What profession is best suited for a liar?
How do you know when a salesperson is lying?
It’s unfortunate that salespeople have become the butt of so many jokes. In the past I’ve written about pests, peddlers and Demand Creators, and shared the advantages to being a Demand Creator.
As the world continues to move forward from the deep recession, there are still not enough companies that are building the organizational capability necessary to consistently grow profits. Selling, on the whole, is not creating the value necessary to support higher margins and faster profit growth for small and mid-market companies.
Ineffective sales efforts are actually contributing to:
- Greater commoditization
- Lengthening sales cycles
- Greater price pressure
As I’ll be sharing next week in our free webinar on The 7 Steps to Shortening The Sales Cycle, businesses need to create a new path and implement new approaches to sales. Now, more than ever, it takes an organization to sell effectively, not just a salesperson.
Done right, your sales effort is the most powerful, leverageable resource to accelerate revenue and profit growth, and to increase the value of your business. Building the capability enhances your brand, allows you to bypass competition and serves as a virtually insurmountable competitive advantage.
Selling properly requires that you stop focusing on making a sale. Instead, you need to focus on being relevant, helping your customers achieve their objectives and teaching your prospects how to improve their worlds.
It means slowing things down a bit, (really) putting customer’s interests first and understanding that sales, profits and business value are the result of a proper focus, and cannot be the focus.
When you realize that the job of sales is to help, and you build the system to make that happen, suddenly the sales process becomes easy.
For 25 years the most frequent question I’ve gotten about sales efforts deals with successfully hiring salespeople. For small and mid-market companies (SME), hiring salespeople is the single, toughest and highest risk hire you can make. It’s what led me to write The 10 Most Common Mistakes Made When Hiring Salespeople.
Studies show that the mis-hire rate is as high as 75%, and that the total cost of a mis-hire is between 10 & 20 times the expected compensation rate.
My philosophy has always been that I’d rather have a bad salesperson than a good salesperson.
- When a salesperson is bad, letting them go is an easy decision and doing so minimizes the risk and cost implications.
- When they’re good, it’s almost (key word – almost) impossible to let them go. You constantly see the potential they have. Plus, there’s the feeling that having someone out there is better than having no one.
The problem is that good salespeople is that they commoditize your offerings. They never achieve that trusted advisor status that makes customers, clients and prospect truly value the salesperson or your company. The opportunity cost with good is huge.
The reality is that SMEs need great salespeople to grow and thrive. The problem is that most SMEs are not positioned to attract, recruit or retain great salespeople.
It is for this reason that I’ve put together my best thoughts, experiences and process that I’ve developed over the last 25 years.
I’ll be sharing my insights in our March 27th webinar: The Secrets to Successfully Hiring Salespeople.
I’ll be sharing:
- The 5 deadly myths that destroy your ability to hire salespeople successfully.
- The 4 sales roles, and how understanding those roles will multiply the effectiveness of your sales hiring.
- How to develop a system that will make you company a manufacturer of great salespeople.
- Develop effective measurements and metrics to ensure the wrong person doesn’t stay.
So join me on March 27th at 2 pm EST, and learn how to make the sales hiring process successful and predictable.
Business owners and executives regularly ask me for advice on hiring salespeople. What’s interesting is that about 70% of the time, I end up recommending that they do something other than hire a salesperson.
It’s a myth that hiring salespeople means you’ll make more sales. What I want you to understand is that you are hiring a capability not a person. Hiring a salesperson should actually be your last option.
Here are three of the most common reasons that owners and executives tell me are why they want to hire salespeople:
- They need more opportunities in the pipeline.
- They want to “get more feet on the street.”
- They want a salesperson to set things up so that a senior person can “leverage their time.”
All three cases are ripe for a sales mis-hire. Why? Because all three are better served by marketing efforts than by hiring salespeople.
When you begin thinking about hiring a salesperson, it is critical that you ask, and answer, three questions:
- What is (are) the specific result(s) you want from this position? (Side note: It is not enough to say you want to increase sales, you must focus on the specific efforts that will be addressed that will allow sales to occur.)
- What options or alternatives could you use to achieve that result?
- Which option gives you the best chance for success?
As the saying goes … Hire slow.
