Oddities That Make Strong Salespeople-Noncompliance

I’ve been assessing salespeople since 2001 which, as you can imagine, has provided some unique experiences.  These experiences have revealed some odd factors that seem to be supportive of sales success.  The oddity is that there seems to be a yin and a yang to abilities…a give and a take.  Here are just a few:

Fearlessness vs. Compliance
This oddity might be the most common.  There is a component to successful selling that involves a fearlessness to adroitly ask difficult questions to qualify prospects.  Many (most) people are uncomfortable asking these questions.

For instance, it is “impolite to discuss money” is one of our social mores.  However, you will not get far in your sales career if you are incapable of accurately qualifying the prospect’s budget.  This ability requires a fearless attitude.

The other side of this coin is compliance which is oddly infrequent among most salespeople.  Sales leaders need a certain level of compliance to maintain some semblance of order within a freewheeling sales department.  Good luck.

My experience has found that most salespeople are noncompliant and I think there is a specific reason.  Compliant styles like to plan a predictive sales call.  They like to almost script the call with expected questions and well-constructed answers…then the call happens.  The compliant salesperson begins the call/meeting based on their anticipated script and the prospect makes a 90 degree turn and the script blows up.  Low compliance, high fearlessness is an advantage to sales success as they are freer to move with the prospect no matter which direction they go.

I’ve encountered other oddities along my assessment travels – I will share those in the near future.

The Most Dangerous Sales Weakness

Sales is a difficult role, I would argue the most difficult role, in any company.  The skill set and mind set required to be successful is rare in the general population.  Yet, strong salespeople are out there and hopefully on your team.

However, most teams that we assess have a salesperson (or more) who is not performing up to expectations.  This salesperson seems to have the tools, but something is holding him or her back.  The concern I always have, in this situation, is that they possess the most dangerous sales weakness.

Fear of rejection.

For sales, this is the big one.  This weakness can single-handedly neutralize any strengths the salesperson possesses.  The powerful issues with this weakness is that it can stop the salesperson before they even start.  Their fear of getting a “no” will paralyze them in difficult situations.

The key is simple, yet utterly difficult to overcome.  The salesperson must learn to separate their value from their performance.  Imagine an actor playing a role in a movie, the actor’s portraying someone else (i.e. a performance).  Sales requires a similar mindset – it is a performance that does not tie directly to their value.

I know, we want genuine salespeople, not fakes.  The separation of role vs. identity can be achieved while still maintaining an authenticity to the sales role.

The best advice I can provide – assess for this ability before you hire them.  We can help.

3 Tips To Hire Salespeople

From the Harvard Business Review Tip of the Day email:

Most companies spend more on hiring in sales than they do in any other part of the organization. With an average annual turnover rate of 25 to 30%, and direct replacement costs ranging from $75,000 to $300,000, there’s a big opportunity for improvement. Here are a few places to start (emphasis mine):

  1. Focus on behaviors. A primary cause of turnover is poor job fit. Consider ramping up assessment tools, simulations, and interviewing techniques to help identify the right people. Or, try temporary positions to assess people on the job before offering a full-time position.
  2. Be clear about the relevant “experience” needed. Make sure that a candidate’s previous experience really aligns with your own market, geography, culture, customer groups, and technologies.
  3. Conduct on-going talent assessments. Salespeople need to constantly adapt their own skills to changing markets and buyer motivations, and managers need to vigilantly track those skills.

If you make only 1 adjustment to your sales hiring process, make the change to using the right sales assessment.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with sales assessment tools for the past 15 years and the reason they are effective is this – they neutralize hiring bias.  Every one of us has natural biases towards ourselves whether we are aware of it or not.  This bias can corrupt a hiring process especially if we are sitting across from a sales candidate with highly-developed people skills.

The beauty of assessments is that they are objective.  When you use them earlier in the hiring process, you maintain objectivity longer which is fundamentally important.  The hiring decision will ultimately come down to a human-based decision which introduces bias.  There is not avoiding that fact.  The key is to limit the bias to candidates that you have objectively assessed and are certain that they have the right blend of behaviors, skills, motivations and aptitudes to be successful in your specific sales role.

If you want to learn more about our unique process, please contact us here.

Do Great Salespeople Make Great Managers?

That is an age-old question, isn’t it?  You can insert your favorite sports example here which typically involves a superstar/Hall of Fame-caliber athlete who fails as a coach because the game came too easy to him.  But does this analogy work in the sales arena also?

