge the evaluation since they "know" the person and the findings "just couldn't be accurate".

This doesn't happen very frequently, but it does happen.  Why do you suppose managers prefer to push back on the findings rather than the person?  Do they know their salespeople that well or are they blinded by that person's results?  Is the performance even a result of that person's efforts or are they reaping the benefits of the hard work of the company, the prior rep, lucrative existing accounts or some other factor they aren't responsible for?

It's fine to push back on findings and evaluations, but when the evaluation is as accurate as OMG's, one needs to push back on the salesperson too.

Topics: sales assessment, sales force evaluation, enjoys selling, sales assessment testing, money motivated, sales development, personality assessment

Music and Selling - There are Many More Similarities Than You Think

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Aug 22, 2012 @ 10:08 AM

It appears that I have written enough articles about music and selling to include a series about the connection.  One of the constants in the music business is that the artists must choose between writing and recording songs that are either consistent with what made them famous (giving their core audience more of what they want) or adapting and creating music which would appeal to a potentially newer audience (and perhaps alienating their core audience.)  I think that Paul Simon chose the latter and alienated everyone!

We make the same choices in business and, more on topic, in sales.  We must also choose between doing what we've always done (and get the same or worse results) or adapting to the changing times in appealing to a younger audience of decision-makers who possess different values, make decisions for different reasons, and go about the process of buying with the internet as their primary source for information and choice.

So, why are so many sales forces continuing to do what they have always done, failing to adapt or choosing what and where to adapt and moving at such a slow pace?

Here are some of the music-themed articles which I've written in past years:

Breaking News - More Salespeople Suck Than Ever Before

Can the Beatles Help You Close Big Deals?

Singin' the Sales Blues

Only 11% of Salespeople Do This at the End of a Sales Call

Professional Sales and the All-Star Jazz Performance

Selling the Dream - 3 Lessons for the Sales Force

How to Use Playlists to be More Effective at Selling

When Are Salespeople Too Old to Sell Effectively? 10 Conditions

Is Showmanship a Lost Art in Selling?

Selling Styles - How Many Styles Should Your Salespeople Have?

Developing Top Performers - How to Turn Salespeople into A Players

Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow Could be Your Veteran Salespeople

Can the Right Music Motivate the Sales Force?

Frankie Valli and Jersey Boys Metaphor for Recession Worn Companies

Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson and the Sales Assessment Industry

Developing Top Performers - How to Turn Salespeople into A-Players

Selling Styles - How Many Styles Should Your Salespeople Have?

Is Showmanship a Lost Art in Selling?

Music and Selling - There are Many More Similarities Than You Think

How Music Can Definitely Help You Sell More


Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, new way of selling, change agent for sales, sales development

How Do Sales Professionals Stay Motivated?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Jul 12, 2012 @ 09:07 AM

sales motivationThis was the question posed at Focus.com. 

When I reviewed the page, there were 18 other answers to the question.  There was nothing particularly wrong with them, but they just weren't transferable or scalable.  They didn't answer the question of how sales professionals stay motivated as much as they answered how certain salespeople motivate themselves and how certain sales managers motivate others.

The most important thing to understand is that when someone must ask how to motivate their salespeople, they may not have the right salespeople!

The best salespeople don't have to be motivated - they just are - and it not something they have to do.  Sure, they are goal-orientated.  Sure, they are disciplined.  Sure, they love praise and recognition.  But salespeople who love what they do and love either the thrill of success or the sight of their growing bank account are pre-motivated.  Think pre-washed or pre-faded jeans. They come to the table wired for it.

The real issue is what to do about those who aren't wired for it.  The easy answer is to evaluate the sales force and, as part of that process, look for the data which will tell you who is motivated; not in general terms, but specifically for success in sales.  Who can be developed and how much improvement are they likely to show?  You may learn that you don't have the right salespeople in the right roles and may need to make some changes.

You'll also see this problem with veteran salespeople who have made a lot of money and have become complacent.  Just because they have succeeded in the past, doesn't mean they will continue to succeed in the future.  And did they really succeed in the past or did they make a bunch of money because they inherited lucrative accounts?

Change is the best way to motivate a complacent sales force.  Send a message that they can all be replaced and that you are willing to make those changes.

Read more of my articles on sales force motivation.


Topics: sales competencies, sales culture, sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales motivation, sales evaluation, sales personality, sales development

Can the Right Music Motivate and Improve Sales Performance?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, May 22, 2012 @ 06:05 AM

musicOne of the many changes to affect selling during the last several years is that salespeople are making fewer face-to-face sales calls than ever before and more of the selling has moved to the phone.  This has resulted in more calls (although shorter), more resistance with a longer sales cycle, and greater success in closing sales, deals and accounts which might not have been possible just a few years ago.  The biggest difference though?  It might just be the music.

