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Groundhog Day

I’m in Ireland this week and next working with Sales Executives and CEOs in a series of one- and two-day workshops as part of the International Selling Program offered by Enterprise Ireland (Ireland’s commerce department) and DIT (The Dublin Institute of Technology, where I am an adjunct professor of sales and sales management).   My overall message to the 125 or so people I’ll be in front of is one word: process.  (Here it’s proh-cess, not prah-cess).

I cover three of the most critical processes for building an effective sales capability: qualification, hiring and planning.  Sales process itself is covered in another module.

Timeline to disaster

One of the big challenges here is similar to that in the U.S.—selecting a sales VP (or director) who can get the job done. Considering the average tenure of sales VPs these days—less than two years—I created a pro-forma timeline for the newly-hired sales VP who isn’t going to work out long-term:

  • Months 1-3: On-boarding. VP learns about the company, salespeople, colleagues in marketing, services, customers, competitors, etc. Asks a lot of questions.  Generates excitement and hope.
  • Months 4-6: VP makes changes in approach, terminology, territories, business partners, marketing materials, routine (sales meetings, forecast calls, etc.) VP may bring in former salespeople that worked for them in the past.
  • Months 7-9: Little to no performance improvement realized. VP says that new mechanisms haven’t “gained traction.” Or that their new reps “need a little more time.” VP suggests that there have been changes in the market/economy/environment since they joined. Assures the executive team a little more time will do the trick.
  • Months 10-12: An occasional success! The heat is off for a time, until the CEO realizes that “one big win does not a trend make.” (Dave Hathaway, partner, now retired, from prestigious VC firm Venrock Associates said that to me in a board meeting when I was an inexperienced VP of sales and bragged about a big deal we had just won.)
  • Month 13: Consultant or board member or expert is brought in to assess the situation. Meetings, reports, discussions, back and forth
  • Months 14-16: VP and CEO see the handwriting on the wall, but keep it to themselves, hoping that the situation will magically approve.
  • Months 17-20: CEO covertly searches for new VP. VP covertly taps into his/her network while updating their resume with the appropriate spin on this latest position.
  • Month 21 (or The New Month 1): New VP of sales arrives… On-boarding…  It’s Groundhog Day!

Who is responsible?

You might wonder who are responsible for this all-too-common situation.  It’s the people who continue to hire the wrong VPs of sales or promote their best salesrep to the job.

What is the root cause?

The profiles for a Sales VP and a salesperson are, by definition, different.  Granted, most successful sales VPs have a sales background.  But promoting a successful salesperson into a management role doesn’t work unless that person has the skills and traits required for that job.  Here are a few generic sales leader skills:  management (!), team building, conflict resolution, strategic planning, coaching, hiring, and motivating.  There are numbers of additional skills required for success in each unique sales leadership position.  Plus there are a list of traits, too, many of which even top-performing salesreps just don’t possess.  Process orientation is just one.

Wait, wait!!!

If you’re about to hire a sales VP, director, or sales manager (or are about to promote a rep into one of those positions) and you don’t have a profile for that position specifying the skills and traits required for success with your company’s sales people selling your products to your customers against your competitors, STOP.

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My 2009 Word of The Year, So Far

One of my most-used words these days is “scrutinize.”  Merriam-Webster says it means to examine closely and minutely.”

At ESR, we find ourselves using the word fairly often:

  • VPs have been asking us about how to determine which sales reps to keep and which to redeploy.  In this current economic situation some of what salesreps depended on to win in the past will simply no longer work.  It’s the old, “the past does not equal the future.” We recommend scrutinizing past performance as well as all the reps’ strengths and weaknesses against the new set of required skills and traits. And we strongly recommend psychometric testing. It’s very effective objective scrutiny.

  • We know from work with our clients that business acumen is more important now in B2B selling than ever before.  Salesreps need to scrutinize their customers, clients and prospects.  (More about this and some disturbing data when ESR reports on the results of our social media in B2B sales survey, which closed today.)  By the way, I was recently briefed by Chip Terry, Vice President and General Manager Enterprise Solutions at ZoomInfo.  He demoed their product.  Within two minutes I could see how ZoomInfo can provide the breadth and depth of information about not only companies, but equally as important, people within those companies, on whom salesreps would be calling.)

  • Messaging.  How relevant are the messages your salespeople are delivering to your customers and sales prospects?  Those need to be scrutinized and relevance to what and how your customers are buying must be determined.

  • New approaches and tools.  I’ve written a lot about the new social media as well as Sales 2.0 (again here).  These are very hot topics. (Just the number and flavor of comments to these three blog posts will attest to that.)  ESR’s recommendation is to… You guessed it:  thoroughly scrutinize any new direction or investment with respect to either or both of these promising technologies. The time may be right.  But then again, it may not be.

