The Choice, or How a Millennial got Screwed

(Note: The following story is true. Real names are not used for obvious reasons.)

You are a sales manager for a 5 person sales team at a small conservative parochial company. It’s a slow growth business using limited marketing and social media programs to help generate qualified leads and prospects.

The office is crappy.

The plumbing is crappy.

The computer system is crappy.

The CRM is crappy.

The morale is….well, you get the drift.

What keeps most salespeople working year after year is the compensation package, decent benefits, and a no enforced sales quota policy.

After 4 months of interviews, you finally hire a new salesperson. She’s a recent graduate. This is her first real full-time job. She’s a millennial living at home with her parents.

good and bad choicesSix months into the job, you find that the millennial is doing a fair job. But you begin to detect that her head isn’t completely in the sales game. Sure, she goes through the motions of making sales calls, getting orders, entering sales notes, etc., but she’s not lighting any fires.

While you figure she should be grateful that she has a job, you feel she’s not very enthusiastic. But to be fair, no one on your sales team is very enthusiastic either. But at least you know they’re older, have major financial obligations, and can’t afford to move to another city anytime soon. Furthermore, because the other salespeople have been with the company for a long time, they are locked in, e.g., they have a high base salary, a large pipeline, and lots of vacation time. Unless someone comes along and makes them an offer they can’t refuse, you’re confident your sales team will stay put.

But you are not so sure about the millennial you hired. Since she’s living at home with her parents and has smaller financial obligations (except maybe student loans), she could turn on you like a dime and jump at another job offer – maybe even another city.

Along comes a former employee who used to work for you. He left the company a few years ago to do consulting work. But lately, times are hard and he wants to return to his old stomping grounds for regular paychecks and benefits.

You know him. He has plenty of sales and marketing experience. He’s mature. He’s hard-working. And unlike the millennial, he has a mortgage and major financial responsibilities to deal with. You also know he’s not going to be a flight risk.

But you have a dilemma. You don’t have any openings in your sales department.

So, what do you do?

Do you keep the millennial and hope that she grows with the job? Or, do you get rid of millennial and replace her with the more experienced salesperson?

Before you answer, consider the following –

Further complicating your situation, you live in the outer suburbs of Washington, D.C. Your commute is long and terrible. And to top it off, you and your wife are raising two kids. And to make matters even worse, your wife is working a part-time job she hates. But because the bills are piling up, she has no choice but to work. At least once a week, your wife reminds you of this fact.  Your wife wants to know when your big commission checks will be rolling back in again so she can stop working.

Long commute, children, mortgage, bills, wife complaining. The financial pressures are accelerating.

Now, how would you answer the above questions?

Millennial sales personThe sales manager in this situation forced the millennial out of her job. He did so by writing her up on picayune issues like coming to work a few minutes late and making minor errors on her orders. While petty issues, the sales manager was clearly trying to bully the millennial to leave. Unfortunately, the millennial was too naïve to understand what was happening to her. A more experienced salesperson would have seen the handwriting on the wall, and either a). work harder or b). jump ship.

As for the millennial, she eventually had enough “write-ups” in her file to get fired.

Was the millennial treated unfairly? Yes.

Were the sales manager’s tactics unethical and maybe even, illegal? Yes.

But from the sales manager’s point of view, his scheme worked. He got the new experienced sales person on board. And with that new person, the chance of generating more income for himself that would eventually get his wife off his back.

As for the millennial, she eventually landed a new sales job three months later. Did she learn any important lessons? Unsure.

Lessons:

1). Never take your job for granted. Living at home isn’t a crime. Hell, more millennials than ever are living at home until they can generate enough income to buy their first home. In fact, a Census report, “The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975-2016,” states that about 34% of all young adults between ages 18 to 34 – are still living with their parents.

But from the sales manager’s point of view, living at home means you will find it easier to find a new job or relocate. Yes, you may eventually find a new job or relocate anyway. But you need to keep your head in the game and at a bare minimum, pretend that you’re taking your job seriously. You don’t want your manager to catch on that you are job hunting or bored with your job. Trust me, there will always be people waiting in the wings to take your position.

2). Sales managers are human. problems faced by sales managersWhile a good manager is always professional, personal problems or other outside pressures may force him to take unethical actions to boost his income. This is especially true when the sales manager is not only earning commission on your sales but his sales as well. While you don’t want to pry and participate in office gossip, keep your eyes and ears open to any issues your manager is facing that could jeopardize your job. Is he going through a divorce? Is his wife or one of his children requiring expensive medical attention? Is he more stressed than normal?