This post originally appeared in our Weekly Fast Growth Tips. We got several comments on it and requests that we post it so others can link to it. To get insights like this every week please subscribe to our weekly tips. Also you can download our paper: The 10 Most Common Sales Hiring Mistakes.
I don’t know about you, but Varuca Salt was my favorite character in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. “I want an oompa loompa, and I want one now.”
I think of her virtually every time I work with an entrepreneur on their go-to-market approach. “I want more high margin sales, and I want more high margin sales now.”
The biggest frustration in building an effective go-to-market approach is simply the time that it takes. Recently I had a prospect ask one of my references, “Why does the process [referring to our process] take so much damn time? What can’t they just bring something in and have it done in 90 days.”
A major impediment to small and mid-sized businesses growing is the inability (or unwillingness) to look longer term. Too often, executives try to “fix it now.”
Here’s what is important to understand, if the problem could be solved quickly:
- You would have already fixed it,
- The problem would be of little value, and/or
- Every one of your competitors would be doing it already as well.
One of my favorite sayings is, “It takes one year to get a year’s experience.” There’s simply no shortcutting it. When you try to shortcut it, bad things happen.
Those who accept the challenge and bring the discipline and patience to solve the big problems gain a significant advantage vs. those that do not. Remember, the time it takes is the “brick wall” that keeps your competitors out.
Sure enough, a day after I present our webinar 5 Keys to Getting Your Sales Year Off to Fast Start, my friend and advisor happens to send her newsletter out reminding everybody that if you think that nothing happens the next two weeks – you’re thinking just like your competition.
Master Door Opener Caryn Kopp, shares several valuable thoughts on making the next two weeks productive. It’s well worth the read.
My favorite point: Often time that hard-to-reach decision maker who never has time for you, is probably more relaxed and chatty than normal.
Download her article, act on it and you’ll enjoy a head start.
With more demands, fewer resources and tremendous competition, it’s tough for salespeople to focus on critical actions that get big results. On December 13th, we’re hosting a webinar The 5 Keys to Getting Your 2012 Sales Year Off To A Fast Start. We’re going to share our insights from working, firsthand, with more than 5,000 salespeople. We’ll be highlighting the key actions that allow the great ones to get more traction – with less effort. We also have a bonus for attendees (watch the video to learn what it is).
Here’s a preview:
I hope you can join us.
If you’re a salesperson you know how special the months of January through April are. Four uninterrupted months, when your customers and prospects are back at work, focused and ready to do business.
Your performance in the first four months of the year will determine how good 2012 is.
Join us on Tuesday, December 13th at 2pm EST, we’ll share the secrets we’ve learned working with the best salespeople in the world that allow them to get their year off to a tremendous start. Once again, we are waiving the registration fee for this program.
In this 35-minute webinar we’ll share:
- How to hyperfocus on your best opportunities
- Identifying “target rich environments”
- How to break through the noise, stand out and get heard by your prospects
Plus, we’ll share a secret to access the tough to find “ultimate decision maker.”
If you want to leverage your sales efforts; if you want to grow revenues faster than expenses; if you want to lower your sales costs, you must – MUST – invest in developing valuable content to support your sales and marketing efforts.
The most frequent conversation I’ve had following our webinar last week on Successful Lead Generation for B2B Companies is about the critical role content plays in successful lead generation. From the comments I’ve received, it’s probably the biggest surprise attendees left with.
I’ve learned that content is not something many small and mid-market B2B CEOs think about. They spend a lot of time thinking about their strategies and tactics. They spend countless hours working with and addressing their people. They worry about pricing and competition, and they’re always tinkering to improve their products and services.
However, with overwhelming neglect, they seem to ignore content. Content is the glue that enables a business to leverage its sales and marketing efforts. With valuable content (the keyword being valuable) you give your prospects a reason to pay attention to you. You are able to distinguish yourself. Without it, you are like every other peddler chasing down sales. If you are different, content showcases your difference.
I understand that developing content is difficult, complex and, at times, painful. I realize that it’s typically not in the wheelhouse of senior team. I appreciate that the task can feel overwhelming.
But, so is building a highly profitable businesses that consistently grows and creates wealth for owners and employees.
Without question, the toughest lesson I’ve every learned in sales (or life for that matter) is that you can do all the right things and still not get the outcome you want. You can ask the right questions, make the right connections, zig when you’re supposed to zig, and zag when it’s time to zag…and you still may not win the sale.
