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Archive for October, 2008

Probing For Pain has an excellent article for any salesperson in any market – Do You Probe For Pain?  We use the term “pain” in our discussions though it sounds a bit dramatic.  Even so, it is the most descriptive word for qualifying.  The article explains why:

People are fundamentally motivated in two main ways:

1. What problem or pain they can avoid and move away from

2. What pleasure or benefit they can move towards

That is absolutely true.  The key here is that people move away from pain faster than they move towards pleasure.  As described later in the article:

If a prospect feels content with their current supplier or their current situation, then it will be a huge challenge to motivate them to want to buy your product or service. That’s why every pain your prospect feels is an opportunity for you. Your task, during the initial fact-finding stage, is to uncover their ‘pain’ and help them to dwell on their problems.

The stronger the pain or the bigger their problem, the greater their motivation will be to move away from it. If you can convince prospects that your organisation can reduce one or more of their ‘pains’, then you will have suddenly discovered a powerful way to unleash their motivation to buy from you.

Finally, here are some excellent pain probes for any salesperson:

“What areas of your current situation don’t you like?”
“What is this costing your organisation each year?”
“How do you feel about (problem)?”
“Who else is aware of these issues?”
“How do they feel about it?”
“Why haven’t you tackled this before?”
“How do your issues compare to those in similar organisations?”
“Which of these problems is causing you the most concern?”
“What have you done in the past that’s not worked?”
“When did you begin noticing this issue?”
“Why is this such an issue for you?”
“When will you decide to resolve this?”

These items are just skimming off the top of this article so as they say, read the entire thing.

Price Perception

I have seen the price issue play out among many salespeople and there seems to be one simple, philosophical difference between those who close high margins deals and those who are serial discounters.  The key difference is understanding that pricing is based off what the buyer will pay for the product or service, not what the cost is to produce it.

I’ve seen this difference first-hand as one salesperson prices his product at a fairly high margin.  However, the product is highly engineered and relatively unique in the market.  One last helper – the company has a strong reputation in the market which certainly helps…greatly.

The other salesperson for the same company does not price products in the same manner.  He is price wary before it is even mentioned by the prospect.  He provides samples and prototypes for free (the other salesperson rightly charges for them since they have significant internal costs).  He is quick to lower his price at the first sign of prospect resistance.

In assessing each salesperson some distinct traits were revealed.  First, self-confidence does play a significant part in this process.  The self-confident salesperson was the higher-margin salesperson.  Second, the discounting salesperson had difficulty bringing up the pricing topic even with a well-qualified prospect.

Next to self-confidence, the clear difference between these two salespeople is how they determine the value of their solution.  The high-margin salesperson sees the great value in the product and the advantage it provides to the customer.  The low-margin salesperson sees the cost to manufacture and the obstacles the prospect places in front of the deal.

The difference in these perceptions consistently appears in the monthly margin report for each salesperson.

Actual Excuses For Missing Work usually runs some sort of “unusual reasons for missing work” story every year.  This year’s offering is refined down to 8 entries, but is still fairly entertaining.

  • Thanksgiving karma  |   Employee hit a turkey (yes, a turkey) while riding a bike.
    Author’s Note: Animals turkeys in particular – seem to be a hot topic this year. See our “Unusual Jobs” survey results for more on this phenomenon.
  • Near-death experiences  |  Employee said he had a heart attack that morning, but that he was “all better now.”
  • Just can’t find a thing to wear  |  Employee’s wife burned all his clothes and he had nothing to wear to work.
  • They don’t have rifles, so…  |  Employee got kicked by a deer
  • Paging Dionne Warwick  |  Employee’s psychic told her to stay home.
  • Lightweight  |   Employee’s toe was injured when a soda can fell out of the refrigerator.
  • Driving the dog to drink  |  Employee’s dog was stressed out after a family reunion  
  • Kissed and unfortunately told  |   Employee contracted mono after kissing a mailroom intern at the company’s holiday party – and suggested the company post some sort of notice to warn others who may have kissed him.

That second one made me laugh.