3). Look at the signs. If your sales manager’s attitude towards you suddenly changes for the worst, fairly or unfairly, he may view you as the weakest link on the sales team. Even if you are meeting or exceeding your quota, the sales manager may feel you can do better. It’s not unusually for sales managers to hire their friends or previous employees they know well. It’s not just a matter of earning more money, but it’s about having a comfort zone. Sales managers want to be surrounded by people they know and can trust.

To learn more if your boss hates you, please read the articles below –

“7 Signs Your Boss Hates you (And How to Handle it),” by Alison Green of Dailyworth

“Ten Signs Your Boss Hates You,” by Liz Ryan

Selling is an honorable profession. But like any profession, we all have to make choices. Make sure you don’t end on the wrong side of a bad choice.

If you were the sales manager discussed in this post, what would you have done? Don’t be too quick to judge the sales manager too harshly. While many Millennials may enjoy safe places on college campuses, in the workplace, it’s still a jungle.

Life is unfair. If you didn’t learn that while on campus, you soon will once you enter the work force.

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

The third photo is from photo credit: Rusty Russ Sea of Tears via photopin (license)

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 moral 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 a 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 a 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 at 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 Glassdoor.com, 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.

In sales, should you use a Mentor?

The first few weeks of any new sales job are critical to your success. How you are treated and on board can make the difference between staying or leaving your new job.

Since January is “National Mentoring Month,” I recommend that one of the best ways of reducing high turnover in a sales department is for the sales manager to appoint a mentor to help a new salesperson.

should salespeople use mentorsNow, I know what you are thinking – isn’t mentoring supposed to be the job of the sales manager? Well….no.

Here’s why –

1). Sales managers are busy. Depending on the company and industry, the sales manager may be managing his own set of accounts, or even making prospecting sales calls. In addition, sales managers are frequently attending meetings, doing administrative work, coaching, conducting weekly meetings or pipeline reviews. As a result, they are not always going to be available to help new salespeople.

2). Sales managers can be intimating. Let’s face it, if you are fresh out of college or if this is your first or second sales job, your sales manager may be a lot older and more experienced than you. As a result, you may feel embarrassed coming to him with your problems. After all, the sales manager is the person who conducts your annual or mid-year reviews and signs off on your commission or bonus checks, and ultimately determines whether you have a career with his company or not.

3). Sales managers are human. That means they have their own pet peeves. Some may not like you bothering them with too many questions or concerns. Some may interpret your constant questioning as a sign of weakness or stupidity (while forgetting what it was like when they started out in sales).

4). Sales managers must adhere to the company’s policies. Even if your manager privately agrees with your criticism of the company or its policies, as a subordinate to upper management, he must publicly support the company. Like you, he doesn’t want to lose his job. So if you complain too much or loudly, the sales manager may fire you or force you out by assigning you bad leads.

Here are the advantages to having a mentor on your sales team –

1). Comfort – Some salespeople may feel more comfortable speaking with someone who is considered his “equal” – by age or experience. Also, if you have any specific problems with your employer, your mentor may be more receptive to hear your complaints without ratting you out. In fact, he may even privately agree with you. However, I wouldn’t be too open to your mentor until you trust him enough to keep your concerns confidential. Think of your mentor as being your sounding board – someone you can confide in and get things off your chest.

2). Saves time – both the salesperson and manager may appreciate a mentor saving time by being accessible, especially for easy questions such as how to use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) more efficiently, or how to enter orders, or how to make international phone calls, or how to use the scanner on the printer.

den of angry wolves3). Peace of mind – the new salesperson has the peace of mind that someone is watching his back, and is available for help. Too often new salespeople feel like they are walking into a den of wolves, and thus get the cold or cool shoulder from senior salespeople who feel threatened by a new face. This is especially true if there have been grumblings about the poor quality or quantity of sales leads. Or maybe senior salespeople are upset because they feel the recent sales territory assignments are unfair. For whatever reason, at least initially, some salespeople are treated like an uninvited guest to a party or wedding.

Should the salesperson select a mentor?

Sometimes. But I recommend that initially, the sales manager selects a mentor for a new salesperson. Remember – starting a new job is difficult enough without a new salesperson walking into a minefield of different (and sometimes difficult) personalities to find the right mentor. The goal of the sales manager is to help the new salesperson hit the ground running, build up his pipeline, learn about the company’s products and services, and understand the industry as a whole. The last thing you want is a salesperson wasting time trying to find a mentor and getting the brush off from busy senior salespeople. Of course, after a few months, the new salesperson will naturally build relationships with others on the sales team and may find a de facto mentor. But in the beginning, I would recommend selecting a mentor for him jump-start his career.

