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Does Your Next Sales Hire Need to Be a Consultative Seller?

I was reviewing some of the incredible data and science that Objective Management Group (OMG) has on more than one million salespeople when the following caught my eye.

Today, salespeople possess, on average, only 48% of the attributes of consultative sellers.

You read that right–48%

I found this particularly interesting because selling has changed substantially in the last 8 years and one of the biggest changes has been the need for salespeople to differentiate themselves and their product or service offering from the competition. Without differentiation, salespeople will encounter more resistance, more price sensitivity and much lower win rates.

When a salesperson is a consultative seller—asking great questions, doing great listening and identifying the prospect’s compelling reasons to make an initial purchase or move their existing business to them—they are not only creating value for the prospect, more importantly, they become the value. “I don’t know what it is about Jennifer. She just asks great questions when it comes to helping us with our problems. She gets us!”  And Jennifer’s value provides differentiation for her because no one else interacts with her customer like she uniquely does.

My experience is that when companies think their sales teams are consultative sellers, they’re usually using the old definition of the term–selling solutions to customers and as discussed above, it’s more than that. Much more. Moreover, the changes in selling brought about by the economic downturn in 2008 have made their version of consultative selling obsolete.

 

 

 

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Are You a Scary Judge of Talent?

Many readers have probably seen the movie “The Recruit”, starring Al Pacino and Colin Farrell. The movie deals with the CIA and uncovering a ‘mole’ inside the agency and is memorable for one line spoken by Pacino’s character, a veteran agent. Here’s the clip–if you want you can skip right to the line at the 2:48 mark. After viewing it you’ll know where I pulled the title for this post.

How does this relate to sales selection? From working with sales leaders for the last 24 years, when they rely too many times solely on their judgment alone and have the mindset that they’re “a scary judge of talent”, it can get expensive…fast.

Have you ever hired a salesperson who didn’t work out? Beyond the emotional costs to a sales leader’s psyche (“Heck, I thought he was going to work out. I had such a good feeling about him and he interviewed so well!”) there are also the tangible, hidden costs of a salesperson not succeeding. Here just a few:

  1.  Time spent on first interviews
  2.  Time spent on second interviews
  3.  Time spent on reviewing resumes
  4.  Time spent onboarding a new hire
  5.  Time spent on coaching
  6.  Fees paid to a headhunter/recruiting service
  7.  Cost of job ads
  8.  Cost of training
  9.  Average annual salary of salesperson

Now if you look at these costs over the last five years of your sales force and if you’ve experienced the average turnover, it doesn’t take long for the numbers to add up.

Companies have reacted in one of two ways when faced with the costs of hiring salespeople who don’t work out. Some have remained “stuck on stupid”, hoping that their next hiring round will be different and they’ll magically find their next sales superstar. Other companies have turned to sales assessments that leverage science and take the guesswork out of making their sales selection decisions. Of course, these sales organizations have drastically reduced their sales hiring costs, built stronger sales teams and experienced more business being closed.

 

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The Green Bay Packers are Hiring

green-bay-packers-logo Another football season is almost upon us and here in town, the Green Bay    Packers have just started their training camp. “Training camp” is just what the  phrase implies–veterans and rookies alike will be competing to make the final  roster before the season opener against the Chicago Bears.

For the coaching staff, the next several weeks will be their opportunity to do an up  close and comprehensive assessment of their top draft picks in an attempt to  answer these questions–“Who can we count on to help us win games and bring  home the Super Bowl trophy?”

Drafting ‘sure fire, can’t miss, future Hall of Famer’ players is not an exact science. If it was, the biggest busts in Packers history would never have happened.

To avoid the next ‘bust’ the Packers, like many other NFL teams employ as much science as possible. They gather data on each potential draft choice and match  it to their requirements for each position: 40 yard dash times, vertical leap, bench press reps and IQ testing. During training camp the players are put through football drills and game situations to see if their physical skills can translate to performing effectively on the field. Everything is videotaped and that tape is compared to the data for each player.  This process is designed to reveal the ‘real’ player and the results are used by the coaching staff in making decisions when it comes time to cut the team down for the final roster. This systematic approach for evaluating talent changes very little from one year to the next. And the success the Packers have had over the last 8 years speaks to the effectiveness of the system.