  • Lead Generation and Lead Nurturing.  Brian Carroll (podcast) and I are working on a project together.  Just yesterday we were discussing the challenges most companies are facing these days in those challenged areas.  What’s required for many companies is significant scrutiny. Bring in experts if you need to.  Get the right one—someone like Brian perhaps—and it will be money well-spent.

  • Sales training.  I’m very concerned about the significant drop in sales training during the past quarter.  Sales training may be precisely the right area to scale back in certain companies.  But certainly not in all, or even most.  Again, here’s where some significant scrutiny will enable you to determine where to spend your limited funds so that you have the biggest chance of making it through this economic situation.

  • Here are a few more areas that should be targeted for some scrutiny: Territory assignments, compensation, coaching mechanisms, measurement and analytics, sales process, sales support and readiness.  The list goes on.

Photo credit: © Sandor Kacso – Fotolia.com

Hope Is Not A Strategy, But It Can Make All The Difference

“Having hope,” writes Daniel Goleman in his  study of emotional intelligence, “means that one will not  give in to overwhelming anxiety, a defeatist attitude, or  depression in the face of difficult challenges or setbacks.”

Rick Page is right.  Hope isn’t a strategy.   Profound words.  Hope doesn’t replace the comprehensive and objective assessment of a selling situation, the planning, the execution, or the hard work.  But hope is a source of energy upon which you can, under significant adverse circumstances, jump out of bed and face the day, a tough deal, a busines challenge, or a personal obstacle.

Abraham Lincoln said that hope is “more than the sunny view that everything will turn out all right”; it is “believing you have the will and the way to  accomplish your goals.”

Ain’t nothin’ the matter with that kind of hope.

Quotes are excerpted from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Genius of Abraham Lincoln

I Would Buy From This Guy!

Although I met Charlie Green a number of years ago when we were both presenting at a sales conference, I’ve only recently gotten to appreciate his perspective, his integrity and his intelligence.

Rather than me tell you about him, I asked him some questions instead.  Read, learn and enjoy.

Dave Stein: You’ve created a fabulous brand around “trusted advisor.” Since I’m a believer in personal branding, would you explain a few of the most important steps you took to build your brand?

Charlie Green: Well, I didn’t consciously set out to create a brand; I’m not recommending anyone do that, just telling you how it happened. But in retrospect, I think a couple of things were helpful.

One was certainly the name itself. Trusted Advisor was a term that has had some currency for a long time. It was probably un-trademarkable at the time, and certainly is now. It had been used in advertisements, and everyone had an intuitive sense of it as relevant, but vague. In retrospect, that was a helluva good decision.

In my case, I also chose a high-content, high transparency route. Following some great advice and example from David Maister, I wrote an awful lot, made sure it was very good, and put it all out there. My economic model is based on keynotes and seminars, not on selling videos or online product. That means I have no reason not to pretty much put everything out there-it enhances my brand, which is good for visibility (and pricing).

Finally, I give a lot of credit to my IT people, StressLimitDesign. They are a few young people up in Canada who combine great visual design sense with internet and technical savvy, are deeply into emerging trends (blogging, tweeting, et al) and know how to combine them to help businesses like me. Plus they work very hard. My site design-graphics, content and all-has been consciously designed to reinforce a particular brand-in my case thoughtful, provocative, insightful, broad-based, etc.

DS: What I like about your approach is that it isn’t a bunch of tips and tricks. It’s more about who you need to become than what you need to do. Do I have that about right?

CG: Absolutely. I deeply believe that when it comes to something as complex as trust, “tips and tricks” cannot cut it. Would you trust someone whose approach to trust was based on “tips and tricks?” No. Being trustworthy at its root is relational-it’s got to involve some sense of behaving appropriately with another, whether it’s caring about them, or being concerned, or deferred gratification, or customer focus. We trust people because we believe they’re not going to treat us as objects for their gratification, means to their ends. And that is a matter of character. Not tips and tricks.

And it goes beyond that. The dominant shift in management thinking in the last four decades has been all about “tips and tricks,” that is, behavioral approaches. Think about how obsessed we have become with measurement, management processes, outsourcing, rewards and incentives. In each of these areas, we have become behaviorally obsessed-the root of “tips and tricks.” What we have left behind is all the parts of business that have to do with relationships, beliefs and attitudes, internal mindsets. And those are what are critical to trust. We don’t trust behaviors, we trust the motives behind those behaviors. If someone’s motives are suspect, their behaviors are completely useless-we suspect them all. Tips and tricks all become the bases for suspicion and lack of trust.

