‘Swim Lanes’ and Straight Talk

The term ‘swim lanes’ has a number of meanings…it can refer to the columns in a process flow chart, the actual lanes in a pool for swimming, and the way that I’m using it, which is conducting one’s own job responsibilities. In sales, it is important to understand one’s own responsibilities and to make sure those are fulfilled. Where salespeople, and their managers, run into problems is when individual salespeople overstep their own responsibilities and step on their colleagues’ toes. This can easily occur in split account situations or where there is a lack of transparent communication, or “Straight Talk.”

When these situations occur, what are the best ways to get them resolved with the least amount of ‘churn’ in the organization? Let’s take a look at a few approaches.

Peer-to-Peer Conversation

In a perfect world, I would always suggest having a conversation directly with a peer when there is a situation when that peer is ‘swimming out of their lane.’ This situation could be when another salesperson is taking credit for a sale that you made or taking partial credit for a sale when they were not involved at all in the sales process. These types of situations occur often when there are split accounts involved. I mentioned in a previous article that I believe that split accounts should always be 50/50 because there is no way that a sales manager has the time, or inclination, to do the research necessary to determine an exact split. My experience has shown me that a 50/50 split policy works best.

When you’re talking with a peer about a contentious situation, the first thing you need to do is put yourself in the mind of the other person. You need to understand what is motivating the other salesperson to behave in an unprofessional manner. Is the other person a “lone wolf?” Is the other person basically an honest person with integrity? Or, are they really just a jerk? When you determine what is motivating the other person to act unprofessionally, then you can better understand how to have the conversation with them.

So, you’ve had the conversation with the other salesperson in an attempt to clear up and resolve the situation and, unfortunately, you’ve reached an impasse without a solution. At this point, you need to loop in your manager and provide them with an overview of the situation.

Manager-to-Manager Conversation

Your manager needs to get involved when your efforts to directly work with your peer are unsuccessful. If the other salesperson refuses to change an egregious situation, you need to have your manager speak directly with your peer’s manager. I’ve been in situations where I needed to talk to my fellow VP about someone on their team. These types of conversations are much more productive when both VP’s (or other management levels) have already established a trusting relationship and are both focused on the success of the overall organization as opposed to their own individual team success. While salespeople are oftentimes only focused on themselves, the manager’s role is to look at the bigger picture and health of the entire team.

Sales organizations have management offsites which can be particularly helpful in building trusting relationships among managers and also making sure that the management team is focused on the overall growth and success of the sales team. One of the biggest challenges for the new manager, recently promoted from a sales role, is to change their outlook from “ME” to “WE.” I’ve seen some new managers really struggle with this change in thinking and they will inhibit their career success unless they learn to embrace a total team approach.

The best managers will get a ‘swim lane’ violation resolved as soon as possible. These outstanding managers are not shy about having a tough conversation with a salesperson on their team, if that is what it takes to resolve a conflict. It’s important for managers to make the tough decisions and not to drag out a contentious situation.

I believe it is always better to try and resolve a challenging situation with a peer yourself as opposed to escalating it. Put yourself in their shoes and work to understand where they are coming from. Ask yourself, is this issue important enough to escalate to your manager? As a manager, I always let the salesperson know that I’m there to help but that they should try to resolve the conflict themselves.

Building Your Business and Personal (Sales) Credibility

Last week’s article about “Managing Your (Sales) Reputation” generated some great feedback and suggestions for future posts. The collective feedback really focused into two areas: “Business Credibility” and “Personal Credibility.” Both areas of credibility are obviously linked to each other, but it will clearer to address each area separately. Some of my comments may seem to be “no-brainers” and common sense but I want to address them because, unfortunately, some of these “credibility-killers” are still being practiced by salespeople. If, collectively, we can improve the behavior of the offending salespeople, then we will improve and increase the perception of people with careers in sales.

Business Credibility

One description that I hear from customers repeatedly about salespeople is that they are “too salesy.” At first glance, a sales manager might perceive that to be a compliment about one of the people on their team. But, obviously, these customers are not using the term in a positive fashion.

Salespeople have to be like acrobats in that it is a balancing act between “selling”, which is the job, and not being “too salesy.” The best salespeople I know are masters at walking this fine line. I think a big part of the customer description of “too salesy” is the context of when, and where, the salesperson is actually “selling.” The best place to do your selling is in a business meeting with your customer. Everyone understands the reason for the meeting and all the attendees have aligned expectations. In the meeting invitation, the salesperson should clearly state the reason for the meeting and what the benefits are for the customer to agree to the meeting. There should be no awkward surprises in a customer meeting because the best salespeople have already managed customer expectations.

