Sales and Sales Management Blog

September 26, 2011

4 Signs You’ve Lost Your Team’s Respect–And What To Do About It

Everyday there are tens of thousands of sales leaders who are trying to manage a sales team that has lost respect for them—and many don’t even realize that they’ve lost control of their team.

Are you faced with any of these issues?

1. Team members are seldom on time and come and go as they please.  Are your sellers straggling into the office and scheduled meetings because of a lax office atmosphere—or because they simply have no respect for you and your ability to control them?

2. Your interactions with team members are usually monologues.  Are team members listening to you intently and respectfully and giving their opinion freely—or are they simply waiting for you to shut up so you’ll go away and they can go back to ignoring you?

3. Your team members try to talk over you.  Are they excited and want to get their ideas out—or do they think you have nothing worth listening to and don’t respect your opinion?

4. Your requests are ignored or assignments are completed in a half-hearted fashion.  Are they so busy with selling and taking care of their customers that they just didn’t have time to get to the assignment—or do they think the assignment was a joke not worth their time and effort, and besides, you’re not going to do anything about it anyway?

It’s easy for managers to ignore the above symptoms of disrespect.  In fact, it is far easier and a lot more comfortable to ignore them than to acknowledge them.

But if you’re in a position where you have a team that does not respect you, either you or they are short timers.  A manager—and the company they work for—cannot last long once they’ve lost the respect of their team.

But once the team’s respect has been lost, is it possible to regain it?

I’ve spoken to many management experts who have argued that once lost, respect is impossible to regain and the only solution is new management.

And for the most part I agree.  However, I have seen several situations where management redemption did occur.  In virtually every case, the manager took the following five steps:

  1. Personal acknowledgement.  The manager recognized the loss of respect and committed themselves to aggressively addressing and correcting the issue.
  2. Confessing to the team.  The manager confessed to each member of the team (either in a group meeting or during individual meetings with team members) that they had lost their commitment and had failed the team and have recommitted themselves to serving the team without reservation.
  3. Establishing new ground rulesand adhering to them.  The manager sets out a new set of rules that govern both the team’s and the manager’s actions along with the consequences for breaking those rules.  Discipline is not only needed, it must be demonstrated.  Consequently, it is necessary that the team know what is expected from them and from the manager and that both have objective rules and guidelines that all parties are aware of and can measure one another by.
  4. Encourage discussion–and dissent.  It is imperative that an open dialogue between the manager and the team members be created and it is the manager’s obligation to set the tone and get the ball rolling.  If the manager can’t break through the ice and begin a real conversation with the team, no amount of confession and fair rules will do any good.
  5. Treat team members with respect.  Very often the team begins losing respect for their manager not simply because they view the manager as weak, but because they feel that he or she isn’t treating them with respect.  A manager cannot expect respect from the team if they aren’t showing the team members respect.  Respect, more than any other aspect of relationships, is a two-way street.  Part of earning respect is showing respect and the manager must begin the process by making sure the team members know they are respected.

The above five step process isn’t an overnight fix.  In fact, regaining respect takes time—a lot of time, weeks and months worth of time.

Yes, once the team has lost respect for their manager the most expeditious solution is replacing the manger.  But that isn’t the only solution.  If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve lost your team’s respect—or if you have a manager that for whatever reason you cannot replace and they’ve lost their team’s respect, apply the steps above and you will, given time, repair the damage and once again have the team’s respect.

September 3, 2011

Pioneers, American Founding Fathers, Moonshiners, and a Certain Class of Salespeople

What characteristics did the pioneers who settled and tamed the West, the American Founding Fathers, and Moonshiners have in common?  They were tenacious, hardheaded, independent, and fiercely self-confident.  They certainly didn’t go along with the crowd.  Turning tail or cowering before huge, apparently overwhelming obstacles wasn’t in their DNA.  They forged their own way and were willing to take great risks.

They also broke the rules—lots of rules.  Many a pioneer left the “comfort” of the settled east and headed off—often a’gin the rules set out by the authorities, for new lands in the west.  Needless to say, the American Founding Fathers broke a few of King George’s rules and risked hanging for doing so.  Moonshiners?  There are still some in them in them thar hills evading the authorities today–and paying the price when caught.

They have another characteristic in common—they fade away eventually.  The pioneers eventually decided that the law and order and community they had in the east was needed and they traded in their fierce independence for a Town Council.  The dream of the Founding Fathers died a slow death after their death—to the point that they couldn’t even begin to recognize the government of the US today as having the slightest resemblance to what they established.  And Moonshiners are slowly fading away also.  I heard one being interviewed on the radio a few years ago who said that store bought liquor tasted better and was better quality than what most moonshiners made, but that he made it because his father, his father’s father, and this father’s father’s father were moonshiners and his moonshining had more to do with tradition than a great desire to be a moonshiner.

What does this have to do with salespeople?  Well, there’s a certain class of salespeople who walk in this same tradition of independence and a determination to do it their way—and who, in many cases, pay the price for rebellion.  Call them what you may: Loners, Lone Wolfs, Prima Donnas, Arrogant SOB’s, they do things their own way. 

And a great many sales leaders hate them with a pure hatred.

Company mandated process?  Not for them.

CRM system?  “Update it yourself, Ms. Manager,” they say, “I’ll be out selling.”

