Five Tips to Uncover Greatness in Your Sales Team

By Herman Dixon

Sales managers can’t “push” success onto people. Rather, the best sales managers understand how to “pull” forth the hidden traits or abilities that lie deep within their salespeople.

Here are five action-oriented management tips you can use to foster success among your sales team.

#1: Take every opportunity to motivate through celebration.

Many sales managers forget celebration can come in many different varieties and styles and still be effective as a motivator.

Consider the story of Karen, who had been a middle manager for about six years. She had always done a nice job with her results but never quite enough to gain that next level of achievement. After attending a presentation by a well-known author and trainer who specialized in employee rewards, Karen decided to make a few changes. Instead of always seeing work as simple “expectation,” she began to look at specifics of the work.

She would comment on neatness, time efficiency, or even something as simple as how a phone call was being answered or how an email was structured. When notes of appreciation arrived, she would reward the receiver with something simple – such as a cupcake or a note with a smiley face on it. When the team hit a big goal, she might celebrate with party hats and pizza.

People saw Karen’s sincerity and responded. Her efforts created quite a bit of attention within the company because her department’s results began to soar. When questioned by senior leadership, the members of her area pointed out that it was her recognition of the “small” things individually and “large” things as a unit that made them feel a real part of the process. That simple act of attention got Karen promoted – not once, not twice, but all the way to the executive floor of her company.

Celebrating success is meaningful. It does matter to people. As has been explained time and time again, “It matters not how much you know. What matters is how much others know you care.”

#2: Build teams by focusing on group achievement.  

Over the years I’ve seen sales managers proclaim that everyone works “as a team” to make things happen…only to set up rewards solely for individual achievement. The result is that people strive to reach individual goals rather than acting on behalf of the team.

The essence of a “team” environment means not everyone can be the quarterback. Everyone needs to find his or her proper place so the team can reach collective success.

Recently I saw Charlton Heston in the old movie classic, Ben Hur. If you have seen the movie, there is a scene where Ben Hur is doing his best to get his horses to properly pull the chariot, which will be part of the classic “big race.” The horses were beautiful and very spirited but were expressing single-mindedness as they pawed the ground and uttered sounds of defiance. Regardless of the number of times the whip cracked, the chariot barely moved.

Out of nowhere an experienced handler appeared and caught Ben Hur’s attention. He explained that the horses were working against each other – not together. Then, he went about making adjustments to the alignment of the horses. After completing his work, the handler jumped into the chariot, cracked his whip, and off went the horses pulling as a great team – speeding through the course in record time. When he returned, he handed the reins back to Ben Hur and explained that success comes in working the horses as a team. You have to know which position to place them in so the team flourishes.

In a team environment, every member is important. You can’t pit one member against the other – unfair competition can destroy the very teamwork structure you are attempting to build. Where groups might be good for growing participation, teams are vital for gaining lasting results. It is that unique personality and skill – when utilized in unison with others – that matters most. As the well-known proclamation conveys, “Together, everyone accomplishes more!”

#3: Make greatness an everyday expectation.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins points out, “Good is the enemy of great.” These words may sound trite, but they represent the reality we see too often. Few actions truly fall into the “greatness column.” “Good” becomes “good enough.”

So why does this occur? Why do most actions simply land in the “good” column? As Collins argues, sometimes your mind hits a level of satisfaction after you achieve a goal. At this point, you may stop thinking big; in turn, this means you’re putting limits on how great you could be. Good then becomes your standard.

One of my strongest memories of my mother comes from my first “real” outside job. I will never forget her saying, “Now, young man, if you can’t go all out to do your very best work every minute of every day, then pick up your lunch bag and come home. Don’t embarrass yourself or the family.” She truly had greatness of effort as an everyday expectation. It became a norm for me as I grew older – and, in turn, was responsible for others in their efforts. The difference between good and great is similar to boiling water: At 211 degrees, water will simmer but not boil. At 212 degrees, it boils. That one extra degree makes the difference. If you are that close, why not shoot for 212?

#4: Use experience as a model for successful pathways.

At times, it is difficult to accept, but experience is often our best teacher. It doesn’t just happen; you have to live it. You can’t rush experience.

Remember back to how you learned to drive a car. The first time, you were probably excited but nervous. There was most likely a solid two-hand “death” grip on the steering wheel. You may have caused the car to stall or perhaps weave in the driving lanes. However, after some time behind the wheel, you soon found yourself jumping in the vehicle, turning on the radio, adjusting the seats, and keeping time with the music as you drove one-handed and effortlessly down the highway. You gained that confidence and ability from the simple experience of driving day after day after day.

Physical effort outperforms any education you may get from a textbook. Though the textbook will give new ideas on how to perform the process until you actually do it, you can never achieve a true level of expertise. This is why doctors, dentists, surgeons, and other such professionals all practice their crafts before they launch their careers. Then they refine that skill as they continue to perform their craft day after day and year after year. Experience thus enables you to use what has worked for others and, through your own efforts, find a way that works better.

#5: Always remember: People’s real needs and aspirations matter most.

In my career path, I was known to say to those I led or influenced, “It doesn’t matter what I think. It is more important what you think.” I did this because it was vital for others to feel that their views and values had merit. Quite often, whether you agree or disagree with a particular stance or solution does not matter. If it satisfies people’s real needs and hopes or ambitions of achieving something and does not violate ethics or morals – and isn’t an outright departure from your business culture – then their opinion or thinking matters and should be examined and implemented if possible.

