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?

 

 

Questions Your Sales Leaders Should Ask Halfway Through the Year

Yesterday marked the end of June, which means if your company runs on a calendar year you've hit your mid-year point.  Two quarters down, two quarters to go.  It also means that, based on the results produced thus far, some of your sales people are strutting around with a huge ego and others are slinking about with their shoulders slumped forward and their eyes on the ground.  And the reality is, both may be wrong!  Here are some questions your sales leaders should ask to make sure each sales person on their team has the right focus and attitude midway through the year.

For Sales People on Plan or Ahead of Plan

  1. Are they bringing in the right kind of revenue?  With the right customers?  Consistent with your corporate strategy?
  2. Are their wins producing solid margins?  No discounting? 
  3. Were there any deals that should have closed Q414 that slipped into Q115?  Were there any unusual (i.e. once-in-a-lifetime, difficult to repeat, not likely to happen again soon) deals that are boosting their year-to-date numbers?
  4. Are they maintaining their activity levels?  Booking net new appointments every week?  Maintaining an active sales pipeline?  Moving opportunities from stage to state in a timely fashion?  Consistently asking for referrals?
  5. Do they remain open to coaching and feedback?  Are they still hungry to learn and get better?  Remember, small incremental improvements can make a huge impact with your top producing sales people.
  6. Will they keep their foot on the gas through the end of the year or are they likely to coast?  What will motivate them to keep driving at their current pace?

For Sales People Behind Plan

  1. How strong are their weekly activity levels?  How many net new appointments are they going on every week?  What problems are they finding to get invited into a new appointment?  What can they do to increase activity at the top of their sales funnel for the second half of the year?  What do they plan to do differently?
  2. Are they creating enough urgency for prospects to take action toward the next step in the sales process?  Are they slowing down during the discovery process to really understand the issues and situation (or are they rushing to get to the proposal/close too quickly)?
  3. What is in their pipeline that is closable?  What will it take to get the win and put some points on the board?  Is there anything they need from the company to support their efforts?
  4. Do they remain open to coaching and feedback?  Are they still confident?  How can they focus on their tonality and improving their questioning skills until they get back on track?
  5. Is there too much on their plate?  What non-sales activities can be removed or postponed so they can focus during prime selling hours?  Can you narrow their focus (temporarily reduce their territory, emphasize only one or two product lines, etc.)?
  6. Can they turn it around and save their year or have they already given up?  What will motivate them to pick up their efforts and finish strong?

 

Predictive_Validity

 

Whether you have sales people who are ahead of plan, behind plan or somewhere in the middle, remember that part of building an over-achieving sales team is having sales leaders ask the right questions so they know why their sales people are ahead (or behind).  Sometimes it’s possible to do everything right and lose the deal.  Other times you can do nearly everything wrong and win the business.  It is your sales leaders’ responsibility to make sure everyone on their team knows the difference and takes away right lessons from every opportunity (win or lose).

Consistent coaching (ideally weekly), weekly planning by every sales team member focusing on outcomes, defining 3-4 clear quarterly goals and staying focused on them, and continuing to learn and grow are a few of the keys to building an over-achieving sales team.  One more factor for building an over-achieving sales team?  Effective recruiting!  We’re halfway through 2015 and we are in a candidate-centric market, which means it can take 90-120 days to find a great sales person.  If your sales leaders have team members who may not make it to the end of the year, NOW is the time to begin recruiting.  Remember, a decision to recruit is not a decision to hire – why wait?  Want an unfair advantage?  Learn more here.

What UNC Coach Dean Smith Taught Us About Sales Metrics

Legendary University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith died on Saturday.  Sales managers across the country who have been through our sales leadership program know that I often use Dean Smith’s scoring system as an example of what sales leaders should focus on when measuring performance.

During his 36 seasons the UNC basketball coach (from 1961 to 1997) Dean Smith amassed a record of 879 wins and 254 losses.  His Tar Heel teams made it to 11 Final Four appearances and won National Championships in 1982 and 1993.  He had great players come through his program and he coached them to work together as a TEAM. 

Courtesy of NY Times

One of the ways he did this was by creating a team scoring system that awarded points for making the right play, the best-possible-play in the situation, instead of the end result.  It also subtracted points for making the wrong play for the situation (regardless of the end result).  So if James Worthy took a beautiful 10-foot jumper and made the shot instead of passing the ball to an open Michael Jordan who had a better shot, in Coach Smith’s scoring system Worthy would get a negative score (even though he made the basket).  And if instead he passed the ball and somehow Jordan missed the shot, Worthy would get a positive score for making the right play (even though no points were scored). 

Focusing on the right activities, within a clear system, with a common goal and where everyone understands their role and expected contributions, drives results.  For Dean Smith that meant accumulating 879 wins, 11 Final Fours and two national championships.

We see sales managers focusing on results instead of the right activities all the time.  It’s part of what frustrates managers who have a team of Lone Wolves (in the Challenger Sales model) because while sales people with this profile put up impressive numbers, they all do their own thing and want to be left alone.  They don’t work well with others.  They don’t like to fit within a system.  Dean Smith didn’t tolerate lone wolves.  If you played for UNC during his tenure you followed his system or you were gone.

