What Great Sales Managers Know

Hire the Right People
There is an old adage – “Hire slow but fire fast”. Consider this when selecting your candidate.  teresabioToo many managers make the mistake of hiring too quickly, or for the wrong reasons, and end up regretting it when the cycle quickly repeats itself. Use a proven interview tool which asks probing, behavior-based questions. Consider using a skills/behavior assessment tool to find the right match against a predetermined benchmark. Skills can be trained or honed, but instincts and character cannot. You either have it or you don’t. Avoid trying to put a round peg in a square hole.

Training is the Path to Success
Train thoroughly and demand active participation and commitment from your team member. Use a training tool which doubles as an accountability checklist. Revisit this tool often and carve out time during each ride along or visit to ensure that training is on track.

Coach Your Team
Coach every chance you get! Coaching moments exist everywhere. Face to face coaching is clearly the most effective and timely, but coaching can also be done over the phone and even in email. Never let a coaching opportunity pass you by.

Challenge and Grow
A sales staff is usually comprised of people at all different places in the learning curve. Keep everyone engaged at his or her own place or risk losing a newbie because he does not understand, or boring a more tenured person. Keep them focused and challenged in order to keep them growing.

Demand Excellence
Set standards and demand that they be met. People will perform to the level of expectations set. If you will accept mediocre performance, that is what you are going to get. At the same time, remember that sometimes “Good really is good enough”. Pick your battles, and keep the most important things the most important things.

Set Goals
Set targets and goals regularly. Reaching small goals usually brings big results. Set weekly performance goals. Hold monthly challenges. Inspire competition.

Celebrate and Praise
Praise publicly and celebrate with your team, both individually as well as in group. Hand-written Thank Yous and notes of congratulations or encouragement go a long way. Make time to publicly celebrate victories (top performers, challenge winners, exceptional sales calls, etc.) Small tokens such as ribbons or medals may seem silly, but most sales people will treasure them. Keep in mind that salespeople are often motivated by recognition. Don’t underestimate a “High Five” in the parking lot after a successful sales call! The opposite side to this coin, discipline or course correction, should be handled privately in a swift manner with an eye on improvement. Get the salesperson’s buy- in by giving them input. Course correction should be handled firmly, but kindly. Remember that in most cases, discipline or course correction is about a behavior and not about the person.

Know your Team
Ask your team members what motivates them. You may be surprised. Take the time to develop teamwork when possible by encouraging your staff to get to know each other as well. Remember special occasions such as birthdays. People like to feel important.

Be Present
Be truly present when you are with a salesperson. Try not to allow distractions and minimize phone calls and other work. Understand that this may be a routine day for you, but guaranteed, your salesperson probably does not feel that way. Whether they welcome your visit or ride-along or not, your presence is important. Make the most of your time, whether it is on a sales call or another coaching moment. Encourage your team to keep an ongoing list or folder with current questions or support needs.

Be Accessible and Approachable
Admit that you are not perfect and that if you are any good, you are still learning too. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Encourage your team to take risks and step outside of their comfort zones by modeling. And, keep in mind that there is no I in Team. Make sure your team knows that you are on their side and that you are in it together.

“Where is the Person I Hired?”

We have all been here. The bright smiling man with years of industry experience suddenly turns into an underperforming whiner. The smart, easy going woman with passion and energy disintegrates into the difficult, non-compliant person who challenges your every direction. The frustration can be overwhelming.

Before you begin to hire, there are three key points to consider.

  1. Understand the role. Gather a circle of people who truly grasp the role; those who currently hold it, manage it or reap the benefits of its success. Ask them, “If the position could talk what would it say?” What attributes are required for success? What will lead to failure? What is the true purpose of this position? You will be surprised at the divergence of opinions.
  2. Acknowledge your real expectations of the position. Given your culture and structure, what is realistic? Given the market and industry, what will you expect and how soon? Will this person need to be aggressive, assertive, a team-player or a rainmaker? To succeed, what will motivate them; bonus or security; structure or freedom? One person cannot possess all attributes. Who are you looking for?
  3. Slow down; recognize the cost of a poor hire. This is not the time to hurry up and hire somebody! Consider the cost of failure; it is estimated to be 10-14 times their salary. There is also the soft cost of bad hires. You may gain a reputation for hiring and firing; a difficult culture and not worth the cost to apply.

Only now are you ready to begin hiring. Follow the three step process:

  1. Use a tried and true profiling assessment. Any professional profile that has excellent record of success will work. Though it should be only 1/3 of the hiring decision. It will provide a basis for a second and third interview. For instance, if you are searching for a rainmaker and the profile indicates a low sense of urgency and competitiveness, the interview questions should focus on specific past successes and how they were accomplished.
  2. Consider the resume and references as propaganda. Applicants are skilled in interviewing and often have professional help with resumes. References are usually people who have been asked to provide positive feedback or are so carefully worded that they are of little use in identifying future success
  3. Interview often and expertly. This leaves you, the hiring manager with the task of peeling back the onion. My recommendation is to interview each candidate at least twice, include others in the process and become an expert at interviewing. Once you identify from the resume and profile, any areas of concern, you can focus your questions to determine if these areas are a deal breaker. Will this candidate feel valued in this position? Does he or she possess the attributes necessary for success? Does your company culture match the value system of the candidate? How much time will they need to get up to speed? What resources will I need to dedicate to their success?