Phil was a sales manager for a major corporation. He was an impressive, insightful individual and focused on results. Those results were noticed and placed him in the “promotable” category.

The challenge was that, too often, those results came at the expense of the people he led. His sales reps often reported issues surrounding compensation shortfalls and difficulty in getting expenses reimbursed on time. There were issues with his expectations, which too often produced unnecessary overtime and travel – among other problems.

Not wanting to “rock the boat” of the corporate structure concerning these and other issues, Phil allowed his quest for results and possible promotion to sidestep his responsibility to those he led. Dissension crept into the process. Before he noticed the unrest he had created, it began to dismantle his results. It also caused those who viewed him highly to begin to doubt their earlier assessment.

Falling back to an old business school principle that states, “When things seem dire, stop, evaluate, ask, and refocus,” Phil decided it was time to make a change. He met with his sales reps and really listened to their calls for assistance. Though his credibility had slipped due to inactivity, he set about to prove his worth. Phil carried forth his reps’ concerns and was able to secure acceptable changes, which enabled his reps to better perform their duties.

Harmony ensued and results grew. Phil got his promotion and his influence enabled the corporation to better align their procedures to the need of the people. This, in turn, allowed the people to better serve customers – and the final result was unprecedented growth for the corporation. When the people’s real needs and aspirations are at the forefront of the process, success will come.

Greatness comes in many forms and from many different avenues. It comes from “pulling” out the best of those involved so their individual strengths are most effectively utilized. It comes from doing simple actions well so better approaches can be developed. Greatness comes from overcoming the reliance on good and thinking bigger possibilities. As poet, journalist, and novelist Anatole France said, “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”

Herman Dixon is president and CEO of Think BIG! Coaching and Training, Inc., a professional practice that helps CEOs, entrepreneurs, leadership teams, and sales professionals maximize their goals and opportunities. His blog, “Thoughts to Think Big,” and his “Weekly Business Tips” are viewed regularly on numerous social media outlets.

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There Are No Stupid Questions in Selling. Actually, There Are Plenty.

By Sharon Gillenwater

From the time we’re quite young, we’re assured by the adults in our lives that there are no stupid questions.

That may be true when we’re kids – when we need to develop the confidence to ask about what we don’t know; however, the same does not apply to adults working in enterprise sales. Live by that philosophy and you are going to be like the old Maytag repairman – very lonely.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t ask ANY questions. We’re saying you should be aware of the ones that will reveal a lack of preparation. Ask “stupid” questions and you could lose credibility, trust, and, as a result, opportunities.

According to Tom Searcy’s book, How to Close a Deal Like Warren Buffett, America’s greatest dealmaker goes into meetings with “an encyclopedic” level of knowledge about the other party. He doesn’t ask about industry, market, competitors, or advantages because he already knows all about them. He does his pre-meeting homework religiously so he can cut right to a meaty business discussion.

Now consider how you and your team approach a meeting with a new prospect. There are just some questions that shouldn’t be asked – because they show you haven’t done the most basic legwork.

Forbidden questions include:

  • “What does your company do?”
  • “Who are your customers?“
  • “Who is your competition?”
  • “What is your company’s business strategy?”

All of these will be cringe-worthy to a C-Level executive. Why? Because their time is their most precious asset – and they don’t want to waste it talking about things you could have learned from reading a few articles and earnings call transcripts. You should already know all these things before you walk in the door.

Sales-i has designated, “What does your company do?” as among the laziest of questions. As they write, “Anyone can Google a company, look up a contact on LinkedIn and get a general gist of what a company does. It takes 5 minutes, if that. Not only does it allow you to qualify out some companies without even having to lift the receiver, but understanding a little bit about the company you’re about to call will only put you in good stead to divulge exactly where your offering can help.”

But that’s just baseline. Sales pros at the top of their game are not content with doing the bare minimum. Their goal is to demonstrate some knowledge about the company, its competition, its strategic focus and challenges, its current market environment, and how it plans to grow.

Another cringe-worthy question to ask executives is whether they are the decision maker. You should know that already, too. What you should ask instead is, “Who else is involved in the decision making process?” since C-level leaders typically ask for input from subject matter experts and other stakeholders.

Also verboten: Don’t ask if they are in the market for your product or service. What if they have a need they don’t even recognize yet? Your goal is to have a business discussion that helps them understand what’s possible and position yourself to be an expert partner, advisor, and – if all goes well – vendor.

Be careful of mixing budget talk with business talk. While this conversation has to happen eventually, pushing too hard to deliver a proposal could be a turnoff. You want an executive to see you as being a helpful problem solver; let them take the lead on driving toward proposal stage. By the time you reach that point, it should be clear to your customer that what you’re proposing is worth the cost. This approach also keeps your offer from being commoditized in the eyes of the customer – because you have already delivered so much value in the pre-sale phase.

Jeremy King of Element Three has a list of 15 dumb sales questions to avoid that include some of the ones above and some others you should consider:

  • “Is this a good time to chat?”
  • “What level of service are you willing to pay for?”
  • “What will it take to earn your business?”
  • “Who was the best salesperson who ever called on you?”
  • “What do you dislike about your current vendor?”

