Raising the Bar For Sales People, Part 2

“Did I hire my sales people this way or did I make them this way?”

In the last couple of months, we learned how to establish and communicate new standards and goals to the sales force. Now, we must understand and commit to the follow-through-holding people accountable. No doubt holding people accountable consistently is difficult because it requires the discipline of regular inspections and tough conversations. It would be easy if sales people performed as they promised, but this does not happen for many reasons. While some of the obstacles that interfere with performance are personal, others are uncontrollable. However, you must drive your sales people to perform to standards regardless of the issues that interfere.

Your sales people will have different reactions to the new and higher standards, but they will know that the rules are changing. People will not be free to languish in mediocrity and be safe when they are not performing. Some will be nervous, others motivated and perhaps excited. But, if you have the right people, they will appreciate that you are helping them define their future success.

The real challenge is following through. In order to do your job well, you must have fierce conversations with those who are not able or willing to sell. This new course of action will force you to let these people go and it will force those who cannot tolerate this environment to leave.

Once you have established and communicated the new standards, you will need to begin collecting data that helps you determine, in advance and in a real time perspective, how your people are performing (sales activity) and how they will be performing (pipeline and sales results). The idea is to catch them quickly when they start to go off path and to have meaningful dialog about their current status and how it measures up to the standards to which they committed.

When you prepare for a monthly or quarterly one-on-one meeting, you must identify where your people stand relative to their performance for activity and results. You will classify them in one of the four following categories in order to have meaningful discussion.

  • Making Effort & Has Results– Sales person is performing all necessary sales activities and getting sales results. Your coaching should sound like this. “You are doing well. Your activity and results are at or above your goal. Keep up the good work. Is there anything I can do to help you further?”

  • Lacks Effort & Has Results– Sales person is falling short on sales activities, but sales results are at/or exceeding their commitment. Your coaching should sound like this. “While your results today look good, we need to look at future results. To do that we must look at your success formula. If you have a 6 month sales cycle and you look at your activity 6 months ago, we see that you performed to put you at your current level of success. However, if we look at your activity level of today, it is only 85% of what your plan calls for. Knowing this, what results can you predict 6 months from now?” If you get push-back as you hold the sales person to his commitment, remind him that he agreed to be coached and to be held accountable.

  • Lacks Results & Making Effort– Sales person appears to be doing required activity, but results are insufficient. There is something wrong, unless this is a new-hire. Review the sales person’s success formula and verify closing ratio, etc. There are two possibilities: 1.The sales person is padding the numbers (lying about the activities) or 2. Sales person is performing poorly. If the success formula is accurate, you must have the following discussion. “Looking at your numbers, I can’t figure out how you can be exceeding activity goals yet failing in actual production. Either the numbers you are entering are wrong or you are doing a poor job of executing the sales process, skills or techniques. Which is it?” The rest of the conversation hinges on how the sales person answers this question, but it is your job to walk him through the accuracy of the success formula and have him project his true sales results for the year. Remind him that he agreed to certain numbers and he agreed to be held accountable. Going forward, inspect his activity daily.

  • Lacks Effort & Lacks Results– A sales person who consistently lacks effort and results should not be on your staff. Unless this person is a new hire, he should always be AT or ABOVE sales activity effort level. You must have the following tough discussion. “This is what I was expecting from you and this is what I am getting. Are you the wrong person for this job?” Typically, the sales person will say “no” and will make excuses, referencing the economy, competition, company policy, etc. Your response is “Those are excuses for lack of performance. We had this discussion 3 months ago and have met weekly for the past four weeks. You are not producing. Thirty days from now I need someone in that chair who is going to get these results. I hope it is you. But I assure you someone will be doing this job to these expectations.”

After any of these discussions, you should ask the following: “Do you have any questions?” “Are you still committed to doing everything possible to succeed?” and “Are you sure?”

Be sure to consult with your Human Resources Department so that you are fully prepared to manage people and so that you know how best to follow company protocol.


Will You Make it Through the Current Economic Turmoil? Part 2

Part 2 – How relevant is your current sales strategy?

In the last article, the first one in this series, we discussed the importance of having the “right people on the bus”. I also mentioned the exciting opportunity you have in front of you right now, without having to rush out and hire rainmakers and experienced sellers; because with the right tools and strategies, you can develop your own team of highly process directed and motivated sellers yourself.

As a sales leader it lies within your own locus of control to build a consistent, repeatable and predictable sales process, as well as train and develop a motivated and process directed sales team. Imagine a team made up of highly trained, motivated and process directed salespeople? Well, the good news is you can begin this practice immediately!

