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.


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.


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?

Getting Ready for the Final Sales Push of 2016

In early August I wrote an article titled the Dog Days of Summer where I focused on how difficult it is to reach people during the summer months. We discussed how important it is to increase your activity so that you can be ready for when everyone begins to focus on year-end activities.

Well, we’ve reached that time of year. Summer is over and it is time to begin the final push as we head into the fourth quarter and the year-end sales push. I’ve highlighted three things that I would like you and your sales teams to focus on as you get ready to have a strong finish to 2016 and set yourself up for success in 2017.

1. Focus on closing the deals that are closeable in your pipeline right now. If you have a longer sales cycle and it’s not in your pipeline by now, the chances of adding a new opportunity and closing it in 2016 are very small. There may be a bluebird sale that comes in at the last minute, but typically with the longer sales cycle our clients tend to have, you need to have stuff in your pipeline already or it’s not going to close by the end of the year.

From a leadership perspective, make sure that your sales managers and your salespeople are focused on doing everything they can to close the business that’s available in their pipeline right now. What does this mean? It means making sure they’re not taking anything for granted. Making sure that they really understand the decision process of the people they are dealing with. Are they meeting with the right people? Have they talked to everyone in the decision process? Do they know how the company they're talking to made the decision last time they bought a service like yours? Is there anyone that they need to get to that they haven't gotten to that may be key to their decision process?  

Make sure they are asking questions about the competitive context as well. Do they know the timeline the customer is looking for? When will they need this problem solved? Then back up from there to nail down the decision time frame. Most importantly, make sure that your salespeople have an agreement with the prospect that the prospect will make a decision in the agreed upon time frame. To close things before the end of 2016 you really need to be focused. Shorten the calendar, try and get things closed by mid-November. What that means is, you've got another 8 weeks to get things closed. If you start to slip past Thanksgiving the level of difficulty increases significantly.

2. If your clients or prospects are on calendar year, they're just now getting busy with 2017 budget planning. Focusing on what they can close right now, how can your sales team use this time between now and the end of the year to set themselves up for success in 2017? Often that means making sure that investing in your product or service is part of your target prospects’ budget planning process. Make sure they are having the right kind of conversations with the people who can control and influence budgeting. It's not too early to start those conversations. Typically, first budget drafts are due sometime in late September and then there's a budget review process. They are often not finalized until after Thanksgiving, but get your salespeople in those conversations now if they’re not already.

3. Lastly, chances are you have some clients or past clients who budgeted money in 2016 for products or services like the ones you sell, but may have not spent that money. Ask your sales leaders to organize a focused calling effort to have salespeople contact clients and prospects around re-orders, re-stocking, ordering spare parts and making other investments so prospects don’t lose their budget. Many companies have a “use it or lose it” policy, so make sure that your salespeople are having conversations with the right people. A focused effort in this area can really make the difference. Not only will your salespeople pick up additional revenue, they will also reconnect with your client base and build momentum going into 2017.

 Make sure your salespeople are focusing on these types of activities as the year ends. Are currently asking these types of questions to engage their client? Are your sales managers coaching your salespeople through these types of conversations? If they are, you’ll have no problem making sales and will finish the year strong in 2016 and set yourself up for success in 2017.


10 Activities Sales Managers Should Focus On

When I talk with CEOs, I often hear them complaining about how their sales managers are always busy, but not productive. When I dig a little deeper, I usually find this is an issue around how sales managers define their priorities and where they focus their time. Often times, sales managers miscalculate which activities need the most attention, and waste their valuable time doing nonproductive things.

In this article I will concentrate on a list of 10 activities that sales managers should focus on. In your company you may have more than 10, but let’s use this as a starting point:  

