Wanted – Humble Sales People

iTEJd_6QOne of the challenges when you're hiring salespeople (or coaching them) is the dichotomy between being confident and being humble. Part of being effective in sales is coming across as knowledgeable and confident, but if your sales people push that too far they'll be seen as arrogant and cocky.  What would happen if they came across as humble and curious as well as confident? You can explore this tension between confidence and humility as you're interviewing salespeople.  Ask tough questions and change topics quickly to see how can they handle pressure. Also, ask for examples of how they've grown and what they've learned - then listen carefully for stories of humility and curiosity.

From a practical sales perspective, the balance between confidence and humility really comes down to being a great listener. Nobody wants to talk to a know-it-all, and yet so many sales people spend all their time focusing on mastering the technical aspects of their product. You certainly need to know your product, but more importantly you need to know what questions to ask. It's not about having the right answer, it's about having a great set of questions – without being overbearing – that can uncover the compelling reasons for a prospect to buy and help them understand the full impact of their current situation.

An arrogant salesperson will ask a question then begin to answer it before the prospect has a chance to jump in to contribute to the conversation.  Or, they'll asks overly complex questions that make the conversation harder than it needs to be. Many salespeople falsely believe that showing off their intellect and demonstrating their technical knowledge makes them seem more confident.  Usually they are just masking their insecurity and are afraid to just have a conversation.

In our experience, the most effective questions are simple, direct, and straightforward. Most importantly, a good salesperson takes the time to pause after asking a question. There’s no need to rush in and start talking right away if the prospect is considering your question.

Humble sales managers can make a huge difference as well.  We’ve seen great sales people get promoted to become a sales manager, and suddenly it's like they walked through a magic portal with the title "sales manager" above it and forget to ask questions. The very thing that made them so effective and helped them rise to the top of their sales team was likely their ability to ask great questions and be a great listener. Yet, when they become a sales manager, they forget all about that and instead they start telling their team, "Well, here's what you need to do."

What ends up happening is rather than developing a team of diverse personalities, each with their individual strengths, they start building a team of clones. Sometimes that can work well in the near term, but ultimately they’re limiting the growth of each team member by just making them do the job their way. It's not about telling your team, "Do this, do that, here's what you need to do next in this situation," because you're doing the thinking for your sales people. Instead, think like you're back in a sales role. How can you get them to the right answer? How can you ask them questions that help them discover what they need to do next?

If your sales people come to the conclusion on their own, it's their idea and they'll start to apply it. They'll have more ownership. If you just tell them what to do and it doesn't work, they can blame you. For salespeople, be humble and ask questions. Ask questions that make the prospect think and give them a pause to answer the question. For sales managers, rather than telling your team, “do this, do that,” ask a question to help them get to the right answer. Being humble enough to ask questions rather than show off how much you know because you were once a top distribution salesperson can really make a big difference.

Two Great Sales Lessons From the Film Free Solo

A few weeks ago I was flying across the country, and was able to watch the Oscar-winning film Free Solo. Watching it in an IMAX theater would have been a lot cooler than on a four by four screen on a Delta airplane, but I enjoyed the movie nonetheless. There were two awesome sales lessons hidden in the film, and in no particular order, I'll share them here.

The whole movie is centered around Alex Honnold and his desire to “free solo”, or climb without ropes, El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. El Capitan is probably the most famous rock wall in the world, and it had never been free soloed. The thought of free soloing El Cap is truly insane. It's a monumental accomplishment. After he climbed it, somebody on the film crew asked him, "Well, what are you going to go do next?" And he just said, "Well, I'll probably go do some hang boarding." He'd been working toward this goal for years and years, thinking about it, staging it, doing similar climbs, trying to prepare for it mentally, overcoshutterstock_280705463ming all of the fears and doubts that he had, and then after this pinnacle achievement what does he go do? He goes back to fundamentals. The sales lesson here is you can win the big deal, you can close the big sale, you can get the biggest sale in company history and just be humble and go back to the fundamentals. 