Key Code 1- Sales Strategy

The first element that will make an impact on the results you achieve is “Sales Strategy”. Before you even consider any of the other 3 Codes you must be sure that, as Stephen Covey says “Your ladder is leaning up against the right wall” Here’s the thing… whether you have a team of champions or not, if your sales strategy is wrong, in other words “if you are selling analogue systems and your market has moved to digital technology” then your ladder is leaning up against the wrong wall.

In this case, no matter whom you have on the team your sales efforts will fail. You’re heading in the wrong direction!

If I was sitting across a table from you and if you were sharing your concerns about your sales revenue raising efforts, the first questions I would be asking you are:

  • Is your current customer acquisition (new business) and retention (existing customer growth) strategy both relevant and effective in the prevailing market? In other words is your current sales strategy working, yes or no? How do you know?
  • Is your current market shrinking or growing or has it simply just stalled? How do you know?

Has your “Cheese” Moved?

In his landmark book, “Who Moved my Cheese?”author Spencer Johnson relates a simple parable that reveals profound truths about change. “Who moved my cheese?” is the story of four characters living in a “maze” that face unexpected change when they discover their “cheese” has disappeared. Let’s face it; it’s no secret that over this last year for many of us in business, our cheese too has moved. Many markets have shifted and some have even disappeared altogether. So pouring on more sales activity or investing money on more sales training or sales process improvement just means that your team will arrive nowhere quicker!

If this is the case for you, then it is an imperative that you look to implementing a new customer acquisition and retention strategy ASAP. The sooner you recognise that your cheese may have have moved and that you are existing on crumbs or in some instances only a whiff of what was once a whole storehouse of cheese, the sooner you can re-channel your sales teams energies into new markets looking for fresh opportunities.

This means re- appraising the value of your core capabilities*. It means clearly and objectively understanding what you are good at and what problems you solve and are your solutions still relevant? Then, if you suspect that your cheese has moved, you will then need to figure out who else has those problems. Having determined the “who else”, you will now need to assess what modifications you may be required to make at both a product and marketing collateral level to reflect your solution to the market.

On the other hand, if there is still strong evidence of an abundance of “cheese” in your existing market, then you need to be asking,

  • How sure are we that our strategy for attracting new customers and growing existing ones is still appropriate? How do we know?
  • If customer buying patterns have slowed or stalled, how can you help your customer to help their customers purchase more?
  • Does your marketing collateral accurately explain how you solve your customer’s current problems or help them achieve their current goals? How do you know? When last did you review your sales messages? What exactly are your sales people saying? Are their sales messages compelling enough?

A year ago most companies were interested in how you could help them grow. Today’s markets are focused on saving money, cost reduction and reducing risk. Do your sales messages reflect this massive shift in perception? Has your marketing collateral changed with the changing needs of your market?

An Example of Changing Market Strategy

I have been working with a risk management organization that catered specifically to the freight industry. They set up profitable in-house insurance funds, effectively allowing the freight company to self-fund an insurance program for their customer’s goods and packages. Well, talk about a “cheese movement!” When the economy swung south his prospects all but shut shop, (in point of fact many actually did), and going into complete survival mode, most became completely insular and refused to even take my client’s calls.

Our challenge was to shift strategy and go in search of a new market. On reviewing and answering some of the questions listed below we came up a few new target markets. Some new market suggestions were a little too far right of centre and would have taken a whole lot of product development to ensure a good fit, but one market in particular, only a mere 5% shift left of his current existing market looked potentially very lucrative. On-line, web based merchants who ship product around the country seemed like a reasonable bet, without having to re-engineer the product too much. After a little research and within a few short weeks my client had a number of large opportunities in the pipeline.

In the next article I will unpack the details of sales strategy.

* Core capabilities – Alternative term for core competencies. Cluster of extraordinary abilities or related ‘excellences’ that a firm acquires from its founders, after consistent striving over the years, and which cannot be easily imitated. Core competencies are what give a company/organization one or more competitive advantages, in creating and delivering value to its customers in its chosen field. (BusinessDictionary.com)

Sales Management Part 3 – Mentoring Salespeople

Salespeople are most often associated with being coached to improve their selling competence but mentoring is seldom discussed or implemented for them. The question is why not? Is it because we have been conditioned to believe that mentoring is only for up and coming young executives or for those in non-selling roles?

So what is mentoring and its value to a business, a salesperson and a sales manager to become a mentor?

Mentoring is the term used to describe a relationship between an older and more experienced individual who is known as a mentor. Their role is to support and guide a less experienced individual, the protg.

A mentor fosters the personal and professional growth in their protg by sharing knowledge, skills, experience and insights that have been learnt over many years. A mentor’s background can vary greatly from the same profession and same position as their protg’s through to a completely different industry.

