Coaching Ruts and How to Get Out of Them

Every sales manager we talk to says, "I coach my team all the time."  But their idea of coaching often means quick hallway conversations or phone calls, pipeline reviews focused on opportunities that can close right away, or ride along coaching calls where the manager dominates the conversation and the salesperson just watches.  Rarely do sales managers have structured, focused, consistent coaching conversations focused on development rather than production.  That’s where we step in to teach them a better coaching methodology.  And the sales managers who implement our coaching methodology can make tremendous progress almost immediately.  They get better at asking coaching questions and the whole sales team starts gain momentum as a better coaching rhythm is established.  And then - usually around three or four months into establishing that rhythm - they hit a wall.  Usually we hear something like, "I think we're losing momentum. It's not working as well. "

Almost always, it turns out coaching ruts photothat the manager has fallen into a rut. They've become predictable. They're going through the motions and their sales team knows it. What happens is, they start to ask the same handful of questions and use the same format week after week. They start every coaching conversation the exact same way, the salespeople know what they're going to ask before they ask it, and they're absolutely sure which direction the manager is going to go. Your sales team can just go through the motions and think, "Okay, he's going to ask about this, this, and that. I'll have those answers. We can be efficient." When that happens, the manager will say to us, "We're losing momentum. The coaching calls are getting shorter."

The way to avoid falling into a coaching rut is to make sure your sales managers mix it up. Change up what they're asking. They've obviously got to cover similar topics week to week. For example, in a weekly, structured coaching conversation, they know you should take a look back and say, "Tell me about the week that just passed. Tell me what's going on with your sales pipeline. Tell me about your calendar. Tell me about any challenges you have." A lot of sales managers will ask the same backward-looking questions instead of mixing it up, so coach your sales managers to be more intentional and change the question focus. Have them try asking more specific questions such as:

  • Tell me about the call that you were most excited about that didn't turn out like you expected.
  • How about a call that you had no hopes or expectations for that actually turned into gold?
  • Which meeting are you most excited about from last week?  And why?
  • Tell me about a call where you met another key decision maker or influencer.
  • Tell me about the call that was an absolute disaster.  What did you learn that you can apply going forward?

In these examples the sales manager is still looking back at the week that just past. They're asking the salesperson, "Hey, tell me about your week," but instead of being generically predictable they're keeping the salesperson on edge by asking very specific questions about their week and what they learned.  And when your sales managers do that consistently, slightly changing the focus of their questions from week to week, the coaching conversations stay fresh and the team keeps making progress.

If your sales leaders ask generic "how did your week go?" questions they'll get generic (and unhelpful) answers like "pretty good."  Instead, the coaching conversation should explore potential areas where a salesperson may struggle and make mistakes.  And speaking of mistakes, if you have salespeople who aren't making mistakes fairly regularly, they're probably staying in their comfort zone. They're probably not trying new questions or new techniques. They're just going through the motions. When your sales managers have regular, consistent coaching conversations that discuss mistakes salespeople make (and lessons learned), disastrous sales calls (and lessons learned), calls that the salesperson thought would be easy that turned out to be quite hard (and lessons learned) as well as calls they expected to be difficult that turned out great (and lessons learned) they create an environment where making mistakes (and learning from them) is not only acceptable but regularly encouraged. 

The second part of that conversation - the "lessons learned" part - is crucial.  It has to be, "Tell me what you learned from it. Tell me what you're going to do differently next time. Tell me how that made you better as a salesperson." Then, if it’s a good example and your salesperson is comfortable with it, "Hey, would you mind sharing that at the next sales meeting?" is the next step.

A great way for your sales managers to reinforce the "lessons learned" in their coaching conversations is to ask about future goals as well.  It sounds like "Tell me about the week or the last two weeks, and then let's look forward a week. Looking at your calendar, what call are you most nervous about, and how can I help you?" Or, "Looking at your calendar, what are you most excited about next week, or what deals absolutely have to move forward next week?" Mixing up your conversations in this way does a couple of things. First, it makes it more interesting for the sales manager. You're going to explore different areas and find different weak points in what that salesperson is doing or not doing. Second, it's also going to keep it fresh for the sales person. If they come into a meeting and they're not exactly sure what direction the sales manager is going to go, it's not predictable for them. They have to stay on their toes a little bit, and they have to be ready to go whichever direction the sales leader takes them.