These questions, he says, invite dismissal. No one wants to talk to a salesperson who is so blatantly self-serving. Buh-bye.

Now let’s talk about smart questions – the ones that show a genuine interest in your customers and a desire to help them achieve their goals. Look back at that paragraph about Warren Buffett and strive to know everything he would insist on knowing. Search for articles about the company and its executives and read the most recent earnings call transcripts. Make a cheat sheet by jotting down the highlights and share it with anyone else from your company who will be in the meeting.

It can make for a deep dive, but the information you collect will help you connect the dots between your customer and how you might be able to help them. You can then use your meeting to explore your hypothesis by asking smart questions.

So, instead of asking who the competition is, you can instead ask about how a recent acquisition announcement by competitor A is impacting their priorities and strategy.

And, instead of asking what their technology investment priorities are, ask if they are concerned that their back office or supply chain technology may be inhibiting growth in specific areas that you know they’re focused on.

The more you know about a potential customer the better you can demonstrate how you can serve those needs. If you have “stupid” questions, get them out of your system by answering them through research before you go anywhere near the customer. Then you can refine your questions and turn them into jumping-off points to more meaningful conversations that lead to strong, long-term relationships and bigger deals.

Sharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market – from Fortune 500 companies to independent non-profits – to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.

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Mastering the Art (and Science) of Sales with Emerging Technology

By Todd Gracon

Sales, like any form of persuasion, is an art. A smooth sales cycle is like a beautiful painting, where individual elements are brought together with masterful finesse. If even one element is out of place or poorly executed – if the lighting is off or the perspective is sloppy – the entire painting suffers; so, too, in sales.

But sales is also a science that can be analyzed empirically. If it were an equation, it would look like this:

Average Deal Size × Likelihood of Close × Number of Deals ÷
How Much Time You Have to Move Them Forward

It’s important for sales professionals to have a solid grip on both the art and science of sales. Today, it’s much easier to do so thanks to emerging technology. In fact, according to a Salesforce survey, high-performing sales teams use about three times more technology than underperforming teams. Here are a few ways I’ve seen sales professionals leverage new tech to be more productive, waste less time, and sell smarter.

Make Time for Your Art with Automation

In sales, time is crucial, and nothing is more frustrating for a sales professional than wasting their time. Efficiency equals money – and being inefficient can determine the size of your commission check.

Yet, every day, salespeople waste valuable time doing repetitive tasks like looking up contacts, updating leads, and logging demos. Every second spent on administrative work is a second you don’t have to meaningfully move forward in the sales cycle. The more administrative work you do, the less time you have to practice your art.

You can use automation to cut down on the amount of administrative work you need to do throughout the day. For example, a friend of mine created an automated workflow that takes any new email in their inbox, looks that email up in Salesforce, and creates a contact if one doesn’t already exist. The workflow also logs the new contact in Evernote; my friend gets a summary of all new updates to Salesforce via Slack at the end of the day, so he can easily track which prospects he has yet to follow up with.

That’s a simple example of how automation can fit into your daily life as a salesperson, but it’s by no means all that technology is capable of. I’ve seen sales pros create automated workflows to alert them of new activity on VIP accounts, send contract approval requests to a designated Slack channel, and more.

Leveraging Technology to Time Travel

I’ve written before about why time traveling is the most important skill a sales professional can cultivate. The key here is to remember that sales, as a discipline, is like spinning plates rather than juggling balls. You need to get processes going as quickly as you can while simultaneously ensuring no process ever loses its momentum.

The artistic aspect of this process is found in how you qualify prospects; a lot of the time, there’s an element of instinct that guides the decision. Are you asking the tougher questions? Are you giving them the “why”? Are you making it easy for them to make a choice? Do you identify potential proof points, make good use of social engineering, and get existing customers to sell on your behalf?

The science of time traveling can be tricky to deconstruct; there are so many micro-processes to manage. How do you know whether a process is inefficient or not? How can you tell when it’s time to get started on another step in the process?

That’s where analytics come in. It’s crucial for every sales professional to know how they’re performing according to certain KPIs. CRMs do a good job making pipeline analytics available to sales reps, but these measurements are only as good as the information available. If you have poor demo-logging or lead-updating habits, it’ll be harder to get an accurate picture of your pipeline and processes.

Intelligent automation and integration not only make it easier to keep records up to date; they can also open up new ways to measure your efficacy – and efficiency – as a salesperson. You can create a 360° view of every customer by pulling information from different apps into your CRM. You can see which marketing campaigns they’ve been most responsive to, for example, or whether they have any customer support tickets open. These are key bits of information that can help you strike while the iron is hot, as well as allow you to better analyze which of your processes could work better.

Sales professionals are constantly looking for ways to make more money and have more success. The smarter and more innovative ones know that technology isn’t to be feared; instead, it’s a tool they can leverage to up their sales game and scale their franchise. Regardless of the process you want to optimize, chances are there’s new tech that can help you do it!

Todd Gracon is the VP of sales at Workato, the world’s first intelligent automation platform. As a sales executive with 20+ years of experience and an MBA from UC Berkeley, he has worked in roles ranging from selling and architecting to developing and consulting. Todd is passionate about disruptive and innovative approaches to problem solving; prior to Workato, he spent time at Accenture, BEA Systems, Oracle, and Tableau.

