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.

Why Healthcare Sales IS Different!

Let’s see; we’ve all heard that a good salesman can sell ice to an Eskimo or heard,” She is quite a talker; she should be in sales”. Neither by the way is true. A good salesman would know that an Eskimo doesn’t need or want ice and a great sales person is much better at listening than talking.

However, I digress!

As much as we may want sales to be the same whether you are selling Pepsi, BMW’s or a nursing home bed; it is not! They are each tangible products; they are wanted or needed by the consumer and for many companies they enjoy a solid reputation for delivering what the consumer needs. They even have about the same selling cycle length.

Mrs. Smith walks into a store and wants a soft drink; she will choose among many. Most likely she may narrow it down to Coke or Pepsi. Mr. Smith walks into a dealership and wants to buy a car; he will choose among many. Most likely, he may narrow it down to a BMW or a Lexus. Mr. & Mrs. Smith walk into a hospital where they will be asked to decide on a next location for Mom. They will choose among many. Most likely, they will narrow it down to the top two suggestions.

So, then why is the sale different?It has to do with culture, corporate culture. Pepsi and BMW are sales-driven cultures while healthcare is operations driven. Neither is good or bad, just different. They take the company in different directions and that impact is felt most directly in the sales organization of both cultures.

The sales-driven company begins with the end in mind; the end being profit, margins and revenue growth. The budgeting process sets clear expectations for growth; sales hiring is meticulously rigorous; accountability is excruciating at all levels. Compensation programs are often an open-ended opportunity for sales people to produce. Operations meetings begin with market analysis, product trends and sales projections. The key person at the table is the CMO and the COO.

The operations-driven company also begins with the end in mind; the end being delivering a quality product. The budgeting process is often a laborious process to determine how to deliver the product and still make a profit; sales hiring practices are a de-centralized function concerned more with team matches and customer service attributes than with producing revenue. Compensation programs are viewed as expected but unnecessary. Operations meetings begin with a cost and budget analysis by department in painful but necessary detail. The market /sales discussion may be moved, delayed or hurried at the end of the meeting. . The key person at the table is the COO with no CMO.

Healthcare is an operations-driven organization. This difference in healthcare’s focus reverberates throughout the company. It shines a laser-light on clinical issues, human resource issues, turn-over and regulations. It is not that sales expectations are unimportant; they are simply far down on the list. There is often a tendency to believe that we would exist happily without a sales focus; a sort-of “build it and they will come” attitude. Heaven help the Pepsi, GM or BMW CEO who tries to compete with this mindset

Two Reasons Why a CEO Should Attend Sales & Marketing Seminars

The CEO is the visionary, the leader, the path-finder! He or she sets the culture, the direction and the true expectations for the company. inspireGreat leaders are servants of their people; they listen, question and problem-solve constantly. I have had the good fortune to work with some of the best. These “C” level executives seem to be all-knowing and approachable. Often, the CEO may have little comfort level within the sales arena. They leave the details of goal-setting and expectations to the sales management team. So, how does such a leader become all-knowing and approachable?

  • Set the Course- People follow those who inspire! For the sales force to be engaged and driven, they need only inspiration. A leader who can articulate the goals, the strategy and the expected results will find a team of sales people eager to respond and exceed his wildest dreams. Attendance at sales and marketing workshops or seminars provides the leader with the newest methods, current success stories and tried and true systems for achievement.
  • Talk the Talk- People follow those who understand! Each discipline has a vernacular of its own. It is filled with acronyms, abbreviations and inside tips. For the CEO who understands the verbiage and can converse with the sales force using their language, they will find an amazed and energized sales team. Marketing programs delivered by professional and experience sales leaders instill a comfort level with the sales terminology of the day.

These are only two of the reasons for CEOs to invest the time and energy in professional sales programs. I am certain that many of them could list others, equally critical; revenue growth, census development, manager development and more.

First Three Things New Managers Should Do

new_managerInterviewing is a critical responsibility of any sales leadership role. It was my primary focus when I took over a sales force of more than 500. The hiring process included a corporate level interview for all sales management positions. During the interview, I asked one question every time. “If you were to be chosen for this position, what are the first three things you would do?” The answers were both amazing and revealing. Not only in content but in the inability to provide sensible and well­thought out solutions. If you had only three first steps of the many from which to choose, what would they be?

My recommendation:

1. Identify the true goals

Goals are funny things; unless clearly communicated they seem to be different depending on whom you ask. That becomes your first objective. What are they…really? Do the CEO and the CFO have the same goals? Is the sales direction supported by the operations? Do the written goals match the genuine expectations and abilities? Unless you have a clear picture of what you are being asked to achieve, it will be virtually impossible to motivate your sales team to reach any goal.