If your sales managers are getting in the habit of establishing a consistent, structured, coaching conversation – which every sales manager absolutely should do – ask them how they're mixing up their questions and what they focus on from call to call.  Make sure that they're not just following the same agenda week after week after week, because you will absolutely find them in a sales coaching rut and they'll be less effective as a sales leader.

Need help?   Please reach us at Intelligent Conversations by taking a moment to complete the form below.  We'll give you a call to discuss whether or not you're a good fit for our program to raise your sales team's performance and drive remarkable revenue growth.

Goals-Based Coaching

GJAvXzIwDo your sales leaders keep it simple when it comes to setting goals for their team?  One of the common mistakes we see sales leaders make is burdening their team with too many goals or setting overly complex goals. Like many things, the manager's ability to simplify and help the team focus on two to three meaningful goals, rather than 10 or 15 goals, will have a major impact. These significant goals should be above and beyond what is expected of each salesperson in the normal course of business. Obviously, each sales team will have expectations in terms of pipeline volume (number of opportunities), pipeline movement (opportunities moving from stage to stage) to reach sales goals.  

On every sales team there are going to be expectations in terms of moving opportunities through the pipeline, documenting in the CRM, and certain activity levels that need to be hit. In this case, we’re focusing on goals above and beyond the regular order of business, without making them too complicated.

An example of a way to approach setting a goal may be mentioning to your team, "Hey, I noticed that the last couple of quarters you've been really focused on deals of this size. One of the things I'd like you to do is balance your pipeline by introducing opportunities of varying sizes." For example, some salespeople have nothing in their pipeline but small opportunities. That can be great, but you need to work quite hard to reach a big sales goal. That team member might benefit from their sales leader saying, "Hey, I'd like you to look at a few bigger targets as well. Keep doing what you're doing with the small deals, but let's get some medium and large deals in there as well." What you'll find is that your salesperson will have a better-balanced pipeline.

A good way to keep track of and measure your team’s goals is to meet once a week for coaching sessions and make adjustments or course corrections along the way. Lets say your sales person’s goal is five new opportunities per week, and since there’s 13 weeks in one quarter they’re really adding 65 opportunities over the course of the quarter if they stay on track. The reason you want to meet with them every week is because if in week one of 13 they only booked two new opportunities, that means they’re three in the hole right now. Their goal at the end of the quarter is still 65, so they're going to have to have a couple of weeks where they have to book six or seven to make up for that deficit.

A good formula to stick to is three business goals to one personal goal. It’s important to include one goal that's significant to the individual sales person such as a fitness goal, family goal, community service goal, diet goal, and the list goes on. When you include a personal goal, you’re investing in your team as people, not just coworkers. Your sales team will also be able to see your company as part of their path to completing personal goals on top of their business goals.

As you're doing your regular check in weekly, make sure you're asking them about their progress toward those personal goals. You'll find that over time everyone on your sales team will be a little more focused, execute a little more crisply, and good things will happen in and for your company.  

If you're looking for ways to raise your sales team's performance and drive remarkable revenue growth, please reach us at Intelligent Conversations!  Please take a moment to complete the form below and we will be in contact.  Thank you!

Creating a Healthy Coaching Environment in Sales

One of the barriers sales leaders encounter when trying to establish a consistent coaching rhythm with each salesperson on their team is they have not established a healthy coaching environment.  What does that mean? There are several components that go into creating an atmosphere that is conducive to coaching. 

1. Mutual Respect.  First, there has to be a certain level of mutual respect. The salespeople have to respect the sales leader, or they won't listen to the advice or coaching they get. The sC4o8SJsgales leader needs to feel like their advice is being followed and that they're respected, so there's a healthy coaching relationship. The manager needs to earn it, and the salespeople need to give it, but if in its absence, the coaching experience is going to be negatively impacted. If the sales leader doesn't feel like he or she has that respect, their coaching will be more tentative and less effective.