The best time to make a cold call is immediately after closing the big deal.  Go make some cold calls. Go practice your next pitch. Go think about other questions you can ask. Let that momentum of a big goal accomplished be a slingshot to carry you toward your next goal rather than an opportunity to rest on your laurels. Don't rest on your laurels!  Accomplish something and then think, what can I do next? Go back to the fundamentals.

As Honnold was going through his prep work to do that ascent of El Cap, he went through and rehearsed key sections. There were four or five critical sections that he wanted to dial in on and really practice every single move he was going to make. He did this with a rope so that when he was without a rope, when it was showtime so to speak, the muscle memory would kick in and he would be able to climb without hesitation. There was one particular stretch called 'the boulder problem' where he had two options: He could either leap from one tenuous ledge and grab onto another more substantial ledge, but he'd be totally out of contact with the wall, or he could do what he calls the karate kick, which is a little bit more complicated, but he would stay in contact with the wall. He went back and forth between these two moves, really thought it through and decided to do the karate kick.

The lesson we can take learn here from a sales perspective is how much time is your sales team using to prepare for a phone call, meeting, sales pitch, etc.? Are they really thinking through every option, looking at it from every angle, and thinking through who's going to be in the room? Who's going to be on that call? What are their primary objectives? What are their concerns about our product or service? You have to go in the sales call, just like Honnold had to go on the climb, prepared and able to react well in the moment.

There's probably no better example of being in the moment than when Honnold is free soloing, but that relentless preparation and rehearsal made it possible for him to just glide through the climb without hesitation. So, a few valuable lessons from Alex Honnold's successful free solo of El Capitan are: Don't rest on your laurels, and relentless preparation will help your team perform well when the moment comes.

As a sales leader, how are you enabling your sales team to 'free solo' on their cold calls or in the field? Are you tracking whether your top performers are resting on their laurels after a big win, or if they're using that momentum to exceed their targets? Next Tuesday, June 25th we're going to have a live Webinar on Sales Enablement Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. To join us in conversation on Sales Enablement best practices, click HERE TO REGISTER. 

Leveraging Sales Enablement Practices that Drive Performance

How much focus do your sales managers put on conversation speed and tonality when they coach their salespeople? At Intelligent Conversations, we use a powerful analytical tool called Refract that looks at conversation speed and tonality, among dozens of other factors which play into your team's sales performance. If you'd like to learn more about sales enablement best practices, please join me on Tuesday, June 25th at 1pm CST for a free live "Sales Enablement Mistakes - And how to Avoid Them!" webinar, sponsored by Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. All registrants will be invited to submit a brief recording of one of their top sales performers in action, and receive a FREE call analysis.

Even without a tool, a good place to start is to have your sales managers listen to live calls or recordings of calls. It's common for salespeople to ask and answer their own questions before the prospect has an opportunity to engage. You can coach them to slow down and to be comfortable with a pause.  Even though your salespeople have had this conversation 500 times before, they should remember it's the first time for the prospect..

Blog Photo1The next time you meet with a sales leader, ask them to pay attention to this when they coach their team.  Whether they're making cold calls, following up on an inbound lead, or even in a face-to-face meeting, a good mindset to teach salespeople is go “low and slow.” As salespeople get nervous or grow uncomfortable, they tend to speak faster and at a higher pitch. When they slow down and talk with a lower pitch, they sound more authoritative and confident.

The pace of their speech should depend on your market and where they are calling.  For example, if you're in New York City, and calling on prospects in the Northeast, a faster pace is appropriate.  If your New York sales rep calls a prospect in Birmingham, Alabama they should slow down.  In other words, let the market dictate the pace of your conversation. The ideal pace - across any region - should be somewhere between 100 and 150 words per minute. Speaking slower than that may indicate a lack of confidence and any faster than that may come across as nervous or difficult to understand. 

