Recommend: Enterprise Sales Meetup Events

networking eventsLet’s face it. With some professional Meetup events, you just don’t know if you’re wasting your time or not. With busy schedules and tough commutes, attending an evening event can require a major commitment on your part. After working 50 plus hours a week making sales calls, trying to meet your quota and handling customer problems, hauling your ass to attend a professional event is a lot to ask for. Sometimes the speakers turn out to be good and other times, well not so good. Then you kick yourself for wasting two hours attending an event when you could have been at home relaxing.

And don’t you just love those paid events where the speaker or speakers fall flat, and you are left wondering how you can get a refund.

If you are like me, you are constantly receiving email invites asking you to attend networking events. The problem we all face – what are the good events to attend?

Well, I have some good news for you. I’ve recently discovered a series of great events that I believe all salespeople should attend – it’s called the “Enterprise Sales Meetup.” (And yes, the events are free).

Based in New York, the meetup events are held at different cities, usually on a monthly basis. The most recent events have occurred in New York City, Boston, Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., Denver and San Francisco. I would encourage you to check out your local Meet-up calendar and see if one of the events will be in your city soon.

Enterprise Sales Meet-upThe events not only offer good networking opportunities, but you get to listen to some real sales pros. For example, I attended “Scaling High Velocity Sales Teams” with Brian Zang in D.C. a few weeks ago. Mr. Zang, CRO of Ringio, participated in a question and answer session with Mark Birch, the Founder & Co-Organizer of Enterprise Sales Meetups. Topics range to how do you hire and manage salespeople, the challenges that all sales teams face, and tips to ramp up your sales. After the session, audience members were encouraged to ask questions. (I wanted to stay after the event was over and network more, but I had a long commute and an early scheduled sales call the next day).

Enterprise Sales Meetups have hosted many other sales professionals, including Trish Bertuzzi of the Bridge Group, Marc Jacobs, VP of Sales at Greenhouse, and Chad Burmeister, author of Sales Hack and Senior Director of Sales Development at RingCentral.

The Enterprise Sales Meetup site also includes a good selection of blogs, all written by Mr. Birch. His blog posts offer sound advice on a wide range of topics, including “Seven Tips for Cold Email Effectiveness, How to Reach Anyone,” and “The Perfect Sales Pitch.” His posts are on target and I would encourage you to regularly read them. (I have added a link to his blogs in my Other Blogs section for you to read).

Selling isn’t a lonely profession. There are others like you who are struggling to do their best and achieve their goals. So please, if an Enterprise Sales Meetup event is held in your city, I would encourage you to attend. You will not be disappointed.

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

Should you sign a Non-Compete Agreement? Part 2

In my previous post, I discussed what a non-compete agreement is. In this post, I will discuss my experiences with those agreements.

I’ve had several experiences in signing non-compete agreements. The first time I was asked to sign one was when I worked at a durable medical equipment company. What makes my case so unusual is that I was asked to sign the agreement after I had been employed with the company for about three years. This was done because a few weeks earlier, a senior salesperson had left our company to work for a competitor. He allegedly stole a hard copy of our customer list. There was no proof he took the document. However, based on that experience, our employer required each salesperson to sign the non-compete agreement even though most of us had been with the company for several years.

non-compete agreement for salespeopleThere was no formal announcement in advance that the entire sales staff would be required to sign this document. Instead, each of us met privately in an office with the owner, his wife and the sales manager. The non-compete agreement was presented to each salesperson. We read it, asked questions and if we agreed with the terms, we signed it. In exchange, we received financial compensation based on the number of years each of us had worked at the company. (Employees who are belatedly asked to sign a non-compete agreement are normally offered something of financial value, like a bonus or a raise).

Being naïve about such agreements, I immediately read and signed it because I wanted the money. However, some of my colleagues did not sign it so quickly. Some took copies to review, but were given a specific deadline to make a decision. One of my friends had the foresight to have his attorney review the document. His attorney told him to sign it because the agreement was so vague and “full of holes” that it could not stand up in court. While that news gave me some relief, I now realize I should have been more cautious before signing the agreement. Like my friend, I should have sought legal advice.

A couple of years later, our company was sold to a large competitor. It was soon announced that the entire sales team would probably be laid off within a year or so after the acquisition. However, we were not required to sign a non-compete agreement before joining our new employer. About a year later, shortly before we were to be laid off, the HR department asked each salesperson to sign a non-compete agreement. This time, the entire sales team refused. Since we knew we were going to be laid off, it didn’t make sense for us to sign. Some of us (including me) were seriously considering working for a small competitor after we left, so we didn’t want to ruin our chances for future employment.

