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.

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

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.  

New Survey Shows How to Develop Excellent Sales Managers

By Norman Behar

When speaking to clients, I often make the point that sales success is highly correlated to the effectiveness of their frontline sales managers – those who have day-to-day responsibility for managing the sales teams. These responsibilities typically include hiring, managing sales performance, coaching, and leading their teams. Obviously, these are not easy tasks.

In our book, The High-Impact Sales Manager, we describe the “Star Athlete Syndrome,” where high-performing sales professionals are promoted into sales management positions with the assumption that their individual sales success will translate into better sales team performance. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, since the skills they developed as sales professionals do not prepare them for the key responsibilities they will assume as sales managers.

To better understand the correlation between sales management skills and sales team performance, we (in partnership with Selling Power) recently conducted a survey that included sales leaders from more than 20 industries. A new report, “2017 Sales Management Research Report: Five Hallmarks of High-Impact Sales Organizations,” based on survey findings, was published this week (and can be downloaded here).

As part of our analysis, we compared high-impact (where over 75% of sales reps achieve quota), average (where 25% to 75% of reps achieve quota), and low-performing organizations (where less than 25% of reps achieve quota).

This list summarizes what we found were the five hallmarks of high-impact sales organizations:

  1. Sales managers spend more time coaching.
  2. They are better at managing sales performance.
  3. They are more proficient at recruiting and hiring.
  4. They earn their teams’ trust and respect.
  5. Their sales organizations invest more to develop sales managers.

It was interesting to note that, while most organizations recognize the leverage sales managers can have in increasing sales team performance, most sales managers are left on their own to learn how to coach their teams. In fact, 45% of the respondents reported that they do not have sufficient resources or budget for the development of their sales managers.

We also learned that the biggest impediment to implementing a sales management training program was (according to 65% of respondents) competing priorities. While I wasn’t totally surprised by this response, I seriously question what other sales initiatives would have a higher impact on sales performance than training frontline sales managers.

I continue to believe that training sales managers has a huge impact on sales team performance – and the responses from our survey seem to validate this point. To download the full report, please click here.

Norman Behar is CEO and managing director of Sales Readiness Group.

Four Reasons You Need Account Planning for Sales Success

By Mark Donnolo

Mike Barnes, executive vice president with Andrews Distributing – one of the largest beer distributors in the United States – knows the value of account planning.

In April 2013, the company began following a structured account planning process. They collected large amounts of data about their customers’ buying habits and, based on what they learned, changed their sales coverage model. “The minute that we did that, we had the first year of consecutive months of share growth,” says Barnes. “We’re now in our third year and, as we have improved in account planning, we’ve seen our market share grow. We’re in our 34th consecutive month of share growth – and that’s virtually unheard of in our industry.”

Account planning provides a structure to determine what’s important and what’s not when pursuing customers. Below are four reasons account planning can make a difference in your sales organization now.

Four Reasons You Need Account Planning

#1: Competition is out there. You have to know more about your customer, better understand their needs, have a differentiated value proposition, and have an actionable plan to beat the competition. Account plans provide data that pinpoint the market share, level of competition, and the strengths and weaknesses not only of your position but of your competitors – all of which contribute to the predictability of whether or not you can hit your goals.

#2: Account plans coordinate teams. Most individual sales reps are great at the tactical level. But accounts typically require larger coordination – either between accounts or within the same account – depending on its size. Account plans also reveal how well you work together as an organization within the account. How does the sales team work with the technical organization?

#3: Your account is one piece of a larger puzzle. Every company has financial goals, and financial leaders have to demonstrate they have a plan to achieve those goals. But the sales organization – and typically only the sales organization – knows what’s going on at eye level. Account plans help communicate that bottom-up view. The sales organization has an opportunity to discuss what their customers are doing, for better or worse, and offer valuable information about how sales will achieve its goals.

#4: Account plans create accountability. The sales team needs a way to measure its success beyond whether each individual achieves her quota or not. The team needs metrics, goals, and milestones to work toward. Account plans create a record of what an individual is supposed to do – both the actions and the goals – that can be used in performance metrics.

Account Planning Challenges

So how do companies end up starting and stopping account planning so often? We’ve seen the following major challenges to achieving a well-oiled account planning process:

The organization isn’t committed. When a process takes hold at a grassroots level and spreads throughout the organization, it creates a powerful result. Unfortunately, for most companies that see a grassroots account planning movement, it doesn’t gain commitment from everyone and, at some point, leaves a pattern of ad hoc practices that benefit a few teams but has little overall effect on results. Whether the account planning process starts at the top or the bottom, the organization has to have strong commitment from leadership. That commitment has to follow through to sales leadership, sales management, and to each salesperson who has a role in the account planning process.

