Sales and Sales Management Blog

August 1, 2012

Is Your Sales Team Training and Development Being Sabotaged from Within?

Filed under: management,sales,Sales Management,sales training — Paul McCord @ 11:43 am
Tags: , ,

Yesterday the CEO of a mid-size financial services company complained that no matter how carefully they designed their sales process and the accompanying training, they have been unsuccessful in establishing a consistent, long-term implementation of the process throughout the company.

Yesterday certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this lament—and it certainly won’t be the last.

There are a number of possible reasons for sales training failure from treating sales training as an event instead of an ongoing behavior change process, to salespeople who view attending sales training sessions as torture, to the company’s failure to provide follow-up coaching for the sales team.  All of these are real issues that can negate any potential success you might experience from your investment in sales training.

But there is another cause of training failure that isn’t addressed as often but can be more destructive to your company’s training efforts than any other single factor—your sales managers.

Are your sales managers reassuring their charges that, “yes, you have to go to the training, but don’t worry; just go and when you get back, sell the way you’ve always sold?” 

Maybe they don’t believe in the training you’re giving and are intentionally training their team in different processes and tactics? 

Maybe they are meeting their quota and are fearful that a change of process will hurt rather than help.

Maybe they simply don’t like change and prefer to do things the way they’ve always done them.

Maybe, heaven forbid, they just don’t care.

If you fail to get full buy-in from your sales management team to the specific training and process you are presenting, you will not have comprehensive and universal implementation of the training. 

Your frontline sales managers who work with their team members have more influence on how your salespeople sell than anyone else—more than senior executives, more than middle sales management, more than the training department, more than HR, more than the expensive sales trainers you hire.

If they don’t believe, the salespeople won’t believe.  If they don’t reinforce the messages, the strategies, and the tactics, those occasional training sessions will be nothing more than expensive exercises in futility.

How do you get all of your sales managers on the same page?

Before you ever put a salesperson in a training workshop or seminar, each and every manager must have gone through the management version of the training.  Each manager must understand what the company’s comprehensive, unified sales process is and how the particular training that is scheduled fits in the big picture; what short and long-term results are to be expected; what their job is in reinforcing and coaching the training; and what criteria will be used to determine the success or failure of the training.

Most of all, each manager must believe in the process and strategy.  .

Whether the training is presented by an in-house trainer or by a professional trainer brought in from outside, each segment of training should consist of a management segment designed to gain manager buy-in and to give them the tools and knowledge they will need to coach sellers once they are back at the office and a segment for salespeople that is attended by their managers.

And although the initial cost of training in terms of both time and money will increase, the long-term result will be reduced waste of training dollars and increased sales.  That wished for unified sales process will begin to become a reality because the biggest determent to success has been turned into the biggest promoter of success.

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March 26, 2012

Four Common Destructive Sales Management Styles

I’ve had the privilege of working with many new managers whose company hired me to help them transition from seller to manager or to work with existing managers to become more effective.  One of the recurring issues I’ve discovered is a misunderstanding of what a sales manager is.

Whether I’m working with a newly promoted seller into a frontline sales management position or an established sales leader, I often find someone with a warped and destructive idea of what a sales manager’s work is. 

Generally I find these misguided managers have adopted one of these four destructive management styles :

The Clone Coach:  A common tendency of great salespeople when promoted to manager is to believe that if they could just train all of their salespeople to be mini-me’s of themselves then everything will be great—the salespeople will be happy, they’ll make their numbers, management will be thrilled, customers will be loyal forever, and the new manager will be promoted again in no time.  Thus, the new manager sets out to coach every seller on his or her team to do exactly what they did to be successful without regard to the individual salesperson’s experience level, knowledge, personality, or skills. 

Typically the harder the manager tries to “coach” each of their salespeople to mimic the way they sold, the more frustrated each seller becomes and the more resistant to being “coached.”

Although the manager may succeed in creating one or two clones, they will alienate the majority of their team and eventually there will be a breakdown of trust and cooperation.

The Super Seller:  The Super Seller is the star salesperson who when promoted to manager tells his or her salespeople to forget about selling, “you get the prospects, I’ll sell ‘em” is the crux of their management style.  They haven’t the slightest interest in seeing their salespeople grow as sellers; their only interest is making THEIR numbers because it’s all about them.