Where they are in the sales cycle can also affect speed and tone. As your salespeople hit crucial moments in the conversation, coach them to allow a little space before asking, "Would you like our help?" or "Would you like to move forward?" A simple pause before a question like that can make the prospect more comfortable and facilitate a smoother communication. Be comfortable with the pause, and don’t say anything until they've had an opportunity to consider and respond.

Even early on in a cold call situation, give your prospect time to absorb the fact that they're receiving a phone call. Too many salespeople introduce their name and company, and immediately launch into their pitch. It's better to just say their first and last name, then let the prospect respond. 

We hope you'll join us on Tuesday, June 25th at 1pm CST to do a deeper dive into all things 'Sales Enablement'! Register for free, HERE!

For any other inquiries about Intelligent Conversations,please fill out the text boxes below:

How to Retain High Performing Sales People

Top Performing Sales People, sales coaching, sales management, high performer, Intelligent Conversations, Mike CarrollOver the years you may have noticed a difficulty in keeping your highest performing sales people on your team. You may have asked yourself, "What do I need to do to make sure I can keep my top performers engaged?" The most important thing you can do as a sales manager is take the time to understand what's important to each person on your team. What are their personal goals? How can you help them see your company as the vehicle through which they can achieve their personal goals?

It is important to take the time to understand what's important to each sales person on a personal level, not just their business goals. Business goals will happen along the way but understanding what's important to them first is key. Do they want to spend more time with their family? Do they want to save for retirement? When you as a manager take time to understand each individual employee’s personal goals, you can then go the extra step of translating that to, "Here's what you need to do as a sales person to achieve that goal."

For example, years ago we had a high performing sales client who was a young, single mother and frustrated that she couldn't save enough money to buy a house. Even though she was making a lot of money as a high performing sales person, she couldn't organize a budget to purchase a home. Her sales manager sat down with her and said, "What neighborhoods are you interested in? Here is what you need for a down payment. Here's what the mortgage would look like." Once they had mapped it out, they found that she could have a down payment in six months if she increased her sales by 10 to 15 percent. Because of connecting that personal goal to business performance, her sales manager was able to hold her accountable and she ended up having the down payment ready in three months.

The single most important thing you can do to retain your employees is to take the extra time and understand what's important to them. Understand their personal goals, and then map their personal goals back to their business activities. When employees see your company as the means through which they can achieve their personal goals, they're not only going to be more motivated and loyal, it also becomes easier for your managers to hold them accountable. In terms of keeping your high performing sales people, that’s the number one thing you can do for them and your company.

How Many All-Stars Do You Have on Your Sales Team?

The NBA All-Star game is upon us and it should be a great display of athleticism. Some argue that the top NBA players are the best athletes in the world and it is hard to dispute when you see the speed, hand-eye coordination, leaping ability, strength and endurance on display. Only about 300 people in the world at any given time have what it takes to be an NBA player and the 30 or so that make up the All-Star teams are truly the “cream of the crop”. Untitled design (7).png

The skills are clear and while not the only metric of performance, statistics tell much of the story. Those that score, rebound, pass, steal and defend are helping their teams win. There are always some arguments about who makes the All-Star team and who doesn’t, but overall it is easy to tell who the best players are.

Can we do the same in the business world? More specifically, can we do the same for folks that identify as salespeople? What is important to measure? If someone has surpassed annual quota for three years does that mean that he/she is a special talent? Maybe. Or perhaps he/she has the best accounts and the best territory. Perhaps he/she is not even selling, just taking orders. 

Sales is hard and very few people do it extremely well. That is why those that do make lots of money and are in high demand. Some people believe that successful salespeople are “naturals” and this is rarely, if ever the case. Most top performers embrace the craft with intense commitment, effort, and an unbeatable attitude. They are coachable, and they seek and embrace feedback. They are never satisfied. 

Do you have anyone like this on your team? Or, maybe more importantly, do you have anyone who has the potential to become a true All-Star?

