Win The Sales Performance Game

Build a coaching culture. Drive results with analytics. Forecast future success.


Sales performance is top of mind for both sales leaders and finance executives. However, achieving meaningful, sustainable sales improvement has long been an elusive target. Organizations have a tendency to rely primarily on quota attainment data supplemented by anecdotal reports of performance to evaluate sales effectiveness and improvement. This is understandable, given that sales leaders often lack access to reliable data that would enable them to assess sales performance authentically and accurately. An information and data gap exists and companies often sacrifice critical business opportunities, customers, employees and market share as a result of their inability to accurately assess and improve sales performance. The time to close this gap is now.

Analytical and sales performance management tools are needed now more than ever. These tools must possess the capability to pinpoint precise performance issues, highlight ways for sales managers to coach to specific problem areas, and support sales reps to take ownership of their behaviors. Without these capabilities in place, sales reps will continually revert back to the behaviors that are comfortable to them and sustained improvement will never be achieved.

How should companies rethink sales performance management and what should they do? The key rests in what we believe is a unique combination of 1) focusing on managers to build a coaching culture and 2) driving sustained performance results with analytics that

can both identify the current state and predict future success with accuracy. This paper explores how organizations can begin to develop this winning combination with the help of RevenueForce, a platform that drives sustained sales performance improvement.


The modern sales landscape is filled with challenges for leaders to navigate

According to CSO (Chief Sales Officer) Insights, 37.8 percent of sales reps missed their quotas in 20131. This statistic is startling, especially given that organizations spend billions annually on performance assessments, training, sales methodologies, and new technology platforms. Despite this investment, sales leaders often struggle with understanding which of these investments, if any, are driving a genuine improvement in sales performance. Specifically, we find that organizations seem to grapple most with the following:

  1. Significant investments in sales training and development lack measurement of value – Companies spend billions of dollars every year on sales training, but they find it difficult to measure value. One study reported that 90 percent of all corporate sales training programs yielded only a 90 to 120-day increase in sales productivity before returning to pre-training levels2. Similar studies showed as little as a six-week lift. Overall, 85 percent of overall sales training fails to deliver results.

  2. Application of training misses the mark when coaching is limited or absent – Typically sales managers spend less than 20 percent of their time on coaching. Pressed for time and immersed in sales reporting and planning activities, many managers assert they cannot prioritize their duties so that they can devote an adequate portion of time to coaching. This is critical, given that a sales rep’s percentage-to-quota can be as much as 19 percent greater when teams are supported by highly effective coaches1. Furthermore, in “The Dirty Secret of Effective Sales Coaching,” the Harvard Business Review finds that sales managers often skew their coaching efforts dramatically toward the “tails” – the very best and the very worst reps on the team3. However, greater improvements can often be realized when focusing on moderate performers.

  3. Forecasts suffer without true predictive indicators – While analytical tools have become more sophisticated in recent years, many lack true predictive indicators, so forecasts remain inaccurate. Given the volume of data that organizations and customers are generating, sales leaders are now better positioned than ever to predict future success. However, many of them don’t have the right tools to do so.

  4. Mistaken belief that the latest and greatest sales methodology holds the key to success – Sales effectiveness has little to do with the adoption of the latest and greatest sales methodology. If sales success was about the methodology, an organization could train its sales teams in the same ways and every seller would become a top performer. At its core, sales effectiveness has to do with a seller’s ability to execute – to go from the classroom to the field and then to performing effectively – and then continuously overcome barriers to growth, take ownership of actions, and embrace new paradigms.

  5. Potential of middle performers is underestimated – Most sales reps fall somewhere in the middle on the performance bell curve. The common misconception is that B-Players are simply average performers who lack the drive of their higher performing peers4. The reality, however, is that many of these individuals are competent producers capable of greater performance. They key is to figure out which of the B-Players possess the characteristics to make the leap to become high performers.

Despite best intentions, most organizations fall short. It’s time for a change.

In spite of good intentions and deep spend on training, organizations’ investments are not helping to change behavior in the field or having a noteworthy impact on sales performance improvement. Even if more sales managers could prioritize duties and allow more time for coaching, they are hard-pressed to deliver coaching in ways that are meaningful and engaging to their team members, much less drive true performance improvements.

Sales managers need to become equipped to not only identify and understand improvement opportunities for each individual sales rep, but support and encourage sales reps to own their professional development through effective one- to-one coaching. Ultimately, managers need to be given the tools to:

  1. Diagnose specific behavioral changes needed to help sales reps improve
  2. Coach effectively to specific performance issues
  3. Make coaching a collaborative experience between themselves and their team members

RevenueForce is a game-changing tool that can help managers do just that. It predicts future success of individual sales reps, diagnoses specific performance issues to identify coaching opportunities, and creates a platform for organizations to drive sustained sales performance improvement.


The RevenueForce Score uses multiple inputs to quantify the probability of an individual sales rep to meet his or her organization’s objectives. The score predicts performance based on leading indicators (activities that drive opportunities), lagging indicators (outcomes or results), sales skills and personality attributes. Additionally, it provides sales managers with a way to diagnose the reasons why a rep is underperforming and coach to the areas that will provide the greatest level of improvement for that specific individual.

Getting started by building a coaching culture rooted in analytics:

RevenueForce enables sales organizations to create a sustainable coaching culture to drive short and long-term sales performance gains. To get started, follow the four-step approach outlined below:

1. Assess Your Talent

Sales reps should be assessed against both tangible sales skills as well as personality attributes. The combination of these data points when combined with quota attainment information allows you to identify which sales reps are most likely to improve.

RevenueForce has created five categories to help sales leaders assess and score talent in their sales organizations. The five categories that organize sales reps and their performance include:

  • Top performer (demonstrates peak performance, is fully engaged) – These reps tend to improve with classroom training alone because they have a desire to do so. They are usually engaged fully and will devote an enormous amount of discretionary effort to activities that contribute to the company’s success.
  • Consistent performer (highly engaged) – Consistent performers are highly engaged but do not possess a desire to be the best. They want to be viewed by their peers as contributors. Consistent performers will devote a considerable amount of extra time and effort when it is needed, but they set limits that are well within their comfort zones.
  • Moderate performer (maintainer of status quo) – These reps tend not to improve with classroom training alone. They are usually under engaged, and will put in enough time and effort to do acceptable work and meet basic performance expectations, but not much more. They are the maintainers of both status quo and of comfort level.
  • Under achiever performer (under engaged) – Under achievers fail to meet minimum job requirements and

the quality of their work is unacceptable. They are under-engaged to disengaged.

  • Bottom performer (disengaged) – They under achieve for a variety of reasons. They are employees who are checked out and no one has determined why they are disengaged. Many times, these people quit their jobs – and don’t even tell anyone they have given up or checked out.

Benchmarking Study Affirms Lack Of Self-Awareness As Primary Roadblock To Performance Improvement

A sample of sales reps employed full-time with five well-known companies in a variety of industries participated in a study

conducted by RevenueForce, in cooperation with the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals.

The study evaluated key personality attributes and sales competencies as an indicator of future

performance. Results from the study showed that the lowest performing sales reps were oblivious when

it came to self-assessment and had a tendency to evaluate themselves as top performers7.

2. Define Metrics & Establish A Benchmark

RevenueForce collects four types of data that help to establish sales performance benchmarks and provide a foundation for scoring and predicting performance. The RevenueForce score is tailored to your organization and industry and generated by a proprietary algorithm based on:

  • Leading indicators – Activity-based metrics that predict the sales rep’s capability to achieve the end goal. They can include such measures as number of calls/visits to prospects required per week to convert a prospect to

a customer or the number of proposals to be issued per quarter. This data helps to answer how reps are performing in terms of their level of sales activity.

  • Lagging indicators – These indicators are outcomes or results. Most organizations track this data according to each rep’s sales volume and / or quota attainment.
  • Skills and competency assessment – The skills and competency assessment focuses on the skills needed to be effective within a sales organization. It also creates awareness for sales reps by providing a view of how they view themselves versus their manager. This data point is particularly important because many low and moderate performers lack accurate self-perception and often benefit from a greater sense of self-awareness.
  • Attributes and personality self-assessment – The attributes assessment focuses on four key personality attributes that are predictive of sales success: Integrity, Accountability, Attitude, and Motivation. It helps to determine the degree to which individuals are engaged and calls out some of the strategies they use to improve outcomes.

The RevenueForce Score is gaining recognition in the marketplace as “the new, must-have FICO score for sales reps,” according to Gary Milwit, senior vice president, Stone Street Capital, LLC.

The American Association of Inside Sales Professionals recognized Milwit as executive of the year in 2013.

3. Generate RevenueForce Scores

Once data has been collected and assessments have been completed, RevenueForce scores can be generated for your sales organization. The score allows organizations to:

  • Help sales managers diagnose non-performance for their team members
    • Identify corrective action needed to improve results within individual sales reps
    • Rate individual sales reps’ probability to meet results
    • Track performance over time
    • Provide a starting point measurement or baseline requirement for new hires

4. Create a Coaching Culture

With the right data in hand, organizations have the foundation to create an environment for self-awareness and smarter coaching. However, it is critical to recognize that coaching is a competency that must be embedded into an organization’s culture.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to coaching. Instead, organizations must consider their unique needs and ensure those intricacies are addressed in their assessment and coaching efforts. In addition, bringing sales managers on board early in a sales effectiveness program is critical to achieving buy-in early and creating a coaching culture.

