Sales Excellence Studies Propagate Mediocrity

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 @ 20:02 PM

googleIf you conduct a Google search for "sales excellence studies", you'll find more than 20,000 results.  I'm sure that some results point to surveys which were conducted by others, but either way, that's a lot of studies on sales excellence.  If any of those studies were actually ground-breaking, insightful or truly representative of sales excellence, there would probably be fewer than a dozen. But there are not.  There are many reasons why these studies are so lame, but let's name just a few:

  • They're not really studies, rather they're surveys.
  • They survey anyone who wishes to participate.
  • People are included in the survey regardless of whether they employ best practices.
  • People are included in the survey regardless of whether they're successful.
  • They take the successful companies' most popular responses and refer to them as best practices.
  • It's not a best practice just because a company is succeeding.
  • Most participants are from very large companies.
  • Most big companies are succeeding - not because of their sales organizations, but in spite of them.
Let me give you an example:  At Objective Management Group (OMG), we've assessed (not surveyed) 650,000 salespeople and sales managers.  One of the single most common findings (to the tune of 91%) is that salespeople are not following a formal, structured sales process.  The ironic thing is that if we surveyed those 650,000, many would have responded that they do follow a process.  That's what happens with surveys.  But, OMG's are sales force evaluations.  So, we ask multiple questions to determine for ourselves, based on our criteria, whether they do or not.  A sales excellence study using our data would likely show that not following a sales process is a best practice because that was the most common finding.
Here's Another Example:  Outsell's 2013 Sales Excellence Study identified six influencing factors which most affect a firm's sales performance potential.  This study is flawed simply by including the word "potential".  What does that have to do with performance?  One of their six factors is "salesperson compensation structure".  Again, this factor is made totally useless by including the word "structure".  While it would be a stretch to suggest that compensation influenced performance, calling it compensation structure is ridiculous.
If I wrote a Sales Excellence Study based on OMG's data from 10,000 sales force evaluations and decided to narrow it to six factors which impact sales performance, I already know that they'd be:
  1. Effective Sales Selection for Appropriate Sales DNA,
  2. Effective Sales Coaching,
  3. Effective Sales Accountability,
  4. Formal, Structured Consultative Sales Process,
  5. Sales and Sales Leadership Training, Coaching and Development and
  6. Hunting for New Business.
I don't need a survey to identify these, as most companies absolutely suck wind at all of them, but when they fix these problems, their revenue often doubles within 24 months.

Take most sales excellence studies with a grain of salt.  Most are simply seasoning to make their product offerings smell and taste better. 

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales management, Sales Coaching, sales excellence, sales personality test, sales aptitude test

Why Assessments Will Never Work for Some Companies

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Dec 10, 2012 @ 23:12 PM

Assessments are awesome, especially when you choose the right ones, for the right purpose, at the right time.  Despite the availability of some terrific assessments, they won't work for every company.

For example, let's select Objective Management Group's (OMG) highly predictive Sales Candidate Assessments.  As accurate and predictive as it is for sales selection, there are some companies for which it just won't work.  

Some executives believe that their gut instinct is more accurate than any assessment possibly could be.  They will consider the OMG assessment recommendation only when it's consistent with their gut.  I agree that it's important for both the gut instinct and recommendation to be consistent.  However, that's not really the problem.  Executives run into a problem when their gut instinct and the recommendation are at odds.  Then, on which should one rely?  It depends. Check the table below. 

The Gut
What Your Action
Should Be 
Recommended Yes Hire
Recommended NO No Hire
Not Recommended NO No Hire
Not Recommended Yes **DO NOT HIRE**

The big dilemma occurs only when the assessment says "Not Recommended" and the gut instinct says "Yes."  So to use the assessment more effectively, the only change which an executive would need to make is to heed the warnings of the "Not Recommended" findings!  