The Packers’ approach is in direct contrast to how many companies typically go about hiring salespeople. All too often they don’t use a sales specific, systematic process or almost as bad, they use the same process their human resources department uses to hire non-selling employees. The result? Too many sales busts.

My experience over the last 23 years in helping companies grow revenue is that their ability to attract, identify and employ overachieving salespeople is a critical component in their success. In our work together, the discipline in using a repeatable, best practice, hiring model has helped them avoid costly hiring mistakes (think Tony Mandarich).

Sales candidates come in four flavors:  Can sell but won’t, can’t sell but will, can’t sell and won’t, can sell and will.

Can your hiring process help you tell the difference?

 

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Getting Sales Hiring Selection Right

I seem to be getting more requests for help from clients who are looking to fill a sales position with a current employee who is working in a different function than direct sales–technical customer service or quality assurance, etc. Management wants the employee assessed to ffind out if they qualify for a sales position. Sound familiar?

Now here’s where companies seem to experience collective “brain fade”. If they have a structured, formalized best practices sales selection process (most often they don’t…if they’re not currently working with us), they tend to lose all discipline, rush to make a hiring decision and wind up hiring with their business ‘heart’ (“Brian knows our product and everyone loves him–he’d be great in sales!”) rather than with their business ‘head’.

It’s not until a year later when management looks at Brian’s results–his sales are flat with very few new customers–that they begin to have remorse over whether they made the right decision. Meanwhile, a year has been wasted with almost nothing to show for it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying moving a current non-sales employee into a sales position can’t be successful. It can but it’s a long shot. But would it help to know what you could expect to happen after you did it…before you did it? Of course it would and here’s where ‘science’ can help plus using a systematic selection process that’s contains effective methodologies and tools. The point is that when a company is considering a current employee for one of its sales positions, they should use the same method as when they are looking at outside candidates.

As always, the three biggest steps to get right in the selection process are:

1)  Write  a clear, concise role configuration describing the successful candidate.

2)  Use a sales specific, predictive sales assessment that identifies the candidate’s sales competencies and DNA needed for success

3)  Make sure that the hiring team has mastered the skill of asking great interview questions.

Want to know how your company’s sales recruiting process stacks up? Click here.

Want to talk about a turnkey methodology that will help your company identify, find, attract, interview, hire and retain top sales talent? Email  me at jim@exsellonline.com.

 

 

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What’s Holding Your Sales Team Back from Closing More Sales?

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”  –Mark Twain

One of the biggest frustrations I hear from CEO’s and business owners about their sales efforts is that there are too many instances where opportunities on their sales team’s pipelines never turn into closed business on a timely basis. And too many times, it never converts at all.

Like Twain’s observation above, a small difference can make all the difference in the world. So in the world of sales, what’s the difference between a ‘qualified’ opportunity and a ‘not qualified’ opportunity? What process should a salesperson follow to determine whether a potential sale is ‘real’?

Here is where using a consultative sales approach can be invaluable.

A qualified sales opportunity would be the result of a salesperson having a conversation with the decision maker that was as deep and wide as possible.

A qualified sales opportunity would be the result of the salesperson asking many questions and employing great listening skills.

A qualified sales opportunity would be the result of a discussion of all the issues, opportunities, and implications facing the prospect.

A qualified sales opportunity would be the result of knowing what people inside the prospect organization would be impacted and how.

A qualified sales opportunity would be the result of knowing all the potential outcomes the prospect hopes to achieve.

And from the standpoint of a formalized, structured sales process, a qualified sales opportunity would be the result of knowing the prospect’s reasons for buying, uncovering an actual budget and learning the decision-making process.

The endpoint of this consultative conversation is a qualified prospect. Anything short of that and they’re still a suspect.

Keep in mind that when it comes to the skill set of converting predicted sales into closed deals in an appropriate time frame, a primary area to focus on is the development of your team’s qualifying skills.

High-achieving salespeople aren’t necessarily great ‘closers’ in the Glengarry Glen Ross sense of the term. Rather, high-achieving salespeople are terrific qualifiers!

 

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“When Will This Deal Close?”

All sales leaders would love to have a crystal ball that would accurately predict incoming sales revenue. Too often sales management is left wondering at month’s end where the promised sales are from the sales team that said it would come in and then failed to appear…again.

