Sales and Sales Management Blog

June 26, 2014

Why Producing Sales Managers No Longer Make Sense (If They Ever Did)

Although many companies believe they are maximizing dollars by requiring their frontline sales managers maintain and grow their own book of business, are they really getting the value they expect or are they costing themselves sales and money in the long run by trying to save a few bucks on a manager’s salary?

Let’s examine the duties that are expected from a producing sales manager as gleaned from several producing sales manager ads on CareerBuilder:
•    Recruiting and hiring salespeople–and often clerical staff
•    Training, coaching and mentoring those people
•    Resolving customer issues
•    Coordinating and working with other departments such as shipping, manufacturing, underwriting, finance, etc.
•    Monitoring the local market and competition and keeping management informed of market changes and opportunities
•    Creating and implementing a local sales and marketing plan
•    P&L responsibility for the local office or branch
•    Conduct sales and training meetings
•    Complete reports for management on a weekly, monthly and annual basis
•    Creating annual office or branch budget
•    Creating monthly and annual sales projections
•    Operating as company’s ambassador to the community by attending community events and maintaining a high visibility in the community
•    Other duties as assigned

And then the kicker:
•    Maintaining a high level of personal sales activity and personal production

The first dozen responsibilities listed above are management activities that are—or should be—critical to the growth and profitability of the company.  Most of these activities require someone with strong management, problem solving, and analytical skills.  To properly perform these activities, the individual must have a frame of reference to resolve customer issues, to develop sales and marketing plans, to maximize the return on assets, to properly analyze the local market and competition, and especially, to recruit, train and mentor salespeople.

Only the last item is a purely in-the-trenches sales activity related item.  Yet, as anyone who has been in sales understands, to meet that requirement of ‘maintain a high level of personal sales,” selling must be a full-time job.

The Requirements For The Job
Go further into the job description and you find the ‘requirements’ section, describing the background and experience this individual must have to be considered for the job.  Most typically, that description includes these items:
•    3-5 years direct industry sales experience
•    Proven high level of production, meeting or exceeding quota
•    Strong product knowledge
•    Proven industry contacts and book of business

What’s missing in the requirements for this position?  Of course, not a single word about management skills, aptitude, training or ability.

And how is this individual typically paid?  Usually some combination of base salary, commissions and overrides, or worse, overrides and commissions.

Does It Make Sense?
The above list of responsibilities was gathered from a number of job postings from a number of industries including retail, banking, insurance, securities, medical, software, chemical, consulting, and others.  Most of these job postings listed a majority of the above requirements including the personal production requirement.

Although traditional in many industries, does this combination of duties make sense?  If it does:
•    why are so many offices in these industries poorly run?
•    Why the constant harping by senior management for the offices to keep costs down?
•    Why complaints by marketing that leads aren’t being followed up?
•    Why the complaints by manufacturing and shipping that didn’t know certain things about various orders?
•    Why are commission checks so often wrong?
•    Why is the training and coaching in these companies so poor?
•    Why are so many poor hiring decisions made by the company’s sales managers?

The list could go on.

The reason of course is obvious.  The company didn’t hire a manager, they hired a salesperson to try to keep the herd in line and hopefully end up with the sales numbers the company wanted—and that sales manager is expected to make sure they do through his or her personal production.

Sales management as so often practiced today is hardly deserving of the term.  And despite the onus being placed on the sales manager by the company, the problem doesn’t lie with the sales manager.  Typically, the company got exactly what they wanted—a top salesperson willing to assume responsibility they haven’t been prepared for in exchange for a title.

Can Companies Afford to Continue This Way?
For most companies, selling is becoming a bigger and bigger challenge.  Competition is fierce, their products are most often indistinguishable from their competitor’s, their markets are becoming more fragmented, their prospects are better educated and more demanding than ever before.

Management as a sideline, although traditional in a great number of industries, is costing companies billions of dollars every year in lost opportunities, bad hires, poor local market decisions, lack of resource utilization and lost sales.

In a complex world with razor sharp competition and astute prospects who often know more than the people trying to sell to them, companies can no longer afford to use management positions as rewards for past production.  Frontline managers are increasingly becoming the focal point of a company’s success or failure.