You probably have a theory or a hunch about someone’s potential – or maybe even the potential of the entire team. You can test the theory and prove it or reject it. In fact, if you are an executive with ambitious growth plans you should do this – and soon. You don’t want to miss an opportunity to have an All-Star on your team, or even better, a team of All-Stars.  

Check out how your team stacks up against the competition and see if you have what it takes to develop a team of All-Stars.

5 Old School Sales Habits of High Performers

shutterstock_91528481.jpgI have the privilege every week of coaching and working with high performing sales people. I also coach many sales people that are high potential, but not yet achieving at a high level.  That's where I come in, to help them get to that level. As I conduct these coaching calls every day I start to see patterns emerge between high performing sales people and high potential sales people. One of the things that has jumped off the page the last couple weeks is there are certain habits that high performing sales people do consistently. They may even be considered “old school” sales habits, but let's share them now and talk about how your team can incorporate these habits into their daily sales rituals to improve performance.

  1. Pick up the phone: High performers pick up the phone and call people. In this day and age of social selling, in-bound leads, and all the attention around using LinkedIn and other sources to make connections, there's nothing better than picking up the telephone and having a conversation with a perspective buyer. You cannot build a relationship by sending an email or a LinkedIn InMail request. Calling someone goes a long way towards building trust.
  2. Be Grateful: High performers are grateful people. They send thank you notes. This is as old school as it gets, but have your team go to the store, buy generic stationery, and get into the habit of sending hand written thank you notes to customers and prospects. It's amazing how much a personalized, hand-written thank you note stands out among all the email blasts and junk mail that comes through. It will really set your salespeople apart.
  3. Read and Learn: High performers read a lot. Not only do they read the newspaper and the local business journal to stay current with events, they read books. They read sales books. They read business books. They read fiction. They read everything they can get their hands on. Why is that important? Sales is about communication, and people who read, and read often, tend to write better and speak better. It doesn't have to be all dry business books either. Sales is about storytelling, so if your salespeople read fiction as well, it's going to help them tell better stories.
  4. Attend Networking Events: High performs attend networking events. Not only do they go to their industry events, but they're plugged into their local community as well. They'll go to the chamber of commerce or the rotary club events. They're networked and they love to connect people and make introductions. They are highly visible at these events. It's one of the ways they get referrals and introductions.
  5. Proactively Help People: High performers are connectors. They help people in their network. They help their customers. They help their centers of influence. They introduce people to other people who might benefit from the introduction. When your salespeople give more than they get and consistently connect people (without being asked or expecting something in return), good things happen.

As you look at this list of five “old school” sales habits that can separate high performers from high potential sales people, which of these are your team currently doing? How can you challenge your sales managers to help their team incorporate these “old school” sales habits to raise performance as you go into the end of this year, and raise performance and expectations for next year?

 

 

Everything you want to know about sales compensation, but were afraid to ask

For companies who operate on a calendar year, now is the time when sales leaders are asked to review and revise their sales compensation plan. And of course, they have to do this on top of everything else they need to do: closing year end business, finalizing next year’s sales forecast, organizing holiday thank you gifts to current customers, etc.

If you have asked your sales manager to review the compensation plan and make recommendations for revisions (or if you’re a sales manager who has been given this task), let me help you out with a list of blog articles to consider as you get started. The most important thing to keep in mind as you tweak a salesperson’s compensation plan is that you have to show them how they can continue to be successful under the new plan. In other words, you have to be able to sell them on it.

Blogs:

Get Sales Compensation Right to Recruit Winning Salespeople
Do We Have Sales Compensation All Wrong?
But I'm a Sales Guy! The Story of Motivation and Compensation
Dunkin Dunuts - Time to Make Sales Compensation and Sales Competencies Work

How to Change a Crappy Sales Compensation Plan to a Better One
Sales Compensation - Exceptions to the RuleWhen it Comes to Compensation Sales is Not Like Baseball
Does Changing Compensation Increase Sales?
Sales Candidates, Sales Compensation and the Number of ResumesTop 7 Sales Force Compensation Secrets
Compensation Stupidity Again?

