Solitaire and Modern Sales Training - What Should it Cover and Include?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Oct 06, 2014 @ 05:10 AM

Image Copyright: convisum / 123RF Stock Photo

I've been playing one of those Solitaire games on my iPad and I can routinely score in the neighborhood of 2 minutes and 30 seconds, with my best time being just under 2 minutes.  I thought I was doing pretty well until I realized that my wife routinely scores between 1 minute and 1:20 seconds with her best scores (not score) being under 1 minute.  She has scored as low as 48 seconds.

If not for my wife, I would have thought I was a real pro at Solitaire!

This is exactly how many CEO's, Presidents and Sales VP's view their sales forces.  Without anything or anyone with whom to compare, they form their judgements on sales effectiveness in a vacuum.  I routinely hear things like, "We have a custom sales process.", and "We've been working on consultative selling."  Yet, after a sales force evaluation has been completed, those same companies are routinely found to have been lagging, not leading, in those areas.

When it comes to providing sales training for your sales force, what exactly, should modern training include?

You've read a few too many sales blog posts, watched a few too many sales videos, and read a few too many sales books.  You even might have downloaded some white papers, checked out some websites, and talked to some sales experts.  Many are left with a sense of confusion, because what you think you need is different from what people are talking about, and everyone is talking about you needing something different.  Is anyone right?  Is everyone right?  Is it possible that nobody is right?

Let's discuss the single most imporant thing you should be providing to your sales force right now and how modern sales training should address it.

How must your sales training change and what should it include?  Certainly, the training should depend on whether it's inside inbound, inside outbound, appointment setting, inside with responsibility for the entire sales cycle, major accounts, account management, territory sales, vertical sales, channel sales or traditional sales.

It's true - the training should change for every role.

However, there is one constant, that should be front and center of every training program, regardless of your sales process or methodology, or the sales role, frequency, intensity, or duration of the training.

Regardless of how you find your opportunities, selling begins when the first contact, lead or email can be converted to a conversation, either by phone,  face-to-face or the video conference hybrid.  Once you are selling, then regardless of which stage in the sales cycle you are in, or your sales role, the very next thing that will take place is a stage-appropriate conversation.

All training, regardless of role, must demonstrate how to have powerful, eye-opening, attention-getting, brand-differentatiating conversations.  Better conversations than this prospect has had with any salesperson - ever.

And what are conversations?  They are the result of the flow that occurs when salespeople utilize advanced listening and questioning skills.  In order to train salespeople to have stage-appropriate conversations, the emphasis must be on listening and questioning.  

Of course, training must be more than only conversations.  However, without training and drilling and demonstrating and role-playing and practicing and mastering and applying and improving those conversations, the steps and milestones of the sales process would be only checkmarks on a list.  And the sales methodology, strategies and tactics that are used to move from milestone to milestone would become mostly useless concepts.

Are you providing this kind of sales training to your salespeople right now?  You did it last year?  Good.  What about this year?  You must continue to train salespeople because left to their own devices, the bottom 74% will always go back to their default approach.  You can't take your foot off the accelerator!  Are you providing the kind of sales training that will help your salespeople crash through quotas and goals?  Are your salespeople becoming exponentially better - always?  

Are your salespeople even capable of learning to sell the way I described here?  Shouldn't you find out whether or not they have the potential to sell this way?  Which of your salespeople can improve and sell that way is just one of the many pieces of sales intelligence you get when you have your sales force evaluated by Objective Management Group (OMG).


Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, sales methodology, sales training, listening and questioning, sales force evaluations

What Does it Take to Become a Sales Manager?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Jan 24, 2014 @ 10:01 AM

I was listening to a Boston Sports Radio Station, the same one I wrote about here.  Today's guests were Christian Fauria, former tight end of the New England Patriots, and Matt Chatham, former linebacker of the same New England Patriots.  They were discussing the very recent resignations of 3 coaches from this year's Patriots team and the co-hosts asked, "Would you like to coach?"

After his football career ended, Chatham went back to school and received an MBA from Babson in 2011.  With that in hand, he said that he would prefer a front office job and wishes to become a GM.  On the other hand, Fouria said that he would love to coach, but...

There were a lot of buts:

The long hours - Coaches stay behind long after the players are gone - usually until 2 AM during the season.

3 Steps Backwards - Former players have to start all over again as coaches.  High School or college jobs - as assistants - before getting high school or college jobs as head coaches before getting coaching jobs in the NFL.  

Low Pay - At the college level, the name of the game is recruiting - an extremely time-consuming, travel-centric job.  The college jobs don't pay particularly well or come with much recognition unless they are with the big-time schools.