There isn’t strong ownership of the account strategy. When I work with sales organizations on sales process and sales roles, one of the questions I ask is, “Who owns the account strategy and the account plan?” I expect to hear a decisive and consistent answer across the organization and the accounts it covers. Unclear ownership indicates a lack of accountability and a gap in leadership that can result in sales opportunities falling through the cracks. Designate ownership of the overall account planning process and the plans for each account.

Account planning becomes all about the document. Account planning isn’t about the document. It’s about the client needs, the innovative ideas to meet those needs, a committed plan to address those needs, and the discipline of ownership and execution from the team. Elevate the position of account planning beyond the document. The document merely contains all the hard work, and it will continue to evolve as the work and results progress.

Salespeople would rather sell than plan. Let’s face it: most salespeople love the pursuit. They don’t love planning. The irony is that the most successful sales teams I’ve worked with understand the criticality of account planning and they embrace it. If a salesperson isn’t a planner and thinks incrementally and transactionally, she is likely to get incremental and transactional results. If she thinks big and is intentional about operating according to a big plan, she will make different, longer-term decisions and get bigger results.

Contrary to instinct, the work of account planning will get you further along – and multiples more successful – than trying to pull it off yourself. Investing the time to do a good account plan increases the value exponentially.

Mark Donnolo is managing partner of SalesGlobe, which helps companies connect sales strategies to the bottom line. He is the author of What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation, The Innovative Sale, and Essential Account Planning: 5 Keys for Helping Your Sales Team Drive Revenue.

How to Really Measure Your Sales Team’s Call Activity

By Eric Esfahanian

The Pareto Principle – or the 80/20 Rule – is the concept that 80 percent of your effects are obtained by 20 percent of your causes. Your sales force probably proves out the concept as well: about 80 percent of your company’s revenue is produced by 20 percent of your sales team.

Although the 80/20 Rule has come to be expected, you can turn the Pareto Principle on its head within your own organization and distribute performance more evenly and consistently. To do this we have to get back to basics.

Call Activity: Stats Don’t Lie

By enlisting the help of technology and analytics, sales leaders are now able to challenge that conventional sales wisdom and increase the average effectiveness of every rep to drive performance and revenue target rather than simply rely on the 20 percent year after year. But, in order to do this, you must be able to measure your team’s call activity…all of it! At first, it may seem simple, but ask yourself: “Are you able to accurately measure your team’s daily call activity?”

If you’re like 90 percent of sales teams today, the answer will be “not even close.” But technology has evolved and it’s now possible to easily capture sales rep telephone activity from any phone or carrier. Really!

Once you can take a transparent look inside your team’s activity, it might be a shock to discover what is actually happening compared to what you thought was happening or what you have been told was happening or what CRM reported was happening.

If you want to grow your top line systematically, relying on manually generated reports or overly hopeful input from your reps’ CRM entries to measure call activity is no longer adequate (and maybe never was). With automated, real-time, and 100 percent accurate data, you will have a baseline of minimum performance and the knowledge to set realistic expectations for your team and manage to that expectation.

For nearly two decades, Gryphon has captured phone-based sales activity from some of the largest sales organizations worldwide, and found several key performance indicators that are truly predictive of success. These include the total number of calls a rep makes, conversation conversion (contact-to-close), the call frequency (persistence) of the reps, and how many times they are reaching out to their leads before they are “exhausted.”

If you focus on (first) understanding and (then) improving these metrics, you will be amazed at how quickly it impacts your sales team’s effectiveness and your revenue – and how sustainable it will be if you keep it up over time

Turning the Pareto Principle on Its Head

Once you have an accurate standard against which to measure your team’s performance – and set benchmarks to follow – what’s next? Identify the behaviors of your top and bottom performers and get an understanding for how they are succeeding or how they are struggling. Use their behaviors as teaching opportunities for your team.

Train your bottom performers with the techniques your top performers utilize to win over prospects. Not only are you able to coach to proven standards, but you will decrease on-boarding times for new employees.