The ironic thing is that an executive should never have this conflict in the first place.  If we're following best practices in a sales selection process, we wouldn't waste time interviewing a candidate who's not recommended for your sales role, selling your product/service, into your specific market, calling on your target decision maker, against your competition, with your price points, challenges, and level of difficulty.  No interview?  No conflict.

Another issue is that some executives are insistent upon requiring that their candidates come from their own industry.  When industry experience is more important than sales competencies, there's a good chance that after, the candidates take the OMG assessment, the majority of those experienced, but weak, salespeople won't be recommended.  

Other executives insist on hiring salespeople who come from big, well-known competitors. Formerly successful, big-company salespeople often fail at smaller, lesser known companies, especially when the company and/or its technology is relatively new.  The OMG assessments will identify accurately most of these candidates as "Not Recommended", but executives will find it hard to believe.  After all, "They were successful at that big company, right?"

And some executives prefer to use an assessment which they've previously used and with which they have some familiarity.  Even if it isn't predictive, they'd rather use a familiar personality- or behavioral-styles assessment as opposed to OMG's product, which may be unfamiliar to them, but has the most predictive sales assessment on the planet!  Ironically, because the personality- and behavioral-styles assessments aren't predictive, they've forced executives to rely on gut instinct, use assessments the wrong way and use them only as a single data point.

It takes more than a great assessment to help companies select and hire great salespeople.  It takes buy-in from the management team to use them the right way, at the right time and have faith in the recommendation. is holding their 2012 Top Sales and Marketing Awards this month.  I'm honored to have been nominated for 5 awards this year:

Top Sales Assessment Tool 
Top Sales and Marketing Blog

Top Sales and Marketing Blog Post
Top Sales and Marketing Article
Top White Paper or eBook

This year, winners will be determined by a panel of judges, but you can vote for:

  • Top Sales and Marketing Thought Leader, and
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Topics: sales competencies, sales blog, sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales candidates, sales personality test, objective management group

Sales Management Requires a Different Mindset Than Sales

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jul 01, 2009 @ 22:07 PM

It was on the corner of 82nd Street and 37th Avenue in Queens where 12 year-old Mark Berezow learned to approach strangers and provide them with some compelling reasons to vote for his friend's dad.  He believes that experience had a great impact on his ability to sell, manage salespeople and for the past 20 years, help companies grow their sales.

Mark was my guest on this week's episode of Meet the Sales Experts.

Mark shared some great insights about sales management, specifically how the the sales management mindset differs from the sales mindset.  He said, "A Salesperson is all about being successful.  A sales manager must make the team successful.  The team is made up of individuals. A group doesn't achieve, individuals achieve. The good sales manager manages the behavior of individuals so that they reach their personal goals."

Mark also said, "Existing business will not grow as much as it did before because the business is just not there. People just aren't buying as much.  So companies are forced to make up the difference by seeking out new business" even though their salespeople may not have done that before.

And you just have to hear Mark tell the story about how he cold called to get his first sales job.

You can listen to the entire Mark Berezow interview hereContact Mark.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales management, sales leadership, selling, Salesforce, Sales Force, sales personality test, sales expert, sandler, sales test, mark berezow, TEM Associates

Why Corporate Sales Training Often Fails to Achieve Desired Results

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, May 08, 2009 @ 12:05 PM

Why do you train salespeople and sales managers?

Some companies want to educate them and improve their skills.  Some feel obligated to provide training while others provide training to improve results.  Some do it to help their salespeople, improve morale and feel good about making it available.  These are all very noble concepts, but usually achieve disappointing outcomes.

Train your salespeople to change your salespeople.  Until THEY change, their beliefs, behaviors, strategies and tactics won't change.  And there's the problem.

Many companies, believing they have the resources (trainers, HR people, sales managers, star salespeople) to provide training, use them. They buy train the trainer programs, have companies develop curriculums for them, and send their internal people to do the training.  When they measure results by education, obligation, morale and good feelings, these programs achieve their goal.  But if they want to change their salespeople's behaviors, what they actually do each day, they will fail.

