Archive for category Getting the most from your reps
I once worked with a company president who hired a salesperson in a new territory on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend and fired him before the Fourth of July weekend. Befuddled, I asked him why.
He told me, “Look, the guy had not brought in a single order.” I asked if he had brought in any quotes, and he said, “Sure, he brought in all kinds of quotes but we didn’t win any of them. So what did you expect me to do?”
Guess what, folks? Four or five weeks is not enough time to try out a new salesperson. In fact, six months is nowhere near enough time to try out a new salesperson. It takes much longer than that for the salesperson to just get around his territory and introduce himself to your existing customers, and your company to all of his customers and contacts.
As sales expert David Brock says in his excellent book The Sales Manager Survival Guide,
- Recently I heard a great speaker say that from their first day on the job to the time they leave, the average salesperson’s tenure is less than 2 years.
- The average tenure of a sales manager is 19 months.
- 47% of companies say it takes 10 or more months for new salespeople to become fully productive.
- 67% say 7 or more months.
58% of all sales reps make quota.
Taken together, these figures present a frightening view of selling and of the cost of sales. Basically, we have to make our money from a salesperson in a little more than a year. That is, to get a good return on our investment in hiring and on boarding someone who takes 7-10 months to become fully productive, but who will leave within the next 14 months: we have to have them produce at least two years’ worth of business in those 14 months.
Obviously this is a serious problem that causes severe challenges, not only for our companies but also for our customers who have to train new salespeople to know what they need in a very short time. In fact, there is seldom enough time for the salesperson to earn the customers’ trust!
It gets even worse when we consider our industry, where we are selling a technical high-end customized product, since the above-quoted stats were for people selling ready-made products.
Then we have a situation where the salesperson has to come to his customers every two years with the next greatest solution, leaving those customers wondering what happened to last year’s greatest solution.
So the answer lies in patience. You must have patience to take the time to find and hire the right salesperson. Then, you must have the right amount of time to train that salesperson properly, making certain that he has the proper understanding of your products, your customers and your market, and how they all fit together.
It boils down to this: The first year is for learning and acclimating, and the second year is for really getting going. I advise most of my clients that a good salesperson should hit his desired annual run rate in sales by the end of the 24th month. And that’s the run rate, meaning that by the 24th month the salesperson will have reached the monthly sales numbers that when multiplied by 12 will equal what he should be booking annually. And then from there, his numbers should start growing at an industry-based logical rate. Then and only then will you get a good return on your investment.
Sure, there will be exceptions to these rules. You’ll find some hotshot who can deliver that huge account you have been trying to land, or the lucky guy who is in the right place at the right time. Yes, that can happen, but I warn you it rarely happens. Be very wary of the salesperson who brags that he will put you into some key accounts right away because those buyers love him and will follow him wherever he goes.
Really? Companies seldom, if ever, follow one salesperson. They do not jump from one vendor to another because a salesperson they like has jumped from one company to another. At best, this salesperson will get you some meetings, some introductions and even some quoting opportunities, but you will have to win the business on your own.
With most customers, especially the Tier One companies, you are still going to have to go through the entire gamut of surveys, qualification orders and customer visits, and that will still take a long time. Let’s face it: There are very few shortcuts in sales anymore.
So spend the time, find the right salesperson, hire him, train him, work with him and then have the patience to give the right amount of time to nurture his customer base and grow his territory. It’s only common sense.
Last week we spent a day with a sales manager, so this week it is only appropriate that we spend that same day with a sales person. This will be a sales person who has a territory away from the company, so she is operating out of fully equipped home office where she has everything she needs to conduct her business. Her required reporting is a weekly status report of her activities during the week as well as her plan for the following week. She annually develops account plans for her key customers as well as an account by account, month by month forecast that is actually measured on a daily basis by the sales manager so that by the end of the day she knows exactly where she stands.
