Archive for the ‘Sales Management’ Category

Should Your Inside Sales Team Be Listening to Music?

May 3, 2011

As the owner of a company that not only has their own inside sales team that is outsourced to clients but also works with companies on sales process and the overall professionalism and productivity of their sales teams, I am often asked the question: “Do you think it is OK for the team to have music on in the background while making sales calls?”

Well, have you ever noticed that when you go to a ballgame, they will play music during the downtime (when the batter is walking to the plate in a baseball game, while the referees are looking at the replay in football, etc.) but when it is time for the game to resume—for the professionals to work—the music stops. In an inside sales environment, we feel that rule should apply to the inside sales team as well.

The inside sales team needs to think about how they are going to help their client when they are off the phone and be able to listen to the prospects (not the sports scores or the new #1 song) when they are on the phone. My feeling is: Treat a professional as a professional and you have a better chance of getting professional results.

I discussed this with a sales manager not too long ago and his response was “Whatever works to increase sales is worth a try.” This reminds me a lot of something an old boss used to say: “When you are deciding if what you are doing is right or wrong, picture it as the front page story in the newspaper that day.” I learned very quickly that different people read different newspapers. Some read the Chicago Tribune and think twice about what they are doing, knowing their friends and family will see it and judge. Some read the Wall Street Journal, and everything they do is all business all the time. Others (hopefully very few) read the National Enquirer and will simply do anything at any time, even if it includes, lying, cheating and stealing.

Not everything that increases sales is what should be done for long term success.

Something about music in an inside sales environment just seems unprofessional. From years of helping clients investigate how they could improve their sales process through our Growth Audit and Autopsy Services, I’ve noticed that having to listen to someone listen to music while trying to have a professional call is a pet peeve for many business people, and does not help convey a professional image. No, instead it leads to unhappy clients, wondering why the inside sales representative they are speaking to is not taking a more professional approach. It made me wonder, if there were more inside sales teams working in professional environments rather than “boiler rooms,” wouldn’t the perception of hiring an inside sales team be better too? And wouldn’t that lead to even more clients for all of us?

When a Smile Is Your Umbrella, You Get a Lot More Than a Mouthful of Rain

December 27, 2010

I was reading a post on LinkedIn that discussed the value of a smile to closing more deals. I found it interesting.

It is surprising how a smile can change someone’s day for the positive– and certainly help in closing a deal. Of course, we are talking about a genuine smile, one that shows compassion, caring, and a genuine love for what you are doing. Sad to say it, but I’m sure we have all encountered those people who smile and look like the “The Joker” because they really are not showing enjoyment for what they do.

Heck, you only live once so enjoy it. In reality, what do we do during the day that is so awful anyway? OK, so I’m not going to be grinning ear to ear when I am paying my taxes, but so many people get so grumpy when it is time for them to talk to people about what they do or try to sell their product or service. Smile when talking to clients and prospects…and not just in person but on the phone too. Enjoy it!

Yes, I run a sales management company so I may like sales more than the average person, but what can be more fun than getting to talk to people about a problem they have and how you can help to solve it? I get so excited when I see how something I was able to do made my client’s business better or at least alleviate some stress they were having. Who wouldn’t feel great about that?

Death of the Salesman: Are Traditional Salespeople a Thing of the Past?

December 7, 2010

I recently spoke with a woman who worked for a company that “invested heavily in e-marketing and reduced [their] sales force.” She went on to say “It’s been working quite well for the past six months or so. I think that the traditional salesperson is a thing of the past. We still send people to networking events to develop personal relationships, but lead generation is happening for the most part online.”

Now, we at Randolph Sterling have seen a lot of e-marketing with our clients too. However, I don’t think I would agree that the traditional salesperson is a thing of the past.

We have a client that generates 200+ new leads a day for products ranging in price from $5,000-$50,000 through SEO, e-newsletters, etc. They had so many that their salespeople became not much more than order takers, and because there were so many leads, their follow up got bad. The attitude was, “Why call a guy back when I will have 10 more just like him tomorrow?”

But then we came in and added the personal touch by following up on all of the leads that either got skipped over or to which the reps just sent a quote and waited for the prospect to call back. In the first 20 hours of the first week, we had already sold over $300,000 of new business that the company would not have otherwise gotten.

