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Archive for May, 2009

Preset For Mediocrity’s article deals with something we have seen throughout our many years of sales assessing, hiring and coaching – financial comfort zones.  Here is a good explanation of it from the article (emphasis mine):

Eker stumbled on the concept of financial blueprints while running his first company, a fitness business. In that business, his trainers often referred to a body’s “set point,” or the metabolic rate at which a body is comfortable. Eker, looking back over his financial history one day, realized that again and again he followed the same financial pattern of making a lot of money and then losing it. Up and down, up and down for fifteen years. “Wow,” he thought. “In the same way we have a set point with weight, we must have a set point with money.” His follow-on observations of others confirmed his theory, that everyone has a financial set point they unconsciously return to all their lives.

So true – this plays out time and again in the sales world.  Salespeople often get caught in a stagnant mode once they hit their financial set point.  They stop prospecting, they find busy paperwork, they fine-tune tasks…essentially their behavior goes into cruise control.

When hiring salespeople, it is important to dig for this set point.  Typically a candidate will not provide it willingly, but you can pursue their past successes.  It is perfectly legitimate to ask for a previous W2.  It is always valuable to delve into the largest deals they closed and the commission they earned.

A candidate with enough of a history will show distinct financial set points that you can then determine if they are a fit for your position.  One last thought is that this set point works 2 ways – you won’t retain a salesperson in a $75K position when their set point is $150K.  If your compensation plan is inflexible, capped or unattainable, they will leave once they realize the ceiling.

Better Than An MBA…

An email came my way today mentioning that our little blog was placed on this list – 100 Awesome Business Blogs that are Better than an MBA.  I realize lists are good link bait and I am a sucker for them, but we definitely appreciate the recognition from The Fixer-Upper Blog.

Alluring Experience

I’ve written about this phenomenon in the past and I continually encounter it in many sales areas – the allure of experience.  In fact, I just talked to a recruiter from a different part of the country who focuses on sales hiring.  We talked a bit of strategy and I was just dumbfounded.

This gentleman focuses solely on finding someone with as much industry experience as possible.  His primary motivation – find candidates who can bring accounts with them.  No discussion about skills, no behavioral-based questions, no attempt at learning their style and motivation…just simple experience.

I am not even sure if he asks if it was successful experience.

My attempt to move the discussion to skills, talent and motivations was summarily dismissed by him and we ended up having a rather short phone conversation.

This conventional wisdom for sales hiring is persistent today.  My thought is this – what happens when the candidate pool decreases dramatically?  Highly-specific industry experience will not be prevalent.  What then?

Perhaps that is the day I am waiting for.

Obvious Red Flags In Employment Ads

Don’t do this:

If you have the contacts in these areas with such customers, let us know!

That line is from a sales employment ad I read this morning and it is a tremendous red flag to savvy salespeople.  The ad is also from a recruiter and not the hiring company which makes it worse.

It is this approach that makes sales recruiting so difficult.  Clearly this recruiter is less interested in ability and more interested in an existing network.  Fair enough, but having a network is one thing, getting customers to walk over to a new company is another.  It rarely works in spite of what the salesperson thinks or says.

The better approach here is to identify what skills, talents and experiences will lead to success in the position.

Preparation vs. Execution’s article – Help for Your Pre-Call Prep – makes a bold statement in the opening sentence:

When you get right down to it, sales are won or lost on preparation.

I would argue that sales are won or lost on execution.  Give me a salesperson who executes flawlessly any day over one who prepares flawlessly.  Again, the context is in terms of where deals are lost.  Be that as it may, the article has an interesting statistic found in one of the later graphs.

At a time when relatively few initial discussions with a client are progressing further into the sales cycle (40 percent of organizations say only 25 – 50 percent of initial discussions progress to a presentation; 30 percent say 51– 75 percent of discussions do so, according to CSO Insights), the issue of pre-call preparation deserves some attention. After all, it’s the quality of your preparation that largely determines whether or not the client agrees to a second meeting.

Ok, I take umbrage with the over-emphasis on pre-call prep.  Salespeople who show up and throw up are the main reason suspects do not move into prospects.  I thought this number was shocking – up to 50% of initial discussions progress to a presentation.  This fact could be that salespeople are better qualifiers in lean economies.  Perhaps they are qualifying suspects more thoroughly to eliminate the tirekickers from their pipeline.

In other words, a lower number moving into the pipeline could be construed as better qualifying.

