Who is your Biggest Competitor?

When you start a new sales position, one of your first tasks is to determine who your competitors are in your niche industry.

Depending on where you are working, your employer may already have a list of key competitors, along with descriptions, and a cheat sheet of the key differences between your products and services vs. your competition.

That’s all good news.

But some salespeople are missing the point – your biggest competitor isn’t other companies.

Your biggest competitor is time.

That’s right – time.

Think about it. It takes time to make sales calls. It takes time to do research. It takes time managementtime to enter your notes in your CRM. It takes time to leave several messages before your reach your prospect. It takes time to send and respond to emails every day. It takes time to attend sales meetings. Hell, it takes time to commute to work!

Time, then, is your biggest competitor.

How you manage your time can make a difference between achieving your goals or just getting by.

Here are 10 tips for time management

1). Focus on your top prospects first. However, don’t spend all your time on your big prospects, because depending on the industry you are in, your sales cycle could be long. So it’s a good idea to mix it up – maybe devote 70% of our time on your larger accounts, and 30% on the smaller ones that you hope to close quickly.

2). Set time aside for administrative work – Too often, salespeople get caught up on administrative work, and they neglect doing what they were hired to do – which is to sell. Unless it’s urgent, I find it’s better to set aside one hour in the late afternoon to handle administrative work.

3). Research – unless it’s a large account, don’t spend too much time on researching your prospects. It’s very easy to get caught reading too many websites and LinkedIn profile pages. I usually spend no more than three (3) minutes doing research, and then copying/pasting my findings in my CRM for future reference.

coffee breaks4). Snacks – rather than wasting time constantly going to the vending machine or your building’s sandwich shop, I find it’s better to bring snacks to work and put them in my desk. The same is true with water. Rather than run back and forth to the water cooler, I keep a plastic water bottle at my desk. I also bring in a coffee canister from home to save money and time at my local coffee shop. (Plus, I prefer drinking strong coffee).

5). Stay off the internet – it’s easy to get lost online these days, especially if your company gives you a lot of freedom to go on the internet. I always set time aside during lunch or in the late afternoon to go online to read the news. Even then, I keep my reading at a minimum and just skim the headlines.

6). Watch the small talk – it’s so easy to engage in conversations at work. But in sales, you simply don’t have the time. Sure, you don’t want to be rude. And sometimes we all need to release tension by talking about diets, movies, celebrities, etc. But you have to work to make money. Through my body language, I try to convey that I’m busy or don’t want to be disturbed when working.  I know that can be tough to do in an open office environment. Just try to avoid eye contact and focus on your monitor.

7). Organize your email – If you’re like me, you probably come in each morning with a slew of emails to read and respond to.  With Outlook, I’ve created several folders and put my emails into each one. It’s saves me a lot of time later when I have to retrieve an important email. Also, unless it’s urgent, I try not responding to emails until later in the day when I’m doing my administrative work.

8). Keep your Smartphone out of sight – I purposely put my Smartphone out of sight during the day. I only check my personal emails while commuting to work on the Metro, during my lunch hour, and while commuting back home. That’s it.

9). Email templates – rather than keep writing the same emails over and over again, I have a file of email templates that I use. However, I will sometimes modify and personalize my emails before sending them out. Also, I usually keep a file of attachments (articles and brochures) that I send out, and I will refresh my attachments with new material every couple of weeks.

10). Schedule calls – whenever possible, I always try to schedule my calls and online tours. Yes, sometimes people will cancel your phone calls at the last-minute, or become complete “no shows,” but in the long run scheduling calls beats making repeated calls or sending out tons of emails.

I hope you like my suggestions.

Here are links to other articles on time management for salespeople –

“Eight Time Management Hacks for Sales Reps,” by Andrew Quinn
“6 Effective Time Management Techniques for Success in Sales,” by Jenny Poore

Here are some books on time management that could help  you –

11 Secrets of Time Management for Salespeople, 11th Anniversary Edition: Gain the Competitive Edge and Make Every Second Count, by Career Press

Time Traps: Proven Strategies for Swamped Salespeople, by Thomas Nelson

Note: If you like my post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Is Gia hurting your Sales Department?

