Got Sales Smarts?

While many companies are busy blaming the economy for their reduction in sales, smart companies are reassessing their sales teams and focusing their money and attention on top performers. Why? They often sell more – exponentially – than others. 

For the past decade, many products and services were sold to non-discriminating buyers.  Sales people did not need to learn the art of selling to make sales. Buyers often bought without first validating the functionality, legality, integration or longevity of their purchase.  (Think electronics, mortgages, bank loans, lease-options, etc.) They relied upon the sales person to tell them what they wanted to hear. Now, limited budgets are spawning much more selective consumers.

Successful sales people first learn how to deal with a buyer’s first impression, and effectively handle fear of new products or services. They understand how to work with busy people who rely upon yesterday’s experiences and overlook the value of today’s new products or services.

These top performers sell up to six times more than average sales people who do not incorporate objective data into their repertoire to facilitate the buyer’s decision making process. 

What does it take to sell more?

First and foremost: Get real about who is a top performer. We hire for job skills and fire for poor job fit. Many sales executives and business owners still rely upon their gut and other antiquated methods for determining one’s ability to sell their product or service.  Unfortunately, they falsely believe that a person’s verbal ability to talk the talk will ensure sales ability. As a result, they miss out on hiring top performers who could have made the difference between an adequate bottom line and a great financial outcome.

Use scientifically qualified assessment products and it will make all the difference in hiring the right person who can sell. You cannot fix and change someone who does not possess the right job fit skills for your sales requirements. Thinking style accounts for over 50% of a person’s success; core behaviors (can they close?) and occupational interests (do they possess up-to-date info?) round out the other 50%.

Another falsehood: We believe that high energy type people make better sales people. This myth can create many problems. 

  1. High energy is not just “younger employees”
  2. This type person can actually deter potential buyers, particularly in a long sales cycle or in developing a long-term relationship
  3. This belief is discriminatory and focuses on personality issues that statistically don’t make a difference!

Focus on sales results.  Traditionally, poor sales people have relied upon brochures, websites, credentials or social network data to sell their products or services. For many products and services, this didn’t work then, and certainly does not work now, even with the increase in web-based purchases. Buyers have become more selective, and rely upon their “relationship” with their sales rep. 

Pay attention to your sales team’s communication style. 

  • Will the person listen to the buyer’s needs and provide value-add solutions?
  • Can they quantify the product or service details vs. their competition?
  • Will they close the sale? Can they up-sell and cross-sell to address future needs?

Additional communications basics that are often missed:

  • Say please and thank you – still works. 
  • Learn proper email etiquette – it’s not hard.
  • Follow-up and follow-through — still required to get and keep customers.
  • Greet someone with the proper handshake — makes a difference.
  • Talk voice-to-voice — still required for many purchases.
  • Pronounce people’s names correctly — it’s still a must!

Do it now. Objectively assess your sales team’s ability to sell. Focus your attention and money on your top performers. Train those who have the potential, based upon the right job fit. Sales will naturally – and exponentially – escalate. 

©Jeannette Seibly, 2010

What is your capacity? Planning & Growth

What is your capacity to handle new clients without reducing what you deliver? The focus of small business owners everywhere tends to be the same: Making money, paying bills–not building systems and people, not planning capacity.

As entrepreneurs, we usually believe we can handle an increase in sales volume. It’s what we seek, it’s the holy grail of growth—right? Unfortunately, unplanned rapid growth can send any business to an early grave. Often, only after the fact of rapid growth do we discover we didn’t have systems and people to meet our growing needs.  Customers have little patience for trial and error. Waiting until necessity drives development of systems and people, we miss the opportunity to proactively increase capacity.  Ultimately, we damage profitability, and our reputation. So, how do we dodge the bullet?

Hire the Right People. Hiring the best can be a slow process. We must answer three questions:”Can they do the job?” (capacity); “How will they do the job?” (behavior); and, “Will they do the job?” (occupational interest—is this what they want to do?) All three questions must also be context-specific: “Can they do this job here?” If the questions are asked properly and answered clearly, the probability of hiring someone who fits the job increases. Research confirms it: people who fit their jobs produce more, stay longer, and create happier, more profitable workplaces!

Clarify strengths and weaknesses. When your capacity doesn’t change much, employees stagnate!  Those who might have handled new challenges have left for new opportunities, usually with your competition.  Current employees may have effectively departed while still on your payroll—a problem Harvard Business School calls “presenteeism.” A clear view of each of each employee’s “true” interests is critical. Remember, it’s an ongoing process: A wise entrepreneur once said, “When you think you have it all handled, you’ve set yourself up for failure.” Our working systems are often created by employees for their own convenience, not necessarily for your customers. Worse, we rarely know what our systems really are, and employees modify them continuously.

Customers have their own, private opinions about your business. Ask them questions, directly and indirectly:  What works for you, our customer? What do we do that does not work?  Allow them to clarify. What do they need from you? What else would they like from you?

Develop accountability and responsibility in your employees, managers and yourself.   Simply having feedback is one thing, acting productively on it is another—and acting is harder!  Measure skills in your managers, and plan to improve them. Make sure everyone realizes it’s an ongoing process: “Perfection is a direction, not a place.” Handle problem employees now! If you have an employee unable to do the job, be fair and let them go.  Hire slowly, fire quickly.

One manager put it very well: “The most expensive employee time I have is the interval between when I realize they have to go, and when I actually make it happen.” An effective manager must concentrate on, and measure, results.  ”Working hard” is a valuable part of the systems producing your total results, but is rarely sufficient. Focus on these fundamentals of business, and you will soon see new opportunities for growth in your business, based on planned increases in your capacity!

Copyright © Jeannette L. Seibly and John W. Howard, 2004-2010

Jeannette Seibly, Principal of SeibCo, LLC takes your company to the next level by creating leaders, success and results. Whether it be generating your next million, making a strategic difference or resolving people issues, SeibCo, LLC is your partner in causing unprecedented results and impacting your bottomline.

John W. Howard, Ph.D., owner of Performance Resources, Inc. helps businesses of all sizes increase their profits by reducing their people costs. His clients hire better, fire less, manage better, and keep their top performers.