RevenueForce provides the tools and roadmap to drive the cultural change organizations need in order to foster sales rep self-awareness and assist sales managers to:

  • Diagnose those specific behavioral changes needed to help sales reps improve
  • Coach effectively to specific performance issues
  • Make coaching a collaborative experience between themselves and their team members
coaching culture

A Real-Life Coaching Culture Change

For one sales representative with a large U.S.-based financial institution, the RevenueForce assessment data was revealing. At the time of starting the process, the rep was closing four deals per month on average – tracked over a period of 12 months. Results showed lower assessment results than his peer group for attitude and motivation. Additionally, his past performance outcomes and activity levels scored him as average against his peers. Using all of this data in aggregate, the rep and his manager diagnosed his primary issue as motivation.

As an immediate next step, he worked with his sales manager to create a professional development plan that focused on motivation. His desired outcome: ”Improve the characteristics that define motivation for me discipline, determination, drive, courage, investment, and purpose.” They also mutually identified actions he could take against this chief objective and incorporated accountability factors including:

  • Remind myself daily of my overall purpose and what I want out of life and why;
  • Share my goals with people I don’t want to disappoint;
  • Allow my sales manager/coach to check in with me proactively and ask how I’m doing with my goals;
  • Identify those things I do each week that are outside of my comfort zone and evaluate how these helped me to change and improve sales outcomes.

With the development plan in hand, the sales rep set a performance goal to close 10 deals a month on average instead of four (this goal was higher than the typical recommended incremental improvement). His original results four deals closed per month increased by 50 percent in just two months. RevenueForce tracked his performance over the next six months and he sustained the increase. The sales rep and his sales manager/coach attributed the performance improvement to: 1) the RevenueForce assessments which identified barriers to improvement and enabled self-diagnosis, 2) ongoing benchmarking of his performance over time and 3) execution of a professional development plan featuring goals the sales rep set and owned in partnership with his manager.

Build a coaching culture and win the sales performance game.

Most sales reps want to do a great job. Competitive by nature, they are typically receptive to tools that will allow them to improve. But many sales reps, managers and leaders just don’t know where to begin when it comes to generating sustainable improvements.

The sooner organizations change how they are investing in their sales teams and provide a platform for sales managers to better understand their sales reps and facilitate smarter coaching, the sooner they can win the sales performance game. It’s time for a change.

RevenueForce provides the platform to drive sustained change, create a coaching culture, and increase revenue.

Are you ready to win the sales performance game?

Onboarding: What Does the Employee Owe the Company? Part 1

In this series, we discussed why onboarding is critical to overall performance. We also discussed what a company owes a new employee in order to enable them succeed in their sales role. Now let’s tackle what the new employee owes the company.

In our last blog, An Organized Approach to Navigating the Onboarding Process, Jim Ninivaggi and I used the analogy of your smartphone navigation system (that tailors your route based on up-to-minute road conditions) to today’s sales readiness technology (that allows you to tailor the onboarding experience for each individual). The destination may be the same (i.e., a fully productive rep) but how you get there will be dependent on the skills the rep comes with, learning styles, etc.

Most organizations look at the onboarding process as something they deliver to the team member, rather than with the rep. Too often, this results in a more passive, rather than proactive, approach to onboarding. Organizations should not only expect their new hires to take personal responsibility for the engagement in the onboarding process, they need to teach employees how to maximize engagement and measure it. A sales enablement team really can’t enable a new hire – enablement must come from within. The job of the sales enablement team is to provide the new hire with the tools to do that.

Many companies just assume and expect that a new hire will be engaged (like the individual they observed in the interview process). They expect them to be motivated, show up with great attitudes and put in a full effort. But just like the rookie professional athlete, some may need to understand what being a “professional” is all about. The selling profession can be difficult, and it is not like they are accountants sitting in cubicles crunching numbers.

Salespeople are putting themselves out there for rejection every day and getting their nose bloodied. If they are not trained to be mentally strong just like athletes, or don’t understand the strategies to put them in the right frame of mind to sell, rejection can sap their energy and impact productivity.

There are three critical metrics that must be tracked in the early tenure of a new hire. The first is ability, measuring whether the new hire is ready to do the activities needed. For example, are they ready to start prospecting, are they ready to run a sales call, are they ready to conduct a senior-level presentation? This is the area that most onboarding programs focus on. The second metric is activity. Is the new hire doing enough prospecting activities, conducting the right number of first calls, the right number of second calls? If you aren’t measuring activity, especially before a rep is producing revenue, you’re missing an important productivity metric. The third metric is attitude. Is the new rep mentally ready to learn what they need to learn and do what they need to do? Without the right attitude, ability and activity won’t happen. Our guess is that teaching your new hires the attitudes they need is completely missing from your onboarding process. This is a big miss.

Your onboarding process must show new hires how to proactively adjust their attitude as they are experiencing rejection and slowly begin to build pipeline and deliver revenue. Help them understand how critical it is to expand their comfort zone and take significant risks weekly. Address strategies to hold themselves accountable to achieving their activity numbers. Address upfront the barriers that will impact their attitude, motivation or accountability.

New salespeople to the selling profession not only need to understand the business/industry, products, selling process and demonstrate the skills but need to understand what they actually own regarding their approach to the business and their careers. That enablement truly comes from within. In today’s business environment, it’s easy for the company to be blamed when someone underachieves. But what does the employee owe the company, and how can the company help facilitate their engagement?

The Brainshark technology will allow new hires to try on the skills required for success but also allows you as an organization to provide development regarding employee engagement. This can be sequenced for when you understand the new hire will need it most through their frustrating journey of being competent and productive. Keep in mind most new hires are excited when they start, but frustration can grow as they learn and experience the challenges of meeting quota requirements. Reps can access attribute exercises and development videos from their seasoned team members on demand, served up when and where that new hire needs it most. They can also connect with their new hire teammates, to help motivate each other through facilitated communication and friendly competition.

As you onboard new team members, it is important to set proper expectations and help new hires with:


What are the behaviors of a motivated employee (what does motivation looks like for your company)?

  • Disciplined means:
    • They follow the sales process or methodology the company has standardized on. They are allowed to deviate only when they have consistently outperformed their peers.
    • They are well prepared for every situation. They have an updated Territory Plan, Account Plan, Opportunity Plan, Pre-Call plan for every meeting. They leverage the tools the company provides.
  • Determined means:
    • They try different approaches until they get a meeting with a customer. They do not just take the path of least resistance but are aggressive on opportunities.
    • They maintain activity in spite of difficulties. They set weekly activity goals so they can see progress even if the results aren’t where they need to be.
  • Investment means:
    • If the company doesn’t invest in training them, they educate themselves. Their success and income depend on it. They will go find books, audio programs or associations that will enhance their effectiveness.
    • They put in the time and they make sacrifices. They understand there is a price to pay to achieve their business goals? Working the minimum hours is not the answer to this! If there is only a certain amount of hours they can legally work, they study on their own time to enhance their effectiveness.
    • They pay their dues to learn solutions. They rehearse their presentation until it doesn’t sound rehearsed. They study industry trends and how their solutions impact their customers. They understand how knowledge translates to professionalism and elevates the perception of value they provide their customers by being more consultative.
  • Courage means:
    • The selling profession is all about Taking Risks. It takes courage to be successful in sales. You need to pick up the phone and face rejection, go around gatekeepers, elevate your contact level. Top performers take risks; they may not actually like to take the risk but they do it because they recognize that is the only way to accomplish their goal.
    • They Challenge themselves. They try to step outside their comfort zones on a weekly basis. By doing this, their comfort zones expand and they become more calloused to situations like cold calling and fear diminishes. Top performers have big comfort zones.


What are the behaviors of great attitude (what does a great attitude look like for your company)?