2.  Trust.  What's the level of trust across your sales team? Do your sales people feel like they can share everything with the sales leader and really come to them when they need help? Does the sales leader feel like he or she is trusted by the sales people? Part of a sales leader's job is creating a culture of accountability, managing agreements, and making sure that they hit their numbers, but when a sales person is struggling, do they really feel safe? Do they feel they can go to their manager when they're behind on their plan or not moving deals forward (or do they hide and hope nobody notices)?

The irony in this is when a salesperson's pipeline is stalled that's when they need coaching the most, yet it's also when they're least likely to ask for help if they don't trust their manager.  One of the ways a sales manager can establish trust is to take the time to get to know each individual on their team at a personal level.  The sales coach/salesperson relationship should go beyond a conversation about metrics and pipeline movement.  Your sales managers don't have to know everything about a salesperson’s personal life, but should have a general understanding of where each salesperson on their team is in their career, what their career goals are, and what their personal goals are, what's important to them, etc.  When sales managers take the time to show they care about and take an interest in each individual (beyond the numbers) salespeople are more likely to ask for help when they need it.

3.  Coachability.  Another element is how "coachable" are your sales people? If you hire salespeople who feel like they have nothing to learn because they already know everything, their willingness to implement whatever suggestions your sales manager makes will be pretty limited. Of course, that's going to be frustrating for the sales leader when they have good ideas and they're ignored. Having a team that's open to input and willing to try a suggestion even if they disagree with it is an important aspect to the coaching environment as well.  Ask questions about growth goals, what they're working on, and where they want to improve during your interview process to make sure you're hiring "coachable" salespeople.

4.  Time Coaching.  One of the biggest factors that a manager absolutely can control is the amount of time spent on coaching. We recommend about 50% of a manager's time should be spent coaching their sales people. Some of that will be in formal, structured, weekly conversations where you go through their pipeline, review their calendar, look at upcoming calls, and debrief on calls that have recently occurred. The focus should be on making incremental progress each week with each sales person, giving them that coaching. The other part of that comes from informal coaching conversations that happen throughout the week.  When a manager spends about half of their time coaching their team and being there for them, they create a really strong coaching environment.  Most sales managers say they coach all the time, but in reality they are pulled in other directions and when they do finally sit down with a salesperson the meeting agenda defaults to a pipeline review conversation focusing on what can close right now instead instead of on mid-to-long-term development objectives.

5. It's Not All About the Sales Manager.  Finally, it's not all about the sales manager. Being a sales manager is really about having a servant mindset.  They are their to help each salesperson on the team succeed. It's a bit hard if your sales manager used to be the "alpha” sales person who loves getting the win and celebrating their victories. It's difficult for that type of person to take a backseat role.  What often happens is that type of sales manager simply functions as a more productive salesperson by using their team to extend their reach and set up closing conversations.  The salespeople line up closable deals and the sales manager swoops in and mows them down.  This can be productive in the short term but ultimately limits growth as high-potential salespeople get frustrated and leave, and the ones who stay never learn how to close.

Make sure your sales manager has the right mindset and remembers it's NOT about them, it's all about helping the team win. When they do that, they'll create a strong, healthy coaching environment rooted in trust.

As a reflection, think about your sales managers and the relationships they have with their salespeople.  How strong is your coaching environment?  In which of these five areas do they need to improve?  In your next conversation with a sales leader, ask them, "When you ask a sales person to come into your office, is their reaction, 'Oh boy, what have I done? I'm in trouble,' or is it, 'Oh great, he's going to help me.'"  The answer to that question will tell you all you need to know about your coaching environment.  

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:

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

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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.

