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Archive for June, 2008

Believe In Your Price

G.L. has a great post over at What Would Dad Say where he references a sales book from 1922 titled Modern Salesmanship.  Here is the pull quote:

Believe in Your Price

When a man ask the price, you’ve got him interested. But the attitude of your answer largely depends the sale. Too many salesmen quote their price in fear and trembling—in their own inmost heart they feel it is too high.
And the commonest remark in a buyer’s mouth is, “Price is too high. I can buy the same thing for less money.” Pity the salesman who feels that the buyer is right. He’s going to lose the sale or his self-respect if he cuts the price.
If you feel that the price of the article you sell is too high—either convince yourself that it isn’t—or get another job.
But look at it squarely.

What a tremendous turn of phrase that last sentence is – “look at it squarely.”  There is much truth in that short excerpt.

Accountability Is The Key

In recent weeks we have been dealing with a handful of sales managers who all have a different approach to the position.  They are all in different industries, but their sales all have many similarities.

One of the sales managers has progressed the best so far with his new salesperson during the onramping time.  One sales manager has had to fire his salesperson (yes, one we placed) due to many reasons – many of which were the salesperson’s fault.  The third sales manager has been tentative with his salesperson, but she is progressing well.

The one variable that has had the biggest impact on success has been accountability.  The sales manager with the best progress is also the one who has defined the milestones and goals most clearly.  He knows what he wants his new salesperson to accomplish and he has defined the target dates by which he wants it accomplished.

But the key comes back to accountability.  This manager is holding his salesperson accountable to the activities that will guarantee success by those dates.

Here is why accountability is key – if the manager is holding the salesperson accountable, they are involved with the salesperson.  Granted, some sales managers only hold the salespeople accountable through brow-beating forecast/quota meetings.  Yet, I would say that is still better than nothing.

The best sales managers hold the salespeople accountable while working with them to help them reach their goals.  Coaching, strategizing, adjusting, leading…these priorities are normally being accomplished by sales managers who make a priority of holding their people accountable.

Closing The Customer released an article from their archives that discusses 4 factors to consider when closing a prospect.  Now, I am not one to believe in “closing moves.”  Sales are won or lost during the qualifying stage.  Qualified deals close themselves.  However, I think the author hits on the exact problem during the closing stage:

Most salespeople focus so intently on their own performance that they fail to notice when the customer is ripe for the close…

Presenting is a pressure-filled activity and most salespeople spend their mental resources ensuring that they do not falter.  I understand this approach because I used to do it also.  One quick fix to this problem is preparation.

Now one quick, critical point from the article:

The common “everyone is my customer” notion in sales circles is just so much nonsense. Your product must fill a customer’s need.

That is the essence of qualifying stated with perfect brevity.  The author continues on with more excellent points for the closing stage of a sale:

If you’re calling on a large corporate account that has definite buying rules and price policies, make sure you find out what they are before you make your presentation. Large companies are complex webs of interrelated management, financial, purchasing and policy-making procedures. It’s your job to discover the buried treasure. Poke around, ask questions and keep your mind open to possibilities. Defining value for a large corporation with deep pockets may not be simple, but it can be very profitable.

Value is the keystone to selling success and, unfortunately, many companies simply assume value…and do not articulate it.  The defined value should permeate the company’s marketing pieces, website, trade shows and sales approach.

As they say, read the entire thing.

Subtle Hiring Tells

I’m thinking of the poker colloquialism “tell.”  From Wikipedia:

A tell in poker is a detectable change in a player’s behavior or demeanor that gives clues to that player’s assessment of his hand. A player gains an advantage if he observes and understands the meaning of another player’s tell, particularly if the tell is unconscious and reliable.

Our experiences have provided us with the ability to read certain sales manager behaviors during the hiring process.  Typically, we notice the red flags first since they are most dangerous.  Here is a sample:

Tell:  Hiring For Experience
Sales managers who pass on strongly-skilled salespeople in favor of salespeople with industry experience.  This common approach makes a significant, flawed presumption; that industry experience is more difficult to acquire than selling ability.

Flag:  Sales manager is hoping to simply plug-in the new salesperson without spending appropriate time training them.  The “sink or swim” management technique.


Tell:  Judging Candidate Appearance
Sales managers who draw deep conclusions from simply assessing the candidate’s physical appearance.  We’ve seen managers who assume increased body weight=lethargy, ruddy complexion=alcoholism and unbuttoned cufflinks=unprofessionalism.

Flag:  Sales manager will take single-point data and run it out to their own conclusion.  This is a difficult manager for a salesperson to work under since unfounded suspicion will be everywhere.


Tell:  Making Statements, Not Asking Questions
Sales managers who don’t truly ask a question in an interview, but rather make a statement (accurate or otherwise).  “You sold through distributors not directly to companies.”  Honestly, that was stated erroneously by a sales manager to a candidate in an interview recently.

Flag:  Sales manager makes snap decisions and then works to confirm them.  The lack of objectivity leads to preset beliefs that can run counter to reality.


Not all of these flags play out to extreme levels, but they do impact the hiring process in a negative way.  We have seen sales managers pass on good candidates due to the aforementioned flags.

Run The Spell Check

This job summary is from a sales ad for a FORTUNE 500 company:

Job Summary

Responsible for developing and maintaining customer relationships within the transportatin industry.

Is that unbelievable?  The irony here is that this company probably holds candidate resumes to a higher standard than their own ad.  One other thing – a one line job summary is probably too short.  I like quick-read ads, but there should be some specificity to the summary.

And no spelling errors.

