Archive for August, 2009

Baseball: The Best Sales Training I Ever Had

August 27, 2009

Working in the sales and outsourced sales management world, I am often asked about sales training. I have been working with sales teams for 17 years, and have been through and have run a variety of sales training programs. So, it is usually pretty quick in the process when I get asked about the value of sales training and what I think is best. There are a great variety of sales training methods out there, starting with the Dale Carnegie courses (what salesperson at some point in their career hasn’t been asked to read “How to Win Friends and Influence People?) and going through the 12 point sales process “invented” by the latest great sales trainer.

My favorite sales training?

That’s easy: my years playing competitive baseball.

So how can baseball be a training ground for sales success you ask? What the heck does hitting a round ball with a round bat have to do with my company selling widgets? One might ask what the latest and greatest 12 point, pre-planned sales training will do to help your sales team, which sells differently than any other in the world (but why people keep buying training that is already laid out and does not take into account the unique nature of your sales team is topic for another discussion at another time).

It has been said by almost everybody that hitting a baseball is the single most difficult thing to do in sports. If you are lucky enough to fail only 70% of the time at it, chances are that one day you will be giving a speech in Cooperstown as you are enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Heck, you may find yourself on a Wheaties box one day too!

How can someone spend 20 years of their life traveling around the country, knowing that the odds are against their success every time they get up to do their job? What can possibly motivate this person to continue to say, “This time, I’m gonna do it!” knowing that most likely they won’t? Baseball players do this every day…salespeople do this every day too.

Think about it, in a typical day, a salesperson may reach out to 100 people. Of those 100, a good 85 will most likely completely ignore you, not even answering your phone call but allowing you to leave a voice mail for them so that one day they may call you back. Of the 15 you actually reach, 10 will probably say they don’t need you—now or ever—and a few may even hang up on you. The last 5 are the ones that really matter. Some days, all five may schedule appointments with you, place an order, or maybe even give you business right on the spot. It is the five, not the 95 that you are in sales for.

Good salespeople and good baseball players have one specific trait in common that helps them be successful—the ability to have long memories about what they do well and short memories about the negative. Sometimes this can be difficult, so I take a trick I learned from watching New York Yankees great Don Mattingly during my baseball playing days and apply it to my sales life. Mattingly said his best way to avoid long slumps was to take the entire 600+ at bat season and break it down into 10 at bat increments. His goal? To get 3 hits in those 10 at bats. When he got his 3 hits or had 10 at bats, he would start over, reviewing what went right (he may have gotten 3 hits in 3 at bats or 0 hits in 10 at bats) learning what went wrong and then moving on to the next set of 10. This allowed him to not get too high on the good or too low on the bad; knowing that it was a long season that by nature will have peaks and valleys.

I have applied this same attitude to sales teams, having them look at 10 contact increments. We set a goal to speak to three people out of every 10 calls we made, and one meeting scheduled from the 3 we talked to. Now this may not seem like much, but it is a very aggressive goal. Getting three people to talk to you out of every 10 calls doesn’t seem too bad, but getting one of three to meet with you? Now that is a bit tough.

Much like baseball, there are certain things you can’t control. You try to hit the ball hard every time but sometimes, major league fielders will catch the ball no matter how hard you hit it. With salespeople, it is the dreaded voice mail. No matter how good you are feeling or how great you may sound, you will get a bunch of voice mails. You can increase the chances of getting an appointment from those 10 calls, however, by leaving a strong message—I call this developing a relationship with the client’s voice mail.

So 10 calls at a time, which should usually take about an hour. Look at what’s working and what you feel you should adjust. Learn from them and then forget them as it is on to the next 10.

Who knows, this may just get you to Yankee Stadium…or business with your ideal prospects!


What Is the Latest Innovative Selling Strategy?

August 24, 2009

What is the latest, innovative, selling strategy? 