Many companies have already begun to change their management philosophy and have eliminated the selling manager position and have replaced them with full-time, qualified, and trained managers.  To this end, they have instituted manager training and coaching programs hiring outside companies and coaches to work with their new and existing management staff.

Take Action Now
If you are in a producing manager role, hire a sales management coach to help you prepare for the realities of the changing environment you are entering.  Those items within your job description that haven’t been emphasized in the past are becoming increasingly important.

If you’re a senior manager, consider whether a producing manager is really worth the lost revenue and lost opportunities.  Your company’s selling environment isn’t going to get easier.

April 7, 2014

Book Review: Hire Right, Higher Profits by Lee Salz

Book Review: Hire Right, Higher Profits by Lee Salz

ImageShould you only hire salespeople from within your industry?

What are the key qualifications for a salesperson to be successful selling for your company?

Do you spend as much time and effort when hiring a new salesperson as you do when looking at a new investment in a potentially revenue enhancing product or service?

In his newest book, Hire Right, Higher Profits: The Executive’s Guide to Building a World-Class Sales Force (CreateSpace:  2014), Lee Salz addresses these and many other hiring questions head-on—and provides the real world guidance and answers that are so badly needed by hiring executives in today’s marketplace.

Hire Right, Higher Profits is a highly detailed examination of the hiring practices most companies employ.  From the way employment ads are written to the unrealistic qualifications the ads demand the candidate have to the slipshod interview process itself to the inadequate or non-existent onboarding after the hire, Salz unfolds the reasons so many sales hires are a bust.

From his years of practice building sales teams Salz has come to the conclusion that:

“Five percent of all salespeople will Succeed under any circumstances “Five percent of all salespeople will Fail no matter what is done for them “Ninety percent of all salespeople fall into the LIMBO group where success or failure is determined by:

     “The strength of the match between them and their sales roles     
       and     
       The sophistication of the company’s new-hire development program—to help them       
       quicky and effectively use their skills and know-how in a new environment.”

In short, Salz’s formula for sales hire success is:

          “Identify candidates with the potential to succeed in specific sales roles                  
               + Offer skill-development programs to turn potential into reality                                                       
                                                 Higher Profits”

Hire Right, Higher Profits is laser focused on helping executives implement that formula with an emphasis that the hire must be geared to the highly defined specific sales role the salesperson will fill. 

The bulk of the book takes the hiring executive through the complete hiring process from examining and understanding in detail the required and desired attributes of the new sales hire to creating the job ad to the interview process to onboarding the new salesperson.  Salz examines the pros and cons of various sales job titles, whether or not to negotiate the compensation package, the candidate background check, analyzing a resume, and virtually every other aspect of the hiring and post-hiring process. 

Hire Right, Higher Profits is a practical, actionable guide to making quality hiring decisions, decisions that will enhance profitability and dramatically lower hiring costs and mistakes.

If you have any role in the hiring process of salespeople, do yourself and your company a huge favor and pick up a copy of Hire Right, Higher Profits.

 

 

 

October 9, 2012

Are You Dumbing Down Your SMART Goals?

If you’ve been in the working world for any length of time at all you probably have been introduced to the concept of SMART goals.

For those who haven’t been introduced to them: SMART is simply an acronym for the five characteristics of goals that have been well thought out and are realistic.

Here are the SMART goal characteristics:

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Relevant

Timely

Many times when consulting with companies or individual sales leaders I find that in an effort to develop strategic goals they totally miss the mark either through unbridled optimism or a sense of desperation that causes them to overreach the possible.  In essence they dumb down their SMART goals by creating goals that cannot be achieved or that have very little relevance to their current needs.

My experience has consistently been that the error in developing SMART goals tends be in the areas of being Achievable and Relevant.  In most instances the developers of the errant goals have been successful in creating specific, measurable and timely goals.  Few seem to have a problem understanding what specific or measurable means and they certainly understand the need to put a specific timeline on the goal.

But creating achievable and/or relevant goals is where they most often get off track.