In order to change salespeople, trainers must be able to do far more than read a script, teach the curriculums, demonstrate the strategies and tactics and perform role plays.  Sales trainers must have a number of competencies beyond sales and training.  There are underlying reasons why salespeople do what they do, why they only do what's comfortable, but not what we need them to do, and trainers must first understand that.  How?  Those insights come from our sales force evaluation.  But the trainers must be able to go further than understanding the beliefs and sales specific weaknesses that prevent salespeople from effectively and consistently doing what they should.  They must also be able to dig deep and cause the salespeople to understand that their lack of success and inability to execute a strategy has more to do with those hidden weaknesses than it does from not having the right strategy or tactic.  The trainer must also be able to help people overcome those weaknesses.

This one fact means that a single training program, and even four over the course of a year, will fail.  It means that salespeople must be spoon-fed, at least twice per month for at least eight months.  Overcoming weaknesses requires as much attention as strategies and tactics and even then, if sales management has not been trained to provide effective coaching and hold salespeople accountable to these changes, it won't work!

So why does so much training not achieve the desired result?  The wrong people are delivering it, there isn't enough reinforcement, the message hasn't been delivered with enough frequency in enough ways for everyone to get it, there isn't enough attention paid to the weaknesses, and management isn't prepared to support it.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales improvement, sales personality test

How Many Salespeople Shouldn't be in Sales?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, May 07, 2009 @ 21:05 PM

Our certified sales development expert in Singapore, Ray Bigger, of Think8, asked if we had data on what percentage of salespeople should be considered for a different role.  Of course we do, Ray! In this case, a different role doesn't mean a different sales role, it means that they suck so bad and have such a small upside, they shouldn't be in sales - period. And if we're going to talk about salespeople that should be either redeployed or relieved of duty, we should also know the stat for salespeople that aren't trainable.  In this case, not trainable has no relation to how good they are, it refers only to whether they have the incentive to change and improve as salespeople.  Look at the graph below:


In the graph, you can see that there are about twice as many salespeople that should be redeployed as there are strong salespeople and about twice as many untrainable salespeople as there are that should be redeployed.

The statistics show that:

22% are not trainable
10% should be redeployed
6% are elite

If you have a sales force, you already know if you have one of the 6%.  But do you know if you know which of your salespeople can become 6%ers?  And do you know which ones fall into the redeploy and can't train categories?  They may not be who you think they are.  You have to evaluate your sales force in order to find out.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales force evaluation, sales training, Salesforce, sales evaluation, sales personality test

Are Your Salespeople Selling Price Like Sam's Club or Value Like Nordstrom's?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Nov 11, 2008 @ 21:11 PM

Doug McMillon, CEO of Sam's Club, was interviewed in the October 27 issue of Fortune.  He said that people are spending about the same money as before but on different things, as the cost of food and energy has reallocated their discretionary spending.

We were at Nordstrom's today and I noticed two things that were unusual for such a "dismal" economy.  Despite the fact that there wasn't a sale taking place and they don't have low-end or discount pricing, they were busy.  And they were staffed - three people were taking care of my wife - all at the same time - and they had more people to help if needed! Yet, if you walk into the discount stores and need someone to help you'd be out of luck. They are down to bare bones.

So what does this say about the state of the economy and more specifically, about discounting and trying to win business based on price?

I received an email tonight from a fan of Baseline Selling asking for help with his positioning statement.  Here's what he sent me:

"I've been very successful helping owners and CFO's who have had so many insurance quotes that it makes their head spin but who don't understand how to reduce their overall cost of risk in their business. I thought you might want to invite me in to learn how our free risk assessment helped other business owners reduce and predict insurance cost in all markets."

As most salespeople do, it was way too long, and focused on the wrong issues, using price as an enticement to get in the door.  He used "quotes", "reduce" (2x), "cost" (2x), and "free".  Do you think he sounded any different from the other agents that are calling these owners?  Do you think they want to talk with him?  Let's ut it this way, if they wanted to talk with him he wouldn't have emailed asking for help.