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Is Your Hiring Process Stuck in 2014?

shutterstock_104559317.jpgTwo years ago there were more candidates available than positions available. It was fun!  Hiring managers and HR recruiters were able to do all sorts of things to people applying for jobs.  You could make candidates go through multiple steps, take online assessments, and go through round after round of interviews. And the best part was, candidates HAD to put up with it.  They had no choice.  If they wanted a job they had to go through whatever you threw at them.

Guess what?  The market has shifted and is no longer employer-centric. Today there are more positions
available than candidates to fill them.  So if you still have an overly complicated hiring process you’re probably noticing a high attrition rate. Candidates simply are not willing to go through multiple steps to get to an interview or get the job. 

The challenge is, how can you streamline your hiring process without compromising its integrity?  If you use best practices such as Topgrading or our Sales Talent Acquisition Routine (STAR hiring system) you know how valuable it is to implement a rigorous selection process. Is your hiring process as efficient as it can be? 

We recommend taking a critical look at every step of your hiring process and looking for opportunities to streamline it. Review every single thing that you ask a candidate to do, from the candidate's point of view, and ask yourselves, "What value do I get from this step? Can I remove it without detracting from the rigor of our hiring process?" It's a balancing act. You don't want to take away from having a rigorous selection process, but you also want to restructure it to make it more candidate friendly.

In our practice, we help our clients hire sales people all the time. For years, we would have candidates fill out an application, and then ask them some basic questions. After they took the application, we'd have them take an online sales assessment. After that, if they were recommended, we would schedule a series of interviews. We found this process was no longer getting us the candidates we needed, so something needed to change. We decide to eliminate the initial application because with their resume and assessment we would get all the information we needed.  We didn’t compromise our rigor, we just made it more streamlined and candidate-centric.  What steps can you review, modify or simply eliminate from your selection process to do the same?

Once you’ve streamlined your selection process the next step is to make sure you have your hiring team fully engaged.  When you have a quality candidate who's interested and engaged in the process, have everyone on the hiring team on high alert and ready to go.  Nothing on their calendar is more important than engaging the candidate in an interview.  Do your best to accommodate the candidate, not the other way around. After speaking with candidates, come to a consensus quickly, and decide what you want to do. Quality candidates are not going to wait around. I've seen too many companies lose great candidates because they can't get their hiring team to engage in a timely fashion. 

Eliminating steps in your selection process and keeping everyone on your hiring team focused and engaged will help you win the war on talent. The companies who are able to maintain a rigorous, candidate-centric process, are going to attract better talent and hire better people. The faster you can get someone onboard, the faster they can get through the learning curve and begin producing results for your company.

Is This Sales Blind Spot Impacting Your High Performers?

Busy, highly-productive sales people move at a different pace.  They generate more activity.  They have more opportunities in their sales pipeline.  They drive operations a little crazy.  And as you read these sentences there is probably someone on your team who immediately comes to mind (hopefully several people who come to mind!).

Busy, highly-productive sales people get stuff done.  But could they do even more with one minor adjustment?  During a recent coaching conversation with Marianna, a highly-productive sales person at one of our clients, we had a bit of an “a-ha” moment.  A few weeks ago we were reviewing her pipeline and she was quickly going through the opportunities she had disqualified that week, along with her reason for moving them out of her pipeline.  As I listened to her reasons, dispensed machine-gun style with ruthless efficiency, I realized that she was quickly putting each opportunity into a category.  And this quick categorization was creating a sales blind spot for her.

This is an over-simplified example of the categories Marianna was using:

  • Does the prospect fit into one of these categories where we’ve had past success?  (Yes/No)

    • They have clear, compelling reasons to change

    • We are talking with someone who has the authority to make a change

    • We have discussed money, both in terms of the impact on their current operation if they do not make a change as well as the investment required to go with our solution

    • There is a clear timeline

    • There is urgency to do something about the situation

    • And so on…

  • Does the prospect fit into one of these categories where we’ve had trouble?  (Yes/No)

    • They are talking with our competitors

    • They have never made a change of this magnitude

    • The budget is undefined

    • Our pricing is perceived as too high

    • There are multiple parties involved in the decision process (and maybe we are not talking with the right players)

