Wednesday, February 16, 2011


In Good to Great, Jim Collins outlines the difference between companies that can sustain success from those that can’t.  However, the difference between surviving and thriving often comes down to SALES.  While a good product, marketing, and investment are all important, it is the sales team that provides the lifeblood of the company—Revenue.  As Guy Kawasaki pointed out in Rules for Revolutionaries, "The best product doesn't always win."

NEWS FLASH!  Your customers don't care about your sales process.  "Packaged Solutions” are being commoditized by the Internet, Social Media and Microsoft.  Your sales team is no longer considered the best source of information about your product. 
Social media is the consumer’s first choice for acquiring product knowledge.  No one with the budget and power to make a six or seven figure decision is going to engage a sales person to watch a Feature-Advantage- Benefit presentation on 25+ PowerPoint slides.  Sales people who do not establish a “brand” are marching down a path to their own obsolescence. 
Today’s prospect & customer wants a Sales Professional who :
1.   Understands their business (Industry and Business Acumen),
2.   Who is going to be accountable for their decisions and actions, and
3.   Who will be an Advocate for the customer when problems arise in the relationship. 
That’s right, I said when, not if, a problem arises.  Every customer who has purchased technology knows that problems will occur.  Potential clients are assessing your sales team (not your product) to determine if that is a person who will answer the phone when they call and if that is the person  that they want on the other end of the line when someone picks up. 
Establishing a brand is not easy; if it were everybody would be doing it.  However, those who do will make far fewer cold calls than those who don’t and will be able to guarantee that their six figure salaries are justified in 2011 and beyond.  Establish a brand includes:
1.   Business Acumen – Understanding the client’s business, including their industry and their job specific challenges.  This includes financial, business and competitive acumen.  It’s not enough to know what they do, you have to know how their competitors do it and if they do it better or worse.  My friend Adam Shapiro who is with “Customer Centric Selling” says that he is shocked by how often sales people don’t even know what their customers do.
2.   Accountability – Don’t wait for the customer to give you a failing grade.  Proactively put mechanisms in place to measure how the customer will measure your performance.
3.   Customer Advocacy – Some call this a “can do attitude”.  When a customer has a problem or a need, it doesn’t mean that you have to give it to them for free.  It does means you have to solve the problem whether the solution comes from your company or a third party entity.   Otherwise, your competitor will solve the problem for them and erode or eradicate your presence & value.
4.   Empathetic Listening – I always say that the very best sales people draw pictures with their words.  They accomplish that by truly understanding what the customer is thinking and saying.  It isn’t enough to ask follow up questions or repeat what you have heard, you need the ability to understand how the customer feels and what would relieve their very real pain. 
5.   Executive Presence – Great Sales People are the type of person that an executive wants to hear from and isn’t embarrassed to take into a meeting with peers or customers.  It is absolutely necessary to “sound” like an Executive.  Next time you are in a meeting with an Executive or watching one on TV, listen to how they speak and think.  They have a presence that says “I’m important”.  They don’t speak quickly, use slang or unknown acronyms.
6.   Social Media – Once you have developed the skills and the vocabulary, you will need to create a presence on social media.  It is imperative that your communication skills and mindset are appropriate before executing this strategy.  While not everyone can write an entertaining blog, respond intelligently to a LinkedIn Discussion only requires a little time.  I usually write my answers in word so that I can print them, read them and spell check them before publishing.  Anyone can Tweet about articles and blogs by other subject matter experts so that customers can have quick and easy access to a host of resources.  For example:  “@CEO – I thought you’d love to see what your competitor did today (insert link),” or “@CFO loved your picture on the cover of Money Magazine last month (insert link)”.  It is imperative that your presence on Social Media reflect positively about you and everything counts – attitude, knowledge, punctuation and vocabulary.
Forget about “product” training – the product you need to sell is YOU.  Today’s Top Performing sales person will be a hybrid of sales and marketing expertise and they will be selling and marketing themselves.  The bad news is that the job just got much harder.  The good news is that the customers will follow the sales person and the company and its products will become the commodity. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

How to Interview Top Sales Talent - A (non) Manifesto.