Back in the good old days, many of us played music on the way to sales calls while some listened to sports, news, or talk shows.  I'm focusing on music today, so I'll we'll discuss how music could serve to:

  1. Motivate
  2. Calm
  3. Stop the Thinking
  4. Improve Focus and Resolve
  5. Boost Adrenaline
While some might play classical, easy listening or new age music to calm their nerves, others play genres that could motivate them for upcoming calls.  In much the same way as a pitcher or hitter has a personal music clip played to get their adrenaline pumping as they enter a baseball game, music can have a similar effect on the psyche of a salesperson.
If a salesperson has a one-hour ride to the next sales call, it would require about 10 tunes to fill that time. I invite you to join today's conversation by sharing your pre-sales call playlist (or the tunes you would include if you had one).  I've shared mine and encourage you to contribute yours. It will be very interesting, perhaps even exciting, to see all the variations (or not) in the styles of music and specific songs that everyone prefers prior to a sales call. There is no right or wrong, just personal preferences.  
Here are my 10 (Frank, you'll notice that the band Chicago does not appear in my Top 10 Pre-Sales Call Playlist):

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales motivation, sales development

Top 10 Reasons Salespeople Struggle to Get Decisions

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Mar 07, 2012 @ 07:03 AM

stuckIf you were to remove the easy "yes" and "no" decisions that your salespeople hear during the course of the year, 80% of the opportunities that have been stalled in your pipeline would still be there.  Why is it so difficult for your salespeople to get decisions made on those opportunities?

The simple answer, the one you already know, is that those prospects aren't ready to buy.  Here are ten reasons why your salespeople have them in the pipeline:

  1. Happy Ears
  2. Salespeople want to look like they have lots going on
  3. Safety Net
  4. The prospects showed some interest
  5. They are an attractive account to have
  6. It's a large potential account
  7. Good relationship was developed
  8. You targeted the account for them
  9. Hoping Christmas will come early
  10. They're buying the stuff now so why not buy it from you?
The real reason these "opportunities" are in the pipeline is that your salespeople did not accomplish some or all of the following 10 milestones and/or criteria:
  1. Did not uncover compelling reasons to spend money
  2. Did not uncover compelling reasons to buy from you
  3. Did not effectively differentiate themselves and your company
  4. Did not create enough urgency
  5. Did not thoroughly qualify on timing
  6. Did not thoroughly qualify on commitment
  7. Did not thoroughly qualify on competition
  8. Did not thoroughly qualify on willingness to spend more to do business with you
  9. Did not thoroughly qualify on decision-makers, process and criteria
  10. Did not thoroughly qualify on desire to buy from you
I'm sure that you've asked your salespeople to accomplish at least half of the 10 milestones.  Why aren't they at least accomplishing that?  Weaknesses!  Their weaknesses neutralize whatever skills and tactics they have by making it very uncomfortable for them to ask the questions they need to ask, when they need to ask them.
Coaching - the difficult balance between helping salespeople develop skills, use tactics, and manage their weaknesses - makes up most of the sales management role these days.  There are two upcoming events that can help you become much better at this:
  1. This is the last week to register for EcSell Institute's April Sales Management Coaching Summit.  I will be speaking at this great Objective Management Group-sponsored event.
  2. If you can't make that event, I'll be hosting Kurlan and Associates, Inc.'s annual 2-Day Sales Leadership Symposium in May.  The registration page isn't ready yet, so for now, you can send an email if you're interested in attending.

sales leadership event

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, Sales Coaching, sales pipeline, sales development

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

Are Your Salespeople Vendors, Partners or Trusted Advisors?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jun 15, 2011 @ 11:06 AM

Earlier this week I posted this article about What Customers Expect From Their Salespeople.  The Article was reposted on SalesEdgeOne and Andy Rudin, a sales consultant, took me to task on one of my comments.  

He said, "The ladder you described--vendor to partner to trusted advisor--bothers me because there are no standards or certifications. Agreed that some salespeople are better than others at the critical skills of trust and relationship building. But I'm not sure that using vague terms brings salespeople closer to what customers want. I've been in sales for over 20 years, and I can't tell you with clarity exactly what a 'trusted advisor' is--and I still question whether Trusted Advisor is even possible when a salesperson can make a healthy commission or bonus on a sale."

Thanks Andy!

I don't believe we will ever give out certifications on those terms, but if there are no standards in place today, let's standardize on those terms right here and now.  

Vendor - These salespeople are essentially seen as equal or less than the many companies from whom the customer can purchase a product or service. There is no perceived added value so that purchases always come down to price, availability or timing.  

Partner - Salespeople (and possibly their subject matter expert team) and customers working together to solve customer problems. These salespeople are seen in a different light from from vendors, and may be able to sell at higher margin because of the value and expertise they bring to the table.