As we expected, the HR department backed down and did not force us to sign, since by that point it really had no leverage over us.

I did, in fact, go to work for a small competitor after being laid off. A few weeks after taking that job, I received a nasty letter from a lawyer representing the company that had bought out my previous employer. The letter stated that I was in violation of a non-compete agreement, and that legal action would take place unless I immediately quit my new job. I called the attorney and argued that since the agreement was between my old employer and not the new owner (his client,) the agreement was not binding on me. Naturally, he argued differently. I stood my ground and refused to quit my new job. As I suspected, my old employer did not take legal action against me. I believe they didn’t sue me because they thought I would have little impact on their sales. In addition, nothing in the agreement stated that I must comply with the terms if my old employer was bought out or merged with another company.

I found out later that some employers will use threatening legal letters to try to intimidate and scare their old employees who work for competitors, but never follow through with any action. Why? Partly because of legal expense involved are too high, or because the employer believes you will not have a major negative impact on his business. These employers are playing a game of chicken. They hope a threatening letter is enough to scare you away from a competitor. If you call their bluff, you may win. However, my advice is that if you receive a threatening letter from a previous employer, always see a lawyer.

The third time I was asked to sign a non-compete agreement was when my division at a mid-size publishing company was sold to a large competitor. Unlike the prior buy-out I experienced, this time my new employer requested that I and everyone on the staff sign the non-compete agreement before being hired. The agreement listed several competitors we were not allowed to work for until a year after we had left the company. I signed the agreement because I had no plans to work for a competitor.

non-compete agreement for salespeopleWhile that agreement was better than the one I signed at the durable medical company, it still did not completely protect my employer. For example, two editors quit and went to work for a competitor that was not listed on the agreement. Three more editors quit and took jobs with a competitor had not been created before the buy-out.

Since then, I have signed two more non-compete agreements before formally being hired by a new employer. (In one rare case, I was actually asked to sign a non-complete agreement before being interviewed. But that agreement only applied to anything that my potential employer discussed with me during our interview. In return, my potential employer signed an agreement promising that he would not disclose that he interviewed me. This agreement was to protect me in case my current employer was snooping around to find out if I was interviewing for a new job).

From a sales point of view, are non-compete agreements fair? In my opinion, it depends on several factors. If you specialize in selling certain products and services, then you should be allowed to continue selling those products and services with other companies. This is especially true if you get laid off, fired or move away. While I understand the employer’s point of view about protecting his business, we all have to make a living. However, I’m strongly opposed to stealing your old employer’s trade secrets, customer lists or anything else that is considered proprietary. It’s just plain unethical and wrong. And if you have done your due diligence in advance, your employer’s competitor will have good products for you to sell, and enough resources to help you.

From my personal experience, I have heard of employers threatening legal action against a former employer, but I was not privy to the outcome or if they followed through on their threats.

If you do decide to work for a competitor even after signing a non-compete agreement, I strongly urge you to seek legal advice first. This could save you a lot of time, money and headache down the road. If your old employer suspects you have stolen trade secrets or client lists, he may sue not only you but your new employer as well.

So if you are confronted with the prospect of signing a non-compete agreement, always seek legal advice. If you feel uncomfortable signing the agreement, and you think you can find a job somewhere else without signing one, then go for it.

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

Should you sign a Non-Compete Agreement? Part 1

More companies than ever are requiring salespeople and other employees to sign non-compete agreements. Given the high turnover in many sales departments, and determination of competitors to steal good employees, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. In addition, with so many mergers and acquisitions going on these days, employers are worried that salespeople are going to jump ship and steal their customer/prospect lists, confidential marketing plans, and other proprietary information.

signing a non-compete agreementBut first, what is a non-compete agreement? It is a contract between you and your employer. The agreement states that you will not work for a competitor within a certain length of time after you leave your employment. The time period can range anywhere from a few months to two years or longer, depending on your position and the type of company or industry you work in.

The agreement will probably include a clause that you cannot share client lists, trade secrets or other information that your employer considers to be confidential or proprietary. In some cases, the agreement may state that even if you are allowed to work for a competitor, you cannot solicit sales from your former customers or even from any customers of your old employer.

The agreement can be anywhere from a few paragraphs to several pages long.

The agreement’s purpose is to protect your employer from losing business to a competitor. From an employer’s point of view, he is investing time and money in you to sell his products and services. If you jump ship to join a competitor, not only is he losing you as an employee, but you could potentially bring his customers and trade secrets to his rival, and thus hurt his business.

