In the 10 preceding articles on Sales Leadership, we discussed a strongly-held philosophy, provided strategic application emanating from that philosophy, and defined specific tactics to put this strategy to work. Now you ask, “Where do I start?” Many of you have experience in this role – some extensive and some nominal. Others are just starting their career and want to avoid the pitfalls so commonly experienced by sales managers taking on this role for the first time. Before answering the question of where to start, let’s take a quick look at what I bet is the reality of your sales team.
First, I’d wager that you have a couple of “pros” who are “hittin’ it out of the park.” Instead of assuming that they need no help or that any tinkering you might do could only mess up a good thing, ask yourself why they are successful. Is it because they are operating in a target-rich territory and couldn’t mess up if they tried, or do they possess great skills and would succeed anywhere, with any product? If the latter is the case, ask yourself which skills are the strongest and do they have a weakness. Also, consider how you might delegate responsibilities to them, for your and their growth.
Second, you doubtless have some producers on the other end of the productive spectrum who haven’t met quota for some time and you “feel” (quotation emphasis intended) you need to “help them find another career or at least another place to ply their limited skills.” However, you know that if you do fire them, you will have to cover their territory until you replace them and you still might not get a top producer in the process. All of this spells work and trouble for you. We suggest you ask the same questions of this nonperforming group that you did for the first. You probably will reach a quick conclusion that you must make an assessment yourself because the opinion of other managers and people who have worked around this group for some time have either diverse or questionable opinions of these people. Further, their assessment is primarily derived from “feeling and assumption” without “observation and confirmation.” (Please go back and read Imperatives #5 and #6…they will outline the difference between assumption, observation and confirmation.)
Third, the middle group of producers is in “no man’s land.” It’s hard to tell whether they are moving up or down. Production numbers are mercurial and you don’t know why. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I still say you should ask the same questions about this group as you do of the other two.
A few years ago, we had a lengthy and intense assignment of helping a valued client realign his sales and sales management team, made up of about 50 professionals. The founder of this large mutual fund complex asked us first to evaluate two salesmen working in adjacent territories. He planned on firing Joe (not his real name), heretofore a weak producer who seemed too analytical, and retaining Bill, who had marginal results but seemed to have the “personality of a salesman.”
I traveled for two days with each, observed their skills, discussed sales perspective with them and coached them after each call and at the meals we had during the days we spent together. In short, I believed I had a good handle on the two men. I then reported back to the founder that he was considering firing the wrong man. In my estimation, Joe had significantly more potential than Bill. Further, Bill was hardheaded and “only took his own counsel.” He took my advice, fired Bill and retained Joe. Joe is now, a few years later, a top producer for the firm and Bill is no longer in the business.
Would I have included this story if it had not turned out this way? Absolutely not! But the picture was clear in this case. And similar evaluations have played out in the same manner over the years for a basic reason. The well-defined evaluation process that moves from assumption to observation to confirmation provides the framework for making accurate decisions regarding development of sales professionals. It works!!!
The bottom line is that you should begin quickly, but methodically, to BENCHMARK all producers. Don’t worry if there are questions you can’t answer; well-designed joint calls will help you sort out the answers to skill strengths and weaknesses. Don’t fall prey to the commonly-used methodology of assuming you know or asking someone else who may not have the frame of reference or analytical skills needed to make an accurate assessment.
Once the preliminary benchmarking is done, quickly move to joint calling with your producers. If you take the time to do a good job here, you will make great progress toward helping them make self-assessment where Hallway Accountability will then become the main tool for leadership. This close interaction with your staff will also develop mutual respect, trust, and credibility…all of which begin to spell Success!
Now, for the very first step in beginning to apply the sales leadership process that we have defined over these last 3 months, we believe you should do a pipeline purge with each producer that questions the viability of every “Prospect” in the pipeline. In this process, first ask, “Is this a prospect?” If they say yes, then ask, “How did you make that determination?” If the company and/or person in question has not seen and confirmed a need that they have and confirmed that you/your firm is a possible solution to the problem, they are simply a suspect and not a true prospect. This is not a simple parsing of words without true value, as you might first assume. Whether or not someone is a prospect is determined by them, not you. Their confirmation of these two points is critical. Without it, the pipeline is subject to feelings and not facts, thereby rendering it useless as a planning and predictive tool.
This first step, purging the pipeline, also defines the critical nature of details as it relates to sales and evaluation of the selling process. There is no place for self-deception in this process and there should be no place to hide deficiencies. Such actions are destructive to truth, trust, and credibility. We promise that it will set the tone for a successful development process as a sales leader.
Well, this series has come to an end…or a beginning if you believe, as we do and have proven over our 33 years since inception, that this process works. We encourage you to give it a try. Further, we encourage you to give us, Greene Consulting Associates, a try. We have worked with many of the leading wealth managers, banks, brokerages, mutual funds and institutional asset managers in the U.S. and Europe. We have assisted them in instituting lasting behavioral change in the technical proficiency and conversational competence of their professionals, thereby resulting in greater revenue and success for their firm. E-mail us or give us a call to let us know how we can help you.