I get asked this question a lot, as “innovative sales strategy” often times ends up being code for “what really cool, funky thing can we try to stay ahead of the pack?” Well, I have worked with companies who have brought breakfast to prospective clients in hopes of getting in the door. Others have told tales of reps waiting in the elevator, riding up and down waiting for the decision maker to walk in. I have seen a lot of companies send “two part gifts,” where you received the second part of the gift once you met with the account executive. All of these can be great strategies and fun, successful gimmicks. However, the best overall strategy I have seen work over and over again, and the one most recommended to our clients by us is a crazy strategy called “do what you say you are going to do.”

I’m not trying to be funny here. Think of the people you like to work with–do they show up to appointments on time and prepared? Do they call you when they say they will? Do they find answers when they don’t know them and then get back to you? I know this sounds very basic and quite frankly the stuff you learned in grade school, but it works. Too often we have become OK with poor follow up and other verbal and non-verbal signals that your business doesn’t matter to them.

There will always be someone out there who can do it cheaper, have a larger company, and be able to shower our clients with more gifts, but ultimately our clients work with us and trust their sales goals to us because we care about them and their success and because we do what we say we will and if we can’t for some reason, we let them know that too.

Why Is Promoting a Top Salesperson to Sales Manager a Bad Idea? The Same Reason You Don’t See Barry Bonds Working as a Hitting Coach

August 23, 2009

We work with a lot of successful companies at Randolph Sterling, many of which grow very quickly. One particular company we worked with went from one small office with three sales reps, to four offices with 12 sales reps two years later, to eventually 8 offices with 28 sales reps. The president and vice president of this company had no problem managing one office plus their other duties in running the company. However, when they got up to four offices, it got more difficult as they seemed to be spending all of their time going up and down route 95 traveling between New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC to manage the respective sales teams. When they got to 8 offices, it was just too much for them so what did they do? They promoted the top salesperson in each office to a sales management position.

The plan was a complete failure. The managers, who continued to work their sales territory because the president didn’t want to lose that revenue, continued to grow but everyone else stagnated. Most of the #2 guys in the offices eventually left.

How could this happen? These guys are great reps, they should be able to help these other guys out to be better too, right? A great theory but rarely does it work in practice. The reason why is similar to the reason why many great baseball managers were not the top players of their era—the skills to be successful are different.

Look at long time St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. Never a great ballplayer, (a career .199 batting average over 10 years and 132 games played) but his ability to communicate with his players, to study their strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the opposition in order to put his team in the best position to be successful, and to work with upper management to communicate what he needs to win championships, allowed him to become one of the winningest managers in major league history. Do you think a guy like Barry Bonds, arguably one of the best hitters in baseball history (we will save my opinion on his alleged steroid use for another time), honed his communication skills to allow him to hit so many home runs?  Guys like that usually have very little patience for the guy at the end of the bench who you may need to call on when a starter gets hurt. Their attitude often is “I could do it so why can’t he?”

The story is many times the same in the sales world. There are some very successful sales managers who have been tops in their company and others that the dual role of sales rep and sales manager very well, but these are rare occasions. When looking to hire a sales manager, think of the skills that you want in that person to be successful…does the top rep have those skills? Does he want the job (and the possibility that he will be making less money?) Is there someone else within the organization who may fit those skills better? Maybe it’s the solid, mid level rep who always takes the new guy out to show him the ropes to make him feel part of the team? Maybe you should outsource some of the sales management functions?

There are several options for this very uniquely skilled position. Take the time to find the right fit, not simply the right now fit.

Randolph Sterling Introduces the SAM Peer Advisory Concept to the Raleigh/Durham Market

August 21, 2009

Thursday, August, 13, 2009 marked Randolph Sterling’s launch of the SAM (Sales and Marketing) Peer Advisory concept in the Raleigh/Durham market with a seminar to introduce it, sponsored by Business Clubs of America.

We have been running SAM groups in the Chicagoland area for 3 years, but with the launch of our new office in Cary, NC, we felt it was a great time to introduce our SAM concept to the area. Peer Advisory Groups are not new to The Triangle nor to most places, however most peer advice has been limited to CEO’s and key executives in groups like Vistage, and do not really cater to sales and marketing professionals.