Non-compete agreements are based on state law and vary from state to state. Some states don’t enforce non-compete agreements. Some courts may not enforce them, either.

blue pencil lawOther states may have “blue pencil” laws that give judges the authority to modify a non-compete agreement. For example, if an agreement states you cannot work for a competitor for three years, a judge may consider that time period unreasonable and reduce it to six months. Another example is that if the agreement states you cannot work in a specific industry, let’s say pharmaceuticals, a judge may find that is too broad and restrictive on your ability to find work. If an employer had specifically named competitors in the agreement before you signed it, you might have a more difficult time working for a specific competitor.

There is a lot of controversy about how legally binding non-compete agreements really are. I’m not an attorney. My suggestion is that if you are asked to sign an agreement, you should seek legal advice. However, if you delay in signing the agreement, your potential employer may become suspicious of your true intentions to work for him, and may withdraw your job offer. Still, you should be prepared to be asked to sign such an agreement if you decide to accept a job offer.

If you are lucky, you will receive the non-compete agreement along with other paperwork to complete before officially coming on board. If you don’t receive any paperwork in advance, I suggest that you contact your new employer’s HR department and request it. If they ask why you want the paperwork in advance, tell them that you want to save time by completing as much of it as possible before you start your new job. In most cases, the HR department will comply with your request and email the material to you. If you get a non-compete agreement in advance of starting your new job, which should give you enough time to have an attorney review the document and offer his advice.

To learn more about non-compete agreements in your state, please check out Beck Reed Riden (BRR)’s 50 State Non-compete Chart. It was posted on August 9, 2015

Heather Bussing also wrote an interesting article on “Is Your Non-Compete Agreement Enforceable?”

In my next post, I will discuss some of my personal experiences with non-compete agreements.

Note: Like my post? Please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Should you write a Cover Letter?

A young woman who was working as an intern recently asked me if she should send a cover letter with her resume. Her internship was ending soon, and she was seeking a full-time job with benefits.

sending in a cover letterThe woman explained to me that she has been receiving mixed advice from her friends. Some told her not to waste her time sending in a cover letter because most hiring managers don’t read them anymore. Others told her that sending a cover letter would make her appear more professional.

Here is my answer – yes, you should definitely write a cover letter.

Here’s why – with HR and sales managers receiving hundreds of resumes a year, you need to do everything you can to distinguish yourself from the crowd. While it may be true that most hiring managers may not read (or at best just glance at) your letter, at least it will make you stand out.

Almost every employer and sales manager I have spoken to have told me that if a sales person doesn’t send his cover letter along with his resume, that person’s job application is immediately deleted or ignored.

Even companies that give you the “option” of submitting a cover letter, I should still send one. Why?

Because the employer is testing you to see how professional and driven you are to succeed in sales. You see, if you are going to be lazy when it comes to job hunting by not sending in a cover letter, you may be lazy when it comes to generating sales. Are you going to make only two sales calls or 8 to reach the decision maker? Are you going to write short but interesting emails to your prospects, or copy and paste the same stale email that you are sending to everyone? Are you going to occasionally come in early and stay late to hit your quota, or are you just going to be a 9-to-5 employee?

Sometimes you have to take your own initiative. I once applied for a sales position for a start-up company that did not give you the option online to submit a cover letter. Yes, you had to complete an application and send in your resume, but it appeared that no cover letter was required.

Puzzled and confused, I found the email address of both the CEO and HR Manager. I sent them both my resume and cover letter. I explained I was taking this action because I didn’t see a place to submit my cover letter. I further told them that I felt it would be unprofessional for me to just send them my resume without an attached letter.

A day later, the CEO apologized to me for not putting a cover letter option on the company’s website. A couple days later, I received an email from the HR manager inviting me to take a phone interview.

In the eyes of both the CEO and HR manager, I showed them the initiative and willingness to go beyond the call of duty to apply for the job.

I passed the test.

writing a cover letter for a sales jobI once worked with an employer who gave all sales applicants an interesting test – before you sent in your cover letter and resume, you had to call a special phone number and leave a voicemail about a product or service that you were selling. It didn’t matter what product or service you were calling about, but you obviously had to sound enthusiastic and give a clear reason why the prospect would want to return your phone call. Once you left the message, you would then send you your cover letter and resume on the company’s website.

Would you believe that more than 80% of all job applicants did not follow instructions! They either didn’t bother to call and leave a message, or they only sent in their resume without their cover letter.

As a result, those 80% were put in the “delete pile” and were not called back.

