• This Blog Is Inactive!

    On of May 8, 2009, I moved my blog over to a new domain: DaveSteinsBlog.ESResearch.com

    I will no longer be posting on this URL. Comments will not be moderated. More information.

  • ESR’s STVG

    Here is ESR's highly acclaimed Sales Training Vendor Guide, Third Edition.

The New Social Media (Wars)

I’ve been involved in a number of posts on The Customer Collective where there have been some personal attacks by a few social media zealots against some of us that have a more balanced view of the capabilities and tools required for effective B2B selling going forward in this new(est) economy.   Jonathan Farrington1, Dave Brock, Niall Devitt, and I have a somewhat similar opinion of the role of social media.  (These are smart guys.  I recommend you subscribe to their blogs.)

The four of us had an email exchange today after some comments to one of Jonathan’s posts.  The comments sounded like sweeping indictments of “old school,” and the four of us as well.

What’s really worth considering, as Dave Brock pointed out in the email thread, is that people are attacking the four of us for being old school, when we’re all entrenched in the new social media: blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, virtual meetings, and much of the rest.  Are they attacking our not being immersed in the new social media, which you would think might be their mission? No.  They’re attacking us for the opinions we voice about the social media from within the social media environment.2 We’re not outside observers.

Here is an edited slice of my thoughts on the subject of social media zealotry and “old school” from that thread:

ESR has studied the issue of inter-generational selling. It’s a big challenge for companies and for consultants and trainers. It will become even more challenging. How do we “experts” stay relevant to younger salespeople, managers and CEOs is one question. The bigger question is how will younger salespeople become relevant to serious corporate buyers?

Here are a few more questions: The Millennials (Y’ers) show considerably less willingness to follow convention (read process) than those who are older—a generalization, I admit. Salespeople in general have less discipline and process-orientation than professionals, which compounds the problem. B2B customer buying patterns and practices are getting tougher, requiring more discipline, process, strategy, etc. on the part of those who sell to them. So how will the Millennials, many of whom are rejecting much of what has come before, wind up selling though this capability gap? Answer: Many will not! Companies will have to tighten up their profile for B2B salespeople and a boatload of soft skills with little else won’t be a desired characteristic—not in the kind of serious B2B selling that drives the economy. So the pure social media types will have that to play with that in their spare time, or lock on to a subset of buyers in corporations who may be open to that stuff.

A client of ours went into a very tough negotiation with a well-known company yesterday.  Big, big bucks! They were meeting with a senior strategic procurement executive. Facebook? Twitter? Blogs? Virtual or online anything?  No. Weeks of research, customer profiling, political positioning, testing approaches, strategizing, number crunching, competitive positioning, collaborative brainstorming and one very, very important face-to-face meeting. Is that model going to change in the next few years? Sure, in some sales environments, but not in mission critical areas of most companies over $200 million in sales.

With all this being said, with respect to the business side of my life, I’ll listen to and consider anyone’s opinion on any subject, so long as they can express their opinion clearly and succinctly and don’t resort to manipulation, games, or personal attacks.  I believe passion is good.  So is being a zealot, if your goal is benevolent as well as your means of getting there.  I confess:  I’m a sales effectiveness zealot.

Notes:

  1. Jonathan Farrington is hosting the kick-off event for the Top Sales Experts Roundtable:  The Future of Professional Selling on Tuesday, April 14th, 2009 at 1.00 pm EDT.  I’ll be a panel member.  With Jonathan in charge, it’ll be worth your investment.
  2. ESR will be publishing the findings from our recent survey on the new social media’s role in B2B selling next week.  If you’d like to be notified of the publication of this report, subscribe to this blog or the ESR/AlertTM.

Photo credit: © Carsten Reisinger – Fotolia.com

Sales Hiring From a Recruiter’s Perspective

As ESR continues to assess our clients’ sales challenges, we maintain that having the wrong people in the sales jobs is, in many cases, the biggest inhibitor to the success of a training intervention.  My interview with Todd Harris of PI Worldwide highlighted one of the tools available for sales leaders to get an objective assessment of candidates as well as existing sales personnel.

I’m far from done with this subject.  I wanted to get another perspective, so here are some questions I posed to Kathleen Steffey, CEO of sales recruitment firm Naviga Business Services, based in Tampa.  Kathleen also writes the SalesJournal blog.

Dave Stein: As CEO of a national sales and marketing recruitment firm, share with me what changes you’ve seen in your business in the past three months.