If you want to build a predictable, repeatable, scalable sales engine to drive growth at your company, have your sales leaders turn their focus to the activities that drive results.  Instead of having your sales leaders focus on results (closed deals) with their team, challenge them to focus on activities earlier in the sales process that should drive those closings (and I’m sure there are enough people in your company tracking closed deals!).  And while the activities that lead to closed deals will vary from company to company, typical activities to monitor might include:

  • Net new meetings per week/month with qualified prospects (frequency will vary based on the length of your sales cycle)

  • Compelling reasons identified during discovery conversations

  • Quantification of those compelling reasons (both time and money impacts)

  • Learning how and why the prospect will buy

  • Understanding the buying landscape (know all the players and the influence do they have)

  • Identifying the budget and timeline for a decision

  • Disqualifying low-probability opportunities

  • Maintaining proper balance in their opportunity pipeline (by stage, by deal size, by offering, etc.)

  • And so on….

When your sales leaders move the focus to activities earlier in the pipeline and give positive feedback for making “the right play” in that situation regardless of whether or not they “got the sale,” results and consistency will improve.  Sales forecasting accuracy will improve.  Revenue will grow.  Your leadership team will have more confidence in the sales forecast.  Ask your sales managers to focus on making the right play and your sales team will start to score more baskets (closed sales).

My sympathies go out to all of Dean Smith’s family and friends, as well as to all of my North Carolina friends who are mourning this loss.  Go Tar Heels!

Coaching Rhythm and Texting While Driving

My last post talked about the challenges of teaching my middle daughter, who recently got her learners permit, to drive safely.  We compared teaching safe driving to the importance of consistent sales coaching and the types of conversations that should happen with regularity and consistency between your sales leaders and sales team.  For this post I want to continue in the theme of safe driving and sales coaching.  My oldest daughter has been driving for a few years now and we recently had a conversation about texting while driving.  The data is overwhelming.  Here’s an infographic I found on this topic:

Texting and Driving

When you think about how little time it takes to travel the length of a football field while looking at your phone – and all the bad things that can happen while you’re distracted – it’s hardly surprising that so many accidents happen as a result of texting and driving.

So what is the connection to sales coaching?  In our sales consulting practice we recommend sales leaders establish a regular rhythm of coaching conversations with everyone on their team.  Ideally these should happen weekly and biweekly at an absolute minimum.  I can already hear sales managers groaning as they read that last sentence and thinking “when am I supposed to fit that into my already full schedule?”  Well, think of scheduling regular, structured, formal weekly coaching sessions with everyone on the sales team as the same as looking forward and paying close attention while driving down the highway.

Would you like your team to avoid big, spectacular sales crashes?  Ask your sales leaders to look forward on a regular basis.  Challenge them to ask questions on a regular basis.  Ask them to observe (and share) patterns and trends in the market on a regular basis.  Ask them to observe (and share) patterns, trends, bad habits, and self-limiting beliefs from your sales team on a regular basis.  Challenge them to engage in role play on a regular basis (most sales managers will resist this at first because most are really bad at it).  In short, make sure your sales leaders coach your sales people on a regular basis so they can stay ahead of all the subtle nuances and changes in your sales pipeline, allowing them to make minor smooth corrections rather than sudden shifts and dramatic changes.

As CEO what can you do?  How often are you coaching your sales leaders?  When you talk with them, are you simply going through a tactical review of the pipeline?  Are you asking the right questions?  Are you leveraging the market feedback your sales team can provide in real time?  Do you see patterns in where your sales leaders are focused?  Are they focused on the right things?  The right activities?  The right people on their team?  What would happen to your sales culture if you lead by example and coached your sales leaders as you expect them to coach your sales people?

Not sure where to start?  We can help.  We start by helping you understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of your sales leaders.  How do they measure up in terms of their coaching skill set?  How about the skills required to create a culture of accountability?  Motivating the team?  Attracting and retaining A-player sales talent (A-players won’t work for B-managers)?  Growing the team?  How about your sales people?  Are they capable of growth?  How much?  Where do they need help?  What self-limiting beliefs get in their way?  Are they coachable?  If you invested in their professional development would it be worth it?  How long would it take you to realize a return on your training investment? 

We can help you understand these and many other important questions with our Sales Effectiveness & Improvement Analysis.  We’ll be glad to send you a sample and discuss whether or not this would be a good next step for growing your revenue.  Or you could just keep your eyes down and hope you don’t crash.  It’s up to you.

For more information on how we can help Optimize Your Sales Team - click Here.