For a sales person to know critical numbers is a key ingredient to success. I don’t understand companies whose sales people not only are not responsible for their own territory forecasts, but also have no idea what the company’s overall forecast is. How can you successfully play any game without knowing what the score is? How can any sales person or company for that matter, operate without some very public (intracompany, anyway) goals for the year?
The sales person should also have some action goals made up of the required number of live sales calls they are expected to make during the week. The key word being “live”.
So then, here is how a successful sales person should be spending his day:
- Lead generation: A good sales person is always be acquiring new customers. He should develop an ideal customer profile and use that when deciding which companies in his territory to go after. He should use a good sales tool like ACT! or SALEFORCE.com to track his lead generation efforts. I that is not available there is nothing wrong with at least using an Excel spreadsheet. The important thing is to keep track of his progress.
- Planning for the next three weeks: Yes, I hear you crying about how hard it is to make appointments, but sorry, it is part of the job, it comes with the territory, as they say. So, figure it out. Get creative. There are literally scores of books out there on making cold calls, leaving effective phone messages and other ways to get to potential customers, buy some and read them. If you have a smart sales manager he will be happy to reimburse for any sales book you buy.
- Strategy for winning new accounts: Once you’ve sunk your teeth into an account don’t let go. Develop and implement a strategy for winning that account.
- Relationship management for current accounts: In terms of current accounts, the sales person is the relationship manager. She is the one who is in front of that customer, the face of the company to that customers. She has to make sure that everything is okay at all times and communicate back to her own company when things need attention. She should know more about that account than people who work there. She should know the type of products they buy, when they buy them and what they are going to be buying in the future. It is her responsibility to be an expert on her key accounts.
- Territory marketing and social media: Although the company probably has a marketing plan a sales person should have one for his territory as well. He should develop a value-added newsletter for his customers and potential customers and send it out on a regular a basis. He should find the right local technical publications and convince his company to invest in advertising or at the very least submit content to those publications. He should be involved in local organizations such as SMTA and he should go to all local functions related to his industry. He should also be active on social media, from Linkedin to Twitter to Instagram.
- Daily reporting for the weekly report: The very worst question I hear from sales people is, “Do you want me out there in front of customers or do you want me to spend my time writing reports?” My answer to that is,” I want both, you are a well-paid sales professional you can do both, sales is not a forty-hour a week gig, and by the way ask me that one more time and you’re fired!” Work on your written report every day and it will be done on time, no big deal.
- Communicating with the sales manager: Communicate with your sales manager on a regular basis. Make your calls brief, concise and to the point. Tell her what you are up to and what she needs to hear. Ask her for whatever it is you need and move on. Be professional, count on her to take care of your needs but remember she is not the complaint department
- Communicating with the company: The same thing goes here. If you have to talk to someone in the company. Be brief and concise. Tell whoever you have called what you need and move on. Do not badger, hound or nag no matter what the problem is it will only get worse if you badger. Always be professional.
We should remember that sales is a profession, it’s a career not a job and those sales people who treat it as such and invest the right amount of time and effort into that career will always succeed.
It’s only common sense.
Yes, sales managers have to visit customers. In fact General Managers and Presidents and Quality Managers and yes, even owners need to visit customers whenever they get the opportunity. Why are we happy to just sit back and have our sales people do customer translations for us? Why are we happy or often unhappy with the information that our sales people bring back from our customers? Why are we okay with settling for communicating through our sales people?
Now don’t get me wrong sales people are very important, they are the face of your company, the front line if you will and yes it is vital that they act as the messenger between the customer and the management team. But that is not enough.
It’s not that the sales people don’t tell the truth about their customers because I believe that 99.9% of the time they do represent the customer in a clear and honest light. But often when their honest message is not to our liking we tend to shoot them they are after all the proverbial messenger. We tend to want to blame the sales person if she tells us that her customer is not happy or if she has to deliver some bad news from the customer. And by the way the biggest problem is that if the sales person is the only one to visit and talk to her customers they become exactly that, her customers. But as we all know they are not her customers or his customers, they are our customers and it is our duty as managers to have a good face to face relationship with our customers.