Where salespeople get into trouble is being to “salesy” at inappropriate times and in inappropriate situations. For example, I’ve actually seen salespeople corner a customer at an industry social event and use their tablet to walk through a deck at the bar. Do you think that salesperson could be characterized as “too salesy?”

As far as client entertaining goes, my policy is to not bring up work-related talk until the customer brings it up…which they invariably do. When in a golf course, sporting event, or a concert, the purpose is to get to know your customer and establish a relationship. The customers know, though, that the correct thing to do is to bring up some business talk with the salesperson…that’s part of the deal.

Personal Credibility

This is a challenging topic as there are some behaviors, which to me, are ‘no-brainers’ and common sense but apparently are still happening according to my customer friends. Here’s a direct quote from a friend of mine:

“…could you address “personality issues” that a salesperson cannot or will not accept that also impacts their reputation? (And because they don’t accept it, they refuse to change it?) I’ve seen a range as minor as “close talkers”, and bad breath (in person), or being formulaic, disrespectful, sexist, racist or bullying (both online and in person). Or refusing to be a team player.”

Well, obviously there are still salespeople out there that haven’t yet realized it is 2018. Clearly, anyone who is in any way sexist, racist or a bully, needs to change their behavior and really closely examine their own lack of personal values. There is no excuse or rationale for those behaviors, period. The “close talker” issue is one that I’ve heard occasionally encountered myself. I think that many people, myself included, like to have a little personal space and not be crowded by someone…and certainly not a salesperson. If, as a salesperson, you notice that people keep backing away from you then you’re clearly too close to them and need to allow for their personal space comfort. We’ve talked before about how important it is for salespeople to be team players and to put their teammates first…if you want a successful sales or sales management career, then you need to think of others before yourself.

One other point about internal credibility and reputation I’d like to address is the “tall poppy syndrome” …courtesy of my friend, Tony Uphoff. The definition is: “The tall poppy syndrome describes aspects of a culture where people of high status are resented, attacked, cut down or criticized because they have been classified as superior to their peers.” Tony correctly stated that career management is a delicate balance of standing out and fitting in. I believe that those most successful in dealing with “tall poppy” are those who are humble about their success and recognize that whatever success they’ve achieved has been the result of the help of many people, not just themselves. To use a sports analogy, the wide receiver that just scored the touchdown casually flips the ball to the referee rather than dancing all around the end zone. Successful salespeople behave like they expected to make the big sale and that they’ve done it before. “Tall poppy” issues can be reduced not by changing others’ behavior but by changing one’s own behavior.

Business and personal credibility are interrelated and often interchangeable. They complement each other and I believe you can’t have one without the other and be truly successful.

Managing Your (Sales) Reputation

I had a very interesting conversation with a sales friend of mine this week. He was bemoaning that he was not highly regarded, or well thought of, by his teammates and leaders at his sales organization. He told me that he perceived that co-workers were making malicious comments about his skills and his character. Obviously, not a great situation or work environment.

I know this individual fairly well and was somewhat surprised to hear all of this. I gave some positive comments and made myself available to listen whenever he needed to talk to someone.

But our conversation got me thinking…how does one repair and restore one’s reputation in the sales world?

The first question I would ask someone who perceives that their reputation is damaged is, “Are these thoughts just in your head or are they real?” Sales can be very stressful and we all get into funks and have times of ‘burnout.’ Sometimes it feels like all the stars are aligned against you…revenue goals, business conditions, challenging customers, or even just physical fatigue. If you’re feeling that your reputation is in bad shape because of any of these factors, then it’s most likely just a ‘speed bump’ and it’s not the reality of the situation.

However, if you’re actually hearing comments or trusted friends are telling you what they’ve heard, then you’ve got a massive problem to deal with.

Your own reputation is a main factor in determining if will be successful or not in sales. In fact, the more targeted your industry is, the more critical your reputation will be in achieving your revenue goals. My sales and sales management career has been focused on the advertising and media sales industry in Southern California. This is a very tight-knit community and, as the saying goes, everybody knows everybody. If you’re selling in a small industry like this, your sales style will be known by all of your customers.