Mentoring creates an exceptional opportunity for cooperation, goal achievement and personal development. An effective sales manager mentor can establish rapport, respect and trust between them and the salesperson

Mentoring a salesperson can provide:

• Purposeful learning

When the sales manager also becomes the mentor their role is to encourage and advance the growth of the salesperson though planned learning. This includes their sharing learning experiences as and when the experiences relate to the salesperson’s need to learn. The experiences are communicated through anecdotes, scenarios and situational examples.

Both successes and failures are discussed in an open and truthful manner. These insights are often memorable for the salesperson and provide valuable learning

• Cooperative responsibility

This means sharing the responsibility for the learning outcomes. This can be formalized in a written agreement between the salesperson and the sales manager and designed to achieve the business’ specific mentoring objectives. The other type of mentoring is informal in that it operates by chance and for the most part is unrecognized by the business. Whatever method is used the salesperson’s growth is the focus

• Allocating time

Effective mentoring requires regular interaction between the sales manager and the salesperson and is not done intermittently. A schedule needs to be developed with dates, activities, planned experiences, demonstrations, case studies, and time set aside for reflective analyses. This adds motivation and direction for both parties.

For the business mentoring a salesperson can:

• Cultivate loyalty

• Boost morale and motivation

• Strengthen shared values and goals

• Uncover Talent

• Improve productivity

• Set new standards of professionalism

• Increase the years of service to a business

• Be an effective career management tool

• Enhance leadership skills of the sales manager

• Identify any barriers in the business

• Attract quality salespeople from other companies

For the salesperson mentoring can:

• Fast track their development

• Complement other structured learning or training

• Be tailored to suit the salesperson’s needs in terms of content and time frame

• Create an open and trusting relationship that provides encouragement and support

• Develop and explore their natural talents

• Expand current thinking and embrace new perspectives

• Reinvigorate their selling career

• Challenge the salesperson with new skills and ideas

For the sales manager mentoring can:

• Be the vehicle to share knowledge and expertise

• Develop skills in a more personal manner

• Build active listening, communication and modeling skills

• Develop a trusting and unique relationship with the salesperson

• Expand their understanding on what else is happening in other parts of the business

• Uplift their level of self-worth

• Receive professional recognition for their role

• Expand their expectations of self

Qualities of an effective mentor

Not every sales manager has the attributes to become a mentor. This can be because of their background or their lack of interest in this type of work. A senior salesperson with the right attitude and skill set may be better suited for the role? Often the driving force is a need to give back to others who will benefit from their experiences.

The following qualities however are common in all effective sales manager mentors:

• A successful track record

The sales manager may come from a different industry or profession but their level of expertise and experience is evidence of an individual who has ‘been there and done that.’ They can have a good reputation for developing others and possess a humble approach to their abilities. They have much to offer others

• The desire and commitment

The desire to be a mentor is a yearning from within that propels them into action and is underpinned by a feeling of excitement and the thought of the doing something extraordinary. The commitment is the sales manager’s pledge to continue working with the salesperson on the mutually agreed plan

• The ability to model

With this carries much responsibility because the sales manager needs to be an individual with a good moral reputation and is respected and admired by others. This is the reason why their behaviour is often copied by the salespeople. The mentor remains calm when the salesperson expresses frustration or anger. They show that they genuinely care about the success of the salesperson as much as the salesperson does.

• A positive attitude

Often a sales manager was the past recipient of formal or informal mentoring so they know what it feels like and the benefits of being mentored. One of the many things they learnt as a salesperson was the importance of being positive particularly when things don’t go according to plan. These are the times when they need their sales manager to give them encouragement with a positive attitude

• An active learner

Sales managers keep up to date with current technology, the latest in business and personal development, knowledge and skills in their field of expertise. They research and discuss areas the salesperson may need to further their development

• Time and boundaries

An agenda and the required time is allocated for each session. It is usually a mixture of meetings in and out of normal business hours. Additional time is needed for the sales manager to prepare for each session and complete post meeting notes of the outcome. The boundaries of the relationship are discussed so both parties know the limitation of their engagement. For example marriage difficulties won’t be discussed

• Compatible

Not every sales manager and salesperson relationship is compatible for a number of reasons including a lack of openness on the part of one party and if one isn’t ‘sold’ on the other. What works is:

– When both the sales manager and salesperson have similar goals

– They genuinely like and believe in each other

– They have an open and honest relationship

– When expectations such as what can and cannot be realistically achieved are discussed up front.


Mentoring isn’t for everyone. It may not be in your natural make up to be a mentor in which case actively look for someone who would be. It can be hard work and require your time and commitment. However, mentoring can also be a most intrinsically rewarding experience.