Over the last 20 years, I have interviewed sales managers, business owners, and CEOs to learn what value they place on professional development, sales skills and training and what tools they use to hire and grow their business. The results might surprise you. This is a list of errors sales manager admit to making and later confirmed by the respective business owner or CEO to whom the sales manager reports. Of course at the time the managers did not see these as problems. I added “translation and meaning” only to provide the reader with more clarity. When asked by the manager, I made my recommendation, as I indicate below, to help them change course from setting a dangerous precedent. I hope you never hear these mistakes mentioned in your organization. However, if you do, maybe these suggestions will help.

Manager Mistake 1: “Our selling system is based on our ___ years’ experience, our product features, benefits, and price.”

Translation and Meaning: Other similar statements made: “We have the best products in the business” or “We have been in business for 30 years at the same location”. Another is “We will not be undersold.”

Recommendation: These were the responses to the question, “What is your selling system”? The above are selling statements, not a demonstration of a selling system. Do your sales people repeat the above statements? Yes, sometimes they do. What selling system do your sales team use? Do they know where in the prospect is in the buyer’s journey? A focus on features, benefits and price miss your value proposition and what you represent. Ask yourself: How do my features, benefits and stability statements provide solutions to my customers’ problems? I am betting they do not. Instead, ask questions about your prospect’s issues and uncover where they are in their buyer’s journey? Provide education and advice with integrity. Selling on price does not convey value. In fact, using that strategy will put you out of business. There will always be someone crazy enough to undercut you. Let him go out of business first!

Manager Mistake 2“We track everything on our sales team…calls, visits, meetings, networking activities as well as weekly, monthly and quarterly revenue and post them in the sales office”.

Translation and Meaning: Here, the manager’s focus is on capturing data (daily phone calls, cold call numbers, sales closed by day/week or monthly) while mistakenly believing data will produce sales. These managers may want the sales people to provide marketing data as well (industry news, competitive updates, market changes, future purchases, forecasts, and projections) but the focus is misplaced. In these organizations, data is power.

Recommendation: Some managers and business owner believe the sales team are lazy. So to make sure they are busy, data collection is mandatory. If this is a requirement productivity will decline. Collecting data without executing and gaining new business insights is like living in poverty amid wealth. Set aside time for sales coaching, mentoring and listen to your employee’s ideas. Track behaviors, rather than metrics that produce results like plans, goals, and those activities that are aligned with the company’s goals. When a sales person’s personal and professional goals are in synch with the enterprise’s vision, and values, both the individual and the company will excel. 

Manager Mistake 3: “We do not need or have time to do any sales coaching or management training. Besides as soon as we train them they will leave.”

Translation and Meaning: ‘We do not invest in our people, provide tools or update employee skills. They know what they need to do. If they want to take a course OK’.

Recommendation: This philosophy guarantees mediocrity. Those who want to do better will leave. Guess which workers stay behind? There are plenty of professional development skills and sales training programs available to your employees. Without a corporate-wide training program for all employees, a CEO once told me, after his professional development training, he felt like he had his “foot” on the business accelerator, and his employees had their “foot” on the brake. Consider this, the management and sales skills of the past are not the same skills required to take the business to the next level. CRM and software marketing are replacing traditional selling. New skills, with reinforcement, are necessary for your business growth. Without staying current, employee skills dissipate, and your prospects will move on.

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Manager Mistake 4“Why do we keep hiring the wrong people?”

Translation and Meaning: ‘I refuse to change how I hire people. I have a good sense about people, and I do not need any personality test to help me make a decision. I use my “gut feel.”’

Recommendation: Last month I wrote a sales recruiting blog about Bad Hires and Recruiting Challenges. A CEO client of mine, who did not follow my advice, was fully engaged in a sales recruiting project to find his next sales “superstar.” He did not use any pre-hiring assessment when he received 200 applications. He found his “superstar,” who was trained by a competitor, knew the market and was quickly put into the field. The CEO was ecstatic with his lucky find. After eight months of zero sales and a cost of $150,000, the CEO finally admitted his superstar was not working out. Why? The CEO told me he relied on his “gut feel” and matched the candidate’s personality to his own. This is normal; we like (or in this case, hire) people who are like us. Did the CEO admit his error and change his hiring practice? Nope. He repeated the same hiring mistake three more times. Could a pre-hire assessment help? Yes, the results would reveal the tendencies and competencies of the candidate and match those behaviors to predict a successful (or failed) performance. Today we do not have to rely on our gut feel. Using behavioral interviewing techniques, along with assessment tools will minimize the high cost of a bad hire.  You can also use these assessment tools to assess the candidate’s cultural fit on a team and within the overall company. Will this new person fit in with the team culture or be a mismatch? Best to find out before you make an offer.

Manager Mistake 5: “Coaching Salespeople? That is babysitting. Our reps know what to do. We do not have time for that around here”.

Translation and Meaning: ‘I see NO value in coaching, training or mentoring.’

Recommendation: by regularly spending time with a salesperson in pre-call planning and post-call debriefing provides valuable selling skills development, instruction, and feedback for the sales person. A sales manager who joins a sales person on a client visit can provide a valuable learning experience. If the sales person is in a meeting with a prospect, the manager can watch and listen for positive or negative interactions that the sales person might miss. These interactions are important feedback for the sales person’s development. With inbound sales, a sales manager can listen in on the call and later provide key coaching tips for the individual or his team. As learning and new skills increase so does the performance.

How about your company? Does your business advocate sales coaching, sales training or any productivity skills?

Does your sales manager work with and for the sales team?

Do you conduct pre-call and post-call debriefings?

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