I have been a member of Vistage for five years and have seen how working with my peers to uncover business problems has helped my company grow, and therefore have become a strong supporter of peer learning. As a salesperson, I noticed that most account executives really do not have a strong internal support system, not because they or management are doing something wrong, but because they have an intense pressure to perform and do not want management to know if they are having problems. We figured that we could change this with a peer advisory group strictly for sales and marketing professionals. We have been successful in our Chicago office doing this for three years, so we thought, “Why not get this program started in North Carolina?”

Our seminar began with an introduction to Randolph Sterling and why we decided to start our SAM Groups. Next we asked our participants one simple question: What is the largest obstacle for growth that you see in the next 6-12 months?

The responses varied as we went around the room, giving each attendee a chance to introduce themselves, their business, and their answer to the question. Many of the responses were along these lines:

  • How do I get my prospect to “pull the trigger” on this project? I know I am saving them money and time.
  • With a limited budget anticipated in 2009/2010, how do I decide how much to spend on sales, marketing, social media etc? I can afford to do these things, but I can’t afford for them not to work.
  • How do I get people to understand that I am a necessity when I am often viewed as a luxury?
  • One part of my business is going strong, but another part is just not converting into sales. What should I do?

Others simply said their biggest obstacle was themselves.

We then asked for a volunteer to present their issue.

One of the great values of a SAM Group membership is the fact that everything said in meetings is confidential. I can’t get into too many specifics about the issue we discussed, but I can tell you about the process. 

First, the volunteer takes about 5 minutes to explain their problem—they always think they need about 30 seconds, but come on, these are sales people, the only thing they can do in 30 seconds is cash a commission check.  Part of the explanation process is for the presenter to discuss the issue in detail, its overall importance, what they have done so far with regard to this issue, and most importantly what they are looking for from the group. Some look for guidance, some are completely lost, still others are just looking for assurance that they are on the right track.

Next, the rest of the group asks questions of the presenter to further clarify the issue. Most times the “simple” issue is not the issue at all and through this process we uncover the real thing that the person needs help with. This is also the hardest part of the meeting as salespeople are always ready with “solutions” and attempt to skip right over the clarification process. This can sometimes lead to a great solution to what is not the real problem.

Finally, once the group has a better understanding of the issue, they will offer suggestions. The presenter’s job at this point is to simply listen to the solutions being presented. Some of these solutions are presented by people who have been in the same position while others give advice based less on experience and more on theory. Both are welcome as it is the presenter’s responsibility to sift through the suggestions and decide what to do next.

“I really enjoyed seeing the process,” stated Creative Gifting’s Debra Simonette. “It was nice to see that people who always seem to have the answers have issues to figure out as well. I liked being able to be a resource to them.”

Robert Morris of Axia stated, “I think it is a great concept. I don’t have a local sales manager so it is nice to be able to talk to people in my market who are talking to the same people I am selling to and get advice from them.”

“I definitely see SAM Groups as a great addition to the business landscape of the Triangle,” stated Business Clubs of America’s Cathy Sanita.

Personally, I am very much looking forward to working with more companies both in Chicago and in the Raleigh/Durham area. 

But, after that, what’s our next step?

Taking SAM Groups global through the internet.

We invite you to try the process outlined above in our comments section.

Can You Handle It? What Would Happen If You Actually Got the Business You Want?

August 19, 2009

One of the first questions we at Randolph Sterling ask a prospective client when we start talking with them about either inside sales services or sales management is “What would happen if you get this additional business? Can you handle it?”

You can imagine the response we usually get, which is most times “Absolutely. You just worry about finding the business for us. We’ll worry about fulfilling it.” If it were only that easy I’d sleep better at night. But my job is to help you grow your business and to have you working with happy clients.

We had engaged with a company that makes agents used in experimental drugs, but for this conversation, they could be manufacturing the widgets from your Marketing 101 textbook. As I talked with the VP of sales, he said “Rich, I really don’t know how to motivate my reps. I’ve tried everything—contests, incentives, bonuses—but I just can’t get them to sell more.” What we found was not a lack of motivation, but a lack of confidence that the company could back up the promises of the reps.

