- January 5, 2009
- Posted by: Dave Kurlan
- Category: Understanding the Sales Force
Like many of you, I’m back from a much needed vacation where I met a guy who could have been one of the sorry CEO’s I have met over the past several months.
I was in the pool, playing catch with our six-year old son, when Henry began a “dialog” with me. He said, “You can’t play catch in the pool. It’s against the rules.”
I was stunned, but apologized, said I wasn’t aware of that rule and removed the football from the pool.
There was another guy in the pool and he mentioned to me that the pool rules did not include an exclusion about playing catch. I mentioned that to Henry and he became irate because he owns one of the resort’s units, wrote the rules himself, and said, “It better be on that sign!”
So what’s wrong with this picture?
- Doesn’t “resort” make you think fun, water and sun?
- He and his friends were at the water’s very edge but didn’t want to get wet, so he didn’t want any splashing which leads to no playing catch.
- He and his friends were at the pool but in the shade.
- It was 80 degrees but he was dressed for winter.
- He was at a resort but wanted the quiet of a senior community.
How is Henry any different from Bernie?
Bernie is the President of a company that had experienced flat sales for the three strong economic years leading up to the recession. He had been looking for a VP of sales for two years but hadn’t found the right candidate or failed to pull the trigger.
He attended an event where he heard me speak and asked me to contact him. He asked for my advice and I recommended that if he was serious about finding the ideal VP, then he should:
- Evaluate his sales force to better understand its real capabilities and identify the challenges a new VP would have to deal with;
- Identify the changes that the sales force needed to make to be more effective;
- Save the new VP at least a year by providing him with a comprehensive understanding of each salesperson’s strengths, weaknesses and coaching requirements.
- Identify the salespeople that could make the transition to being more aggressive at finding and closing new business;
- Identify the salespeople that could not be developed and plan to replace the under performers;
- Use this intelligence to find the ideal VP of Sales Candidate.
Once in a while, CEO’s and Presidents don’t take my advice and Bernie, who was comfortable (hired gun, not an owner), over confident (he thought he knew better), and not afraid of failure (sales were flat, not declining), promoted one of his existing salespeople to take the VP of Sales position.
Ordinarily, this is not a particularly smart move but in this case, it was really dumb. His new VP had never managed a sales force, had no experience selling in a recession, had never reversed a flat sales trend and had never assessed a sales force. What made Bernie think he could do all this effectively without experience? Six months later, how do you think he’s doing? Last I heard from Bernie, George was “trying some things.”
Bernie and Henry could be the same guy. Henry was probably an arrogant, over confident president who didn’t fear failure just like Bernie. They both know better than everyone else.
Compare Bernie’s story with Jack, president of another manufacturer with flat year over year sales at around the same time. Jack already had a new VP in place, knew there was complacency, knew he needed change, and despite having the expertise to do it himself, knew that it had to come from outside, not within.
Just seven months after evaluating and training, Jack’s sales force is accomplishing things today that they couldn’t even imagine last spring. They transitioned from account managers to hunters; they transitioned from making proposals and presentations to conducting quality sales calls where they do nothing except ask great questions; they’ve gone from selling on price to selling value; they’ve moved from believing they had to have the best price to selling at their price; and they’re closing business at a much higher rate than at this time last year – despite the economic crisis.
Which type of leader are you – Bernie or Jack?
Here are ten steps that you can take to not only survive, but thrive in this recession:
- Size up your sales team – we have some free tools like the Sales Force Grader, the Sales Hiring Mistake Calculator and the Sales Achievement Grader; and fee based tools like our world-class Sales Force Evaluation.
- Get the right people in the right sales/sales management roles. Our Sales Force Evaluation will provide these insights.
- Talk honestly with your sales force about the tough times ahead. Tell them the truth!
- Gain their commitment and buy in to work harder, be tougher and do what it takes in these more difficult times.
- Perform a pipeline analysis and work the pipeline. My sales development firm offers EPACS – Emergency Pipeline Analysis and Coaching Strategies where we properly stage, strategize and coach on every opportunity.
- Create the necessary infrastructure. This includes an appropriate sales process, recruiting process, sales management systems, and software.
- Develop Sales Management on accountability, coaching, recruiting, leadership and motivation.
- Develop the salespeople on process, skills and overcoming their weaknesses.
- Sales Execution – just do it.
- Sales Management Execution – make sure they do it and help them do it.
Ultimately, you must focus on the machine that generates revenue, not costs.