sales professionals

When Do You Let Your New Rep Go?

by Karen Jackson | 4 Comments

Raise your hand if you’ve ever kept an underperforming salesperson for too long. Someone you hired that joined the company with all the promise in the world, whose resume was first rate, track-record verifiable, references stellar. Their attitude was excellent, they showed up on time, appeared loyal, and were enjoyable to have around. But then they didn’t perform, and the months turned to quarters. And you kept hoping and wringing your hands simultaneously. There was gnashing of the teeth; passive-aggressive behavior kicked-in as you got angry, but none of that improved performance. Yet you kept them nonetheless, waiting for the proverbial corner to be turned, believing it would happen soon. And the sales person assured you it would, but it didn’t. Yet, there they were, still on the payroll.

If you’re in the majority who has experienced this debacle (or witnessed it in your organization) see if you can answer this question: “Why did I wait so long to let them go?”

The three answers I hear most frequently from sales managers are:

  • They always seemed to have a deal on the table so I just had to give them a little more time to close
  • The idea of starting the hiring process over again was exhausting
  • I couldn’t afford to have their territory uncovered

Pushed to think about it more deeply, most managers agree that the true reason they hung on so long was they didn’t really know how to measure the salesperson’s success. Were they really making progress? Did their promises hold water? Was the deal really imminent? And in the absence of good measurements, the decision became subjective instead of objective, dangerous ground for making hiring and firing decisions. So the rep stayed in the seat, and it cost the company. Not just in rep compensation (please don’t tell me you reduced comp as a solution), but in opportunity cost, wasted resources throughout the organization and less obvious, but equally damaging, team morale. (I’ll say more in a future post on the team impact when others see you keeping an underperformer. Hint: reduced morale and respect for the leader.)

With short, transactional sales cycles it’s easy to measure rep performance based on revenue. But in the B2B space, particularly in complex, enterprise environments, the sales cycle can take 18 months or more before booking revenue. Using revenue as the sole measure in that scenario is foolish. There must be a way to determine within 60 – 90 days of hire whether a rep can be successful in your company or not.

So, what’s the solution? It’s not magic; it’s process and metrics. It’s creating certainty instead of wishful thinking. Here’s where to start:

  • Identify your sales process, creating quantifiable milestones for each stage
  • Create measurable productivity goals, tied to your process, for the first 90 days of employment
  • Create a coaching program for the new rep with measurable activities each week

Note that each item has a measurement in it. The first, identifying sales process, ensures you know the KPI’s of your sales cycle. The second ties the rep directly to those KPI’s. The third identifies specific weekly activity metrics, but just as important, ensures you are training and having what I like to refer to as “sales conversations,” meaning conversations around strategies and tactics that advance the sale.

These are not babysitting techniques, and they’re not just for newbie sales reps, though obviously the complexity of the metrics will adjust to the experience of the rep.  These are realistic, quantifiable activities that you know, if followed, will result in closing a sale. By identifying the appropriate measurements, you can define an accountability framework for the new salesperson. Once established, you create certainty both for the rep and for yourself. It will become easy to identify whether the individual is doing what they said they would do, where they need support, what problems they are experiencing, what obstacles block their path, what training they require. Whether they’ll make it.

Follow this strategy and you’ll never again retain an underperforming salesperson.

Please weigh in. Have you ever kept a salesperson on board too long? What lessons did you learn? What measures did you install to ensure it doesn’t happen again?

 

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B2B Sales Management Mistakes That Might Prove Fatal

by Karen Jackson | 4 Comments

Small business B2B sales management is a tough, tough task. (It’s not so easy in big business either.  According to consulting firm Sales Benchmark Index, the average tenure of a new sales leader is just 19 months.) In part, it’s tough because small businesses don’t typically have an experienced sales manager. Often that task is left to the CEO, whose expertise lies in their product or service subject matter, not in sales.

Whether you’re the sales manager or the CEO wearing that hat reluctantly, the challenge is surmountable. Get outside help, subscribe to sales management blogs, and don’t make any of these 9 mistakes:

1.    Hire The Wrong Title.  This may seem obvious but it’s a common set-up for failure. Desiring to lure a big producer, you hire someone with the title “VP of Sales” even though it’s a direct sales role. I’ve yet to see a VP of Sales worth their salt go back to carrying a bag – unless they’re getting a big equity position. (Even then, they may no longer have the stomach for it.) They’ll collect their check from you and wait for permission to hire, you guessed it, a sales person. Instead, get clear about your needs, what makes your opportunity compelling, and go find a compatible person for your organization. He or she is out there; you don’t have to settle.

2.    Fail to Define a Go-to-Market Sales Plan.  “Go sell something” is a poor directive but it’s a pretty standard marching order. Writing a clear sales plan is hard, but essential, work. How else will your reps clearly understand their target markets, ideal customer profile, value proposition, positioning? How can they create smart tactics when they don’t clearly understand the goal? How will you decide where their energy is best spent, which opportunities to seize and which to pass on? Without a clearly defined plan, you’re guaranteed inconsistency at best; chaos at worst.

3.    Ignore Sales Process.  Without process companies fail to capitalize on best practices or manage their resources in the most productive way. By understanding the customer’s buying cycles and creating a related sales cycle with stage specific activities and milestones, you’re able to analyze sales activities and outcomes, take actions that influence buyer behavior, and uncover where sales people need additional support and training. Without process, forget about a realistic forecast; you’re left with lots of wishing and hoping.