To create an achievable goal one has to have a firm grasp on the resources available and what can realistically be achieved with those resources.  I often find goals that have little or no basis in the reality of the company’s history, personnel, and resources.  Rather than creating a realistic goal, one has been created based on nothing but a hope that somehow the sales gods will shine upon them and the goal will somehow be met.  Every goal is created within a framework of history and with certain available resources.  Any goal that does not take those factors into consideration is flirting with disaster.

Others create unrealistic goals because they feel pressure to pull off a miracle.  Whether the pressure is coming from above or from an impending financial crisis, many goals are created for no other reason than to either pacify or deceive; and many times the intent is to deceive oneself into believing things aren’t as bad as they really are.

Another group will intentionally create unattainable goals with the belief that the team needs something to shoot for, something to really stretch them.  The concept is fine—we all need to be stretched; the problem lies in the result of creating unattainable goals.  Rather than stretching the team, creating unrealistic, unattainable goals sucks morale and kills enthusiasm.   Creating goals that stretch is not only good but is requisite.  You want to make your team have to really reach to meet the goal.  But you don’t want them to be put into an impossible situation where no matter how hard they try there is no possibility of success.

Equally destructive is creating goals that have no relevance to the team’s needs.  Whether the goals are created because the goal is a hot button of one of the goal creators or a failed understanding of what the needs of the team are and how the goal fails to address those needs, creating goals that aren’t focused on meeting the needs of the team drains resources, time, and energy from those goals that are relevant. 

The hardest part of creating quality goals is taking a hardnosed, realistic look at the goals under consideration and analyzing them in terms of the needs of the team, the available resources, and the history of the team and its individual members. 

Hoping that somehow your average team members are all going to become superstars or your personal hot button goal that has no impact on the real needs of the team isn’t going to drain resources is not only silly but is self-destructive.  You may be able to fool yourself and maybe even your team for a short time, but eventually reality will prevail.

Your strategic goals can either set your company and team on the right track or be a root cause of failure and wasted time, money, and energy.  Fortunately we have complete control over the goals we create; all we have to do is have the discipline to keep from dumbing them down.

August 29, 2012

7 Signs There is a Cancer Growing in Your Sales Team

Is your sales team healthy?

Are they performing to the level you want them?

Is there a cancer growing within your team that you’re not aware of?

Do you have underlying issues within your team that is destroying productivity, creating turnover, and maybe even driving away existing clients?

Here are 7 signs that indicate you may have serious problems within your team:

1. Meetings start late because team members wander in when they want.  Is this a sign of a lack of discipline within the team or a sign that the team members don’t care?

2. Meetings are manager monologues because team members only speak when forced.  Are team members afraid to voice their opinions?  Are they disassociated and don’t care?  Do they feel that their views won’t be seriously considered?  If any of these are the root cause, you’ve got serious problems to deal with.

3. Your team experiences a significant decrease in sales in a stable or growing market.  A sudden and significant decline in sales in a stable or growing market demands immediate action—but not the shouting, the threats, and the demands for sales which are the actions most managers take.  Instead of ratcheting up the pressure, take a step back and dig for the root cause—which may very well be within management, not the team members.

4. Cliques and rivalries within the team become more intense.  Small cliques and rivalries occur naturally in every group.  Although we might wish these things didn’t happen, it’s natural for some people to be drawn together while others are drawn into close relationships with other people.  Some individuals prefer to go it alone.  It’s also common for some individuals or groups to develop good natured rivalries with each other.   But when serious issues arise within the team, the cliques become more isolated and the rivalries become more intense, the backstabbing and blaming tends to be more open, and a feeling of hostility pervades the office.

5. Conversations are short and business oriented only.  When your team members are “too busy” to speak with you other than when necessary but production isn’t increasing, you have issues to deal with.  Unless you are seeing real growth in production to accompany the too busy to talk claims, your team members are telling you they have such serious issues with you that they simply refuse to interact with you unless absolutely necessary.

6. Team members show little or no respect for company rules and regulations.  As with #1 above, you may simply have chosen not to instill discipline in your team (you’re just asking for big problems down the road but many managers believe they’re making the workplace “fun” and “creative” by running a lunatic asylum).  More likely, you have a team in rebellion and that no longer cares what management thinks.