Call reports in by Friday closing time?  “Yeah, right.  I’ll see you Monday—and bring you a contract I got signed over the weekend while you were wasting your time playing golf.”

This is our sales process, use it.  “Sure,” you hear, “when you get a sales process that can sell more than I can, come talk to me.  Until then, see ya later.”

We’re a team, you say, we work as a team.  “Not me,” they say, “When you start paying me part of these other folk’s commissions, I’ll play the game.  As long as I have to depend on my commissions alone, there’s nothing team about it.”

Oh, how this group is despised by management (until the end of month numbers come in).  How they’d love to can these men and women—if only they could find a way to make up all the lost sales they’d have if they got rid of them.

Managers fret about how they can reign these folks in—how to get them to obey the rules, how their intransigence will negatively impact the other sellers on the team, how to either get them to conform or get rid of them.

They threaten, they bribe, they lie, they plead, they beg, they try to micromanage, they punish, they yell, they cry, they beat their head against a wall.

Nothing works.

So what’s a manager supposed to do?

Do you just let one or two or three snot-nosed salespeople flaunt the rules and do whatever they dang well want to do?

What about discipline?

What about being a team player?

What about the company sets the rules, not the inmates?

What about to hell with all that?  What’s wrong with a top salesperson selling their way as long as it is ethical and honest?  What’s wrong with allowing the best be themselves?

Is it really going to be a negative influence on the rest of the sales force?  It could be.  But it could also be an incentive—get your butt in gear and you can have the same freedom.

Will it encourage non stars to try to emulate the behavior?  It could—but I also said that those fiercely independent souls above took a big risk.  So does the Loner—if you try to act the part but you don’t produce, you’re gone in no time.  No manager is going to put up with that behavior unless there is a corresponding payoff in numbers.  No numbers, no job.

So what’s a manager to do? 

Turn the tables on the Loner.  When you see you’ve got a Loner on the team—one that is going to pay off with numbers and thus stick around, approach them and let them know that you’re giving them permission to stretch the rules.  Make it your decision—your rules, not theirs.  Give permission, not consent.  If you recognize what is about to happen and are proactive in giving permission, you still retain control of the situation.  If you wait until all you can do is concede, you’ve relinquished present and future control over the individual.

Working with a Loner doesn’t have to be a struggle of wills—you just have to turn their will into your will.  Semantics?  Partly—but it is also letting your Loner know that you understand them and are willing to work with them within reasonable bounds.  If the two of you have agreed on those bounds, both you and your Loner will be much happier together–and you’ll find that tension between you and your independent, hardheaded salesperson fading away.

July 26, 2011

Managing the Crisis of Time in Sales

Time is one of the most critical factors in sales and it is one of the most difficult to manage.  As I discussed a few days ago, salespeople often are saddled with conflicting demands by management—to sell while still dedicating a tremendous number of hours involved in non-sales activities such as meetings, filling out reports, taking care of internal company matters that could well be handled by someone else, and, of course, customer service issues.

In many organizations there is a virtual time management crisis with their sales teams as they try to figure out how to get their salespeople out into the field selling.

Whether you manage a giant sales force that covers multiple countries or a modest sales team that covers a city or small region, figuring out how to effectively keep your salespeople selling instead of engaged in non-income producing activities is—or certainly should be—a major concern.

For decades managers have tried to find ways to help their sales team members increase sales.  Unfortunately, so often instead of encouraging sales, management ends up hindering their team’s ability to sell by loading them up with non-income producing activities such as attending useless meetings, completing reports, and performing customer service and even collection duties that should be being dealt with by others.

One of the most common activities managers expect their sales team members to perform is that of lead generator.  Almost every company, no matter the size or industry, relies on its sales team members to find and connect with quality prospects on their own.  Many of these companies ask their sellers to simply supplement market’s efforts in terms of lead generation, while others—a great many others—leave lead generation entirely to their salespeople.

In those companies where lead generation is completely the responsibility of the individual salesperson, sellers are required to come up with potential prospect names, research them to determine if they are really suspects or not, contact them, qualify them, set up an appointment, and then, finally, make some kind of presentation.

How much time and effort is spent on generating, contacting, and qualifying the lead?  Depending upon the product or service a salesperson can invest not just hours on a single potential prospect but literally days of time invested in a single lead.

That single lead—that very often results in not only a no sale but turns out to be not even a qualified prospect—can cost hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars.

And we haven’t even begun to talk about all the time these same salespeople invest in developing their own marketing and sales materials, writing and sending prospecting letters, and spending huge amounts of time researching names that never make it to the “prospect” list..

The question then becomes are there realistic and cost effective strategies to significantly alleviate these costly activities? 

Fortunately there are some solutions that can make a great deal of sense no matter the size of the company.

Depending upon company size, hiring a small inside sales group whose function is to set appointments for the sales team can be very cost effective.  Having a staff that is paid on an hourly or percentage of closed sales basis can free up sellers to see more prospects and close more sales while decreasing the overall cost of the sale.  Many companies have very successfully created an inside sales team to supplement and support the outside team, significantly reducing the cost of each individual sale while increasing production.

