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Your Business Development Results Are Only History

02/04/2010 Leave a comment

That’s right. Looking at your results is just a history record of what you have done in the past. It’s a lagging indicator (or rear view mirror) of the sum total of your efforts over the past few weeks and months. Maybe it was prospecting, networking or listening to your past and current clients that got you there. That being the case, is there any way that you can find a forward looking or leading indicator of your future results?

Your Sales Pipeline isn’t the whole answer

You’d be partially right if you thought that your Pipeline is part of the answer. Depending on your qualifying and closing averages, it can give you a good clue as to what to expect in the future. So sure, you can do the same you’ve been doing, and work at it harder, more frequently and with more intensity. Nobody would discourage that behavior, but it takes a lot of time and effort to get the desired incremental returns on that kind of grinding.

The Intangibles

So perhaps a better leading indicator of future results is not always the quantity of effort, but rather the quality of the effort. Can it be that your own personal and professional development could really have the biggest impact on your future results? No doubt that the old adage about working “Smarter” comes into play here. But how do you define it? Is it increasing product knowledge, sales skills or other expertise in your field, or is it more about intangibles like passion, self awareness, emotional control, understanding, insights and perception? Only a consistent program of self development is the way to find the answers that are right for you. How hard would it be to get off the roller coaster a little bit every week to focus on self development as your leading indicator of success?

Many thanks to Daniel Grissom for inspiring the concept about the Leading Indicator.

What does the North Star have to do with Business?

01/27/2010 Leave a comment

I know where the North Star is with 100% certainty. It’s like death and taxes. Unless someone moved it, or everything written about astronomy over the last few hundred years is just a big hoax, it’s usually pretty easy to find if you know where to look. Sometimes when the conversation comes up with others, and I show them where it is, I’ll get a reaction like this … “No, that’s not it. It’s not the brightest. That’s not North”, or some other reason for them to dispute the reality. Although they obviously don’t know where it is, they are almost certain of where it isn’t.

What’s the point Smarty Pants?

So when we recommend to managers that are selecting sales people to use an assessment before making a hiring decision, we sometimes get a similar reaction like this …  “No, they don’t work. I don’t want to spend the money. I’ve done it before. I can trust my gut. But we know him or her.” … and all the other reasons.

OK, I’m alright with skepticism up to the point where it doesn’t fly in the face of the truth or the proof. The stats for our assessments are this: When you follow the recommendation to Hire, there is a 94% chance of success. When you ignore the recommendation Not to Hire, your chances of success go down to 25%. Those stats are based on hundreds of thousands of real life data points and have been back tested to confirm the validity. No doubt that 94% isn’t as sure as 100%, but it’s pretty darned good when it comes to understanding the future potential and production of a very important and expensive asset.

Is it really that simple?

No it is not that simple, so don’t believe it when you hear it. Nothing is that simple anymore. Using an assessment is just a part of a process. First, it has to be the right assessment. Too many products out there are marketed to have the same effectiveness, but the truth is that they do not have the same predictive validity. Secondly, potentially good sales folks can easily be de-railed by a weak on-boarding plan, mis-alignment of sales management, insufficient coaching, poor fit with the work environment or many other parts of the process. Being blind to these others factors is probably the reason that those who have used an assessment in the past no longer believe in their usefulness.

Next time you get ready to put on a new sales rep, can you please ask yourself how certain you are of the parts of your process?

Ice Cream for Breakfast?

01/20/2010 4 comments

The feeling of being denied the freedom to make your own decision is one of the worst feelings in the world. I don’t know too many people beyond the age of two that would argue with that statement. If I decide to go out and ride my bike, eat lunch at 1:30, have ice cream for breakfast or stay up until 3:00 AM, well, that is my choice thank you. So why should I change my mind if that is really what I want to do?