If we looked at this company’s sales pipeline, odds are this is what we would see:

a.  Not enough new opportunities

b.  Predicted closing that get delayed

c.  Not enough of the right kind of opportunities

d.  Opportunities that seem to be stuck and never move to the next stage

From working with companies over the last 20 years, I can also say with confidence what I won’t see with this company–a formal, structured, optimized sales process. Would you be surprised to learn that 91% of all companies suffer from this condition? And here’s the impact:

1.  The company loses its most powerful tool to accurately forecast sales and drive profitable revenue through its sales pipeline in a realistic time frame.

2.  Salespeople can’t effectively qualify their opportunities. They can only go with their gut or ‘quesstimate’ when  asked by management  whether their deals will close–and when they don’t close, offer up the same tired excuses.

3.  Sales management can’t effectively coach the sales team using a ‘common sales language’ and thus hold them  to a formal standard of selling strategies and behaviors which sends the underlying message to the salespeople:  “This is the way we do it at this company.”

4.  Research from the CSO Insights organization in 2012 revealed that less than 50% of forecasted deals actually were won. About 27% were lost to competition and about 26% resulted in no buying activity at all. Without a formal, structured, optimized sales process, it’s difficult for management to prioritize valuable resources to pursue deals that will actually happen and the company has a good chance to win.

A formal, structured, optimized sales process should have these two qualities:   First, it must have defined steps that are clearly performed and, when executed correctly, provide expected results and second, it must have a concrete method of measuring progress made.

A well trained and well coached sales force, following a this type of sales process will see these results:

  1. Shorter sales cycles
  2. Higher conversion rates
  3. More repeat business
  4. Higher margins
  5. More accurate forecasting

Finally, for a little bit of fun, watch this clip from “The Italian Job” and see a structured, optimized ‘process’ come to life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Underdog Selling

On October 3, 1964 a cartoon series debuted on NBC called Underdog, a show  about a humble dog, who when trouble threatened, transformed into a superhero and save the damsel in distress. The well-known character actor, Wally Cox supplied the voices for both characters.

Why am I describing a television show that ran over 40 years ago? For this reason—many companies are competing in the marketplace today and living at the “corner of ignorance and bliss”. They don’t realize that they are ‘underdogs’ in their industry and need to be selling their products or services in a totally different manner.

If only they could leap tall buildings in a single bound and save the day by defeating the ‘villain’ (the competition) and save the damsel (the sale). But they can’t.

Why not? Because they’re not following a predictable, optimized, systematic sales process when they go to market.  As a result, their sales pipelines are inaccurate, contain poorly qualified ‘hot deals’ and they’re not making their sales numbers. A well-designed sales process would take into account their underdog status and allow them to leverage it to make the sale.

How do you know if your company is the underdog?

If you are selling really expensive products or services, you might be an underdog.

If you’re not the market leader, you might be an underdog.

If you have higher priced products or services than the competition, you might be an underdog.

If you have a story to tell to the attention of your market, you might be an underdog.

If you have a new product or technology, you might be an underdog.

If you are a new company or brand, you might be an underdog.

If any of the above conditions are true for your selling organization, it’s time to put on your superhero cape and invest the time in fine tuning your team’s sales process.  Where to start? My previous posts herehere and here would be great places to begin.

Good luck!

 

 

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“Which One of Us is Elvis?”

This weekend I heard an interesting story that reminded me of a particular sales challenge that almost all salespeople encounter.

The story comes from a podcast interview with Peter Noone, lead singer of the ’60’s musical group, Herman’s Hermits (I’m dating myself with this reference). Noone had an opportunity to meet Elvis Presley, his band,  his manager Colonel Tom Parker and heard many interesting stories about the ‘King’.

Here’s the story–In the process of putting together the music for the film, “King Creole”, Presley and one of his band members got into an argument about how to play a certain song. The disagreement went back and forth for awhile and then in Noone’s telling of the story, Presley asked the band member a question–“Which one of us is Elvis?” End of argument.

With six words, Elvis established who was in control of the conversation and who had the authority over the decision on how to play the piece of music.

This anecdote got me to thinking about how salespeople react to prospects who, with a heavy hand, take control of the sales call, dictate the conversation and turn the salesperson into a facilitator instead of a consultative seller and advisor.