While a cover letter (and resume) alone may not determine if you have the drive and determination to succeed in sales, first impressions do matter. Your cover letter and resume only gives your potential employer a quick peek at who you are. But in most cases, sending in both a cover letter and resume is your only way of getting your foot in the door to get that first (and maybe several) interviews before getting the job offer.

In the age of Twitter and email, cover letters may be considered old fashion. And while most potential employers could probably read your LinkedIn profile to learn about you, sometimes it’s the little things that stand out.

Be old fashion. Be professional. Write a cover letter.

Here are two sites that I recommend on how to write a good cover letter –

“6 Secrets to Writing a Great Cover Letter,” by Seth Porges
“How to Write a Cover Letter” by Amy Gallo

Note: Like my post? Please read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Should you work in a High Turnover Sales Department?

high turnover in a sales department is like riding a roller coasterAfter months of job hunting, you finally landed what you think is a good sales job. No more interviews. No more sending out resumes. No more writing cover letters. No more attending network events. No siree Bob, you finally arrived and are now ready to start earning serious money and move on with your life.

But after working at your new job for a few months, you begin to see a pattern.

High turnover.

At first, you don’t notice it because you’re too busy learning about the products and services, getting to know your co-workers, and adjusting to your new work environment. Plus, you wanted to find out where the best coffee shops and fast food restaurants were located near your company.

But then, about every other week or so, you start reading emails that begin with “Joe Smith is no longer working at this company. He has moved on to other opportunities.”

And then you notice the guy who helped mentor you leave. And then the sales manager, who you thought was a good guy, is no longer coming to work. He’s been replaced by an outsider who is clueless about what your company is doing or what you’re selling. You see small groups of other salespeople meeting quietly, talking in whispers, and glancing over their shoulders to ensure no one is listening. The HR director is always meeting behind closed doors, and rarely makes eye contact when you walk by.

Employees come. Employees go. It’s a swinging door.

Congratulations. You have stumbled upon the classic high turnover sales department.

Now what?

Most salespeople stay where they have a good opportunity to earn a good living. But when there is high turnover among a sales staff, it’s usually a bad sign that something is wrong. Unlike most employees, the sales team is serving on the front lines. That means if something good or bad happens to a company, they are the first ones to feel the impact.

High turnover occurs for several reasons, including

1). The products or services are bad, or little improvement has been made in recent years. This could occur because the company isn’t reinvesting in product development, or there is too much infighting within the development team.

2). The compensation package is lousy. Every other month, you receive a new comp plan, or “adjustments” are repeatedly made.

3). Management is terrible, which usually turns into a serious morale problem. The managers could be incompetent, lazy, too demanding, etc. You get the picture.

4). The Marketing Department isn’t providing you with enough good or qualified leads. For example, inbound marketing is nonexistent, or the department is not effectively using social media to enhance better branding and name recognition. There could also be cutbacks in attending key trade show or other events.

4). The company isn’t doing a good job of hiring and qualifying candidates, or isn’t setting the right expectations about its sales positions.

To learn more about the causes of high turnover, please read the following articles –

“What Are the Causes of a High Turnover Rate of Sales Personnel?” by Chris Joseph, Demand Media
“10 Causes of High Sales Rep Turnover – Which One is Yours?” by Steve Loftness

Some companies may tell you that turnover occurs because they have “high expectations” of salespeople; if they don’t achieve their goals, they are asked to leave.

What they are really telling you is that the quotas are extremely or unrealistically high, and frankly may be out of reach for most salespeople. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some companies are looking for the crème de la crème. If you can’t hack it, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Selling is hard work. Maybe they are not looking for glorified order takers, but real hunters and aggressive closers. Maybe they are looking for salespeople to work late hours, or be road warriors and travel to all parts of the country or world. Just know that if you accept this job, you had been warned up front about the high turnover. Be prepared for a major sales workout.

But is high turnover always a bad thing? Not necessarily.

High turnover may open up room for quick advancement, or a chance to grab some large accounts or good sales territories. Just be prepared for the stress and anxiety that may follow in a high-turnover situation. If you can ride the storm and come out ahead, more power to you.

sales woman on top of victoryI once knew a woman in sales who had worked for a small family-owned business that was struggling financially and had high turnover. In fact, the entire sales staff left except her. She was the last woman standing. The other salespeople who left the company were dumbfounded when she decided to stay on. To make a long story short, the business slowly turned around, and the owner made her the sales manager. He was grateful that she had stuck it out through the bad times. As you may now guess, as the company grew, she acquired most of the larger accounts, and earned commission based on both her own sales and those of her sales team. Financially speaking, she was on top of the world. All because the other sales reps left, she was able to take advantage of a very chaotic situation, and earn herself a good living for several years. (The company was later acquired by a large competitor and the entire sales team was laid off).