Our day-to-day work lives are hectic, exciting and chaotic. Often, we must choose between two very important tasks. It is easy to delegate this, slide through the steps or just “fill the position.”

Hiring the right person with the right values, passions and attributes that match those required to succeed in your position is too critical to be even a little careless.


Sales Cultures Are Born Not Created

The great sales driven organizations begin at the beginning. They don’t try to create a sales culture; they roll up their sleeves and breathe life into it. They pay attention to details; they have their ear to the ground; they don’t accept complacency.

There are the TEN STEPS implemented by some of the most successful companies.

It Starts at the Top

Leadership at the top is always about vision…true vision. According to Peter Senge, “The ability to focus on ultimate intrinsic desires, not only on secondary goals, is a cornerstone of personal mastery.” True vision does not stand alone; it must be founded in the why. Senior leadership has the responsibility to provide the reasons behind the vision to breath life into a sales culture. All across their land, the vision and the purpose must be crystal clear.

Scope Out the landscape

Asking sales people why it isn’t working is a waste of time. Sales people can rarely tell you why production is down or why orders are declining. They can only show you! Before any program or training process is initiated, travel with the sales people. Watch them; listen to them; observe the customers. Assess the results based on the time devoted to the sales process. Only then can you determine what support and systems are required.

Get the Right People on the Bus

A great basketball coach once said, “You can’t coach tall.” There are many attributes one can teach a new employee but talent is not one of them. The ability to understand exactly what will be required of the employee to be successful is paramount. The ability to assess each applicant to determine which one has those talents, the will to use them and the desire to succeed is never underestimated in the great companies. Most successful companies use a tried & true assessment tool.

Pick a Language

The words used in the everyday interactions between departments are part of the sales culture. Great companies develop an internal language shared across disciplines. At Starbucks, it’s “partners” and the “Starbucks Experience”. How the customer is described, client, guest, resident, customer must be identical across product lines. Where the sales person is in the sales process should be definable by everyone using the same language.
What Gets Measured Gets Done!

No one likes to complete reports, especially sales people. Keep the reports simple and relevant to their success. But have them and set clear expectations that they are an integral part of the strategic planning process. They should be used to measure the success of the current programs and direction of the sales force. The goals that are incorporated in the reports should be agreed upon by both sales person and manager.

Welcome Them Onboard

Starbucks has a 104 page work book on coffee to be completed in 90 days; Carrabba’s Italian Grill has a six week paid training schedule for the wait staff to learn every ingredient in its dishes. At my local salon, new stylists give shampoos for one year while they work beside an experienced stylist. How can one sell something about which they know nothing? “Knowledge is Power” claims Howard Schultz of Starbucks fame.

Accountability Rules

Accountability is one of the words most likely to cause discomfort when speaking with senior management. While that may be understandable, a sales culture can not exist where accountability does not. If goals are reasonable and measurable there is no reason why the sales team should not be held accountable to meeting certain standards. Senior leaders carry the responsibility of assuring accountability exists across all disciplines.

Reward and Celebrate

According to First Break All the Rules, most of us have our values in place by the age of thirteen. A company culture which rewards those values important to its’ people will have happy and productive employees. Consider this scenario. A sales manager hires a talented and experienced sales person whose main value is Aesthetic (love of peace and harmony).The company sales process is chaotic and requires multiple approvals and confrontation. How well do you think the new salesman will do? Rewarding everyone’s values and celebrating the successes that matter to them create a flourishing sales culture.

Surprise and Delight

Nothing drives a thriving sales culture better than a great product and outstanding customer service. Whether it is Pepsi, Hertz, Starbucks or the local café… always deliver more than you promise.

Breathing life into a sales culture and keeping it thriving and robust takes work. However, as the great companies have proven, commitment from the very top combined with passion and purpose for the product produces results. These great companies enjoy low turnover, high returns and long-standing success.

Is Your World Out of Focus?

This week I had an opportunity to hear Sally Dixon CEO of Memorial Hospital speak at a luncheon.  Ms. Dixon has been at the Memorial Hospital for 32 years and at the leadership helm for 16 of those years. She is a remarkable woman to have achieved such success in healthcare and remain as approachable and modest as any woman I have met.

As I listened to her expound (reluctantly, I believe) on the reasons for her success, I was intrigued.  She spoke of knowing yourself, hiring right, communicating, and serving rather than leading.  Sound familiar?  Yes.  Almost 25 years ago, I asked the CEO of our local hospital (now a giant health system) to speak at our community luncheon on the topic of his success.  He was a well-respected hospital administrator who had turned around a failing hospital within a few short years.  He spoke of hiring the right people, giving them clear direction, then getting out of their way.  He talked of his commitment to his employees, patients, and the community in which he served.

Since, I have heard this speech many times, I have wondered why so few rise to the top when the recipe seems relatively simple.  Why, if we know the three or four skills it takes to succeed, are so many failing to reach their dreams?