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How to Sell a Service Mindset to Carnivore Salespeople

By Jim Cathcart

After years of your sales team seeing prospects as “fresh meat,” how do you cultivate a service-oriented mindset?

Well, it’s not as complex as it might seem. It is not like getting lions to become vegetarians. Instead, it’s about showing the value (e.g., payoffs) of doing things in new ways.

Setting the Right Vision

There’s a common saying in management: “What you measure is what you get more of.” In other words, what you inspect tells people what you expect. If someone wants to gain your approval or praise, they’ll do what you are measuring. If it’s sales calls, they will do what they can to increase the number of calls. If it’s new contracts, they’ll focus only on signed orders.

A utility company in California once implemented a new system to increase customer orientation and service quality in their call center. They told their people they would be rewarded based on the length of time they spent on phone calls with customers. The thinking was that longer calls would be perceived as better service.

But there were unintended consequences! Upon hearing of the new plan, the workers started placing people on hold so call times would be extended. Service didn’t improve – but call length did increase. Service quality, on the other hand, got worse.

Next, management said, “No more long calls. We will now measure you based on the number of calls you handle.” Workers immediately adapted. They started hanging up on customers so they’d call back and score two calls for each inquiry.

Finally, the leaders realized their errors and changed to a system of customer satisfaction measures that directly involved customer feedback.

Playing the Sales Game

In some fields, there is a long history of aggressive and manipulative sales practices. Customers have become numb to advertising that offers a wonderful new experience – only to be contradicted in practice by uncaring salespeople. They think, “Same rust, new paint.” Good words and slogans – promises of great treatment and respect for the customer – have just become “white noise” to many buyers. They expect to have to play the sales game, and they hate doing it.

The big question, then, is: How do you get salespeople to stop focusing just on closing techniques and profit margins, and start truly trying to help people? As with the utility company above, there is a bigger issue here than just what you measure. Measures communicate priorities, but mindset drives the culture. That is why we need to reorient the thinking toward seeing customers as assets instead of targets.

What’s the Purpose of Your Business?

Hint: it is not profit. All businesses must earn a profit in order to stay in business, but the purpose of each business is something different. Profit is a by-product of what you do – not the reason for doing it. Of course, profit is necessary and important, but your product or service has a greater value than just stimulating revenue.

The purpose of automobiles is to provide enjoyable and reliable transportation – not to generate profit margins. The purpose of banking services is to give people more control over (and security about) their money. The purpose of computers and smartphones is to give people more control over their day-to-day lives and the information flow in their work. The communication capabilities of your technology are the reason profit can be produced by selling them. But profit, again, is the by-product.

The more people see the value in what they do, the more commitment they make to doing it well. A salesperson who truly understands how their offer helps others – and makes the world a better place – will be far more persuasive in a sales dialogue than someone who simply knows 15 power closing techniques. All of this starts with how you talk about the job.

Salespeople are not paid for making sales. They are paid for helping people at a profit. If they make lots of sales and many of them “unwind” or result in high-cost customers, then profits will drop, work will be miserable, and the business will fail. It’s not the number of sales that counts; it is the number of happy customers who pay you on time and speak well of you.

Jim Cathcart is a long-time contributor to Selling Power and one of the world’s leading professional speakers. He is the original author of Relationship Selling plus 17 other books. helps organizations increase sales engagement and self-motivation. Contact him at

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Compassion Fatigue: It’s Here, It’s Real, and It’s Hurting Your Sales Game

By Karyn Mullins

You’re constantly outsourcing your energy. Every customer and salesperson who needs compassion, you’re always there for them. But filling up their tanks is draining and that can quickly attack your team’s sales numbers.

Believe it or not, this feeling has a name. “Compassion fatigue” is defined as fatigue, emotional distress, or apathy resulting from the constant demands of caring for others or from constant appeals from charities.

Especially in sales management, the strain from being a mentor and sounding board leads to a reduced sense of personal accomplishment, increased stress, and mental exhaustion. And this stress is an epidemic in today’s workplace.

According to a 2017 Udemy report, “Workplace Confidential: The Real Story Behind Stress, Skills, and Success in America,” millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers all admitted to having increased stress levels over the past year.

Compassion fatigue is real and it could be putting your sales career in danger. Take a look at how to determine if it’s a problem for you – and learn steps for dealing with it at work.

Why Compassion Fatigue Is a Problem in Sales

As sales managers, it’s your job to lend an empathetic ear to your customers and salespeople. All successful sales managers understand sales isn’t about selling, but rather about relationships. Building those relationships depends on your ability to care about every life aspect a customer is willing to share.

However, caring too much can hurt.

Becoming overly empathetic means you’re feeling customers’ or salespeople’s emotions, experiencing their fears, and relating to their dreams. Becoming overwhelmed with everyone else’s issues and concerns leaves little time to address your own. This distracts from other customers, your team, and, ultimately, your sales goals.

More importantly, it’s easy to lose your sense of self when compassion fatigue hits. You lose that spark, motivation, and goal-oriented attitude that made you a success from the start.

How to Recognize an Issue

Like I said before, sales management jobs require a certain degree of empathy. Without it, you’ll be unable to connect with customers and your team. However, being aware of the signs of compassion fatigue will help you recognize when that compassion has begun affecting you in a negative way.