Your Internal Reputation

You can be the greatest salesperson in the world but if you can’t collaborate and effectively work with your internal teammates, then the likelihood of a successful follow-up and completion of your sale is non-existent. Your teammates who manage your accounts (customers), help with marketing research, assist with marketing and collateral, and execute the sale all have intimate knowledge about your work habits and how you treat “support” teams. All of these teams know who the great salespeople are and who are the salespeople who are difficult to work with.

It is absolutely critical to treat your teammates as your “internal customers” and behave with them as you would with your “external customers.” First off, it is just basic common courtesy to treat others with respect…it’s the “golden rule.” It’s also good for your business.

Your External Reputation

Think about how your customers perceive you…or how they would describe you to one of their co-workers. Would they describe you as someone who they look forward to meeting with? As someone that provides them with information that is valuable and useful to them at work? If you’re going to be successful in sales, then your customers need to view you as an asset to their business. I’ve hired a lot of salespeople and one of the first things I do is talk to customers that both the candidate and I know well. I’ll ask these customers to tell me about the person that I’m potentially hiring. A red flag for me is when a customer describes the candidate as “too salesy.” Now, some of you might wonder what is wrong with being “too salesy.” After all, we’re all in sales and our job is to sell and exceed our revenue targets.

Remember one key element in sales: Customers don’t want to be sold to…but customers love to buy something. Think about how you personally shop at a store…you may have a product in mind and are ready to buy it. But aren’t you more likely to buy it if the salesperson in the store provides information useful in your buying decision rather than appear they are only it in for their commission? The same is true in any kind of sales.

Your reputation, both internal and external, is critical to your financial and career success. Think about how your co-workers and customers perceive you. Think about how they would describe you to others. If you have any doubts about their perceptions, then you need to work on improving your (sales) reputation…which we’ll talk about next week.

Leading is Like Eating: 3 Rules

I know it may appear that the title of my article this week is a little strange. I admit that some weeks, the articles are more difficult to write. But stick with me on this one because I’ve been thinking that leadership is so critical to the success of any sales organization, that it is important to view being a leader from many different viewpoints…including an analogy to food.

Thoroughly Chew and Then Digest

As a leader, you’re going to have many challenges and problems brought to you by your team and also YOUR own management. It is your job and responsibility to make decisions. As the desk sign said on the White House desk of President Harry Truman, “The Buck Stops Here.” But, I have found that making the right decision can often take careful thought on a leader’s part. Considering carefully an important decision, or “chewing it over”, can be critical to the leader in making the right decision. Sometimes, it might seem that there is not time to carefully consider an important decision but make sure and take enough time and weigh your options and digest the facts. Make the best decisions you can based on the information available to you at the time.

Portion Control

You’re going to have a lot on your plate (food reference) as a leader in a sales organization. Your supervisor relies on you to have a ‘line of sight’ on your business at all times. You will be asked constantly about how your team is doing relative to the achievement of their sales goals…it’s part of your job to know where you stand. Your team is also going to come to you with questions, requests, and demands. To me, “Portion Control” means not trying to ‘multi-task’ everything at once. In fact, the entire concept of ‘multi-tasking’ is questionable because my experience shows me that by doing too much at the same time, you really achieve less of your goals. Work your daily ‘to-do’ list sequentially, if you can, because I’ve found that I can accomplish more by taking things in smaller bites (yet another food reference).

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Every article about health speaks to the importance of drinking enough water during the day. It looks like everyone I see is carrying around a water bottle, so the importance of hydration seems to be understood. How does this relate to leadership?

I view the need for hydrating as akin to the need for the leader to continually interacting with the sales team and, importantly, with clients. It’s very easy for leaders to get caught up in internal meetings and also being anchored in their office. Sometimes those actions are unavoidable, but I suggest that they be limited as much as possible. Leaders need to be with their teams. I can’t overstate how important morale and culture is to a sales team. The best leaders always have understood the pulse of the team and know when there are warning signs of discontent. These strong leaders know when to step in and prevent rumblings from becoming team member departures.

Being out on client meetings with the sales team is also incredibly important. It’s important that your clients see that sales leadership is interested enough in their business to come to meetings. Customers want to be appreciated and senior sales management attending client meetings can demonstrate the appreciation of their business.

Effective leaders know that they are role models for their teams…whether they want to be or not. The team watches carefully how the leader responds to both good news and bad. The best leaders I’ve worked for keep an even temperament in all situations. They are the ‘drivers of the team bus,’ and they need to be conscious of road (sales) conditions at all times and respond decisively, and smoothly, to any hazards in the road. Sales teams are most effective when they are confident and steady leadership helps build and maintain that confidence.

