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)

Is your Sales Department a Turkey?

Is your sales department a turkey?With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is a good time to remind ourselves what we should be thankful for. If you are working in a good sales department, be grateful. But if your sales department is a turkey, you better start seeking a new job.

Should you be thankful or gobble like a turkey?

You decide. Please review the list below of what makes a good sales department –

1). Customer relationship management (CRM) software – If you are using a good CRM software program, be thankful. There are still a lot of companies that are using outdated or lousy CRMs to manage their sales, customer interactions, and record keeping.

Need some reliable sources to find a first-class CRM?

Check out –

Capterra
Software Advice
PC Magazine

2). Sales Manager – if you have a sales manager who gives a damn about you, pray he doesn’t leave your company anytime soon. If he does leave your company, pray your employer hires the right replacement. One of the major reasons why salespeople leave their jobs isn’t because of money or status, but because of poor management.

Need some advice on what makes a superior sales manager?

Check out –

“How to Become a Great Sales Manager from 10 Sales Experts,” by Russ Henneberry
“The 4 Qualities New Sales Managers Need for Success,” by Lou Carlozo
“The 6 Traits Every Sales Manager Needs to Succeed,” by Phil Harrell

beware of back stabbers3). Co-workers – every sales department has their share of backstabbers and sharks. You know who I’m talking about – the ones who steal your leads or prospects, or sabotage your work. Eventually, they are weeded out, but not before they create a toxic environment that could lead to high turnover or added stress. (As if you don’t have enough stress at work already). If you work with colleagues that you trust, be very thankful.

Need advice on how to work better with your colleagues?

Check out –

“How to Create a Team Selling Environment,” by Irene A. Blake
“How to Handle a Toxic Work Environment,” by Alan Henry
“11 Tips for Staying Sane in a Toxic Work Environment,” by Kassy Scarcia

4). Marketing – while I think the on again, off again, love/hate relationship between sales and marketing is overrated, there is no doubt that without an effective marketing department, your sales would be mediocre at best. If you have a marketing department that’s providing you with great leads and prospects, be very thankful.

Need some advice on how to build a good marketing team?

Check out –

“How to Build a High Performance Marketing Team,” by Kevin Barber
“Tips and Tools for Building a Marketing Team,” by Tiffany Black
“7 Characteristics That Make Up the Best Marketing and Sales Teams,” by Ross Simmonds

5). Customers – Let’s face it, all the best sales and marketing strategies in the world are not going to do you a bit of good without having reliable and repeat  customers. Do you want to earn and maintain a high commission? Take care of the ones who brung ya!

Need some advice on how to find and keep good customers?

Check out –

“The 80/20 Rule of Sales: How to Find your Best Customers” by Perry Marshall
“10 Ways to Make Customers Fall in Love with Your Business,” by Brian Honigman
“Four Simple Ways to Find Customers,” by Brad Sugars

But beyond business, most important of all, be thankful that you have family, friends and loves ones looking out for you. Life is too short to spend all of your time worrying about work. Enjoy the holiday and don’t eat too much turkey!

Note: If you like my post, please read 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 boarded 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 sales people 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 maybe 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 on 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

In Sales, when do you Fold ‘em and Quit?

Most of us are familiar with Kenny Rogers’ song “The Gambler”.

In one of his most famous lines in the song, the lyrics go like this –

“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away, and know when to run.”

when do you quit in sales?Contrary to popular belief, the best professional poker players don’t bluff their way to winning with a bad hand. When they get a bad hand, they know it’s better to fold quickly, cut their losses, and wait for a better hand. Unless independently wealthy, they realize they only have so much money to gamble with, and they don’t want to lose by bluffing. Sure, sometimes they may get lucky. After all, it’s gambling. But the professional knows that in gambling, while it’s good to be lucky, it’s always better to have a winning hand.

But what do you do in sales when you are dealt a bad hand when assigned a sales territory or group of accounts?

It happens. You start a new job, or a new sales manager is hired, or there is an influx of new salespeople, or there is a reorg of your sales department, and suddenly, all those great territories or accounts disappear, and you are left with a losing hand.

Now what?

Before quitting, access your situation and see if you can turn your bad hand into a winning one.

Here are five things to consider –

1). Is your situation only temporary? If you are working in a start-up or a fast growing company that has a high turnover rate of salespeople, chances are if you are patient and can afford to wait, the tide may turn back in your favor when other salespeople quit and you are assigned their good accounts. Even professional poker players know that you have to play the waiting game before you win a large pot. So don’t bitch or complain. Smile. Be professional. Play the waiting game. So when the bodies start falling by the wayside, and everyone else is playing duck and cover, make sure you’re in a position to pick up the good accounts and run towards success.

2). Is your assigned territory or accounts really that bad? Just because the prior salesperson didn’t do well with his accounts, doesn’t mean you can’t turn things around. Sometimes a new salesperson coming in with a different approach or perspective is all it takes to turn bad accounts into good ones. Maybe the chemistry wasn’t right between the last salesperson and his accounts. Maybe the last salesperson didn’t make enough cold or prospecting calls. Maybe the last salesperson didn’t have a good understanding of the market or your company’s products or services. Maybe the last salesperson was just lazy and coasting in his job. Whatever the reason, don’t be so quick to judge your assigned territory before you had a chance to dig in, do some research and make sales calls. There may be diamonds in the rough that haven’t been found yet.