  • Resilient means:
    • They are able bounce back quickly from rejection because they are able to compartmentalize/separate business from personal rejection. They understand their solutions add value, and they want to help the customer.
    • They do not overreact to minor setbacks. They are able to see or understand the big picture and don’t let challenges impact their attitude. In the big picture, one lost deal won’t result in a lost year of quota attainment, but they put things in perspective.
  • Confident means:
    • They understand that Knowledge and Preparation are the keys to confidence. They understand the only way to get better at something is understand what the best practice is and then practice until they achieve it. They live the motto: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” Gary Player.
    • They engage in positive self-talk and visualization. They view themselves as a corporate athlete and use many of the mental strategies top athletes use to prepare themselves to win. There is no other profession with exception that of an attorney’s that compete to win on a daily basis.
    • They model those they respect and who are the best on their team. They understand they do not need to reinvent the wheel and why not get help from the top performers on their team. They are consistently asking for feedback from their Sales Manager and teammates on what is working and what is not regarding aspects of their sales approach.
    • They understand the Mental side of attitude and what they need to do to get themselves in “Right Mindset” to sell.
      • Mental
        • They Self-Assess. They understand what puts them in the right frame of mind to sell—like positive audio programs or books to help them prepare.
        • They view their mistakes as learning experiences. They don’t beat themselves up for their mistakes as they understand even the best performer’s make mistakes. They have their own mantra when something bad happens: “NEXT!” Or “I will get them next time.”
        • They avoid negative people (and negative inputs, such as talk radio) during selling time. They realize these negative people are energy vampires and they have no place in their lives from 8-5.
      • Physical
        • They get enough sleep nightly. They understand the profession of selling is hard and they need to make sure physically they can handle the job. This requires a commitment to sleep and being at their best day in and day out.
        • They manage their energy and work in sprints vs. marathon hours. They take breaks during the day to recover their energy which could be as simple as a walk around the building, a workout, or a short 15-minute power nap.
        • They do not overindulge in alcohol during the week. They understand there is a time for fun, but alcohol is a depressant and usually does not enhance one’s performance. They are cognizant of energy levels and what they need to do for maximum output.
      • Comfort Zone
        • They challenge themselves daily to get outside their comfort zone. They understand the bigger their comfort zone, the bigger the risks they can take to win more deals

Attributes such as motivation and attitude play a critical role in the overall success of a new hire.

An Organized Approach to Navigating the Onboarding Process

The days of “mass onboarding” are numbered. What is needed for the next gen salesperson is a dynamically tailored and personalized onboarding experience based on individual need.

A traveler was lost in the countryside of Ireland. Seeing an elderly man walking his dog along the country path, the traveler stopped his car and rolled down the window. “Excuse me,” the traveler said to the old man, “I’m trying to get to Kerry and am terribly lost”. To this the old man replied, “If I was heading to Kerry, I certainly would not start here.”

We all need direction to get from where we are to where we want to go. So how do you provide the right map to ensure your salespeople can master the critical aspects of their job prior to being thrown into the deep end to hit a quota?

In the old days, when planning a trip, you did so by plotting out the route using a map. Two folks driving from Boston to Cape Cod would likely plot identical routes, using their trusty Rand McNally, even if they were leaving at different times.

Today, those two people will use a navigation system like Waze. Their routes will likely vary, as Waze dynamically alters the route based on traffic conditions and the preferences of the driver. (Do I want to make any stops along the way? Do I prefer non-toll roads?) They still get from point A to point B. But how they get there will vary based on real-time conditions.

For the sake of this blog, we are going to focus on the skill development of new-hire salespeople, not from the 1990s Rand McNally paper-based map, but the new advanced “Waze” approach—leveraging technology to ensure your newest team members get to where they are going with as little pain as possible, with ability to tailor the journey based on the individual needs of these new hires.

The ability to dynamically alter the onboarding process based on market conditions, the ability of the individual rep, and the rep’s own ability to take ownership of mastering the required competencies are the new directions for onboarding.

Here is the map we recommend:

Establish a competency model to assess against and train to. In this map, what are the best roadways to take? Consider critical competencies as the highways—the fastest way to get to your destination and to get results. Consider the country/county/back roads as beautiful scenery and “nice to haves,” but not necessarily the fastest way to get results.

It is important to note that most organizations may view these competencies a little differently and may not agree with what we have decided are critical here. (This may be dependent on the vertical, technology vs. commodity, etc.)

Our highways to results:

  • Activity/Territory Management
  • Discovery/Information Gathering
  • Prospecting
  • Getting the Appointment
  • Opening the Call/Meeting
  • Developing a Coach
  • Knowledge of Your Company’s Business
  • Presenting Effectively
  • Creating Customer Value
  • Closing/Gaining Agreement

Our country or county roads or “nice to have’s”:

  • Objection Handling
  • Social Selling
  • Opportunity Planning
  • Pre-Call Planning
  • Communication: Dealing with Voicemail/Email/Video

Now that we have decided what is critical, how do we get to mastery of these critical competencies? Our approach follows a four-step process:

  1. Sequence the competency for expected mastery. We suggest following your buying/sales process and aligning the required competencies appropriately (e.g., starting with prospecting skills early on and negotiation skills later). While you need to offer flexibility as to when a rep may need to master a specific competency (e.g., I’m a brand new rep who just inherited a mature deal, and I need to know negotiation skills NOW), sequencing competencies provides that point A-to-point B road map.
  2. Organize the competencies into categories. Our recommendation is to group them into selling

(e.g., account planning, pre-call planning, social selling) and nonselling (completing an order, filling out expenses) and then further by internal competencies (forecasting, proposal writing) and external (opening a call, selling via email).

  • Determine how you will assess for mastery. Will it be a simple quiz or test to determine mastery of key concepts using a video-based coaching/assessment tool, where the reps submit themselves doing the company elevator pitch and get feedback? Or a live simulation, where reps are presenting to their managers, peers, etc.? This is the most important step—it answers the question: “How do we know the rep is ready?” It also allows your reps to progress through the onboarding process at their own pace—and to decide the most effective “route” based on individual needs.
  • Build the learning content for every competency. This may be e-learning content that is offered via self-serve, a live web-based training session, a workshop, etc. Every competency should have learning content associated with it.

By building out your road map of onboarding success, leveraging an assessment-centric approach and technology, you accomplish two critical things: 1) You are ensuring that before a rep sends an email, picks up the phone, or knocks on the door of a potential customer they are ready to do so (remember, buyers expect a competent salesperson and don’t care that the rep is “new”); and 2) It allows you to create a tailored, personalized sales onboarding process that today’s modern seller is looking for.

“Oh, I Lied”

“I’m not upset that you lied to me; I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Recently I had two experiences that will leave a lasting impression. They speak to both human nature and business ethics.

Last summer my family moved from Minneapolis to Dallas, an experience I wish not to repeat, and unless Dallas starts getting snow November through April, I won’t have to repeat it.

We worked with a top Realtor in the Dallas area to find our home, which we purchased prior to selling our Minneapolis house. It was a great experience.

Selling our Minneapolis home was not the same experience. The real estate agent we chose (based on our friendship) posted the most awful, amateurish photos of our house online along with numerous wrong details on the house. Having just purchased the house in Dallas, we understood the importance of showcasing our property with good pictures. We immediately voiced our concern, but our real estate agent took no action.

A few months into our listing contract, the same amateurish pictures were still online, and we were not getting any bites. We instructed the agent to reduce the price on the Minneapolis house to get traction for the fall market. I monitored the MLS listings and was shocked when no action was taken on the price reduction. On a Saturday evening two weeks after we requested the reduction, I emailed our agent asking why the reduction had not taken place. The following Sunday morning the price magically changed.

The agent then sent an email back to me on Sunday to claiming she had actually changed the price earlier and that I could not be monitoring the MLS because only Realtors have access to it. Essentially, she lied to me about changing the price. I then reached out to other real estate agents to confirm that the price had indeed changed that Sunday morning, and not when I requested. From my perspective, that was the end of our professional relationship.

Like all of us, the agent was busy. Maybe she missed changing the price in a timely manner. I can forgive that. Just be forthright and tell me the truth.

A few weeks later, when our agent held an open house, someone asked about the shape of our wood roof shingles. Our agent told the prospect that we had the roof power washed every other year. When I heard that, I told her that we have never had the roof power washed! Her response, “Oh, I lied.”

The outcome was that we had to part ways with the agent as it was too difficult to decipher the truth from the lies. The integrity of the relationship was gone. I can forgive incompetence but not untruthfulness.

A second experience with the move was just as enlightening—a call to my telephone/internet company in July to cancel my service. It began with me on hold for 45 minutes while a recording telling me how much they value my business. When I finally spoke to someone “live” (after being transferred numerous times), I cancelled the service and received my cancellation confirmation number. But throughout the summer, I continued to receive invoices from this company.

In September, I called again. After another 45-minute wait and providing my cancellation number, the sales associate told me that the line had not been cancelled. Instead, it had been moved to a different level of service (my house was empty). I cancelled again and again received my cancellation number. Still, I received an invoice in October. On the third call, I had the same wait time, but finally got to speak to someone who was credible. This sales associate immediately provided her employee number and revealed that it was standard practice for some associates to provide fake cancellation numbers as it would hurt their incentives if they allowed customers to cancel. Essentially, the cancellation department was encouraging its team members to frustrate and lie to the customer so they personally wouldn’t be penalized! Why would I ever do business with company again? I deplore even the sound of their name.

Customers are constantly asking: “How can I trust this salesperson?” or “Can I trust this company?” Integrity is a part of brand loyalty. Once you lose the customer’s trust based on your own poor behavior, you can’t get it back. I want to work with people and companies that I can believe what they say, when they say it.

Question: What are you doing to build trusting relationships?

Onboarding: What Does the Company Owe a New Employee vs. What Does the New Employee Owe the Company?