I suggest that the reason may be a lack of focus and clarity.  It is important to note that while the steps to becoming a successful leader are simple, they are by no means easy.

Let us look at just one of the success skills mentioned by both CEOs: hiring the right people.   There are few successful people who do not recognize that their success is due, in part, to having the right people in the right positions.  Even so, we continue to hire the wrong people.  In healthcare, this fact is supported by the high turnover rate.

Focus is similar to a laser beam of light; it has the ability to cut a diamond or heal a disease.  However, when unfocused, its power is diminished greatly.  The ability to focus and put all else aside when hiring is critical.  Taking the time for due diligence, in-depth interviewing and personal profiling is often viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity.

Clarity goes hand-in-hand with the ability to focus.  If we look at hiring once again, before interviewing anyone, I would ask myself, “How much do I really understand about this position?” “How clear am I on the duties, the requirements and the rewards?” It is critical that during the hiring process, you understand what qualities the candidate must possess to feel rewarded and to be successful.   Very often we simply think we know!

No doubt focus and clarity take time.  They take away from the immediate short-term results.  As Peter Senge stated in The Fifth Discipline, “It may take me a bit longer to get there, but when I get there I know what I’ve got is more sustainable.”






Three Tips for Hiring Great Sales People

The article:
In the best-selling book Good to Great, author James Collins states, “get the right people on the bus and get them in the right seats.” Few people disagree with that statement. As the Marketing Manager, Administrator or Director of Operations, we all long to place the best person in the right position. The challenge is that it is easier said than done. There are many reasons for this, of course and they are important to note.

In 2008, NetSuites CEO, Zach Nelson was faced with a dilemma. 100 of his 450 sales people left within the first year of employment. Their top executives were questioning why ten top sales people were bringing in most of the revenue. CEO Nelson turned it around by implementing our number one tip. Use a system- So, here is the first reason we often hire the wrong person. Many of us have a tendency to enjoy being around people like ourselves. It is how we choose our friends and very often …who we hire. It may be imperceptible or we may be quite aware of this weakness in our hiring process. By implementing a hiring system that is based on matching the strengths needed to be successful in the position with the values and attributes possessed by each candidate, the personal preference is eliminated or at least reduced. There are many assessment tools available but few have the depth and credibility needed to be convincing. Be sure it offers the following:

Validation studies
Ease of understanding (some have complicated analysis).
Depth and dimension which include not just a personality profile but values, behaviors and core skills.

This brings us to the second reason we often hire the wrong person, listening!
Use your ears and not your mouth- The interview process is stressful for both the candidate and the interviewer but for very different reasons. The candidate is understandably nervous, worried and on edge. He wants to be viewed as confident, knowledgeable and experienced even though he may be none of these. The interviewer is balancing the meeting with her numerous other crucial tasks, many of which have been put on hold until this person is hired. She wants this applicant to be a super star so the position can be filled and she can move on. The perfect storm has just been created. After a few obligatory questions like, “tell me about yourself” and “where do you see yourself in 5 years”, the most comfortable route for the interviewer is to begin talking…bad decision for both! The discussion becomes an opportunity for the interviewer to explain the job, the company, the culture, her successes and her expectations. It enables the candidate, in turn to adjust his answers and comments to meet her desired outcome. The ability to truly stay in the moment, put your ego aside, actively observe and listen gives you a decidedly better chance to peel back the onion of your candidate. This then brings us to the third tip.

Question intelligently- There are many schools of thought on the best hiring questions. I subscribe to them all. Actually, just doing it is the most important step! This is where the three tips collide. The systematic approach to using an assessment tool provides the interviewer with areas to pursue. A skilled manager will observe the candidate closely as he answers carefully calculated questions. Let me offer an example.

Sam has completed a hiring assessment. His profile indicates that he loves to be with people and is non-confrontational. He has a low energy score but high enthusiasm. He is not competitive and has a lower than average score in urgency. He had a broad smile and a strong hand shake. You liked him instantly and his references are strong. You like many of his attributes but his resume doesn’t show any great results and this is a business development position. This is where intelligent questioning comes into play. With the assessment tool to guide you, the questions are fairly simple. Tell me about a time you have been challenged to complete a critical task quickly and succeeded? What did you do?( low energy & low urgency) What awards have you won? How did you accomplish that?(low competitive) Share with me a time you disagreed with a co-worker and how did you handle it?(nonconfrontational)

These are not the standard questions for which the applicant has prepared answers. With a strong assessment tool and the ability to really listen and observe you can target your questions, watch for reaction time, assess his level of comfort and identify inaccuracies.

It is commonly accepted that on average it costs a company 14 times a person’s salary for a poor hire. Though we have all heard the old adage, “Hire slow; fire fast” the pressures to fill a position and the busy 10-12 hour days force us into making poor choices. These three recommendations (1) begin with a scientific tool,(2)craft intelligent questions to delve deeper into the candidates true abilities, (3)observe and listen rather than talk will result in success similar to NetSuites; they lost only 5 sales people in the last year.

1) Good To Great; author James Collins
2) Fortune Magazine article on NetSuites CEO Zack Nelson