This Sales & Marketing Management article approaches the topic with aplomb. The pull quote (emphasis mine):

Sometimes great salespeople aren’t as good at coaching and managing other people – they’re excellent at being individual contributors, they’re great at building relationships with customers and working deals from start to finish, but they lack the patience or coaching ability or intangible interpersonal savvy to be responsible for other people’s performance.

Intangible interpersonal savvy is a long way to say empathy.  In assessing sales candidates for over a decade, some patterns become evident.  Top salespeople are typically “hunters.”  These hunters hopefully have some empathetic skills, but they are often used solely as tools to get to a close.  And in so doing, the hunters will usually dial down their empathy to achieve their goal of winning the deal.  This ability is what makes them so effective as a salesperson.  They drive themselves to succeed and use their empathy, when needed, to simply get a read on the prospect before closing.

Now place that profile into a sales leadership role.  This hunter may have some empathy, but they use it within a limited scope.  When it comes to coaching their team, they drive on them – pushing the salespeople based on the inner drive they possess as hunters.  Sometimes it works, most times it doesn’t.  I’ve even seen other hunters push back against this leadership.

The author of the article offers 3 strong ideas to assist in finding the right sales leader.  I like his summary from the first point:

Many of the best salespeople love to work alone – they pride themselves on being great individual performers and goal setters who hold themselves accountable for excellent results. However, sales management is not an individual job – it’s all about coaching and communicating and helping other people reach their goals as part of a larger team.

Sales leaders have to work through their team.  What often happens is that the hunter turned sales leader will accompany his or her team on sales calls and actually end up doing the close for them.  They insert their drive into the deal since that skill is more familiar to them than the coaching skill.  I evaluated an entire sales team once that had a hunter sales leader who behaved this way.  The sales team learned to simply get appointments, softly qualify them, then bring in the hunter sales leader to close the deal for them.  This is an unsustainable model as was eventually born out at this company.

One closing thought – you do not have to guess at this behavior – it can be assessed with our tools.  If you are interested, please contact us today to learn more.

The Singular Difference Between Introverts and Extroverts

Stereotypes abound around introverts and extroverts-most of them are simply untrue.  The stereotypes go too far in categorizing behaviors.  Part of the issue flows from the Myers-Briggs and its binary assignment of introversion/extroversion.  You are simply one or the other…completely, according to that tool (of which I am not a big fan).

This article provides a succinct, accurate definition based on Jung’s work:

Shyness and being outgoing don’t have anything to do with it; it’s more about where we get our energy from. In fact, the differences are pretty simple:

  • Introverts get exhausted by social interaction and need solitude to recharge.
  • Extroverts get anxious when left alone and get energy from social interaction.

That’s it. There’s nothing about shyness, being a homebody, or how adventurous you are. Both types can be social, both can creative, both can be leaders, and so on.

Remarkably simple, is it not?  The binary issue still exists as there truly is a spectrum to introversion/extroversion.  People tend to vary, or move, between them.  Jung called these people “ambiverts.” This is key in leadership.  People definitely have a preference and lean towards one side or the other.  But rarely do you find someone who is categorically wired one way, though there are some.

I often tell leaders to focus on the energy of the salesperson.  Some gain energy in the group while others lose it.  Neither one is better, just be cognizant of the difference and you will be a more effective leader.

Cultural Qualifying

I ran into an old coworker, whom I consider a good friend, at a coffee shop this Friday morning.  He is the VP of Sales with 75 or so direct reports.  His company is international with a majority of their revenue occurring in Asia.

He was telling me about sales training he held for the entire sales team.  The focus was on negotiating and, more specifically, how to ask the right questions to qualify the opportunity.  The Asian sales reps balked at some of the questions based solely on their approach to qualifying.  Let’s just say they prefer to take a more passive, unquestioning approach which leads to prayer rug forecasts and lower revenue.

Obviously there are some cultural issues when it comes to qualifying.  Anyone who has been to Japan knows that there are certain formalities you have to follow to honor your counterparts.  However, I would argue that the qualifying issue is an individual issue.  At the risk of sounding overly simple, sales is a difficult profession that requires a skill set that is uncommon to the majority of the population.

The training that my friend provided was not provocative, excessive nor “risky.”  It was simply communication made clear by a sound questioning strategy.  This approach is the essence of qualifying.  It spans cultures.  It leads to the important point that if you are attempting to hire stronger salespeople, you must incorporate an assessment to get an x-ray of the salesperson’s abilities.  Do they have the right mix of talent and motivation to ask the difficult questions required for successful selling?