Kathleen Steffey: In the last three months I’ve seen growth and expansion with my existing customer base and a decline in “new” customer contracts. Because of this trend, my business has made a shift to heavily focus on existing customer penetration and customer management. We’ve created new programs to capitalize on our existing customer base-viral marketing campaigns, referral programs, aggressive business development penetration (all inside our existing customer base). I am also focusing heavily on recruiting performance to make sure we are executing on every single piece of business we receive to maximize revenue. Customers are behaving in a very smart way and show a thorough decision making process when it comes to candidates. They are taking every aspect of the hiring process much more serious as every penny counts these days. Because my business is steadily growing, we are currently looking for additional recruiters. Our recruiter candidate pipeline is the best I’ve seen in years, in terms of quality. I am taking advantage of the down market to select only the best and brightest to join my team in the next month.

DS: I’m curious about high-performing sales reps. Do you see them looking for new opportunities or are they sticking with the companies for which they are currently working?

KS: The volume of candidate flow has increased dramatically.  Many, many “A” player sales reps have been laid off and/or are looking for a new opportunities due to the instability of their current employer. I personally know many sales executives who have contacted me to express that they are looking for a new opportunity.  They are coming out of the woodwork right now.

DS: What about sales managers? Any new trends there? Are your clients hiring?

KS: I have seen a trend of customers that have a strong focus on evaluating overall team sales performance and linking it back to poor sales leadership. A handful of my customers are deciding to really clean shop and terminate low performing sales reps and terminate non-influential sales leaders. We have many confidential searches going on that support this scenario.

DS: What advice might you give to a sales rep or manager who is currently employed?  Stick where they are or look around for a better opportunity?

KS: If someone is employed with an organization that is reacting well to this current economy-shifting, changing, creating, enhancing, looking at different verticals to penetrate, etc, then you have a proactive organization that is adjusting to the current state and shows promise. I say stick it out and keep at it… Penetrate your prospects harder than ever and make sure you’re creating value, providing solid industry insight and serving them well.. better than you ever have.

I can’t comment on whether or not someone should stay with their organization.. it completely depends on the state of the business, industry, product, etc. I do know that two of the hottest industries that are doing well right now are healthcare and energy, in the event people need focus on where to look.

DS: I know your firm does about 20% retained and 80% contingency work. What advice can you give a hiring authority as to which way to go?

KS: While both options offer our customers the same level of attention and quality, I would have to suggest that going retained always wins. A retained relationship brings focus, commitment and efficiency to the customer/vendor partnership and displays strong value in filling the position with Naviga. At the very least, a retained relationship removes other variables that the hiring manager would normally have to deal with if working contingency-job advertisements, other recruiters, internal responses to postings, etc. A retained relationship allows Naviga to streamline the recruiting process and save valuable time for our customers.

DS: How is your firm helping companies hire the right candidates?  As you know, ESR’s research identifies this as a big, big problem.

KS: First and foremost we get to know our customers. I view this as a critical piece in quality recruiting and making an appropriate match. We understand the make-up of the organization—revenues, employees, top leadership style, product/service focus, market differentiation, strengths/weaknesses, etc. Next we get to the critical part of the engagement and this is where we reveal the sales culture/environment. We understand the sales team, territories, product price, sales cycle, ramp up, top performer profiles, sales leadership and how the team is led, CRM/reporting requirements, candidate profile, etc.  We’ve found that there is a significant correlation with how the team is led and the performance of the overall team. We take this discovery serious to determine if our candidates will be in an environment where they can be successful.

I am a strong advocate of this statement, “The best predictor of future performance is past performance”.. I train and coach my team to measure the quality of the candidates by their past performance and to relate the sales environment associated with those successes to the current position we are looking to fill. I am also a strong advocate of looking at W2’s, understanding the past compensation programs, looking at industry, product/services, average sales cycle and deal price and evaluate whether or not there is a sales environment/culture match.

Because Naviga specializes in sales recruitment, our evaluation process is very specialized and “sales centric.” We have a standardized evaluation process that every recruiter uses and it’s based on the position we are recruiting; for an example-it can vary based on hunter, farmer, or leadership positions. We use a standard list of eight (8) key sales dimensions when we interview candidates. We ask questions around selling skills, sales knowledge, intellectual ability, personal, interpersonal, motivation, tenure and compensation. Our internal evaluation process is a hybrid of Greg Alexander’s Top Grading for Sales approach, which is adjusted for our business model/customer needs.