For many companies who either don’t want to commitment to an inside sales team or who would like to ‘try out’ the concept before making the investment, outsourcing the lead generation and prospect qualification function to a call center outsourcing company is a perfect solution.  Outsourcing gives one the opportunity to free up the sales team without the long-term commitment an inside team would demand.

Another possibility would be to rely on marketing to more effectively qualify and nurture the leads they generate.  Often sellers reject leads generated by marketing because they believe them to be either of inferior quality or to be so far from sales ready that following up is a waste of time.  This isn’t to ignore that many times salespeople simply don’t follow-up on leads or they make a call and when they don’t connect they simply move on to another prospect.  But in many instances the quality of the leads are so poor that eventually sales rejects them out of hand.  Creating a more effective lead qualification and nurturing program can not only change sale’s view of company leads but can greatly reduce the cost of sales.

Whether you look to creating an inside team, outsourcing the function, or developing a more effective lead generation and nurturing program, finding a realistic solution to having salespeople act as lead generators, marketers, and salespeople will help to both increase production and reduce the cost of the individual sale.

July 14, 2011

Is “Managing” Killing Your Team’s Sales Productivity?

“Yeah, my folks may think I’m a bit of a hard-ass,” Bill said, “but they know they better get things done and done on time.  We have deadlines around here—when reports are due, how long they have before a phone or email message from a customer or from within the company has to be responded to, how long it should take to resolve customer service issues, and by all means, any special assignments I give them.  They know my expectations and what the consequences will be if they don’t meet them.”

Bill was a new client.  He’s the manager of a team of salespeople who sell into the building materials market.  His salespeople tend to be relatively inexperienced (most have less than 3 years experience) and who have fairly large territories where they addresses several different sectors of the market.  They deal with residential and commercial builders, building materials suppliers, and industrial customers. Each salesperson has lots of potential prospects spread out over a large area.

Bill tries to control their activity by demanding they adhere to very tight time guidelines.  For instance, calls or emails from customers must be returned with 2 hours—no excuses.  Calls or emails from within the company must be answered the same day—even if the call or email comes in one minute before they leave the office and isn’t critical.  Because of this, the salespeople are constantly checking their office voice mail and their email.

Customer service issues are to be addressed and resolved within 24 hours.  The only exception is an issue that arises on Saturday—it can linger until Monday.

Call reports are due every Friday by 4PM.  Monthly sales and the next month’s sales projection report are due by 4PM on the last working day of the month.

Special projects—of which they are always a couple that have been assigned—have their due dates.

Bill has a conference call sales meeting every Monday morning which all are required to attend.  Then each salesperson will have a 30 to 45 minute personal sales review session with Bill sometime on Monday or Tuesday.

If you add up all the time spent monitoring voice mail and email, doing reports, making sure all customer and internal issues are dealt with immediately, throw in the conference call and personal phone meeting with Bill, and a reasonable amount of time for travel, one wonders where there’s any time for prospecting and selling.

Certainly Bill’s team gets stuff done—they’re a highly disciplined group.  They pump out reports, are on time for meetings, know exactly when they get voice mails and emails, and stamp out customer service and internal company needs and issues quickly.  But not surprisingly, they’re not meeting their sales quota.

They’re “disciplined” to death—with all the wrong actions.

One can debate the value of the meetings and the reports.  Certainly returning customer and company emails and phone calls in a timely manner is necessary.  Addressing customer issues—and internal company issues—is also important.

But Bill—and a great many other sales leaders and companies—are focusing on the stuff that isn’t their primary reason for existence but are easy to monitor and to micromanage.

When I asked Bill why he hired salespeople his answer was an incredulous, “what do you mean why did I hire them?  To sell, of course, why do you think I hired them?”

When I asked how they were performing against quota, he told me that well over half were off quota for the year and the team as a whole was almost 15% off quota for the year.

I then asked him how his salespeople spent their time.  He told me that “they’re salespeople, they spend their time selling.”

But, of course, they weren’t spending their time selling.  They were spending their time meeting his deadlines and attending meetings, doing things that were easy for him to track and thus to keep his thumb on them.

How accurate, I asked, was the information contained in the call and sales reports?  How accurate were his salespeople’s projections?  As expected, he answered that there seemed to be a lot of wishful thinking and hope packed into all the reports.  The only items in the reports that he could take at face value were the closed sales.

I asked him if he thought the inaccurate information in the reports was wishful thinking as he said or just plain padding to try to keep him off their backs.  He wanted to know if I really wanted an answer or if it were a rhetorical question.  (The guy did have a sense of humor after all.)
We eventually got down to the root of the problem—Bill had his people spending so much time meeting his deadlines on busy work that they really didn’t have all that much time to do the hard work of selling.

Over the next few months Bill and I worked to change both how his salespeople spent their time and how he worked with them to make sure they—and he—were focusing on the right activities.

His team members weren’t too thrilled with the changes at first.  Although they didn’t like the ever present deadlines and butt chewing if they missed them, many of them enjoyed the busy work—it kept them off the phones and away from potential rejection.

It took some time to get everyone working on the same page—and get everyone working on generating business instead of doing easy busy work.
However, by the end of the first quarter of working with his team, Bill saw marked improvement in both the numbers that were coming in and the morale of his team members.  Sales were coming in the door.  People were making money.  Butts were getting chewed out less and less.  People were happy.