Here's what I suggested he use instead and, as you might expect, it follows the Baseline Selling syntax for an effective positioning statement.

I help CEO's who can't stand all of the insurance agents that always call at renewal time. Can I ask you a question?

I help a lot of CEO's and the two things I hear most right now are, one, they're not sure how to assess all of their risk, and two, they're not sure how to determine how much of that risk affects their premium. Does any of that ring true for you?

If you are not a Baseline Selling apostle, you may not understand the reasoning behind the choice of words or the message but you can still take my word for it that this will work for him.

Do your salespeople have formal positioning statements?

If they do, are they identifying the issues that differentiate you from your competition?

If they are, is it working consistently?

If your final answer was a "no", here are some more questions:

Is it their message or their ability to engage and deliver it?

Is it their lack of hunting ability or their lack of willingness to hunt?

Is it their willingness to hunt or do you have the wrong people?

Do you know how to find out?

Click Comments to read how the agent responded....

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan



Topics: sales competencies, sales assessment, Baseline Selling, Salesforce, Sales Force, sales evaluation, sales profile, sales personality test, selling on price, selling against low price, combatting price, selling value

Sales Competencies and Your Competition

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Nov 06, 2008 @ 11:11 AM

If you have heard me speak or you have completed a profile of your ideal sales hire than you know I believe that your products or services fit into one of four categories of resistance:

  1. Your prospects need it and want it - like food - you have a lot of competition.
  2. Your prospects want it but don't believe they need it - like a luxury car - still lots of competition. 
  3. Your prospects need it but don't want it - like personal lines insurance - lots of competition.
  4. Your prospects don't believe they need it or want it - like high-end consulting - much less or no competition at all.  Not that there aren't others in your space, but your prospects are probably not speaking with the others in your space.

Companies don't invest enough time and energy being strategic and tactical about competition.  The approach shouldn't be economic as much as it should be tactical.  Your approach should revolve around neutralizing your competition as opposed to being competitive with your competition.

For most companies, it's a foregone conclusion that your prospects will buy and the only question is from whom they will buy. But what if you are in group 4?   What if the question is not about from whom but IF they will buy?  What if your biggest competition isn't from another company in your space but it's from prospects that don't think they need what you have?  What if your prospects think that they can do it themselves? Do it in-house?  What if they simply don't want your help? What if your biggest threat is their sense of being able to do without?  That's a totally different strategy than one where you must outsell your competition.  The problem is that most of the group 4 companies use the "why you should buy from us" strategy when they should be using the "why buy at all" strategy.

If you're in group 4, you need salespeople that can create a need for what you have as opposed to salespeople who have mastered the ability to present capabilities and make presentations that focus on why you.

So what if you're a company in groups 1-3 and you have competition and instead of perpetuating the "why buy from us" strategy you adopted the "why buy" strategy from group 3?  If you did that you would suddenly be doing two things your competitors aren't doing.

  1. you'd be creating a greater need for what you sell, which leads to the urgency that causes prospects to pull the trigger;
  2.  you would be differentiating yourself from all of your competitors.
In order to pull this off, your salespeople must be able to sell more consultatively (not a word, an approach), sell value (not tell about the value), and become extremely effective at asking good, tough, timely questions (not making presentations).  Do you have the right salespeople?  Can they make the transition?  What will it take? If you haven't done so already, evaluate your sales force to get these answers.

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales competencies, sales assessment, sales, sales process, Salesforce, Sales Force, competition, sales evaluation, sales resistance, sales profile, sales personality test

Sales Process - What Have You Gotten Away From?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Nov 05, 2008 @ 13:11 PM

I'm sitting in the back of the room of a Rockefeller Habits two-days workshop being hosted by one of my companies, Kurlan Associates.

There are about 45 executives in the room, many of them clients of Kurlan Associates.  At two of the tables are clients that have been with the firm for so long, twenty years or so, that they have become great friends and two of them have become business partners at Objective Management Group.