Photo credit:  © Lisa F. Young – Fotolia.com

What About Your Salesreps Who Work From Home?

A lot more salesreps are working from home now than even a few years ago.  But working from home isn’t for every salesrep or every company.  Now’s the time to look at this issue.  It could mean the difference between your home-office reps making their numbers or not.

A post on (Jigsaw’s CEO) Garth Moulton’s blog about the profiles of inside sales reps brought to mind some of the discussions we’ve had with VPs of sales about the challenges related to telecommuting for their salesreps.

I recently discussed an underperforming  home-based salesrep with his VP of sales.  Intent on  diagnosing the problem, I asked, “Do you have evidence that he’s working 50 to 60 hours a week…  for you?”  The VP said he didn’t know whether the rep was working the hours, or full time for his company.  He should have known the answers to both parts of that question and the answers should have been two yesses.

When hiring, there is no question in my mind that you don’t want to be the one who gives a salesrep her first opportunity to work from a home office.  Way too risky.  I’ve seen dozens of failures due to this simple mistake.  You have to be certain that the rep has been successfully selling from a home office environment.  There are traits and skills required to accomplish this.  Know what those are and make sure you compare the candidate against those requirements.

If an office-based rep you currently have on board wants to switch to telecommute for first time, now may not be the best time.  Neither you nor they can afford a slip in productivity.  Just because someone wants to work from a home office doesn’t mean they should.

We’ve been working with a few clients that have very good situations with salesreps who work from home.  Most notable are two women who had a terrific year in 2008 with one of our clients, closing multiple $250k application software opportunities without ever leaving their home offices.  They are relentless qualifiers, have very effective discovery processes, are marvelous at creating demand and leading champions within their customers’ organizations through a collaborative buying/selling process.  These home-based reps are motivated, focused, and have all the skills and attributes required for successful selling from a home office.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Don’t hire a rep for a home-0ffice situation who can’t prove they’ve been successful at it in the past.
  • Some salesreps need the support and camaraderie associated with an office environment. Others aren’t capable of working from home due to lack of discipline or motivation.  Still others don’t have the knowledge, experience or skills to get the job done.  Make sure you know all the strengths and weaknesses of your own reps and anyone you are looking at hiring.
  • Certain selling  jobs require a fair amount of time in the office.  If that’s the case, no one should be based at home. A day a week, fine, but no more than that.
  • Don’t let a good rep strong-arm you into allowing them to transition to a home-based office unless you’re certain they’ll get the selling job done.
  • Make sure you’ve got the right sales performance measurement system in place.  You need to be able to spot trends in individual performance before they impact your forecast.
  • If you’re going to have reps working from home, provide them with the equipment they need, including hardware (for example, a backup hard drive), the appropriate sales enablement software (a strong knowledge management system, for example) and a high-quality headset.

Finally, the risks associated with home-based sales reps are mitigated when you have a pragmatic sales methodology that’s in place and used across your entire sales team.  If you don’t have one, that’s what you need to do, starting today.

Photo credit: © Wollwerth Imagery – Fotolia.com

The Economy Is Down, So It’s Webinar Time!

I’ve delivered lots of webinars over the years, working with all the well-know providers and others as well.  With only two exceptions where the audio was lost for all the participants, I’ve had very good experiences.  That’s not by accident.  My content is always relevant to the audience, I rehearse, I’m facile with the technology, I understand the medium, and I always use a checklist to make certain I don’t forget something.

I’ve delivered a few webinars with Boston Conferencing.  They really impressed me with their professionalism, the quality of the technology, and their turnkey approach.  In fact, I’ve got a webinar coming up with FranklinCovey Sales Performance Group on Wednesday, March 11, 1:00 pm ET — Strategies For Getting Your Customers Through the Financial Crisis. (Disclosure: I’ll be delivering a webinar for pay with Boston Conferencing in July.)

So in these times of reduced travel, I asked Boston Conferencing President, Dave Will, to help us make better use of this medium.


Dave Stein: Web conferencing has been around for a decade or so. What’s changed in the past few years with respect to the technology?

Dave Will: Actually the biggest change has not been with the technology as much as with the integration into day to day business processes. A decade ago, very few organizations outside of the technology sector were using web conferencing. Even 2 – 3 years ago we found that a lot of organizations were still trying to identify if webinars were a worthwhile marketing/training tool. Now webinars are a line item in the budget. The decision has been made and the vast majority of organizations have incorporated them into their business. The question has changed from “should we do it” to “when and how do we get it done.” It is no longer a competitive advantage to run webinars. It’s a “must-have” in order to keep up.