A few signs are:

  • Decreased focus
  • Lowered cognitive abilities
  • Unusual drop in productivity
  • Emotional intensity especially surrounding work issues
  • Lack of energy
  • Decreased overall well-being
  • Lack of interest

Remember, compassion fatigue isn’t something you wake up with one day. It happens over an extended period of time after offering too much empathy and energy to your customers and team. Simply being aware of the symptoms and taking note of how you’re feeling at the end of each day is a good way to keep yourself in check.

Overcoming without Offending

Sales jobs require you to focus on your own well-being from time to time. If you’re not up to par, it’ll be impossible to strategically plan your sales management goals, give customers the information they need, and, overall, be your sales-powered self.

However, stopping compassion fatigue from hurting your sales career means you’ll need to remove yourself a bit from the empathy role. Not approaching this carefully leads to hurt feelings and dented egos.

Overcoming compassion fatigue starts with self-care and self-management. Take time outside of work or even a few days off to do activities you enjoy. Go for a walk, eat at your favorite restaurant, or meet up with an old friend. No matter what you choose to do, try to disconnect from all work-related activities.

When you come back, practice self-management. Be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to empathizing with customers and team members. Strategically schedule your days so you’re not spending back-to-back calls with the emotionally needy.  

Regain your focus and put time and energy back into selling by creating a step-by-step action plan for helping your team hit your sales goals.

Karyn Mullins is the president at, a job board that gives members access to the most sought-after medical sales jobs and pharmaceutical sales jobs on the Web. Connect with Karyn on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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How the Best Sales Managers Control Time

By Kevin F. Davis

The biggest problem sales managers face is not having enough time to get everything done. Unfortunately, the way many sales managers problem-solve with their salespeople ends up in creating more “stuff” for the sales manager to do. And that leaves less time for more important priorities, like sales coaching.

I have never met a participant in my sales manager programs who thought he or she was spending enough time coaching salespeople. Not having enough time for sales coaching is a huge problem – because a lack of coaching leads to a host of problems…not enough salespeople at quota, high turnover of salespeople, slow ramp-up of new hires, and lousy sales numbers, just to name a few.

Now, I’m the first to admit that some of the distractions sales managers must deal with are out of their control – such as requests from upper management to attend meetings, or the submission of necessary reports.

But I also hear from sales managers about other problems like this one: Suppose a sales rep contacts you and says, “Hey, Boss, we’ve got a problem.”

Notice that the salesperson tells you “we’ve” got a problem – not “I’ve” got a problem.

Most sales managers will listen to the problem and then – not having the necessary information to make a decision – says to the salesperson, “Let me look into it and I’ll get back to you.” In the blink of an eye, two things have just happened that are typically associated with being a subordinate in a relationship: 1) the sales manager accepted a delegation from a sales rep, and 2) the sales manager offered to provide the sales rep with a progress report!

And there you have an example of why many sales managers give themselves more stuff to do. We love being problem solvers for the sales team. It’s something we thrived on when we were salespeople, right? So our natural instinct is to get involved with every request that comes our way. And then our sales team gives us even more of their problems, and we have no time remaining to coach salespeople.

Operating in a reactive mode such as this is not good for sales managers or their sales team. You know how all this plays out: You come to the office with a great plan for all the things you want to focus on and then, WHAMMO – you get an incoming problem, then another and another and, before you know it, it’s 5 p.m. and you’ve just spent all day addressing other people’s priorities. Meanwhile, you had no time to become a sales coach. No wonder there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day!

The best sales managers are masterful at taking control of their time. Here are three strategies I share in my sales management seminars:

Strategy #1: Make sure your salespeople “own” their own problems.

The next time a sales rep approaches you with a problem, listen but do NOT offer your own ideas or allow yourself to be dragged into the drama. The goal should be to help that salesperson figure out a way to deal with the problem on their own. Successful sales managers ask their sales team what I call the two magic questions:

  1. What have you done about it so far?
  2. What do you think ought to be done next?

Pretty soon you’ll notice that your salespeople will come to you and say, “Boss, I’ve got a problem and here are my two best solutions.” Wouldn’t that give you more time for sales coaching?

Strategy #2: Tame the email monster.

I recently spoke to a sales manager who estimated she spends roughly two hours every day sending and receiving emails. That equates to 500 hours a year – or more than 60 days of her time! Imagine if she could just reduce that time by 25 percent. That would be an extra 125 hours a year for more coaching. Check your email less frequently and set team standards for email that include “NRN” – No Reply Needed” in the subject line. Finally, send shorter emails yourself.

Strategy #3: Think about your “to-don’t list,” not just your to-do list.

Most of us come into the office each day with a list of things we want to accomplish each day. The best sales managers also have a clear to-don’t list – they know what they are going to STOP doing, like responding to everyone else’s problems, answering every single call, or responding immediately to all their emails, texts, etc.

When you stop being everyone else’s problem solver, you’ll have much more time to spend on what should be your number one priority: coaching salespeople. You are the only person on your sales team who can fill this vital function for your company. Sales coaching is the priority that will contribute most to the sales team’s results.

Every day you face a choice of whether to be a reactive firefighter whose time is lost by an endless number of seemingly urgent distractions – or whether you will become one of the best sales managers whose time is focused on sales coaching, sales pipeline management, pre-call planning, and other priority tasks so essential to becoming a successful sales manager. In this daily choice lies your sales leadership destiny.