Reports—well, there were fewer of them and some even came straggling in a bit late.  Meetings—fewer of them also.  Special projects?  Hardly any.  None of these changes has thrown the world off its axis.

Bill is still hyper sensitive about dealing with customer service issues, and phone calls and emails must be addressed in a timely manner but no one is checking their voice mail and email every few minutes for fear they will miss something.  Salespeople now check their voice mail and email four times a day—when they come into the office in the morning, once prior to lunch, once mid-afternoon, and prior to leaving in the evening.
Are you burdening your team with so much busy work and so many demands that it prevents them from accomplishing their primary purpose?  Are you, like Bill, concentrating on things that you can control while sacrificing production and revenue?

Don’t answer too quickly—it is way too easy to fall into the trap of flooding your team members with activities you and they can easily control–and then blaming them for non-production.   Bill isn’t a horrid person or incompetent manager–he just fell into the habit of trying to control his people and did it by trying to control actions.  That’s far too easy a trap to fall into without even noticing.

What are you having your team do that is wasting their time—and draining your team’s production?

April 14, 2011

A Tale of Three Villages

This was related to me by a sales executive—I’ll refer to him as Robert–who swears it is a true story.  Although I have his permission to use his name, I’ve chosen not to for as you will see, the story is not complimentary to the company he was working for (and it’s too pleasant a Spring to worry about a law suit).

Like many other companies, Robert began, we had gone through a terrible year in 2008. 

I had joined the company as chief sales officer at the beginning of 2007, just a very few months before the economy really began to hurt our sales.

During the course of the year we had cut back on everything—even to the point that office supplies were monitored, hourly employees were forbidden to work overtime, a hiring freeze was instituted which not only meant that no new positions could be created but if someone quit or were terminated we couldn’t replace them.  There were no merit raises, and, of course, there we no bonuses.  Travel, training, meeting, and other “non-essential” budgets were greatly reduced if not entirely eliminated.

We in the sales department were under a great deal of pressure to bring in business—any business.  At first, profit margins were watched with an eagle eye, but after a few months the goal was to get a sale at virtually any price.  The entire sales staff was working under tremendous pressure.  Two satellite sales offices were closed during the year as well as one branch office.  The national and all regional sales meetings were cancelled.

Despite the emphasis on bringing in business at any cost, sales were still down by almost 20% for the year—and 2009 looked like it would be even worse.  The company posted a loss for the first time in almost 15 years and we knew that the following year would be an even bigger loss the way things were going.

During the first quarter of 2009 all the department heads and executives were called in for a strategy meeting.  The goal was to figure out what could be done to stop the bleeding.  I was to lay out in detail what was needed in the sales department. 

When it finally came my turn to present, I started with an overview of 2008’s sales and the current projections for 2009.  I then wanted to make a case for funding an aggressive training program starting immediately.  During the previous year our one in-house trainer had quit and wasn’t replaced.  We instituted some training during weekly sales meetings but that was totally inadequate.  For several years prior to the recession when business was really good the company had cut back on the amount of training it provided.  Business was coming in and frankly they didn’t see a reason to spend the dollars.  As I said, we had a company trainer but he wasn’t really a sales trainer although he had gone through one of the major sales training systems and was our “official” sales trainer so to speak, supplemented by our branch and regional managers and on occasion me.

Rather than giving a straight forward argument for increased training of the sales team and the associated expenditure, I decided to tell a story that I thought might illustrate the need better than simple facts.

I stood up and started:

“Around the mid to last half of the 19th century in the Midwest farming was becoming the backbone of communities.  Small farming villages were constantly forming as more and more farmers developed their farms.  Often these communities were founded on a river.

“In one area in particular at about the same time, three farming villages were founded, each on a fork of the same river. 

“Each village was thriving as more framing families moved into their area.  Over the years, additional commercial interests began to move into each community.

“For many years life was good.

“But from the beginning, each community took a different view of the fork of the river they lived on.

“The first village understood that the river was the source of their livelihood.  The village council made sure that the river was well maintained.  Any trash that was found in the river was removed.  If sand, silt, or rocks began to build up around the banks of the river, it was cleared out.  About every couple of decades they dredged the river if they needed to.

“But the elders of the second and third villages didn’t see a need to pay much attention to the river as the river was always there.  Sure, over the years the silt and sand had accumulated.  The river was shallower than it had been but it was also broader, so it had just as much water as ever.  They thought the first village’s efforts to keep their fork of the river narrow and deep a silly waste of time.  Life was good–why invest in something that didn’t need to be done?

“But then a year of drought came.  The first village barely noticed that the rains had ceased as their river still ran strong and deep and provided all the water they needed.  But the other two villages began to see their forks of the river begin to dry up.  At first it was just a bit of bigger semi-sandy beach.  Then there were mud flats that seemed to go for hundreds of yards before there was any water.

“The drought didn’t break in the second or the third years. 

“By the end of the second year the first village had seen a noticeable decrease in the flow of their fork of the river.  Even so, they had plenty of water and had no fear that if the drought lasted another year or even two that they’d be in any real trouble.

“The people in the second and third village were in very different shape.  Their forks of the river were on the verge of drying up completely after the years of neglect. 

“The village councils of both villages finally had no choice to face the crisis. 