How many of us have been in a sales meeting with a prospect with a ‘strong’ personality who has it all worked out in their minds what it is they think they want from us and when we’ve tried to slow them down and employ a consultative approach, they proceeded to attempt to bowl us over with a “Which one of us is Elvis?” move? I would guess we’ve all been there. But the key question is which salespeople are capable of defending themselves from this type of prospect, keeping control of the sales process and still getting the outcome from the call that they want?

Looking at our data, we know that 62% of salespeople will not be able to deal effectively with this challenge and will default to the facilitator role. They aren’t able to push back and challenge these ‘driver’ personalities and regain control. Their need for approval prevents them from doing this. Need for approval is defined as the salesperson’s need to be liked, the need to fit in, the need for ‘strokes’ from people with whom they deal. It becomes a problem when a salesperson’s need for approval is stronger than their need to close the sale. They will avoid saying or doing those things which, in their mind, would change how the prospect feels about them. This includes, but is not limited to tough questions, legitimate confrontation and the potential inability to handle rejection or a ‘no’.

So if you recognize some of your salespeople as having need for approval, what should you do?

Step One – Evaluate your salespeople with a sales specific assessment that will determine who on your team has need for approval and   how severe it is.

Step Two – Use the assessment results to craft a coaching plan for your salesperson to help them fix their need for approval.

Step Three – Conduct a disciplined, consistent coaching process with your salesperson.

An important reminder–when coaching a salesperson who has a severe case of need for approval, be patient. Very patient. Need for approval is the second most powerful sales weaknesses we find in salespeople so it takes a minimum of six months to see improvement.

 

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Question, Questions…and More Questions

Sometimes I lie awake at night and ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night.’     –Charles M. Schulz

If you’re like me, you’ve probably gotten a few chuckles over the years from the comic strip Peanuts by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. The above quote illustrates a great point about where salespeople are today when it comes to developing one of the key competencies of consultative selling–asking good, effective questions. The data I’ve seen tells the story—they’re not improving. Go here to look at it for yourself.

High-performing consultative sellers are good listeners. They’re able to ask intelligent questions that help prospect recognize their compelling reasons to buy, and in the process, differentiate themselves from the competition.

And it all starts with asking great questions.

If you’re a sales leader (or a business owner who serves as their own sales leader) and you’re in the process of developing your sales team, growing them with a desire for them to be stronger in the sales process, listen for the quality of the questions your salespeople are asking when they meet with prospects or customers.

Are their questions open-ended that move the conversation forward or lead to a ‘dead-end’?

Are their questions designed to encourage the prospect to talk or do they result in one word answers?

Are their questions delivered in a manner that’s warm, friendly, conversational or do they sound like part of an interrogation?

And hopefully, you haven’t heard these two sales ‘duds”:

“Are you happy with your current supplier?”

“What keeps you up at night?”

Wherever your team’s skill level is when it comes to asking great sales questions, don’t ignore the importance of sharpening their skills even further and taking them to the next level of proficiency. If you want to shorten your company’s sales cycle, improve the quality of your sales pipeline, lower your selling costs, this is one of the best areas  upon which to focus your attention and efforts.

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Shortening Your Sales Cycle

When I meet with company presidents, CEO’s and business owners, the most common frustrations I hear from them is “Our sales opportunities never seem to close ‘on time’ if they close at all!” or “Our sales pipeline is full but nothing seems to be closing!”

There are many reasons as to why sales organizations are experiencing these problems and among the biggest is that often they’re not using a defined, optimized sales process. Would you be surprised to learn that 91% of all companies don’t use a common sales process?

There’s more bad news–if you’re looking to shorten your team’s sales cycle, it’s not enough to have a defined sales process . You also need to have salespeople with the correct blend of skills and sales DNA to execute your sales process effectively.

Now for some good news–there is a method to determine whether your team has what it takes to bring sales through the door in a timely, cost-effective manner and it doesn’t involve guess work or using a crystal ball. By using the science behind the 26 questions we can answer for clients, it’s now possible know the strengths and weaknesses of any sales organization and whether they’re capable of shortening their sales cycle.

For a look at the ‘science’ and some great examples of why sales cycles are so long, go here and read the article by Dave Kurlan, CEO of Objective Management Group, at his award winning blog.

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