It got me thinking about the road most often taken to sales management.

The hours are about the same, it's a step up, and it usually pays better.  Compared to the rocky road to coaching in the NFL, the road to sales management absolutely sounds like a road paved with gold!  Which explains why the road paved with gold leads to a dump.

You see, only 18% of all sales managers are any good at coaching and only 66% of them can be coached up.  Another 18% should not even be in sales management

Clearly, the problem is that it is simply too easy to go from sales to sales management.  If 50% of sales management is coaching and developing salespeople, then the new sales manager would need to have elite selling skills to support the necessary coaching skills which, in most cases, don't yet exist.  Only 6% of all salespeople have elite skills and only 7% of all sales managers have elite coaching skills.   

What if becoming a sales manager was more difficult - like in football - and it required sacrifice, putting in your time, developing new skill sets in a low-pressure environment?  I for one, predict that most salespeople would not go through all of that to become sales managers, unless THIS sales manager earned $500,000 instead of $125,000.  Would they do it then?

After evaluating more than 10,000 sales forces and 700,000 salespeople, it is clear that for all of the mediocre salespeople out there, the real reason for all the mediocrity is the mediocre sales mangers.

Companies need to find a way to raise the bar - way up - when it comes to selecting new sales managers.  And they must put their existing sales leaders through comprehensive, on-going training and coaching to develop their coaching skills.

What Does it Take to Become a Sales Manager?  Today, a new resume is all that's needed.  Tomorrow?  It should take the equivalent of an MBA program, credentials and certification.

Around the Bases:

My article, Inbound Marketing Has Been Around Forever, appears today on the Hubspot Blog.

I am leading a panel of experts in a complimentary Webinar on February 5 at 11 AM Eastern called Leading the Ideal Sales Force. Register.

I am also leading a Webinar introducing OMG's Candidate Analyzer, an awesome web tool available to users of OMG's Sales & Sales Management Candidate Assessments.  I'll be showing everyone how to access the tool and how to use it.  February 26, 11 AM Eastern.  Register.

I will be speaking at the Sales 2.0 Conference in Philadelphia on March 10.  Register.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, HubSpot, sales management, sales force evaluations, sales assessments, Sales 2.0 Conference, objective management group

The Difference Between Sales Commitment and Desire

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Nov 18, 2011 @ 12:11 PM


The Difference Between Sales Commitment and Desire

I was explaining this difference to a client today and the two findings, which we were comparing, were striking in their contrast.

The candidate in question scored 100 (off the charts) on Desire (how badly he wants to succeed in sales); yet, as low as he was high - 16 - on Commitment - his willingness to do what it takes to succeed in sales. So as you might expect, the client asked, "How can he score so high in Desire but so low in Commitment?"

Great question.

I'll explain it in exactly the same fashion I explained it to him.

Let's take my 9-year-old son. He desperately (the equivalent of strong desire) wants an iPhone. But he hasn't been able to do the things he must do in order to get it. What things? Let's just leave it at normal kid behaviors that everyone wants from their kids at that age. As much as he wants that darn phone, he isn't Committed enough to pick up his dirty clothes from the floor, eat a fruit or vegetable, or go to bed when it's time. Like I said, normal 9-year-old stuff.

Salespeople with strong Desire, but weak Commitment, want to be successful, want to win awards, get paid big commissions, garner recognition and be the best, but they won't do the things that are uncomfortable or difficult for them. Those things entail anything from prospecting, to having the tough conversations about money and budget, to challenging prospects or pushing back at appropriate times, to qualifying, asking about competition, and asking personal questions.

With all of the new rules for business, changes to the way businesses buy, the resistance to spending money, the economic challenge never far away, and the competitive landscape being more difficult than ever, a salesperson without strong Commitment is simply unable to overcome these challenges.

I have posted many extremely popular "difference between" articles, so we have another series on our hands.  Scroll down for more articles:

The Other Rejection - How Salespeople Struggle to Cope

Basketball and the Difference Between Sales Studs and Sales Duds

Sales Strategy and Tactics - Thoughts from the Super Bowl

The Difference Between Sales Process and Methodology

The Difference Between Sales Commitment and Work Ethic

The Anatomy of the Million Dollar Producer Compared with the $650K Producer

The Difference Between Sales Fantasies and Reality

What Sales Leaders Don't Know about Empathy and Ego

The Difference Between Sales Process and Sales Methodology

The Difference Between Sales Benchmarking and How OMG Assesses Sales Candidates

Who are Better Salespeople - Men or Women?

The Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring

12 Differences Between Your Salespeople and Sales Candidates

Case Study - One Difference Between Good Sales Hires and Bad

The Difference Between Good and Bad Sales Hires

The Difference Between Good and Bad Salespeople

The Difference Between Salespeople and Account Managers

The Difference Between Consultative Selling and Consultants

The Difference Between Selling to Negotiators and Price Shoppers

The Difference Between Over Achievers and Under Achievers

The Difference Between Sales Commitment and Motivation

The Difference Between Good and Bad Sales Coaching

The Ultimate Comparison Top Salespeople versus Salespeople that Fail

Super Bowl 49: Salespeople That Win vs Lose

Difference Between a Good Sales Email vs. Bad

What Committed Salespeople Do Differently


Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales hiring, sales recruiting, sales performance, sales candidates, sales force evaluations, sales selection, sales assessments

Revealing Study of Salespeople Makes News at HBR

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Oct 05, 2011 @ 10:10 AM

Dozens of people emailed me the link to this article, which appeared on the Harvard Business Review Blog.  They couldn't wait to hear my reaction.  The HBR article accomplishes two things:

  1. It categorizes salespeople into 1 of 5 styles.
  2. It concludes that salespeople who belong to the "Challenger" style dramatically outperform relationship builders.
Frank wrote an article about relationship selling last week.
I agree with the premise but there's nothing new here.  Objective Management Group has been identifying great salespeople for 20 years and while we don't call the best ones "Challengers", we certainly know the blueprint - DNA, sales skills and sales core competencies - that the best salespeople possess.  As a matter of fact, we can put a number on it:
That's the sales quotient of the salespeople they describe in their article.  The scale goes as high as 173 but it is rare to see a score much higher than 155.  Those who depend on their relationship building skills, but don't have the supporting DNA and Consultative Skill Set to accompany it, will usually have a Sales Quotient of below 125.
I have concerns about the way the article's authors reached their conclusions because they gathered their data by having salespeople take a survey.  Surveys generally prove whatever one sets out to prove....But the bigger concern is that the Sales Executive Council Surveys are not usually comprised of companies like yours.  The 6,000 participants are from 100 companies that each generate billions of dollars in revenue.  What's wrong with that?
  • Salespeople at large companies don't face the same resistance that yours do;
  • Customers don't usually get fired for making a decision to buy from these large companies;
  • Large companies can buy business if they choose to meaning salespeople have access to resources that your salespeople don't;
  • Large companies spend millions of dollars on advertising so that their salespeople see the welcome mat everywhere they go;
  • These salespeople are paid differently than your salespeople;
  • These companies have salespeople performing in very specialized roles [read this article];
  • Objective Management Group's data on salespeople that were assessed at some of these large companies indicates that their salespeople are, on average, considerably less effective than salespeople from small and mid-size firms
My point is that the stronger salespeople at the larger companies - often assigned to a single large key account - stand out more than they would at a small to mid-size company.
It has been obvious for more than 20 years that salespeople who have the right blend of strengths to support selling along with pure sales skills will outperform relationship builders.  Somebody simply had to come along and put a name on it to make it news.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, top salespeople, Relationship Selling, sales force evaluations, HBR, sales assessments

How Many Salespeople Should Report to a Sales Manager?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Sep 12, 2011 @ 06:09 AM

Objective Management Group has evaluated nearly 10,000 sales forces.  Each time, we must ignore titles and focus on roles of each individual in the evaluation.  After all, a sales manager without salespeople reporting to him is really a salesperson.  A VP without sales managers reporting to her is really a sales manager.

It begs the question, how many salespeople should report to a sales manager?

Sales team size is variable but a front line sales manager should not have more than 10 people reporting and the optimal size is 6-8.

A Regional Sales Manager should not have more than 10 sales managers reporting up and the optimal size is 6-8.

A VP should not have more than 10 Regionals reporting and again, the optimal size is 6-8.

Then you have to consider quotas. Quotas are probably the most screwed up performance requirement I've ever seen.  As a rule of thumb, in order to optimize quotas, you must identify all of the variables like:

• Size of the territory
• Number of potential accounts/deals
• Average deal size
• Rep’s length of time in the business
• Competition and Resistance
• Length of the Sales Cycle

After the variables have been identified, consider the performance of only your A players, select only A players and set your quotas accordingly.  Lowering quotas to the level of your salespeople is like lowering the requirement to graduate high school based on how the graduating class applied themselves for the previous 12 years!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management functions, sales force evaluations, quotas, sales assessments

What Are Sales Intangibles?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Feb 15, 2011 @ 21:02 PM

intangiblesOnce in while an individual will fall outside the normal range of assessment results.  That usually means either one of two things;