It is just too easy for a General Manager to rant about how unreasonable a customer is being for complaining that the boards got there a day late. It is just too easy for a Quality Manager to berate a sales person telling them that if they could sell they could get their customer to buy these perfectly usable boards even if they don’t exactly look great. It is just too easy for a company President to push his sales people into telling the customer he is going to raise the price even if the sales person tries to tell him that he will lose the business at this new price. It is just too easy for all of these “non-sales” people to live in a vacuum of customer ignorance and just push the sales people to get things done that well just are impossible to do.
But the most important reason for company leaders to get out and visit customers is to get to know them on a personal and first name basis. I love it when I talk to a company owner who has just come from visiting a customer for the first time; I am always amused to hear him suddenly become such a stalwart customer advocate. He comes away from that meeting enlightened and with a much better understanding of what customer is like, and what her specific needs are He goes back to the rest of his management team and uses his authority (authority that the front line sales people don’t have by the way) to make sure that the customer gets treated right, gets treated the way she needs to be treated.
The same applies to a GM or a Quality Manager for example. After even just one customers visit, the customers goes from being a hypothetical to a real life being. They learn what the customer actually needs and most importantly why he needs it that way. Once they have a better understanding of one another the relationship thickens and broadens and a long-term customer relationship is established.
All it takes is a little effort, a little time and a little patience to make sure you as managers develop a good understanding of your customers to the point of establishing a customer-vendor partner that will last a lifetime.
So Mr. President, Mr. GM, Mr. QA manager get out there. Hop in the car with your sales people and head out to your largest customer this afternoon and ask them what they need from you company and from you specifically. You’ll be amazed how that simple little act will improve everything between you and your customers.
And you know what? You’ll also have more respect for your sales people and the kind of issues they face out there on a regular basis. You get to know first-hand what your customers really think about your company, the good and the bad and yes the ugly. Remember what Bill Gates said, “You can learn a lot more from an unhappy customer than you can from a happy one.”
By visiting a customer you will also show him that you care about him. That you wanted to come in and meet her. That you took time out of your busy day to come to his office, sit down with him and ask him how you can help him. That is a very big deal. You’ll also be showing your sales person that you support her, that you respect him and that in the future you will have a better understanding of the support he needs from you and from the company, and that’s a good thing. It’s only common sense.
Okay, you’re the sales manager for a 15 million dollar board shop located in the Midwest. Your sales team consists of 6 direct regional sales people and five independent sales reps; together they cover the entire U.S. and Canada. Besides managing the sales team, you also handle the company’s marketing and yes, you are also starting to dabble into social media. In short, you have your hands full, so much so that you could easily be overwhelmed if you don’t have good scheduling skills. Since I work with sales teams and specifically sales mangers I thought it would be interesting to talk about how a good sales manager spends his days.
First, a sales manager must manage just like a baseball manager, he should make sure that he is fielding the best team possible, let’s assume that has happened and that these sales people are good. Now that we have established this let’s move on to what the sales manager should be doing with his day.
Make sure that you reporting system is set up. This should consist of:
- An annual forecast: month by month customer by customer
- A weekly sales status report from each sales person. (reps are handled differently we’ll talk about them later)
- A daily dashboard which shows the sales people what they book that day and where they stand in terms of their forecasts both monthly and annually. This report needs to go to the company’s other managers as well.
Touching base with your sales people daily. This is just a quick phone call to see what they are up to. Ask each sales person what they will be booking today, what challenges they are facing and what you can do to help them. This does not have to be a long phone call, just long enough to get an good understanding of what they are up to. This will also serve to keep them on their toes.
Work with the rest of the managers communicating with them and passing on what you learned from your sales people. Remember as the sales manager you are the company’s number one sales advocate with everything that entails. You are responsible for making sure that the customer is always present at the table.