Kevin F. Davis is the president of TopLine Leadership and the author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness, which has been named the 2018 Axiom Business Book Award Winner, Silver Medal. Kevin is also the author of two sales books: Getting into Your Customer’s Head and Slow Down, Sell Faster! Kevin is a thought leader on buyer-focused sales training and playbooks, and the sales coaching and leadership skills so essential to steering your team to success. Visit TopLine Leadership, Inc. for more info.  

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Your Most Valuable Selling Skill and Other Important Insights

By Ben Taylor

We asked sales professionals across industries what challenges they anticipate this year. After receiving hundreds of responses, Richardson compiled our 2018 Selling Challenges Study. The results provide a panoramic view of ground-level challenges in sales today. Here’s what we learned.

Competing Against Low-cost Providers

Sales professionals are feeling the pressure to articulate the value of their solution amid inexpensive alternatives. More respondents cited this problem than any other in the study. Connected to this challenge was another common response: “gaining higher prices.” During the negotiation process, more sales professionals are struggling to maintain control and generate mutually beneficial outcomes.

Strong sales professionals overcome these challenges by converting demands to needs. This approach is important because needs (e.g., “I need more flexibility in the payment schedule”) are much easier to discuss and resolve than demands (e.g., “I can’t pay that much”). Once specific needs are understood, they may identify multiple options for meeting the need, which does not necessarily require concessions. In the end, they maintain the scope of the work and the pricing.

Creating a Targeted Prospecting Strategy

The increasing sophistication underpinning sales automation tools is motivating sales professionals to redesign their prospecting strategy. However, process improvement isn’t the same as sales improvement. CRM systems offer a range of capabilities, but the customer must be at the center of most decisions.

Getting to the right stakeholder is part of the challenge behind creating a targeted prospecting strategy. More sales professionals are discovering that developing a brand marketing mindset helps clarify the right leading message – starting by considering what kind of customer they want to talk to and what those customers care about.

Understanding How Buyers Make Decisions

Having more stakeholders on the buyer’s side of the table leads to a complex decision making process – the result of multifaceted business needs. Sales professionals must remember to take the time to ask questions that reveal the decision making tree.

Doing so requires relationship building. Information moves freely with an established relationship between the sales professional and the buyer. The buyer is likely to recoil from direct questions about the decision making process if they come before the sales professional has prepared some groundwork.

The Status Quo Remains Powerful

This issue garnered among the most responses of all questions across all categories for the past two years. Meanwhile, the problem is growing.

Buyers today have more options. Each of these options has several possible outcomes. This complexity and the need to fulfill day-to-day responsibilities creates inertia. Additionally, buyers are considering the ROI of their decisions. In doing so, they’re asking themselves which metrics will matter when gauging the effectiveness of a solution.

However, sales professionals can remind buyers that making no decision is, in fact, a decision. Standing still carries risk – especially as the competition moves forward. Conveying this message requires a proactive mindset around a process that makes it easy for the buyer to do business with the sales professional.

Balancing Sales and Relationship Management

Increasingly complex sales require more follow-through. As a result, the sales professional has less time to pursue new opportunities. At the same time, more sales professionals are working to become trusted advisors. This approach also takes time. In fact, “becoming a trusted advisor” was the second most popular response to the question of how best to manage accounts and expand relationships.

Sales professionals should communicate their intention to keep new product discussions separate from work already implemented. This approach permits time to focus on “whitespace” in the account without impeding on the value expected from previous solutions.

The Most Valuable Selling Skill Is…

Respondents cited “asking insightful and relevant questions to understand customer needs and challenges” as the most valuable selling skill in 2018.

Competition has forced many businesses to leverage nuanced differentiators. As a result, sales professionals recognize the need to make a greater effort to understand these details across a range of customers. Moreover, insightful questions are an early step toward shaping the customer’s thinking by directing their focus to areas where the sales professional can offer value.

To reach a close, a sales professional needs a path. The customer’s responses to insightful questions reveal that path. Effective sales professionals start by offering context. They explain their thought process and why they’re asking the question.

The buyer is changing, and sales professionals must change with them. With a refocus on the right selling skill, the strongest sales professionals stand to gain big in 2018.

For more information, visit this report summary page (where you can also download the full report).

Ben Taylor is the content marketing manager at Richardson. He has an MBA in finance from LaSalle University and more than a decade of business and writing experience. He has covered content for several brands, including Nasdaq, Barclaycard, and Business Insider.

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The High Value of Lifelong Learning

By Jim Cathcart

“Created and repaired in the USA…but made somewhere else.”

When I grew up it seemed every disposable product was labeled “Made in Japan” or “Made in China.” If it was easy to reproduce – or inexpensive – then that’s where it was made.

It may have been made in another country, but we often had to repair it or replace it. “Made in the USA” products were produced in Detroit or Pittsburgh or Chicago. They were solid, reliable, and substantial.  

At least that’s the way it seemed to me from my home in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the late 20th Century.

The Growing Influence of China

Japan had its renaissance a generation ago and, today, its innovative products are serious players in the world markets. China, on the other hand, has remained mostly a manufacturing economy.