 

A-Player Only Strategy: When Improving Sales Impacts Other Areas Of Your Business

Top Grading Tug BoatWhat happens when you hire and develop A-player sales people and sales leaders?  Your company grows – usually by a lot and often very quickly!  As a sales consulting firm you’d think we would be thrilled when we are able to help a client achieve this result.  But if a company isn’t ready for this type of growth and the team members in other departments are B-players and C-players, this can be a formula for disaster.  What we’ve learned is strong revenue growth can backfire pretty quickly if the rest of your organization can’t keep up!  Here are some of the issues we’ve seen in this scenario:

  • Lead times increase significantly, making it 10x harder to win new business and straining relationships with current clients (lost share of wallet, lower Net Promoter Scores, and even lost customers who turn to one of your competitors to get what they need).
  • More mistakes begin to happen as B-players and C-players in other parts of the company struggle to keep up with the pace being set by an A-player only sales team.
  • A-player sales people start to get frustrated, particularly if their variable pay incentives are impacted by longer lead times and mistakes from other departments.
  • A-players in the other departments get frustrated because their B-and C-player colleagues are making them look bad and they really want to help drive growth and support the A-player sales team.
  • Managers get frustrated because they can see the train wreck that’s about to happen but may not have the coaching skills, tools or authority to make a difference.  And often they have not established a coaching culture and a coaching rhythm with their B- and C-players.
  • As everyone on your team gets more frustrated, key people start to leave.  And guess what, it’s never the C-players who leave (they will hang on as long as they can until you kick them out).
  • The rapid growth you were so pleased with becomes the minor uptick before a precipitous decline as the wheels fall off of operations and A-players leave your company.

Twice in the past three (3) years we’ve had CEOs call and ask if we could suspend our sales development program because we were driving too much success!  In other words, they were struggling to deliver on all the new opportunities their sales people were finding (some of whom we had developed and coached, others we had hired and then developed and coached).  In both situations the CEOs did exactly what they needed to do, they:

  • Identified the problem and developed a plan to fix it (hire stronger people, hire stronger managers, optimize key processes to reduce and eliminate bottlenecks, invest in training, improve communications, track progress).
  • Communicated their plan to everyone in the company, openly and directly (A-players will stick around if they see that leadership “gets it” and is willing to take aggressive corrective action).
  • Executed their plan with relentless focus.  In some cases this meant “facing the brutal facts” as Jim Collins would say – that might translate to investing in new systems or software, letting go of B- and C-players (both frontline and managers), or getting personally involved (one CEO rolled up his sleeves, walked out to the shop floor and said “show me the bottle necks, let’s figure this out).  That type of personal commitment and leadership by example is powerfully attractive to A-players who would probably do the same thing if they were CEO.
  • Came back to Intelligent Conversations once they had the operational issues ironed out and resumed the sales development program we had started so they could continue to drive good growth confident that they could deliver on it.

A-player sales people need A-players in every area within your company.  When you commit to an A-player only strategy you’ll find that you’ll be able to accomplish more, with fewer people, at a lower total wage cost.  By the way, we follow Brad Smart’s definition of A-player (the top 10% at whatever salary range you have for a position), so it’s not just a matter of hiring a bunch of 6-figure managers.  You can have an A-player office worker making only $30k/year if that person is in the top 10% for that salary range.

As you walk around your company, how many A-players, B-players, and C-players are in each department?  Could your company handle annual growth rates north of 30-40% year over year?  Where would the bottlenecks form?  How would they show up and when would you learn about them?  How strong are your managers and department heads?  If you don’t know or are not sure, or simply don’t like what you see as you take this talent inventory, please give us a call and let’s talk about how Jenny Rodriguez-Vargas, our certified Top Grading coach, can help.

High Performing Sales People - How to Identify And Keep Them

High Performer

High performing sales people are customer centric and have the ability to execute and produce positive results, in turn increasing revenue and profitability.  While the definition seems simple, when interviewing and reviewing potential candidates, it can be hard to narrow down exactly what you should be looking for to identify high performers.

Here are some characteristics which will aide in identifying high performers:

Autonomy

High performers have the ability to manage themselves, their projects, and their priorities. They are independent and can work well, even without a lot of oversight. Ask them about a project or accomplishment they completed on their own, without a lot of outside accountability.

Input and Feedback

High performers are able to communicate clearly and effectively with supervisors and peers, at every level of the organization. They openly accept feedback, seeing it as a way to continue their growth. They are also willing to give feedback to others.

Taking Initiative

They know what they need in order to succeed.  In other words, high performing sales people are resourceful executers! Period.

Networking skills

High performers are able to develop relationships inside and outside the work environment. Building and maintaining relationships is part of how they live and work.This broadens the knowledge and contribution offered to the organization.

Open Mind

High performers enjoy introducing and managing change; keeping the organization up to date with technology, new concepts and solutions, and leading edge products and services. If something offers the opporutnity to improve the company or sales results, they do not think twice about changing the status quo to move forward.

While these may not come as a surprise, why do your hiring managers continue to settle for subpar performers? High performers are scarce in today’s volatile work environment.  By implementing a boundary spanning talent acquisition strategy you will be able to place high performers across the entire organization!  While they seem simplistic, take the time to discuss them with your sales management team. 

Often when we assess the existing sales organization of one of our clients, we discover the need to replace or add new members to the sales team. One of our many valuable services is assisting our clients with their hiring initiative. 

Whether you are in the process of hiring a new position or not, you can take the time to review your existing team to identify if you have any high performers.

Please contact us for more information on how to achieve a high performing culture.