Check in with your reps. I don’t recommend you call them every day but at least once a week. I would urge you to set up a weekly call with each of your independent sales reps to go over their accounts. This is also the time for you to communicate to them what is going on at the company. The true value of keeping in touch with the reps is to make sure they are working for you. Realizing that they have other principals and products to sell, you are competing for their time. The more time you invest in your sales reps the more you will get out of them.
Work on your marketing. This is more important now than it has ever been. A few years ago when we called someone a Manager of sales and marketing it meant that they spent 99% of their time on sales and 1% on marketing and what they were really doing is working on a new brochure every couple of years. Now that has changed drastically. Now a manager of sales and marketing has to spend as much time on marketing as she does on sales. Besides making sure that the literature is up to date, she also must make sure that the website is as well. She also has to work on a value-added newsletter that should go out at least one a month. She also has to be more involved in social media, keeping up the company’s LinkedIn page and sending out frequent pertinent attention-getting tweets as well.
Get in touch with some customers. This is the one that most sales managers skip and arguable the most important one. Make it a habit to call customers and ask how things are going? It’s a good way to create a one on one relationship with your customers. A great sales manager will try to develop relationships with the customers’ upper management. This will greatly benefit both parties.
And finally, cheerleader in chief. A great sales manager is also the person who talks about hope and talks about the future of the company. She will be the company’s strategist helping to set the direction of the company based on her knowledge of the customers and the market.
A great sales manager will keep these plates spinning making sure always that the company is delivering great customer service, keeping its’ customers happy and its’ revenue growing.
It’s only common sense.
For years now I have been working with reps acting as the liaison between them and the circuit board shops I work with. During that time I have seen the interest the reps have in working with board shops diminish as quickly as the market for fax machines. Most reps seem to have lost it for our shops. They seem to want to work in other markets and sell connectors, or IC’s or sheet metal or cables or anything that is not a circuit board.
I have spent the past few months thinking about this; mulling over this dilemma and trying to figure out what to do about it. Look, the fact of the matter is that we need good reps now more than ever. Yes we can use direct people, actually that is my preferred method of developing a sales force, but alas direct sales people are expensive, especially when you are trying to cover the entire country. So in the end we always turn towards the reps as a good solution for at least expanding our sales coverage.
But now a days this is much easier said than done. There are a lot more veteran reps out there than there are newbies, and the vets for the most part have all had it with board shops, they are tired of being treated like third class citizens, they are sick of being the last person paid at the end of the month if they are paid at all. Heck I personally know companies who owe reps tens of thousands of dollars in back commissions and whose reps are actually being held hostage by them because they know if they resign they will never get their money.
In the past year I along with some of my partners have been working diligently looking for new reps for our customers and to tell the truth we might as well be standing on the corner signing “To Dream an Impossible Dream” for the all the good it has done us.
So what do we do about this? How can we turn things around? How can we develop a package that is going to be so appealing to independent sales reps that they will be calling us up to see if we are willing to take them on. That would be a welcome change wouldn’t it? The last time a rep called a circuit board shop to see if he could represent he used a rotary dial phone.
So here are my ideas for changing things, turning things around and developing an offer that a good rep will not be able to pass up.
- No house accounts. It’s as simple as that, no exceptions. If you are already doing business with a major account in his territory then work it out at reduced commissions until he can grow that account past the annual average bookings number and then take him to full commissions.
- Pay the rep, yes pay the rep. His is the most important payment you should be making. A happy rep means a strong sales effort. And here is one that is going to curl your hair, pay him weekly. Yes you hear me. Send him his money the next payroll after you have received payment from the customer.
- Provide all of the right paper work, all the backup that should go with that commission check. Also provide the rep with copies of the quotes and orders and invoices. In this electronic age this is easier than ever,
- Treat the rep like a member of the family. Treat her exactly like one of your direct sales people. This means access to your company information. Being copied on pertinent reports and included in pertinent company meetings and phone calls.