Top sales organizations are always recruiting for good people and not waiting for an opening.  If they find a good hire, they make a place for that person.  More often than not, my clients are unable to articulate what they are looking for when hiring sales people.  While this is not a hiring manifesto, it is certainly a good place to start. 
1.        Can they quickly break down their comp plan, targets and total earnings for you?
a.       What percentages did they earn and what were their accelerators? (I like to ask this in person so they don’t have notes.)  Does it add up?
b.      The candidate should be earning at least 80% of what they will earn on target with your comp plan.  Don’t hire someone whose total comp is $60,000 and give them a $60,000 base.  They may not be driven to succeed.
2.       Do they have a need for approval?
a.       Often people pleasers have impaired prospecting skills because they cannot handle the rejection or failure. 
b.      Tell them something you don’t like about them during the interview and see how they react.  For instance, “I think you are alright, but you really talk too much.”  See if they handle and overcome the objection or if they become angry or offended.
3.       What are their self-limiting beliefs? 
a.        Do they ask you about money easily or do they seem uncomfortable?  I tell them that I don’t talk about the comp plan on the first call to see if they overcome the objection.
b.      Are they afraid to call high, and do they feel more comfortable with purchasing agents than CFOs?
c.       Do they always believe their prospects or do they test the information they are given?
d.      Do they get detailed information about your hiring process?  I like to start describing and then get distracted to see if they come back and get the information they need.
e.      Do they mimic the sales process by asking to move to the next step or by asking for the job?  (50% of the time the top candidate never asks for the job).  
f.        Do they ask you to assess their performance at the interview or to rank them against other candidates? 
g.       Do they believe that Marketing or Inside Sales is responsible for generating most of their leads?  I like to ask them what % of their leads they think should come from Marketing. 
4.       Do they have business acumen?
a.       To what publications do they subscribe?  Can they describe a recent article?
b.      Ask them to name the last 3-4 books they have read and ask pick one to ask “how was this helpful in your job?
c.       Ask them if they review annual reports and what information they are seeking?
d.      Ask them how they get competitive information.
e.      Ask them what type of research they do on prospects and how they use it.
5.       What will be their challenges once you hire them?
a.       Ask them what they like/ dislike about meetings.  Do they “love” going to meetings with prospects?
b.      Do they talk too much?  Are they waiting to reply and stepping on your words, or do they listen to you and ask follow up questions? 
c.       Do they take notes while meeting with you and refer back to them?
d.      How often do they discount and why?
e.      Ask them the #1 reason they lose deals.  If they say” price”, PASS. 
6.       Are the skills they have mastered similar to the ones they will need while working for you?
a.       Ask them to list job titles they typically call on and how they “pitch” that person.
b.      How much supervision are they accustomed to having?
c.       What types of support would they like to have from you?  From Marketing?  From Inside Sales or Sales Engineers? During negotiations?
d.      Ask them if they consider themselves a power prospector, a power closer or a power networker and why?
7.       What Sales Skills have they mastered?
a.       Ask them to rank their skills in cold calling, qualifying and closing according to “master”, “competent”, and “needs improvement”.    
b.      Ask them for their favorite and least favorite steps in the sales cycle and why.  Can they clearly articulate what makes them good at something or do they give you stock answers such as “people like me” or “I like solving people’s problems”? 
8.       Tell me how you spent your last week at work on your last job?
9.       Are they Goal Oriented?
a.       Can they tell you their 6 month, 1 year and 5 year goals?
b.      Do they have them written down?  Ask to see them.
c.       What was the last goal they failed to reach and why?  (This tells you if they review their goals and hold themselves accountable).
10.   Are they trainable?
a.       Ask them about how much training they received at their last job, both formal and informal.  Ask them what they liked or disliked about it.
b.      Ask them which, if any sales methodologies they have used (i.e., Sandler, Miller Heiman, Bosworth.)  Ask them if they continued the training after leaving that company.  (Lifetime learners seldom discontinue their training just because they left a particular job).  Training can be via webcasts, reading books, etc. but I like to know if they have ever paid to attend training on their own. 
c.       Ask them what training, if any they would like to attend and why? 
d.      Do they have a positive outlook?  People who blame others for their failures are difficult to train and mentor.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Frequently, the complaint I hear most from sales people is that management makes them waste too much time filling out reports, or using CRM tools. When I hear this, the first thing I do is check their FB page to see how often they play Farmville.

Truthfully, how long do you spend on email or FB each morning before you really get into your day? How many of those emails are urgent or business critical? How many times a day do you trek to the coffee machine or outside for a smoke?

For those of you who want to Plan your Success in 2011, i am providing a Road Map for getting started. Give up your FB time for 3 mornings and you will be on your way! Let me know if I can help. \

I.           Analyze:  Good planning always begins by analyzing last year's business.  I mean real scrutiny. 

a.   Make a list of the accounts you won and the accounts you lost.  (I need a big glass of wine for the second part). 