When you hear someone say Gia, what immediately comes to your mind?

Is it Gia Carangi, the famous fashion model from the 1970s and early 1980s?

Is it Gia Carides, an Australian actress, known for her portrayals in Strictly Ballroom and Brilliant Lies?

Is it the Gemological Institute of America (GIA)?

Is it the Gaming Intelligence Agency (GIA)?

Is Greed hurting your sales department?If someone describes your sales department as a Gia, run, don’t walk, as quickly as you can before your sales career ends up in the dumpster.

What does the acronym GIA mean?

G- Greed

I – Incompetence

A – Arrogance

So is GIA hurting your sales department?

Let’s take a look –

Greed – is greed harming your abilities to meet or exceed your sales quota because your sales manager is hogging most of the good accounts? Does your sales manager have an insatiable appetite for taking most of the good inbound leads and leaving you with mostly table scrapes? Is your sales manager so selfish with his time, that he offers you little or no coaching to help you?

Incompetence – is your marketing department doing a lousy job providing you with good qualified leads or prospects? Is your marketing department doing a terrible job gathering intelligence on your competitors? Is your marketing department unable to provide a good snapshot of the best prospects you should be targeting? Is your marketing department so incompetent that they couldn’t find high-quality trade shows for you to attend if you pinned them on a map?

Arrogance – is your sales manager or the owner so arrogant that they don’t want to consider your ideas or suggestions? Is upper management so arrogant that they ignore your proposal for getting a better compensation package? Is your company so arrogant that they don’t gather feedback or suggestions from their customers?

You might be able to handle one of the three predicaments above and survive. For example, while your sales manager may be stingy, if your marketing department is doing an excellent job, you may have enough leads and prospects to earn a good income. But if you have to deal with all three problems, it’s time to find a new job.

So is your sale department suffering from GIA?

Please let me know.

Note: If you like this post, please read my book Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

What Salespeople can learn from Girlboss

Girlboss(Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Girlboss yet on Netflix, I recommend that you stop reading this post and watch the show first. Yes, Girlboss was recently canceled after one season, but it’s still worth viewing. At this writing the program is still streaming on Netflix).

For those who haven’t seen Girlboss, here is a summary about the comedy program –

The show is roughly based on Sophia Amoruso’s autobiography GIRLBOSS.

(In fact, the producers want to make it clear upfront with this disclaimer – “What follows is a loose retelling of true events… Real loose.”)

The show depicts how Ms. Amoruso started her company Nasty Gal in 2006, which would become a California-based retailer specializing in young women’s fashion. She started her business while working as a security guard/host at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University. When not checking student IDs while sitting at the front desk, she worked on creating her company, which would eventually generate $23 million by 2011, according to Inc. Magazine

(Nasty Gal was purchased by the Boohoo Group earlier this year for $20 million).

Ms. Amoruso’s character’s name in the show is Sophia Marlowe (played by Britt Robertson). Ms. Marlowe is portrayed in this fictional account as a nasty gal herself. She likes to shoplift. She uses crass language. She has roller coaster relationships with her father (played by Dean Norris), friends and various colleagues in her life. In her early 20’s, she is trying to find herself while struggling to pay her rent and keep her car running. Interested in vintage clothing, she soon discovers her calling and starts earning a living by selling clothing on eBay. Eventually, she quits her security position and launches her online store for fame and fortune.

What can salespeople learn from Girlboss? Here are my takeaways –

1). Follow your passion – Ms. Marlowe adores vintage clothing. But she loves working for herself more and being her own boss. Selling vintage clothing online appears to be her ticket to financial freedom. Ignoring negative comments from others, she proceeds with her goal.

