I always like to talk about  sales culture when I talk to sales managers.  That’s a term that’s loosely used to describe morale, and overall general sales team attitudes and expectations.   It’s pretty easy to see when it’s a positive culture….the team is content and has clear expectations of what is expected of them, and an understanding of how to get there.  You know you may be facing a bit of a negative sales culture  when you hear these comments like these:

–          “It’s just not done.”

–          “No one would say that to the manager.”

–          “I’m keeping my mouth shut.”

–          “I’d like to say something, but I won’t. “

Sales reps aren’t being managed effectively when they are in this environment.   An open collaborative culture can reinforce a sales rep’s confidence that he is being heard, but from a mentoring perspective, give him or her guidance on how to work through sales and company challenges.

Ask and Wait.

The most successful experience I’ve had with instilling that kind of culture was when my team meetings began with a look at the numbers – everyone’s numbers.   I’d put the numbers up, and ask “what do you see?”  I, of course, would see all kinds of things, but it means so much more when someone on the team points those things out.

Listen.

I, as a manager, also have to be prepared to be uncomfortable in those situations.  The reps may uncover something I don’t know about, or something I hadn’t realized.  If that happens, all the better!   But more often, we can uncover a coaching opportunity.   If three members of the team had high close rates, for example, we can ask why, and compare to other members who are struggling.  If one rep has a much shorter sales cycle, we can look at what he or she is doing – and have that rep share best practices.

That can be uncomfortable if you are one of the struggling reps and your numbers are on display, particularly if you are one of those really competitive salespeople!  But this is when the team culture can make a real difference.  If the team is in problem solving mode, you can benefit from the team identifying and offering solutions to your problem, rather than struggling alone.  As a manager, I can then follow-up with you for more one on one coaching.

Be the Solution, Not the Problem.

Another reason to create this sort of culture is that problems come up in any work environment, and learning to “be in the solution, rather than the problem,” is good practice.  A good manager facilitates these discussions so that reps know they are collaborating on a solution to the problem, not just complaining about a problem.

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I had a friend approach me this week to have a chat about what’s going wrong with her sales team.  She doesn’t have a sales background herself but is the CEO of a small startup and is hiring her first sales team.  She said “How do I get people like you, not people who just tell me what I want to hear in the interview?”

I laughed, not sure exactly what she meant.  “What do you mean, ‘people like me?’”  I asked.

She said, “Well, my experience is that a lot of salespeople just say  the right things at the interview to get the job and then they don’t deliver once they are hired. ”

This rang a bell for me.  When I was a new manager,  I was building a team that really hadn’t been in existence before and I didn’t really know how to interview or how to hire.  As the months went by, and certain salespeople became successful, and others didn’t,   I realized that it wasn’t about the skills they brought or the background they had.  It was my hiring skills that needed some polishing!

Candidates will tell you what they think you want to hear, however a good hiring manager knows how to ask more questions that get  “under the hood” of a candidate’s resume.  Here are some ideas.

Dig Deeper.  Many sales candidates like to talk about sales being a numbers game.   They’ll tell you they made a certain number of calls to get appointments, they close at a certain rate, and that’s how they make quota.   They may discuss these numbers at a high level without being specific.   Depending on the industry, and the type of selling they’ve been doing, there is a lot more detail that you can find out in the interview process.

  • How were they prospecting?  Were these leads provided by a sales development team or were they cold calling?
  • If they were cold calling, what resources were they using to prospect?
  • What types of decision makers were they working with at what size companies?
  • Were they working with one decision maker, or multiple influencers or sponsors?
  • If they were  leaving a voice mail  when cold calling, how long was the voicemail that they left?  Did they do email followup – with voicemail, after voicemail? How did that work?
  • Did they use a CRM system to track activity, and what did they like the system they used?
  • What about formal sales training?  Have they participated in any formal sales training methadology, or if not, have the candidate describe their sales process.

Look for the “How.” And in all of these questions,  as a hiring manager, I’m not just looking at the specific answer the applicant gives me, but how they got to that answer.  I want to hire people who are willing to experiment and to learn, and also people who are coachable.  So I’m listening for  answers that will reveal those characteristics if they are there.

This takes a little pre-interview planning, of course.  If that’s a bit more detail than you’re up for….you might want to try out these interview techniques in this funny video.  Enjoy!

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I just finished “Delivering Happiness – A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose”  by Tony Hsieh.  I so enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it to anyone – entrepreneur or otherwise.  Tony does a great job of laying out the path that he and the Zappos founders followed, or zig-zagged through, to get where the company is now.

His focus on the company’s core values, and how Zappos implements those core values to preserve the company culture was excellent.

Zappo’s Core Values:

1.  Deliver WOW Through Service

2. Embrace and Drive Change

3. Create Fun and a Little Weirdness

4. Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded

5. Pursue Growth and Learning

6.  Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication

7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

8. Do More with Less

9.  Be Passionate and Determined

10.  Be Humble.

He talks in the book about how Zappos hires people who can fit into the culture, not necessarily the people who will impact the top or bottom line the most.  Their recruiting techniques are unique – including “speed dating,” events to weed through a large number of candidates before moving into formal interviews, and a “Saturday Night Live” skit during new hire orientation.

That focus on “delivering happiness” has now spread, and through speaking engagements, the Zappos Insights Live site, blogs and Twitter, the company has now launched into what Hsieh says is a much bigger movement….”helping to change the world.”   Zappos was acquired by Amazon in an effort to realign the board of directors with Hsieh and the rest of the company leadership.  The company is still run as an independent entity while having access to Amazon’s resources.