Salespeople languish and eventually wither and die under a Super Seller for they not only have no chance to grow, if they do decide to exercise selling skills they are typically scolded for the perceived sin of costing the manager potential scalps on his or her lodge pole.

Although the manager may appear successful to upper management if judged only by the numbers, she is judged a complete failure and is resented by her team which typically suffers large turnover and discontent.

The Disciplinarian:  Less prevalent that the two previous management styles but equally dangerous is the manager who comes in with the attitude of “I’m going to whip these lazy good for nothings into shape if it kills me.”  Most typically it does kill—both the team members and the manager.

The Disciplinarian usually has a chip on their shoulder and disrespect for those they “manage.”  This manager views himself as being not only a superior seller to his team members but also more dedicated to the company and his job than they are. 

Sales teams under the thumb of the Disciplinarian suffer from morale issues that eventually result in high turnover and often outright rebellion. 

The Pal:  The Pal manager has most often been promoted from within the team and is friends with the majority of team members.  The Pal’s transition from peer to manager changes virtually nothing in the team’s relationships as the salespeople have a difficult time making the transition to viewing their old friend as their manager and the new manager has a difficult time now having to hold her former team peers accountable for their actions.

Instead of making the transition from peer to manager, the new manager makes a transition from peer to Super Friend, becoming the advocate extraordinaire for her team mates, protecting them and covering for them no matter what.  The Pal is committed to her friends and is most concerned about how they feel about her rather than managing them. 

Unfortunately for most managers who take on the role of The Pal, the lack of discipline and accountability results in the team members taking gross advantage of them—to the point that often their tenure as manager is very short lived.  . 

The common denominator that binds all four of these management styles together is a focus by the manager on themselves and their wants and needs.

Certainly managing entails coaching, and disciplining when necessary, as well as helping close a sale here and there; and needless to say making the numbers is important.  But managing involves far more than these few traits and it becomes destructive when the manager becomes completely focused on their own needs and their perceived success rather than their team’s growth and performance.

One of the keys to being a successful sales manager is having a solid understanding of human nature and in particular understanding what makes each team member tick.  More than anything else, sales management is about leadership, not about control or being the big shot or even just making the numbers.

Manager, if you see yourself locked into any of these management styles, by all means seek out a quality coach or find a quality management training company and start the process of becoming a strong manager.

Seller, if you find that you are working for one of the above managers, consider your situation carefully and make a conscious decision as to whether you want to continue in such a situation where your growth as a salesperson may be stymied and you may live in a constant state of frustration.

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February 20, 2012

Guest Article: Meet Them Where They Are, by Diane Helbig

Meet Them Where They Are
by Diane Helbig

Salespeole are as individual as snowflakes. The way they communicate, sell, and build relationships is equally unique. If you want to lead them, you have to meet them where they are.

Here’s what often happens in sales departments all over the world. The sales manager picks a goal, picks a process, and shares it with the sales team. It’s a ‘do this’ mentality. This process is usually one that served the sales manager well when she was a sales person. She believes that since it worked for her, it’ll work for everyone.

Sales managers also believe that it’s their job to direct their staff; it’s their job to structure the way their salespeople behave. They create the plan and then expect the salespeople to follow it. They decide when to do ride-alongs, when the salespeople should be in the office, and when they should be out in the field. They decide how the sales people should sell, what they should say, who they should say it to, and where they should go. And, they are wrong.

A good sales manager knows that she’ll be successful when her salespeople are successful. It’s not about what worked for her; it’s about what works for the sales staff – individually. Respecting their unique capabilities and needs will help her help them.

A good sales manager knows her salespeople. She’s taken the time to get to know them and how they operate. She’s talked with them about how they plan to succeed, and what they need to make that happen. Then the sales manager works with the salesperson to help them craft a plan that is unique to them. Together they develop a reporting system that makes sense.

It’s the sales manager’s job to work with her sales people in a way that is best for them, not her. This individualized attention will ensure that their needs are being met and that they have the tools they need to succeed. Since no two people are the same, it stands to reason that no two people will need the same plan and assistance to reach their goals.

Creating a one-size fits all type of sales program only works for the sales manager. It makes it easier on the sales manager because they have to expend less effort. Unfortunately, it isn’t going to get them the results that they want.

When you want to be successful and you want your staff to be successful, you’ll work with them to create strategies that work for each sales person. You’ll take the time to give each sales person what he or she needs to succeed. They will rise to the occasion because you are empowering them to create their own success. There’s nothing worse than being forced to work someone else’s program. Don’t force your staff to work yours.