For example, I worked at a durable medical equipment company where a new salesperson was assigned the “garbage” accounts by a senior sales rep. The senior rep had enough on his plate, so he figured he didn’t have anything to lose by dumping his crappy accounts on the new guy.

Did the new guy cry? Hell no. He worked the accounts and ended up getting one of the largest orders in the company’s history from an account that everyone thought was dead. Furthermore, the new guy blew his quarterly quota out of the water, and ended up gaining the respect of his colleagues and the owner.

Garbage in is not always garbage out.

3). Do you have great support from your Marketing Department? Has your employer finally weeded out the deadwood and hired better marketing professionals? Are you seeing an uptick in social media activity on Twitter, Facebook and other sites? Is your Marketing Department publishing quality content on your company’s website to draw in more prospects? Are you seeing an increase in your company’s trade show attendance? Are you receiving a better list of prospects to contact? Maybe the real reason why the prior salesperson didn’t do well was because he didn’t have good support from his Marketing Department. If your employer is finally waking up to that fact, you should stick around and ripe the awards of their efforts.

I once worked for a small publishing company where the marketing director worked remotely out-of-state. While she had all of the  job skills, she was spending most of her time doing freelancing work for other companies. Frustrated and angry, my employer finally canned her and hired a new marketing director. After that, our marketing efforts slowly started to turn around. Like my colleagues, my sales began to pick up with a new marketing professional in place.

4). Is your employer introducing new products or services? OK, so your accounts are crappy. You’ve done everything you supposed to do, but you’re not getting anywhere. You’re getting the evil eye from your sales manager, and the cold shoulder from colleagues because they feel you’re a loser. But wait! If your employer is introducing new products or services, that could be the ticket to save you. If that’s the case, sit tight and see if your sales will increase.

5). When all else fails, talk to your sales manager. Contrary to popular belief, smart sales managers know that high turnover hurts their bottom line, and can badly affect their professional reputation too. Like you, sales manages want to make money. They don’t want to waste their time constantly hiring new fresh blood because sales people are quitting. If you have earned enough brownie points, proved that you are a reliable and hardworking professional who “gets it”, plea your case to your sales manager. Based on your evidence and other information, he may assign you some better territories or accounts.  It never hurts to ask.

Selling is like playing poker. You have to work with the cards you’re dealt with. Sure, you could fold ‘em and quit your job.  Just make sure your cards are not as bad as you think before hitting the pavement seeking other opportunities.

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

20 Questions to Ask during a Sales Position Interview, Part 2

This is part 2 of my post on questions to ask during a sales position interview.

sales cycleQuestion 11). What is the average sales cycle?

This question is important because it will tell you when you will start earning commission or bonuses. If a company has a long sales cycle, chances are it may be weeks or months before you earn any commission. If that’s the case, is the base salary high enough to sustain you until you receive your first commission check? I’ve worked in sales jobs where it can take up to two months to two years before companies make buying decisions. This is especially true when you are dealing with large corporations. Can you afford to wait that long before receiving a commission? Make sure you have a clear idea of how you are expected to build up your pipeline, and the time frame for achieving that goal.

customersQuestion 12). Who within those companies will I be selling to?   

The purpose behind this question it to determine the types of clients you will be expected to deal with. This will give you a sense of how comfortable you will be working with certain groups of prospects. If you have been selling mainly to small business owners, and are now expected to sell to C-Level officers who are more powerful and influential, can you handle that? Only you can answer that question, but at least you will have some idea what you are walking into.

In relation to this, you may want to find out which is the most profitable group of clients the company is selling to. Many companies sell to different market segments, and some do better than others. For example, if you are told that law firms are the most profitable, compared to the nonprofit organizations for which there’s a sales opening, is this a job you want to pursue? Now granted, maybe the compensation package is different to make up for the fact that you are selling to a less profitable group. If that’s the case, now would be a good time to find out.

hurdles of sellingQuestion 13). What are some of the common hurdles or challenges your sales team is facing right now?

Your goal is to find out what problems the sales team is facing and what management is doing about it. For example, if their competitors are kicking their butts, how is the company addressing that problem? If the sales team is spending thirty minutes or longer processing simple orders, is the company planning to streamline the order entry system?

who is your boss?Question 14). Who do I report to?

Chances are, one of the people doing the interview will be your sales manager. But beyond him or her, will you need to report to others? If yes, now would be a good time to find out.

I once worked for a sales manager who was extremely weak. He had the title, but not the backbone to do his job. I found out the hard way that the real boss was an outside consultant who burst into our office about once or twice a week. While our sales manager pretended to be the decision maker, it was the consultant who really called the shots.