“Development can help great people be even better—but if I had a dollar to spend, I’d spend 70 cents getting the right person in the door.”—Paul Russell

When I started in the sales profession, fresh out of college, I was employed by MOCON (Modern Controls) selling test equipment that measured the permeability of oxygen, water vapor, and carbon dioxide through plastics. Sound exciting? My onboarding experience consisted of watching five days of VHS tape (yes, that long ago) on such topics as Faraday’s law and other extremely interesting theories. Soaked with the proverbial firehose, I was no more ready to sell anything on day five as I was on day one. Then it was sink or swim as I was handed a territory and a quota to attain. Kicked out of the nest and not ready to fly, it was a real struggle. I also wish I could apologize to buyers in those early days for my lack of competency.

My actual onboarding took place when, extremely frustrated, I sought out the top salesperson, Craig Coleman, and asked for his help. I copied his approach even down to the Allen Edmonds shoes he wore. It eventually turned out well for me as I took it upon myself to read books on selling and focused on continuing to get better. By the ripe old age of 26, I was the national sales manager covering North America for MOCON’s principle business.

Unfortunately, for too many organizations, not much has changed when onboarding new employees. However, in today’s business environment, effectively onboarding new employees can be the key differentiator in a company’s performance. In its recent white paper on sales optimization, CSO Insights claimed, based on its own study, that the top priorities for 2017 for companies are: onboarding, reducing new salesperson ramp-up time (as the average turnover rate is 16.3%), and hiring (67.3% of companies plan to add new salespeople).

If onboarding is such a high priority, why are so many companies doing such a poor job at onboarding new employees? The result of poor onboarding is extremely high attrition rates and delay in getting reps up to the challenge of filling revenue productivity. While experience may be the best teacher, when it comes to sales, it is not the most efficient. When I think of all the deals I lost due to a lack of competency, I cringe at the real cost to my company. Having your buyers train your reps is a ridiculously expensive way to onboard.

There appears to be a lot of blame to go around. Recruiting blames training, training blames the sales manager, and the sales manager blames both recruiting and training.

Let’s start with the question: What is the proper ramp-up time? More than 60% of companies report that time to full productivity is at least seven months, according to CSO Insights. However, you must take into account numerous variables, including complexity of the sales cycle (product/service) and ancillary services opportunities, along with average deal size (higher deal size means more complexity, thus longer time to productivity). A rise in any of these variables will contribute to a rise in the length of onboarding.

Another indicator regarding poor onboarding and lack of overall sales effectiveness of selling organizations is the ultimate outcome of forecasted deals. The current ratio, according to CSO Insights, is: wins, 46.2%; losses, 28.3%; and no-decisions, 25.5%. These numbers speak to a salesperson’s competence or, in this case, incompetence. That means the total loss rate is actually 53.8%—since a “no decision” is actually a loss to the status quo.

Here are two critical questions a company needs to ask itself regarding the size of investment in new team members:

  1. What is the opportunity cost of an opportunity not created?
  2. What is the opportunity cost of an opportunity created but not won?

This should help justify the financial expenditure to effectively onboard a new team member!

Opportunity cost is all about high return on investment in your team and ensuring accountability of the individual to do the job. When an airplane is trying to get off the ground, it uses a tremendous amount of energy initially during lift off. Only after the plane is in the air can it pull back on the engine and coast. This is the perfect analogy for both companies and new employees. If you put the time in early to get off the ground, you can eventually maintain and just do the job. However, too many companies don’t put the time and energy in early when the employee is hired, and eventually when the individual is close to crashing and burning, they divest as if the fault lies squarely on the individual, versus the sales manager or the company itself taking any accountability.

In this series of blogs, my good friend Jim Ninivaggi of Brainshark and I are going to offer our unique approach to providing an effective road map for new hires to ensure a high level of success.

We will be answering these questions:

  1. Can they do the job and what are some strategies to ensure mastery of critical competencies required in the job?
  2. What is the missing link regarding developing your new hires; meaning what does the individual owe the company in terms of attitude, motivation, and accountability? And can the company provide this as part of the training? How do we make onboarding a two-way commitment—from both the sales organization and the rep?

We understand much has been written about onboarding and our hope is not to pile on everything that is known. We want to take a narrow approach and, we hope, provide some new insights regarding “what good looks like” for onboarding.


  • Provide an example of an onboarding experience that was best in class from your own personal experience.
    • Provide an example of an onboarding experience that was less than best in class—in fact, it downright sucked – from a personal experience.

Lost and Found

“I lost my position on the basketball team due to a poor attitude. I found that sitting on the bench didn’t make it any better. Controlling our own attitudes is a choice. Attempting to change the attitudes of others is a project.”—John A. Jensen

A few years back, I ran into an old friend of mine from college, John Jensen. He happened to be in the same profession as me: speaking, training, coaching, and writing. As a side note, one of my fondest memories from college was how John and I both ended up selling life insurance as college agents in a small farming community in Minnesota. I remember during our training how hard we laughed at our poor fortunes of trying to separate farmers from their money in order to buy life insurance. After selling life insurance to our families, friends, and ourselves, we both eventually decided that the career was not for us.

John gave me his book, Lost and Found: Finding the Silver Linings in Life (published by Putt-Putt Publications, 1997). I found it to be a gem and loved it from page one. It was such a creative approach to understanding life, and I was a little envious that I had not come up with this approach to seeing life and providing insight. Below are a few excerpts from John’s book and you will see how profound his thinking is:

“I lost a significant portion of my hairline. I found all of a sudden, how important the rest of my hair became. We don’t always realize how important some people are until we are in danger of losing them.”

“I lost respect for my brother Russ when he seemed happy about losing his wrestling match 18 points to 2. I found that, after he’d been pinned 22 consecutive times, ‘winning’ to Russ was simply finishing a match. My favorite definition of leadership is ‘someone who has the ability to surpass himself.’ Knowing ourselves and our capabilities allows us to find victory even in defeat.”

With John’s permission and help, I would like to apply his lost-and-found approach to the profession of selling.

I recently lost a deal. I found it is my responsibility to ensure the prospect understands my value more clearly. Sometimes when we lose, it is a wake-up call to do our homework and go back to the basics.

I lost my motivation for my work. I found that if I make time every day for the things I like to do to recover my energy, my motivation stays consistently high. There are numerous barriers to one’s motivation. It is our personal responsibility to understand our own personal motivation drivers.

I lost my positive attitude. I found that if I interact with positive people, I feel better and my attitude improves. Surrounding yourself with positive people is the quickest way to improve your own attitude.

I lost my confidence to take risks (prospecting, going around gatekeepers, elevating contact level to executive decision makers). I found that if every day I challenge myself to step outside my comfort zone, my confidence rises proportionately. The more you challenge your comfort zone, the bigger your comfort zone gets. Life becomes more interesting when we challenge ourselves and take risks.

I lost a chance to improve because my company decided not to make an investment in training me. I found that it is my responsibility to develop myself and improve my results. Accountability means I own my development and my business results.

I lost a chance to make quota as I did not have enough opportunities in my pipeline because marketing did not provide enough leads. I found I need to spend more time networking on the front-end of the quarter to ensure I have enough opportunities to make quota. I need to focus only on what I fully control and have responsibility for.

In conclusion, life and your business career will never be perfect. In the end, you really need to focus on the things that are in your sphere of control such as attitude, motivation, and effort.

“I Have A Seasoned Sales Team”

To aim is not enough; you must hit.”—German Proverb

“I have a seasoned team.” I’ve heard this numerous times, especially when companies do not want to invest dollars in training their team. These same organizations tend to have high attrition rates because many times they have a sink-or-swim mentality.

Remember, there are three ways to get the skills needed for effective contributors to a team.

  1. Don’t train your people; just throw them in the field and let them learn through osmosis what works and what doesn’t. If they lose enough times, you hope they will begin to be aware enough to take corrective action to start winning.
  • Provide a road map or sales process along with training and enablement tools. This is your organization’s best practice. This is not just about training but learning actual strategy and tactics to apply to the sales process. Too many times organizations buy a sales methodology and experience great methodology but no execution—thus no return on investment.
  • Lastly, buy the “seasoned” talent on the open market. Usually from my experience, companies are recycling moderate performers because they have “industry experience.” What is really happening is the manager feels it will be less painful to bring someone on board who knows the industry. The manager prefers quick up-time with the hope of good performance. The result: shorter time to production but average performance (unless you have actively recruited a top performer/a known entity).

What these executives and companies don’t understand is that they are making some type of investment—regardless of the approach they take. Not training your people is called opportunity cost of lost deals. This is hoping salespeople will learn what is or is not working by losing deals. The impact of this approach is that the prospect will not take future meetings based on poor past experiences with your company.

In the long run, a company might be better off just providing a road map/sales process and the tools to enable success. The point is, all methods have a cost or investment. The question is what works the best?

Let’s take a look at making a training investment in your sales team.

Part of the problem is actual business results. Too many times there is no quantifiable data that show someone has improved based on the investment in training. Too many times all the anecdotal information comes from the people who are already performing at a high level.

Philosophically speaking, I do not believe all training is created equal. I believe there is a lot of wasted dollars and no real behavioral change taking place (numerous studies support this). How often has your training partner stepped up and put some of his or her dollars at risk based on performance improvement? Most trainers will say we don’t control hiring, product, service, or pricing. However, they will talk a big game about improvement across the board.