When you lose, you want something to blame. You want to fix something. It can be demoralizing to look at a lost sale and not find where you went wrong.
That is why it’s so important that you keep activity levels up. I always caution CEOs and salespeople that a 99% probability of success still leaves a 1% chance of failure – and in a world with 7 billion people, 1% events happen to 70 million people A DAY. And, unless the contract is signed and the check is cashed, there is ALWAYS a chance things will fall through.
Sales, especially in The Drought we’ve been in for 3 years and counting, is a marathon run at a sprinter’s pace. You can’t assume anything. You’ve got to keep things moving.
I remember a speaker who told an audience of CEOs that you’ve must grow by at least 15 – 20% per year. If you didn’t grow at that rate, you would fail to account for the “oh shit” factor. The same is true in sales. You can never become overdependent on any single opportunity, because even if you do it everything right…you may not get the sale.
If you’re looking for some insights in making this approach systematic, I encourage you to download an article that I just published – The 5 Adjustments Every Sales Team Needs to Make.
Monday, I discussed two grave mistakes made when small and mid-market companies hire sales and marketing people. If The Wall Street Journal is to be believed, more small businesses are planning to hire in the next six months than those that aren’t; and the sales and marketing is the focus for 50% of those firms.
Given the size of firms that were surveyed (under $5 million) I’m certain that many of these firms will attempting to do the single, toughest thing in business – hiring the first salesperson. As I shared Monday, hiring any salesperson is difficult, but hiring the first salesperson in a company borders on the impossible.
Going from an entrepreneur/leader led sales effort to a salesperson led effort is a HUGE shift for any company, and it is ALWAYS underestimated. I often advise clients hiring a first salesperson that they may need to expect to go through 3 hires to get it right.
The reason hiring a first salesperson is so difficult is actually quite simple. Solving the problem is a bit more complicated.
When you hire a salesperson, the sales process paradoxically fails to create value. When led by a principle or services provider (a la accounting, law, engineering, etc.) the “seller” is constantly creating value. They’re not “selling” in the traditional sense. They’re probing, solving problems, enlightening the customer about what is possible. Sure, they violate 90% of the rules of selling, but they create value.
When a salesperson is hired, they stop creating value and instead communicate value. The process becomes a series of “we-do’s.”
The problem is that even when the salesperson is saying the exact same things that the non-salesperson was saying – they’re not saying the same thing. The non-salesperson was constantly diagnosing and designing, while the salesperson is constantly telling. The non-salesperson (accidentally or on-purpose) was problem focused, the salesperson is solutions focused.
Now you can’t blame the salesperson most of the time, because the only training the salesperson gets from a company is about the solution. They’re told stories, talk to successful customers and study all of the wonderful things the company does. Little to know time is spent on understanding the customers problems better than the customer understand their own problems. There’s no diagnostic sales training teaching and supporting the salesperson’s ability to dig deeper with the customer.
A successful salesperson brings a critical capability and focus to a company. They don’t have the expertise of the founder, the leaders or the subject matter experts. So they need a process that ensures they create value throughout the entire sales process. They must be trained to understand – diagnose – the critical few problems that your company solves. They must be supported by a marketing effort that supports that message and provokes the customer.
Merely hiring a salesperson and sending them into the field is not a recipe for growth. Hiring a salesperson is a defining moment for any company – and it must be treated as such.
If you are hiring salespeople in the near future, you can download Avoiding The 10 Critical Hiring Mistakes When Hiring Salespeople.
Potentially good news for the economy. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, reports that “More small businesses plan to hire in the next six months than those that won’t, with demand strongest in sales and marketing, a new survey shows.” Interestingly, 48% of those planning to hire are focusing on sales and marketing jobs.
My hope is that these businesses hiring realize that people are one (critical) part of a successful growth effort. My fear is that these businesses will overestimate the importance of the people decision and underestimate the other components of success; and will fail to achieve the growth they desire. My experience would indicate the latter is the most probably outcome.
I’ve said it before, the key to successful, sustainable growth is the implementation of an effective system that supports people. Like it, or not, the system comes before the people. Hiring someone before the system is in place is a recipe for disaster.
There are two grave mistakes that small and mid-market companies (SME) make time and again when hiring sales and marketing people. If you’re one of those companies that is looking to hire in the next six months I implore you to avoid these common mistakes.