There were two common elements to those sales:

  1. The lead generation system generated a quote to the prospect and showed it was opened. However, when we called, the prospect could not find the quote (often they accidentally deleted it) so we went over the information with them. If we hadn’t, they were going to sign off on another quote they had gotten somewhere else.
  2. The initial quote was usually for a smaller ticket item, often not exactly what the prospect wanted. But, by following up on these “little deals,” we often found that the prospect either needed several of the small pieces over the course of the year, or needed a different piece entirely.

Without the personal attention of a professional salesperson, these deals and many others would have been lost.

Technology is wonderful and certainly has helped the sales industry to change for the better, but based on my experience, my feeling is that the best formula is a strong sales team working with good technology to help attract the right prospects.

Should You Adjust Sales Compensation in a Declining Revenue Environment?

September 14, 2010

How one adjusts the compensation of their sales force is something many people have been talking about recently, both on business oriented discussion boards online and in person, privately as well as at well attended events.

On the surface, these are simple questions with several variables. In general, I have always been a supporter of lower salaries with the majority of the upside in total compensation coming from commission, especially when the salesperson controls the sale from start to finish. However, if the product or service being sold has quite a long sales cycle, 9-18+ months perhaps, and is a pretty high ticket item, I would usually say a larger base salary is needed because people do need to eat while they are developing a long term relationship.

The deeper question though is why so many companies are considering changing their compensation. Are they paying their sales people too much up front to begin with? Has the sales cycle just gotten too long? Has their sales team started to buy into the “bad economy” excuse and lost their focus on developing new relationships and growing the ones they have? What exactly is making it a “declining revenue environment?”

In over 20 years of selling and managing salespeople, my response to a change in compensation either by the company or by the salesperson is simply “SELL MORE!” While it isn’t nearly that simple, I would look at all factors of the “declining revenue environment” before making any strong consideration on changes. Plus, we have not even begun to discuss the potential for negative reaction from the salespeople. What would they do if there was a change? Would such a change cause you to risk losing too many of the right people and put you in a steeper declining revenue environment?

What Is Your Strategy to Strive in the Recovery?

May 19, 2010

So…what is it? One thing is for certain: even if you continued to grow over the past few years, you will be continuing to look for different ways to reach new prospects and turn them into clients. Have you developed a plan yet?

One of the companies we are working with really understands this. They have been in their field for over 100 years, so they have seen it all. When they first came to us, my thought was “What can we show them that they hadn’t seen before?” This is the usual first question I have when preparing to meet a new sales management prospect. It reminds me to make sure I am asking enough of the right questions to allow us to work with them to develop a customized solution that fits their culture and growth goals. No cookie cutter solutions here.

What I found was exactly the opposite of what I expected—isn’t that always the case?

This company is at the top of their field, so while you might think they would be reaping the benefits of the “smaller guys” not being able to survive, they were seeing the little guys trying to infiltrate their turf—the larger clients. We interviewed several of the key players in the company to get their opinion about this.

“They are just worrying about price,” said one manager. “They are insured if he messes up.”

“We haven’t been writing any fewer proposals,” stated another. “But we are just not getting as many projects as we used to.”

This was a common theme among the people we talked to at the company. Our next step was to talk to their clients and prospects.

“They are top notch. We know when we work with them, it will be done right,” a long time client told us. “They are certainly not the cheapest out there, but neither are we.”

“We have worked with them for years. Sure, the number of projects we have had lately has slowed a bit, but as we continue to bounce back, they will be a part of that recovery. We need to work with good people who make us look good,” was the feedback from another happy client.

We interviewed another prospect who they had done many, many, many proposals for but had never gotten the job, so we asked why not. “Oh, they are always so expensive. We can usually find someone else for 20% cheaper,” he said.

“To do the same work?”we questioned, in hopes of finding a differentiator.

“Yep, same stuff,” was his response.

Hmmm. I’m curious. If they are always so much higher, why do you continue to ask them for proposals?” I asked.

After pondering the question for less than a second, he responded “I know they are the best at what they do, but also the most expensive. If I can get a proposal from them, it keeps these cheaper guys in check.”