- Let the rep share in all of your marketing efforts, and yes you need to have marketing, sorry it is all part of the sales game. Market for the rep in her territory. Include her in all your marketing. If you send out newsletters create a special edition for each territory. Work side by side with your rep to develop the business in her territory. It will be a win/win.
- Offer special incentives for the type of business you want. This can be a special incentive for new customers, or new technology, or a new service. Whatever, pay the rep extra for him to be specifically focused on selling the products, technologies and services you most want to sell.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate: Hold a one on one update call with each of your sales rep firms every two weeks and then a general call at least once a month with the entire sales force. Do this religiously and track the progress. Do it and yes there will be progress!
- Invite them to your annual sales meeting, and yes have an annual sales meeting. It’s customary for you them to pay to get there and you to pay the rest of their expenses. This will go a long way towards making them part of the family…it will be money well spent I promise you.
- Treat them with respect. Respect your reps as you would want to be respected, it’s as simple as that.
- And finally make sure your product works. Make sure that your reps have a great product to sell. They can’t your light bulbs if the light bulbs don’t work. You want your reps out there selling…not apologizing.
So there you have it. Here are ten ways that will work to make reps want to come and work with your company. But there have to be others. Oh yes there is at least one more:
- Listen to your reps, talk to them; ask them what they want to see from you. Ask them who they consider a great principal. Work with them to develop a good working environment one that both of you want to exist in.
It’s only common sense
Finding the right person in the first place
Just think how much time and money you can save by choosing the right sales person for your sales force. If you take the time to do it right, if you develop and implement a hiring process that fully vets the candidate before you hire her, it will pay off exponentially. Hiring too fast is almost always disastrous. One of the poorer characteristics of being a sales person is shooting from the hip. We all believe in our gut instinct so much that the faster we can come to a decision, the better we feel about ourselves. This is not a good… actually, it is a pretty bad thing because we often make the wrong decision when it comes to choosing sales people. Sales people are good at selling themselves because, well because they are sales people. Combine that with our pride in making fast decisions and it’s no wonder that we consider finding and keeping the right sales people is one of our biggest challenges as sales managers.
There are many aspects to proper vetting and hiring of the right sales people and one of these is identifying and evaluating the right characteristics of a Peak Performer. From the soon to be published book called The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading your team to the Top by Kevin Davis, here are some key skills of Peak Performers that you should look for in your Peak Performing sales person:
- Good Communicator
- Negotiates well
- Great selling skills
- Develops killer proposals
- Great work ethic
- Positive attitude
- Team player
- Problem solver
- Notice the ones that are about attitude. These are the most important ones.
As Davis mentions, these are skills and as important as they are for a sales person to have even more important than these skills are characteristics the exemplify “Wills” or positive attitude and these are:
- Prospects consistently
- Enthusiasm for resolving customer problems/complaints
- String work ethic (hardworking and diligent)
- Strong initiative (can work efficiently without being told what to do)
- Competitive drive
- A positive influence on co-workers
- Learns quick and is coachable
- Tenacious (keeps focused until an outcome is achieved)
- Constantly looks for opportunities to learn and improve
And finally, again from the book, are three observable behaviors that you as the person hiring the candidate should be looking for in that candidate:
Competitive: Hates to lose. Constantly working on getting better
Good work ethic: High activity level. Determined to complete tasks. Hates to miss quotes
Problem solver: Accepts responsibility for solving problems. Can define the problem’s causes and solutions. Understands that their solutions can’t create more problems for co-workers.
Creating a success profile using these characteristics and then applying it to the hiring process will go a long way to assuring your selection of the best candidate for the job. But it is not the only thing you should be doing. There should be team synergy, the candidate must fit in well with the rest of the team. She has to comply with the company’s culture and most importantly, the candidate must be ready and willing to sell what the company produces. This last comment might seem obvious but it is not.