Finding Fibs On A Resume

In reviewing the HRGURU newsletter I ran across a good article on finding fibs in resumes.  It gives some sound advice to follow so you are not discovering these lies on the resume after a person starts.  The 5 tips:

  • Get an early read about the candidate’s visible profile. Look for a candidate’s public profile by reviewing announcements, articles and other material that often can be found easily online. You do need to gauge how much stock you’ll put into whatever you find—good or bad—because you can’t always believe what you read.
  • Confirm academic credentials early.
  • Gain consensus on the reference checking process.  Who is going to perform it and what information is important for you to learn.
  • Seize the opportunity in the interview. The interview is a good opportunity to ask candidates about their experience and education and how, exactly, they’ve delivered the results they’ve claimed on paper.
  • Background check (emphasis is mine).  This is a great time to get academic verification done also.

Too many times I have seen interviews in which the interviewer only verifies the dates, titles and responsibilities of what a candidate writes on their resume.  The interview is a great time for you to dig into the accomplishments and find out more details of how they achieved what they claim they achieved.  It’s amazing what you can learn form just a couple of straight-forward, probing questions.

I once interviewed a candidate who had amazing accomplishments listed on his resume – seemed like a great candidate.  After a couple of simple questions about how he achieved these many successes, he quickly told us that he just happened to answer the phone at the right time.  How is that for sales ability?  You could say he really didn’t sell himself.  The position required the ability to develop a brand new territory so he was ruled out at that point.

Recession Retention

The economy is foremost on almost every business leader’s mind right now, and rightly so.  Many leaders look to entrench their company in a full defensive posture.  This approach has to be incorporated, to some extent, during these economies.  However, this is an excellent time to be aggressive in the market and to cut against the grain of conventional wisdom. offers up specifics of this approach in their article Managing Employees in a Downturn:

For many managers, recessions prompt a near-autonomic reflex: Hunker down, reduce head count, and cut every cost you can. While a certain dose of those bitter pills is unavoidable, smart leaders see downturns as having plenty of upside, too. Talent is cheaper. Companies can gain market share as others cut back. And savvy investments give bold players a head start when the economy picks up.

I remember going though this same discussion back in 2001 before we were blogging.  We talked to companies about the opportunities that existed in a sliding economy.  One thing that is certain – talent is cheaper during an economic downturn.  That is why it is often a good time to upgrade your salesforce during these times.  For that matter, it is a good time to upgrade any position for which you feel there is a need.

There is an emotional component to monitor among your sales team that is quite important during this time and the article points out these items.  Retention is still a key focal point for any sales manager during uncertain times:

Amid pressure to downsize, it’s easy to forget that talent retention is a critical concern during a recession. Michael Kesner, a principal at Deloitte Consulting’s human capital practice, notes that “companies who took advantage of employees in past downturns were rewarded with people bailing when things turned around.” To avoid that, some of Kesner’s clients are adding more weight to factors employees can control—such as customer-satisfaction scores or production levels—when deciding on bonuses.

The key item to remember is that strong salespeople are always in demand no matter what the economy.  We have seen many good salespeople jump to a new opportunity during a downturn, especially when they perceived their current employer’s future as being in doubt.  Stay close to them and make sure you are still finding rewards for them.

Hiring Obstacles

According to the most recent Workforce Recruiting newsletter (sorry no link available), 1,100 employers were asked what the main reason was for them not being able to hire their top candidates over the past two years.  Their responses were as follows:

  • 35.9% – Said they went elsewhere for higher perceived pay.
  • 15.5% – Said they went elsewhere for better perceived career development opportunities.
  • 8.0%   – Said they went elsewhere for better perceived work/life advantages.
  • 7.1%   – Said they went elsewhere for higher perceived long-term incentive/equity compensation.
  • 1.5%   – Said they went elsewhere for better perceived benefits.
  • 31.9% – Said they were able to hire the majority of their top candidates.

It would be interesting to know of the 31.9% that hired their top candidates knew exactly what was the deciding factor of the candidate who accepted the offer.

The Cell Phone Do-Not-Call Registry

Ok, I suckered on this thing – I registered my cell phone on the do-not-call list due to an email I received.  Well, apparently you do not have to do that.  From

Despite Re-Circulating E-mail, It is Still Not Necessary to Register Cell Phone Numbers. As the number of phone numbers on the National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry surpassed 125 million, the Federal Trade Commission today reiterated that despite the claims made in e-mails circulating on the Internet, consumers should not be concerned that their cell phone numbers will be released to telemarketers at any time in the near future. In addition, according to the agency, it is not necessary to register cell phone numbers on the DNC Registry to be protected from most telemarketing calls to cell phones.

• Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers. Automated dialers are standard in the industry, so most telemarketers are barred from calling consumers on their cell phones without their consent.

Prep vs. Admin Time

Oh does this Selling Power article hit close to home – In 2009, Increase Sales Prep Time.  I have seen numerous companies place onerous admin tasks on their salespeople to the point where there is a real loss in revenue.  Inefficiency is the main culprit, but department structure, sales tools and antiquated technology are typically the pieces of the inefficiency.

Here’s the pull quote from the article:

Prep Time: The number one complaint among tech buyers is that sales reps are coming in unprepared. They don’t know the account, don’t have an agenda, and do not have good product knowledge. To combat this problem and move more sales beyond that initial call, prep time “needs to expand,” says Vancil. “It’s 20 percent now; it should be as much as 45 percent.” That’s right – all the time you gain from reducing admin time should be shifted into sales prep, not customer-facing time. That way, the time your reps do spend with customers will be far more effective than it is now. One note of caution: don’t simply give your reps more planning time and expect miracles. Coach them on good call planning procedures if you want to see results.

We have seen this development over the past few years and it is continuing to expand.  “Buyers” (don’t like that term) are stretched thin these days due to the productivity expectations of most companies.  I’ve said this before, the days of starting a call with “What does your company do?” are gone.  Call prep is key.

Prospects and customers expect salespeople to bring value.  That expectation cannot be strategically met without knowing some of the basics of the prospect’s business – their company, their market, their competition, etc.  This knowledge is money to a salesperson.  Administrative tasks, though necessary, should be limited as much as possible to reallocate that time to revenue-generating time.

Tips For Interviewing Sales Candidates

Too many times the process of hiring a sales person rarely takes priority in a sales manager’s duties – they have enough to do already.  Unfortunately, the hiring tasks get pushed to the margins of their day.  Any sales manager knows how important it is to hire strong sales people, but it all too often doesn’t get the attention it deserves.  Dave Stein has 11 spot-on quick tips that can help you set the right priorities and increase your success rate.  His tips are:

  1. Make sure you know what you are looking for.
  2. Prepare your questions in advance.
  3. Remain objective during the interview.
  4. Trust but verify.
  5. Don’t lead the candidate.
  6. Push back.
  7. Take notes.
  8. Solicit peoples’ names.
  9. Deliver powerful messages.
  10. Practice.
  11. Give the candidate feedback.

I agree with Dave that it is extremely difficult for people to stay objective during the interview.  He makes a great point in that you need to act like a doctor when they are taking your medical history or reading your EKG.  Too many times a hiring manager will get emotionally attached to a candidate and lose the objectivity needed to make the best hiring decision.  First impressions are important, but don’t allow that to cloud your judgment and write off what could be a strong candidate. 

I have been in interviews where the hiring manager didn’t think that a candidate was outgoing enough, made the decision they were not a fit and just went through the motions to fill the remaining time.  The candidate did well answering the manager’s questions and then the time for the candidate to ask questions arrived.  They were prepared with questions to discover information about the company and sales department, the challenges it was facing, why the position was open and what the hiring manager was looking for in an ideal candidate.  Yet the hiring manager had already made up his mind and determined that the candidate was not the right fit.  He had disqualified them.

The ability to stay objective and to gather enough information is critical to making a strong hire.  Be conscious of quick decisions and do not fall into the trap of prejudging a candidate.

Recession-Thriving Industries

Ok, that title probably caught your eye.  This information is from the daily email:

Some of the sales news is good news.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following industries actually thrive during recessions:

  • rental real estate
  • discount retailers
  • DIY industry for hardware, supplies
  • education and training
  • healthcare
  • energy
  • criminal justice/ police/ security
  • accounting
  • pharmaceuticals
  • debt management
  • consulting

Criminal justice, pharmaceuticals, debt management…it is all a bit macabre, don’t you think?  I actually chuckled at the list since I think it is quite accurate in a sad way.

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