Surviving, and Benefitting from, Your Annual Sales Meeting

Every sales organization that I’ve been part of has an Annual Sales Meeting (ASM). I’ve attended many of these ranging in location from the company’s own corporate headquarters to more resort-like locations in Florida and Arizona. And, of course, there is good old Las Vegas. I’ve been an attendee and have also been involved in the planning of the event.

ASM’s provide the salesperson with an enormous opportunity to network with your peers around the country and, oftentimes, leadership from other departments that you work with. They can also be excellent opportunities to learn about new products from your company and what the upcoming goals and vision is from your company’s leadership team.

There are also some potential landmines that the salesperson could face. I’m going to discuss both the Benefits you can gain from the ASM and also some Survival Skills.

Opportunities and Benefits from Your ASM

The main opportunity is the ability to network and get to know your peers from other sales offices around the country. Regardless of your sales experience, you can always learn something new that a salesperson is doing across the country. Smart sales leadership teams will give the ‘superstar’ salesperson the opportunity to present a case study to the entire organization at some point during the day. This is a great opportunity for the entire sales team to see how a successful sale was made. Even if it is a completely different product or client, the key to watch is the thinking and organization that the superstar salesperson used to make the sale. Maybe it’s the structure of the proposal or the approach and follow-up that made the successful sale. These types of case studies can oftentimes be the thought-starter for other salespeople to win more business from their own customers.

There are usually many breaks, networking, and dining opportunities during the ASM. I strongly suggest taking these times to talk with people you don’t know well. When you’re at your breakfast, go sit at a table where you don’t know anyone, or just a few people. This is a gift to you in that you can listen and learn about challenges other team members are facing in roles that may be different from yours. I’ve seen many different challenges, even within sales teams from the same department, that occur geographically in other regional offices. And, when you sit with people whose roles are not directly in sales, you will learn some of the unique challenges that they are facing.

When I’m talking, and listening, to people outside of sales, one of the first questions I will ask is, “What can the salesperson, or sales manager, do to make your life easier?” This is such an important question because it creates instant rapport with the individual you’re speaking with…and you will often learn something that can make both your lives easier. Reach out and meet new people at your ASM.

ASM Survival Skills

Getting the most out of your Annual Sales Meeting requires you to be ‘on your game’. During any breakout sessions, I always tried to sit in the first few rows so that it was easier for me to engage with the speaker during the Q&A. I encourage you to ask questions and be involved during the meetings.

However, this can be very difficult to do when you have a raging hangover and you’ve had about 2 hours of sleep. It is incredibly easy to get caught up in the moment during the cocktail hours before your dinners…and, it is also incredibly easy to go out “off campus” or convene with folks at the lobby bar at your hotel. I’ve made these mistakes myself early in my sales career, as I would guess the majority of salespeople have, and they really rob you of the opportunity to get the most that you can out of the ASM.

I’m not saying don’t drink (if you drink) but I am saying that you always have to remember that this is a WORK EVENT. However collegial you may feel with your teammates, this is not your college reunion. Here are two things I encourage you to remember:

  • It’s better to leave too early than to stay too late
  • You do not want to be the topic of conversation at breakfast the next morning.

This apples to everyone but I believe it is of particular importance to the sales leaders. Your team definitely is watching you and your behavior. It’s kind of lie how your children watch how you respond to things. As a sales leader, you need to be on your best behavior at the Annual Sales Meeting. Obviously, you want to have a great relationship with your team, and other teams, but you also want to earn their respect. Jumping on tables or wearing the proverbial lampshade will not earn you any respect. If anything, it decreases the credibility of the sales leader.

In summary, I view the Annual Sales Meeting as a great opportunity to learn new things and meet new people. It’s an opportunity to enhance your influence and “footprints” within your organization. Have fun, meet new people, and remember that the ASM is a work event. Behave accordingly.

 

Giving Credit Not Taking Credit

There’s a lot of braggadocios and loutish behavior in the world right now…whether it be in business, sports, or politics. It seems like it is almost a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of whom can make the loudest noise with the least amount of graciousness. I believe that we, as individuals, can take steps, however small, to improve the tone and behavior in the sales world…and the greater business world, too.