“Both villages talked about their options—they could sacrifice and pay the price to do the work they should have been doing all along and invest in getting their fork of the river in shape to handle the drought, they could give up and move out of the village, or they could stay and hope that the drought relented before they were driven out.

“The people of the second village debated and debated and finally decided that as much as it would hurt short-term, they had no choice but to hire someone to come and help them save their fork of the river.  The sacrifice was painful—and it wasn’t quick, but finally it began to pay off and the water began to flow, each day the flow of water seemed to increase. 

“The people in the third village decided that the cost to deal with the river was just too great to bear.  They believed that the drought would abate and they would be able to delay any repairs to the river until times were better. During the fourth year of the drought the final residents of the third village moved away, leaving their small village and most of the surrounding farms to decay.

“Unfortunately, we have several competitors who, like the first village, didn’t fritter away the good years.  They maintained a high level of training for their people even though for many, us included, it seemed a waste of time and money.  They are now reaping the rewards of that investment.  Some have even seen their sales increase during this downturn.

“We now have to decide if we’re going to be like the second village that was willing to pay the price in the short-term to rectify past neglect–or whether we’re going to hope against hope as the third village did that somehow we’ll make it through.

“It’s our choice—and our responsibility.  Where do we go from here?”

 

I’d like to say that my little story had the desired effect, Robert said.  It didn’t.  We limped along through 2009 and most of 2010.  The loses grew larger each month. 

I eventually left out of disgust. 

The company is still hanging on but is looking for someone, anyone, to purchase them.  Most of the executive group that was there for my story is gone also.

Would things have been different if we’d made the decision to ratchet up our training?  Of course I can’t say for sure, but I’m willing to bet they would be very different.  We had a good product.  We had some good salespeople.  We didn’t have the right support in terms of training and coaching to help them at a really difficult time.

Since then I’ve changed my focus, Robert ended.  My team is 100% focused on gaining and implementing skills—and every manager is required to learn how to coach their team members.  No longer will I get myself in a situation where my river is going to silt over and die.

 

I thought Robert’s story both timely and relevant to many a company right now. 

I hope if your company didn’t follow the example of the first village that you at least joined the second village in digging deep and sacrificing to dredge your river to get the saving water flowing again.  If you’re with the third village, well, good luck.

April 11, 2011

Results of the 2011 Richardson/McCord Training Social Media in Marketing and Sales Survey

It has taken a bit of time and a lot of effort, but we finally have the 2011 Richardson/McCord Training Social Media in Marketing and Sales Survey results.

Some will be surprised, some won’t like the findings, and others will find they confirm what they suspected.

Two things stick out for me:

1.  Both salespeople and companies, whether they currently use social media or not, are struggling to figure out how to use it effectively. In fact, few—even those with sophisticated marketing departments investing time and effort into the process—have any real social media strategy.  Undoubtedly, this will be true for quite some time to come–and, of course, that means there are and will be thousands out looking to take your money to help you learn the hows of making Social Media work.  The lesson here: be extremely careful as there are many who know little more than how to construct a tweet who are anxious to take your money.

2.  To date, social media has been pretty useless in generating actual sales.  By far the most use salespeople and companies are getting from social media is in the area of prospecting–finding new prospects to contact using traditional means, not in making sales.  Again, this will probably be the case for a long, long time–it may always be the case.  Except for web-based sellers, few are realizing any real sales volume from their social media activities.  The lesson?  If you’re thinking you’re going to make easy money by spending time on social media and not having to do the hard work of prospecting, well, good luck with that thought.  On the other hand, if you’re not using social media to help identify and research prospects, you’re probably wasting a heck of a lot of time elsewhere.

Find out what else we discovered–it’s all in the survey.

I’ve decided to divert from the typical approach of requiring you to register to receive a sales oriented White Paper or making you subscribe to our newsletter.  Instead, I’m offering the report as a simple PDF download with the download link below.  I would encourage you, though, to either subscribe to the SELLING POWER Newsletter by simply shooting me an email at pmccord@mccordandassociates.com with the subject line “subscribe,” or clicking on the “Sign Me Up” button at the top of the sidebar to the right and subscribe to receive notification of new blog posts.  Subscription appreciated, not required.

If you have questions or anything needs a little more light put upon it, by all means, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Download social media survey

December 15, 2010

3 Major Issues Facing Sales Management in 2011

Even as the economy slowly recovers sales managers will be dealing with some tough issues in the coming year.  Rather than getting easier, the improving economy may make managing the sales function even more difficult than it already is. 

 Here are three areas that sales managers are going to have to work through this year:

  1. Improving marketplace, limited budget.  Although the market may be improving, the sales budget will still be on life support.  How can you aggressively attack when you don’t have the resources you need?
    Time management will be key to turning up the heat on sales while dealing with limited resources.  First, cut out all extraneous activities and meaningless busy work for both your salespeople and yourself.  Concentrate completely on finding and connecting with quality prospects.  Sellers should be in the field, not in the office.  Meetings and reports should be held to a minimum. 
    Second, encourage salespeople to purge their pipeline of deadwood and to focus only on real prospects.  In a strengthening market you cannot afford to have your sales staff waste time and energy on non-prospects.
    Third, encourage your salespeople to revisit their clients and seek referrals.  Referrals are not only the most cost effective lead generation strategy, if your sellers learn how to ask for introductions to specific prospects that they know they want to connect with and that they know their client knows, referrals can become your central growth strategy in 2011. 
  2.  