If you are looking for a solution, we can help.

Do Not Trust Myers-Briggs

Well, that is my paraphrasing of this author’s post.  The Myers-Briggs test is common throughout many business-world assessments and it serves a purpose.  The difficulty I have always had with it is the binary aspect of the assessment.  You are either Extroverted or Introverted…there is no grey area.  I think the author explains it well:

More problematic, though, is that it classifies personalities by a binary preference for a particular trait. In reality, however, most people exist on a spectrum between the two and can vary between them from week to week…

Agreed.  People are the ultimate variable and far from binary.  I think the best use of the Myers-Briggs assessment is to define preferences, but not to make hiring decisions based off of it.

If you are looking for a reliable assessment tool that does provide grayscale depth, I recommend our DISC-based, Selling Style Assessment (more details here).

Hiring What You Need To Know

Experience is a tricky component to successful sales hiring in that it is often overvalued.  Don’t get me wrong, it is important, but you never want to overvalue it.  The reason is that you can teach new salespeople about your product or service a lot easier than you can teach them how to sell.  A sports analogy (I know, often overused) – it is far easier to teach a football wide receiver what routes to run in your offense than it is to teach them how to run a 4.3 40 yard dash.  Some will simply never run a 4.3.  This is why talent is far more valuable to successful hiring.

This Entrepreneur.com article discusses this point in clear terms:

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention experience, and that is for good reason. When you find a great talent who is passionate about what your organization is doing, experience doesn’t matter. Great people can decipher what they need to learn in order to be successful. Twenty five years in the same industry or with the same company is not necessarily a good thing. It’s much harder to unlearn what you know then learn what you need to know.

Agreed.  The author discusses talent in terms of attitude, competency and mindset in an intriguing manner.  As they say, read the entire thing.

Managing Paradoxes

From the Herman Trend Alert email newsletter (sorry, no link):

Agile Thinking Skills. In this period of sustained economic and political uncertainty, and, agile thinking and the ability to prepare for multiple scenarios is vital. In industries that face significant regulatory and environmental challenges, including life sciences, and energy and mining, the ability to prepare for multiple scenarios is especially important—72 percent and 71 percent respectively, compared with 55 percent for the overall population of respondents. To succeed in the changing marketplace of the future, HR executives also placed a high premium on innovative thinking (46.0 percent), dealing with complexity and managing paradoxes (42.9 percent).

I couldn’t agree more with them – “agile thinking” is critical in the today’s world.  Everything is moving faster which inevitably leads to change.  The best candidates we assess have strong scores in these agile areas – Practical Thinking, Theoretical Problem Solving, Using Common Sense, Intuitive Decision Making – these are all measurable traits that help identify the strongest candidate.

So much has changed over the past decade that it is problematic that companies continue to use outdated hiring models.  There are better tools today, tools that will provide more insight into an external candidate that what you may know about an existing employee!  May I suggest you test drive one of these assessments to see the power behind them?  Contact me if you would like to see what is available today.

Hiring Better

Well, I am back from an extended summer vacation.  Ok, it wasn’t a vacation, we have been swamped which is a good thing.  Our activities have all been tied around hiring which seems to be bubbling up slightly in highly-selected areas.

One thing I have noticed percolating this summer is the use of assessments.  This has been our business since 2004, but it is truly taking off now which seems counterintuitive to me.  However, I heard an interesting Wall Street Journal interview this morning where the reporter stated that companies hiring today have to make the right hire.  Each position is crucial as most companies are running with lower numbers of employees and higher productivity targets.  This puts much pressure on making the best hire.

On that topic comes this article from Selling Power – Interview Tips to Hire Better Sales Candidates.  I give you Mistake #2 from the article:

Not having a clear understanding of the candidate.
"I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hired great, great people who told me in the interview that travel would not be a problem, and six months into the job there was a problem with travel," says Smith. Not good if 50 percent of the job was traveling. In a case like this, Smith recommends more in-depth probing during the interview process, even if everything seems great. He will ask, "Have you traveled in your previous jobs? If so, how many times a month? How would being away on business 50 percent of your time affect you and your lifestyle?"

Fair enough, but how about knowing the candidate’s sales skills?  Or what motivates them?  Or what natural talents they have?  These are crucial pieces of information available today for all hiring managers.  The travel question is important.  The skills measurement is mission critical to hiring a strong salesperson.