If you are a quick-turn prototype fabricator specializing in producing high-mix low-volume orders for your customers, then be careful if your sales candidate comes from a high-volume production background. Be especially on the lookout for the candidate who keeps talking about how much better it is to sell what he was selling before than what your company sells.
Make it clear to that candidate that you sell what you sell, that’s your product, your sweet spot and you are not going to change. Let the candidate know that he must make a decision, and then a commitment to sell your products when he comes on board. And, if he persists in talking about the benefits of what he sold at his former company then take the hint and invite him to return to his former company.
You, as a sales manager do not need to waste you time convincing your sales people to be selling what you produce.
Hiring the right sales people is like everything else you do in life. It starts with knowing exactly what you want and then going out and getting it. During the hiring process is the right time to make sure that the person in front of you is the right person, that she has all the characteristics and skill that you want in a member of your sales team. Vet that person carefully to make absolutely certain she is the right person for your team. And once you are convinced that she is, hire her. It’s only common sense.
…and what we need to do about it.
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about why it seems to be so hard to get PCB sales people to focus on any aspect of selling from lead generation to closing a sale. This makes our job as sales consultants particularly daunting since we are in the business of coaching sales people to success. But most of the time we cannot get these PCB sales professionals to take a deep breath and spend some time focused on trying to be …better sales people.
Some time back this magazine offered a unique prospecting tool called Board Buyers which I personally felt was an outstanding way to locate PCB buyers, what technologies they bought enabling the sales person to get in touch with the right people and try to sell them their boards. It didn’t work, not at all. Actually let me back up, it worked for a few very good sales people I know who loved the idea and made it work for them. The rest of the sales people I heard from did nothing but complain about the program. They looked for inaccuracies in the program using lame excuses such as some buyer had moved to another company and thus the program information was inaccurate. But the real reason that these sales people did not like Board Buyers was because the program made them accountable. Their sales manager could actually tell who was using it and how much time they were spending on the program. Man, they hated that.
But before we join in a complete condemnation of PCB sales people we need to pause for a moment and get a better idea of why they hate spending their time prospecting and in lead generation and it is this; by its very nature selling PCB’s has to be a farmers’ business rather than a hunters’ because the salespeople have to have an ongoing relationship with their customers and because of this they live and die by their company’s performance and yes their ability to get that other order, that follow up order depends wholly on how well their company is performing.
The PCB salesperson’s sales success is directly proportional to how well his shop performs. It doesn’t matter if the sales person is the best sales person in the world if her company cannot get a quote out on time or build a Quality board and ship it on schedule no amount of prospecting or lead generation or sales skills are going to make much of a difference. So, that’s why they spend so much of their time working on making sure that their company is performing well rather than being out there selling.
One can argue that they can just ignore their company’s poor performance and get out there and get new customers, but that is hard to do when you know that sooner or later those customers are going to be disappointed as well. In short if we want our sales people to sell the way we want them to, the way they should be selling, then we have to take care of our customers. We must make sure that we are delivering the best products and services on the market today.
Oh, I have heard some of your say in the past, “well if we were perfect we wouldn’t need sales people would just come directly to us and buy directly from us.” With all due respect that is an incredibly dumb thing to say. No if you’re company was performing well and doing everything you are supposed to be doing then the sales person could do his job. If she could count on your company doing everything it was supposed to do like getting quotes out on time and producing Quality PCB’s and delivering them on schedule, then the sales person would have time to be out there selling instead of apologizing, hunting instead of farming. They would be more interested in finding was to win over new customers and not have to worry so much about keeping the ones they already have. Yes, they would be selling like we want them to.
So, that our sales people can be selling instead of apologizing. If they can be out there getting new customers instead of frantically trying to talk their current customers into giving them that next order or worse yet trying to keep them as customers, we must find a way to take care of business. We must focus on providing our customers with the very best service, the very best value that money can buy and then and only then will our sales people be free to sell to their hearts content. Only then will they be free to do the real job we are paying them to do. It’s only common sense