    Pressure to Increase Margins.  As the marketplace improves, senior management will be demanding not only that sales increase, but that the profit margins on those sales increase also.Unfortunately, many of your competitors will be more than willing to cut margins to the bone just to land business.  Do you get into a price war just to get business or do you concentrate of high margin business? 

    The decision may not be as easy as it may seem since senior management will be demanding high margin and increased sales—in an atmosphere where price cutting is rampant by competitors.  It may seem that their demands are unrealistic—and the pressure to increase sales will be very, very real. 

    Do you go for sales or profitability?

    Can you really do both?

    Yes, you can.  In order to see an increase in both sales and margins you must concentrate on high quality prospects while offering them more value than your discounting competitors.

    OK, that’s obvious.  So, how do you do that?

    a)    Don’t just sell a solution; turn your solution into dollars in your client’s bottom-line.  Where most of your competitors will sell a solution to an issue, you must convert your solution into dollars—what is the bottom-line value of your solution to your client?  How much will it save or make for your client?

    b)    As discussed above, concentrate on high quality prospects only.  If you want prospects who are seeking quality solutions, not cheap solutions, you must be highly discriminating in where you spend your time and effort.  Define in detail who your ideal prospect is and concentrate your time on finding and connecting with them rather than blasting away with a shotgun at anyone who breaths.

  3. Working with Remoteand Semi-Remote Salespeople.  More companies are hiring sellers who either work remotely from home or only come into the office when necessary.  Developing and cultivating a relationship with these sellers has always been difficult for sales managers and that will only become more of an issue as the number of remote and semi-remote sellers increases.

    Whether your sales team is housed in your office or is remote in whole or in part, coaching them is one of your primary responsibilities, and in order to do that you must understand their strengths and weaknesses, as well as how to work and communicate with them.   Unless you really understand where your sellers need help, you can’t maximize your coaching and managing efforts.  Rather than relying on your gut feelings or the salesperson’s personal analysis of their needs, employing a 360 degree assessment tool such as Halogen’s 360 feedback will not only save a great deal of time, but give far more useful and accurate information that will allow you to both strengthen your relationship with your sellers and to focus on the real coaching needs of each individual in your sales team.
    As the economy continues to improve, companies will begin to add salespeople to their sales team.  Quickly determining these new seller’s strengths and needs will be even more critical as management will demand you get them up and productive as soon as possible, making assessment tools even more valuable and putting even more demands on your coaching time.   
 2011 will be a year of growth opportunities–but the very growth companies have hoped for will create demands on sales management that will be more crushing than they experienced during the business decline of the past three years.  For those managers who are prepared to address the upcoming issues, although it will be a difficult year, it can be a highly successful one.

November 4, 2010

Guest Article: “Questions to Lead By,” by Keith Rosen

Questions to Lead By
by Keith Rosen

Let your employees tell you how to motivate them

Motivating employees is often exhausting and time consuming work. Managers provide incentives, set goals, acknowledge top producers, even use consequences or threats. They use these tactics in an attempt to stimulate some level of interest in their staff, trying to push them into action.

Yet, when that external stimulation is no longer present, people have tendency to slip back into their old ways; not moving unless someone is there to push.

Although worn out from this exercise, business owners tell me they believe their primary role is “problem solver” to their employee’s challenges- a role probably learned from their predecessors and mentors. Many attempt to control their environment, working within the limits of what they already have. Some spend their time extinguishing fires. Others derive their energy by keeping certain challenges alive, providing them with some sense of purpose.

Perhaps the real issue is not tapping into what might drive employees to motivate themselves.

Seth Hallen, owner of Home Security Inc., discovered this. His 25-person staff had a tendency to deviate from company procedures that continually resulted in production delays. Deciding it was because they were unclear about their responsibilities, Hallen had his staff write up their own job descriptions and career goals.

The results were surprising. Telemarketers wanted flextime and opportunities for career growth. Salespeople cared more about job stability and receiving positive acknowledgment for good performance rather than commission. In response, Hallen adjusted the job descriptions and procedures, creating individualized incentive programs geared to each employee’s goals and strengths. He empowered his staff by seeing and acknowledging their natural abilities, while supporting their personal vision of what was important to them.

Hallen found this simple exercise made a dramatic difference in how his staff approaches their career. “There’s less friction or communication breakdowns. People are taking ownership of their responsibilities, providing a greater sense of accountability and direction,” Hallen says. “I also find they are much more responsive to changes in our company that support the corporate vision we can all be pulled towards, rather than pushed to achieve.”

Continually providing employees with solutions can train employees not to be accountable. It will likely result in the lackluster performance you are working so diligently to avoid. It creates an environment of dependency, preventing employees from sharpening problem solving skills or discovering their own solutions.

Today’s enlightened leaders instead are coaching, more than managing their staff. The difference is that you give strength or inspiration by uncovering what internally motivates them based on their beliefs and values, as opposed to stimulating interest externally based on your beliefs. Tapping into a person’s previously unused talents advances personal growth, challenging people to discover their best.