Whew-you got me wound up on that one!

DS: Can you give us a (brief) example of how you have used your trusted advisor status to outposition or outsell a competitor of yours? Continue reading

New Year Resolutions For Sales Leaders

2009Pick one or more of the resolutions below.  Commit, execute, enjoy the results.

  1. I’ll never hire another sales rep who can’t get the sales job done. First, completely understand the position and the skills and traits required to be successful.  Evaluating whether a candidate meets those requirements requires a series of two to three structured interviews.  There are no perfect candidates, but if you understand gaps between what capabilities the candidate possesses and what is required for the job, you can train, coach or support that new rep to success.

  2. I won’t spend another dime on technology for my sales team without knowing specifically how it will help my reps win business. In general, what companies receive in return for their investment in CRM technology is significantly short of expectations.  Before you make any investments in CRM, Sales 2.0 or other emerging technologies make sure the primary recipient of value is the salesperson. There has to be a direct, proven connection between the software application and the salesperson winning more business.

  3. I will teach and then continue to encourage my reps to look at selling strategically. Many salespeople don’t think past the next meeting or phone call.  You will be doing them (and yourself) a big favor if you can coach them into seeing the big picture—the next five steps in the sales cycle or what the customer’s situation might be in six months when they expect to make a buying decision.

  4. I will look at sales performance improvement strategically. You should know by now that tactical, event-based sales training doesn’t really provide any long-term value.  So why are you still wasting time and money on it?

  5. I will implement a formal coaching function to support my sales reps’ growth. Coaching is not a sales manager closing a deal for a rep or telling them what to do in a tough competitive situation.   Coaching is a mission-critical, formal, ongoing activity that is required for significant sales performance improvement.  If you don’t know where to start, send me an email.  I’ll point you in the right direction.

  6. I will run my sales organization like the business that it should be. In order to be successful, businesses require business plans, process, discipline, documented responsibilities and accountabilities, quality assurance and measurement of output.  I’m not suggesting bureaucracy here.  Just the appropriate measure of formality and seriousness.  If seat-of-the-pants ever worked in B2B selling in the past, it certainly doesn’t any longer.

  7. I will provide my sales team with the leadership they need and deserve. A few questions for you around one area of leadership:  Is marketing not getting the job done?  Does the CEO set unrealistic revenue targets?  Are customers angry due to product problems?  Do your products or services not meet the needs of your market?   These and other challenges can stop the best sales team in its tracks.  It’s your job to get issues like these addressed and resolved.  If you don’t have the required leadership skills, get them.

  8. I will advance my team considerably further than foundation Sales 101 skills so they can really be competitive. Winning these days requires more than just basic selling skills.  Make sure your sales process includes advanced components, such as political mapping, selling to senior executives, and competitive strategies and tactics.  Find the best approaches in those areas that fit your business requirements.  Train your people.  Sustain improvement with coaching and other post-training reinforcement.

  9. I will elevate the importance of my team’s knowledge about our customers’ businesses. Many customers of yours are buying only what will help them survive this economic crisis.  If your salespeople can’t position your products and services in terms of contributing to your customers’ success—from your customer’s perspective—they aren’t going to sell very much.

  10. I will commit to understanding my weaknesses and improving those capabilities as a sales leader. There is no shortage of intelligence, research, best-practices, coaches, consultants and just plain good advice.  Avail yourself of the best of them.

Photo credit: © Stefan Rajewski – Fotolia.com

Another Opinion About Selling In This Economy

Read McKinsey’s recent article, The downturn’s new rules for marketers (registration required).

I was pleasantly surprised to see some sound advice about sales organization function and structure in the article.   The real meat for those of us on the sales side is near the end of the piece, beginning with, “Reprioritizing sales function.”

There is no shortage of advice about selling during this recession floating around the Internet these days.  What ESR’s clients are more interested in is not quick sales tips, but alternatives for territory coverage, resourcing, sales organization structure, and value proposition relevancy.

What concerns me is that many sales leaders in trouble will jump at any idea.  Some of those I speak with are doing exactly that.  The McKinsey article will hopefully convince you to assess your situation carefully first.  A strategy that can help one company reduce a projected revenue shortfall by 10 or 15% may make things considerably worse for another.

Your sales people need direction, motivation and firm leadership (among other things).  There couldn’t be a worse time than now for the ready, fire, aim approach.

Graphic credit: © Adrian Hillman – Fotolia.com

The Care, Feeding (and Training) of Salespeople

Brian Lambert of ASTD hosted a webinar this week where I presented The Care, Feeding (and Training) of Salespeople.  It’s targeted at learning and training organizations leaders and managers.

Registration will get you access to an archive of the event.