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Archive for May, 2008

The Gasoline Tipping Point

$4.50 here in the Twin Cities.  According to this Pioneer Press story:

And if the price hits $4.50 per gallon, more than half of the commuters in the Twin Cities said they’ll be looking at changes in their daily commute.

The survey found commuters are most aggressive about looking for options in Atlanta, Dallas and the Twin Cities. They are slowest in San Francisco.

The gas price is a strong lever in sales recruiting right now, but you have to be prepared to discuss the reimbursement side of the equation.  We have noticed a definitive upclick in the discussion of mileage reimbursement/car allowance.  In fact, this topic is coming up in the first or second phone discussion.

Nationally, some 31 percent of 2,915 respondents indicated they’d be scoping out options once gas hits $4. That can include more flexible working hours, taking mass transit, telecommuting or other changes.

“Other changes” is where we step in.  Working closer to home or from home are important incentives in today’s market.  If your company does not have a remote workforce option, you need to implement one – it is that important for sales.  Second, use this option in your sourcing efforts.  I guarantee this topic is at the forefront of almost every salesperson’s mind.

Marketing In A Tough Economy

The Wall Street Journal pens an article about Coach purses and what they are doing to expand their brand.  Clearly it is a strong brand today, but they play at the upper end of the price curve.  Inside the article is a poignant comment from their CEO regarding marketing:

We want to be transformative in the way we look. You can’t be iterative when the economy is tough.

Simple, sound point he makes, isn’t it?  If you continue down a repetitive path, you are going to run into revenue shortfalls in this slow economy.  You have to change something up, refocus it, introduce something new, etc.  Some of the most successful lines were launched during a recession.

What do MTV, Trader Joe’s, and the iPod have in common? Yes, of course, they’re all now ubiquitous and make our lives much more agreeable.

But to us, the most interesting thing about all three is that these great brands were born during recessions. (Trader Joe’s: 1958; MTV: 1981; iPod: 2001, if you are scoring at home.)

And therein lies a point everyone seems to be forgetting in the midst of the current economic slowdown. If handled correctly, a downturn can be a good thing for your company. It can give you the opportunity — and the funds — to innovate and get a substantial leg up on the competition.

Stagnant companies get stagnant, or worse, results during slow times.  The same is true for salespeople.  Some get overwhelmed with the economy, assume nothing can be done and give up.  Or discount drastically.  Or change careers.  Whatever the outcome, now is the time for strong leadership from the sales manager and a unique marketing message that creates some buzz.

Always Be Interviewing Salespeople

From’s Sold! blog (my highlighting):

The number one mistake in building and maintaining an effective sales team is a flawed hiring process. While there are many elements to consider, my first concern has always been to interview constantly. Always look for exceptional people in and out of your industry.

Here are some of my other suggestions for hiring:

Pass on experience and look for people who show some element of emotional intelligence and personal magnetism.

• Interview each person at least three times before you send them to another team member.

• Prepare questions that take the applicant past normal responses. Get them to solve a sample problem, ask about the last book they read, or ask how their performance has been measured in the past.

• Finally, interview before one of your positions is open. Nothing hurts hiring like the rush to fill the position.

I’ll say this, experience does more to ruin good sales hiring than any other single factor.

Managing The Bottom 20%

As a sales manager, it is easy to get caught up encouraging the top 20% and accepting the mediocre performance of the middle 60%.  But what to do with the bottom 20%?

At a minimum, the sales manager should be riding herd on the bottom 20%.  This is a group that can drag a sales department down faster than a boat anchor.  If their performance does not improve, they need to be let go.  I know that can be difficult for some managers, but that is the reality of running a productive sales department.

Selling Power’s Incentives newsletter offers an article addressing this bottom 20%.  Fair enough – they should be given a shot to turn it around.  I think the author does hit on one important aspect of managing them:

In fact, these low achievers are not only not talked about, they’re frequently not talked to at least not enough by their managers. According to OnPoint Consultings Jennifer Forgie, who’s quoted in a recent Incentives Magazine article, many managers faced with poor performers prefer to dodge the issue, either by only sending subtle or indirect messages of disapproval to the individuals involved, or by simply hoping the problem will solve itself.

Some sales managers act like these low performers have leprosy.  If the manager works with them, they may go down with them too.  Subsequently, the manager takes a hands-off approach and claims the salesperson will either “sink or swim.”  I don’t like this approach.  The manager is the manager of the entire team so they should be down in the mud with these salespeople attempting to turn them around.

The article lists 7 suggestions for turning around the low performers.  Some of the suggestions are marginal, but a couple stand out:

1. What are we shooting for?
To reach the goals you set for them, people need to understand explicitly what the expectations are. Be precise about what high performance looks like. Avoid generic sounding criticism like, Bill, you need to be more proactive.

4. Timeliness is key
Don’t let performance concerns fester. No one enjoys confrontation (not counting the producers of the Jerry Springer show), but the awkwardness and unpleasantness is best dealt with immediately. If you have agreed-upon behaviors and performance targets, the conversation addressing a new issue will be much easier.

Good tips, both of them.  In these situations, avoidance is the worst option a manager can choose.  Set the goals up front and stay involved in their progress.  At the end of the day, you will know what has to be done.

Even Big Companies Make Mistakes

This is from a sales ad for a large U.S. company:


To be considered for this role, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Bachelor

Perhaps that is a truncating problem, but I am feeling left out as a married man.