 Diane Helbig is an internationally recognized business and leadership development coach, author, speaker, and radio show host. As a certified, professional coach and president of Seize This Day Coaching, Diane helps businesses and organizations operate more constructively and profitably. She evaluates, encourages, and guides her clients

February 13, 2012

Guest Article: Breathless Business, by Dan Waldschmidt

by Dan Waldschmidt

We’ve become a generation of “good enough” business leaders.

We’ve traded a relentless focus on being extraordinary for the justification that we are following the rules. That we are doing what we’ve been told we should be doing — college degree, MBA, and 5 year subscription to Smart Business magazine.

Nothing too risky.

Nothing unexplained.

In place of wonderment, we’ve adopted process, policy, and politics. There are rules for everything. And when that doesn’t work we can always blame the “nine-to-fivers” for not doing enough.

If something goes wrong then we unwire the entire business process and start strategizing around the uncertainty that we just experienced.

But maybe this whole drive for understanding the process is why we find it so tough to stay motivated. To stay focused on our mission. To take the road less traveled.

We’ve lost our sense of breathlessness. Our curiosity for achieving the impossible.

If we can’t predict it, project it, and plan for it, then we aren’t interested.

But the magic behind success is what happens in spite of our anticipations — what emerges from chaos and confusion.

Maya Angelou made the poetic observation that: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

Breathless business.

Leadership needs an overhaul — we need breathlessness.

  • Our customers crave it.
  • Our employees thrive in it.
  • Our ambitions demand it.

It’s the missing ingredient in our struggle for finding success.

We’ve tried everything else. We’ve tried to manage chaos; attempted to manufacture passion from school plans. We even have a bevy of tools to help us automate empathy.

And none of it has worked.  None of it is working.

Customer loyalty is at an all time low.  Employee retention continues to exasperate progress.  Selfish sales and marketing processes dampen client engagement.

We’re missing guts.

We’re missing the guts to be amazing — choosing survival over the extraordinary.

It’s time to start being amazing.  Being predictable and eliminating uncertainty is what is holding you back.

Be breathless.

Speaker, writer, strategist, Dan Waldschmidt is at war with conventional business strategy.  His Edgy Conversations© have turned hundreds of companies into rock-star businesses and the Wall Street Journal calls his blog one of the” Top 7 sales blogs” anywhere in the world.  He’s on a mission to empower millions of high-performers all over the globe.  For more information about Waldschmidt Partners Intl, go to or call at 202-630-6730.

February 3, 2012

Guest Article: Overcoming “Failure to Impact” Syndrome, by Steven Rosen

Filed under: Sales Management,team development — Paul McCord @ 11:13 am
Tags: , ,

This year was tough; next year’s sales prospects look even tougher. Your boss comes to you and says how can you sustain the sales force? What can you do?

The typical response goes like this:

You devise several homemade remedies to ensure you do better next year. You develop a plan to do one or more of the following:

  • Develop a new selling skills program
  • Hire only top sales reps
  •  Focus on growing key customers
  •  Create a better incentive plan

However, these “quick fixes” only scratch the surface. The deeper response is to ask yourself some difficult questions. You need to understand why your team is not delivering. Here are a couple of questions I would ask:

  • Are your sales reps making a difference?
  • Do your sales reps make impact on each call?
  •  Do they actually make a difference in the sales in their territory?
  •  How often do your sales managers go out in the field?
  • Do your sales managers actually make an impact on each sales reps performance?

If you have answered “no” to more than one of the questions, your team may be suffering from “failure to impact syndrome”. It is contagious and can spread throughout a sales force. I have seen it in many sales forces.  I call it the daily sales charade:  Sales reps make their calls and sales managers do their field visits. That works as long as the business grows. Everyone gets high fives and there is no need to dig any deeper. But when sales are off, senior management starts asking questions. Sales managers struggle to come up with the answers and reps get nervous.

If your sales force suffers from “failure to impact syndrome”, homemade remedies are not going to work. Unless….

Unless, you have strong front line sales managers, you stand little chance of making impact even with all the tactics outlined above. The front line sales manager is the unsung hero, a person with tremendous responsibility, but little support or development.