Coaching utilizes a process of inquiry which allows your staff to articulate what they want, then access their own energy to achieve it. Otherwise, you’re using your energy to get someone else in motion. To uncover each person’s internal drive, ask questions. Invest the time uncovering what is truly important to your staff in order to improve performance and align their efforts with the company’s vision and direction.

Here are some suggested questions:

  What do you want in your career that you don’t currently have?

  What do you want to be doing that you aren’t currently doing?

  What are you doing now that you don’t want to be doing?

  What areas do you want to strengthen, improve or develop?

  What is most important to you in your life/career? (What does a successful career/life look like?)

  What is the legacy you want to leave behind when you are gone?

  What are the three most important things you would like to accomplish right now?

  What is your action plan to achieve those goals?

  What do you need that’s missing which is preventing you from reaching those goals?

  How can I best support you to achieve these goals? (Uncover how each employee wants to be managed/supported.)

Invest the time asking your staff questions, listening for their responses and asking more questions as you uncover what they most want. Sure, you need the right answers to stay in business. However, to get ahead, you need the right questions. Allow questions to become the cornerstone for effortless leadership that generates long-term results.

Keith Rosen is fanatical about increasing your sales and helping you achieve what matters most to you. That’s why almost half of the Fortune 1000 Companies and the top companies in six major industries chose his training and coaching solutions. He is the Executive Sales Coach that top salespeople and managers call first to attract more prospects, close more sales and develop a team of top performers. Visit his website.

October 27, 2010

Squeezing Boils–A Disgusting Sales Management Post

A recent LinkedIn discussion reminded me of Ted, a sales manager I knew years ago, who mentioned a couple of times that he was dreading going into the office because he had to “go squeeze some boils.”  After his second or third time to mention his need to squeeze boils, I asked—more than a bit hesitantly—what he meant by having to squeeze boils.  He explained that he had some underperforming salespeople who he had to let go before they poisoned the rest of the sales team.  He had to drain the pus before it infected the rest of the body.

In some respects Ted had the right idea; he just wasn’t nuanced enough (my God, I sound like a  Democrat).  Ted treated all underperformers the same.  To him, an underperformer was an underperformer.  A loser.  A waste of human flesh.  If you weren’t performing up to his standards, you were a boil that had to be squeezed and drained out of the sales body. 

Ted understood that there are underperformers who can and will infect other sales team members.  His mistake was believing that all underperformers are the same and consequently they should all be treated the same—summarily get rid of them. 

The result of Ted’s one size fits all death penalty for being an underperformer was a sales team that feared him far more than they respected him.  It resulted in a sales region that was always short of team members–and short meeting quota.  And it resulted in an unhappy, unsatisfied, disgruntled manager.

The problem wasn’t that Ted sought to squeeze the boils and get rid of the poison before it could spread throughout the team.  The real problem was that he didn’t recognize that not all underperformers are boils.  Although all underperformers must be dealt with, not all are full of pus.

Over the years I’ve found that there are basically three kinds of underperformers:

Parasites: Parasites are those team members who are simply hangers on, sticking around because they’ve found something worth milking—salary, draw, benefits, whatever.  They have no intention of ever performing.  They may talk a good game.  They may use every trick they can think of to appear to be a contributing member of the sales team.  Bottom line is they’re going to take advantage of the ride as long as they possibly can—or until something better falls into their lap.

Destroyers:  Destroyers are the true pus filled boils Ted was fearful of.  Destroyers are usually, but not necessarily, underperformers.  You’ll find Destroyers bitching and moaning about how crappy a deal the company is giving the salespeople, how lousy the company’s products are, how unrealistic the sales quotas are, how the only reason that big producer always hits her numbers is because the manager gives her all the call-ins.  Destroyers intend to hurt the company.  They delight in destroying morale.  They find great pleasure in bringing another salesperson over to the Dark Side.

Slow Developers:  Slow Developers are as far removed from Parasites and Destroyers as you can get.  Slow Developers are sellers who have the potential and the desire to succeed but for whatever reason aren’t up to speed.  Maybe they lack the necessary skills such as listening, asking questions, or finding and connecting with quality prospects; maybe they need intensive individual coaching on how to apply what they’ve learned; or maybe they haven’t learned a reliable, effective sales process.  These are men and women who can become, and want to become, great producers but who need more time and attention to mature into the seller you want and need them to be.

Pus Filled Boils Will Kill Your Team
Ted was right to drain the pus from the sales team body.  One of the responsibilities of every manager is to protect the integrity of the company and the sales team. 

Parasites and Destroyers must be mercilessly eliminated immediately upon discovery.  There is no room in any organization for Parasites and Destroyers.  Mercy and compassion has no place in dealing with these men and women.  The idea that letting these folks go is in their best interests should play no role in the decision making.  Frankly, they’re not worth the concern, worry or loss of sleep.  They are sucking the blood from the team.  Why in the world would you lose sleep over letting someone go who is intentionally or even unintentionally destroying you?

In fact, if a manager allows any of these boils to stay that manager should be immediately fired; it is simply too serious, too damaging to the future of the company to allow the sales team to become poisoned, and if the manager won’t take care of his or her team, they are worse than the boils with which they refuse to deal.

