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A Funny Thing Happened When He Quit – Part 3 of 3

11/24/2009 Leave a comment

In the first and second installments of this blog, we looked at the story of Robert, a senior sales rep who grew complacent and elected to leave (under duress) his high salary position due to some performance and behavior issues. The fact that he had left a fair amount of business on the table at his existing clients was surprising news to his old managers. Robert then found himself with a new job that required him to implement a different sales discipline that allowed him to be successful under the mostly commission based comp plan. And with that new found discipline, even Robert was surprised to see his results go up dramatically.

Of the many comments received about this story, some suggested the following:

  • The fault lies with sales management for not paying attention.
  • Just because someone on the team speaks up, doesn’t mean that what they are saying is always negative and should be let go because of it.
  • Robert was just a phony trying to do a minimum of work just so he could collect a paycheck.
  • Somebody should have done a better job of “motivating” him.

Any of the above could be true, but the fact of the matter is that every situation is different because of the vast combination of workplace elements combined with the unlimited array of human factors. As with many of the dynamics in the sales world, there is never a shortage of right vs. wrong thinking, finger pointing or what seem to be perfectly rational explanations. The temptation in these situations is to try to find the “answer” to solve the “problem”, when in reality these problems are just conditions that have been going on forever, and will continue to persist as long as sales and business continues to be an imperfect world. So with no magic bullet and no hard science, all that can be done is to treat the conditions themselves rather than being frustrated that there is no single answer to the problem of managing people.

It’s all really simple, right?

So, in the business of sales, someone will have to unravel all the inter-related items that can affect the performance of each rep, each sales manager and the overall success of the company.  In the case of Robert, just a sampling of the questions that could be asked are:

  • Did Robert really have the Desire, the Commitment and the self responsibility to be successful?
  • If not, then why did he succeed in one position and not the other? Was it only about the comp plans?
  • Why were some of Robert’s peers hitting their numbers when they were in the same market with the same products? Did they just have a “better territory”?
  • What parts of Robert’s game really needed fixing the most?
  • What impact does sales management really have on performance? Should they be cheerleaders or intimidators, or both?

Certainly there are many “Do it Yourself” approaches than can be tried, but in the end, Sales Force Development is a planned process with many moving parts.

[Author note: Someone asked if Robert was a real life character or if I just made this story up to serve my own purposes. The truth is that “Robert” is a compilation of three different reps that had almost the exact same situation occur to them in real life in the last six months. True story.]

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Where does margin come from?

We all know how to calculate margin in the simplest form by subtracting the cost of goods from the price those goods were sold for, but do many sales people, experienced or not, understand how to sell margin to their clients, suspects or prospects? When people on the street are all hyped up by presenting features and benefits, margin seems to be the last thing on their minds. What is the first thing on the mind at the executive level of the companies those salespeople are pursuing? Well, at that level it is profit or the operating margin of the business.

Rise to the Head of the Class

Features and Benefits are old school issues today. I didn’t say they weren’t important, just old school. The business development people that will rise to the head of the class and become highly profitable for their employers, and highly valued by their customers, are the ones that can provide products and services that generate profit for those customers and clients. Features and Benefits are a surface level approach that can be challenged by a “me too” competitor that is willing to drop price or make unreliable commitments. Everyone knows the downside of those experiences.

What’s the big picture?

Business development teams that can understand the business issues of the people they interact with will provide more value for longer periods of time and at higher margins. Knowing why a feature or benefit is valuable from the prospect’s perspective will build more trust than simply knowing what those features and benefits are. Features and benefits are “seller-centric” in nature, and if not attached to the total financial picture of a prospect they can be too assumptive and quite easy to ignore. The challenge then becomes how to open a business / profit conversation that doesn’t begin with a feature / benefit or price cutting pitch.

You don’t have to hire all MBA’s, but what would happen if your team embraced a little bit more business sense out on the street?

A Funny Thing happened when he quit (Part 1 of 3)

10/28/2009 2 comments

We know of a company in the Midwest that sells construction supplies through an outbound sales force of about 10 reps. Although they had a few new people, most of their sales team consisted of veteran reps who had been in the business for 10 years or more. They had the usual mix of a few underperformers, a few Top Guns, but with the majority of the team falling in the “average” category. One of those average performers (we’ll call him Robert) was well respected because of his knowledge of the industry and the market, but never really seemed to be able to make anything but a mediocre contribution to the top line. Interestingly though, Robert had appointed himself the “guardian” for the rights of his fellow team mates, making sure to question management on their every move concerning  comp plans, perks, marketing, pricing and other strategies. Also, it wasn’t unusual for Robert to recruit his team mates to gang up on management to insure they had frequent and active “bitch sessions”

 

Here’s the surprise

As disruptive as Robert was to the daily operations, he was considered “too valuable” to terminate or re-assign because of his relationships with key customers. The fear was that if he left, the competition would storm in, taking critical business that was needed by the company. Although management coddled him, gave him his way sometimes, and tried to reason with him, nothing much seemed to change until the economy stepped in with the answer. With sales down, the company had no choice other than to start cutting salaries. Management took the first hit, and then it was time to talk to Robert about his big fat salary. So Robert, being the “guardian of all things righteous”, decided to resign and go out on his own rather than suffer the indignation being offered at the heavy hand of the wrong doers.

