Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 14, 2015

The “Prospecting” Disease

During my three decades in the sales industry I’ve worked with, met, coached, and observed thousands of sellers from a multitude of industries.  They’ve been new and experienced, inside and outside sellers, big ticket and small, specialized products and services as well as common, commodity products, some very successful and a great many barely holding their own or failing.

Some have been hail fellow well met types, others have been shy introverts.  Some pound the phones, others pound the pavement.  Some are highly attuned to technology, others can barely turn their cell phone on.  Some like to hit the office or the road early, others prefer to work late, a few do both.

But with rare exceptions they all have one thing in common—they’re busy.

They’re all doing stuff.

And a great deal of the time when you ask them what they’re doing they tell you they’re prospecting.

They’re busy trying to find business.  They’re focused on getting a contract in the door and getting paid.

Some, not the majority by any means, are very successful.  Most are not.

So the natural question is what’s the difference?  Why are a few really good at finding prospects and brining in business and most aren’t?

Turns out that most of the time the answer is really pretty simple.

The successful sellers spend their time prospecting.

The majority are simply infected with the disease of “prospecting,” that is, the illusion that what they are doing is prospecting when in reality it is nothing more than busy work to keep them from having to do the tough work of actually prospecting.

These unsuccessful sellers can show lists of several hundred names and phone numbers they have spent hours and hours researching that they have on a call list—a few dozen will have check marks beside them, even fewer will be scratched through.  They can show stacks of fliers and letters they have mailed out.  They can produce a list of networking events they have attended over the past couple of months.  They can produce a passel of emails they have sent out.  They may even have their business card pinned to every corkboard in every restaurant, laundromat, and other business that has a board to display customer’s cards.

Certainly they’ve been busy; no doubt about that.  The problem is although they have been busy, they haven’t been prospecting.  Instead of prospecting, they’ve been “prospecting”—creating filers, writing letters and emails, attending non-qualified networking events, making a phone call here and there—and increasingly spending more and more time “connecting’ with prospects via social media, tweeting and updating their facebook page and searching LinkedIn for any warm body that might be a prospect to try to connect with.  They confuse preparatory and busy work for prospecting, with the actual activity of interacting with a qualified prospect.

Although they spend a great deal of time doing busy work, they spend very little time actually prospecting.  They “feel” they are always prospecting, but in reality they are always finding ways not to prospect by spending their time preparing to prospect.  They engage in a great deal of activity, but the activity isn’t the activity that will produce business; instead, it is the activity that makes them feel good, feel productive, allowing them to convince themselves that they are being extremely active.

We salespeople tend to focus on activity—after all, activity is what gets us in the door, gets us the business we must have in order to succeed.  But activity alone is fruitless.  Activity for activity’s sake is just as sure a way to failure as inactivity.

Prospecting isn’t preparation to prospect; it isn’t finding easy ways to feel like you’re getting your message out; and it isn’t simply being busy all of the time.  Prospecting is a very specific activity—connecting and interacting with qualified prospects.

If you cold call, that means being on the phone, not getting ready to get on the phone.  If you network, it means actually being in front of and meeting prospects or garnering introductions to prospects from referral partners, not researching events or even spending time at non-qualified events where you’ll meet few, if any, prospects, or spending your time at the event hanging with friends and co-workers.

Investing time and energy in the wrong activities has killed as many sales careers as inactivity has.

As salespeople we have three very basic duties—finding and connecting with quality prospects, working with those prospects to help them satisfy needs or wants, and insuring that they are taken care of during and after the sale. 

Everything else is busy work and busy work doesn’t make a sale, doesn’t generate income, and doesn’t move us toward our sales or income goals.

Before you engage in any activity consider whether that activity is income producing or not.  If it isn’t directly producing income, does it really need to be done?  If not, move on to an activity that will directly lead to a sale.

To succeed you need to spend your time prospecting.  Getting infected with the “prospecting” disease where you “feel” you’re prospecting but in reality are finding ways to keep from having to prospect is a career killer.

July 28, 2014

Is Your Employer Knowingly Destroying Your Career?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 12:24 pm
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If you work as an outside, commissioned salesperson, think about what your employer does:

Your employer pays for:

  • virtually 100% of your training
  • virtually 100% of your marketing
  • your gas, your cell phone, your prospect and client lunches and coffee meetings

Your employer is investing hundreds of dollars per month in your career.  Yet they:

  • knowingly allow you to waste time
  • knowingly allow you to blow off work
  • knowingly allow you to go home early
  • knowingly allow you to come in late
  • knowingly allow you to stand around and complain and moan with the other salespeople in the office
  • knowingly allow you to pad your call reports
  • knowingly allowing you to perform at a level far below your potential

Why would any employer pay for all of your training and marketing and then allow you to waste that investment?  Do you really want to work for someone who cares so little about the money they are investing in you—and ultimately so little about your future?  Do you really want to work for someone who says they want you to succeed, but then knowingly allows you to do those things that lead to failure?