Listen to Lead

Speech analytics can help you with this as well by providing a completely transparent view into conversations. Once the exclusive domain of call centers or spy rings, advances in secure cloud recording and analytics are now within reach for any rep calling from any device. With this powerful capability, you can ensure your reps are adhering to their scripts without veering too far off message and pick up on notable keywords, confidence indicators, and even the emotions of your rep and their customers during conversations.

With this kind of data and insight into what works and what doesn’t, there is no reason to fail. You are taking control of your team, managing their performance, and are able to forecast with confidence.

For more than 20 years, Eric Esfahanian has been helping clients increase sales and marketing effectiveness with innovative business intelligence technology and processes. As Chief Revenue Officer of Gryphon Networks, Eric is charged with driving growth of Gryphon’s Fortune 500 client base with cloud-based sales performance management solutions that increase revenue and client retention while reducing training/onboarding times for large, distributed sales organizations. Previously, Eric held sales leadership roles with MicroStrategy, Hewlett-Packard and EMC Corp. He received his MBA in Entrepreneurship from Babson College and Bachelor’s Degree from Boston College.

The Truth about (Inside) Sales Call Coaching

By Lauren Bailey

Lately I’m hearing a lot about the magical abilities of call coaching for inside sales reps. It can spike revenue! Cure attrition and training retention! And, naturally, the whole leaping buildings thing.

Here’s the truth of the matter. GOOD call coaching can leap a good half building. BAD coaching – and seriously, most of it is bad – can dig holes in the pavement of your morale.

Let’s look at the numbers:

  • Companies without a formal program (most of us) leave call coaching up to the managers and have quota attainment just north of 50 percent – basically average. (CSO Insights, 2016).
  • A formal, well-integrated coaching program can lead to a 10-60 percent increase in quota attainment (CSO Insights, 2016). Quite a swing in the results there.
  • Other sources reported a 7 percent uplift in sales numbers from top-end coaching (Sales Executive Council, 2016).

OK, we go conservative and aim for a 10 percent uplift with coaching. Still tempting, right? And it’s in sales managers’ job descriptions anyway. Let’s put some focus on call coaching and take our 10 points!

(I’m beginning to get the hype.)

Here’s the “but” you’re waiting for:

  1. The 7 percent uplift from SEC comes at the price of three hours per rep per month. That’s 36 hours per month for a 12-person team – or basically 25 percent of the manager’s time. I’ve never seen a team pull this off for longer than two months. Ever.
  2. SEC also reported that coaching was the #1 WORST sales management skill – trailing just behind innovation in performance management and executive decision making (and aren’t those VP skills?)
  3. Sales managers report nearly double the coaching time their reps report. (Bridge Group, 2016). So, when they think they’re out coaching, their reps don’t. Ouch. Yeah, that’s a skill gap.

There are two major flaws in the coaching-as-a-silver-bullet thing:

  1. Sales managers just don’t have the time.
  2. Some sales managers are just not good at it.

I understand why some sales managers are really terrible at it. These are the folks who think, “It’s just SO much faster to tell salespeople what I want! PLEASE shut up and let me get this off my chest and we can get on with our day! Love you lots, but don’t have time for your story here!”

I’m telling you, you have sales managers who think that way! There’s a simple reason for this. More than half of our managers have come up from within, right? Meaning, not long ago, they were competitive, deal-hungry, fast paced, W-obsessed reps. So impatience with other people’s inability is a surprise to you? Thought not.  We’ve all tried that “promote my top rep strategy” – and watched most of them burn.

Back to pitfall 1: Managers don’t have the time.

Frontline sales managers are probably in the busiest position in sales. They juggle 12-15 reps; thousands of buying, escalating, might-leave-us accounts; more performance issues than any other sales channel; lots manual report generation; and a carnival of hiring responsibilities.

So they TRY – the kind of all-in, “We will not be defeated!” try. We are a people who overcome. Who win! We put it on our calendars, tell our teams about our commitment, and then sales happen.

Meetings are skipped.



Because sales reps are needy creatures. The best are some of the highest-maintenance little rock stars I’ve ever met. They have a constant hunger to be pet. To be appreciated. To be admired. Believe me, they notice when we skip a meeting.

And the research supports it too! Our Gen Y population is twice as motivated by time with management as they are by autonomy. Boomers were 3x in the reverse. (The Bridge Group, 2016). The tide has turned, folks. Our workforce demands this dedication to give face time and our jobs haven’t shifted to allow it.