    • And so on…

What’s wrong with this approach?  In most cases, nothing.  These items provide a pretty decent start on a checklist to guide sales people through the discovery and qualification process.  For most sales people this type of checklist will be a great guide to identifying opportunities to pursue or discard.  However, the trouble begins for busy, highly-productive sales people when they just go straight down the list without slowing down to ask a few extra questions.  It’s their strength – their ruthless efficiency – that creates this potential sales blind spot.  For example, in Marianna’s mind the fact that a prospective buyer is also talking with competitors is an immediate disqualifier.  Not because she lacks confidence or feels she cannot earn the business in a competitive bid, but because she’s busy and it’s easier to move on to an opportunity she can close without the extra steps to navigate.Slow Down Snail

We coached her to slow down (just a little) to ask a few follow-up questions whenever a prospect showed one of her “disqualifiers.”  We discussed that it would only take a few extra minutes per call and she agreed.  The results?  It’s too early to tell but the early indicators look great – for both Marianna and our client.  In most cases her “quick categorization” is accurate 90% of the time.  But by slowing down just a bit and asking a few follow-up questions, she’s already identifying prospective clients she previously would have disqualified and keeping them in her pipeline.  For a high-producer like Marianna, increasing your pipeline by 10% will have a major impact on revenue growth.

Who on your team may have this same sales blind spot?  Remember, this issue will only apply to your elite, high-performing sales people.  What will happen to your revenue this year if your sales leaders can help this group increased their pipeline by 10%? 

How Much To Budget For Sales Training

Sales Training BudgetIf you’re on a calendar year, your VP of Sales is probably preparing their budget for next year.  How much will they put in for sales training?  How much should they?  What kind of training should you invest in?  Is there anything you can do to make sure you maximize the impact of your training investment?

1.  How much should we budget for sales training?

    A good rule of thumb for a high-performing sales organization is to invest somewhere between 3-6% of your sales payroll on additional sales training and development.  So for a 10-person sales team where each sales person is making $100k, that would be $3,000-$6,000 per person, or $30-$60k for the department.  If your sales team is already operating at a high level, you may be able to scale that back.  If you have neglected investing in sales training and development, you may need to increase this budget until your sales team consistently performs at a high level.

    2.  What kind of training should we invest in?

      When you stop and actually look at how companies spend their training dollars (as we do in our sales force development consulting practice) a few trends emerge immediately. 

      • It seems most companies still use a “Feature/Benefit” sales model because what is often categorized as sales training is really just product training (if we drill in all those features, something will stick).  Very little if any money is invested on developing sales people and giving them the skills to ask better questions and have intelligent conversations.  Even less attention is given to sales managers who need to develop the tools and skills they need to become better coaches.  
      • There is often a bias toward “quick fix” seminars and one-day training sessions.  High-impact one-day training doesn’t work! It's like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose, most of it runs off and dries up in a short time – and you get water up your nose!

      The most effective training programs are delivered in a “blended learning” environment that combines live workshops that emphasize role play along with individual study that allows each sales person to focus on their particular weaknesses.  No matter how the training is delivered, reinforcement and follow up coaching by the sales manager is critical.  This type of reinforcement training provides opportunity for clarity and real world application. And that is when true change happens.

      3.  Is there anything we can do to make sure we maximize the impact of our training investment?

        The best investment you can make is to evaluate your sales team.  A good evaluation should provide insights into the “unanswerable questions” you’ve had about your sales organization:

        • Who on the team is trainable?
        • Do we have the right people in the right roles?
        • How much training will they need and is it worth it?
        • What impact will training have on improving my sales pipeline? How about our closing percentages?  What about increasing margins?
        • What type of return-on-training-investment should I expect for my current sales team?
        • Are my sales managers doing everything they can to grow the business?
        • What should my sales managers start doing?  What should they stop doing?
        • Who on my sales team can we save and will it be worth it?

        Investing in a sales training program without being able to answer these questions would be like publishing your financials without getting an outside audit.  Ask these questions when your Sales VP turns in their first draft budget you’ll have a very productive conversation.