For example, let me be specific about what we can do in these two areas:

  • Giving Credit
  • Split Accounts

Giving Credit

You may be the top salesperson at your company, and I hope you are, but you have not achieved that success by yourself. I’ve always enjoyed it when the QB of the winning team in a big game accepts the plaudits of the interviewer by acknowledging the contribution of his offensive linemen. It’s really the same thing in sales.

An individual salesperson may win the quarterly sales award and get the recognition from the senior management team but what about the people in other departments that helped them receive the award? Unfortunately, I’ve known a number of salespeople who seem unable to recognize that they had a tremendous support team to help them ‘hit their number.’

The most successful salespeople, and sales managers, absolutely understand the importance of the team in their individual success. The best companies that I’ve worked for not only have sales awards, but they also recognize the importance of the account management teams by having commission plans and award recognition for those teams.

Finally, I’m a big fan of the concept of ‘praise in public and criticism in private’. When one of the salespeople on our team scored a big win, I would make sure and not only verbally praise that person in public but also make sure that my company’s senior executives were copied on emails praising the salesperson and detailing the sale. Conversely, when a salesperson needs to be coached or receive constructive criticism, I think it is far more productive to do the coaching in private.

Split Accounts

The definition of a split account is one where two different salespeople are responsible for the same account. For example, in the advertising sales world, you might have one salesperson work with the ad agency in Los Angeles and another salesperson working with the client in New York. So, when there are sales and revenue goals, you might have that accounts’ goal split 50/50 for each of the reps.

I’ve worked with many split account situations in my career and while the revenue responsibility is usually 50/50, the sales activity rarely is. In my experience, one rep usually does most of the ‘heavy lifting’ in the partnership. The challenge for a sales team is when one rep, usually the one doing most of the work, becomes vocal about the perceived inequity of the 50/50 split. My experience has shown me that sales teams need to ‘play like a team’ and when your team has one, or more, individuals who are griping about splits, this negativity can spread to infect the entire team. Sales management needs to put a stop to this behavior immediately after it appears. I would suggest meeting in-person with the complaining salesperson and discuss their behavior. Sometimes, a sales manager really doesn’t want to have that conversation, particularly if the rep in question is a top performer. But if the negativity isn’t stopped when it first appears, the entire team’s morale (and sales success) will be hurt.

Split accounts with 50/50 splits are rarely “fair”. But, it is much more difficult to subjectively apply percentage of revenue toward each rep. So, what is the BEST approach for handling split accounts? I suggest going with the 50/50 split…while it’s not perfect, it is better for all involved then trying to subjectively come up with a different percentage split. And, in the long run, it is better for the business to make this question simple and consistent.

Careers in sales are great because you have the opportunity to meet lots of people who each have their own individual story. The best salespeople I know have a natural curiosity about others and are usually very good listeners. I believe that all of us need to listen more…to try and understand the other person’s perspective. Just because someone is loud doesn’t make them right. Great salespeople aren’t the loudest talkers, but they are often the best active listeners

3 Qualities of Successful Salespeople (and their Managers)

Last week we talked about two behaviors that could hurt a salesperson’s career growth opportunities. I received good feedback from some of our readers and this week I want to focus on three qualities that successful salespeople and sales managers share. All three of these qualities are not only important in the world of sales…in fact, I believe they are important in just about any business field. They are also particularly important in sports. They are:

  • Keeping Calm
  • Staying focused
  • Working your plan

Keeping Calm

When I think about keeping calm, I think about the opening lines of the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs…”

For a sales manager, it is important to help your sales team keep calm. I always want the salesperson to do their best to resolve whatever issues come up without having to get me involved. Of course, I’m available if needed but it is better for the salesperson to learn how to effectively solve internal or external problems themselves. They will gain more credibility with both co-workers and clients if they don’t always have to go running back for ‘management’ approval. It is also good career training for the salesperson who has management aspirations to learn how to problem-solve themselves.

For a salesperson, nothing is more disturbing than to work for a sales manager who is always agitated and panicky about ongoing sales challengers that are just part of the daily ‘business as usual’ of the sales world. As a VP leading a sales team, I viewed one of my job requirements to be the filter between the “stuff” rolling downhill on me from my management to my sales team. I want them to have a sense of urgency about the business, obviously, but I wanted them to know that I was calm about things and that they needed to stay calm to achieve their goals. Both salespeople and sales managers will be far more effective in their roles if they “keep their heads.”