2. Assess the sales force

No, really assess your sales team! This requires meeting them face to face not reviewing their monthly reports. It requires traveling with them, observing sales and coaching interactions. Use a systematic approach on how you measure each person’s ability, attributes and results. This is key to your success. Identifying your stars will enable you to give them their goals and set them free to succeed. It will provide you with the names and levels of others so you can design next steps for them, promotion, training and coaching or assistance to find alternative employment.

3. Establish clear expectations

Remember the adage, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” When I visit a new company, I make a point to ask everyone I meet, “What are your goals?” From the Director of Housekeeping to the CEO, everyone should know, understand and be motivated to achieve their goals. Once you have a clear view of the leadership’s goals, you can work with your sales management team to set theirs. Your expectation then is that theywork with the frontline sales force to set specific, measurable, achievable, time bound and relevant goals.

These are, of course only the first three actions of many. You will find that you may be handling these as well as balancing other significant issues. However, if you maintain focus on these three steps, it will provide you with a solid foundation upon which you can build a world­class sales force

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.”






How Do You Know When You Need Help?

Salesmanship is sort of like interior decorating; everyone thinks they can do it. When I look at a room, I just know when it isn’t right. I am aware that the colors are pleasant but they don’t create the warmth I had hoped. I love the new, expensive lamp but somehow it feels awkward. I understand the basics but there just isn’t a WOW factor. I have achieved mediocrity.

The reason, of course is because it takes more than understanding the basics to achieve greatness. It takes more than being a smart leader. It takes skill and practice

The sales person who surpasses his goals and makes it “rain” does so because he is skilled. He is practiced and has most likely spent many hours perfecting the basics. Let’s face it, most Administrators, Executive Directors; even General Managers and CEOs simply do not have the time or the desire to perfect the skill of salesmanship.


Why then do managers continue to hire the wrong people to lead their sales force? Why do we see them step ill­prepared into the sales role or try to manage the sales process from the office? I would suggest it’s because it’s a little like interior decorating; everyone thinks they can do it…until the finished project is a disaster.

So, when do you know you need the advice and support of experienced sales professionals?

The answer might be …NOW! Here are the three questions to ask:

  1. Have we reached or surpassed our revenue goals with a steady growth pattern over the past year? How about year over year?
  2. Do we own market share? Do we really know?
  3. Are we the number one choice in our medical and professional community?

If the answer to any of these is no, reach out to a professional company with sales and marketing experience in healthcare. Ask for references; look for experience; listen for results.

It’s All in the Preparation

I often wonder when I get obsessive about preparation.

When did I start agonizing over the work months and months before the due date?  When did perfection and detail become as important as the delivery?

As I think back, I can squarely place the cause for my obsession on the broad shoulders of my father.  My first recollection is that of me standing directly in front of my dad leaning on his knees.  That particular night I was struggling to recall the times tables but there were many other nights.  After dinner, I would often be expected to recite the prepositions from front to back, deliver (with feeling) my rendition of “Old Ironsides” or name the capitals of every state.  I’m still not sure I even knew what Old Ironsides even was and I certainly don’t remember the capitals.

The years flew by; I often think of how difficult it must have been for him to come home after a long day, sit down to dinner, then immediately join me at the dining room table to check my homework.  My dad worked for the gas company and spent his day with a jackhammer in the very cold Pennsylvania winters.  How he must’ve wanted to comfortable over-stuffed  chain and watch his favorite TV show.  My dad was a big barrel-chested German man who wasn’t blessed with a huge dose of patience and now I understand why.

He would crinkle up my paper at the sight of an eraser mark and heaven help me if I overlooked a mistake.  He would send me scurrying upstairs to review the next chapter.  “You will want to be prepared in case your teacher asks a question about the next chapter”, he would say softly.

My dad was the one who signed my report card,who wen to school when a young teacher became frustrated and smacked me along side the head (which I richly deserved).  My dad is the one who came home and found me sitting on the school steps when I got my first “C” for a poorly sewn apron.  I was afraid and embarrassed to go home.  We never said a word; we didn’t need to.

So, when I scrunch up a draft for the umpteenth time, I think of my dad.  When it seems to take me forever to get the words just right, I think of my dad.   But when I deliver that powerful presentation that is right on target, I thank my dad!

The Corporate Table

My parents were each raised in a family of ten children, my father, the oldest and my mother the youngest. Having been raised with three younger brothers, I can’t imagine what the dinner table would have been like if I were the youngest of ten. Perhaps there is some truth to the connection between your success and your birth position in your family. At some point, one must simply decide to demand your fair share. However, there is much to learn before you reach out for that very last drumstick.

It is interesting that the challenge I have coached new managers on most often is just that. They fret and worry over what to say and when to say it. Then, devoid of results, they become silent and settle for leftover crumbs. Being at the table does not necessarily assure that you get to eat. So let’s look at a few reasons why we go hungry even when we are invited to the table.

Why are you there?