For the past few years I’ve been making annual trips to China to conduct seminars on leadership, sales, and communication skills. My audiences have been 1,000 to 2,500 young success seekers who sit enthralled with learning for up to six hours a day as I share ideas and techniques. It’s not that I’m necessarily that interesting but rather that they are that interested. These folks are hungry! They’re eager to learn.

For generations the Chinese have been learning, copying and producing what the USA and other countries have thought up, tested, and refined. But now, their leaders are encouraging them to innovate. They want to learn to think like we do.

The Will to Prepare

There are 400 million millennials in China, born between approximately 1980 and 2000. By contrast, there are 80 million millennials in the USA. China has more young adults than we have people of all ages in our entire country plus all of Canada!

And they work differently than we do. They spend years learning, practicing, and studying. Long before they need to take an entrance exam or compete for a job, they are spending hours every day in intense study of their chosen craft. Plus, they want to learn to think like you do. One-third of all international students in U.S. universities are Chinese students – learning here, then returning home.

Why does this matter to you and me? Because these are the people with whom we will be competing in coming years. They are learning English, studying in our schools, learning our techniques, and competing with our products. So far, it’s been mild – but wait till they start innovating! When their creativity and entrepreneurial juices are unleashed there will be no force large enough to resist them.

The Value of Lifelong Learning

What can you do about it? For one, learn like they do. Start spending a portion of each week learning skills and techniques you don’t need…yet. “Yet” – that’s the word to watch. Business is fine now, but what is the next stage of business for you? With whom will you be competing for tomorrow’s sales? What technology will you need to understand in order to keep up? What could you learn now that would give you more options later?

What technology could you begin to invest in today that would expand your capacity to reach more customers with more services next year? In the new book, Sales Ex Machina, authors Victor Antonio and James Glenn-Anderson show exactly how technology is not just augmenting but replacing the human element in some of the sales steps we thought only we carbon-based life forms could handle.

In order to remain a leader in your community and industry, and against impressive new competitors, you and I must continually innovate and prepare. Learn to use technology we don’t yet believe we will need. Create new solutions – exciting ways to do things better than before – and prepare for opportunities you haven’t even seen yet. Get ready…for more than you originally thought you’d need to be prepared for. Just keep growing, learning, experimenting, collaborating, and improving. That’s the American Way and it is what makes the rest of the world want to be more like us. GBA! God bless America.

Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE, is the original author of Relationship Selling and one of the world’s leading professional speakers. Jim is a regular contributor to Selling Power and a certified Peak Performance Mindset trainer. Contact Jim at

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Why Some Millennials Avoid Sales – and What You Can Do About it

By Jamie Crosbie

According to a research study conducted by Harvard Business School in 2014, sales positions (including sales management openings) are increasingly becoming harder to fill. In part, this is because younger workers do not appear to be all that enticed by a career in sales. Other surveys and studies have highlighted the fact that millennials are not as easily lured by traditional incentives such as money or prestige.

What Do Younger and Older Workers Value?

When surveyed about their preferences, the Harvard study showed that 64 percent of older workers listed stability and income as compelling reasons to work in a given field. Younger workers, however, put a higher value on quality of life and making a difference in the world. That means, while older Americans workers are more likely to be impressed by money, their more youthful counterparts find greater significance in doing something they enjoy or being of service to humanity in some way.

This may explain why other studies have shown that millennials often prefer creating their own path such as starting their own company. Far from lazy, younger workers simply prefer to emphasize quality and value over long-term security or income levels. Having grown up during the Great Recession, they are skeptical about finding career security by staying for decades at one particular company.

Whereas 53 percent of baby boomers stated they would rather work for a single employer for their entire career, 45 percent of millennials opted for changing jobs at regular intervals. They are also more comfortable with acquiring new skills. As much as 77 percent of millennials stated they are willing to return to school in order to add additional skillset, although rising educational costs may begin to dampen that enthusiasm.

Recruiting Younger Sales Talent: Retool Your Company Messaging

The hard truth is that sales organizations are fighting a losing battle with time. Aging sales professionals are getting harder to find, just as the up-and-coming millennials are turning away from sales. To effectively fill empty sales positions, companies need to aggressively target talent. To do so, they must also change the message to fit the emerging millennial narrative. This may mean adding value by helping them build fulfilling and meaningful careers.  

To compete, companies need to rethink and retool their message by emphasizing quality, individuality, flexibility, and community service. Besides helping fill empty sales slots, purpose-driven companies are more likely to have brand-loyal customers.

Take, for instance, the rise of small neighborhood brewers and microbrewers, which are challenging the status quo of larger companies. The emphasis has changed from mass-produced quantity to high-value, handcrafted quality.

This niche market is a good example of the differences in mindset and emerging marketing trends. Microbreweries are generally more inclined to craft unique, high-value fare. They also espouse a message based on community involvement, coupled with creative approaches and solutions. Their message is not just about beer, but also concerns reaching into an increasingly interconnected world.

While many other examples could be cited, it comes down to the perceptions of the upcoming generation. Companies that ignore the new models will face stiff challenges as younger sales talent move toward other careers. The bottom line is that, like sales, you have to tailor your message to your targeted audience, creating value for the buyer (and, in this case, the seller as well).

Jamie Crosbie is founder and CEO of ProActivate and an accomplished senior executive with a proven record of sales leadership success. A certified Peak Performance Mindset trainer, Jamie helps companies of all sizes increase their sales productivity by training them to think – and therefore act – differently. Contact her today to learn more – or 214/720-9922.  