Even Airlines Use Assessments

Short background here is that Delta bought Northwest Airlines and now I am in the process of switching my frequent flyer program to Delta.  Being a free miles junkie, I completed Delta’s online travel profile.  I thought it was simple background info/preferences for me.  At the end of the 15 questions I receive this information:

Speed Racer
Comfort Seeker
Grand Planner

As one of those rare, special people who gets things done quicker when there’s more to do, you prioritize your time to your advantage. You always find a way to be more efficient, and you never met an obstacle you couldn’t circumnavigate. With such a need to get things done, anything that keeps your runways clear for takeoff is a benefit indeed!


Good grief – even Delta is competition in the assessment business!  I appreciate their “Speed Racer” description.  I was expecting something along the lines of “spaz” since it would have been more accurate.

Do Values Change In A Recession?

That is a tough question since I think values are primarily hardwired into each of us.  We assess this trait in sales candidates – call them motivations.  Each person tends to have two of these motivators that drives their behaviors (some people have 3 primary motivators).

We have assessed salespeople who were in slumps, who were unemployed and who were candidates.  These are stressful situations that should impact their values.  When we had the opportunity to assess the same people at a later date (years later), we did not see an appreciable change in their values/motivations.  Granted, this was no scientific study, but rather a consistent observation. provides this article – Value-Based Motivation – that discusses how values change in a recession.

One thing that makes motivation particularly difficult to manage is that individuals differ significantly in what they value and events can change what they value. What is very rewarding for some individuals, say, a day of golf with the boss or even an all-expenses-paid vacation trip to Hawaii, may not be seen as a reward by others. The same thing goes for praise by the boss and most forms of recognition.

Recessions can have a significant impact on what people value. Not surprisingly, job security, and financial rewards tend to become more important in periods of recession. It is particularly important that organizations skillfully manage these two drivers of employee motivation during recessions. How they manage them needs to be fine-tuned to the business strategy and how a company is affected by the recession.

Interesting point in that recessions have a global impression – the recession is outside of my control so my motivations are influenced towards monetary and security rewards.  That seems like a logical assumption…perhaps a macro-level influence like a global recession can sway motivations.

As a manager, it is important to know what motivates your salespeople and what rewards them on an individual basis.  This point is valid no matter what the economy is or isn’t doing.  These two factors provide the beginning of a roadmap to gaining the most production out of your sales team.

If you haven’t discovered these motivators in your current team, may I suggest a test assessment?

A Simple Interview Rule

If you (hiring manager) are talking, you’re not interviewing.  I know, simple in concept, but for some it is difficult in practice.  I sat through an interview recently that involved a sales manager who spoke for 75-85% of the time!  The candidate was simply caught in his wake for the entire interview.

My take on the interview was that we learned next to nothing about the candidate and his fit to the position.  He may have been strong – we’ll never know.  What we did learn is the frantic, scattered approach of the sales manager makes for an interview that did not go deep on any topic.

The fault here lies with me in that the sales manager should have been better prepped.  He would do well with a set list of questions and a note reminding him to listen first.  I made the assumption that he knew this and I paid for it in a strong candidate being passed.

It is a good reminder to do the simple things well before moving to the advanced topics.

Bite-Sized Selling

I have come across many articles recently that promote selling tips in this recession.  One common thread runs through all of them – chase smaller deals.  Here is an example from – 5 Tips for Selling a Service Now:

“The big change for us in 2009 is that we are more flexible on minimum amount of an engagement that we’ll pursue,” says Gay Gaddis, the founder and CEO of T3, an Austin-based advertising and marketing agency that specializes in digital media. In years past, her firm only went after client engagements that were worth between $1.5 million and $2 million. Now, “some larger clients are breaking RFPs into smaller amounts,” Gaddis says, prompting T3 to pursue accounts in the $500,000-to-$1 million range. The company, which had $300 million in capitalized billings in 2008, is still selective, however: “We won’t take just any piece of business,” Gaddis says. “We really want to work with large and midsize companies that are making digital marketing really central to what they do.”

As a sales manager, this approach is counter-intuitive during booming economic times.  I could launch on RFP-based selling (really is quote writing), but I will refrain for the purpose of this post.

Right now we are seeing most companies pursue smaller deals as a means to survive the present economy.  It is a wise pursuit in that it will help keep people working, some cash flowing and new business developing.

However, the caveat in the pull quote is this – don’t pursue every piece of business.  Some deals, no matter how desperate, are not worth pursuing.  Many salespeople will chase a bad deal in a recession for the simple purpose of looking busy.  Forecasts are the means for monitoring effort and focus.  Each prospect should be discussed in detail to ensure that the salespeople are targeting the proper small deals.