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Archive for February, 2007

Mythical Top Performers

From Dave Kurlan’s Myths About Top Performing Salespeople:

Most companies have “them”.  Most managers brag about “them”. Most of “them” toot their own horns.  Most are their company’s role models. Most companies would love to have more like “them”. They masquerade as the top salespeople in their companies, a claim supported by data, spreadsheets, commission statements, awards and accolades.  But who are they really?

Most of them are sales frauds.  Most of them have everyone fooled. Most of them, if you took their cushy, big accounts away and asked them to go out and find some new business would fail.  Most of them aren’t very strong salespeople.  Most of them don’t possess a mountain of selling skills.  Most of them just aren’t what everyone thinks they are.  Most of them have inherited their customers, have the biggest territories, have the best accounts or have been out there for decades.

When we evaluate sales organizations, we are always able to identify these sales frauds.  But what does it mean for the company, for the sales frauds, for the sales organization, once they are exposed?

History tells us that most of these sales frauds are actually great account managers who should continue managing those great accounts.

He’s right.  We’ve seen this first hand in some of our accounts.  The supposed top salesperson, once assessed, was revealed to be a salesperson of limited sales skills.  I remember in one account we assessed the top salesperson and he came back rather weak.  He owned the number 1 account in the company and was placed on a pedestal by the ownership.  The truth came out after talking to one of the people who worked with him.  This “top” salesperson inherited the large account (before it was large) from a retiring salesperson when he first began with the company years ago.  He did grow the account and deserves the recognition for that important activity.

But we had to explain to our customer that he was not the model salesperson for the hunter position we were hired to select.  There were many discussions regarding this topic and eventually we established our point.

A key point to remember regarding salespeople is that they may have been the right hire at the time you hired them.  However, that does not mean that same person would be the right hire for today.  Markets change, position requirements evolve, sales tools expand and so forth.  These factors are the basis for not benchmarking your existing salespeople when hiring a new salesperson.

The Allure Of Someone Better

From Seth Godin’s Marketing your job post:

This is part of a larger trend, which is realizing that an amazing hire is worth far more than a mediocre one, or even a very good one.

My take?

There’s a difference between being noticed and succeeding.

Sometimes you need to be noticed far and wide in order to succeed. That’s why some TV ads for low-involvement products are noisy or funny or over the top.

Often though, especially for something like a job, I think that sacrificing your message in order to get noticed is a mistake. Making a video that tries to be funny in order to spread doesn’t necessarily get you the right applicants.

He’s right – this strategic approach is to be broad and wide which will lead to many respondents.  I suppose the hiring company believes they will then sift through the overwhelming response and find the proverbial needle in the resume haystack.

Here is something I often tell prospects – If we were able to do our job perfectly, you would only interview 1 amazing candidate and you would hire him or her.  But we’re not that good so you may have to interview 2 or 3 of them.

But hiring managers usually do not take this approach.  We have had many customers who have hired the first candidate, but not before interviewing 2 or 3 more candidates.  The hiring manager, when presented with an amazing candidate, still hesitates in their decision.  Instead, he or she seeks to reaffirm their impending decision by comparing this strong candidate with other candidates.

The allure is that there is someone better in the marketplace.  There is.  Yet this allure, if unchecked, leads to a hiring treadmill where no candidate is ever quite a fit.  Do not succumb to this trap – hire the amazing candidate you have identified even if they are the one and only option.

Feeling Minnesota

Great story from – Nesting at Work: What Does Your Office Say About You?

Recently, a friend forwarded me an e-mail exchange that had kicked off a brief, surreal dustup at Natural Resource Group, a small environmental consulting company in Minneapolis. Here’s how it began:

“Rich, I noticed that there is a deer head in the office next to you. Is it yours? If not, do you know whose it is? If it is yours, I will need you to keep the light off in that office and close the door as we have auditors touring the offices today. Also, if it is yours, you will be taking it home with you tonight, correct?”

Intrigued, I called Stephanie Schlichting , office manager at Natural Resource Group and author of that initial query. Schlichting explained she was concerned about the trophy’s effect not just on outside visitors but also on the sensibilities of some members of the staff.

Fantastic.  If you haven’t lived here in Minnesota, I’m not sure you can fully appreciate this story.  A mounted deer head in an office seems a bit over the top, but this is a quirky state.  One thing is for certain, people up here take their hunting quite seriously.

Good shot from the article’s author at the end:

As for the impression on outsiders€”that matters of course. But is professionalism chiefly about appearances? Or is it about actions?

Gross Margin Compensation

From’s Marketing Challenge: Gross Sales vs. Gross Profit:

Our star salesman is the best closer I’ve ever seen. He sells products and services. He’s paid a salary plus commission on gross sales. He does have some pricing latitude. I’ve noticed a fairly stable gross profit percentage on products, but it’s much different on service sales.

It looks like he’s “giving away” services to get more product sales. Service costs are somewhat vague and hard to accurately measure, but I need to grow the service side of our business profitably.