In sales, many of us have a passion for selling. But we all face a lot of negativity on a daily basis. We deal with a barrage of rejections from clients, cancelled appointments, unfair criticism from sales managers, and the list goes on.

What keeps us going is our passion to sell. But not just selling per se, but a love for the products and services that we offer our clients. To be successful, your passion has to come through. You have to love what you are selling as well as the industry you work in. If you don’t, then selling is just another job, and your clients and prospects will quickly see through your façade and drop you like a hot potato.

BTW, while you may think you can hide behind your façade in phone sales, many clients can pick up on the tone of your voice. They can tell if you are really excited about what you are doing, or if you are just going through the motions.

2). Read – Passion alone doesn’t help if you don’t read. Ms. Marlowe is smart enough to realize that. So she undertakes a self-study program by reading (and sometimes stealing) books on how to run a business.

Just because you have taken a few workshops or read some books about selling, doesn’t make you an expert. Learning how to sell, like any profession, requires a disciplined and ongoing training program. Don’t like to read that much? OK, then watch the hundreds of free videos on YouTube or other sites. Listen to audio book tapes. But always be learning.

team work3). You can’t do it alone – Annie, Ms. Marlowe’s best friend, has devoted a lot of time and energy helping Nasty Gal get off the ground. When Annie (played by Ellie Reed) asks to be hired as full-time paid employee, Ms. Marlowe turns her down flat. But eventually, Ms. Marlowe realizes she can’t run the business alone, and decides to hire Annie. She makes  her decision not just based on friendship (which is not always the best way to hire people), but because she knows that Annie has the skills to take her business to the next level. Annie has been working in a women’s fashion store, and was even given the green light for a managerial position. But Annie decides to forgo a safe job and take on a more risky one with a start-up. Through mutual respect and friendship, both these women are determined to succeed.

(With start-ups, your early hires shouldn’t always be those who offer technical or professional skills, but who share the same dream or vision you do).

Ms. Marlowe faces a similar dilemma when she tries to create her own website. While reading a book on website development, Ms. Marlowe struggles to learn all the coding she needs to master the set up her website. Soon, she begins to fear that she will not be able to launch her website on time to meet her financial obligations. However, Ms. Marlowe, admitting her shortcoming, grudgingly relents  to Annie’s advice and accepts her decision to hire a professional web designer.

You don’t need a good friend to tell you what you already know. Instead, you need one like Annie who tells you what you need to know to be successful.

Surround yourself with friends and allies who will support you.

While some romanticize about being a lone wolf salesperson (who are usually defined as salespeople who go it alone, and reject the advice from others), in reality, many of us can’t make it on our own. For example, we need help from marketing, production, shipping and others to be effective.

Selling is definitely a team effort. Never forget that.

4). Shit happens, so deal with it – Ms. Marlowe has to overcome a lot of obstacles along the way to launch her business. For example, fearing a bad review on eBay (which could hurt her business before she has a chance to expand), she literally drives like a madman and then runs to deliver a vintage wedding dress to a bride right before the wedding begins.

Haven’t we all had to go the extra mile sometimes to get a sale? Like coming to work earlier than usual to conduct an online tour for a client based in India, or shipping a product overnight at your expense to ensure it arrives on time.

In another scene, Ms. Marlowe’s competitors, jealous of her success and innovative ways of doing business, plot to take her down by having eBay deny her access. Undeterred, she not only launches her own website, and even finds a rental space to expand her business.

You will always have competitors. Ignore them. Just focus on doing the best job you can and your clients will follow you.

On a side note, I’m personally disappointed to see the show canceled. There are very few comedy or drama programs about the challenges of starting and running a business. While Girlboss is a fictionalized account of Ms. Amoruso’s efforts to launch Nasty Gal, the program and her book offers us lessons on how to be successful in sales.

To some critics, Ms. Marlowe comes across as brash, obnoxious, and narcissistic,  but it’s her persistence, resourcefulness, and street smarts that should be admired by anyone interested in starting a business or going into sales.