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Everything You Need to Know to Sell to Today’s Enterprise CIO

By Sharon Gillenwater

Recently we did a deep dive into the backgrounds of CIOs by analyzing data regarding nearly 1,000 CIOs in the Fortune 500 and beyond. If you are familiar with our service, you know we maintain in-depth profiles of several thousand CIOs as well as thousands of other C-suite executives. And, while much of our focus tends to be on their business initiatives and challenges to help sales teams create compelling strategies for partnering with customers, our profiles also contain rich, personal information, such as their hobbies, where they are from, and where they started their careers.

We set out to answer three questions:

  1. What does the enterprise CIO archetype look like?
  2. What do enterprise CIOs have most in common?
  3. How does the CIO archetype differ from the other C-level titles we profile in our database?

So what did we learn?

What Are CIOs Really Like: Five Insights

Insight #1: Our CIO group – in aggregate – looks quite different from other C-level executives.

They’re more cerebral in that they have more intellectually-focused interests and hobbies. They enjoy reading, writing, and speaking on topics such as technology and leadership. They’re more multilingual and globally focused. And they’re also more altruistic in that they show a strong interest in volunteering and mentoring.

Insight #2: Our analysis – which, again, looked at nearly 1,000 CIOs in the Fortune 500 and beyond – found that only 16 percent are women.

While this is a disappointingly small percentage, consider that, in 2017, only 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs were women, which is itself a new record high.

Insight #3: Unlike when we look at other C-level titles, golf is not the favorite pastime.

For enterprise CIOs, travel tops the list of favorite hobbies, followed by running. Golf tied for third with cycling. After that came mentoring, reading, and skiing.

Insight #4: CIOs are a very international group.

They’ve lived and worked all over the world. After the U.S., our sample of nearly 1,000 enterprise CIOs come from Canada, India, South Africa, and the UK. Nearly six percent are multilingual, speaking 25 different languages in total. After English, top languages are French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Hindi.

Insight #5: The CIOs we looked at have been groomed in their early careers by a handful of large organizations – what we have come to call “leadership factories.”

These companies include IBM, Accenture, PwC, JPMorgan Chase, and GE Company. Many also cut their teeth in the military and other public sector organizations such as the Secret Service and the FBI.

Here are just a few examples of CIOs included in our study, which represent our findings well:

  • Tony Young is the global CIO at Sophos Ltd. He is a frequent traveler who has said he dreams of a “transporter” – the fictional teleportation device in Star Trek, of course. He also speaks Chinese.

  • Maya Leibman, EVP and CIO at American Airlines, has visited about 80 countries. Based in Dallas, she volunteers with several local organizations, including the “So SMAART” program, where she works with minority girls, ages 9 to 12, to teach them about technology and life.

  • Stephen Fraser, SVP and CIO at Realogy Corporation, has taken regular trips to India, has spent a lot of time in the UK and Italy, and is hard pressed to pick one favorite place. “It’s hard to pick Rome over Barcelona over London or Paris,” he has said. Fraser is also a mentor and coach at the Society for Information Management and a volunteer mentor at Everwise. He began his career as a client leader and consulting manager at Accenture.

  • Naveen Zutshi, CIO at Palo Alto Networks, enjoys traveling, reading, sports, and astrophysics. Born in Srinagar, India, his favorite books include Saturday, Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead, A Brief History of Time, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blue Ocean Strategy.

  • Luc Hennekens, Airbus Group’s CIO, speaks Dutch, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. He loves mountain biking, triathlons, photography, adventure travel, scuba diving, skiing, golf, and sky-diving. He’s travelled to more than 45 countries and worked in 12.

  • Diane Enberg Jurgens, CTO at BHP Billiton Plc, is a Seattle native but lives and works in Singapore for an Australian company. She speaks Mandarin Chinese and enjoys traveling. Interested in attracting more American women to engineering careers, she mentors engineers.

  • Javier Polit, Procter & Gamble’s CIO, was born in Ecuador but raised in the U.S. He started his career at PwC after earning a Master of International Business Administration from Tiburg University in the Netherlands and a Master of International Management from the Budapest University of Economics and Science. Polit has since conducted business in more than 40 countries on five continents, and speaks French, Portuguese, and Spanish. In his free time, he enjoys cycling, reading, playing the guitar, racing cars, flying Cessna airplanes, riding his horses, and playing chess.

Certainly, these are accomplished people, but why should you care about all of this – what countries they’ve been to, the fact that they enjoy reading or running? Simple: The more you know – even beyond the essentials of the companies they work for – the better chance you have of making a connection.

It could be a connection with you; it could be a connection with an executive sponsor at your own company. If you are meeting at an event, it’s an opportunity to invite that person to go for a run or literally speak a common language. If, like your CIO, your target CIO got her start at Accenture or GE, they have very specific experiences in common – and your CIO may have a better understanding of her approach to business given their common career-forming foundation.

In sales, it always helps to know as much as possible about the executives with whom you need to connect in order to drive business forward. Deep insight into executive decision makers can be a powerful tool.

Sharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, the only business intelligence tool designed exclusively for C-suite sales, marketing, and recruiters who need to reach, engage, and build relationships with C-level executives. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.

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