In today’s corporate environment, responsibilities are outpacing the time needed to perform the activities that drive revenue. The key to reversing “failure to impact syndrome” is to have your front line sales mangers physical presence in the field coaching/developing and inspiring reps. The question remains, why is this not a standard operation?

The problem is two- fold, firstly the activity that managers are least adept at is coaching/developing their reps. Secondly they spend less time in the field because of reason one and are too busy completing non revenue generating activities.

What you need to do as the head of sales is relentlessly develop a team of great front line sales managers. This is the building block to cure “failure to impact syndrome”. Top sales managers will develop their teams to their fullest potential. They reinforce sales training and help companies maximise their teaching efforts and deliver more sales.

The key to building a sales force that can dramatically impact and increase sales is directly related to the strength of the sales management team. Hire great sales managers and they will hire and develop sales superstars.

Steven Rosen, MBA is Canada’s Sales Leadership Coach and the founder of STAR Results. Steven helps companies transform sales managers into great sales coaches. He works with sales executives to develop high performance sales organizations. For more information on how you can improve your personal and professional success, contact Steven @, call 905-737-4548 or visit


December 23, 2011

Lessons in Group Dynamics from Lola

Mr. B.J.

I’ve always been fascinated with how new members of groups try to find a way to fit in with the existing group members.  I’ve spent years observing—and participating at times as a new and other times as an established member of the group—how the new folks try to fit in as well as how the existing members try to either find a place for or keep out someone new.

Over the past several months I’ve had the pleasure of watching this group dynamic play out in my own home—and most interestingly the subject of the attempt to fit in is Lola, our newest dog.  Lola has taught me a great deal about what works and what doesn’t work when trying to fit into new surroundings and with a well established group.

Ms. Chloe

Some Background Prior to Lola’s arrival, our household consisted of Debbie, my wife, Mr. B.J., a six year old miniature Dachshund, Ms. Chloe, a seven year old miniature Yorkie, and myself.  As we acquired both dogs as puppies when they were only about 8 weeks old, our little family unit has been together undisturbed for six years.

Some readers may remember how B.J. and Chloe would work the neighborhood looking for treat handouts from our neighbors.  Since we have moved to a new home that is located only a block away from a very busy five lane street, B.J. and Chloe no longer have the freedom to canvas the neighborhood and are confined to our house and the backyard.  Although they have adopted well to being restricted to just our property, with the more limited room to roam, Mr. B.J. has become more protective of his turf.


B.J. and Chloe are extremely close.  Since B.J. joined the family as an 8 week old puppy, he and Chloe have only been apart from one another on a very few occasions.  When they are apart from one another it is obvious that they miss each other—at times to the point of refusing to eat or do anything until they are reunited with the other.

Along Comes Lola Last April Debbie and I decided to go to Nashville on vacation.  Since there were some places in Memphis and Dallas Debbie wanted to visit also, we decided to drive instead of fly.

We were staying in the loft of an old 19th century barn that had been converted into a one bedroom apartment.  The barn was on a 10 or so acre property where the large main house had been turned into a bed and breakfast.  The property abutted a larger property whose barn was on the fence separating the two properties.

When we arrived we discovered that the owners of the bed and breakfast had rescued a beautiful 5 year old Golden Retriever named Lola from her unfortunate circumstances next door.  The owners of the other property had acquired Lola as a puppy 5 years earlier for their son.  It turned out that the son didn’t like nor want the dog, so instead of finding a more suitable home for her, the folks simply put Lola in a fenced in area next to their barn.  There she stayed—without access to the barn—for five years, being fed and visited only on occasion.  She endured hot, humid summers and freezing cold winters outside with no cover, no companionship, and nothing to comfort her.

When the owners of the bed and breakfast realized the situation, they asked Lola’s owners if they could take her.  They rescued her and gave her a home in their barn.  They gave her plenty of food, took her to the vet where they discovered she had heart worms which they began treating, and gave her daily attention.  But they knew they couldn’t keep her; they had to find a good home for her.

And then Debbie and I showed up.  It took Debbie about 30 seconds to realize that since we drove and could, therefore, take her home with us, Lola had a new home.

During the week that we were there we spent a good amount of time with Lola.  She proved to be a great, sweet dog despite her 5 years of solitary confinement out in the elements.

Lola Comes Home On our trip back home our attention turned to concern about how Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe would react to Lola.  Would they accept her after they realized that she was staying and not just visiting?  Since Lola hadn’t been around other dogs how would she react?  Were we about to introduce total chaos to our stable and well established household?