What kind of employer is that?

That, however, is the employer for which the majority of salespeople work.

And if you work for that employer you have no one to blame except yourself.  For despite what your W2 says, you are your employer.  As a commissioned salesperson, you don’t work for anyone other than yourself.  You are your own mini company with a single client company that you sell for today.  You are leasing yourself, your knowledge, and your skills to your client company.  And if you are establishing strong relationships with your prospects and clients, you’re also leasing them to your client.

When you revoke your lease to the company you currently sell for and take on a new client, you’ll take all of your training, all of your skills, all of your abilities with you.  They don’t stay with your current client.  And if you’ve done a good job of building relationships with your clients, you’ll take them with you also.

One hundred percent of the time, money and energy you invest in your sales business are invested in you for your benefit, not the company for which you are currently selling.  No matter your product or service–autos, real estate, financial services, consulting, telecommunications solutions, or anything else, you are your boss, your employer.  And as such, you must hold yourself accountable for your actions and the dollars you invest in you—your company.

As an employer, what kind of employer are you?  Do you demand the best from your employee?  Or, do you allow yourself to just slide through the motions of selling?  Are you seeking to get the most from the time and money you invest in your company or are you satisfied to just get by?

As an employee, are you happy with your employer?  Do think your employer demands enough from you?  Does your employer demand you work to your full potential?

Just because you receive a paycheck and a W2 doesn’t mean that you aren’t self-employed.  In reality, you sign your own paycheck.  The company you are leasing yourself to simply verifies your company’s earnings and then signs those earnings over to you.

Don’t be fooled into believing that you work for IBM, or UBS, or Century 21, or any other “employer” other than yourself.  You are your own CEO, and like any other CEO, you must demand the best from your employee.  And as an employee, if your company isn’t capable or willing to hold you accountable, maybe you need to fire your employer.

March 26, 2012

Four Common Destructive Sales Management Styles

I’ve had the privilege of working with many new managers whose company hired me to help them transition from seller to manager or to work with existing managers to become more effective.  One of the recurring issues I’ve discovered is a misunderstanding of what a sales manager is.

Whether I’m working with a newly promoted seller into a frontline sales management position or an established sales leader, I often find someone with a warped and destructive idea of what a sales manager’s work is. 

Generally I find these misguided managers have adopted one of these four destructive management styles :

The Clone Coach:  A common tendency of great salespeople when promoted to manager is to believe that if they could just train all of their salespeople to be mini-me’s of themselves then everything will be great—the salespeople will be happy, they’ll make their numbers, management will be thrilled, customers will be loyal forever, and the new manager will be promoted again in no time.  Thus, the new manager sets out to coach every seller on his or her team to do exactly what they did to be successful without regard to the individual salesperson’s experience level, knowledge, personality, or skills. 

Typically the harder the manager tries to “coach” each of their salespeople to mimic the way they sold, the more frustrated each seller becomes and the more resistant to being “coached.”

Although the manager may succeed in creating one or two clones, they will alienate the majority of their team and eventually there will be a breakdown of trust and cooperation.

The Super Seller:  The Super Seller is the star salesperson who when promoted to manager tells his or her salespeople to forget about selling, “you get the prospects, I’ll sell ‘em” is the crux of their management style.  They haven’t the slightest interest in seeing their salespeople grow as sellers; their only interest is making THEIR numbers because it’s all about them.

Salespeople languish and eventually wither and die under a Super Seller for they not only have no chance to grow, if they do decide to exercise selling skills they are typically scolded for the perceived sin of costing the manager potential scalps on his or her lodge pole.

Although the manager may appear successful to upper management if judged only by the numbers, she is judged a complete failure and is resented by her team which typically suffers large turnover and discontent.

The Disciplinarian:  Less prevalent that the two previous management styles but equally dangerous is the manager who comes in with the attitude of “I’m going to whip these lazy good for nothings into shape if it kills me.”  Most typically it does kill—both the team members and the manager.

The Disciplinarian usually has a chip on their shoulder and disrespect for those they “manage.”  This manager views himself as being not only a superior seller to his team members but also more dedicated to the company and his job than they are. 

Sales teams under the thumb of the Disciplinarian suffer from morale issues that eventually result in high turnover and often outright rebellion. 