Should I switch his commission structure to a gross profit percentage on services?

In a word, yes. Gross profit is the most effective structure for sales commission plans. The hiccup is determining costs and their is a pitfall to avoid. If you have variable costs based on production or service delivery, it is best to establish an estimated cost for each sale.

Here is the issue – I worked for a LAN cabling company where I was paid on the gross margin of my deals. I designed the solutions, quoted the project and closed the deal. The problem was that some of the installers were quite liberal with their material usage. That is putting it nicely – one guy was assigning material costs to my job while moonlighting installations using that material. I didn’t know this at the time, I simply knew that the installation I had designed had plenty of extra material built into it.

My commission was crushed on a handful of big deals and slowly dissolved on smaller deals. The President finally stepped in after I toured a few job sites with the lead engineer and measured the amount of cable installed (well under the amount listed on the job completion sheet). Needless to say, I have never forgotten this issue.

This suggestion sums it up (emphasis mine):

Gross margin is the way to go. The trick is to define the cost of goods to drive the correct behavior that yields profit on the bottom line. The calculation to get this right requires a clear understanding of the end-to-end process that delivers the “product,” whether it is goods or services.

Overwritten Sales Ads

You don’t have to read this, just look at it’s sheer girth:

Qualifications/Necessary Skills:
Attention to Detail.
Able to be alert in a high-risk environment; follow detailed procedures and ensure accuracy in documentation and data; concentrate on routine work details and organize and maintain a system of records.
Able to clearly present information through the spoken or written word; read and interpret complex information; talk with customers or clients; listens well.
Able to use a win-win approach to resolve controversy; stay objective and fair when dealing with sensitive situations; maintain constructive working relationships despite disagreement.
Able to take action in solving problems while exhibiting judgment and a realistic understanding of issues; able to use reason, even when dealing with emotional topics; review facts and weigh options.
Able to convince others in both positive and negative circumstances; use tact when expressing ideas or options; present new ideas to authority figures; adapt presentations to suit a particular audience; respond to objections successfully.
Able to be tactful, maintain confidences, and foster an ethical work environment; prevent inappropriate behavior by coworkers; give proper credit to others; handle all situations honestly.
Able to share due credit with coworkers; display enthusiasm and promote a friendly group working environment; work closely with other departments as necessary’ support group decisions and solicit options from coworkers; display team spirit.
Able to obtain agreement from multiple parties; earn trust while working out a deal; use good timing and carefully calculated strategies when bargaining; communicate high value of services; identify hidden agendas that might interfere with resolution of terms. Able to prepare for emerging customer needs; manage multiple projects; determine project urgency in a meaningful and practical way; use goals to guide actions and create detailed action plans; organize and schedule people and tasks.
Able to develop rapport with others and recognize their concerns and feelings; build and maintain long-term associations based on trust; help others.
History and track record of achievement of revenue objectives.
Demonstrated ability to identify and develop sales opportunities in new accounts. Demonstrated ability to develop and implement account plans.
Demonstrated ability to work with accounts€™ senior management and across functions within customer organizations to gain commitment, obtain resources and achieve desired results.
Excellent presentation skills.
Strong team building skills and ability to resolve conflict situations.
Superior professional presence and business acumen.

This excerpt is just part of a sales ad placed by a retained search firm. I realize that these firms often want to impress their customer by launching these Tolstoy-esque ads (think War and Peace). But this ad is actually a hindrance to successful sales hiring.

Sales revolves around the skill of qualifying. This ad puts far too much information into the sales candidates’ book. The sales hiring process should mirror certain aspects of a typical sale. By taking this approach, you are able to see the salesperson’s skills in action. A shorter ad that touches on the absolute requirements requires the sales candidates to ask questions…in other words qualify the position. Pay attention to their questions, observe their pattern and note their focus.

An ad of this length will elicit responses from detail-oriented, highly-compliant salespeople who work better with existing accounts than they do with developing new accounts. Obviously we have not profiled this sale, but the ad lists “developing sales opportunities” as one of the (many) requirements. I suspect they will uncover many sales candidates who sell by responding to RFP’s. And maybe that is the company’s sales model.

However, you do not need a retained search company to find RFP-responding salespeople. They are a dime a dozen.

Listening For The Close

There are many articles discussing the need for salespeople to be good listeners though it seems like a challenge area for many salespeople.’s Listen And Learn When Making A Sale provides 4 ways to start working on listening skills. I am particularly fond of this one:

2. Dig deeper. Don€™t settle for what the customer says on the surface; have him expand on his key needs and challenges. This helps me uncover hot buttons (very important points that the customer says and that I circle, highlight or star on my notepad), which I can use later to explain how my product or service will address them. Sometimes it might be hard to get the customer talking, so I use a technique called parroting–repeating the last few words the customer says in the form of a question so he€™ll elaborate more on the topic. If the customer says, €œThat€™s been a major problem for us,€ you say, €œProblem?€ Usually this will prompt the customer to go into greater detail.