Compensation - the Unchanging Role
How Wrong are Company Methods to Rank and Compensate Salespeople?
Sales Compensation and Stupid Human Tricks
A Different Look at Sales Compensation




   

It’s Sales, There Are No Participation Medals

New data from Objective Management Group (OMG) suggests that while the top 10% of millennials are just as strong as the top 10% of veteran salespeople, millennials as a group are far weaker than veteran sales people.  There are two key data points I want to explore in this post.  First, the OMG data shows that millennials, as a group, have a lower level Commitment to sales success.  And second, millennials have a lower overall Sales DNA.  Let’s unpack these points and discuss what that means for anyone hiring younger salespeople.

Commitment

The commitment finding is by far the single most important data point on the OMG sales evaluation.  It measures a sales person’s willingness to do “whatever it takes” to be successful.  We see many sales people with conditional commitment – they’ll do whatever it takes as long as it’s not too hard, doesn’t push them beyond their comfort zone, or when they are being closely managed.Salespeople with a higher level of commitment will make extra phone calls, ask extra questions, find a way to push through resistance, work more deals, ask for referrals, apply new ideas and training faster, and generally will do whatever they can to succeed. 

Salespeople with a lower level of commitment will consistently choose easy over hard.  They will also need to be managed more closely and are more likely to resist any coaching or training that pushes them out of their comfort zone.  When we are working with clients to help them recruit salespeople, we NEVER recommend a candidate with low commitment (anything below 60 on the 1-100 scale OMG uses in their assessment).

On average, millennials have a 53% commitment versus a 62% average commitment for veteran salespeople.  That is a big concern for anyone hiring younger sales people because they will need closer management and are less open to training. 

Sales DNA

A person’s Sales DNA is a combination of beliefs that will either support or work against a salesperson’s ability to execute the right tactics and behaviors to be successful in selling situations.  There are six components as shown on the chart below.  The dial to the right shows the average cumulative Sales DNA for millennials at 61%, which makes them suited for easy selling situations.

 sales dna.jpg

I have had several conversations with CEOs in the past few months who want to pursue a strategy of hiring raw sales talent right out of college. The advantages are obvious, lower base pay, ability to teach them the unique aspects of their business and market, and the ability to make several small bets on the hope of finding that one rockstar salesperson who will be with them for a long time. It’s a great strategy, but hard to execute. Implementing a tool like the pre-employment assessment from Objective Management Group can help you find out if you are attracting millennials from the top 10% who have high Commitment and Sales DNA. Without this evaluation in place you are more likely to attract candidates from the other 90% who will require extraordinary efforts to get up to speed. Is that a risk you can afford?

Building Your Virtual Bench

shutterstock_375157798.jpgAs we head into the fourth quarter you should have a pretty clear line of sight on how things are trending across your sales organization, and salesperson by salesperson. As you look at what's in the forecast between now and the end of the year you should know where you are year-to-date. How strong is your forecast going into the fourth quarter? Who on your sales team will hit their numbers, and who's going to fall short?

One of the things we tell CEO's to emphasize is that high performing sales managers should be constantly searching for sales talent. They should continually be building their virtual bench of high performing salespeople so they can make better decisions about who to hold accountable, and how to make changes when necessary.

As we are already a couple weeks into the fourth quarter, you only have about 4 to 6 weeks left. If you don't already have activities underway to build, and maintain a virtual bench of high performing sales people, there's time if you act right now. You've got about five (5) weeks before you get into the holiday malaise where candidates become much more scarce. Once you get into the week of Thanksgiving and beyond, through the holidays and the end of the year, it's much more difficult to engage high performing salespeople. They're inwardly focused on their families. They're more focused on finishing their year strong. Typically, sales people who are on the annual calendar year are going to stay where they are until they get their year-end bonus. If you want to recruit high performing salespeople, if you want a sales manager who's constantly looking for sales talent now is the time to act. Now is the time to begin building your virtual bench, so you can start those conversations before the holidays, and move quickly when you hit the next great wave of salespeople switching jobs.