The Pal:  The Pal manager has most often been promoted from within the team and is friends with the majority of team members.  The Pal’s transition from peer to manager changes virtually nothing in the team’s relationships as the salespeople have a difficult time making the transition to viewing their old friend as their manager and the new manager has a difficult time now having to hold her former team peers accountable for their actions.

Instead of making the transition from peer to manager, the new manager makes a transition from peer to Super Friend, becoming the advocate extraordinaire for her team mates, protecting them and covering for them no matter what.  The Pal is committed to her friends and is most concerned about how they feel about her rather than managing them. 

Unfortunately for most managers who take on the role of The Pal, the lack of discipline and accountability results in the team members taking gross advantage of them—to the point that often their tenure as manager is very short lived.  . 

The common denominator that binds all four of these management styles together is a focus by the manager on themselves and their wants and needs.

Certainly managing entails coaching, and disciplining when necessary, as well as helping close a sale here and there; and needless to say making the numbers is important.  But managing involves far more than these few traits and it becomes destructive when the manager becomes completely focused on their own needs and their perceived success rather than their team’s growth and performance.

One of the keys to being a successful sales manager is having a solid understanding of human nature and in particular understanding what makes each team member tick.  More than anything else, sales management is about leadership, not about control or being the big shot or even just making the numbers.

Manager, if you see yourself locked into any of these management styles, by all means seek out a quality coach or find a quality management training company and start the process of becoming a strong manager.

Seller, if you find that you are working for one of the above managers, consider your situation carefully and make a conscious decision as to whether you want to continue in such a situation where your growth as a salesperson may be stymied and you may live in a constant state of frustration.

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October 18, 2010

THAT GUY, Part 1: Don’t Be THAT GUY

No one wants to be THAT guy—the guy who is a failure, who can’t pay the rent, who just can’t get it together (ladies, be nice, I’m using guy as an absolutely sex neutral pronoun).  But we all want to be THAT guy—the one who is extremely successful, who has his life together, who everyone envies and wants to emulate.  

What separates THAT guy who is a failure from THAT guy who is a star?

When we boil it down it comes to actions and attitudes.  The problem is there are so many more actions and attitudes that lead to failure than lead to success.  Frankly that’s the reason it is so easy to fail and so hard to succeed.  The path to success is steep and narrow while the path to failure is wide and easily traversed. 

So, what are the actions and attitudes that that sales failure guy has?  Here are a few of the more prevalent actions that that failure guy engages in.  I hope you don’t see yourself in any of these:

1.  That guy loves to hang around the water cooler shooting the breeze with other salespeople.  Once they’ve discussed last night’s ballgame or hot date they don’t miss a chance to bitch and moan about the crappy products and services they have to sell, how lucky that big producer is who just seems to always be in the right place at the right time, how bad management is screwing them, and how they’ll never be able to make their unrealistic quotas in this economy.  That guy knows all the good gossip and all the office’s problems.   

2.  That guy also realizes that he can’t possibly make prospecting calls until he is fully prepared and that means he has to make his own collateral material since the marketing department has no idea what they’re doing.  He can’t use the junk marketing provides so he must spend his time creating a number of fliers and leave behinds just in case he does talk to someone interested in a product or service.  You’ll find that guy at his desk everyday getting ready to make the calls that he never makes.

3.  Many times that guy knows far more than anyone else in the company.  He certainly knows more than his manager and folks in the training department.  But he also knows more than anyone in marketing and certainly more than those dopes in the executive suite.  With only a few days in the industry, much less with the company, he has already figured out what’s wrong with the way the company is managed and with the way the company tries to sell.  In fact, that guy knows so much he won’t be with the company long enough to learn just how little he does know.

4.  Sometimes that guy is an absolute committed professional who will not compromise his professionalism–and everyone knows professionals don’t: cold call, walk into offices cold, send out unsolicited emails, try to talk someone into a conversation they might not want to have, intrude on someone, or ask an uncomfortable question like asking them make a definitive yes/no decision.  That guy can only deal with prospects that come to him since everyone knows that’s what professionals do.  Then he goes and stands with all of the other professionals at the unemployment line.

5.  Often you’ll find that that guy knows exactly how good he is and he doesn’t mind telling anyone who will listen—and he’ll make sure you listen.  He’ll let you know that he is going to be the biggest thing the company has ever seen.  He’ll tell you straight out how many people he knows who’ll buy, what incredible contacts he has, how good a closer he is, and how he has the skills and talent to blow the hell out of all the company’s sales records.  Unfortunately for him and the company he never actually does anything.  In Texas we’d call him ‘all hat; no cattle,’ that is, he talks the talk but doesn’t even begin to walk the walk.  By all means, don’t be that guy.