Customer Service Hall Of Shame

Here is a list you do not want your company to be on.  From MSN Money:

That reality is borne out in the results of MSN Money’s second annual Customer Service Hall of Shame, a ranking of companies with the worst customer service, based on a nationwide survey commissioned by MSN Money and conducted by Zogby International.

The winner, or is it loser?  Whatever, it is no surprise:

AOL Time Warner

A remarkable 47% of people who had an opinion of AOL’s customer service said it was “poor.” Analysts said that rating may have something to do with its effort to transition from an Internet service provider — where it still has more than 9.3 million paying subscribers — to an ad-supported Web portal.

I simply have never been a fan of AOL even though I have never been a customer of their’s.

The rest of the infamous list:


I am a customer of 4 of these companies, but one of them stands out for me as being the worst.  I won’t say who.


Trophy Hires

Some companies focus on hiring from their competition almost exclusively and I am not exactly sure why.  I realize they believe they are bolstering their sales department while depleting their competition’s.  But taken too far, this approach becomes a detriment to a successful hiring campaign.

I’ve seen it with one of our customers who has become infatuated with hiring someone away from a certain competitor.  His desire to do so is driven by the fact that a third competitor recently hired someone from the second competitor.  It doesn’t matter if you tracked that last sentence, the fact of the matter is still the same.

I now refer to this approach as a “trophy hire.”  It doesn’t matter if any of the salespeople from this competitor are strong, a good fit or worth the money it will take to pull them out.  Our customer wants to be able to tell others in the industry that he recruited and hired a salesperson from this competitor.

To be fair, there may be a strong salesperson in this competitor’s company.  We just haven’t found them yet.  In the meantime, our customer has passed on a handful of strong salespeople not from this competitor.


Definition Of Insanity-ATS And Sales Hiring

According to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  According to a recent post on Recruiting Trends and a 2007 survey from DDI & Monster regarding corporate hiring systems:

Less than 50% stated that they were satisfied with current selection systems. At least two-thirds expressed dissatisfaction with the efficiency of hiring systems, even with access to automation technology to help organize and track applicant information.

From our experience in the sales world, I would have to say those dissatisfied numbers are much higher when it comes to the results of their hiring system or process for salespeople.  So why not change the system?  It could be that they are comfortable with what they are doing or don’t think that there is a better way.  Any answer would only be speculation on my part, but it is quite clear from the survey that what they are doing, for the most part, isn’t working well.

In  the sales world I believe that using an applicant tracking system (ATS)  is not the right answer unless your sale always goes through an RFP/RFQ process.  Before you go off the deep end, hear me out.  In an ATS-structured process, you are not even considered an applicant until you enter your info into the system much like a company putting an RFP or RFQ out for bid responses.  If the candidate’s information doesn’t trip the right keywords, they may be missed all together.

But what if a top notch salesperson contacts you directly?  Are they even considered or do you tell them to apply online and you will review their information?  Would you want a salesperson that just goes along with the system, i.e. responds to the quote and waits for a call from you?  Or are you hiring them to get your value proposition in play with a new prospect?

So why not try something different and increase your likelihood of success?  This is the biggest hurdle we face as we move through our unique process with new customers.  Clients seem to get uncomfortable or nervous and want to revert back to their old habits.  I know that Einstein’s quote is often quoted, but the next time you are going to hire a salesperson, stop and review your system before you start down that same path.  Call us if you are stuck in that rut and not sure how to get out.  We would love to help you break the rut.

As The Job Market Churns

Quick-hitter article here from – Good-Paying Jobs Are Ample, But Training Is Critical.  The article is a fast read and worth your time, but here is what caught my attention:

The job market is always churning. About 7 million workers lose or leave jobs each quarter and, when the economy is growing, more than 7 million are added to payrolls. Companies hiring right now include makers of aircraft and medical equipment, shipbuilders and refiners of petroleum and sugar. At the same time, losses continue to sock the textile, apparel, auto and other industries.

7 million jobs churn each quarter.  That is a staggering number and helps to define what a large economy we have been blessed with here in the US.  But our economy is slow right now so where does this leave us?  From the article (my editing):

The current slowdown is expediting a trend in play for decades: a shift from jobs that produce goods to those that provide services, which are up to 80% of the total.

You can bet there will be lots of good jobs. They’ll be in health care, engineering, management consulting, accounting, education and legal services. Also needed will be sales representatives, executive assistants, carpenters, auto mechanics, truck drivers, nurses, office managers and more. On average, many will pay as much or more than those in manufacturing.

Three decades ago, earning a high school diploma was enough to land a job in a steel mill where a person could move up the ladder to a $30 an hour job. Only 41% of jobs were filled by workers with some college or a college degree.

Today, 60% of jobs are filled by those with more than a high school diploma, and that share will rise to about 70% by 2020.

Education will be the first step, specialized training will be the second.  Finding the right person for the position will be the same as it ever was (to quote the Talking Heads).

The Hardest Working Country

South Korea.  At least according to some survey mentioned in this article.  This may make your job look better:

If you thought you worked long hours, consider 39-year-old Lee from South Korea. A civil servant at the ministry of agriculture and fisheries, Lee gets up at 5:30 a.m. every day, gets dressed and makes a two-hour commute into Seoul to start work at 8:30 a.m. After sitting at a computer for most of the day, Lee typically gets out the door at 9 p.m., or even later.

By the time he gets home, it’s just a matter of jumping in the shower and collapsing into bed, before starting the whole routine all over again, about four hours later. This happens six days a week, and throughout almost all of the year, as Lee gets just three days of vacation.

That’s right. Three days.

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