But to answer the question more directly, web conferencing technology is doing a better job of streaming video and audio over the internet. It’s also come a long way in providing simple one-click entry to events. Webinars and Web Conferencing are no longer for the tech companies or the geeks. It’s a common tool in all organizations. One more change is that there are tons of small unknown software tools in the market that may or may not be good for business use. What has not changed is that the major “industrial-strength” conferencing tools are still Microsoft LiveMeeting and WebEx. Continue reading

Sales Meetings. Is There A Nap On Your Agenda?

Most companies we work with at one point or another ask us to review their approach to sales meetings. Many sales managers, having no idea how to run a sales meeting, just wing it.  The meetings are of little value to the reps and leave the sales managers embarrassed and often seen as incompetent in this area by their teams.

Jill Myrick is a sales consultant whose blog is focused on helping sales leaders run productive sales meetings, among other things.  She is a Co-Owner of Meeting to Win, LLC, a weekly sales team meeting agenda service that provides powerful sales team meeting topics to energize Monday morning sales team meetings. I interviewed Jill this week.

Dave Stein: Sales meetings are generally seen as a waste of time by salespeople. Why is it about the meetings that cause that reaction?

Jill Myrick: Here are the reasons many salespeople dread their weekly, typically Monday morning, sales team meeting: In many cases, it is boring and lacks information that will equip them to compete and win that week. It lacks any real preparation and, therefore, ends up being a data dump, a review of the numbers or a recap of everyone’s previous week. This “agenda” is boring and worse yet, draining. Basically, it turns into an hour that each rep is reading e-mails and updating Facebook. By the way, many sales managers feel these are a waste of time, also, and either stop doing them altogether or do them because they feel they should and suffer as much or more than their reps.

DS: Why do you think that by now, sales managers haven’t learned how to plan and execute effective meetings?

JM: Sales Managers wear so many hats – recruiter, coach, and negotiator and so on. Some managers lead inspired, productive weekly sales team meetings, but most don’t. In most cases, once they become a manager, they lead meetings based on what they experienced as a rep. In addition, managers’ own organizations neglect to give them guidance on this very important hour in their team’s week. And, the bad meeting cycle continues.

DS: What are the three most important considerations for a sales manager when she devises a new approach for sales meetings?

JM: Here they are:

  1. Every topic should be relevant and equip the team to compete and win.
  2. The meeting must be collaborative. The collective experience of the team adds value to each member of the team.
  3. Share ownership and responsibility for productive meetings with the team.

DS: How would you recommend measuring the effectiveness of a sales meeting?

JM: The results of consistently great weekly sales team meetings are advanced deals, better customer relationships and higher team morale. The ideas and strategies discussed on the weekly calls create momentum for the week, energizing and fueling the team with new ways to win. Beyond that, great meetings take on a life of their own and we have seen a long list of benefits from simply executing great weekly sales team meetings.

DS: What actually happens when companies transition from ineffective meetings to effective ones?

JM: Here are some main themes we hear when subscribers transition from bad or no weekly meetings to productive ones.

  • Many of our subscribers have a mix of newer and also more seasoned sales team members. They haven’t held meetings because they felt the more experienced ones would not get value and consider them a waste of time. These sales managers have been surprised at the interaction and idea exchanges that occur between new and experienced sales representatives.
  • Managers are surprised to hear about deals advancing after implementing ideas exchanged on the calls. They forget that they don’t have to carry the entire load in terms of coaching and deal strategy.
  • In addition, the agendas encourage interaction so sales managers are really getting to know their team members and transferring the pressure of leading good meetings to the entire team—and they are willingly taking it. Managers tell us the Sunday night stress of wondering what to cover on their Monday meeting is gone.
  • Other managers lead technology sales teams who are more comfortable with the technology piece than they are with the sales piece. The agenda topics are leading them in more sales discussions which are resulting in excitement and focus on this neglected part of their role.

DS: What does your firm do with respect to meetings?

JM: We provide a new sales team meeting agenda each week along with guidance and support for the sales managers who subscribe. Among many other topics, the agendas cover fundamental and advanced selling topics, current business events that impact selling, best practices and ideas from the team’s experience, current thought leaders and real-time collaboration on live opportunities, economic challenges and changing needs.