Hiring Someone to “Develop The System”
This mistake is especially common when the founder or the CEO is not the sales and marketing expert. It’s such a dangerous mistake because it seems logical and just makes a lot of sense. It was Bill Parcels who said, “If you want me to cook the dinner, you’ve got to let me shop for the groceries.” Let’s hire someone who has the experience and let them build the system.
So the business goes out, hires someone who sold for (fill in name of major company). Six months later the company is still dealing with the same basic issues they were dealing with before. “It’s okay,” the CEO rationalizes, “these things take time.” One year later, the only thing that has measurably changed is that the SME has higher sales costs. They’re still commoditzed, still fighting for share and price, and still wondering why salespeople just don’t work.
The reason that this fails is that hiring someone to develop and implement a system is a very different hire than a hire to lead, which in turn is a very different hire than one to sell. Just because someone has worked in an effective sales or marketing system does not mean they have the ability to build one.
Confusing Delegation with Abdication
One of the things I’ve learned working with SME’s is that many heads of these companies don’t enjoy the sales or marketing function. They would prefer to do the work or to serve clients than to deal with the insanity called sales and marketing. When they hire on the sales and marketing side, they use “delegation” as an excuse to abdicate.
I’ve got news for the owners/CEOs of 98% of companies with less than $100 million. Like it or not, you are the chief sales officer and the chief marketing officer. You can hire someone to execute. You can even hire someone to lead the effort. But, until the company is truly and totally independent of you, you are the chief there. You must be invested and involved in the process. While this approach can appear to be more painful, it will save you tremendous aggravation in the long run.
Have you ever noticed that conversation topics tend to occur in bunches? This week the conversation of choice seems to be can small and mid-market business hire salespeople successfully? I met with the CEO of a great services business and he’s clearly in the camp of you can’t.
His story is not unique. He’s been the primary salesperson for his company from its inception. He’s tried hiring salespeople in the past. It never worked out. He’s come to believe that you just can’t hire salespeople successfully.
Many statistics and studies would support my new friend. Just recently I shared a devastating study on the effectiveness of salespeople that was conducted by The Harvard Business Review. Recruiters that I talk with tell me that the mis-hire rate for salespeople for small and mid-market companies is 75 – 85%! One of the best all purpose recruiters I know won’t even engage in a sales search.
But, I’ve got to tell you I just don’t buy it. I think small and mid-market business can successfully hire salespeople. They just need to understand what it is they are hiring. There are two fundamental mistakes small and mid-market companies make when hiring/building a sales effort.
- They treat the “salesperson issue” as a people problem, when it is, in fact, a system problem. You must fix the system first.
- They view “sales” and “selling” through singular definition when it actually means very different things. As the chart below shows, there are four distinct roles in selling.
Each role requires different strengths, different focus, different measurements. The priorities for each role are different, and oftentimes conflict. There is simply no way you can find someone to effectively fill all four roles. When they try, they just end up treading water and wasting company resources.
If you’re thinking about hiring a salesperson, take a moment and define which role you are really hiring – then focus on filling that role and build the others later.
Have you solved the sales hiring challenge? What do you do?
With increased frequency I’m getting requests from owners, CEOs and VP’s asking for recommendations for a recruiter who can “find ‘good’ salespeople.”
What’s unfortunate about these requests is that even if these companies do find good salespeople (a difficult task in and of itself) there’s still only about a 10% chance that the salesperson will be successful. A study reported in Harvard Business Review revealed that only 1 in 250 salespeople actually exceed their targets.
It does not take a genius to realize that a 99.6% failure rate is not a people problem. It’s a system problem.
The traditional selling system is broken.
There are two fundamental problems with traditional selling.
- First, as I have written extensively, traditional selling is solutions focused and commoditizes the selling organization.
- Second, traditional selling (as it is implemented in 95% of small and mid-market B2B companies) puts way, way, way too much of the client acquisition burden on the salesperson. In today’s complex, fast-paced, ultra-competitive world there is simply too much pressure on the capabilities of an individual to succeed. As a result, the rate of commoditization, and failure, increases.
Great salespeople, and great selling organizations, are the result of excellent systems. IBM created the greatest selling force of all-time, not by hiring great salespeople, but by plugging normal people into a superior system.