This company was tops in their industry, which is quite competitive. Standard lead times from contract signing to delivery usually ranged between 4-6 weeks. This company, however, was currently running “at capacity,” and had started quoting lead times of 7-12 weeks. The reps felt that they had lost their competitive advantage as they had initially quoted their regular lead times only to have to go back to their clients to tell them that they couldn’t meet them. Quoting longer lead times didn’t seem a solution to them either as they felt their current clients would think they were taking advantage of their relationship and they felt with new clients, they just simply would not be competitive. Their solution was to sell less. They would only promise what they could deliver. This kept them running at a decent rate…for a while.

Soon they saw sales slow, the pipeline not as full as it had been, and hence the call to us about how to motivate the reps. As we did our due diligence in talking to the reps and reviewing the sales process, we uncovered the lead time problem. The solution came not in any new sales techniques nor any sales contests, but in working with operations to view the feasibility of adding a third shift, something that the company had not considered before. Just seeing the conversation taking place gave the sales reps the added fire to keep pushing for new business. The eventual addition of the third shift, coupled with the sales reps explaining the short term rise in lead time to their customers and using it as a way to more solidify their relationships, resulted in the short lead times which resulted in a 32% growth in the following 4 months.

Sometimes motivation comes in ways we don’t originally expect.

Growing Pains: How Rapid Growth Can Hurt a Company

August 17, 2009

Growth. Everyone is looking to grow their business, especially in today’s economy…so how can growth be a bad thing? Often in my work with clients, I see companies that have had growth hurt them because they hadn’t really planned for it.

“We have grown so much that now we have a bunch of salespeople doing a bunch of different things”

This is a statement that one of my clients said to me when we first started talking about working together. They had started out small, with the president of the company acting as the salesforce of the company. Not a bad idea, he thought, since he knew the business better than anybody as he was the one who started it. Soon thereafter, he realized that he couldn’t sell projects, run projects, bill projects…you get the picture, so he hired a sales rep to bring in new business. The president became the defacto sales manager.

Sales were great and the company was doing well. There were more clients to find so the president hired another salesperson, then another, then another. Soon he had 8 sales reps, all pretty successful but none were happy, and neither was the president.

“I just can’t control what they do,” he confided in me. “One sits on the phone all day while another is barely in the office. They are all bringing in business but there is no consistency in what they do. Clients are happy, but if a rep goes on vacation, it seems as though nobody else really understands how to help them.”

This is a pretty common theme—the company is doing well so let’s just throw money at it. If one sales rep can bring in x% of new business, then if we hire another we can expect y% growth, and before you know it you have a sales force with no structure and a whole lot of confusion.

The solution to this very common problem: develop and adhere to sales structure and process.

When I look at a company and help them with sales process, my inspiration is the U.S. Constitution. The beauty of the Constitution is that our Founding Fathers, in their infinite wisdom, realized that they didn’t know everything and that they would make mistakes, so they allowed for this document, the backbone of democracy, to be a living, breathing thing that could change over time based on the needs of the people.  When I look at sales process, I start out thinking the same thing. While we hold certain truths to be self evident–if you are not making your numbers, eventually one of us will be looking for a new job—how you get to make those numbers may be different for everyone. We look at the strengths of the current team to determine the best short term “absolutes.” Then we look at what the ideal structure might look like for a particular company and start to develop longer term process so as the inevitable attrition occurs, we have planned and are finding the right complementary parts for the sales team.

So how does the “living, breathing document” come into play? I’ll give you examples from my own sales career. When I started selling in my first “real” sales job (apparently lemonade stands and mowing neighbors lawns don’t count as “real” sales positions) almost 20 years ago, absolutes included being able to walk from office to office to collect business cards, find out who decision makers are and try to get in to see them. If I couldn’t see them right there and then, I would go back to the office and call the people whose business cards I collected and schedule a time to meet with them. Standard equipment was a briefcase filled with various brochures and a calling card (remember them?) so three times a day I could stop at a hotel to find a pay phone and check back at the office for messages.