If you start those conversations in the middle of January, or beginning of February you may miss out on the high performers who have already engaged in a conversation with somebody else. Act now.

We recommend implementing our Sales Talent Acquisition Routine. It's a sales hiring system designed specifically for attracting, selecting, and onboarding high performing sales people. Once it's set up you can screen, and recruit candidates almost automatically. You need to invest time in setting it up right, but once it's setup you can just let it run automatically. Your sales managers can continue to focus on the activities they need to focus on: coaching your team, holding people accountable, and working on deals to bring in by end of the year.

If you need information or would like to talk about how to turn on a system like our Sales Talent Acquisition Routine, please contact me. Don't wait. You only have about five (5) weeks to start building that strong pipeline of high performing sales candidates. In January if you need to make decisions about switching people out, or getting rid of some under-performing salespeople (you know who they are already), start building your virtual bench today.

 

 

Building a Culture of Sales Accountability

shutterstock_401612041.jpgWhen we talk with CEOs about sales accountability at their companies, we usually hear stories about sales quotas, activities monitored, and how the sales team is either performing or falling short.  We rarely hear about how their sales managers actually use the data they track during coaching conversations with individual team members.  And we almost never hear about how those conversations change when a salesperson struggles week after week, month after month, and quarter after quarter.  Or in some cases, year after year.

Here are some questions for you to think about as you consider whether or not you have a culture of sales accountability at your company:

  • How do conversations change when your sales managers are working with a low performer?
  • Do your sales managers increase or decrease the coaching frequency with a low performer?
  • Do they drill down beyond the numbers to the root cause? Are they capable of coaching to that cause?  For example, does the conversation shift from “you’re not getting enough appointments….” to “let’s look at who you’re targeting and practice how to engage them more effectively.”
  • How are you, as CEO, monitoring the time your sales managers spend with high performers versus low performers? Do high performers get more attention than sales people who struggle?
  • How are you, as CEO, monitoring the quality of their coaching conversations and reviewing what they are discussing?

Here’s the hard truth.  It's easy to coach when salespeople are performing. It becomes much harder when salespeople are struggling.

  • Why? Because sales managers are prone to give second chances (and 3rd, 4th, and 5th chances) for a struggling salesperson to improve.
  • Why? There are several reasons but the biggest issue – and the issue that gets the least attention in my opinion – is because most sales managers aren't very good at hiring new salespeople.  In fact, they really suck at it. 

Frankly, it’s easier to keep giving struggling salespeople another chance than to go through the hassle of finding, interviewing, and onboarding a new salesperson.  So instead of working through the tough coaching conversations required to improve performance, it’s easier to just tolerate mediocre results and offer encouragement. Sales managers rationalize this with phrases like, "Well, they'll get better as soon as they get past this trade show" or "If they can just close this large deal, their pipeline's right back on track." It's more of a hope than an actual reality.

What can you do if your salespeople aren’t performing? We recommend implementing a system for coaching and accountability.  But that is only part of the picture.  We also recommend implementing an effective sales hiring system that allows sales managers to build a virtual bench of high performing salespeople.

Do your sales managers have a system that allows them to maintain a constant search for high performing salespeople while investing minimal time and effort in the process?  What would they do differently if they had a constant flow of high performing sales candidates coming to them that they can screen efficiently?  How would this change the dynamic of their coaching conversations with lower performing sales people? Would it give them the freedom to comfortably move on from a struggling salesperson who's not accepting coaching and is not committed to improving their performance?  What would your revenue look like next year if you had these types of systems in place?