As Ms. Marlowe has demonstrated in Girlboss, starting a business isn’t for the fainthearted. And neither is it when pursuing a sales career.

To learn more about Girlboss, please check out these sites –

Girlboss Media
Girlboss, Netflix Official Site

Note: If you like this post, please read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Phone Interview Tips for Salespeople

Most companies these days will ask you to do a phone interview prior to inviting you in for an in-person interview. This is done for several reasons. First, it saves everyone time by making sure you are going to be a good fit for the job. Second it’s a good way for the employer to hear you speak and interact over the phone (especially if you are applying for an inside sales position). And third, it allows the employer to weed out candidates who don’t do well over the phone, or who don’t have the qualifications to do the job.

When doing phone interviews, always make sure you have your resume, the job posting and any other supporting documents you need at your fingertips. While this may be a phone interview, you have to be just as prepared as if you were attending in person interview. And it goes without saying; always do some research on the company and the hiring manager.

Also, never assume that only one person is listening to your phone interview. While in most cases the HR person will do the first phone interview, sometimes the hiring manager will stay quiet and sit in the background listening to your conversation. Shortly after the interview, he may tell the HR person to give you thumbs up or down, and then move on to the next candidate.

And depending on the sales job you are applying for, sometimes you may be asked to do two phone interviews before being asked to meet someone in person. This could be the HR person and then one of the hiring managers. They may want to compare notes before asking you to come in.

Doing a sales phone interviewLeaving Voice Mail Message Test

In some cases, before you even speak to the HR person or Hiring Manager, you may be asked to call and leave a voice mail message. You can leave any voice mail message you like, but it’s usually sales related to what you are currently selling or have sold in the past. If you leave a good voice mail message or sound professional, you will move forward in the interviewing process.

While leaving a voice mail may be a requirement before you are interviewed, sometimes you may to ask to give a spur of the moment sales presentation over the phone. This happened to me a few years ago when I applied for an inside sales position at a durable medical equipment company. After going through a series of interviews, at the last-minute I was asked by the owner to call him from another office. I could make any sales presentation that I like. I was not prepared for this in advanced. And to add more pressure, most of the sales team was listening in and gave their critique after my presentation. Fortunately, I passed with flying colors and I was offered the job in a few days.

No Appointment Phone Interview

And finally, sometimes the sales manager may want to call you without an appointment. They do this for a couple of reasons.

First, they want to catch you off guard and see how you interact with a total stranger over the phone. Are you poise, confident, and speak well under pressure? Or are you flustered and irritated by the call? Can you answer questions about the job you are applying for without the job posting and notes in front of you? Can you answer questions about your employment history without your resume in front of you? Can you ask questions of the sales manager without your notes in front of you? You may think the sales manager is being rude by calling you without an appointment, but consider this a test – perhaps the first of several tests you will have to go through during the interview process.

Second, the sales manager may want to call you without an appointment because he’s busy. He has a job that must be quickly filled, and he doesn’t want to go through all the niceties and bureaucracy of hiring someone. If you sound half-way professional over the phone, and your resume is above average, he may want to get you in the door quickly. This is especially true for a high-turnover sales department, or a small company that can’t afford a sales position to be open for too long. If that’s the case, beware that you are not walking into a “churn and burn” sales department. Unless you are desperate for a job, take your time before considering accepting a job offer in a hectic and crazy sales environment.

Treat the phone interview just as seriously as an in-person interview. It could make the difference between landing your dream job or being unemployed.

For more advice on handling phone interview, please read –

“17 Phone Interview Tips to Guarantee a Follow-up,” by Larry Kim

“6 Steps to Nailing a Job Interview over the Phone,” by Judith A. Stock

Note: If you like my post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Is your Bumper Sticker killing your Job Hunt?

bumper stickerIt goes without saying that you have to be very careful what you post on the internet these days. This is especially true on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. While you can keep both those sites private, it’s still a good idea to Google yourself to see what comes up. Are there any embarrassing pictures of you being drunk at a party? Any controversial political comments you posted somewhere that you don’t want a potential employer to see? (And these days, given how hot the political climate is, anything you post is going to be viewed as controversial by someone).