  1. Their performance was significantly better than how they assessed;
  2. Their performance was significantly worse than how they assessed;

Let's focus on the first example where a salesperson does not assess well, but has performed well.  When a client lacks obvious reasons for this scenario then there are times when we might say that this salesperson has intangibles.  Last week I was asked for three examples of intangibles and I thought I would share them here:

Example 1:  A high-end insurance agency – we said that one of the 24 top producers was the weakest of the their top 24.  He was actually #1.  So how could OMG, the most accurate and predictive assessment on the planet, be wrong?  Intangibles.  It turned out that he had a TEAM of people helping him sell.  Someone else made calls, opened doors and scheduled appointments; another individual did the closing, and he got the credit.  Those are intangibles – they can’t be duplicated and you can't expect to generate results like that from anyone else with an assessment that looked like his.

Example 2: In a printing company, the person who assessed the weakest was their #1 salesperson.  How could this be?  It turned out that this individual had been in the industry for so many years and was so well known, and so well liked and so well respected that it completely compensated for his lack of selling skills and incredible set of sales weaknesses.  Think Jack Black, Will Farrell and Kevin James.  They can't act for shit but they're making millions! Those are intangibles – they can’t be duplicated and you can't expect anyone else with an assessment like theirs to be equally successful.

Example 3: In a technology company, the person who assessed the weakest made President's Club.  Management was aghast.  how could this be?  Well it turned out that this person had never made quota until this year.  What was different this year?  One - huge - account.  And he got credit for it even though his manager found, drove and closed the business.  He was weak, unskilled, disruptive and otherwise useless but more successful (last year) than anyone else at his company.  Those are intangibles – they can’t be duplicated and you can't expect anyone else with an assessment like theirs to be equally successful.

Intangibles aren't the norm but they do happen.  They raise important questions about what to practice.  You should practice what works MOST of the time even though some people/companies practice what works only SOME of the time.  Can you think of an example?

How about closing?

Some salespeople chase people who need to think things over (any length sales cycle), believing that they'll eventually buy because somebody else did one time three years ago.  Great salespeople know they get only one chance to close and if they don't close at their one, ideal closing opportunity (any length sales cycle) then it was unlikely they would close that business at all.  That's practicing what works MOST of the time when the opposite practice provides little chance for success.

Do you have any salespeople with intangibles?

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Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, Sales Force, sales force evaluations, sales assessments

Top 10 Reasons Why Sales Commitment Has Become More Important

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jun 15, 2010 @ 06:06 AM

commitmentAs the primary researcher and analyst for Objective Management Group, I drive many of the enhancements, features and new product ideas for our industry leading, world-class sales force evaluations and sales candidate assessments.  Today, we are very close to introducing some very powerful, new features to most of our assessments and while some will provide exciting new insights for clients, one is a fundamental change from our 1989 roots.

From the beginning, the two most important findings have been the amount of Desire for Sales (or sales management) success and the Commitment to do what it takes to achieve Sales (or sales management) success.  Desire, or how badly they wanted it, was always the more important of the two and together, they formed the most important part of Incentive to Change or Trainable.

My recent analysis has shown that today, Commitment has overtaken Desire in importance and we will be reflecting that in assessments very shortly.  But Why?  What has caused this fundamental shift?

A comparison of selling today with selling over the past 20 years shows that selling is significantly more challenging today than ever before.  Let's take a look at 10 of the factors that explain this shift in difficulty:

  1. more competition for less business
  2. more difficult to reach decision makers
  3. prospects are much more educated when they meet with salespeople
  4. selling has become more sophisticated but salespeople have not kept up
  5. there is more resistance than ever before
  6. prospects are generally more skeptical
  7. prospects are placing more pressure on price  
  8. companies are pressuring salespeople to sell value
  9. there is more pressure to perform without effective coaching to support it
  10. thanks to the recession, there is less money available to spend

There are certainly more reasons and I encourage you to suggest them in the comments below.

Commitment to Sales Success has become the single most important factor in determining what a salesperson can become. When it comes to sales candidates, it is the most important factor in our ability to predict success at a particular company, in their market, and with their set of challenges.  Please don't misunderstand.  It is not the only factor and there are dozens of other factors that contribute to various degrees. But more and more, when we see salespeople who are struggling, failing to achieve and not adapting and changing, they often lack the commitment necessary for sales success.  There are other reasons too, but Commitment is usually right there.  I can't tell you how we measure Commitment, but I can tell you that when salespeople don't measure up, their sales won't go up either.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales recruiting, sales management, Sales Force, Sales Candidate, sales force evaluations, sales assessments, sales success

Top 10 Tips for Hiring Salespeople for Your Sales Force

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, May 24, 2010 @ 06:05 AM

sales hiringToday, we will discuss hiring for the sales force but not so much the "how" of it as much as the importance of doing it for the right reasons, at the right time and in the right manner.