6.  A very close cousin to that guy above is that guy who makes everything about him.  All of his talk is about what he has done, what he is doing, and what he is going to do.  Sounds a lot like the guy above, huh?  Well he is—but he carries this ‘me’ attitude with him when he gets in front of a prospect.  Consultative selling?  Solution selling?  Meeting the prospects wants and needs?  None of these are important to that guy.  The only thing important is meeting his own wants and needs.  The conversation with a prospect is all about him—how this sale will make him number one in the company for the month; how he sells more of this particular product than anyone else in the company; how he can get the prospect an unheard of discount because he is the top salesperson in the company; how lucky the prospect is to be dealing with him instead of someone else.

7.  Sometimes that guy is an old school guy, using the high pressure, strong-arm tactics of the 60’s and 70’s.  That guy is not only still around, but you can easily find him breaking arms and bashing heads in some traditional high pressure industries such as auto sales, MLM companies, and some others.  Fortunately these industries are rapidly changing and have fewer and fewer old school, high pressure salespeople; but they’re still there and you’ll find them in almost every industry.  That guy’s a dying breed—as you’ll be if you’re that guy.

8.  There was a time when it was cute that every kid who played a sport or participated in any event was treated like a winner.  Everybody got a trophy for doing no more than showing up.  No one kept score because they all deserved to win and no one wanted to crush the kid’s delicate self-image.  Well, it isn’t so funny anymore.  Those kids are now adults and guess what?  That guy wants a big salary and lots of benefits for just showing up.  That guy thinks life owes him the rewards not because he earned them but because he and his parents bought into the Woody Allen nonsense that “80% of life is showing up.”  If you’re that guy you better change your thinking quickly or start looking for a new job.

9.  Are you that guy who thinks he’s Capital Ahab, passing by all the small fish while single mindedly hunting for Moby Dick?  That whale hunter guy is usually a short-timer.  That guy can’t be bothered with average sales.  They’re just a waste of time for after all, all he needs is to land one whale and that will be worth dozens of small sales.  While he’s out starving trying to land that elusive whale, his fellow sellers are making a good living brining in the fish that are all around.  Whale hunters have tall tales to tell when they succeed—but most are telling their tales in the unemployment line.

10.  We all know that guy who is a plastic mannequin of a salesperson—the one with all the right “stuff”—the gold watch, expensive car, high dollar clothes.  He hangs out at the right upscale bar after work.  He’s that guy who has all of the signs of success—but none of the actual success.  He works one or two extra jobs and lives in an apartment with no furniture in order to be able to afford the appearance of success.  He works harder to look like a success than if he actually worked to be a success.  Don’t be that guy who so desperately needs to be seen as successful that he’ll spend all of his time putting on the airs and never has time to actually become successful.

11.  That guy can also be an office hermit—so afraid of rejection that he spends all of his time in the office doing busy work and never getting out into the light of day.  That guy is a hard worker, no doubt.  He is in the office early and often leaves late.  He is forever compiling lists, creating collateral material, helping customer service, shipping, finance, the clerical staff and anyone else he can think of.  In fact, he is ready, willing, and able to anything that will keep him from having to leave the office.  That guy would make an ideal office staffer and might even work well in inside sales, but he is a complete disaster in outside sales. 

12.  That guy also comes in the form of an old-time gunslinger; shooting from the hip.  The problem is he isn’t Doc Holliday but is instead Don Knotts’ shakiest gun in the west.   He doesn’t have time to learn anything about the products or services he sells, no time to learn anything about selling, persuasion, or presenting.  Nope.  His game is to go out and wing it figuring if he talks fast enough and makes up enough crap as he goes along he’ll talk ‘em into buying.  Sales gunslingers end up in boot hill pretty quickly in today’s marketplace.

13.  That guy can also be the king of discounts, giving away the store to every prospect he comes across.  Have an objection?  He counters with a discount.  The product not right?  He gives a discount.  Thinking about a competitor’s product?  Discount.  Don’t like the color?  Discount.  Have the hiccups?  Discount.  To that guy the word margin simply means white space around the edges of his brochure where he can write the newest discounted price he is offering you.  In a tough market lots of sellers try to be that guy—don’t because they don’t last long.