At mealtime, you are there to enjoy food prepared for you. In some homes, there is a mediator; someone who ensures that each person is treated fairly. This may be achieved by Mom preparing plates for each person. It may be handled by Father at the end of the table barking orders to assure an even distribution. In some cases, it may be a free-forall; the strongest and loudest receiving the most. It is no different at the corporate table. The first rule for new managers is to be truly present, observe intently and listen closely. What is the culture of this table? Who speaks and when? How often do people speak and who listens? Do people speak in turn? Is there order or chaos to the discussions? What is the reaction of others at the table? Is there a mediator? How does the mediator ensure fair discussions…or not?

Are you a guest, presenter or decision-maker?

When you are invited to dinner at someone else’s home, a different scenario usually unfolds. Everyone may be more cordial; the father may not need to make a sound instead flashing a look or simply clearing his throat will effect change. As a guest, you may not see the true dynamics of the table. A new manager may need to reflect on this for a few meetings. Are you considered a guest? Are you there to make a formal presentation or to help the group come to a consensus? If so, the dynamics will be just under the surface. As an invited manager, you must be vigilant in your observation. As you present, notice slight shifts in attention. Listen carefully to where and from whom the questions emerge. Carefully assess the groups’ reaction and response to those questions. The reaction of the group is as important as your response to the question.

Who else has been invited?

When you show up for dinner and the entire extended family has been invited, what is the message? It most often signals “importance”. It may be a result of your attendance or it may be that something much bigger is going on. It most families, a simple question will provide the answer. Not so, at the corporate table. Once again, a new manager’s ability to observe and read the room comes into play. Who else has been invited? What level of seniority are they? Are they decision-makers, finance gurus or operations focused? The answers to these questions allow the manager to understand better what role he or she should play in the ensuing discussions. The more important the unexpected guests, the more important the menu.

What is on the Menu?

Ah, the menu. There are so many signals in the menu. Did you know what was on the menu before you arrived? Is it the same menu every time? Is the menu designed to support one person’s needs or desires? Has the menu changed drastically? Is this a Thanksgiving-type menu or a simple appetizer? In my experience, the corporate menu rarely changes. So the slightest alteration is a signal. It is in a new manager’s best interest to determine before you arrive if the menu (agenda) has changed. It is your first clue that others may be invited; changes are on the horizon; an announcement is imminent; a decision is pending. You will rarely know (as a new manager) what is about to take place. However, you will be prepared and steadied in your response.

In conclusion

Listen, observe and be silent until you understand the dynamics. As you become more proficient, you should develop mentors and champions to lead you through the mine field. They are invaluable in maneuvering at the corporate table. The ability to exude professional presence while gaining a clear understanding of the corporate culture is a trait of a strong leader. Maintaining composure under fire while showing restraint will allow the meal to be served without you as the main course.

Next Time: Demanding Your Place at the Table

Lead Scoring

Oh no…not another new buzz word? That’s right. Several companies have started using this acronym for “Being in front of the right person at the right time with the right message.” No, it isn’t really new. IMPACT sales has had this as one of the primary principles for years. What is new however, is the technology. The automated system which allows a sales person and a manager to track the progress or lack thereof on a specific customer makes the process more effective than the traditional spreadsheets.

The system is clearly aimed at the “C” level of organizations using phrases such as “shortened time to revenue”, “shorter time to market” and “shorten time to profitability”. They talk about providing an edge for savvy businesses and maximizing team selling time. As a company moves away from commodity selling, it focuses on team selling. savvy sales organizations understand that it takes a team to identify the right clients, uncover their specific wants and deliver the products in a professional and targeted way. Any system that creates a more effective and efficient method to achieve this should be seriously considered.

The downside of a technologically advanced lead scoring system is the same as it is for the excel spreadsheet system. It removes the sales manager from the field. It provides one more reason to work from behind a desk. It gives top officers one more report, study and analysis to request. Let’s face it, as a manager, who wouldn’t prefer to work from the quiet warmth of their home office or their well-equipped regional office? The alternative is frankly more work and often requires more travel. But the real reason managers shy away from field work is none of these. To be a fully-engaged manager, one must know the market, know the sales person’s strengths and weaknesses, understand where he or she is in the sales process and have the confidence to take on the customer and coach the sales person. On a snowy, blustery winter morning which task would you prefer?

The answer, of course is that great sales managers love what they do every day. They thrive on developing their people to stardom. They relish putting themselves out there. They do more demonstration calls than ride alongs. Why? Because they understand that they are the expert and that their most valuable role is to pass that knowledge on to their sales force enabling them to rise up and become better. They will shine when each and every person they coach becomes better. That is how regions and divisions outsell others. It has very little to do with reports and analysis

The decision for every manager is about how to achieve that balance. How much in-process coaching can I accomplish while providing post-process reporting to those in leadership roles. Reports and analysis that are truly needed and effective in strategic decision making.