Altogether – a great read and food for thought for anyone running a business – or a life!

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In Josiane Feigon’s new book, “Smart Selling on the Phone and Online,” she focuses on  listening as part of the Sales 2.0 world.  With information overload, complex buying cycles, an uncertain economy, she says that customers often don’t want to listen, and salespeople stop listening.

Active listening, she writes, is  “really hearing what the other person is saying, evaluating it in your mind, and responding appropriately.”     Josianne  says two kinds of questions help reps actively listen and dig deeper.

  • Paraphrasing.  Restating the person’s statement in your own words.  Using phrases like:  “If I understand you correctly…?” or “What I hear you saying is…”Other clarifying questions:  “Can you clarify this?”  or “Is this the problem as you see it?”  “As I understand it, the plan is….and (restatement); am I hearing you correctly?”
  • Asking Precision Questions.  “How Specifically do you….?”  “What Exactly is your goal?”
    • This can also dig through some of the vagueness, or “fuzzy words”  salespeople can encounter during needs discovery, which obscure the customer’s real needs.

In listening to sales reps calls over the years, I know that it can be really clear when a rep is truly listening, or simply going through the motions to move through the sales process to  hit their outbound call number for the day.  Here are  Josiane’s “Top Ten Bad Listening Habits.”

  1. Interrupting
  2. Jumping to conclusions
  3. Finishing the customer’s sentences
  4. Becoming impatient
  5. Providing “me too” or “one up” interruptions
  6. “All about me” listening
  7. Presenting advice and solutions too soon
  8. Pseudo-listening (pretending to listen)
  9. Being judgemental
  10. Not reacting

When it comes down to it, these not so great listening habits apply to other areas of life, too….but that’s another post!  Thanks Josiane, for the great insight!

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Keith Rosen, an  executive sales coaching consultant, writes a spot-on post here about coaching.  Over the years, I’ve worked in several organizations where sales coaching is more or less valued.  Those companies that place a high value on consistent, reiterative coaching see much more benefit from their efforts.

Keith details 10 reasons coaching can fail in his post here:  http://blog.profitbuilders.com/archives/1367

One of his points stands out to me as a core issue with sales managers:

No Training. The manager is not trained in coaching. It’s tougher than you think, especially around observation techniques and delivering actionable feedback that drives positive change and measurable results. This leads to two other challenges.

Hollow Coaching. Focusing on the ‘what’ rather than going deeper to uncover the ‘why.’ Managers are good at uncovering what’s going on; you can see that by looking at a monthly activity report. Where managers drop the ball is uncovering why the behavior is going on or the actual reason behind the lack of activity. This often leads to something that many managers experience, which is:

Repetitive Coaching. “Now we’ve already had this conversation five times over the last month. Looking at your activity the problem is you need to make more calls. So, make more calls! Call reluctance you say? Well, you just have to be more resilient.” Can you envision the salesperson walking out of that conversation with a powerful epiphany? “

From my own experience, helping uncover “the why” of what’s happening with the rep is much more important than “what.”  Those are the discussions that can be honest, open and for me, most rewarding as a manager!


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Ever had a sales manager tell you that they “just couldn’t figure out why the team isn’t responding” ? Chances are…trust is a factor.

Take a look at this post from Ralph Burns: http://bit.ly/bK74ec

  1. He says a manager needs to make regular deposits in “The Trust Account,” which builds a foundation for  future coaching.  Good advice for any manager with a new team.

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Just listened to a podcast on Salesopedia…. Steven Rosen talks about leveraging sales coaching.

http://blog.salesopedia.com/?p=3073

A couple key points Steven makes which bear reiterating:

  • Training is a “waste of money” as an event.  It needs to be ongoing and sustainable, which is a process that happens at the front line sales management level.
  • Front line sales managers make the difference in reinforcing training with ongoing sales coaching.
  • The competence that managers are least effective is coaching.
  • One on One coaching is the most effective way to coach, but the one that organizations emphasize the least.

It makes sense, doesn’t it?  So how does your organization value sales coaching for front line managers?

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I’ve been both a sales rep and a manager, and having been in both of those roles, it occurs to me that “if I knew then, what I know now…”  I would do things very differently.

By nature, sales reps can be a bit, shall we say, “unstructured.”  🙂  I have always been a bit more analytical than most, but I don’t believe that is the norm.  In Sales 1.0 days –  a whopping 4 years ago! – much of our efforts to organize ourselves were focused around calendaring – appointment setting, follow-up phone calls, calls to be made, etc.  Today’s Sales 2.0 processes and technology eliminate much of that unstructured tendency by creating a different sort of organizational framework not only for sales reps but for collaboration with their managers.  Here are some of the ways Sales 2.0 changes things:

  • Lead generation.  A firmly defined process for categorizing leads as A, B, or C quality leads, with a process for following up on each.
  • Pipeline management.   With metrics in place that clearly delineate how many opportunities will ultimately convert, a sales rep now can know EXACTLY what needs to be in the pipeline.  No more guesswork.
  • Sales coaching.   With a clearly defined sales process, the coaching conversation becomes much more data driven.  Again – no more guesswork  about “what the problem is.”  With a clearly defined sales process, it’s easy to pinpoint exactly where in the sales process that a rep  is having problems.   Comparing best practices at each phase of the process will facilitate the coaching process for a  manager, and even more importantly, for a rep to recognize a problem early on without coaching.