 

Now it gets interesting

With Robert gone, his sales manager began to do damage control by visiting all of Robert’s key accounts. At the very first place he visited, within 30 minutes, he walked out the door with one of the biggest orders ever placed by that client. And it didn’t stop there. Many opportunities were popping up that seemed like they had just been laying there waiting for someone to take the business.

 

The lesson learned

Just as many banks were deemed “too big to fail”, it’s not uncommon to find companies that have reps or other personnel that are deemed “too valuable to let go”, even though they are no less a drag on the company than the banks were to the economy. Field reps need to have only a few key ingredients in their “sales DNA” to succeed. While everyone knew that Robert “could sell”, the truth was that most times he “wouldn’t sell”. While there could be many reasons for this, the lack of the desire to be the best, and the lack of commitment to his profession are surefire signals that mediocrity is about the best you can expect.

Important Event

10/15/2009 1 comment

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Don’t miss Dave Kurlan’s Live Streaming presentation on Tuesday, November 3rd.  This is not a webinar!

 After the Cutting … 

How Successful Companies Sell Their Way Back to the Top

 

 With Dave Kurlan:  Best-selling author, top-rated speaker and internationally acclaimed business authority

Details Here

One of the hardest things a sales manager has to do …

Telling the truth is often one of the hardest things to do in sales management. When the economy tanks and everyone’s excuses seem to make so much sense, a sales manager’s job gets tougher every day. When the parade of struggling producers marches through your office and tells you all the sob stories about why no one is buying, why price is all that matters and that even your biggest competitor is off 40%, even the toughest task master can find it hard not to be sympathetic.

So what’s the problem?

And that would all make more sense if you didn’t have two or three guys or gals that seem to be getting the job done under the same conditions. For some reason there is often a couple of people that never seem to get caught in the morass of self pity and resignation that afflicts so many others. When that happens someone has to step up and tell it like it is, and if you are the sales manager, that is going to be you.

The truth is that some folks just don’t want to be responsible for where they are and what they are doing … or not doing. And the other truth is that some managers don’t want to be responsible for selecting or keeping these folks either. It’s time to decide; are you going to believe the winners, or are you going to allow the others to make or break your commitment to get it done? Tell the truth.

It isn’t easy

Selecting and keeping reps that resist making excuses and that are self responsible isn’t easy. It’s human nature to want to defend performance that is less than expected. But accepting excuses implies permission to do it more, and that is usually what happens. And that leads to a whole array of other trouble. If you want to know more, drop us a line and we’ll tell you how to train that habit out of your sales team. Otherwise, go out and Google “Excuses” and you’ll find a number of good books like “Let’s get results, not Excuses.

Sales Teams … Should you play the hand you’ve been dealt?

10/12/2009 Leave a comment

Anyone that’s played poker knows how hard (or stupid) it is to push a pile of chips into the pot when you’re holding a marginal hand. Yet month after month, thousands of companies push out a paycheck to sales reps that have very little chance of delivering a win. A good poker player always knows the odds of winning based on the cards he has in his hand. However, those that lead a sales team often don’t have any quantitative appreciation of what they have on their hands other than what happened last month or last quarter. And if they don’t know what they have, then how can they continue to make those monthly bets that a miracle hand will suddenly appear?

Are you “All in”?
Fortunately for the poker player, he can always fold and save his bets for the next hand. Not so easy with a sales team though. Since many companies are already “all in” with the bets on their sales team, they attempt to change the odds by motivating, training, pleading, intimidating or any other tactic they think will change the outcomes. But what if the odds are so heavily stacked against you that no amount of continued investment will make any difference? How would you know if certain reps are not trainable, are not coachable and can’t be motivated? Who are the real winners or the potential winners?

What next?
The answers lie in not relying too heavily on gut instinct, or hope, or other intuitive or traditional approaches that don’t have a predictive validity. Many sales leaders are aware that there are many profiles, assessments and other tests available that apply some science to evaluating what they have on their hands. The challenge is in finding the right tool for the job, and to make sure that it is being used by a qualified practitioner. Too many times, the wrong assessment is used for the wrong reasons and another bad bet gets made. You can increase your chances of success by finding a Sales Force Development expert that has the right tools to evaluate the make-up of your current team and show you what your chances are.

Take out the risk
If you want to start seeing how you sales team rates, check out our tools section and try out some of the free assessments from Objective Management Group.

A sales lesson at the hardware store

09/22/2009 Leave a comment

I’m not much of an auto mechanic, but I still fiddle around with an ’01 Jeep Sahara that we use as a summer car. So I decide to replace some rusty door hinges on a Saturday afternoon. As will happen with these projects,  there’s trouble right away getting the old rusty bolts off before I can put the new ones on. Not wanting to bust them off and cause a bigger problem, it’s off to the Home Depot to find some penetrating oil. OK, so its a hike from the giant parking lot into the Big Box and then begins the mission of finding a small item in the acres of stock. After talking to two “Customer Service” folks, I’m still wandering around trying to find the stuff. 20 minutes later I find the PB Blaster (they say this is the best) in the tools department and then head off to the self checkout to battle the Bar Code Gods. Being somewhat impatient, I can only suck it up and admit that spending an hour to buy an $8.00 item is darned frustrating.

Back in the garage, I now find I need some silicone sealant behind the new hinges and I’m totally positive there is none of that around anywhere. Off to Home Depot again, right? Read more…