If the training you invest in is good and provides both strategy and tactics, most likely top performers will get better from my experience. The reason is they want to get better already (it is in their best interests). They usually have the right attributes such as attitude, motivation, and accountability and will take the ball and run with it. They also have the ability to try strategies in the field because they tend to be more risk takers.

I hope you noticed that I said “top” performers and not “seasoned” performers. See the previous section on seasoned performers. Very little return on investment.

So should you make an investment in your “seasoned” team? Absolutely. But there are some key points to consider.

  1. Awareness: You will never get someone to improve unless you can help them understand they need to improve. You need to show them past performance and help them identify areas of development (sales productivity or sales effectiveness). If you are to lose weight, you must step on the scale first.
  • Accountability: Set goals for improvement. Have isolated development plans and business goals tied to development. Make sure you have the past performance documented to ensure progress against goals.
  • Development of attributes (motivation, attitude, accountability): This is the missing link in most development strategies. Engaged employees apply training!
  • Field training and execution: Have the training take place on “live” deals. Training should happen in the field, not the classroom.
  • Sales managers: Provide them with the tools and skills to effectively diagnose under-performance and identify what corrective action is to be taken. Have a coaching strategy tool already in place to enable effective coaching (symptoms, barriers, and coaching strategy).

Lastly, everyone needs training in some form or another. Think of sports teams that spend most of their time in training (practice and preparing to win) vs. playing the game. Training implemented correctly creates a common language and allows for individual team members to step back and reassess their approach and sharpen their skills. Question: Can your team get better business results? If so, what is the best way to achieve those results?

Is Top Performance Effort or Skill?

The harder I work, the luckier I get.” — Golfer Gary Player

Recently, a sales executive was excited about a just-released white paper on a new sales model for sales representatives. As he walked me through the model, I thought about all that has been written about sales technique or different models/approaches to selling products/services over the years.

Having been in the sales enablement business for more than 25 years, I know there is no shortage of approaches and methodologies. I also strongly believe it is critical to provide a road map or guidance to salespeople and help them understand “what good looks like” when it comes to sales effectiveness.

That said, why do so many of these “approaches” fail to improve results in the people who need it most? I believe it comes down to the old saying “No plan will work unless you do.”

As a manager, wouldn’t you prefer to have someone who actually is engaged and will do the difficult things the job requires? Sure, it would be ideal if your team members followed the process/methodology, but I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen the less skilled outperform the highly skilled based on effort.

That is why for years we have taken a holistic approach to developing sales teams, looking both at the skills and attributes of top performers. We also are quick to point out that everyone has his or her own success formula with a combination of skill, attitude, motivation, and accountability.

Whereas it is good to understand if you have a “challenger,” “customer advocate,” or “business resource” type seller, it is also important to understand the level that they will get dirty and put an effort forward to secure business and make their quota.

This blog is not scientifically driven but more my thought process. Having spent a majority of my life in Minnesota (I happily reside now in Dallas), I wanted to use hockey as a vehicle to get my point across.

There are basic fundamentals to hockey: skating, stick handling, passing, and shooting. These are the minimum barriers to entry for any hockey player. Just like in selling, some players do it better than others, based on talent and effort (practice time). Each team has its own system on how it runs its offense and defense similar to selling methodology (SPIN, Miller Heiman, Solution Selling, TAS, The Challenger, etc.).

Although they all have the same “system,” some hockey teams execute better based on talent, effort, and coaching. It’s the same in sales. For the sake of this blog, let’s only focus on effort.

Each level of performance (top, consistent, moderate, and bottom) will have different levels of effort provided by the player or salesperson. Some may argue this is style, but I prefer to look at it as effort. Let’s look at a few selling types using the language of hockey.

The Grinder: Regardless of top, consistent, moderate, or bottom performance, this is the equivalent of the hockey player who goes and digs the puck out of the corner. Every shift they work hard and grind the opponent down. They may not be the most skilled, but they are worker bees. If they have a lower skill set, they may not ever hit their numbers, but you love the effort.

They are engaged.

The Finesse Player: They make things look easy and are admired for their skill. They don’t have to work as hard as the Grinder to get good results. However, those who don’t put the effort in are always anomalies for their managers—sales managers just can’t figure out why they underperform. They seem to have all the skills but never quite get it done. They don’t enjoy getting into the corner and digging the puck out; instead, they prefer scoring without doing the dirty work to get the deal.

Steady Eddy: They are neither overly skilled nor overly committed. They get the job done, nothing more and nothing less. They are contributors to the team, and they understand their role. They show up every day and put the effort in but do not strive to get significantly better as they are happy with their role.

Maintainers: They have worked hard to make the team. That was their goal, and now it is to maintain status quo and comfort level. They could be so much more, but that is not in their DNA. They show up, get their paycheck, and do enough to stay on the team. For some coaches, the known (Maintainer) is better than the unknown (giving another player a shot to make the team) so these Maintainers stay employed.

Lastly, “I Could Have Been Somebody”/Quitters: When the going gets tough, they look for new opportunities. Their résumé shows a plethora of experiences. They complain about markets, pricing, products, management, customer service, training— and it is never their fault. They don’t demonstrate commitment to the team goals and always tell you why it is not their effort but the system that is the problem.

Effort plays an important role in success, and sometimes the player needs to be reminded regardless of skill that his or her effort must be improved.

Question: As a sales manager, would you prefer someone with high skills or high effort?

Side Note: Usually those with high effort will get the skills they need to be successful!

Flaws Are Perfect

“Never forget the meaning of life is to live it.”–Joey Reiman

A couple of years ago, my wife and I made a significant investment to upgrade our home. We decided our home needed granite counter-tops in the kitchen and Brazilian cherry hard wood floors throughout to give it the finishing touch. We didn’t mind that we would be living in a construction zone for months; the end results would outweigh the pain in our estimation. The initial result matched our expectation–it was beautiful.

Fast forward a few years and today we are experiencing the result of poor workmanship in both the installed counter-tops and floors. The contractor told us the Brazilian cherry hardwood floors would not show gaps, but today they contract in the winter (even with an upgraded humidifier) and expand in the summer. The granite counter-tops already have a few chips in them (I blame the cleaners), but more importantly, you can see the seams in the counter-tops, which have separated over time.

In essence, our major investment has numerous flaws! At first, the imperfections drove me crazy, but as time has gone by, I look at the imperfections as a unique part of the overall character of our home. Nothing in life is perfect, except in Photo shopped brochures. In life, we must accept imperfections as reality and try to look at the beauty of the overall picture.

It is the sales manager who discovers the person he interviewed and hired is not the person who showed up to work. The new hire has numerous imperfections. However, in the big scheme of things, can this person produce a satisfactory business outcome? Can the sales manager work within the strengths and weaknesses of this person to build a contributor to the team?

It is the kid who understands that his parents aren’t perfect. Parents do their best, but we all make mistakes. Personally, I am not shy about having to apologize when I have misread a situation. I am a notorious shoot-and-then-aim parent, businessman, and spouse. But I do have the ability to laugh at myself as those closest to me remind me of my imperfections.

It is the parents who should be accepting their kids and understanding the value in embracing the unique gifts their children bring to this world. I am always amused by the fathers in Little League who have such high expectations of their children’s play that they don’t enjoy the overall beauty of the game and the experience. Kids make mistakes. Professionals make mistakes.

Get over it.

Imperfections help you see the whole beauty of the world. We embrace the people who aren’t perfect but authentic. Those who hold athletes, entertainers, and politicians to a different standard are bound to be disappointed.

When I train salespeople, I share the numerous mistakes I have made in selling. I have always felt that you learn more when you make a mistake and lose, than when you win. I walk my talk and try to execute the selling process I teach my clients, but I do not want to be held to unrealistic expectations. Selling is not an exact science. Everyone makes mistakes.

Life is about imperfections and embracing them.

What are some of your imperfections that add character to who you are?

I Love Selling to the Executive-Level—Not!

How many books are there on selling to the Executive-Level/Economic Buyer? One would assume that with so many books written on the topic, this should be happening all the time. However, few salespeople still are able to elevate their contact level to the economic decision maker.

First of all, what are the barriers from a seller’s perspective?

  1. Fear: It is outside their comfort zone. Many do not feel they can pull off an executive meeting. “The Executive-level doesn’t care about my product/service” is the common refrain from salespeople.
  2. Adding value: There is an old saying that senior-level decision makers are more interested in their business vs. what you’re selling. This is true. As a salesperson, you must do your homework on the customer and know what is important to them. You must demonstrate this in the meeting.
  3. Gatekeepers: It is easier to take the path of least resistance and sell to the gatekeeper.

Years ago I was coaching a salesperson, Patricia (not her real name), on elevating her contact to the CEO of a large financial institution. Based on the key impact of her product for the financial institution, this CEO would definitely be interested in scoping out the future of the partnership. My client was experiencing a lot of strong competitors in the marketplace, so my client’s Vice President of Sales set a directive to all sales to build and solidify relationships at the executive level. Thus, my firm was hired to help the company accomplish this and why I became Patricia’s coach.