Evolution led us to a desk and the requirement of 100 cold calls a day, 1-2 outside meetings, and a cell phone so I no longer had to stop into the local Marriott unless I needed to use the bathroom.  Instead of delivering proposals by hand, we were asked to fax them to prospects—of course always following up with a phone call to make sure it got there because does anyone  really trust that confirmation slip? Next we were asked to stop faxing because we could send the proposal directly from our computer with this crazy thing called email. Now we are finding clients because they read our blog posts, searched for our website on Google, found us on LinkedIn, or maybe follow us on Twitter (@RandolphSterl).

Times change but selling does not. Oh, the methods change, but in the end it is all about developing relationships and allowing clients to buy what they want or need from people they know, like, and trust. How do we develop process around that? We simply look at the strengths of the team, add in accountability, sprinkle in the right amount of support, and are never afraid to look at new ideas.

Event: Learn More About Our Sales and Marketing (SAM) Peer Groups This Thursday in Raleigh, NC

August 10, 2009

Strategize with Your Peers to Grow Your Business

Date: August 13th, 2009
Time: 11:30 am – 1:30 am
Event Type: Roundtable
Market: The Triangle, North Carolina
Where: 1705 Prime, 1705 East Millbrook Road, Raleigh, North Carolina 27609

Join us for lunch as we introduce Randolph Sterling, Inc.’s Sales and Marketing (SAM) Peer Advisory Group Concept – a peer-to-peer advisory group for professionals who are responsible for growing their company’s business and giving participants an opportunity to share experiences and obstacles to growth with other executives from non-competing businesses. The presentation will be followed by a mini group session illustrating how a SAM Group meeting is run and how we work through business issues.

Whether you are a start-up business or in a later stage of growth, peer-to-peer learning affords you the opportunity to have other business owners serve as your sounding board. Participants can help you develop strategic plans, define specific goals and become a trusted resource. Register today for this Roundtable and learn how the Randolph Sterling, Inc’s SAM Peer Advisory Group Concept can help you navigate growth through these challenging times

For more information, call Richard Burghgraef at 312-498-8340, visit, or click here.

Is Cold Calling Dead?

August 5, 2009

As president of a company who provides inside sales services, of course I am expected to say that cold calling will never die. It is the backbone of the sales process…well…only if done correctly.

Let’s face it, salespeople hate to cold call for business. As soon as they get busy, the first thing that gets tossed aside is making those 100 calls to prospects and suspects. “I just didn’t have time, I was dealing with issues with my current customers” is a statement very often heard by sales managers around the globe. But what happens when things slow down? The rep is either back on the phone or trying to milk his current clients for new business that may or may not be there. Many reps get frustrated, blame the company for not putting out a good enough product or service and decide to move on (only to find the need for more cold calling at the new sales position they took.) Others hire a college kid or a son or daughter of an employee to “telemarket” for them. This often results in a prospect receiving a call like this: “Hello, my name is (fill in the blank here), and I represent this great company that wants to sell you something. They are really great. Can they sell it to you or can I have my dad’s poker buddy come in and tell you how great we are? How is Tuesday at 10 AM? Please say yes, they pay me by how many of you people I can find to meet with him.”

If all cold calling was done one of these two ways, yes, the process would be long dead, however successful companies will keep lead generation as an integral part of the sales process generally by doing one of two things: They will continue to have the lead generation process as part of their account executive’s everyday process and continue to emphasize the value of continuing to fill the sales pipeline. They will keep a close look at the new opportunities being found (either by the account executive finding new business on his own or by leads that may come in through other media) just as they do the deals that have been closed. Other companies will outsource this process, either to an outside firm or to a qualified professional internally. I’m not talking about a $10/hr or $50 per appointment college kid, I’m talking about an experienced inside sales professional who will take the time to understand what a company’s ideal client looks like and develop a relationship with them. That person will be empowered to not only ask questions to qualify these prospects but also be able to determine that this prospect may not be ideal for the company to work with and not waste the valuable time of the account executive.

(Now that I’ve told you what I think, it’s your turn to give me your thoughts. Is cold calling dead? Does it work for you? What’s been your experience withit? Leave a comment or take our poll.)