                                          i.    Perform a Win / Loss review of your previous year’s deals: Why did you win or lose?
                                         ii.    List how the lead was generated and by whom,
                                        iii.    Determine if there was an account plan, where it was followed and where you failed to execute,
                                        iv.    Determine where mistakes were made (even in winning business, we make mistakes),  to eradicate them in future deals
                                         v.    Review victories, to create best practices 
                                        vi.    Do your wins or losses share any common traits?

b.     Analyze your customers by segment:
                                          i.    Best and worst
                                         ii.    By Industry
                                        iii.    By  Order Size

c.     Review your products and services by segment:
                                          i.    Which ones does your company sell the most?
                                         ii.    Which ones do you sell the most?
                                        iii.    What is your most profitable business?
                                        iv.    What products and services get the best reviews from customers?

II.          Objectives:  Now that you have completed the review, it is time to set Objectives.  These will include your quota, but should also include personal goals. 

a.     Quota:  What will drive your success?
b.     What is your desired product mix? 
c.     What customers and prospects will be included?
d.     What percent will be from existing customers versus new sales? 
e.     Are these objectives consistent with last year's performance? 

III.         Measurement;  After setting objectives, you will need to put performance metrics in place to measure:

a.     How you are performing against your goals ?
                                          i.    Monthly,
                                         ii.    Quarterly
                                        iii.    Annually?
b.     Is your revenue is coming from different sources than previously planned? 
                                          i.    Do you need to alter your plan to address changes in Industry,
                                         ii.    Customer or
                                        iii.    Product Mix?
c.     If your Target Account List is providing thedesired results? 

IV.         Planning;   Finally, you need to create the Strategy and Tactics that you will use to maximize your performance results. 

a.     What Industries or Verticals will you target? 
b.     Where will you network?  Get Leads? 
c.     How will you drive Business Referrals? 
d.     How many calls, letters, and emails will you send? 
e.     How many hours of research will be completed each week and when?
f.       What classes will you attend? 

V.              Target Accounts: 

a.   I like to start with a Top 25 list.  Remember that this list is Dynamic and will change as you learn more about the target companies
b.   Review that list monthly and add or remove companies based on results. 
c.   If you are having success in a particular vertical you may want to add a separate Target Account list for that vertical.

Remember, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  - Winston Churchhill

Monday, February 7, 2011

Training Trends for 2011

So often we do not discover "trends' until they are over.  Think about it.  In July of 2008, when the market hit a "bump" did you think that foreclosure and recession would be a "trend?"  Yes, I love to draw a picture with my words and I am a bit dramatic, but I do have a point.  As Sales Managers, we spend far too much time looking out our rear view mirror at 50 MPH.   While some reflection is healthy, it can also be detrimental.  What would you have done differently in 2008 had you known the recession was here to stay? 

As a Training Leader, I can still be surprised by how few managers consider trends in customer behavior when creating a sales plan.  I'd like to hear from you, my devoted followers, if any of these trends are affecting the way you hire, train or build your 2011 Teams. 

1.      In a shrinking economy, economic justification requires accountability on the part of the buyer and the seller.
a.     Internal justification of resources.  While sales professionals are accustomed to being asked to justify their price to customers, they are now being asked to justify the use and cost of internal resources when pursuing customers.  Companies want to know the value of pursuing and acquiring a particular customer to ensure that the cost of pursuit does not exceed the value of the sale.
b.     Customer Expectations have risen dramatically.  Buyers have long required economic justification for making purchases, but today’s customers are holding the vendor accountable for cost justifications after the sale.  Many contracts are constructed where the customer’s payment schedule is based on milestones in the economic justification rather than the timeline. 
2.     Vendors and Buyers are requiring that more Sales Processes be performed virtually.  
a.     Vendors want to reduce travel expenses.  Sales professionals are using more tools like “Go to Meeting” or “WebEx” in lieu face-to-face meetings to reduce overall sales expenses.
b.     Prospects are dramatically reducing time spent with vendors.  Highly paid executives are being asked to justify how they spend their overall time and want to reduce the amount of time spent in vendor presentations and meetings.  Vendors must prove their value over the phone or via the web before an on-site meeting is granted.  Because virtual meetings allow the prospect to multi-task without being detected (email, conference calls, etc) vendors need to power pack their content to gain and maintain interest. 
3.      Selling has become a Customer-Driven Process
a.     Customers are demanding more of their Sales Professionals in today’s selling environment. Sales organizations have to focus on developing the skills that customers demand, including sales people who understand their business, who are accountable for their decisions, and who are advocates for their customers when problems develop in the relationship.  Most sales people report that they have or no understanding of how to read a balance sheet or annual report, research an industry or understand complex business processes, making training a big priority for vendors who want to become customer-focused organizations.
b.     There is a tremendous gap between the skills that vendors value versus the skills that customers want  Most vendors report that social and communication skills are the top skills they recruit for in their sales force; skills that customers rank as dead last on their wish list.  Training will have to bridge the gap between the sales force’s existing skills and the skills that customers are demanding. 
4.     Sales 2.0 is changing the ways customers and vendors find and interact with one another
a.     Customers now have the option to avoid dealing with sales people when making many of their buying decisions.  Customers can buy even the most complex products via the web with little or no personal interaction.  Sales people & companies who want to “own” their customer relationships will need to drive value into every interaction.  This means that organizations with high turnover will be unable to build customer loyalty. 
b.     Very few sales Professionals understand where they fit into the new social networking sales arena.  Organizations need to define their Sales 2.0 strategy and spend time, resources and money teaching their sales team how to effectively use and interact with social media outlets and influencers,