So, naturally, we see the stats shift to exit data. The American Association of Inside Sales Managers and Aberdeen both report “a lack of development” as a top challenge and a top reason for attrition since 2014. They’re starving for training and coaching and attention. We’ve made the sales management job too busy to give it to them.

Frankly, this isn’t necessarily horrible news! Because, unless we’ve trained managers how to be good coaches, most of the call coaching happening out there truly stinks. Like painful bad.

Is no call coaching better than bad call coaching?


It’s sad, but true. When we promote top reps, they don’t come with an “off” button for competitive drive. They spend most of the call coaching meeting trying not to physically grab the headset away from the rep and take over the call! (You’ve probably seen a few do just that, right?) Most think that sending an instant message with what to say to a prospect during a sales call IS call coaching. Ouch.

The vast majority of others spend most of the coaching meeting sounding a lot like, “Be like me.” They will regale reps with stories of how they rocked the headset, and many will actually write full scripts for your salespeople.

How’s that morale looking now?

(Inside) sales is a confidence sport. We need swagger people. We need a team chanting our name when we step up to the cold call. We don’t need a manager who clearly doesn’t believe in us.

And now let’s talk about all those studies on employee engagement. The need to connect with others, feel appreciated, and like our boss. Bad coaching interactions press every one of these buttons in a negative way.

And, even with training, we have to remember we’re trying to influence a very difficult and often unnatural skill set. One book on coaching will not transform a hunting predator into a nurturing den mother.

The bottom line on call coaching? It has potential. But only if we do it right. As leaders, let’s focus on two ways to make this work:

  1. Find three things to lift from your manager’s plates – I’ll vote for some dashboard reporting instead of manual number gathering and a dedicated recruiter who reports to sales (if you don’t mind the input).
  2. Second, get your managers some call coaching training – and maybe even their own coach.

Lauren Bailey is a 20-year veteran of inside sales and president of award-winning training and consulting company Factor 8. Voted “Top 25 Most Influential” people in inside sales, she and her firm are 100 percent dedicated to working with professional B2B inside sales teams.

Four Sales Pipeline Management Principles to Improve Close Rates

By Brad Zomick

According to a study recently conducted by Altify, only 46 percent of respondents feel their pipeline is accurate. This means it isn’t optimized in a way that drives the results their business needs – particularly the close rate. In other words: a sales pipeline may exist, but it’s not necessarily the right one for their organization or their customers (or both).

So, how do you cut through the noise and return to core sales pipeline principles? How do you improve close rate and optimize your sales funnel? Here are five principles that will help you overcome these challenges.

1. Purge your pipeline of prospects not likely to close.

Effective pipeline management starts with removing prospects who aren’t moving along the journey, then focusing on those who are most likely to close. Next, use different categories for prospects clogging up the pipeline. Measure how long your typical sales cycle is and move those who sit outside of it.

Here are two questions you can use to decide whether to move a prospect from your pipeline:

  1. Ask yourself: “Would this prospect be surprised if they were in my pipeline?”
    If the answer is yes, move them to a category higher up the sales funnel.

  2. Ask your prospect: “Do you see yourself making a decision to buy this month?”
    If the answer is no, move them to a follow-up category.

Sales management software can help you keep track of when to follow up with these prospects. You could also use deal-rotting features to automatically see who has been sitting in your pipeline for longer than your typical sales cycle.

The most important aspect of effective pipeline management is communication with your prospects. You should always understand where they are in the buying process. Ask the right questions to understand how likely they are to close and when.

2. Get specific about how you want to achieve higher close rates.

If you truly want to improve close rate, you must set targets properly. “Close rate” can sometimes be too broad of a goal for its own good, so break things down into micro-parts. What, specifically, do you want to achieve this quarter that will drive higher close rates? Do you want to increase the total number of sales you have – or the average price of each sale? Do you want to increase the total sum of all sales together?

To answer these questions, start by mapping out the individual stages of your pipeline. These stages might include targets (not yet contacted), meeting scheduled (set a date in the diary), and proposal sent (including monetary figures).

From here, you must calculate the “magic numbers.” As our own Urmas Purde puts it:

Once you have these numbers against each stage of the pipeline, you can focus on the variables that keep deals on track. In other words, there are events attributed to each stage of the pipeline that ensure the prospect gets nearer to closing. These include:

  • Identifying target contacts within a target account
  • Booking a demo/consultation
  • Sending written proposals
  • Securing approval for budget
  • Forwarding contact to subscription/payment page

These are the activities on which you should focus when progressing leads through your pipeline. Assign each stage with the appropriate action that progresses them to the next one.