We have more clients in the middle of a sales recruiting initiative than at any time in the 25 years I've been in the sales development business. In addition to the nearly 10,000 companies that use Objective Management Group's Sales Candidate Assessments, several of my personal clients are in the midst of hiring too.

One client is hiring a new salesperson but wants an A Player instead of the mediocre salespeople he inherited.

Another client is hiring two salespeople - hunters - as opposed to the product expert/account manager types they have typically employed.

Another client is hiring as many as 15 inside salespeople to replace the prior group that turned over as a result of ineffective sales management, and a complete lack of selling abilities.

Yet another client is hiring 40 salespeople - because of turnover - and we are still waiting for the results of their sales force evaluation to determine the underlying reasons for the turnover.  We will use what we learn to help them hire the right people going forward.

There is another organization (not a client yet), with 50+ inside salespeople, suffering from inconsistency and under performance, looking to improve their ability to select the right people.  We would follow the same strategy as in the previous example to better understand what is causing the inconsistency.

I can easily add ten more current examples but this is plenty for my conclusions and lessons.  The 10 tips that follow are in no particular order:

  1. This is a perfect time to be hiring - the economy is quickly turning around - heading into an upswing - and you must have excellent salespeople to find opportunities and get them closed by outselling your competitors.  
  2. Hiring is not an experiment. Trial and error will set you back the length of your sales cycle and learning curve plus the cost of your salaries and draws.
  3. You absolutely must know whether you have been hiring the right people or not, why, and what you must change to get it right.  This is where the sales force evaluation comes in.  Accurate answers to all of the possible "could it be...?" questions.  It's not unusual to have 10-20 of them that must be answered in order to be certain about what must change.
  4. You must know what it will take for a salesperson to be successful in your business, calling on your market, against your competition, and with your pricing and product, and it goes WAY beyond industry knowledge and experience.
  5. Job descriptions are for employees - the people you hire - they aren't for posting your jobs.  You provide the new salesperson with the job description when they report for their first day of work.  The job posting is a description of the person you're seeking to hire.
  6. Jettison or redeploy your under performers. Everyone is a role model for your new salespeople so you must be certain that everyone is modeling the right kind of behaviors and competencies.  It's similar to the hopes you have for your children when you hope they meet and become friendly with good kids from good families. The problem is that some of your salespeople aren't and won't ever be able to model what you want and you'll need to know whether they can be developed to do this or not.  The Sales Force Evaluation provides the insight to make these decisions too.
  7. You must let go of old beliefs, guidelines, methods and processes.  The organization that isn't yet a client (and might not become one) from the last example above made a broad statement that will absolutely kill any attempts to improve their ability to select successful salespeople.  One of their leaders said, "your hiring recommendation (hirable, not hirable) will be a deal stopper for us".  They want the option to hire the people who don't have a chance of being successful.  This despite the fact that they haven't had consistency from the people they've previously selected.  Why are they taking this stance?  They had a problem with some other assessment - not a sales assessment - so they believe that if the mini-van of assessments wasn't predictive, then the Mercedes of assessments won't be either.
  8. You must have patience.  I know you want those new people in place in two weeks but let's be realistic.  Six months from now, would you rather be saying, "Sure glad we waited to hire the right candidates!" or, "I wish we waited to make the right hires - this isn't working out and we'll have to do it all again..."
  9. Success in sales has little correlation to college education, degrees, years in sales, or even industry experience. Stop putting so much weight on these criteria and instead, make sure the candidate can outsell your competition.
  10. Success in sales has much less to do with who your new salespeople know than is thought to be true.  I've seen more examples of this myth than you can believe.  If your company is the one everyone wants to do business with - the industry leader, price leader, or technology leader, then salespeople with a book of business will thrive because the customers will follow them to your door.  On the other hand, if you are the new kid on the block, have new (different and not yet accepted as the standard) technology, higher pricing, are value challenged, or have decent but not great products/services, then the books of business your new salespeople bring along may not follow them to your door.
Do it now, do it right, and do it objectively.  Get help, use an accurate, predictive, sales specific assessment, and make sure your process has been optimized to attract enough of the target high quality candidates into the pool as you'll require.


Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales recruiting, sales candidates, hiring salespeople, sales force evaluations, evaluate the sales force, sales mangagment functions, sales assessments

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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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