7. You need an ice pick to chisel your way through the pack ice to get to your office.  Hard as it may be to believe, some managers don’t even recognize they have serious issues even when the ice in the office is so thick they can’t break through it no matter what.  If your office is coated in permafrost you have a dysfunctional sales team.

Problems don’t arise in the sales team from nowhere.  There is always a root cause—often more than a single cause.  From a dissatisfied, disruptive, corrosive salesperson to new restrictive office rules and regulations to changes in compensation to a dictatorial manager, there is always a catalyst.  But once the disease catches hold, time becomes its ally, making it increasingly more difficult to eradicate the longer it festers.

I’ve worked with sales leaders who have ignored the above signs.  Others have argued that these were nothing more than idiosyncrasies within their team.  In virtually every case they have eventually had to deal with a seriously dysfunctional sales team.

What about your team?  Are any of these signs beginning to appear?  If so, before you do anything, make a close examination searching for root causes.  But whatever you do, don’t ignore them as they become more destructive the longer and deeper they work their way into the heart of the sales team.

 

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February 13, 2012

Guest Article: Breathless Business, by Dan Waldschmidt

BREATHLESS BUSINESS
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 http://www.EdgyConversations.com or call at 202-630-6730.

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.

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

January 10, 2011

Truth, Trust, and The Masks We Wear

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 10:43 am
Tags: , , , ,

“No, Paul, I didn’t spend any time prospecting yesterday.  I woke up and just didn’t feel enthused; didn’t want to be here.  Whenever I force myself to prospect when I feel that way, I always feel like I’m wearing a mask trying to be someone I’m not.  If I can’t be true to who I am, I’m not serving my clients, my company, or myself well.”

Dana (not her real name) is one of my newest coaching clients.  She is a strong producer selling relationship management software to small to mid-size companies in the northeast part of the country.  She finished the year well ahead of quota.  She isn’t the only salesperson I’ve spoken to who has an ethical issue with “being someone I’m not.”  In fact, she’s not the first seller who has referred to feeling like they’re being insincere, false, or lying when acting one way while thinking or feeling another way.

We may as well get the truth laid out on the table right now—we ALL wear masks.  We wear them a lot. 

Society demands we wear them. 

Professionalism demands we wear them. 

We want to wear them

While talking with Charlie Green of TrustedAdvisor.com and Jeb Brooks of The Brooks Group about this article, both pointed out a book written in the 50’s by Erving Goffman titled The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life where Goffman contends that we are always, 100% of the time wearing some kind of a mask.

Although I’m not sure I buy the idea that our whole life is nothing but a continual, uninterrupted series of masks, I do believe that the concept that we all wear masks at times—especially in business–is pretty self-evident.

The question isn’t whether we wear masks, the question is: are the masks we wear ethical?  And if they’re ethical, do they inhibit trust?  At an even more basic level, are they designed to lie or to help us tell the truth?

Certainly we are all familiar with the mask so often associated with salespeople—that of the fake friend, our false ally who is going to help us get the best deal possible, fighting for us against his or her unreasonable manager, all the while lying and double-dealing without shame in order to maximize the sales price and, thus, their commission.

That mask of lies is what many salespeople associate with our profession and consequently they try to distance themselves from that image by inventing all kinds of titles (masks) for themselves that are designed to communicate they are NOT salespeople—they’re ‘advisors,’ ‘consultants,’ ‘customer advocates,’ ‘customer guides,’ ‘account managers,’ and dozens of other, mostly meaningless, titles.

Fortunately, although still used by hucksters and con artists, the mask above is slowing being forced out of the legitimate sales world as more prospects become educated about their potential purchases long before engaging a salesperson.  For most of us that clichéd mask isn’t in our hip pockets any longer. 

But many other masks are.   A few examples:

The, “Ms. Prospect, I’m really excited to speak with you this morning” mask when in actuality we feel crappy and would rather be doing anything other than speaking with her.  This is the one that Dana feels would be being dishonest with her prospects if she put it on when feeling like she’d rather be anyplace else than on the phone prospecting.