Patricia and I had made several calls to this financial institute and had scheduled a meeting with our best contact there (credible within his organization, loved us, and was willing to help). As we prepared for this meeting, the one and only goal was to schedule a meeting with the CEO. Over lunch, I peppered Patricia on how to ask for the meeting. She nailed it every time and had the attitude and positioning down perfectly.

In the meeting with our contact, however, after the niceties and addressing some of the issues, Patricia never once asked for a meeting with the CEO. What? Remember, our only goal was to get our contact to schedule the meeting. That was the ONLY purpose, yet Patricia was closing her folder and thanking him for his time. As a coach, you prefer the client to execute on the given strategy, but I had been working on this for about six months and knew it was time to step in. So I jumped in and asked the customer by leveraging what we had rehearsed over lunch to get a meeting with the CEO. This customer’s response was, “Sure, when do you want the meeting? Would it be okay if I attended?”

The question is: if it was that easy, why hadn’t Patricia asked for the meeting? It was because SHE did not want it. This could have happened three months earlier.

So is it skill or will?

In my book, Reignite—How to Rekindle Your Passion for Selling, I provide an overview of the attributes of top performers: attitude, motivation, accountability, and integrity. Let me demonstrate how the attributes of top performers actually drive the execution of the key skill of selling to the Executive-Level.

Consider the following questions.

Motivation: How motivated am I to call higher? What’s in it for me? How badly do I want this prospect? Do I need to shorten the selling cycle?

Attitude: How comfortable am I at the Executive-Level? How confident am I in my ability to deliver value? Do I act like I have had hundreds of meetings at the Executive-level; can I fake confidence?

Accountability: How do I handle obstacles to getting to the C-Suite? Am I responsible for making this happen? Do I feel it is my responsibility to sell to the person who can say yes?

Integrity: Do I have loyal coaches who want to help? Does the customer trust me to bring value?

Selling high in an organization shortens the sales cycle. Yet, a majority of salespeople become their own gatekeepers simply because selling to the Executive-Level is outside their comfort zone. However, like anything else, you build confidence in knowledge, preparation, repetition, and success.

Question: What are your personal barriers to selling to the Executive-Level?

I Will Give You Something to Cry About

“Life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it” – Irving Berlin

As one of the coaches of my ten-year-old son Cole’s baseball team, I usually find baseball exhilarating. But after a recent weekend tournament, I was wiped out from dealing with the number of emotions these fifth-grade kids were dishing out.

We have one player who cries—when he strikes out, when he grounds out, when he makes a bad play in the field or a mistake running the bases. You get the picture. And this attitude has started to permeate the dugout. Now we have two more kids with the same problem. We know as coaches that we must nip this behavior in the bud. But we are only coaches and not their parents, who may be fostering their behavior.

In baseball and especially when batting, you are going to fail more than 66% of the time. It is part of the game.

During most of the tournament (we played six games in three days), my son Cole pitched lights out, not giving up any runs. When we eventually needed a relief pitcher to finish an inning for him, I was shocked to see tears well up in his eyes as he sat on the bench. Having never seen my son cry in all the years of baseball or any sport, I sat down beside him, put my arm around him, and told him that he had pitched great (there were numerous errors the prolonged the inning, but that is what baseball is all about, even in a travel league, when you are ten years old). My son normally has the mind-set of a friendly dog–always smiling, laughing, and able to forget about setbacks quickly. Did he think this meltdown was perfectly fine because the other kids were doing the same thing?

During Cole’s next at bat, he let a third strike go by and was loudly called out by the ump. We have always taught the kids to run back to the dugout after a strike out and to show an attitude of “I will get you next time.” Cole came back to the dugout slowly, and his eyes welled up again. Keep in mind that at the time he was leading the team in hitting with an over-400 batting average. This time he and I had a different conversation.

I am responsible for developing a man, not just a baseball player. In life, everyone has ups and downs. We all must learn to be resilient. As a salesperson and business owner, I really can’t count the number of setbacks, and outright failures, I have experienced in my lifetime.

After a failure, you have to be defiant with yourself and loudly exclaim, “NEXT” or “Bring it on”! Embrace your failures as learning experiences and let them motivate you to win the next time.

Cole complained that the pitch was outside and a ball. I immediately told him that he was responsible for guarding the plate, and if he let a close one that could be called a strike go by, it was his issue and not the umps’. I then looked him directly in his teary eyes and told him that if I see him cry again after a minor setback in baseball, he would be sitting on the bench the rest of the game. And if it continues after that, I would pull him from the baseball team.

See, baseball is a microcosm of life: it’s fun to play, it’s competitive, it can be hard, and no matter if you win or lose, there is always another at bat, another play to be made, or another game to play. My son will learn to be accountable for his actions, but I also want him to enjoy the overall experience. That is hard to do if you are crying all the time.

Why are kids today so upset with a little failure? I believe society hasn’t done them any favors by trying to make everyone a winner and claiming everyone deserves a trophy. This doesn’t build character. Instead, it atrophies resilience so that our children can’t overcome their setbacks.

My dad was the great modern-day motivator. I confess that I didn’t always have a positive attitude, and Dad’s great motivational advice to me was, “I will give you something to cry about.” Here’s the beauty of my dad’s strategy: while I was busy outwardly appearing happy (or face my punishment), I actually became happy. I learned I could control my attitude. Thanks, Dad!

We need to help mold the character of our kids by helping them understand that they control both their attitude and effort. If they have given their best effort, then they will accept setbacks as part of life. Let them struggle and experience failure so when they succeed they will feel that much better.

What are some strategies you can employ to keep you attitude positive when experiencing setbacks?

Shut Up and Listen

“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” – Larry King

I have been training salespeople for more than 20 plus years. One of the most fundamental, basic skills taught by every single training provider is that of how to handle the discovery meeting. Ideally, it is where the salesperson focuses on understanding the customer’s business and applications for his or her products.

However, if the discovery meeting is so basic and fundamental, why do so many salespeople struggle with executing this critical skill? Let me go a little further: Why are salespeople so horrible at this? If you don’t believe me, observe a role play or go in the field and observe a discovery meeting. What you probably will observe is the salesperson talking and not asking questions and listening.

So what is the why behind this bad execution? Said another way, what are the barriers regarding salespeople not effectively executing a discovery meeting?

Here are my thoughts:

The number one barrier: Salespeople think they are adding value when they are talking. They feel that is what the prospect wants—for us to enlighten them.

The number two barrier: Time. It takes more time to listen, and for whatever reason, salespeople feel they are wasting either the prospect’s time or theirs as they would prefer to get right to the prognosis without the diagnosis. They feel the customer is a professional listener.

The number three barrier: They do not set effective expectations with the prospect. We have trained the prospect that we will come in and talk—and not ask questions.

Remember, the customer is asking: Can I trust this salesperson? The value of discovery is to improve the quality of the dialogue with the customer. You can earn the business by learning the business. An effective discovery meeting is a differentiator.

But common knowledge is not always common practice.

So if the discovery skill is so fundamental, why is it not done or done effectively? I think it has a lot to do with the attributes of the individual. In my book, Reignite: How to Rekindle Your Passion for Selling, I provide an overview of the attributes of top performers which include attitude, motivation, accountability, and integrity. Let me demonstrate how the attributes of top performers actually drive the execution of the key skill of discovery.

My Motivation: Do I see the value of spending my time this way? Have I taken the time to properly prepare for the meeting by writing out questions? Have I collected data on the account such as reviewed its website, LinkedIn page, and any other publicly available data sources?

Remember, high-performing salespeople (those who exceeded quota at least three years in a row) are more than twice as likely to conduct pre-call plans as their peers. They also spend 16 percent more time in enablement activities (training, research, prep) than their peers.

My Attitude: Do I feel like I already know everything about the company and application? Have I heard it all before and already know what the solution is? Do I feel like the customer doesn’t want me to know? Is it outside my comfort zone to spend too much time on discovery?

My Accountability: Do I feel like I owe it to the customer to understand their situation? Am I being measured on what I know about their business? How can I be accountable to value if I don’t understand their business and application?

My Integrity: Do I resist selling in the discovery meeting? Did I tell them I want to understand their business and as soon as they provide me an opportunity to sell, I take it? Am I an empathetic listener? Do I ask simple questions that I could obtain answers to before the meeting through data gathering thus hurting my chance to build trust and show professionalism?

Effective discovery is a mind-set. Done correctly, you can effectively position your solutions in relationship to the prospect’s challenges. You quickly elevate the customer’s perception of your value—from being viewed as a commodity/vendor show up and throw up to a consultant/strategic resource who is interested in learning the customer’s challenges prior to presenting a solution.

Lastly, by listening more effectively, you are building trust and creating a nonthreatening environment. Dr. William James said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”

Question: What percent of the time do you talk vs. listen in an initial meeting with a prospect?

Are You Sleepwalking Through Life?

“If you start the day reading the obituaries, you live your day a little differently.” – David Levithan

At least once a year for the past 10 years, I have had either coffee or lunch with my friend Chris Hoffman. Chris was the CMO of a private equity firm, and his entire business career encompassed success. More importantly, he was a great person always giving back to the community. His enthusiasm for my ideas and counsel helped provide energy for me to continue to blast through any barriers I faced.