Who should be the mentor?

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t believe it should always be the more senior or experienced salesperson. Instead, I would select someone who is patient and emphatic. The mentor doesn’t have to be a smartest or most knowledgeable person on your sales team; instead, he should be someone who remembers what it was like to be the new “sales guy”, and how he wished he had someone around to show him the ropes.

To make the task a little easier, you may want to give the mentor a bonus or some other incentive like x-number of extra vacation days for the time he’s spending to help the new salesperson. This will make a mentor more willing to assist a new employee.

I remember watching a documentary a few years ago about an American family that moved to Japan. Rather than enroll their teenage daughter in an exclusive international school, they decided to have her attend a Japanese public school (the daughter knew how to speak Japanese).

On the first day of school, the principal assigned the young woman to a student mentor. It was the role of the mentor to attend the young woman’s classes with her, introduce her to other students, and be her “buddy” until she could feel more comfortable in her new academic environment.

That’s why having a mentor is so important – to make new salespeople more comfortable until they are ready to tackle major accounts and assignments.

Selling is tough. You face daily rejection. You deal with the challenge of making your monthly or quarterly quota. You have to learn about new products or a new industry. You have to find out who you can trust and not trust your sales team. You have to deal with office politics.

But by assigning a mentor to a new salesperson, his first few weeks will go a lot smoother and hopefully, you will have a long-term employee working for you.

Below are some helpful articles on mentoring –

“Leadership and Mentoring of Young Employees,” by Jim Horwath
“Benefits of Establishing an Employee Mentoring Program,” by Andrea Poe

The 10 spookiest things about Selling

spooky things about sellingWhat keeps you up at night? Is it the imaginary monster you remember from your childhood that is still hiding underneath your bed? Is it the ghostly sounds that you hear outside your window while you’re trying to sleep? Is it your black cat that’s scratching your bedroom door?

With Halloween fast approaching, what are the 10 spookiest things that scare you the most about selling?

1). Not getting enough qualified sales leads

Do you want leads? Sure, here’s the Yellow Pages – start calling! Seriously, most salespeople complain about the lack of leads or the quality of what they receive from their marketing team. But hey, thanks to the Internet, there are tons of free and paid sources now available. So stop complaining, and don’t be afraid of doing a little research.

Need help? Here are a couple of books you should consider –

New Sales. Simplified: The Essential Handbook for Prospecting and New Business Development, by Mike Weinberg and S. Anthony Iannarino.

Power Prospecting: Cold Calling Strategies For Modern Day Sales People – Build a B2B Pipeline. Teleprospecting, Lead Generation, Referrals, Executive Networking. Improve Selling Skills, by Patrick Henry Hansen.

2). Getting little or no training

You were told by your employer that you would receive training after you were hired. Instead, you were introduced to your work area and given a prospect list – now start selling. What should you do? Start reading. That’s right – start reading sales books, blogs, and articles. Start watching YouTube videos about selling. Study your company’s products and services inside and out until you know them by heart. Do what you have to do to be successful – because while your employer may not care, you better give a damn about your job. After all, what’s even scarier than little or no training is standing in the unemployment line.

Don’t know where to begin? Here’s help –

Here is a link to a guest blog post I wrote for Will Reed Jobs, an Austin based job hunting agency for young salespeople –

Ten books that New Salespeople should Read

And HubSppot has a list of the 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time.

don't panic in sales3). The “no show” prospect

I know. The prospect accepted your meeting calendar invite to view your short webinar, but he disappeared. Where did he go? Did he fall down a pit? Are you going to curse the darkness? Of course not! Don’t panic. Just pick up the phone and try to reschedule the appointment. Things happen. Prospects get busy. Don’t take it personally.

4). Competitors who lie, cheat and steal

Hate them or respect them, competitors exist in every industry. You can either be afraid of them or fight them. The choice is yours. While you may want to boil your competitors in a cauldron of oil, the better approach is to stop worrying about your competitors and just do your job. In the long run you will succeed while your competitors fail.

5). Cold calling

A cold call isn’t cold unless you make it so. Do a little research first before you call a prospect. Is he the key decision maker? Do you feel you have a solution that will help him? Or better yet, try to get a referral.