Is Cold Calling Dead?(answers)

Kicks in the Teeth, Mistakes to Learn From

August 3, 2009

“You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” These words were once spoken by Walt Disney, and, as many of us have found, they hold quite a bit of truth.      

Not too long ago, a friend of mine, Glenn Gang, sent me a story about one of his “kicks in the teeth” in the hope that I would share it with others, and help them learn from his mistake.

It was the first thing in the morning. The president of his New York based agency heard that representatives of a Connecticut based crane association were reviewing their agency’s programs. The president of the agency told Glenn to call and ask for an appointment that same day — before they finalized any decisions. So, Glenn called and practically begged for a meeting, and then drove the two hours up I-95 completely confident he had a great shot at landing their business.

His agency handled loads of construction companies. He brought custom flyers and tons of testimonials with impressive pictures of earth-moving equipment. As he sat in traffic, he smiled, passing through Westchester County into Connecticut, passing six or eight construction sites that were using large cranes all along the highway. If you believed in omens, you’d feel pretty good about this sales call too.

When he arrived, Glenn pulled up at the front door to discover the association’s logo was a crane, the bird with the long neck – he thought it was a pretty cool idea. As he stepped into the reception area, he noticed it was quiet and beautifully decorated. The walls were covered with cranes. It was decorated with hundreds and hundreds of them. Everywhere he looked, he saw images of the aquatic birds. Apparently some nonprofit organizations really market themselves well –as this was the association for the preservation of cranes, the birds that is.

Glenn met with the decision maker and presented his company’s offerings, but he was really rattled by the mistake, with his mind focused on the anger he felt towards his company’s president. While the executive director of the crane association sat through the most uninspired sales conversation she’d ever encountered, Glenn just felt stupid being there.

My friend left the association empty-handed and earned the special pleasure of being the butt of office jokes for several months.

Now, even if he’s in a hurry, Glenn is sure to do some homework on all his prospects, because never again does he want to leave a meeting with his tail feathers between his legs.

Glenn learned from his “Kick in the teeth,” as we have all learned from ours.

If you have your “Kick in the teeth” you would like to share, please post it below in the comments section so we all can learn from it.

How to Keep Your Good Sales Reps

August 2, 2009

People will leave jobs for a variety of reasons. It is just a matter of fact that you will not keep all of them to be able to have them receive their 25 year anniversary watch. How do you keep from losing too many of the good ones…keep investing in them.

Here is my version of the typical sales force (of 3 salespeople or more) that I see. You have your big producers. These are the guys who bring in so much money for the company that they are given somewhat free reign simply because you don’t want to upset them and have them and their book of business leave. Then there are the bottom feeders that are just holding on. Much of sales management’s time is spent trying to help these guys sell something or replacing them. Then you have your middle guys. They are usually hitting quota (or close) and pretty much follow procedure. Their expenses are under control simply because they just don’t have the type of “pull” that the big boys have. As a sales manager, these guys cause you very little trouble, so you don’t spend too much time with them other than the occasional check of an expense report. They will come to you when they need you, right?

Unfortunately, they don’t and it is these middle guys (who are generally quite profitable for the company) who are the ones who leave. Their territory is given to a bottom feeder “with potential” who may or may not grow into the position…usually not because while sales managers speak so highly of the personal relationships that they want their reps to develop, they figure that when the old rep left, the new rep will retain that business because they were “buying from the company.”

So is that the best it can get? Absolutely not. I find that the strong sales teams that I work with are that way because they have invested time, energy, and of course some money into the development of these middle guys. But what if the sales manager has no free time after coddling the high producer and interviewing to replace the bottom feeder? Invest in an outsourced assistant sales manager who can come in a few hours a week and work with those middle guys, going out on sales calls with them, giving them insight, and just talking to them about opportunities and obstacles. Also invest in peer advisory groups for them, so not only can they learn from others who are out calling on the same doors (not competitors but people selling to the same people they are) but they will also have a place where they can talk about some of the frustrations on the job without their sales manager thinking that they are not getting the job done.

Before you know it, these middle guys will not only not be thinking of leaving, but they will be nipping at the heels of the top dogs.