As I sat waiting one day for Chris to show up for our lunch, I thought it unusual for my friend to be late. He was always prompt, impeccably dressed, and one of the most professional people I have ever known. When I called his office, I only learned that “he was out.” When I mentioned I would try his mobile, the response was: “He won’t answer,” which threw me for a loop. I later found out that my friend was fighting for his life in a battle he eventually lost. Over the weekend, he wasn’t feeling well and went to the hospital. He was diagnosed with leukemia, never left the hospital, and passed a short time after.

The only good thing about death is that it is a sober reminder that life has an expiration date.

The loss of Chris and the recent experiences of another friend who lost his teenage son in a car accident have brought a tremendous sense of urgency in me to live life.

We’ve all heard older folks tell how important it is to experience life every day, that if they had a chance to do it over again, they would have taken more risks. However, if you are like me, it seems that all I am doing is chasing my tail in a merry-go- round of never-ending daily tasks. The years have gone by in one big blur.

My 11-year old-daughter Tess has brought an important ritual to our family dinner in which she asks three questions: What was your high for the day? What was your low? And what was your buffalo (funny thing that happened)? We all go around the table to answer those three questions.

Tess, my chatty Cathy, has no problem filling the air with her high, low, and buffalo. In fact, there are times we need to cut her off so we can get to other family members.

Unfortunately, there have been too many times when I can’t answer those three simple questions. How about you? Are your days so filled with tasks that the weeks just blend together? Are they made up of just lows but no buffalo’s?

Today, there is one responsibility in my life that I tend to prioritize at the cost of flying out late or taking an early flight to get home. I love to cuddle with my kids either waking them up in the morning or putting them to bed at night. This is my high every day.

I miss my friend Chris Hoffman. But his death will be a reminder to make sure I make time for the buffalos in my life. Question:

What is your high for today? What is your low?

What is your buffalo?

Have You Created an Opt-In Culture?

“If I don’t treat every performance as if it will be my farewell appearance, there’s a good chance it may be.” – Eddie Albert

I work with a wide range of companies and get to experience a wide range of sales cultures. Some cultures, I am confident I would flourish in, and some I am extremely happy to leave by the end of the day. One problem I have experienced with some sales organizations is that they try too hard to be liked. They are so nice that they have created what I call an Op-In Culture. This Opt-In Culture results in lower levels of accountability and average business results.

What many sales managers don’t understand is that they are the ones creating the culture for their team.

With that in mind, what kind of culture have you created for your team? Individualistic, toxic, bunker mentality, competitive, or even laissez faire?

Do your meetings start on time or are you okay with a few stranglers either in person or on a conference call?

Is your team adopting your customer relationship management technology or are you only getting updates when you ask for it? Are you getting incomplete information based on CRM usage?

Is your team executing the new training effectively? I understand and agree that top performers can be empowered. However, all too often we are you empowering the lowest performers and not inspecting what you expect? Incidentally, empowering lower performers is the quickest way to an early exit and career change as a manager.

Is your team full of excuses as to why they “can’t” or “won’t” improve their performance, or are you holding them accountable to get the job done?

Are you only using positive encouragement to change behaviors or are you having the difficult conversations to help change behaviors? When you assess your team, are you ranking everyone at or above average?

Does everyone on the team understand their role, responsibilities, metrics, and road map to success?

I recognize that we all want to create a great culture. For example, wouldn’t you prefer a winning culture like Bill Belichick created in New England versus an Opt-In Culture (trying to convince someone to do what should be expected)? The Patriots have a culture that every player is expected to conform and have the discipline to know their responsibilities. There are numerous stories of how Coach Belichick has sent home even the most prolific players on the team if they are late for a meeting, regardless of snowstorm or other accentuating circumstances. It is a culture of accountability and no excuses. Does every player fit into that culture? Of course not, but those who don’t will not be a part of the team in the long term. The culture is about discipline and responsibility, and the outcome is winning.

Question: What is your vision for your sales team? How will you get there?

What Does ‘Good’ Look Like?

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” – Vince Lombardi

Remember the funny Volkswagen commercial of the little boy awkwardly throwing the ball and the dad continuing to chase after the wildly thrown ball while encouraging his son? And then the camera pans back to the dad to reveal that he throws the exact incorrect way that he is teaching his son to throw?

Incompetence reinforcing incompetence.

Well, that experience is happening more than we would like to believe with our sales teams. Let me provide two real-life examples:

The first happened recently when I was working with a new client. We had provided an assignment for our training participants to work in teams of three to develop a “finals” presentation to a prospect. Since it was a competition against their peers, we recommended that the teams pick their best presenter to deliver the message.

This company has a strong brand in its vertical with a seasoned team but has had some inconsistency with quota attainment in a large portion of the team. As the vice president of sales, director of training and I watched and judged the “finals” presentations, what we experienced was all over the map in terms of quality of content and presentation skills. Suffice to say, it was not good.

This experience made both the training team and the executive in charge of the team aware that there was a lot of development and structure needed in order to develop competency in this presentation area.

As the vice president of sales sat there in disbelief (at how bad the presentations were), one of his line sales managers applauded the entire team, “I would rate all of these presentations and presentation skills as excellent.”

Really? Was he watching the same presentations we were watching? But the most frightening aspect of his comments was that he was the one directly responsible for coaching his team. If he couldn’t recognize competence, how could he coach to it? He was reinforcing bad.

This begs the question: Does your sales organization even know what good looks like? Have you defined what best practice prospecting, sales call execution, presenting your value proposition, etc. look like for your sales team? Has your sales managers observed their teams in all aspects of the sales process?

I would be willing to bet that most organizations don’t have a clue. They make an investment in outside training companies’ ability to train their teams but really have no quality control in place to ensure their team is effectively executing what is being taught.

Let me provide another short real-life example. I was working with a sales manager from a financial services organization, and we were coaching her team on individual sales presentations. As one of her sales reps finished one of the most horrific presentations I have experienced, I was anxious for her to get to the feedback session. In this particular case, I was coaching the sales manager so I wanted her to lead the feedback.

Incidentally, feedback should always start with the person self-assessing what worked and what he or she would do differently next time. Starting with self-assessment helps to calibrate how much coaching is needed based on how self-aware the person is regarding his or her competence.

In this particular case, the sales manager did not get the sales rep’s self-assessment first. Instead, she proceeded to launch into all-out assault of positive accolades as to content and delivery and how great the presenter did. After this wonderful feedback session, the sales rep left feeling like he had conquered the world.

So when it was my time to coach the sales manager, I asked her to self-assess on her coaching of the situation. As one might expect, she felt pretty darn good about how she had coached this individual so that he would have confidence in the future. I then asked her if she really felt the presentation and the presenter hit the mark. She said no (which I was glad because it at least proved she was competent) but commented that she wanted to reinforce the presenter to build his confidence.

She quickly realized that she had just reinforced a “bad” performance, and this was likely to be the way the rep would present to a “live” prospect in the field. It is the father teaching the son to throw the wrong way or the golf pro reinforcing a bad swing because they rationalize that the outcome “isn’t so bad.” Or is it?

High-achieving sales organizations have determined what good looks like in all aspects of their sales process. They understand that they must observe it, coach to it, and hold their teams accountable to it.

Question: Has your sales managers observed your sales team in all aspects of the sales process? Do you know what your organizational best practice is when it comes to sales execution?

Can You Improve the Business Results of Your Under-Performers?

“Awareness is a key in success. If you have it, teach it; if you lack it, seek it.”—Michael Kitson

Have you heard the famous Margaret Thatcher quote, “Power is like being a lady, if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t”? I always find it amusing when people refer to themselves in one vein or another but never really display that behavior firsthand. For example, I know one salesperson who will emphatically say, “I am a hard worker,” but his career is mired by short stints because the employer who hires him within six months understands just the opposite.

For years, I felt Awareness was the most critical step in improving one’s performance. So much so, that I felt if I could just create the “why” for someone who is underachieving, they will take the diagnosis and make a change for the better. But awareness turns out to be only a small part of the equation.

Today, at RevenueForce, we still go to great lengths to effectively diagnose why someone underperforms: by leveraging benchmarks that map to the sales process, developing a skill assessment to understand how well the individual can execute the skills in the sales process, and then assessing the individual with a proprietary attribute assessment that measures their engagement (motivation, attitude, and accountability).

This allows us to provide a holistic view of the individual, so they can “own” their development and tailor the training to their individual needs for performance improvement.

However, as a sales manager or coach, you are pushing a rock up a hill if an individual doesn’t buy into the change required or, worse yet, is still unaware that they are underperforming even after the diagnosis. I call this person’s state “oblivious.” But getting improvement isn’t as easy as creating awareness.