The, “yes, I understand how grievous a transgression it is being 5 minutes late to the meeting.  I’m sorry, it will never happen again” mask when in actuality we’re thinking “geeze, are you kidding?  The transgression is your pathetic excuse for a meeting that sucks the life out me and everyone else.”

The, “I know that your budget is tight and this is a tough decision, but my solution will increase your sales and put significant dollars on your bottom-line” mask when you’re actually thinking “OK, you have more money than you know what to do with, you cheapskate; knock it off with the games and let’s get down to business.”

Certainly salespeople aren’t the only ones who wear masks.  Sales managers wear their own masks, especially when dealing with their sales team and upper management.

Typical sales manager masks are:

The, “Bryan, man, just apply what we’ve been working on and you’re going to be just fine.  I know it’s been tough, but I have every confidence that you can be a great producer” mask while thinking “Man, what was I thinking when I hired this dimwit? What a goofball, it’ll take a miracle for him to last another month.”

And the “yes, sir, I talked to the team this morning and we’re on it.  You’ll see results by the end of the week” mask while thinking “Last week the crisis was to sell the XB2 systems and this week the future of the world depends on us forgetting about everything else and pushing the YS add-on.  You guys have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”

And, of course, there are a million other masks that we wear for our prospects, a different set for our clients, another set for our managers, and an even different set for our colleagues and co-workers.

Mask after mask is put on and taken off every day. 

Are we justified in wearing them?  What happens to trust if we’re caught wearing one by our prospect or client? 

These are really tough questions because, as Charlie pointed out in our discussion, a mask is by its very nature deceitful—at a minimum it’s hiding something we don’t want seen or is projecting something we don’t feel at the moment; and certainly most of us would consider being deceitful as bad.  Quite a dilemma—how can we be doing something that is considered bad and call it good?  Would Dana have been engaged in unethical activity if she had put on that “great to connect with you” mask when she didn’t feel like prospecting?

Tough questions.  My initial reaction to Dana was that the issue isn’t whether it is right or wrong to put on a mask because the mask itself is neutral—neither good nor bad.  The determining factor as to whether a particular mask is ethical or unethical is its intended purpose—why we put the mask on in the first place.

Was our intent to help build a relationship–or to manipulate someone into doing something they might not otherwise do? 

Were we trying to be sociable and considerate–or were we simply trying to catch someone off guard in order to slip something by them? 

Was it with the intent of being constructive–or with the intent of destroying?

As I thought about this issue over the next few days, I decided to ask a couple of friends what their thoughts were; thus my conversation with Charlie, Jeb, and Daniel Waldschmidt of EdgyConversations.com.

There seems to be two central points of agreement between the four of us:

  1. Masks are an absolute necessity.  As Charlie pointed out, without masks the very concepts of etiquette and manners cease to exist.  Or if we consider the deception of masks to be bad, then we would have to condemn the concepts of manners and etiquette since conforming to the rules by putting on the appropriate masks would be bad acts in and of themselves.  He sees that we put on masks for one of two reasons: either out of fear or out of respect, politeness and etiquette.

    I’ll add a third: to acquire something we want that we don’t believe we can get without being someone or something we aren’t. (To be fair, I suspect Charlie would file this as just another form of a fear based mask.) 

    Certainly no one would want to live in a world without rules governing how we act with one another.  In the 60’s, many of us of the Boomer generation decided that we needed to be “true to ourselves.”  We took that to mean that doing anything we didn’t feel like doing—or not doing that which we wanted to do—was a disingenuous act, conforming to the bourgeois norms of a crass and corrupt society.  We dispensed with much of society’s rules of behavior (and unwittingly adopted our own rules of behavior which we rationalized by “believing” the socially accepted acts we conformed to within our group were our own spontaneous actions that emanated from the real “me”).  It wasn’t pretty. 