If you’d like to review a sample sales meeting agenda, you can request it here.

Photo credit: © Renee Jansoa – Fotolia.com

A High-Level Sales Call Gone Bad – Really Bad

Years ago I was based in Europe, opening up operations there for Datalogix International, an ERP software company.  Datalogix “wound up” in Europe after selling a large deal to a Boston-based adhesives company, Bostik.  Bostik came to us with a problem: the were being sold by their parent company, Black & Decker, and Bostik had to get off B&D’s mainframe within five months.  Bostik had a number of locations, including several in the U.K.  They were being acquired by Total Chemie (pronounced toe-TAL Shem-EE), the chemical division of the very large French multinational petrochemical company.  Talk about a compelling event!  Bostik had no choice but to invest in their own system.  There was a need, a budget, a timeframe and we were talking to the key decision makers in the company.

Greg Taylor was the salesrep.  He, along with VP of sales Steve Andersen, did a fabulous job.  The deal came in at $1.9 million, which was the largest deal for Datalogix up until that time.  We took a customer-focused, proactive approach.  I was VP of Operations at the time, and I drew up a plan to commence support operations by moving several people to the U.K., and opening up an office there.    Bostik felt very comfortable with it and that was a key reason they decided to go with Datalogix.  Since I had a diversified background in sales, operations, professional services, software development, marketing, etc., the board asked my to spend the next 18 months in Europe.  (By the way, Greg and Steve completely outsold Marcam, who was our competitor.  I wound up working for them several years later.)

My new role as VP of International Operations was to drive the launch of the company in Europe.  I was to bring the VP of Europe, Jim Cluchey, up to speed.  Another of my roles was to drive the strategic relationships we had established with IBM, DEC, and HP, and to contribute to the sales effort wherever I could.  Jim was a really smart guy and a experienced software executive.  We had recruited him away from Cognos, where he ran their European operation.

Datalogix was making significant progress implementing additional Bostik sites in other countries in Europe.  During that time, Jim Cluchey and I were devising a strategy on how to expand our reach within Total.  We had the right software, but the wrong platform.  Total ran on IBM’s AS/400 platform, and our Unix-based software ran on just about everything else.  There was a possibility that we could rehost our software onto the AS/400 and we decided we would approach Total’s VP of IS  with that plan.

Jim Cluchey went to great lengths to secure a meeting with Leo Mercier, Total’s VP of IS to discuss the progress of Datalogix’s Bostik implementations to date (flawless, and Leo knew it) and our future ability to support other Total chemical companies.  Leo was receptive.  Jim and I were encouraged.

Jim and I met in Paris the morning of the meeting.  He had flown in from London, and I from Rotterdam, where I was then living, coaching the new central Europe general manager.  Total was headquartered at La Défense, in Paris.  We were scheduled to meet with Mercier from 1:00 to 2:00 in the afternoon.  As we made our way to the office we took yet another opportunity to validate our plan for the meeting.  We knew we had to overcome the IBM challenge, but we felt confident we could do that.

At one o’clock Jim and I arrived in Leo’s office.  His assistant told us Leo was at lunch and would return shortly.  Jim and I sat there until 1:55.  That’s right, 1:55.  When Leo arrived, he invited us into his office.  No apology.  No smile.  Not even a hint of one.  He uttered one sentence.  “I want a 40 percent discount.”

As GM of Europe, Jim owned that account.  He did the right thing by telling Leo that we needed to understand their situation: what plants needed our software, what hardware platforms were required, timelines, resources, etc., before we could discuss any discount.  Leo huffed and said he had another meeting.  We left the meeting angry, frustrated and determined to go under, over, around or through Leo Mercier.

What went wrong?  Was it the centuries-old Franco-American problem? Ineffective qualification?  The NIH (not-invented-here) syndrome?  Some effective blocking by IBM, who was threatened by our Unix-based solution and had Leo’s ear?  An unwillingness to acknowledge a success in a new, unproven division of Total? Leo just being a tough negotiator? His ego?  Just one of those bad meetings that happens to everyone?

Jim continued to make great progress in Europe.  We made a number of good sales—some strategic and some tactical.  I moved back to the States early having overachieved on my objectives.   Later on I left the company.  I had heard that additional systems were sold into Total, but only after Mercier’s departure from the company.  With all that I had done before that day and considerably more after, I’ll never forget that meeting.

What did Jim and I do wrong?  What would you have done differently?