One of the first exercises that the group participated in was Cash Optimization Strategies, and the first part of that exercise was Ways to Improve Your Sales Cycle.

Imagine my surprise when my oldest client (1985), my two best friends, my two business partners, identified "we need to follow a sales process" as the number one way to improve their sale cycle at their packaging company.

Forget that I wrote Baseline Selling - a sales process.

Forget that I'm with them quite often.

Forget that I trained them on a sales process 20 years ago.

Forget that these concepts are being discussed and reinforced on a regular basis.

Instead, think about how easy it is to get away from the fundamental processes, strategies and tactics that impact efficiencies, time lines, effectiveness, consistency, communication, confidence revenue and profit.

Take 3 steps back.  What have you gotten away from?

If you've gotten away from it, it's very difficult to remember what you don't do any more.

When I coach salespeople, I ask them to identify a call that didn't go the way they had wanted.  Most salespeople, the first few times through the coaching process, can't identify a single one of those calls.  It's hard to remember what you aren't paying attention to.

Sometimes it takes a sales force evaluation to identify the things your sales force isn't doing, never did, and can't do effectively

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales competencies, sales assessment, Baseline Selling, sales process, selling, Salesforce, Sales Force, sales evaluation, sales profile, sales personality test, Rockefeller Habits

The Sales Assessment as Crystal Ball

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Oct 16, 2008 @ 10:10 AM

Not all sales assessments are created equal.

That's an understatement.

Yet it's when a client pushes back - not when they look at the recommendation or prediction and accept it - that we get an opportunity to bring our sales assessment to life.

Take the candidate who lacks desire or commitment - not in life, not in general, but for sales.  Clients can't believe it when a candidate they know, with a track record of success, is found to possess lack of desire or commitment. 

Of course, in these cases the clients are on a backward looking path while we are on a forward looking path.  What has happened in the past isn't a guarantee of what will happen in the future.  I won't get in to the factors that could cause an otherwise average or below average salesperson to have wild success in one position and fail miserably at the next but trust me when I tell you that it happens a lot.  That's why it is so important to look beyond what you see on the resume and in the interview.

When we bring a sales assessment to life and use the data points to tell the story behind the findings, then the sales assessment becomes a crystal ball.  How about the former successful business owner who must now apply for a sales position?  He is known in his industry and the client is all excited about hiring him.  Yet the sales assessment says, Lack of Desire and Lack of Commitment.  "How can that be?" The client pushes back because it doesn't correlate to his backward thinking experiences.  But if we look forward the story unfolds.  Can you imagine this former owner, used to running things, making cold calls every day?  Going on sales appointments every day?  Actually hanging in, being tough and closing business the way good salespeople do? Sure the candidate was successful - running his business. But it's not sales success that he wants or is committed to now. Right now he simply needs something to do and he needs to bring in some money.  There aren't many companies posting jobs for former owners and he has all of these industry contacts so why not a position in sales?

If you ask the client what he originally wanted his new salesperson to do he would tell you, "find new business."  And if you were honest about what this former business owner was capable of doing it would be run a business or possibly bring some former accounts to his new company.

While clients get discouraged and sometimes even upset about our ability to bring desire and commitment issues to light, they eventually appreciate their new toy - the crystal ball - their ability to predict the future sales success of every candidate.

Would you like to know why more executives don't use the crystal ball?  They'd rather not know.  They find it more comforting to use hope - and be wrong - than use information and have to try again.  After all, isn't the goal of sales recruiting to hire someone?  And why not the person sitting in front of me?  She has as good a chance of making it as anyone else..."

It's that kind of lazy, quick to the finish practice that leaves us with a sales force filled with under achievers.  The crystal ball will give you a sales force made up of over achievers!

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales assessment, sales hiring, sales recruiting, Salesforce, Sales Force, Sales Candidate, sales evaluation, sales personality, hiring salespeople, sales profile, sales personality test, sales test

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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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