We arrived home late in the afternoon.  Debbie stayed in the car with Lola while I went into the house and had my reunion with the dogs.  We then switched and I stayed with Lola while Debbie went in and greeted the dogs.  Both dogs were excited to see us as we knew they would be . . .

then their little world was turned upside down.

Lola came into the backyard.

As expected, Mr. B.J. became very defensive of his territory.

Chloe was curious—but apprehensive.

Lola was excited to come face to face other dogs.

B.J. growled and yelled.  His antics didn’t seem to faze Lola.

Lola immediately decided that Chloe was her new BFF and tried to smother her with attention which Chloe didn’t like.

As we were afraid would happen, Lola got off on the wrong foot.

Rejection Starting that evening and for the next several weeks Lola tried her best to fit in with B.J. and Chloe.

When they played, she tried to join in.  She was summarily rejected.

At breakfast and dinner she tried to share their food.  She was quickly put in her place.

She tried to use their pillows and blankets and was told in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t allowed.

Her only companionship was Debbie and I, but she never gave up trying to break into the B.J./Chloe clique.

Submission Within a couple of weeks she decided the best route to acceptance was submission.  She took her behavior cues from B.J. and Chloe—and those cues were basically, “stay away.”

She would meekly approach one and they would either snap at her or turn and walk away.

She would try to lie on the floor next to one and would get a paw in the face for her trouble; she would then head off to find a place by herself.

When one of the dogs would bark at her, she’d roll over and whimper.  One would think that Mr. B.J. was the one who weighted 90 lbs. and Lola was the one who weighted 13 lbs.

Lola Stands Her Ground Slowly Lola tired of the treatment she was receiving from B.J. and Chloe and began to assert herself.

Instead of meekly approaching them, she began to confidently insert herself into their play.

At breakfast and dinner when B.J. growled, she growled back.

When she wanted to lay on one of their mats or curl up with one of their blankets and they objected, she ignored their threats.

When B.J. barred his teeth, she barred hers.  They never fought for she discovered that in truth Mr. B.J. is a classic bully—he’ll yell, scream and threaten, but when stood up to, he goes turtle and begins to cry.

Acceptance As Lola began to assert herself and demand to have her place in the home, Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe began to accept her as a part of the family.

The more Lola claimed her rightful place, the more respect and acceptance she received.

Lola has been with us for 9 months.  She still isn’t as close to B.J. and Chloe as B.J. and Chloe are to one another—and, of course, she never will be.  But she finally demanded and received her place in the home.

B.J. isn’t as patient with her as he is with Chloe.  Chloe still refuses to be Lola’s BFF.

Lola still is learning how to relate to other dogs.  She tries hard but is still clumsy and often tries too hard.

But a great deal of progress has been made.

Lessons Learned So what does this dog story mean to humans?

I’ve seen this same situation worked out in sales forces when a new salesperson joins an established group of sellers.

The same dynamics take place.  The established group tries to ostracize the newcomer either out of fear or jealousy while the newcomer tries to figure out how to fit into the group.

Most of the time the newcomer tries to win acceptance through acquiesce—hoping that by meekness and being as unobtrusive as possible the group will find a place for them.  Most often they experience the same result that Lola experienced—they remain an outcast.

A good number of these newcomers will eventually tire of outcast treatment and begin to assert themselves at which time the group seems to begin the acceptance process.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen far too many newcomers simply accept their outcast status.  They never learn how to assert themselves and demand acceptance.  A great many good sellers will end up leaving the company because they don’t feel that they fit in.

Managers: understand how important it is that you help your new sellers fit into the existing group.  Find one of the leaders of the group and seek to get their help in bringing new sellers into the group.  Make sure you keep an eye on how new sellers fit in and encourage them to assert themselves and to insist on taking their rightful place within the group.

Sellers: ultimately it is your responsibility to work your way into the group that you are joining.  Understand that there will likely be some resistance to accepting you.  Likewise, understand that if you allow yourself to be dominated and pushed aside, that very likely will happen.  You must stand up and demand to be let in—yet at the same time you certainly cannot come across as egotistical or a jerk.

Many managers ignore the problem their new sellers face when joining an established sales team.  How the new seller fits in will have a significant impact on both their sales efforts and their longevity with the company.

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 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.

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