3. Measure sales activities.

There are certain variables in the sales pipeline that are beyond your control. What you can control are the activities that move prospects closer to becoming customers.

Sales activities are what you’re doing to acquire new customers. You should define and measure sales activities to make sure you’re moving in the right direction.

According to an study, not everyone understands this. They found that, of all the things that could be used to measure performance, only 17 percent of people were paying attention to sales activities – that is to say, the one thing they can control.

Furthermore, 24 percent of people were measuring business results while 59 percent were measuring sales objectives.

Results metrics are important, but they’re the result of sales activities executed last quarter. If, however, salespeople are measured on activities (such as phone calls) then they will likely acquire more customers. The activity directly affects the business result.

This form of tracking might begin with something as simple as a spreadsheet that outlines weekly objectives for each salesperson. You can then follow up with them on a Friday afternoon to gauge how they performed:

Once the boardroom understands this cause-and-effect relationship, the contribution to revenue can be outstanding.

4. Continue prospecting even when your pipeline looks good.

Never stop prospecting just because you feel like your sales pipeline is “in a good place.”

A surprisingly large number of salespeople tend to think of the sales pipeline as something that eventually achieves a “passive” status. So long as you can optimize your steps, capitalize on your insight, and make the best possible decisions, you’ll eventually get to the point where things can run on auto-pilot, right?


Never look at the sales pipeline as something you can “win.” The moment you think you’ve “done enough” to optimize your sales pipeline and the management principles that drive it is the moment you’ve lost the game – a game you never truly understood the rules for in the first place.

Coincidentally, it’s also the moment your close rate will start to suffer again, too.

This means continually moving and testing new sales approaches. Here are some examples:

  • What would adding “upselling” as a pipeline stage do to the bottom line?
  • Will utilizing marketing content for sales enablement speed up the buying cycle?
  • How will introducing prospects to clients affect social proof and trust?

Run these as experiments as if you were a scientist: stating a hypothesis and run-time length of the test (e.g., 30 days).

Always ensure you’re planning your sales activities well in advance. Make sure these all align with the stages of the pipeline you’ve already defined.

As time goes on and a business continues to grow, the sales pipeline can naturally grow unwieldy and unfocused. At a certain point, it’s a bit like hopping into a car and trying to drive from New York to California without a map. You may know you’re supposed to be headed west, but how could you ever expect to make it in one piece if you don’t have the focus to know exactly where you’re going and exactly how you’re going to get there?

These are just a few of the major pipeline management principles that can help get your business where it’s going. They can help streamline your focus, re-invigorate your team, and help you unlock major benefits across the board. Especially in terms of your close rate.

Brad Zomick is a content marketing strategist, formerly of Pipedrive and SkilledUp.

Managing the Mysterious Remote Sales Rep

By Suzanne Paling

The first few months with your newly-hired field rep go well. With prior industry and remote field sales experience, the rep catches on quickly. You fly out to his  territory and accompany him on some sales calls, which go very well.

Then things start to go downhill. He frequently misses the weekly staff meeting conference call. A customer service rep (CSR) complains about difficulties reaching him. Now that you think about it, the remote sales rep has yet to return your most recent email.

When you speak directly with the rep, he has a plausible explanation for everything – including car trouble and a recent rainstorm knocking down a tree in his front yard. You pass these explanations on to the CSR. But the problems start cropping up again. You feel as if you’re losing control of the situation. What do you do?

Though painful to accept, the remote sales rep likely has a challenge of some sort he didn’t disclose to you during the interview process. These could include:

  • Second job
  • Addiction
  • Debt
  • Health issues
  • Family issues
  • Intrusive hobby

For sales leaders in this difficult situation, I recommend the following.

Find the Pattern

Look at login times and CRM usage. My clients – after first refusing to believe a remote sales rep would be deceitful – say to me, “Oh. You were right. She doesn’t log in until 11 a.m. Tuesday through Friday,” or, “He never logs any activity after 2 p.m.”

Speak with Customers

Go through the rep’s account list and call several of his most important customers. Ask how they like working with the new rep. Inquire about the frequency of visits. Many sales leaders find that a salesperson logging three in-person calls into the CRM may have actually met with the account only once – or not at all.

Keep a Log

Remote reps not doing their job tend to have a lot of drama in their lives: pet emergencies, sick relatives, traffic jams, and IT issues – ten times the number of the average person. Create a spreadsheet and record all the dates/times/specifics of the various scenarios. You may need the information later on.