Slow Developers Aren’t Boils
Treating Slow Developers in the same manner as Parasites and Destroyers is both morally wrong and a bad business decision.  I’m not saying that you cannot let a Slow Developer go.  You not only might have to let one go every once in awhile; I’m sure you will have to let some go.  But letting a Slow Developer go should be a last resort, not a first.

Obviously the first step in getting a Slow Developer up to speed is to figure out what’s missing.  Hopefully you’ve got a good idea already.  Enlisting the aid of a quality assessment tool would be a wise decision. 

After you’ve identified the area or areas that are keeping the Slow Developer from becoming a valued producer, sit down with him or her and work out a training/coaching/development action plan.  The plan should:

  • Have a realistic timeframe based on your sales cycle and the specific areas to be developed.  Too short a timeframe and you’re not giving the salesperson a realistic opportunity, too long a timeframe encourages a lax attitude and performance
  • The plan must be based on objective, measurable actions, not generalities or mushy goals.  Instead of a goal to “increase daily cold call dials,” put a definite number on it such as “make a minimum of 75 cold call dials per day.”  Instead of a goal of “increasing line items per order,” set a specific goal such as “average 8 line items per order.” 
  • Progress must be monitored with frequent review sessions and specific, measurable progress landmarks.  Reviews should be set frequently enough to make sure the salesperson is staying on track, as well as to identify problems and make necessary adjustments. 
  • The action plan must specify the specific training and/or coaching, as well as who is responsible for the training and coaching and when it will take place.  Leave nothing to chance or some iffy future scheduling.  On the other hand, use common sense when some part of the action plan needs to be changed or rescheduled.
  • The action plan must have a specific outcome:  either the salesperson has met the action plan goals or they will be separated from the company. 

Slow Developers can become some of your sales team’s most reliable producers if given the chance and help in developing their potential.  Although it takes a commitment of time and resources, it is cheaper to cultivate your Slow Developers than to hire a replacement and you have a moral responsibility to work with those salespeople you’ve hired who have the desire and potential to grow into quality producers.

Like Ted, you must drain the pus out of your team before it infects the entire body.  Unlike Ted, you have to recognize that not every underperforming salesperson is a boil on your sales team’s butt.  Unfortunately the most common problem companies have isn’t an overzealous Ted but rather a sales manager who takes the easy route and simply allows the boils to fester and the Slow Developers to fade away out the door—often out of sales completely.

Sales management is a proactive position that, along with its rewards, on occasion requires some hard decisions be made and some unpleasant actions to be taken.  Squeezing boils isn’t pleasant.  Working with your Slow Developers is hard work.  If you’re not willing to take on both, you don’t deserve to retain your job.  If you’re on top of both, you’re in an elite class of managers.  If you haven’t recognized the need to deal with your underperformers, take them on.  It won’t be fun or easy but you’ll shortly find your team’s morale and production increase and your team easier and more pleasant to manage.

October 21, 2010

Book Review: Turbulent Times Leadership For Sales Managers

Author Tom Connellan contends that firstborns tend to be high performers—much more so than their later born siblings.  That success stems directly from their birth order as firstborns (and, of course, those who are the only child in a family) are treated differently by their parents. 

According to Connellan parents of firstborns have Positive Expectations of the firstborn.  “They are the ones who {expected} to become the all-star quarterback, the president of the senior class, the captain of the cheerleading squad,” he says.

In addition, parents give firstborns more Responsibility and Accountability.  Firstborns are not only given more responsibility, they’re given it at an earlier age than their peers.  In addition, their parents hold them more accountable for their actions and behaviors than their later born brothers and sisters.

Finally, argues Connellan, firstborns get more Feedback from their parents.  Their parents, friends and family give them more positive attention, more encouragement, and praise.

These three elements of raising the firstborn that are lacking in rearing of later born children are the major factors Connellan identifies as the catalysts of the success firstborns enjoy in far greater numbers than later children.

In Turbulent Times Leadership For Sales Managers: How The Very Best Boost Sales (Peak Performance Press:  2010), Connellan argues that adopting these three basic elements of success building and applying them to the members of the sales team by sales managers is the key to creating and maintaining top sales teams.

Turbulent Times Leadership For Sales Managers is a simple, short but highly practical book whose lessons can be applied immediately and with positive effect.  Although it can easily be read in a single sitting, application demands care and forethought. 

Connellan spends almost half of the book discussing the various types of feedback—he identifies three types: Motivational, Informational, and Developmental–and how to use them with a very strong emphasis on using positive feedback in its various forms rather than negative feedback (at least a 3 to 1 ratio, even more is better, he says).

The other two factors, expectations and responsibility/accountability are dealt with relatively quickly.

Although Connellan spends a great amount of time emphasizing the positive, the book isn’t an advocate of mushy, gloss over the negative management.  Part of the last chapter on how to put all three principles together is devoted to discussing the need to be tough, including setting tough goals.

Turbulent Times Leadership For Sales Managers focuses on the central issue of getting the best out of salespeople—changing their behavior.  Over and over again Connellan stresses that behavior change is what the three elements he focuses on are all about. 

If you have salespeople whose performance is lacking, pick up a copy of Turbulent Times Leadership For Sales Managers.  Better yet, pick up a copy for each of your sales managers—and then help them change their behavior so they can help their sales team members change their’s.

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