Staying Focused

Now, more than ever before, there are multiple distractions for the successful salesperson to deal with. Technology alone can kill one’s productivity for hours at a time. Keeping yourself and the entire sales team calm will help greatly in staying focused. I find that it is helpful for me to block out, on my calendar, blocks of time to work on a presentation deck, compose emails to clients, review research specific to my business…or just to think. If I don’t actually block out the time on my calendar, that time slot will get highjacked by someone, or something, that will interrupt my focus. As I’ve written before, each client meeting needs to be carefully planned and prepared…this is going to take some time in your schedule. The challenge is that all of your effort to plan for time to focus on your goals can be blown apart like a tornado when you forced to respond to something urgent. So, if you have already blocked out some ‘focus’ time, you can use that to respond to the inevitable fire drills. Unfortunately, you start moving into the ‘Catch-22’ world in that now you have to find other time to focus. We all have to deal with this, but I’ve found that blocking out specific time slots to focus, and think, helps enormously in keep myself focused on a specific task.

Working Your Plan

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” , Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 
Planning is critical in being a successful salesperson. Each of your accounts, or at least your major accounts, should have a detailed account plan. Every salesperson has a revenue goal for their list…I like to break that total goal into smaller goals for each of my accounts. After assigning that account revenue goal, I will put down in writing my plan to achieve the goal. That may include the number of meetings with various decision makers at the account or number of presentations I want to make each quarter. If it is a larger customer, I will definitely include some client entertaining as part of the plan. Be sure and check your progress weekly, or bi-weekly, so you can see how you’re doing and if any changes need to be made.

Just as a quarterback begins a football game with an offensive plan for that game, most of the time the circumstances will change, and he will have to change his offensive game plan. This is very true in sales since so many factors will change for you and your customer during the course of a year. But, because you have already created your plan, you have the basic strategy for achieving your goal and you can pivot as needed to still be successful.

The best salespeople and sales managers I’ve worked with are masters at keeping calm. They have a determined sense of urgency but, at the same time, the project a strength and stability that benefits the entire sales team.

Career-killing Behaviors in Sales

This week’s topic is based on some conversations I’ve had recently with friends of mine that are sales managers or VP-level sales leaders. While some of my friends were couching their comments in the somewhat tiresome Boomer and Gen X complaints about Millennials, I think that these types of behaviors are not generationally specific. In fact, they really are symptomatic of some salespeople regardless of their experience.

Some of these behaviors would seem to be basic lapses of judgment that you might not think ANYONE would do…but I’ve been told by people I trust that they actually occurred. While these behaviors MAY not get a salesperson fired, I guarantee that they will prevent any career growth opportunities.

I’m going to discuss two of these career-killing behaviors this week and some others next week.

Dishonesty

It should be a no-brainer that you would not want to be dishonest to you customers or to your internal co-workers and management. But, it’s not.

When your customers are spending money with you they are INVESTING in you and in your relationship with them. They understand that there are no guarantees that the product they are buying will help them to achieve their goals, but they believe that YOU are offering it to them in their best interests, not yours. Your reputation as a salesperson, and your success in sales, is based on your honesty and integrity. It would be relatively easy to sell something to a customer that helps you and not them. You may, in fact, win a contest or get paid a big commission because of this type of action. BUT, you will be destroying a potentially far more financially lucrative relationship with the customer. Even if the customer never found out that you sold them an inappropriate product, they will question your lack of judgment on any future proposal that you give them.

Being dishonest with your co-workers or your manager is just plain stupid.

“Tim, but I work with this one salesperson that trashes me behind my back and would steal my business without blinking twice. I can’t trust them at all.”

All of us in sales or sales management have had at least one co-worker that fits this description…I get it. I’m not suggesting that you become best friends with such a person nor am I suggesting you be totally transparent with all of your business activities. I’m saying that you shouldn’t be dishonest with them…just walk away. Don’t associate with them on anything more than an ‘as-needed for work’ basis.

I would strongly suggest being honest and transparent with your manager. There is nothing good in having lost the trust of your direct supervisor. If your current manager was the person who hired you, they have an enormous stake in making sure you succeed. Every sales hire is a direct reflection of the hiring sales manager. For any salesperson to be dishonest in any way to their manager is going to be perceived as a betrayal of trust. For you to be successful in sales, you will need your manager in many ways: running ‘interference’ for you to get things done internally, helping you with a difficult sales challenge with their advice and counsel, and helping your sales career grow by them giving you more responsibilities. The bottom line is that you and your manager are a team…and you need to work with your teammate in an honest and transparent manner.