An Important Question

Once you’ve done your due diligence, speak with the rep. Calmly ask, “Would anything prevent you from working the company’s stated hours of Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.?”

Reps may react to this question by talking non-stop, acting indignant, or remaining silent. Don’t react yourself or argue – just listen. Once you ask this question, the rep knows that you know. Believe me; you’ve made your point.

Taking Action

Give the rep a few days and see what happens. Some reps stay on until you terminate them; others resign. A few come clean – admitting to a difficulty or conflict of some kind. Regardless, you have all your facts and can choose between helping the rep solve the problem (if that’s even possible) or beginning the disciplinary action process.

Suzanne Paling of Sales Management Services provides sales management advice and coaching to company and sales leaders seeking to increase revenue by improving their sales organization’s performance. Her latest book, The Sales Leader’s Problem Solver (Career Press, Nov. 2016) and Winner of the 2016 USA Book News Awards Business: Sales category, offers solutions for 15 common sales management dilemmas.

Four Simple Ways to Retain Your Customer Base


By Greg Knowles

You’re a leader in your field. Everything you do is top-notch, and you offer the highest level of service. Your customers are happy. Everything seems to be going well and you expect your business to enjoy continued growth and success. But will it?

Today’s world is more competitive than ever before. Customers can easily search out and connect with new vendors any place, any time. Are you mindful enough of your customer relationships?

After all, according to a 2013 study conducted by The White House Office of Consumer Affairs as reported by, it is six to seven times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one.

You simply can’t afford to lose good paying clients. They’re too difficult – and costly – to replace.

Here are four things you can do right now to nurture and improve your customer relationships so you don’t lose valuable clients.

1. Utilize communication

Consistent customer communication might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many businesses fail to do it. Once a business relationship is up and running, it’s easy to take it for granted. Business owners or sales reps naturally assume that all is well if they don’t get complaints. Realistically, that’s probably not the case.

According to a 2005 survey of 362 firms by Bain & Company, as reported by Help Scout:

Eighty percent of the firms believed they delivered a “superior experience” to their customers, but only eight percent of customers believed these same firms were actually delivering.

So how do you know you’re actually delivering great customer service if you don’t ask your customers?

Talk regularly to your clients. Instead of sending them an email or text, pick up the phone. Use it as opportunity to check in and ask questions about quality and experience with your staff.

2. Welcome customer feedback – good and bad

You can’t touch base with customers every single day, so what happens on the day they have a bad experience and you haven’t communicated?

Make it easy for them to report the issue. Have a complaint area on your website that explains exactly what to do if they run into a problem, as well as a real person or department to contact.

Have procedures in place to make sure complaints get resolved quickly – and always get back to the customer to share the resolution.

After all, According to Ms. Ruby Newell-Legner, as reported by Help Scout:

It can require 12 positive customer experiences to make up for just one unresolved negative experience.

3. Use social media to communicate, listen, and learn

According to a 2011 study by Bain & Company, when companies engage customers over social media, those customers end up spending 20 percent to 40 percent more money with the company.

Social media not only allows you to talk to your customers, it allows your customers to talk to you.

Maintain an active social media platform to remind customers you’re accessible. Give them a chance to post positive and negative comments through social – and respond quickly.

Publicly responding to social complaints is a good practice because it demonstrates your commitment to customer satisfaction.

4. Request ratings and reviews

Requesting a rating or review is always proactive step. Today, customers have plenty of outlets to rate and review your business – and, if they’re angry or displeased with your service, they likely will.

According to David Pogue in a 2011 article in Scientific American, “All of a sudden, the masses are conversing with one another. If your service or product isn’t any good, they’ll out you.”

According to a 2011 survey conducted by American Express:

Americans tell an average of nine people about good experiences. They tell 16 (nearly two times more) people about poor experiences.

Own part of that conversation and give your customers an opportunity to provide ratings and reviews on your own website. They’ll be less likely to blast you on a more public, external platform.

In conclusion

You’ve worked hard to build your business; you can’t afford to jeopardize your success by ignoring customer service issues. Take steps today to ensure your customers are satisfied. You can’t afford to lose them.

GregKnowlesToday’s post is by Greg Knowles, president and CEO of Autonomy Technology Inc., a top 200 electrical wholesale distributor in the U.S. He has 25 years of experience in industrial distribution, specializing in sales, business development, and leadership.