  1. Coaching Salespeople: This should account for about 50% of sales managers time. They should focus on 3 types of coaching conversations – administrative, strategic and situational. In a 40-hour work week, about 20 hours of their time should be spent directly coaching their salespeople in a structured, organized fashion. This almost never happens in companies before we start working with them and helping managers learn how to coach.
  2. Motivating Salespeople: Motivating sales people should be around 10% of their time. Your sales managers need to learn what motivates each individual salesperson. It seems obvious, but few managers understand that not everyone is motivated the same way. For example, do your sales mangers know who on their team is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated? Do they understand that an intrinsically motivated person is going to get more motivation from a quiet, “atta-boy” in the hallway after the sales meeting? On the other hand, an extrinsically motivated person is going to thrive on public praise and wants attention during the sales meeting.
  3. Measuring Performance/ Accountability: This should be about 15% of their time. Holding people accountable is really about setting clear, key performance indicators. What are your sales managers measuring, and how are they holding their team to these standards? Best practices for this are to have a handful of leading indicators - number of appointments, quality of appointments, activity, how many calls are they making per week. Also, be sure to have lagging indicators - Are we closing business when we say we will? Are we holding our margin? Are we tracking to our revenue plan? And most importantly, how do the conversations between managers and salespeople change when they are falling behind?   
  4. Recruiting: Recruiting should be about 5% of their time. We believe sales managers should be recruiting all the time, but that doesn’t mean it needs to take up a lot of their time. Part of creating a culture of accountability is being ready to let go of low performers, and the only way you can do that effectively is if you're constantly recruiting and building your virtual bench. We believe a busy, productive sales manager should spend about 5% of their time maintaining your virtual bench and doing some sort of recruiting activity. Obviously, that might spike up in certain periods if you're opening more positions.
  5. Crisis Management: About 5% of their time should be budgeted for this. This really refers to handling client crises and other situations that may come up. The key here is to make sure it doesn’t consume all of a sales manager’s time. If that’s the case, there may be a bigger problem in your sales process.
  6. Internal Company Issues: About 5% of sales manager’s time should be used for internal company issues. When dealing company issues such as new policies or sitting on a marketing committee, really guard your sales manager's time. Ask yourself before you invite them, do we really need their input or can we move the ball forward without it and then review it with them later?
  7. Planning/Managing Compensation: This should really be 1% of their time. It shouldn't be a big issue. It's something you're typically looking at annually. Again, that goes back to understanding how your team's motivated, are they more intrinsic or extrinsic? Most sales people are going to get more motivation from a higher-based salary and the opportunity for unlimited upside potential. Make sure your comp plan aligns with that.
  8. Organization/Reorganization: Organizing and reorganizing, again is more of a periodic activity, and should maybe be 1% of their time. Again, make sure you guard your sales manager’s time. We’ve seen situations where managers are consumed by a constant shuffling of territories, people, and strategies.
  9. Business/Product Strategy: Limit business and product strategy to maybe 3% of their time. One of the advantages that sales people bring to product managers is their real time feedback from the market. As this is helpful information, sales managers often get sucked in too deep with this that it consumes their time.
  10. Direct Selling: We think 5% of manager’s time should be allocated to directly selling to the market. We believe every sales manager should have a book of business. That's the only way they're going to stay sharp. That's the only way they're going to stay current. They still need to have some clients and directly sell.

You may have other activities that you want your sales managers to focus on, but this list provides a good starting point. When is the last time you focused on where your sales managers are investing their time? How confident are you that they are spending their time in the right areas? Are they getting a good return on their time and if not, what needs to change?

Also, if you don’t have sales managers, and you’re the sales manager by default, which of these activities are you not getting to? My guess would be; you're probably not spending as much time coaching your sales people as you need to. If that's the case, we need to talk, so contact me and we can tell you more about our accountability coaching program.


Where Should CEOs Invest Their Sales Training Dollars?

shutterstock_244678267.jpgA question that I often hear when speaking with CEOs is where should they invest in training? When I ask what they have done in the past, typically I hear a range of training activities primarily related to product training, service certifications, or other information related to what they sell.

 While obviously it is important for sales people to have a solid understanding of the products and services they offer, is this really the best use of your precious training dollars? In our experience, too often this training dives way deeper than it needs to as far as what a sales person actually needs to know to effectively sell. When companies put too much emphasis on product and service training, it tends to lead sales people to have conversations that focus on the features and benefits of the product, rather than the problems their product solves. 

If it were my money, I would rather invest in establishing good consultative selling skills. What are good consultative selling skills? To me, it's all about asking the right questions. Asking questions that engage the prospect about their current situation. Asking questions about issues and challenges the prospect is experiencing. Asking questions about the problems you solve, rather than how you solve them.

 From there really work on listening. Your sales people should be able to ask the right opening questions and then know what to listen for and what questions to use as follow-up. In our experience, salespeople who have had too much product training listen more narrowly (they wait for key trigger words that tie back to a product feature or benefit).

 It's really about having an intelligent conversation, asking good questions, listening carefully, asking more good questions, and repeating. Your salespeople need to keep repeating this process until they get to the real issues. They repeat until they uncover 6-8 compelling reasons to buy. They repeat until they get to a good understanding of the consequences of what the prospect is experiencing. 

When your salespeople can help a business owner or a buyer understand the gap between where they are and where they could be if they partner with your company, that's when they really start to have the right kind of consultative sales conversations. There should be questions that elicit an emotion that the buyer or the business line manager or the owner should be frustrated by if it doesn't get resolved. Your salespeople should be able to answer the question “What happens if this prospect does nothing?” 

Your salespeople should also be able to quantify the impact of these issues. Quantify both in terms of time and money. When you can get your sales team to take a consultative approach when they talk about the problem they solve, rather than the solution they have to sell, that's where you really get into effective, authentic, conversations.  That’s what gets you to the real issues that will drive stronger results through your sales organization. 

 In my opinion that’s where you should invest your training dollars.

 As I’ve written in this space previously, there is a whole set of questions a CEO should be able to answer before investing a single dime in training their salespeople:

  • Which of my salespeople are trainable?

  • Where do they need help?

  • How long will it take?

  • Will it be worth it? In other words, will I get a return on my training investment?

 For information on how to do a comprehensive  Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis to answer these and many more questions, contact me directly.  Do this before you invest in training your salespeople – it will save you a lot of time and money.