6). The mysterious marketing department

You heard about the mysterious marketing department, but you’ll be damned if you know if it really exist or not. Is it a ghost department that only comes out at night when everyone else has left work? You were told that the marketing department was going to provide you qualified leads, but you haven’t seen any for a while. Did the leads end up in the quicksand?  (See number 1 about finding your own qualified leads). And if your company’s social media efforts are still in the dark ages, start your own blog, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn account, and become more active on social media yourself. While your marketing department may be invisible, you shouldn’t be.

salespeople pouncing on trade show attendees7). Trade Shows

So you’re afraid to stand at your exhibit booth during trade shows. Don’t be. Chances are, most of the attendees are just as scared as you are because salespeople are pouncing on them like vampires every time they near a booth. Rather than asking good qualified questions, those salespeople are sucking the life out of attendees. Don’t be like that. Act cool. Show some respect. Don’t scan and scam. Take a more consultative sales approach when meeting with attendees. Believe me, in the long run it will pay off.

Here is a good article from Jane Applegate on “How to Work a Trade Show.”

8). Conversions of your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system

You love your CRM. It helps you keep track of your sales notes, customer contact information and all of the records you need to do your job. But another salesperson came along and sold your employer on a better CRM. Now what? It’s conversion time – that long, lengthy, agonizing period of exporting all of your data into the new CRM. Scared? Hell, you should be. Because sometimes important data has a way of ending up in a dark hole that will never be found again. (I’ve gone through 5 conversions in my career. In one case, the programmers forgot to transfer our sales notes. In another case, they forgot to transfer all of our expired clients). But don’t be afraid – instead, download and save all your information or print it out. But whatever you do, protect your information or it may disappear.

Here a good article from Chuck Schaeffer on “Lessons Learned in CRM Data Conversions.”

bogeyman as a sales manager9). Bad sales managers

Yes, we’ve all been there, done that. But your sales manager may not be the bogeyman you think he is. Like you, he’s under pressure to make quota or achieve sales goals. The only difference is that he has to depend on you and the entire sales team to make it happen. That’s scary. There are a lot of books and articles on how to deal with difficult managers – here are a couple –

A Survival Guide for Working With Bad Bosses: Dealing With Bullies, Idiots, Back-stabbers, And Other Managers from Hell, by Gini Graham Scott Ph.D.

Dealing With Horrible Bosses: How To Handle Bad Managers at Work! (difficult managers,poor boss,difficult bosses,work bullies,bad bosses,bullying at workplace,bullying at work), by Damon Lundqvist.

And VorsightBP, a Northern Virginia based sales consulting firm, has an excellent webinar on “10 Tips to Transform Sales Leaders From Micromanagers into Great Coaches.” (You have to submit your contact information to watch it, but it’s worth it).

10). Slow sales periods

Every industry has its slow periods. You know, that time when most clients are not buying because it’s the holidays, or it’s the summer or whatever lame excuse you are given. So does that mean you slow down? Hell no. Find other prospects to contact. When I once worked in the accounting industry, tax season was considered a slow time to call on CPAs, accountants and tax preparers. Unless you loved getting chewed out by stressed out accountants facing the April 15th tax deadline, you pretty much left them alone. While that made sense, we didn’t sit around and feel sorry for ourselves – instead, we contacted libraries, nonprofit organizations and financial institutions that we thought would be good candidates for our tax research program. You do what you have to do to hit your quota.

What scares you about selling? Please send me a comment.

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

Great advice for sales managers

In the video below, Bob Perkins, founder of AA-ISP, offered three tips for sales managers. He discussed how important is it to create a motivating cultural and to ensure that salespeople are valued. He advises sales managers to do the following –

1). Make prospecting sales calls with your sales team. Among other things, this will help sales managers gain credibility with their sales team. This is important because too often sales managers are either busy working in an office, or attending department level meetings, and don’t always have a good understanding of what is going on in the real world. Getting on the sales floor and showing your team that you are willing to get in the trenches with them is a major morale buster. It reminds me of the movie “Patton”, where the general at one point decides to walk among his troops along a dirt road.  Sometimes you need to walk the same path with your sales team to gain their respect and earn their credibility.

2). Delegate. He advises sales managers to delegate some projects to team members. Not only does this relieve the sales manager’s workload, but it also shows that he respects his team members to be problem solvers. He argues that team members will feel valued and invested in the sales process. I should add that is this also a good way of grooming future managers down the road. Too often when sales managers leave or are promoted, companies are faced with the daunting task of hiring or promoting a new manager. By giving team members a chance to solve problems and work on projects, you will begin to see who your next potential new manager may be.

3). Make it personal. Take team members out to lunch or dinner. Take the time to get to know your salespeople as human beings and that you care about them. Great advice!  Some sales managers will only treat their salespeople as meal tickets rather than as real people who have goals to achieve and problems to resolve.

Here is the video of Bob Perkins advice –