Improper Use of Social Media

One might incorrectly assume that this ‘career-killing’ behavior would only be of relevance to Millennials, but I’ve seen plenty of examples of this lack of judgment in both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. Social media can be a very positive technology with the capacity to bring old and new friends together. I’ve had plenty of acquaintances reach out to me on Facebook and Instagram and it’s great to hear from them.

Where things become a problem, from a business perspective, is when an individual doesn’t properly filter what they post. I’m a big believer in having a fun time…as my good friends are well aware. But, I am conscious of the fact that ANY post on social media could be viewed by ANY client, potential client, employer, or potential employer. Think about how hard you’ve worked to build your own personal reputation, or “brand”, within your industry. That could be changed with one post.

Think about what you post or repost. I loved talking about political issues that I’m passionate about, but I really try to limit those conversations to in-person meetings with friends. I stay away from online political threads. It should also be obvious that having a photo of yourself posted with a glass of wine in your hands is significantly different than a photo of you posted doing jello shots or a beer bong. I want to reiterate that I’m talking cross-generational about this as I’ve seen pictures of acquaintances of all ages doing things that shouldn’t be posted.

Success in sales is due to many things but two of the most important are respect and relationships. It’s important to keep the two in balance…they complement each other. You may have a great relationship with a customer but unless they also respect you as a businessperson, you run the risk of being just someone that spends their T&E budget on them.

 

 

More Great Meetings…fewer Bad Meetings

When is the last time you walked out of a meeting and thought, “That meeting was fantastic!”? My bet is that you usually have that feeling after leaving a meeting with your customers. I’ll also bet that you usually don’t feel that way after an internal company meeting.

Why does this happen?

I believe that customer meetings are given a lot more preparation time than internal meetings. It completely makes sense to do all the background work before meeting with customers…but, given everyone’s tight schedules, shouldn’t the same consideration and preparation be afforded internal meetings?

 

Do More of This in Your Meetings

When I’m at a meeting with customers, I like to have our team pretty buttoned up in terms of an agenda and proper time management. If a presentation is going to be given, there should be at least a basic walk-through to gauge how long it takes to get through the deck. Rushing through a presentation in the last 5 minutes because of poor time management is a reflection of poor preparation. I ask a simple question at the beginning of EVERY customer meeting: “Do we have a hard stop at the end of our allotted time?” If the original ending time is still in effect, then you will need to present with “the clock running.” If one of your colleagues is presenting and is not paying attention to the time, then you may need to step in with a 15-minute time warning…if it’s your boss, then you might want to discuss this with them before the meeting starts!

At both external and internal meetings, make sure that at least one of your teammates is taking notes. The presenter, at an external customer meeting, will have plenty to do in giving the presentation as well as answering questions…they will NOT be able to also take good notes. At your internal meeting, you will probably be taking notes yourself. But I strongly recommend that someone should take extensive notes, which will be distributed to the attendees and used by all to align on decisions, action items, and next steps. We’ve all had experiences where we THOUGHT something was agreed to and it turns out that was not the case.

Finally, let’s briefly talk about the use of electronic devices in meetings. Obviously, in customer meetings you can’t tell them to put down the laptops and phones…ideally, they are engaged enough with your presentation’s content that they will not be looking at emails.

Internal meetings are a different story. I’ve gone back and forth on this and I’ve come to the conclusion that IF someone is using note-taking software, OneNote or Evernote as an example, then they should be able to use their laptops for that purpose. Personally, I prefer written notes which I then might summarize and add to Evernote after the meeting…I know, duplication of effort. But I would strongly suggest prohibiting the use of cell phones in meetings. We all are aware of the addictive aspects of one’s smart phone and it truly is a distraction and roadblock to attendee engagement. 

Do Less of This in Your Meetings

I believe that the biggest reason for bad meetings is a lack of organization and purpose. We all are familiar with the “Weekly Sales Meeting.” I’ve been in way too many meetings where everyone involved sounds like the animatronic figures at Disneyland. The participants are just going through the motions. This mostly happens during internal meetings and can be corrected by adding an agenda and purpose to the meeting. Define clearly what the meeting is designed to accomplish…and it should be a measureable goal that can be addressed at the conclusion of the meeting. An agenda can be very helpful because it can keep the meeting ‘on track.’ We all know of individuals (sometimes maybe ourselves) that can go off on a tangent and derail a meeting. I’m all for active engagement of the meeting participants but everyone should stay focused on the topics to be discussed.