Trusted Advisor - The customer/client calls the trusted advisor for advice before doing anything with anybody. In most cases, there is no competition because the Trusted Advisor is firmly entrenched with mutual loyalty, trust, love, respect and appreciation.

If we can agree on the basics for these three sales types, then we should be able to agree that a Partner is preferable to a Vendor and Trusted Advisor is preferable to a Partner.

Now here is what you can do on your end.  Get your salespeople to stop referring to themselves as vendors and salespeople.  How far does that get them when attempting to differentiate from everyone else?

Stay tuned to a future article and I'll write about how you can get your salespeople to sell in such a way as to achieve Partner and Trusted Advisor status.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, sales posturing, achieving trusted advisor status, andy rudin, sales development

Can Music Make Your Sales Force More Effective?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Feb 14, 2011 @ 11:02 AM

beatles - revolutionThe Beatles?  Revolution?  Yes, when I listen to the radio or my iPod, certain songs take me right back to the time when that song was first popular.  I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when I hear songs like, And The Beat Goes On, Revolution, 25 or 6 to 4, If You Leave Me Now, I'm Easy, Unforgettable, Have I Told You Lately, We Are the Champions, Good Bye Yellow Brick Road, Mockingbird, Long Train Runningg, Kodachrome, Cracklin' Rosie and dozens more. Some of these tunes go back more than 45 years! Some of them are not even favorites, yet they all have Time Machine capabilities.  Does this happen to you too?

The exact same thing takes place on sales calls, in training, coaching and even reviewing the findings from a sales force evaluation.  When somebody says something I've heard before, it takes me right back to the first time I heard that comment.  Does that happen to you too?

It's actually desirable for this to happen to your salespeople - as long as they respond appropriately to the effect.  They shouldn't ignore the impulse, nor should they assume that because somebody said the exact same thing that led to a favorable outcome 8 years ago, that a favorable outcome will occur this time too. 

We want them to remember the unfavorable outcomes that occurred when those words were last uttered.  Then they should say something like, "You know, the last time someone said that to me, what they really meant was.....  Is that what you really mean?"  Then they can force their prospects' thoughts to the forefront of the conversation and discuss them, rather than let happy ears guide them to a feel-good-about-the-call false sense of security.

Do you do that too?

sales force evaluations

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, Sales Coaching, the beatles, sales effectiveness, sales development

Top 10 Steps to Initiate Salespeople to Their Roles

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jan 04, 2011 @ 05:01 AM

dicingFrom time to time over the past 4-5 years I have written about our son and the similarities between him and salespeople who are very much like children (click for the entire series of articles), even when they are eight years old!

He wanted to help in the kitchen a couple of weeks ago.  More specifically, he wanted to dice the carrots.  I don't really cook but dicing is one thing I can do well, providing a little of the manual labor while my wife creates gourmet meals. I have mastered the French Chef's knife.  As a matter of fact, if you read the Rainmaker Maker Blog, my friend, Rick Roberge, is another sales guru/French Chef Knife master.  He taught me to use one 37 years ago!

Here are the steps I took to show our son how to dice the carrots:

  1. I showed him how to hold the knife in his hand - the most important part - so that he had a feel for it, control of it, and couldn't hurt himself. 
  2. I showed him where his other hand should be - out of harms way.
  3. I showed him what it would look like when he could do it for himself. I diced some carrots.
  4. I showed him how to slide and rock the knife back and forth in slow motion (he loves slo-mo replays). 
  5. I did it with him - both of our hands on the knife together so he could get a feel for it. 
  6. I let him try and fail. 
  7. Then we repeated steps 2-4. 
  8. He tried it again and got the hang of it.
  9. He diced on his own this week.
  10. I watched him and provided feedback.

This is exactly how to initiate salespeople, whether they are new to your company, new to their role, or new to sales.  Don't vary at all from the steps above.  More importantly, don't assume that because they have sold for 10 years they'll know what to do or be able to do it effectively.  Follow the steps!

We also had a light snow fall that week and our son wanted to help out with the shoveling. We shoveled all of the walkways together - no problem.  We have a large circle as part of our driveway and he suggested that we shovel that next.  Normally, I wouldn't think of shoveling the circle.  I usually clear it with the snow blower.  The thought of shoveling even a couple of inches of snow from that circle seemed daunting to me, but not to him.  He didn't have enough experience to know that this was too much work.  So we shoveled the circle together and got it done.  He was exhausted - one of the few times that I wore him out - but I learned a valuable lesson.  Don't share your self-limiting beliefs.  Let them develop their own! 

It's the same way with salespeople.  Don't tell them that they will waste their time calling on a person with that title, an individual from that industry, or a company that size. Let them make those mistakes first and then help them recognize the errors of their ways and learn from them.  They're going to do it anyway!

hiring mistake calc


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

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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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