In sales, you don’t want your sales manager and customers reading anything that could hurt your sales or your ability to find and keep a job.

But beyond social media, what about your car? That’s right, your car!

Several years ago, I went in for a job interview with a small publishing company in Greenbelt, MD. The interview went well. After the interview, the sales manager insisted on showing me to the door and walking out the building with me. While we were standing outside talking, he asked me where I parked and what kind of car I drove. I proudly pointed out my American made Mercury Sable (which was becoming a lemon with all he car repair bills I was paying for).

And then, he quickly leaned in and told me in a very low threatening voice that he doesn’t want to hire any gays in his department. If I were gay, he added, I better withdraw my employment application right now. And with that, he quickly smiled, shook my hand and walked away. I was stunned by what he said. I didn’t know if he was targeting me specifically (for the record, I’m not gay), or if this was a standard hiring practice that he incorporated in all his interviews.

But it also just occurred to me why he wanted to see my car. He wasn’t interested in my taste in vehicles. Instead, he wanted to see if a gay bumper sticker or other “offending” stickers on my car.

Was his behavior unethical? Yes.

Was his actions illegal? Probably.

Was he being sneaky? Of course.

bumper stickerYou see, if a hiring manager doesn’t like LGBTQ people, liberals, conservatives, Christians, atheists, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, environmentalists, feminists, Trump or Clinton supporters, etc. you need to make sure you don’t show your potential employer the bumper stickers on your car. It could hurt your chances of landing that dream job.

Am I being paranoid? Maybe.

But given the current political environment, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of freedom of speech and the First Amendment. But when you are job hunting, sometimes you need to put your feelings and political or religious views aside, and focus on getting a paycheck.

(And is it just me, or am I seeing fewer bumper stickers on cars these days? I live in the Washington, D.C. area, and I’m not seeing as many bumper stickers as I use to. Maybe people are afraid of promoting their views, or they prefer to drive cleaner cars).

If you would like to remove your bumper sticker, here is a link from WikiHow –

WikiHow to Remove Bumper Stickers

However, there are ways you can temporarily cover up bumper stickers. Here is some advice below –

“Is there a way of Temporarily Camouflage My Bumper Sticker?” by Car Talk

As always, please let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Note: If you like my post or other posts on my blog, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Top Photo credit: andres musta car combo via photopin (license)

How to Survive a Merger or Acquisition

It’s Monday morning.  With your Starbucks coffee in hand, you arrive to work ready to start the week off right.

But before you settle down at your desk or cubicle, you notice the worried faces of your co-workers. As you read your email, you find out why – there is a mandatory meeting in the conference room at 9:30 a.m. sharp. Everyone must attend.

Now you’re anxious too.

As you and your colleagues begin entering the conference room, you notice your owner standing next to two men in suits. You never saw them before.

The owner is smiling. The men in suits are smiling. But as they begin to speak, you’re not smiling.

Why?

sold down the riverBecause you just found out that you have been sold down the river!

That’s right – your company has been acquired. Or maybe you’re merging with another company.

Acquired or Merged, it makes no difference. Your life is now going to turn upside down.

Up until now, you had the prefect life. You have the prefect spouse, the prefect kids, the prefect neighborhood and the prefect car.

But things are not going to be prefect anymore.

While the owner is smiling because now he can afford to take that vacation to Hawaii he always wanted, you’re not smiling because you’re worried if you can afford to pay your rent or mortgage next month.

How do you survive an Acquisition or Merger?

1). Don’t panic – Listen carefully to want the new owners are telling you. Maybe it’s not going to be all bad as you think. I’ve gone through acquisitions and mergers where my compensation plan and benefits actually improved. Sure, there were some layoffs, but most people kept their jobs.