Have you ever been required to attend a meeting to prepare for another meeting? I’ve worked at companies that specialized in meeting overkill. It seemed like some of the employees’ sole purpose was to attend meetings. I’m a huge fan of customer meetings…as salespeople, time spent with your customers is pure gold. But, I’d recommend reducing as much as possible wasteful internal meetings. Make sure something productive comes out of those internal meeting and that they are not held out of habit.

Meetings can be very valuable if thought out and carefully prepared. Think about how you can contribute to better customer and internal meetings.

Thoughts about Interviewing for a Sales Job

I had some really positive feedback from people about last week’s article about hiring salespeople, so I thought I’d add a companion piece from the perspective of the person interviewing for a sales job. I’ve had many interviews over the years for multiple sales and sales management roles. I’ve had some great interviews that led to rewarding sales and sales management jobs, but I’ve also blown some interviews as well. I’ve learned a great deal from those unsuccessful interviews. Simply put, interviewing for a sales position is like any other sales call…the basics hold true for both.

  • Do Your Homework
  • Sell ‘You’ like a Product

Do Your Homework

I’ve learned that it is critical to extensively research the position that you are interviewing for, the company, and the person conducting the interview. While you aren’t yet an employee of your prospective employer, you want to behave in such a way so the interviewer can picture that you already work there. If there are particular phrases or language that are used in the job or industry, make sure and understand the terms and sprinkle them into the conversation. You want to be able to speak the same ‘language’ as the person conducting the interview.

Obviously, it is very important to have done your homework about the company where you may be working. Here are a few great online resources for company info: Google Alerts, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor.

Signing up for Google Alerts to receive news about the company can be very helpful in both the actual interview and in your follow-up correspondence. It would be embarrassing, to say the least, if you were in a job interview and had no knowledge of some important breaking news about the company that happened that morning. Being uninformed might not be a ‘deal killer’ but it could lessen your chances for the job as compared to another candidate who WAS more knowledgeable about the company.

LinkedIn is great for gathering information about both companies and individuals. I like to proactively read both the company’s own press releases and also news stories mentioning the company. LinkedIn is very professional and, mostly, free from some of the shrill comments that one sees on other social media platforms. I find it very helpful to learn as much as I can about the person I’m interviewing with and LinkedIn can provide insights to the interviewers’ background and job history. You might even find out if they went to your same college! Most important, for me, is to see all the mutual connections that you and the interviewer may have. If one of the shared connections is a good friend, you should reach out and get your friend’s thoughts about the interviewer…it can really help having as much background as you can get.

Glassdoor is an interesting resource for information about a company, but I have found you need to take their info with ‘a grain of salt.’ The ratings and the comments are all anonymous and, as a result, can be made by someone with an agenda against the company. Definitely use Glassdoor for directional info but just be aware that it shouldn’t be your primary resource.

Sell ‘You’ like a Product

Sometimes, I’ve been asked to give a presentation during the interviewing process. I have mixed feelings about that request because in my view, the actual interviewing itself IS the presentation. I believe that you are the product that you’re selling during a job interview.

You know that your prospective employer is looking to fill a position or, “looking to buy a product.” That actually gives you an advantage over some actual sales presentations where the customer may NOT be ready to buy.

During your interview prep, think about not only the written job description but also the ‘unwritten’ job description. Think about how you can add value to their existing sales team. How can you differentiate yourself from other candidates who are applying for the same job? Think about ‘features and benefits’…basic sales ideas. What features are there about you that can be shown to add specific benefits to the hiring company. If you are a new seller, consider your perceived ‘lack of experience’ as a huge benefit…you can add enthusiasm to the existing team and you’ll be out in the field hustling and hungry for business. You will be able to relate well to other millennials who are your customers. Think about your ‘features’ and turn them all into positive benefits. Anything that you perceive to be a negative can, in reality, be viewed as a positive if you carefully prepare and position it as such.

Finally, one of the biggest mistakes I made early in my career during job interviews was  to not be authentic. There is no reason to ACT like someone you aren’t. Salespeople and sales managers tend, for the most part, to be very gregarious people. But I’ve know many salespeople who aren’t as outgoing and yet are sales superstars closing big deals because of their analytical or operational skills. There is no one way to be successful in a sales career. But I suggest that being someone you’re not will lead to an unsuccessful, and ultimately unfulfilling, job and career. Be yourself and leverage your strengths to show how you can add value to the company and job during your interviews.