I’ll just sit here while you try to convince me

So when did it become fashionable to deny a prospect the choice to hear a pitch, stay with a current vendor or take advantage of special pricing from a competitor?  Is it that everyone we approach must be stupid or making a mistake if they don’t buy from us? Or is it just possible that we aren’t right for everyone? The tried and true process of spouting features and benefits is a tad “seller-centric”. .. meaning that those “can’t miss” benefits should work for everyone because that’s what the sales person is telling you. Just because you offer a car with fold down seats does that mean I should be thrilled even though I have no need for that particular feature that is so desired by someone else?


Just trust me, please

Someone once told me that feature and benefit selling amounted to “positive performance before trust” when used to fuel the sales process. I didn’t quite grasp that idea until I found myself as the prospect a few times. You could almost feel the salesperson telling me to just go ahead and trust him. And the funny thing was that the more he told me about this feature and that benefit that made no difference to me, the harder it was to believe I should grant him any trust at all.

So in an effort to find a more nurturing way to sell I began using a permission based sales approach that embraced the fact that either party could say NO, that allowed both salesperson and prospect to feel in control, and that used question marks instead of exclamation points or periods to drive the process forward. Wouldn’t we all like to work in an environment that felt that comfortable?

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.]

Hire Slow, Fire Fast?

11/12/2009 1 comment

Does it really have to be that way? Sure, there are lots of management courses that suggest that the old “Hire Slow, Fire Fast” process is a best practice, but there are plenty of things that have to have to go right along the way. Hiring slow the right way can make firing fast a non-issue. If so, then starting the process right pays huge dividends

Is everyone suddenly a Super Star in their own minds?

Using a proven methodology to select long term, successful hires that can and will sell ends the merry-go round practice that has become acceptable for many sales organizations.  The “hire three, keep one” stories exist in any economic condition, but with so many resumes touting a career as a top producer hitting the streets now, this practice can be even riskier. When you read these submissions it is truly hard to believe that such high producers and proven winners ever got let go at all. How did so many all-stars meet the fate of down-sizing all at the same time?

Don’t be duped

With everyone claiming they are competent, your process must include some tools and practices that separate the wheat from the chaff. Stop trusting your gut and intuition. No one’s resume says they performed poorly or got axed by an unappreciative manager, so buyers beware. Do the right thing and get some outside help. If two heads are better than one, get a second head or at least an instrument that can validate your gut feeling.  Slow down and make a selection that will last. It can’t be any worse than doing it all by yourself.

A Funny Thing happened when he quit – (Part 2 of 3)

11/10/2009 Leave a comment

In the first installment of this series, we looked at Robert, a rep that was not only overpaid relative to his results, but that was causing trouble within the organization. Because of the circumstances, Robert had made the decision to leave that position and go out to find someone that would pay him what he thought he was worth. After his resignation, his former employer was shocked to learn that there were many pockets of business that had gone untouched and were easy pickings for someone willing to do some selling.

So what happened to him?

Many of you might guess that failure or job hopping was the inevitable future, but the outcome was entirely different. Despite his vast network of contacts, Robert was more than a little deflated to find that nobody was willing to pay anything close to his last salary, and that the nature of comp plans in his business were heavily slanted towards pay for performance. Not wanting to be on the street for too long he took the best offer he could find and proceeded to figure out how he was going to make the kind of money he was used too.

Now that he was mostly on commission, it didn’t take long for our wayward rep to discover that the game had changed. Being in a slightly different market, he couldn’t really leverage all his contacts the way he used to, so something would have to give. Looking back he realized he had behaved like an account manager (farmer) rather than the new business development pro (hunter) that he was expected to be. He also knew that his pipeline of new opportunities had been a stagnant list of hope and wishes.

Progress starts with change

Now that he had a firm understanding that he would actually have to prospect and sell again, Robert found some new strength from internal motivation and an unwillingness to make any excuses for himself. He became totally committed to his own success, he was willing to track his progress, monitor his behavior and develop the confidence to set and meet the goals he had failed to set for himself in his last position.

Update: It’s only been less than a year since Robert set out on this new course, but we know he is performing a lot better than he was before and that his results continue to grow.

[In the final installment next week, we’ll take a look at the cause and effects of this situation, and connect all the dots]

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.