Awareness really is only the foundational step such as stepping on the scale if you decide to lose weight. Once awareness is created, individual Desire needs to kick in. The individual must “want” or “desire” to improve. This sounds like a no-brainer. There should be hundreds of reasons that would create a desire. But as we all know, desire is different for everyone. The maintainers of status quo are what I call average-to-low performers and their desire may be:

• To live a stress-free life and not overexert themselves
• To make just enough money to pay the mortgage or monthly expenses
• To sell just enough so as not to be on the radar screen of their manager
• To prioritize their personal life over their career and drink and party every night
• To play video games in their spare time vs. investing in their personal development

And there are numerous other behaviors that scream, “I am not motivated in the role I am in.”

But desire for top-or-above average performers looks quite different and may be:
• To achieve because they are passionate and love what they do, and it is a part of their DNA
• To win because they are competitive or just hate to lose at anything
• To feel the need for achievement, or they may never feel their performance is good enough (right or wrong)
• Fear of failure or fear of being put on a performance plan or anything that would increase stress levels
• To have financial security or need to address a financial crisis or they just love material objects
• To feel the need to contribute to their team and feel their contribution is valued

Desire is the catalyst that hopefully ignites the fire to action.

Recently, I was coaching an individual who had numerous sales effectiveness and productivity deficiencies. But the biggest initial gap was scheduling and executing enough meetings per week, which doomed him to fail because of a lack of activity/opportunities. He was just spending too many days in his office on red light (non-revenue producing) activities. He also had justified numerous “reasons” why he needed so much office time.

After creating awareness in the initial diagnosis that he needed more meetings weekly, we put a plan in place that would help him drive his activity and increase meetings weekly. After a great first six weeks on the plan in which we felt he had achieved the adoption of the new behaviors, he detoured back to his old habits. Keep in mind, during the short period of achieving his sales productivity goals, he started to see a lot of positive trending in his sales pipeline. That, in and of itself, should have motivated him to continue, but he just could not or would not sustain it.

Of course, he said all the right things regarding his desire to succeed and contribute to his team. In the end, his desire was not backed up by his behaviors. At this point, there really isn’t anything his direct manager or personal coach can do for him unless he commits to work his plan.

This leads us to one of the most critical behaviors and where the rubber meets the road: Discipline. Did you know that 95 percent of those who lose weight regain it? Some 25 percent of people abandon their New Year’s resolution after one week (60 percent within six months). Research has repeatedly shown that educating people about the benefits of a behavior does not translate into changing habits. Habits are formed by doing.

As mentioned earlier, if I am going to lose weight, I first need to step on a scale to see how much I need to lose (awareness). Next, I need to set goals of how much I need or want to lose and what my ideal waist size is (desire). Then I need to develop a strategy such as exercise and diet to achieve that goal and keep to the plan (discipline).

However, discipline is hard! Holding oneself accountable to both the behaviors and activities that lead you to achieving your goals is difficult.

I am a guitar owner (notice I did not say player). Every year for the past twenty years, I have set a goal to become a better player. I am aware that I am not a natural musician so everything I learn is a challenge. My desire is to one day play a gig in front of a real audience that is not my family or dog. But getting better requires lessons and practice. I had the awareness and the desire but consistently lacked discipline. There were numerous excuses as to why I wasn’t practicing such as my travel schedule, etc. But the reality is I just did not have the discipline needed to become a better player.

2018 has been different. I just needed to “start” and get some traction or a little momentum. I am taking baby steps by taking a lesson whenever I am home (at least once a month). I am bringing songs that I want to invest my time in learning. I am happy with my progress to date, although my wife would prefer I also take voice lessons.

Discipline requires readily making sacrifices to meet your goals. Discipline may be:

• Making sacrifices of time—working longer hours or practicing your selling skills (especially learning industry trends and products or practicing presentations for salespeople)
• Spending more time in preparing for upcoming meetings to ensure better outcomes
• Investing in learning and studying your industry to become an expert and a valued resource to your customer
• Setting weekly activity goals and holding yourself accountable to the achievement of those goals—review them at the end of the week and determine why or why you did not accomplish your activity goals
• Forcing yourself to take action—work your plan and take baby steps to gain some momentum toward the goal and “just do it” or do something!
• Or it can even be as simple as following your company’s defined sales process and utilizing the sales enablement tools provided. Companies are investing in training their teams, yet adoption is so low. If you are a low performer, there is no reason: You are not following the training and process the company has laid out and committing to master the skills. Ironically, having been in the training business over twenty-five years, it is always the top performers who are the early adopters and easiest to train because they desire to get better!

Remember the quote by Albert Gray, “Successful people have the habit of doing things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either, but disliking is subordinated to the strength of purpose.” Not every aspect of your job will bring you joy. Discipline is doing the things you don’t necessarily want to do but you do them anyway because you recognize it is the only way to successful performance.

If you want to improve performance in your team, create awareness (step on the scale), establish a plan and reason “why” (desire), and then understand, identify, and be willing to pay the sacrifices (discipline) needed to achieve the goals.

Scott Anderson is a founding principal at RevenueForce LLC and Diamond Performance Solutions LLC. He is co-author of the book Reignite: How to Rekindle Your Passion for Selling. Scott has spent his entire career – more than twenty-five years – selling, managing salespeople, and providing sales consulting, training, and coaching to some of the biggest and best sales organizations in the world. He has worked with leading organizations including 3M, IBM, Cargill, UnitedHealth Group, Carlson Companies, Andersen Windows, Wells Fargo and The Hartford. He has authored numerous articles on sales effectiveness. He resides in Dallas, Texas.

You Can Determine What You Value by Where You Spend Your Time

” Knowing you need to make a change isn’t enough. You’ve got to find the guts to do it.” – Robert Kiyosaki

Poor sales management is at epidemic proportions in today’s business environment. Sales reps don’t quit a company; they quit the manager.

Recently, I had been prepping for a sales manager reinforcement training session with a client. This company’s sales leadership and I had been imploring its sales managers to step up and coach their teams. Most sales managers, however, found themselves too busy with internal administrative tasks to spend time in the field with their individual contributors who were underperforming.

Even though all of the sales managers would state that their most important job was to coach their people, only a few actually demonstrated that behavior.

So when we look at sales managers, we bucket them into three categories regarding the perception of value they bring their sales reps. On the low end of the value chain, we have the Problem Solver/Administrator. This is the sales manager who is too busy with internal meetings and internal reports to spend time coaching his or her team. Some characteristics of Problem Solver/Administrator sales managers are:

  • They spend a lot of time fixing commissions.
  • They love dealing with HQ issues.
  • They monitor performance/pipeline activity but are not solution oriented.
  • They are no help in executing sales process because they do not actually coach.
  • They are not adding value regarding diagnosing either sales effectiveness or sales productivity issues for their individual contributors.

The next level of sales managers’ value is that of a Business Resource. These types of managers bring significantly more value to their team members. Their perception of value is increased as they understand the importance of their role in bringing out the best in their individual contributors. Some characteristics of Business Resource sales managers are:

  • They help with customer acquisition (they are actually in the field with their team).
  • They help a rep to be more productive.
  • They hold their team accountable not only for results but to do the right activities.
  • Expertise: They are up to speed with what works and what doesn’t.
  • They diagnose problems (sales productivity or sales effectiveness) and offer solutions to correct the behaviors.
  • They leverage resources and know where to find them internally and externally.

Lastly, let’s talk about the Strategic Coach. You can see the value and the impact of this manager by looking at the team’s low attrition ratio, the career path of team members (more of Strategic Coach’s people are promoted into higher levels), and the high employee engagement numbers. Some characteristics of Strategic Coach sales managers are:

  • They understand reps’ motivation/purpose for what they are doing.
  • They have a vision for the team and help reps find their own vision.
  • They make work meaningful for the reps.
  • They take the time to understand the personal and business “lives” of the people who work for them. You could even say there is a sense of professional intimacy in the relationship.
  • They understand the value of pushing their people out of their comfort zone as a way of enhancing enjoyment of their work and life.

If you are a sales manager reading this, I would ask you to look at your calendar for the last two months and determine where you are spending most of your time?

  • Problem Solver/Administrator % time
  • Business Resource % time
  • Strategic Coach % time

How much time have you blocked off for one-to-one coaching with your lower performers based on your calendar?

Back to the client I introduced in the beginning. Regardless of our recommendations, the company’s sales managers were still only spending approximately 20 to 25 percent of their time in the field coaching as a Business Resource. During a training session in which I was trying to encourage them to spend more time in the field coaching their teams, I wrote down the following statement: “You can determine what you value by where you spend your time.”

If you think about it, it really is a truism! If I believe in coaching my sales team, I will spend time coaching. If I believe in staying healthy and in good shape, I will spend time exercising. If I believe in continuous improvement, I will spend time learning and reading up on new insights.

But the most important key I learned from writing that down was how impactful it was for me personally. You see, at the time of that reinforcement session, I was on a business trip, like I had been most of this year. My wife jokes that I have been home less than 25 percent of the time. Part of that is planned (I lived in Minnesota and preferred to be away as much in the winter as possible) and part of it was by necessity (numerous new clients needed my help).

In conclusion, just like my realization that I needed to spend more time at home, my hope is that somehow sales managers realize that their teams need them to step up. They need to spend more quality time coaching their teams to performance improvement. At a minimum, be that Business Resource.

Question: Are you spending your time on what your value most? Provide an example.

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