We had noticed that this was now the second time he used the word cheaper.

“So what happens to you if the cheaper guy screws up?”

“We have insurance for that,” he stated.

“How often does that happen?”

“Oh, it isn’t too bad, just a couple times a year. In fact, we just changed our policy. It was getting too expensive with the old one.”

Wait…what? “You use your insurance policy a couple of times a year? That must be quite expensive, and probably a pain to keep changing policies.”

“It is. Why do you know a good insurance guy?”

“I do, but I think I know a better way for you to keep these costs in check…”

You can see where this is going. Part of the recommendation we are currently implementing for this client revolves around first looking for the right prospects, which lowered the amount of proposals they wrote but increased the number that they won, and next getting their team to be more comfortable asking more questions to get to the root of the pain of their client. They really didn’t want the least expensive person working on their job, they just didn’t see how much that lower cost option was costing them in claims, increased policy costs, increased administrative time in processing this cost and/or finding a new agent, and the potential for losing their job when they realized the bad PR they were getting by not doing it right in the first place.

By digging deeper to find a customized solution that fit their team, we were able to help them thrive in all seasons.

If you or a colleague are staring the recovery in the face and saying, “What can we do to capitalize on this?” give us a call. Our sales management team would love to talk to you about it further and see if we can be of help. For more information about Randolph Sterling’s sales management options, please contact us at 919-439-3710 or check us out on the web at www.randolphsterling.com.

Are You The Best In The World At What You Do?

April 15, 2010

Since I was a kid, I could always sell. Quite frankly, I thought it was pretty easy…talk to the right people, find out what they want, give it to them and they will pay you. This process, as simple as I have made it out to be, is not always that easy, usually for one very important reason—the salespeople get in their own way.

Who is the best in the world at what you do? If you don’t think that you are, neither will anyone else.

Salespeople often stop their own sale because they have talked themselves out of it. They start thinking that maybe they don’t understand their product or service as well as they should, or that a competitor may do it better. There are a million ways to talk yourself out of closing the deal…no one that doesn’t improve by knowing that you are the absolute best at what you do.

I know our company—even if I am learning something new every day about it—and I know we are the absolute best in the world at what we do. Our sales management and process work–it is the best out there because we work with our clients to achieve their objectives. We don’t come in with a premeditated plan of attack or a multiple point plan, but rather we work with our clients in their environment to achieve their goals as they continue to grow.

Our outsourced sales team is made up of professional salespeople who have worked in the business and know how to develop a relationship. They don’t just try to get an appointment for our clients; they find the right person in the right company and develop a rapport to see if they are the best fit for our client. When the conversation between the two gets to a point where they need to bring in the expert, we get our client involved to close the deal. That’s something you only get from the best of the best.

Our SAM Peer Advisory Groups. If you want networking, there are plenty of places to go, but how many places offer an advisory board to the people in your company who are directly involved, right at the front line, in the growth of the company? CEOs have been involved in advisory boards for years, but salespeople have been left to fend for themselves many times. We bring these dynamic personalities together, in one room, and help them achieve or continue their greatness.

Do I think we are the best in the world at what we do? Absolutely I do. Mediocrity is for someone else.

Would you really want to work with someone who didn’t know they were the best at helping you grow?

Outsourcing Your Sales and Sales Management Needs

February 22, 2010

I have been reading lately that temporary staffing is on the rise.

It makes perfect sense. As the economy recovers, more work needs to be done but companies are not yet confident enough to start hiring people so they bring in the people that they need to do the work they need to do. This reminds me of exactly why we do what we do.

It was the temporary staffing industry where I got the idea to start Randolph Sterling, Inc. I worked as a “selling sales manager” for an IT staffing company. We would provide temporary computer staffing support for companies. Some of my clients included AT&T, Pfizer, and Oprah’s company, Harpo Studios. What these companies realized was that they could bring in an expert to do what was needed, and then when the project was finished, they would either have that person continue on with another project or simply end their assignment. They saw that it was less expensive in the long run to pay that person to do the job they needed them to do. They didn’t have to pay for vacation time, benefits, or any of the other hidden expenses that are associated with a permanent employee.