4.    Neglect Metrics or Accountability Structures.  The adage “what gets measured gets managed” couldn’t be more true in sales. First identify key performance indicators, then create sales metrics that better influence outcomes, motivate individuals, and make forecasting more predictable. Include your team in developing these to gain buy-in. They’ll understand that by managing to those metrics their success is far more likely than without them. It’s not baby-sitting, it’s management. Big difference.

5.    Treat Your Reps The Same.  The sales manager is a coach. Like any team, the players need different levels and type of attention. Does s/he need help with skills, mind-set, time-management?  You won’t know unless you meet them where they are as individuals, and respond accordingly. Applying the same management techniques to everyone will not create equality; it will create frustration and missed opportunities to grow your team members. Keith Rosen’s book Coaching Salepeople Into Sales Champions offers some excellent guidance.

6.    Substitute Your Comp Plan for Management.  Slashing pay for a poor performer doesn’t solve your performance problem. It simply lures you into a false sense that the individual isn’t costing you too much. You’re kidding yourself. They’re costing you dearly through unexploited territory, wasted energy by support staff, and team morale. If you can’t manage a rep to better performance, release them. Quickly.

7.    Saddle Your Reps with Non-Sales Activities.  Every position has a certain amount of administrative work, but it’s mind-boggling how much non-sales activity small business reps get saddled with. If you want reps to sell, give them time to do so. Look at your processes and identify what activities could be off-loaded to a less skilled, lower paid headcount.

8.    Skimp on Tools.  Are your reps on the road but they’ve no access to your servers through their mobile devices? Are they travelling regularly but don’t have a wireless card to access 3G networks when no wi-fi is available? Are Post-Its, lists, and disconnected spreadsheets substituting for a CRM tool? Don’t think of these items as nice-to-haves. They are keys to productivity, sanity and morale, which make them investments, not expenses.

9.    Undervalue Continuous Recruiting.  It’s really hard to hire good sales reps, and it doesn’t get easier when the pressure is on to fill a spot. When territory is open there’s a tendency for management to settle on a sub-optimal candidate. Be disciplined to continually interview and recruit for the role. Put the word out with business partners and maintain an on-going search through LinkedIn and other social media platforms. Target individuals who work in your industry and court them. They may not be ready to move today, but when something changes, they’ll call you first. Equally important, you’ll learn tons about what the competition is doing and what others perceive as risks / opportunities in the market.

B2B sales management is hard, but essential in an organization’s ability to drive revenue. Without customers, there’s no reason for a company to exist. I can’t think of a better motivation to improve sales management skills.

Please share mistakes you’ve made, suffered, or witnessed so we all can learn.

 

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Surprising Reasons Why Sales Process Matters

by Karen Jackson | 8 Comments

Last week I was talking with the CEO of a small software company struggling with driving revenue. Looking for a possible solution, she wanted my thoughts on where in the sales engine she might zero in. When I mentioned lack of defined sales process as a typical culprit for lagging revenue growth, she remarked, “I don’t see that as an issue for us. I’ve hired very experienced sales people; they certainly ought to know what to do.”

Uh-oh.

Many small-biz CEO’s, particularly those without sales backgrounds, perceive sales process as little more than lowest common denominator management. The rationale is, if they hire seasoned sales people (hard in itself but that’s a different conversation) then they shouldn’t need to create a sales process. After all, isn’t the purpose of creating a sales process really just for baby-sitting?

The answer is no.

At its most basic level, creating and following a sales process does ensure that everyone is following a best practices approach to sales. It also creates a method, particularly if a CRM or other reporting tool is utilized, for sales people to organize themselves, and for management to track and measure activity. All well and good and valuable. But, if that’s the only rationale, then this CEO may be right to think she can do without.

When B2B companies ignore sales process, here’s what they’re really choosing to live without: data. Data to inform any number of strategic and tactical decisions, to identify trends, to help us answer questions like:

  • How well do we really understand our clients’ buying process?
  • Where in the sales cycle are we having difficulty closing?
  • Is there something we could do differently to push our prospects into the next stage?
  • Are we jumping stages therefore finding it hard to close?
  • What’s the quality of our pipeline?
  • How predictable are our forecasts?
  • What danger are we in of elongated sales cycles?
  • Where can the cycle be shortened?
  • Are we chasing the wrong leads?
  • How efficiently are we deploying sales and support resources?
  • How can we refine our tactics for better results?
  • What customer stakeholders are we failing to convince / convert?
  • Do we understand the key moment when a prospect will become a customer?
  • Have we become “proposal happy?”
  • What skills training do our reps need right now?
  • How quickly can we bring new hires up to productivity levels?

Top-performing sales engines utilize well-structured and repeatable sales processes that leverage best-practices and identify true milestones in the buyer’s journey. The process isn’t a baby-sitting tool, though it’s true that the process helps each of us stay focused and disciplined. Rather, it’s because the process provides key data that elevates the performance of the sales person and the entire organization. If you can’t answer the questions above, it’s time to start thinking process.

 

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What Top Sales Producers Know (And So Should You)

by Karen Jackson | No Comments

In January I wrote a blog about the Secrets of Successful Sales Leaders. Lots of people liked it, but several asked if I’d follow up and identify the traits of successful sales people. Some wanted to know so they could improve themselves or their teams. Many others said, after failed attempts at hiring quality sales people, they’d like to start getting it right. continue reading »

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