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.

Does Job Jumping Matter Anymore?

I would answer no.  I have the opportunity to look at many resumes on any given day and there is a definite sea-change in the job jumping area.  Millennials are far less loyal to their employers than any generation before them.  In fact, I would say “job” jumping isn’t accurate, they are actually “skill” jumping.  These employees are often looking for personal skill development and once they sense they have tapped out their growth curve in their current role, they leave.

I spend a fair amount of time explaining this skill jumping behavior to old-school hiring managers.  Companies must have a plan for ongoing development of their Millennial workforce otherwise they will look for skill development at a different company.

This somewhat new trend is well documented in this Harvard Business Review article.  From the article:

Sullivan says that employers have become more accepting of brief periods of employment. As many as 32% of employers expect job-jumping. “It’s become part of life,” says Sullivan. In fact, people are most likely to leave their jobs after their first, second, or third work anniversaries. Millennials are especially prone to short stays at jobs. Sullivan’s research shows that 70% quit their jobs within two years. So the advice to stick it out at a job for the sake of your resume is just no longer valid.

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Did you catch that…2 years!  I suspect that fact is due to companies being slow to provide development paths for these new employees.  The days of pension-earning careers with one company are long gone.

The Millennials are skewing the tenure number lower, but other generations are catching on also:

The average length of time a worker stays in a job these days is 4.6 years.

Have a plan to grow your direct reports’ individual skill sets.  Put milestones out there for them to achieve.  Have a plan and share it with them.  If you need help, we can help.

Tracking Sales Reps 24/7

A sales executive was fired for deleting an app on her cell phone.  The details from the Fox News story:

A sales executive was fired after she deleted an app on her phone that tracked her every move, allowing her employer to know where she was 24/7.

It was only a matter of time until this type of issue surfaced.  My personal take is that tracking her 24/7 is an incredible invasion of privacy and her actions were the same ones I would have chosen in that situation.  However, let me throw this at you from the former Judge quoted in the article:

Judge Andrew Napolitano said that in the case of this traveling saleswoman, her employer had a legitimate interest in knowing where she was going, and that was the reason for the app.

Judge Napolitano added that she had no right to delete the app, but she could have disabled the phone while she was at home, on vacation or otherwise on her own time.

Ok, he is familiar with the legality of such things.  I am still shocked, but I suspect this isn’t the last case we have heard regarding this topic.  For now, here is a very interesting, if extreme, workaround from the article:

Where do you put your phone when you don’t want anyone to know where you are? Gretchen Carlson asked.

“You ready for this? A refrigerator,” Judge Napolitano said. “No signal can get in and no signal can get out.”

How GPA’s Matter In Hiring

They don’t.  That is the conclusion from Google based on their own internal research.  Some info from the New York Times article:

“One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation,” Bock said. “Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything.

Mind you, this is research from inside Google – they know a thing or two about data analysis.  I’ve told many hiring companies that GPA’s just don’t matter in the real world, especially for sales hiring.  Give me a street savvy, strong qualifying salesperson any day over a book smart, ivory tower salesperson.  It is best to find candidates that fit both criteria, but GPA is not a reliable predictor of future success.

The feedback from Google’s research on the best strategy for successful hiring (emphasis mine):

Bock said it’s better to use questions like, “Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.” He added: “The interesting thing about the behavioral interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that, you get two kinds of information. One is you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable ‘meta’ information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult.”

Yes, drill down is what we like to call it.  I believe it is the single most important interview skill – you must be able to drill down on responses to peel back the veneer and get to the core of the candidate’s response.

Bad Habits Are Good?

I am struggling with this Salary.com article – 12 Bad Habits That Can Actually Help Your Career.  Here is one example:

Procrastinating

Today’s work culture expects us to multitask, run from one project to the next, and constantly be on the go. The urge to procrastinate indicates your brain is overtired, overstressed, and needs to slow down. Indulge and take a time out. You’ll come back refreshed, and better able to focus on the tasks at hand.

What?  Indulge and take a time out?  As a manager, procrastination from my direct reports was…discouraged.  I never recall telling them to indulge and take a time out.  To me it seems like a bridge too far in this article.

The Lamest Of Excuses

CareerBuilder.com comes out with an annual list of Most Unusual Excuses and this year’s list does not disappoint.  Here it is from a press release (my personal favorites in bold):

1) Employee’s 12-year-old daughter stole his car and he had no other way to work. Employee didn’t want to report it to the police.

2) Employee said bats got in her hair.

3) Employee said a refrigerator fell on him.

4) Employee was in line at a coffee shop when a truck carrying flour backed up and dumped the flour into her convertible.

5) Employee said a deer bit him during hunting season.

6) Employee ate too much at a party.

7) Employee fell out of bed and broke his nose.

8 Employee got a cold from a puppy.

9) Employee’s child stuck a mint up his nose and had to go to the ER to remove it.

10) Employee hurt his back chasing a beaver.

11) Employee got his toe caught in a vent cover.

12) Employee had a headache after going to too many garage sales.

13) Employee’s brother-in-law was kidnapped by a drug cartel while in Mexico.