    Most of us eventually grew out of it (a few, sadly, have been permanently lost in a stupor of blue smoke while clinging to their hookah) as we realized the masks of broader society were not only necessary unless we were willing to live in a minor subculture, they were more comfortable and in many ways more genuine than the masks we adopted when we were just ‘being true to ourselves.’ As Dan Waldschmidt put it, “Being sanctimonious about ‘not wanting to be who you’re not’ isn’t cool for pedophiles, rapists, or molesters. Why would sales execs claim any exception?”  (Or sanctimonious 60’s youth for that matter.) 

    So, no less in our professional life, as our social life, masks are mandatory.  Business etiquette demands we treat our prospects, clients, and business associates with respect—even if we don’t like or respect them.  Professional ethics demand that we perform at the highest level and with complete courtesy even with a prospect or client who is rude and hateful. 

    Business success demands that we interact and deal with our prospects, clients, and company associates with dignity and respect—and total professionalism even when we don’t feel like it.  Just try going a week being “true to who you are” and see how successful you are.

  2.  Most masks are ethically neutral—it’s your underlying reason for putting the mask on that determines whether the mask is ethical or not.

    Certainly some masks, such as the stereotypical seller mask introduced above, aren’t ethically neutral because they’re designed for one purpose—to defraud someone by making them think they are getting something they aren’t (usually a better or product than they’re really getting) or to coerce them into buying something they don’t want to buy.

    What about the other masks we identified above?

    But what about the mask Dana felt was trying to be someone she isn’t?  Is that mask bad or good?  Actually it could go either way.  In Dana’s case the intent isn’t to harm but rather to be able to efficiently utilize her time prospecting even when she doesn’t “feel” like prospecting.  Her intent is, as Jeb put it, to “increase the comfort level” of the people she’s speaking with.  She has a “genuine intent of getting the most out of an interaction.”

    If, on the other hand, Dana’s intent was to open a door by appearing to be something she isn’t with the intent to harm, whether through fraud, lying about the product or service to get a sale, or for any other illicit reason, wearing the mask would be unethical because it is being worn with bad intent.

    Let’s look at the mask warn by the sales manager who encouraged his salesperson to apply what they’ve been working on together and he’ll be just fine even though the sales manager doubts the salesperson will make it.  Again, this mask can go either way ethically.  If the manager’s intent was to try to encourage the salesperson with the hope, no matter how small, that the salesperson will get it in gear and turn things around, the mask is ethical as the intent is to produce a positive outcome.

    On the other hand, if the intent of the mask is simply to get the salesperson out of the sales manager’s hair until the manager can work out the details of firing the person, the mask is unethical as it’s only intent is to deceive the salesperson into believing he is working to save his job when in fact the decision to fire him has already been made.  Unfortunately, this unethical mask is worn by many, many sales managers every day.

    The next few masks are a bit more difficult to deal with.

    The, “yes, I understand how grievous a transgression it is being 5 minutes late to the meeting.  I’m sorry, it will never happen again” mask would certainly seem to be hiding not only the salesperson’s feelings about the value and content of the sales meetings they are required to attend, but possibly a general disrespect for his or her sales manager.  If it is simply a mask hiding their evaluation of the value of the sales meetings, I think the mask ethical in order to maintain civility and out of respect for their manager (although I would certainly think they should have a discussion with their manager about their perceived value of the meetings).  If, on the other hand, the mask is really one of many that are covering their attitude toward their manager, the mask is unethical because, to borrow a phrase from Charlie, “there’s too much of an honesty gap.”

    I believe the mask where the sales manager questions to himself whether or not senior management has a clue as to what they are doing is in and of itself unethical, again for the reason that there is simply too much disrespect being hidden. 

    In both of these instances the individual must take action to correct the honesty gap—either a discussion with the sales manager or senior management to clear the respect issues (uh, yeah, that probably won’t happen) or moving to an organization where they do respect their management.

    The salesperson who questions the lack of available dollars to purchase his or her product or service has, in my opinion, a far different issue—making the assumption that the prospect is lying.  This certainly isn’t an infrequent reaction—a great many of us instinctively make this assumption as soon as we hear monetary objections.  But are we justified in making the assumption?  In most cases, I doubt it.  Are we justified in masking our belief?  Yes, I think so.  If one of the valid reasons for adopting a mask is with, as Jeb said, the “genuine intent of getting the most out of an interaction,” then masking our suspicion is justified and ethical.  That doesn’t mean, however, that the suspicion itself might not be an indication that we need to take a close look at how we view our prospects and clients.  Although the mask itself may not be unethical, our view of our prospects and clients might.