2). Don’t be a jerk – Don’t spread rumors, but listen to rumors. There’s a difference. You don’t want to be the jerk causing panic, but on the other hand you need to keep your ear to the ground to find out if you’re going to lose your job or not. Like it or not, trust is the first victim of an acquisition or merger. The new owners will have to earn your trust, not the other way around.

3). Ask intelligent questions – Don’t ask if you’re going to be laid off. That’s rude. But do ask “What are your short-term and long-term plans of the sales department or the company?”

Other questions may be –

“Are you planning to make any changes to our products or services?”

“Are you planning to keep our location open or close it in the near future?”

“Are you planning to come up with new quotas in the near future?”

Read between the lines. Watch the body language. Are they avoiding eye contact? Are they giving you conflicting answers?

Check out “8 Great Tricks for Reading People’s Body Language,” by Travis Bradberry

4). Update your resume – and make sure your LinkedIn profile page is also updated. For example, now would be a good time to add that photo that you keep forgetting to post on your profile.

Good advice from  “8 Steps to Improve your LinkedIn Profile in 2016,” by Lauren Batcheck

Also, check out Knock ’em Dead Resumes: How to Write a Killer Resume That Gets You Job Interviews by Martin Yate.

5). Check your Interview clothes – it doesn’t hurt to make sure your interview suits or dresses still fit. Maybe it’s time to buy some new ties, polish your dress shoes, and get some second opinions on what to wear on interviews.

6). Research the Company – does the new owner have a history of “grabbing and trashing” companies? That is, is your new employer acquiring a lot of companies and then laying off or closing those entities down? You can Google to find out. You can also check Glassdoor. You can also go on LinkedIn and see if a lot of employees “left” for new jobs. If the companies acquired by your new employer are located in small towns or cities, check the business section of the local newspapers and see if they reported on major layoffs or shutdowns.

Also check out this site from “The Magnet” on “The Top 5 Sites for Employer Reviews & Ratings.”

7). Take Home your Performance Reviews – Make sure you print out and take home all of your previous reviews and other documentation that shows you did well in your current job. (Or you could also email them to your personal email address). If layoffs come suddenly, you may not have time to access your performance records before you are denied access to your work computer.

8). Ask for a Letter of Recommendation – Now would be a good time to ask your manager for a letter of recommendation, or better yet, have him write a positive recommendation on your LinkedIn profile page. Make sure you have your manager’s personal email and phone number in case he gets laid off before you do. Sure, you might find him on LinkedIn or Facebook, but he probably wouldn’t be in a good mood to respond to you.

9). Keep your enemies close and your friends closer – that old saying will mean a lot once the announcement is made about the acquisition or merger. You will see a sudden swift in everyone’s mood.  Anxiety, fear and mistrust will begin to take over. You will see a major upswing of brown-nosing, especially with the new bosses. Old feuds that have been simmering for a while will erupt without warning. You’ll hear nervous laughter in the lunch room as someone shares another juicy piece of gossip. As you walk down the hallway, conversations will suddenly stop until you walk on by. Old alliances will fall apart and new ones will be created.

Bottom line – Watch your back!

10). Keep an Open Mind – as I mentioned above, not all acquisitions or mergers are bad. I’ve gone through several in my career, and I ended up with a better comp plan and benefits package. Sometimes, I would find myself with a better manager and an upgraded sales pipeline or territory.

Acquisitions and Mergers are a fact of life these days.  In the long run, the best way to survive one is to always be learning, always be networking and always be looking.  If you continue to learn, maintain your network of contacts, and keep your eyes open for new opportunities, you should be safe.

Here are some links to help you –

“Acquisition and Merger Process Through the Eyes of Employees,” by Terhi Maidell

“How to Merge Corporate Cultures,” by Tim Donnelly

Note: If you like my post, please read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.