14) Employee drank anti-freeze by mistake and had to go to the hospital.

15) Employee was at a bowling alley and a bucket filled with water crashed through the ceiling and hit her on the head.

True confession here:  I get up and walk in the early morning long before sunrise and am familiar with bats at that hour.  They do buzz your head looking for insects (I think that is why).  Anyway, I ALWAYS wear a baseball hat in the summer to prevent any bats for “getting in my hair.”  The fact that the employee used the plural “bats” is…questionable.

Conventional Wisdom About Sales Managers

Here is an article from Eye on Sales that addresses a common sales management topic – should you promote your top salesperson into the sales manager role?  I would argue that the conventional wisdom is to avoid making this mistake.

From the article:

Sales management mistake #1: Promoting top performers to sales managers

Top-performing salespeople are not necessarily top managers. Leaders often fail to evaluate their best sales professionals for their ability and aptitude to manage before placing them in a leadership position. It seems like an easy decision to promote the best, but in reality you might be taking one of your most potent weapons out of the game and placing them in a position that is not well-suited for them. As a result, the company as a whole loses – the individual is unhappy, the salespeople he’s managing are underperforming, and the company is missing out on potential sales.

Solution: There are many assessment tools that can accurately predict management aptitude – use them. I find it baffling when so many firms roll the dice on salespeople and sales managers when there are quantitative, validated, and reliable evaluations available that are accurate predictors of success. Don’t assume that because an individual is a top performer in sales that they’ll be able to manage sales people. It just doesn’t work like that.

I get the point…in fact I have written similarly myself.  Assessments are the key as they can provide you with an edge when it comes to interviewing candidates and determining their fit to the position’s requirements.  Not surprisingly, I strongly agree with the author on this topic.

I have a slightly different take on promoting top performing salespeople – they know how to “get ‘er done.”  I have seen many underperforming salespeople who seem to be in vapor lock.  They aren’t sure what to do either strategically or tactically.  Top selling salespeople have a tactical efficiency to them that can truly undergird an entire sales team.  They can teach the team how to get ‘er done.

In this light, strong salespeople can be a force multiplier for a sales team.  Granted, it doesn’t work in all situations, but I do think the conventional wisdom has shifted too far away from this approach.

The President’s Club

This is a funny story from Yahoo:

The company that makes Hot Tamales candy offered its sales team an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii if it met its annual goals, and a trip to the nation’s arctic tundra if it didn’t.

The Just Born team did not meet its target and, on Tuesday, about two dozen salespeople gathered inside the 19-story Radisson hotel — the tallest building in frozen Fargo.

Outside, the temperature was 7 degrees. The ground had 2 feet of snow.

It gets better:

They are trying to make the best of it, with a little humor.

They planned tours of two North Dakota wineries and a winter extravaganza with a sleigh ride, tobogganing and hot toddies around a fireplace inside a chalet.

On their first night in town, they went to the VFW in West Fargo for a spaghetti dinner. Five bucks a plate, all you can eat.

Afterward, they hauled an old-school popcorn machine into a conference room and watched a movie. "Fargo," of course. Yah sure, you betcha.

This is actually some fairly clever management.  I suspect the sales team will talk about the Fargo trip far more than they ever would have discussed a trip to Hawaii.  I also suspect it will be fairly motivating for next year.

Introverted Leaders

Great article here from the Harvard Business Review titled The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses.  Oh, where to begin on this one?  I have seen this thought process play out firsthand with many customers and even in my own career.  In the sales world, extroverts are generally held in higher regard than introverts – that has been my experience.

This same value structure typically plays out in promoting salespeople into sale management roles.  The extroverts often get the position.  However, here is a differing position put forward in the article:

To be sure, extroverted leaders have important strengths. However, they also tend to command the center of attention and take over discussions. In a dynamic, unpredictable environment, introverts are often more effective leaders—particularly when workers are proactive, offering ideas for improving the business. Such behavior can make extroverted leaders feel threatened. In contrast, introverted leaders tend to listen more carefully and show greater receptivity to suggestions, making them more effective leaders of vocal teams.

You can read the different experiments they conducted to learn more about introversion/extroversion (really clever designs).  They do offer up a great summation of what they found:

While it’s often true that extroverts make the best bosses and proactive employees make the best workers, combining the two can be a recipe for failure. Soft spoken leaders may get the most out of proactive employees—so save the outgoing, talkative managers for teams that function best when they’re told what to do.

Creative Resume Writing

I have a friend who is a Director of Sales for a medium-sized company.  A few months ago, he had a major issue with one of his salespeople in another Midwestern state.  The salesperson cursed out a customer on the phone (the customer was “pestering” him by calling his cell phone more than 1 time in the same day).  He was let go by my friend.

Now it turns out that this salesperson is pushing his resume out to prospective employers.  One of them called to verify his employment and had some interesting facts.

  • Salesperson claimed to be a Sales Manager (he wasn’t)
  • Salesperson claimed to win the President’s Award (they don’t have one)
  • Salesperson claimed to be part of the Top Seller’s Circle (again, they don’t have one)

You get the point.  Let’s just call it creative resume writing.