OK, so we’ve narrowed it down to the idea that masks are necessary and for the most part whether or not a particular mask is ethical is dependent upon the reason the mask has been put on. 

What does that mean for us as sellers—if anything?

If we all are wearing masks, what’s to keep us from wearing the mask that will get us what we want, even if that mask is unethical?  What happens if we are caught by a prospect or client wearing a mask?

At its core, understanding that we are usually–if not always–wearing a mask gives us the ability to gain some control over the masks we wear.  It gives us the opportunity to make some ethical decisions we might not otherwise make and that we might wish not to make by forcing us to analyze the reasons we put on the masks we wear.  Are we putting a particular mask on in order to better serve a prospect–or to better serve our desire, no matter the ethical cost?

Charlie gives a great summary of the role masks play in our professional lives, so I’ll quote him at length:

Fear-based masks:

If I wear a mask in front of you out of fear, it is to protect myself from you.  Perhaps to project myself from your judgment, or to keep you from taking something I have, or to keep you from getting something I want.  Inherent in fear-based use of masks is a bad intent: to keep you from seeing some truth about something (usually some truth about me).  

 

“So fear-based masks are inherently oppositional–they are rooted in trying to keep one party from knowing what’s going on with another. 

“So–what does a fear-based mask do?  It triggers every fear both a buyer and seller feel.  What is he really saying?  Does he actually mean that?  What am I not hearing here?  What’s the real thought balloon?  How do I know he’s not saying something different to someone else? How do I know he’s not taking all my good stuff and spreading it around to my competitors? 

“The fear-based response triggered by a mask leads to suspicion, counter-lies, deceit, covering up, shading of meanings, white lies, and a host of other modes of deception that result in more of the same reciprocally in the other party.”

 

Respect-based mask:

“The other reason for masks is as a sign of respect, politeness, etiquette.  I rise as someone I respect enters the room; I smile at an elder (or a child); I nod my head in a sign of acknowledgement when I listen to a prospect describe his or her needs.  It may well be that I don’t feel like standing up, or smiling, or even that I disagree with someone–but politeness, respect, etiquette dictate a larger social reality–that we have evolved hundreds of little social rituals by which we acknowledge the legitimacy of the Other, the person in front of us, whether it is elderly Aunt Mildred, the head of sales at Xerox’s copier division, or a stranger on the street (in most towns, anyway).

“By contrast: respect-driven masks are an elaborate social ritual we go through to recognize our commonality, rather than our differentness.  They break down barriers, rather than erecting them.  They make it possible to live both as a corporate representative and as a human being, by emphasizing the things we have in common.    The ‘masks’ include our business card stock; the cut and fabric of our clothing; our choice of ties; and all this of course is before, ‘Oh, you grew up in the Ozarks too, eh?’ Or the East Coast, because the locale doesn’t matter.”

I’m in general agreement with Charlie—but with the recognition that there are those exceptional mask wearers who are so comfortable in their fear-based or illicit acquisition-based masks they don’t create the typical response in their victims– Bernard Madoff and Allen Stanford quickly come to mind.

As sellers we must be ever mindful of why we put on the masks we do.  Are we sincerely trying to connect with our prospect or are we trying to manipulate them?  Are we acting out of respect and desire to communicate or are we acting out of a desire to create a particular beneficial outcome for ourselves no matter the cost to the prospect or client?

The masks we wear telegraph our intent and thus can either help establish and strengthen a bond of trust with the other person or they can create a feeling of unease, caution and suspicion. 

The question isn’t are you going to wear masks; the question is are you going to consciously put on ethical masks that build trust and communication or are you going to put on unethical masks designed to manipulate and control your prospect for your gain irrespective of the cost to the prospect?  It’s your choice.  Sooner or later you’ll reap the true value of the masks you wear—just ask Madoff and Stanford.

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