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.

The Importance Of Accountability

I harp on this topic frequently, but it is a foundational need for all strong sales leaders.  You must hold your people accountable to reach goals, close deals and follow your system (a broad word that entails your requirements for performance).  The key is to simply do it…you don’t have to be “good” at it, but you do have to do it.  Many sales leaders miss this important point.

So I give you this Selling Power article with a comprehensive view of this accountability need for all sales leaders.  The author makes a significant point that often gets overlooked by sales leaders who like to use the stick before the carrot.  First the accountability piece:

3) Hold your team and each member accountable for goals.  You don’t have to threaten your team members to remind them that they’re responsible (to you and to one another) for meeting the goals they set.  Instead, inspire their best effort by reminding them of their importance to the team and company.  Tell them you’ll hold them accountable for succeeding because you have faith in their ability to get the job done.

Well said.  And to go further, you will have to discipline the underperformers.  Do not skip past this requirement.  Now for the part that I have seen some overzealous sales leaders dismiss (emphasis mine):

4) Be supportive.  Meeting sales goals is a team effort, and you’re an important part of that team.  You can’t make the calls for your salespeople, but you can give them every chance to succeed by providing your support and guidance.  Remind your salespeople that you’re on their side, and that you’ll be available to help them in any way you can.  If you’re going to hold your salespeople accountable for meeting their goals, you have to hold yourself accountable for helping them.

Absolutely spot on.  You have to help them in the manner in which they need help to develop and succeed.  Don’t close deals for them.  Don’t read them the riot act and not help them.  Don’t go silent with the underperformers.  You have to be a coach right in the middle of the huddle helping call the plays that will lead to their success.  Anything short of that and you are not holding up your end of the leadership equation.

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.”

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.

Failure

Here is a great Nike commercial via the JustSell.com website:  http://www.justsell.com/michael-jordan-on-failure/

The point of the commercial walks right over to the sales world.  Michael Jordan’s closing statement from the commercial:

I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Here is what sales managers need to understand, some times you need to let a salesperson fail.  Now, I’m not talking about a large, important prospect, but rather a prospect that you may know is not going to close or is misaligned in some other way.  I’ve come across many sales managers who want to consistently step in and help a struggling salesperson.  This ends up becoming a crutch for the underperforming salesperson and he/she will not have the opportunity to develop their skill to the fullest.

At times, it is best to provide the coaching lesson to the salesperson and then to step back and let them apply the lesson.  Guess what?  Often times they are going to fail in their initial attempts.  This is ok as sometimes they need to have those failures to learn the lesson.

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.

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.

Management Mental Short Cuts

I’m back in my psych book this morning looking for a specific answer to how managers get stuck on “bad” instances from otherwise strong performing salespeople.  I’ve seen this effect with some sales managers who have a generally sour impression of a salesperson who seems to be doing well in the role.  When I pursue the topic with the manager, I typically hear of anecdotal stories with what seems to be innocuous outcomes.  However, the sales manager is still upset by situation.

Here is what I discovered in the test book – availability heuristic.  Availability heuristic is basically this – making judgments based on how easily instances come to mind.  From the textbook:

Which is more common – words that start with the letter k (e.g. king) or words that have k as the third letter (e.g. awkward)?  In English there are more than twice as many words having k for the third letter as words starting with k, but most people wrongly judge that k is more commonly the first letter.  The reason, presumably, is that it is easy to think of words starting with k but harder to think of words having k in the third position.

Here is the hook:

When a boss evaluates an employee’s reliability, he may be guided by how easy it is to remember the employee’s missing a deadline.

The authors provide a good example of air travel – millions of people fly innumerable miles all over the world and flying is one of the safest modes of travel.  But many people ignore this face and become reluctant to fly because plane crashes are so readily available in their memory.

Managers need to be cognizant of this mental short cut.  Some salespeople become labeled based on this effect.  Before moving into end-of-year reviews, make sure you perform a thorough reconstruction of each salesperson’s performance.  Remember – don’t take short cuts.

A Secondary Effect Of The Recession

Most people agree that there will be a demand for workers as soon as we start the recovery process (no, I do not subscribe to the idea that the recession ended in June of 2009).  Companies are running in a most efficient manner right now due to the fact that they had to cut staff to the bone.  Growth/expansion will require an expansion of most company’s workforces.  The supply of workers will be limited due to the Baby Boomer retirements and the great decrease in workers in Gen X.

Along with this shortage comes another important limitation in the workforce.  From the Herman Trend’s weekly email (emphasis mine):

“Unfortunately, with all of the uncertainty created by the current regulatory environment, small to mid-size businesses have put their hiring plans on hold; in fact, many are waiting to see the outcome of the United States’ elections on November 2”, said Daywalt.

When they are ready to recruit trained, qualified people and the demand exceeds the supply, US employers are in for a rude awakening. Why? Government, healthcare, and energy industry Baby Boomer retirements and the significant training cutback that accompanied the recent economic slowdown.

Absolutely true.  I work with a handful of sales trainers and they have all seen serious declines in their revenue.  There will be a price to pay for this lack of development in the workforce.  The “tsunami” of hiring that is impending will be tempered by the sheer lack of candidates along with the lack of trained candidates.  Companies will need to keep an open mind when hiring as to the investment they will have to make in their new employees.