There are four parts to every effective selling system:
- Solid positioning. A successful sale begins long before a salesperson arrives – it begins with effective positioning. Do you have a clear, powerful message? Is your value proposition understood, and valued? Are you clear on who your core customers are? Is your pricing strategy clear?
- Outreach. Great selling organizations are very focused in their go-to-market approach, while average ones are tactically opportunistic. Are you earning and capturing the attention and awareness of your best few markets? Do your salespeople know precisely who to focus on and what the resonating issues are? Does your marketing efforts clearly support your sales efforts?
- Cultivation. The buying process is far, far longer than the selling process, beginning even before the potential customer knows that they are looking to buy anything. It is triggered when the customer starts to investigate their issues and uncover their problems. This is where the fundamental flaw of traditional selling rests – and 95% of small and mid-market B2B companies completely skip this step. If you’re not optimizing this step of the system, your results could be negatively impact by as much as 75%. Are you regularly creating content that educates your customers and causes the sale?
- The Sales Process. The fourth – and final – part of an effective selling system is the sales process. An effective sales process ensures consistency, repeatability and effectiveness. It unleashes the power and capability of good salespeople, making them great. And it makes great salespeople stars.
To win in the competitive world that we find ourselves, you can no longer rely on hiring good people alone. You must match good people with effective systems.
I can predict, with a great degree of accuracy, when a new salesperson (to sales or to your company) will experience their first prolonged slump. When, you ask? When they become comfortable with the product or service they are selling.
That’s right – the first slump almost always occurs when a salesperson becomes comfortable with what they are selling. How can this be? It’s quite simple actually.
When a salesperson is not completely comfortable with their offerings, they are forced to pay extreme attention to the customer/prospect. They ask questions – lots of them. They don’t push. And, most importantly, they don’t jump to the solution. The spend time understanding the customer, because that’s the only thing they can do. As regular readers of this blog may remember, that’s right in line with The First Rule for Creating Demand.
Once the salesperson becomes comfortable with their offering, guess what they do? They start talking about it. Before you know it, they smack in the middle of the We-Do’s. They start asking fewer questions, they pay a little less attention, and, without realizing it, they start pushing. They jump to the solution – confident they can explain their way to a sale.
The point of this post is not that salespeople should not become comfortable with their products or services (though I would strenuously advise that they should never become too comfortable with the offering); it’s that product knowledge is secondary to focusing on and understanding your customer. What drives them, what worries them and what are the results they want to achieve.
The next time you go into a meeting with a customer or prospect – forget everything you know about your products, pretend you’re new and use the time you would have spent telling them about your great stuff to ask deeper, more powerful questions. You’ll be surprised just how effortless selling becomes.
There is probably no sales myth that angers me more than, “a salesperson must be able to get a buyer to say ‘no’ five times, before they say yes.” The myth manifests itself in a variety of ways. It overemphasizes closing, makes the process unnecessarily adversarial, and it wastes a tremendous amount of selling time, and therefore, wastes millions of dollars. To top it off, it’s probably the number one reason why salespeople have such a bad reputation.
That said, if the customer or buying organization doesn’t put up a roadblock, disagree in a meaningful way or attempt to cutoff the process at some point, then it is not really selling – it’s agreeing. After all, the definition of selling is making sales that would not otherwise have occurred.
Selling is all about influencing. It’s about changing mindsets and perspectives. If customers are already thinking what you are, then you don’t really need sales efforts. Anyone who has seen me sell knows that the situation that always makes me the most nervous in a sales situation is when the customer isn’t disagreeing or pushing back on anything I say.
When I’m coaching salespeople, I cheer them on with the reminder that, “the sale doesn’t begin until you get a ‘no.’”
- So when the customer says that they’re not really looking to outsource the function, and you know that outsourcing would have a dramatically positive impact on them; guess what? The sale has begun.
- When the customer says you’re priced too high, and you know that your “higher price” is what enables you to solve their problem in such a way that it can bring superior results; guess what? The sale has begun.
This does not mean that every time a customer says “no,” that you should attempt to plow through them. I encourage you to read my previous post on The Difference Between Barriers and Conditions.
What this means is that if you’ve done your homework, your business case is strong, and you believe in your solution, you cannot be frustrated by a prospect’s or customer’s inability to see it that way immediately.
Rather, you must be motivated by it – that’s why we call it selling.