It was this “selling sales manager” that was the original service of Randolph Sterling, Inc. We call it our Virtual Sales Manager service. We go in to our clients, who are usually companies that are growing relatively quickly and either don’t have a full time sales manager or have one that is overworked by managing too many salespeople, and help. We don’t get involved in politics, we just do the things that need to get done, whether it is going out in the field with the account executives, setting procedures, running sales meetings, hiring new staff or solving problems. We only get paid for the hours we work, no vacation time, no benefits, just a day’s pay for a day’s work.

The staffing industry was also the catalyst for another service we provide, one that has become our largest to date: our Outsourced Sales services. One thing I noticed very quickly when I sold in the staffing industry was that the busier I got, the less time there was to find new business, but in an industry where your product is a person and in an economy where companies are constantly being bought and sold, finding new business was imperative.

When I was just starting out, it was easy to reach out to 100 prospects a day to start to develop that relationship. I was just starting, so I didn’t have any current clients so I could spend my whole day building. As I started getting new clients, I was servicing them so there was less time to look for new business. The 100 prospects a day can easily drop down to 50. Talking to half the people meant half the opportunity.

Our outsourced sales service was developed to alleviate this exact problem. Let’s face it, the last thing a salesperson wants to do is make 100 calls in a day to find new opportunities so even if they do have the time, they will find other things to do. We decided it was easier if we do this for you. We reach out to approximately 100 people for every 10 hours we sell, developing relationships with the prospects that our clients want to talk to and sometimes finding out that some of these prospects really aren’t the people they want to do business with. In most of these instances, we are talking to people that the account executives were not going to, helping to bring in business that would have never walked in the door, while the salespeople focus on keeping current clients happy and building that business.

It is another service where you pay for our selling time, no vacation time, no benefits, nothing else. We also do this work off site so our people are focused on one thing and one thing only: developing relationships for you. No office politics, no getting pulled off the job to go help out with something else…a simple concept that sometimes gets lost in today’s workforce.

For more information about our Virtual Sales Manager services or Outsourced Sales, please go to www.randolphsterling.com.

When Growing Too Fast Becomes a Concern

February 10, 2010

I was sitting in a meeting one day when the topic of business growth came up. OK, so it always comes up in meetings I have with clients and colleagues because we all want to grow, don’t we?

This conversation was a little different and eventually changed the way we provide our Virtual Sales Manager Service by simply asking the question…what will you do if your growth dreams do come true?

This is an interesting question that usually is met with answers of additional benefits for employees and vacations and early retirement for business owners. But what happens when you look a little deeper? How will you maintain growth? Will you be able to provide the services that you could when you were smaller?

This scenario reminded me of a friend of mine who started a food delivery business back in the mid-90’s. They would take orders from clients and provide food from 5 different restaurants. That way if mom and dad wanted sushi and little Jr. wanted pizza, everyone was happy. The problem came when they did such a good job promoting the business and they had more dinner orders than they could possibly deliver. So much for a good sales and operations plan!

The owner of the company we posed this question to had a slightly different issue. Operationally, they had processes in place that made it easier for them to grow. The problem was on the sales side. When he looked at growth, he knew that his salespeople would eventually get too busy so he would have to hire someone else and cut the territory of the current salesperson so the new guy had opportunities. By the time we had this conversation, he had 8 salespeople selling 8 completely different ways. He was acting as the sales manager as well as the president. They were making great money, but were headed for a fall. Nobody was happy.

Most companies we work with are strong companies who are growing quickly, but prior to this conversation, most of the companies we worked with were just establishing a sales force beyond one or two people. What we saw with this company was that sometimes a company can grow too quickly by “throwing money” at a problem and really creating a larger problem by hiring a bunch of salespeople, but having no real sales structure. This holds true with companies with 2 sales people, as well as 200.

After this conversation, the client hired us to work as their sales manager, first by developing a solid sales structure which fit with the corporate philosophy, then by making sure that all of the “people on the bus” were right for the company philosophy. Some people, including the #2 salesperson, did not fit the mold and eventually were replaced. But, at the end of the day, the company had a strong, cohesive sales team all moving in the same direction. The following year, in a recession, they beat their best year by 25%.