5.     Free Products are available for nearly every category of software sold. 
a.     Microsoft’s “bundling” model has changed the way customers buy.  Many companies have a version of Microsoft that includes a portal, a reporting tool, a content manager, financials, CRM, etc.  Savvy CIOs are requiring that their vendors & employees “prove” a valid need for substantial additional functionality before paying to license software products. Selling a potentially expensive product against a “free version” requires different selling skills than selling against a competitor in an equal playing field. 
b.     Free software does not sell itself.  Too many sales people think that they can provide a free download and wait for the customer to “see the value.”  Qualifying that the software will be installed and used by the decision makers and influencers and managing the trial period requires excellent customer service & account management skills - skills that are more often associated with a farmer than a hunter.    
6.     While most believe that training is what separates a successful sales professionals from an unsuccessful one, training budgets have been dramatically slashed in the past 24 months,
a.     The demand for electronic delivery has dramatically increased.   Web delivery is less expensive & less time consuming than classroom training.  While product knowledge is a perfect fit for this model, many complex selling skills cannot be practiced or taught in a web environment. 
b.     Accountability is the new norm. The demand for web content delivery is challenging internal and external trainers to justify and drive the value from more expensive training venues & methods. 
7.      Given the large expenditures for training it is important to accurately measure training effectiveness.
a.     Using Top Line revenue to measure training effectiveness is unreliable.  Many factors can impact top line revenue including SPIFs, marketing, economic trends, new products, etc, making top line revenue a poor means for measuring training initiatives. 
b.     The best measures of Training Effectiveness are improvements in the sales process.  Processes in the sales cycle provide the best measurement for training effectiveness.  These can include shortened sales cycles, increased deal size, higher RFP close rates, etc.  The challenge with this approach is that the organization must have an objective and an accurate mechanism for measuring the steps in sales process with at least 1 year or more of history to effectively measure improvements. 
8.     Sales Leadership will be required to help manage more than numbers.
a.     Sales Management training delivers the best return on investment.  The cost and resources required to create and train a successful sales force is on the rise and managers will be needed to protect the investment.  Sales management training consistently delivers the best returns on training and results. Managers will need training to develop better recruiting, hiring, coaching and mentoring skills.
b.     Motivation & Resilliance becomes more challenging.  Slashed budgets have reduced sales trips, motivational speakers, expensive prizes and other traditional incentives.  Sales managers will be expected to create a culture of motivation, winning, self-study and team collaboration without spending a lot of money. 
9.      “Sales” is becoming more of a Profession than ever before, increasing the demand for sales training.
a.     In the past, companies like GE and Dell considered sales an entry-level position.  Historically most sales training was focused on entry-level skills like cold calling and objection handling.  T0day’s sales teams are required to have business acumen, financial acumen, research and analytical skills, meaning that organizations will have to spend more on sales training than ever before. 
b.     College Degrees are now a requirement.  More companies are requiring a college degree as a prerequisite for employment in sales.  College graduates traditionally demand more professional training. 
10.   “Sales” will become a Company Initiative.  
a.     Everyone member in the organization will be required to understand his/ her role in the sale.  From the CEO to the receptionist, training will be required to make every member of the team understand the impact they have on customer retention, revenue generation and profitability.
b.     Every member of the organization will become fluent in dealing with customer service.  From the software development team to the manufacturing floor, more employees are hearing from customers who are dissatisfied or confused.  Tools like the Website, Social Media outlets like LinkedIn, CRM & contact databases like Spoke are making it easier for customer to reach out directly to someone other than their sales person for results and answers.  It is important to define proper processes and communication tools that every person in the organization can effectively use to deal with inquiries and complaints.