Fatal Assumptions Of Sales Managers

Good article here from titled Can Training Fix Manager Transition Troubles?  The primary topic is transitioning sales managers from sales rep roles.  This is now small task and we have seen many crash and burn.  The author provides some insightful commentary into this common problem.

This section truly stands out.  The topic is that there are some fatal assumptions new sales managers often make that derail their success.

The “fatal assumptions” identified were: 1. My individual contributor success will translate into management success; 2. It’s out of my control—someone else can and should fix this; 3. Being the expert is the most important factor for my credibility; 4. It’s the rational and logical approach or solution that counts; 5. The people I manage are just like me (in their thinking, approach, expectations, goals, and priorities); 6. Competent people do not need help.

Numbers 5 and 6 leap off the screen.  These two items are extremely common based on our experience.  Strangely, many sales managers believe these statements are valid.  Coaching other salespeople is a difficult task and one that many sales managers avoid to their own detriment.

The Absence Of Value

We’ve been working on this value topic because it is the single, most important aspect of any sales position.  A company that lacks a value proposition is destined to stumble through the market while being commoditized on price.

I saw this effect 6 years ago when doing sales calls in the field with a company’s reps.  After spending a couple days in a couple different cities, it became clear that they had to value proposition to offer the market.  This absence of value led to one consistent outcome – they had to compete on price.  Granted, some companies are positioned to compete in this format.  The company I was working with was not.

We’ve recently worked with another company that is in a similar predicament.  They have not articulated their value proposition but they have tried to fix it by bringing in new salespeople.  The quick fix in this approach is to make the new salespeople discover and define their value.  This approach hasn’t worked either.

This company is now on the path to defining their core competencies and their unique value in the market.  Thankfully for them, they have value.  But it is not sustainable to ask new salespeople to discern what that value is.  This task falls squarely on the sales manager’s shoulders and must be taught during the new rep’s onramping period.

If this task is not undertaken during the onramp, the end result is usually a salesperson who relies on the simplest value…price.  They will often become a price slasher, deep discounter.  Their justification will be that they have to be at that level to get the deal or that the competition is undercutting them on the price.  These justifications are made with the assumption that your solution has no other value.  As a sales manager, you have to stop this thinking before it takes root in the salesperson’s mind.

Mileage Reimbursement Increasing

In case you missed it, the IRS is raising the mileage reimbursement rate from the current 50.5 cents to 58.5 cents starting July 1, 2008.

“Rising gas prices are having a major impact on individual Americans,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “Given the increase in prices, the IRS is adjusting the standard mileage rates to better reflect the real cost of operating an automobile.”

Keep this new rate in mind if you have any candidate offers going out soon.  You will want to adjust the mileage reimbursement as this is a very hot topic among outside sales candidates today…along with telecommuting.

Garden-Leave Clauses

Proprietary information is a nuclear topic when dealing with salespeople who are leaving a company.  Product info, service plans, actual costs vs. pricing are all hot topics.  But for sales, the one thing that keeps managers up at night is the security of the customer list.

We see many companies who desire to hire a salesperson from the competition with the expressed hope that the salesperson will bring customers with them.  Quick note-it rarely happens, but that doesn’t stop companies from focusing their hiring strategy. provides an article that discusses the legalities of this approach.  In the article is a phrase that I have not encountered before – garden-leave clause.  The explanation:

Greco also advises anyone changing jobs to read the paperwork carefully – both what they signed at their old job and what a new employer is asking them to sign. A growing trend: So-called garden leave (or gardening leave) clauses, which require an employee to give at least 90 days’ notice of his or her departure, during which time the employee must stay home and avoid all contact with customers. (Hence the name: You’ll have time to do plenty of gardening, or whatever else floats your boat.) The purpose of a garden leave is to give your employer a head start in trying to hold on to your clients before you begin working at a different firm.

Interesting approach and one that seems to have some legs based on this generational point:

Young people especially now have an expectation of moving around a lot from one firm to another,” notes Greco. “So it’s important to be aware of these kinds of employment agreements that can really slow you down.”

In sales, we often see the 1 year non-compete agreement which has some impact, but truly is difficult to enforce.  This garden-leave clause, if enforceable, should give companies the time they need to solidify their customer list before competitive pressure from the departed salesperson begins.

Quality Of Hire Requires Objectivity offers up an excellent Kevin Wheeler article that explains how gut-level hiring occurs.  Here is the crux of the problem:

Interviews are examples of how easy it is to abandon the tools of objectivity, the scientific method, logic, and the rules of evidence, for our “gut” or for “chemistry.”

While there is considerable evidence showing that testing candidates is far more likely to predict successful performance, we still rely almost exclusively on interviews. Though numerous researchers have pointed out the need to gather a variety of data about a candidate, we generally settle for an application form and an interview.

Why are we so resistant to testing and other more objective sources of data?

Wheeler goes on to quote a psychologist who lays out the mental decision process that occurs in the majority of hiring managers:

Tom Gilovich, a Cornell University psychologist, writes:

“Information that is consistent with our pre-existing beliefs is often accepted at face value, whereas evidence that contradicts them is critically scrutinized and discounted.”

That is exactly right.  We have a customer who reviews the resume and comes to a conclusion.  He then spends the interview attempting to verify his conclusions.  He uses “questions” like “You sold to this type of customer, didn’t you?”  This approach is the opposite of objective.

Wheeler ends the article with a suggestion that we wholly support:

Use objective tools such as validated tests and multi-rater feedback. By starting with one or two well-known tools, we can refine and hone them to our exact needs until they are excellent at predicting success. Proctor and Gamble has been doing this for more than two decades with remarkable success.

We can help – we have objective, online assessments.

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