High turnover is not for the faint-hearted. But if you can endure the ride, you may turn chaos into your success.

If you want to take a gamble and find a company with high turnover, make a habit of reading the help-wanted ads about once or twice a month. Look under the “sales jobs” column. If you find a pattern of companies advertising for the same position repeatedly throughout the year, chances are you found a high-turnover company. You may also want to regularly read, which provides anonymous reviews of companies. If you read a lot of negative comments from salespeople, that’s usually a good sign of high turnover.

Once you found your high turnover sales department, enjoy the bumpy ride.

However, for most of us, a high turnover rate is too nerve-wracking to deal with. If you can’t stomach the pressure and anxiety, don’t waste your time. Move on.

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

Should you hire a sales intern?

A Maryland start-up came up with a unique idea. Lacking funds, the company decided to hire sales interns during the summer rather than a full-time salesperson. Since the co-founder was spending most of her time handling inbound leads, she thought it would be a good idea to hire interns to help. (Note, the co-founder was rarely making any cold or prospecting phone calls. Instead, she was relying on email campaigns or inbound marketing to acquire leads).

internships for sales peopleHowever, the company ran into some problems.  Most of the interns they hired didn’t like doing sales. Quickly bored or turned off by the idea of calling strangers, they began asking for other assignments.  Frustrated, the co-founder would quickly dismiss the insubordinate intern after a few days and begin a new search to hire more interns.

Eventually, she ended up acquiring a hard-core group of sales interns who stayed for the summer. After the Labor Day weekend, she and her partner finally hired their first full-time salesperson.

But let’s back up a bit.

First, should you even consider hiring a sales intern?

Why not? Marketing, law and engineering firms, among others, hire interns all the time. Nonprofit organizations and government agencies hire interns too. So why shouldn’t a company or organization hire sales interns?  Now, I know what you are thinking  – well, isn’t a salesperson supposed to make a long-term commitment to a company. Why waste time hiring and training an intern to do sales, if they are only going to stay during the summer before they return to school?

Good question.

It really depends on what you want your sales intern to actually do.

Of course, you want your intern to steer clear of large prospects that could generate a lot of revenue for your company. But depending on what you’re selling and the industry you are in, what harm can you do by allowing interns to follow-up on initial calls and ask qualifying questions. And what harm can occur if an intern is allowed to do a short demo or webinar of your products and services? With the proper training and oversight, an intern could actually do well and help your company. You are also creating the classic win-win situation – if the intern does well and likes your company, you could be grooming him for a full-time job down the road.

The challenge is finding the right interns to do the job.

But how?

You hire sales interns the same way you hire any intern.

First, you clearly outline the duties and responsibilities of the internship.

Second, you conduct interviews to ensure that you are hiring the great students to do the sales internship.

Third, you go through the usual motions of checking references, academic records, etc.

But how do you avoid the mistake the Maryland start-up made when they were going through a high turnover of sales interns?

I would do the following –

fake sales call or practice sales call1). Have the intern make a fake sales call and leave a voicemail. They could be selling any product or service. The key is are they actually following your instructions and how do they sound over the phone.

2). Invite the intern to come in and actually sit in on some sales calls for an hour or so. Let them see and hear how you interact with prospects and clients. Look at their body language. How are they reacting? Are they asking you good questions between calls? Do they show interest or are they just seeking an internship as a resume filler? Are they seeking a sales career or a paycheck to tie them over during the summer?

3). Offer them not just a small base salary but a bonus or small commission for their services. That’s right – real money. I recently met a college professor who complained to me about how many companies kept sending him lengthy emails with long job descriptions for interns – but no pay. No pay!?! I mean, are you kidding? Regardless of whatever type of internship you are trying to fill, pay your interns. While not technically employees, they are not serfs either. Treat them the same way you want your kid should be treated.

4). Does the prospective intern have any sales experience? Telemarketing? Fundraising for his college? Any retail work? Any sales experience can help.

Below are a couple of helpful articles on how to hire interns –

How to Hire Rockstar Interns for Your Small Business, by Jenn Boutwell, VP of Marketing and Strategic Alliances, Sage
Six Steps to Hiring Interns, by Sam M. Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas

More college graduates than ever are entering sales as a career. Some are doing it because they can’t find work in their field. Others are doing it either as a last resort or a fallback position until they can find “better” jobs. Offering sales internships will allow some students to realize if they have the potential and drive to pursue sales after college. We owe it to them, and our society, to make that reality happen.

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