14.  Finally that guy is sometimes an eternal optimist, hanging on to every “prospect”—and everyone is a prospect.  He’ll invest time and effort calling and visiting, he’ll do proposals until the cows come home, and he’ll give them all the specs and all the quotes they ask for—no matter how poor a prospect they may be; no matter how unable to afford his product or service they are; no matter how direct they have been in letting him know they’ll never buy from his company.  That guy just won’t cut the dead weight out of his database.  He won’t recognize the tremendous amount of wasted time and energy he puts into non-prospects.

Do you recognize yourself in any of the guys above?  I hope you don’t but probably 30% or more of all sellers fit in one or more of the above categories.  If  you are in one of the above descriptions, you’re flirting with sales failure for these are the behaviors that lead directly to failing miserably in sales. 

Don’t be that guy.

But hang on because in part 2 we’ll take a look at that guy you do want to be.

September 21, 2009

Guest Article: “Why Customer Service Destorys Salespeople,” by Mark Hunter

Why Customer Service Destroys Salespeople
by Mark Hunter

One position that has not been impacted by the economy is sales.  Ask any CEO and you will hear that one of their biggest issues is finding and retaining good salespeople. Something happened on the way to a sour economy: Too many companies learned the hard way that their salespeople didn’t know how to sell. Instead, their salespeople were good at taking orders and providing customer service.  There is nothing wrong with this approach, as long as the marketplace is always going to serve up new customers and keep current customers in business. Does that kind of marketplace always exist? Unfortunately, no.

As a sales consultant who works with a wide number of companies, I am not surprised with the current state of sales.  In the past 20 years, books and soothsayers have inundated us with advice saying that the best way to grow your company is through great customer service. (Think of companies like Disney, Marriott and Honda, just to name a few).  These are certainly great companies, and I’m personally an avid customer of each one.  However, if great customer service is all that is needed to win, then why is each of these companies struggling in today’s economy?

I don’t offer up this example to generate an in-depth discussion on economics and market share.  Rather, I put it out there to say that customer service alone is not going to help a company achieve its growth targets.  It is essential for salespeople to be focused on selling as their first priority and providing customer service as their second priority.

Selling is about digging in and working with customers to help them see needs they didn’t realize they had.  It’s about helping customers see how the solution for which they are looking can be found in what you are offering.  Selling is not about sitting back and taking orders based on what the customer wants.  If that’s selling, then there really is no need for a salesperson.  The entire process could be done on the internet or over the phone.  I know that observation just hit a sore spot to many of you reading this. Possibly, you’ve watched your industry be decimated by the power of the web. Nowadays, many customers can get what they want, when they want it and how they want it, all through their computer.

If your job was lost because of the internet, then let me share something that you may not like to hear, but is simply true: you weren’t selling; you were merely taking orders.  I am not putting myself on a pedestal, because one of my first sales jobs I thought I was a salesperson (at least, that’s what my business card said). In reality, I was doing nothing more than going around to grocery stores and taking orders from store managers.  I wasn’t selling. I was conveying information and providing customer service.

Today’s economy is crying out for salespeople. Are you someone who is willing to be assertive in making phone calls, meeting with customers, and spending time doing what I refer as the “deep-dive” with high-potential prospects to secure the really big business.  If a salesperson is not willing to go face-to -face with a customer, then they have absolutely no right to be in sales.  The only thing they are doing is hurting themselves and their employer.  The fastest test I know to measure a person’s aptitude towards selling is to ask them to explain in detail how they develop leads and handle cold calls.

When a company looks to outsource the lead generation process, or spend so heavily in advertising to try to create enough leads for everyone, then they are setting themselves up to fail.  Over time they will wind up with a sales team focused on capturing the easy sales. They do this by making everything a customer service moment.  This is akin to a pro-athlete thinking because they are a professional, they no longer need to stick to a physical workout program.   When a pro-athlete stops their conditioning program, they may not experience a falloff in performance immediately. Over time, however, the decline will be evident. The same is true for salespeople who are not routinely in the game of prospecting and developing new customers. They will lose their edge. The decline will be so slow that they won’t realize it is happening, let alone why it is happening.

Each client with whom I have the privilege to work hears this message:  The responsibility of finding and retaining new customers is the responsibility of every employee.  Salespeople by the very nature of their position must take the lead and be assigned weekly, monthly and quarterly goals of prospecting calls they must make.  Management owes them the tools that encompass an effective sales process. This process must include employees outside of sales whose primary responsibility it is to provide customer service. After all, salespeople should focus first on selling.  They need the time to achieve this realistic expectation.

Mark Hunter, “The Sales Hunter,” is a sales expert who speaks to thousands each year on how to increase their sales profitability.  For more information, to receive a free weekly email sales tip, or to read his Sales Motivation Blog, visit www.TheSalesHunter.com.

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