Exactly right. This surface-level questioning is a serious problem for many under-skilled salespeople. The salesperson knows the proper question to ask, but he or she accepts the prospect’s purposely vague response. The salesperson must dig deeper to get to the clear truth. The author’s suggestion to repeat the prospect’s comment as a question is highly effective (a technique I use often).

The author closes with sage advice for any salesperson:

Don€™t interrupt; resist the urge to jump into the conversation when they bring up something you€™re knowledgeable and passionate about. Just watch–you€™ll begin to learn new, interesting information. It€™s hard to learn anything with your mouth open.

Training And Retention offers this quick read – Hiring and Cultivating Employees Who Succeed – which covers the critical topics of hiring and retaining top talent. This opening statement obviously caught my attention:

Business owner Andrew Field says he used to hire based on gut instinct. No longer.

My kind of owner – one who has experienced the debacle of bad hiring decisions made on instinct instead of objective analysis. Their solution has been to use a multiple interviewer process that I would question, but they have lowered their turnover by half. If they were to objectively assess in their process, they could lower that turnover rate even further.

Here is the retention item of note:

New hires receive 14 weeks of training, dubbed “PFL University,” requiring hands-on work, one-on-one coaching and classroom sessions. Mr. Field, 47, teaches two of the classes.

Mr. Field is the owner of the company and he teaches two classes during their onramping program. That approach is quite progressive and one that I am certain has a positive impact on their retention rate. One thing we often see with new sales hires is an overly aggressive revenue expectation with an under-serving training program. I suspect this misalignment is the driving force behind companies desiring to hire salespeople from their competitors. The inaccurate belief is that those salespeople will be quicker to book revenue and will require less training.

Rarely is that true.

21st Century Marketing

After the Cartoon Network debacle of last month in Boston, it now appears another company is attempting more moronic marketing in the same manner.

A clue in a Dr Pepper promotion suggested a coin that might be worth as much as $1 million was buried in the 347-year-old Granary Burying Ground, the final resting place of John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and other historic figures.

After contestants showed up at the cemetery gates early Tuesday, the city closed it, concerned that it would be damaged by treasure hunters.

It is obvious that this company knew what it was doing. Placing a coin in a national cemetery is pathetic. I suspect they are hoping for volumes of free marketing via news stories. Let’s hope they don’t receive it.

And why is Boston the target? Are their creative people that uncreative as to closely copy a recent guerilla marketing stunt?

10 Simple Hiring Rules offers Hire Great People: 10 Simple Rules which contains some straight-forward, sound advice for any hiring activity. The article starts out with one of the most important rules to hiring (and often least followed):

Rule number one is clear, but very counterintuitive: Don’t ever, ever hire somebody just like yourself. Why not? Because from the beginning of time, executives have been unconsciously cloning themselves, stocking the shelves with vanilla young men from impressive schools.

It takes an enlightened executive to abide by this rule. Many executives believe they embody the gold standard for the position (especially in sales). They may be, but the best teams we evaluate have a variety of team members, not a group of clones.

A couple other excellent rules from the article:

6. Fill in the Blanks
Look carefully at the aggregate strengths and skill gaps of your teams in various work units, and go for the qualities and styles that are missing.

8. Stock the Bullpen
Keep an eye out for prospects before the need arises. Don’t wait until a vacancy occurs. Keep a pool of potential employees under the watchful eye of somebody who’s responsible for hiring. Evaluate your recruiting team in terms of how well they keep the bullpen ready. And tell them never to turn away an interesting candidate with the line, “We don’t have any positions open right now.”

The bullpen approach is a difficult one for companies to maintain. That is one area where we stand in the gap for our customers and work through our sales network for strong candidates at the appropriate time.

In terms of sales, here are our 10 Commandments of Successful Sales Selection.

Signs Of A Bad Fit’s Think Before You Speak or Write provides a couple excellent stories regarding candidates who did a great job of putting their foot in their mouth. How would you like to receive this email?

“I’m disappointed that the job you’re advertising pays much less than I’m used to making. It would be almost impossible for me to survive on the salary listed in the ad. Can you please tell me how much travel is required?”

Not the way to initiate a dialogue. I’ve encountered this short approach when sourcing also. I actually received an email from one candidate that pointedly asked:

Do I not qualify for the position that you are advertising,,,, considering that I have previously held the role in my 15 years of experience.Let me know!

I was a bit taken aback. This candidate was not a fit for the position based on many criteria, but there was no stopping him. I did not contact him.

The author does end with some sound advice for candidates to consider:

That’s not to say that you should tell interviewers what you think they want to hear. Why pretend to be excited about a career path that doesn’t interest you? If salary is a problem, say so. What’s the point of working for a company that doesn’t give you what you want? No, your honesty isn’t hurting you. In the long run, it will help you get the job you really want.

Absolutely. I have the utmost respect for candidates who clearly state that the position is not a fit for them and why. When sourcing, that information is quite valuable to adjusting techniques and gathering market data.

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