And if you are lucky enough to be interviewed by the sales manager, now would be a good time to ask your prospective boss a few questions: Why did you decide to work for the company? How would you describe your management style? Can you give me a little background about your sales career? If you did your homework, you probably read the manager’s LinkedIn profile, but it wouldn’t hurt to show some interest in the career of someone you hope to work for.

A related question would be:

“What is my sales manager’s leadership style like?”

a successful saleswomanQuestion 15). What are you looking for in a salesperson?

This is good to ask early in the interview process, because it will signal what type of candidate they are trying to hire. Are they seeking a road warrior who will travel a great deal throughout the year? Are they seeking a cold caller who will be banging the phones all day? Are they seeking someone who has a consultative sales style, or a hunter who persistently seeks new leads and doesn’t take no for an answer?

Once you find what type of salesperson they are looking for, you can either tailor your answers to match their questions, or realize you made a mistake applying for the job, and politely walk away from the interview. My advice is to walk away if you’re not a good fit. In the short run, you may get the job, but in the long run you will be miserable trying to be someone you’re not.

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If you like this post, please read my book Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career for more help.
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resources for salespeopleQuestion 16). What resources do you have available to help salespeople accomplish their jobs?

Are they using the latest and greatest CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool to manage your accounts and sales, or are they still using Excel spreadsheets? Do they have an ample inventory of office supplies, or do you have to run to Staples or Office Depot every time you need new pens? If you are dealing with overseas clients, are there any restrictions on making long-distance phone calls?

I have worked at companies where I had to buy thank-you cards out of my own pocket. I’ve even bought my own pop-up Post-It notes because the company considered the product too expensive to buy and stock.

marketing teamQuestion 17). Can you describe to me what your Marketing Department is doing to help the sales team?

This question is important because it will give you good insight into how sophisticated the company’s marketing efforts are in generating leads for the sales team. Is the Marketing Department generating leads or are salespeople expected to generate most of their own? Are they following a good social media plan? Or better yet, do they have someone on staff devoted exclusively to maintaining the company’s social media? How well is the Marketing Department working to promote the company’s brand? Are they planning to attend a lot of trade shows?

In short, the better the Marketing Department is at helping you, the better you should do in sales.

Related questions would be:

“What type of marketing does the company do?”

“Is the marketing department helpful to the sales team?”

“How does the company obtain leads?”

competitionQuestion 18). Can you please tell me more about your competitors? Which ones are you most worried about?

Ideally, you did your homework and you already know who some of the competitors are. You may even want to impress the interviewer by mentioning a few during the interview. The purpose of this question is to get the potential employer’s perception of who his competitors are and the strength and weaknesses of the major ones you will do battle with. I actually had one owner who lied to me when I asked if his company had any competitors. I didn’t find out until after I accepted the job that I was facing at least four competitors in the market. So don’t make the same mistake I did. Do your homework.

Here are some related questions to ask:

“What are your competitors doing that your company is not doing?”

“What advantage does your sales team have over the competition?”

Don’t feel that you are offending your potential employer by asking these questions. You may have done your homework, and know some of the answers, but it’s better to hear it from the horse’s mouth. All companies face competition. Your goal is to get the potential employer’s spin about the competition and determine if their perceptions match reality. If not, don’t jump on their fantasy bandwagon. Go to another interview.

knowledge and information sharingQuestion 19). How is information shared among the sales staff and various groups within the company?

The purpose of this question is to determine whether you are working in a transparent or secretive company. This is important to you because it could determine how successful you are. Working in an open environment means you have access to what is going on in other departments. As a salesperson, it would be extremely helpful to know what the marketing and production teams are doing. In marketing, what new campaigns are they planning to release this year? Are they planning to obtain new leads? Are they planning more trade shows for you to attend? About production, what new products are they planning to release this year? Are any new enhancements or upgrades on this year’s roadmap? Are they planning to discontinue any products?

Working in a secretive environment is unhealthy and counterproductive. If you have no idea what other departments are doing, or where the company is heading, it’s going to be tough to sell confidently. You don’t want to be caught off guard or look foolish to your customers if a product is suddenly discontinued, or enhancements are made without any advance warning. You will benefit when you remain in the loop.

I actually worked at one small publishing company that would not internally announce any job openings. One day you walk in, and suddenly a new employee is sitting close by. At one of my previous jobs, a sales woman was shocked to find that another salesperson had been hired without her knowledge, and that her sales territories would be divided up.

The more secretive a company, the more difficult it is to share and offer suggestions. When ideas flow, a company grows. If there is little willingness for employees to collaborate and exchange ideas, your sales efforts could be crippled.

I have worked at both transparent and secretive companies. Transparent companies are more healthy places to work. People trust each other and are more willing to work together. Secretive companies tend to make people suspicious and wary of one another.

job interview for salesQuestion 20). If you were me, what would you do differently now that you didn’t do when you started working here?

Potential employers are always surprised when I ask this question. Apparently, it’s one of those questions that job candidates rarely ask. The purpose of the question is to gain insight on the mistakes your potential employer made so that you don’t follow in his footsteps. It also puts your potential employer in your shoes for a second by reminding him of what it was like to start a new job at his company.

The questions I’ve suggested above are not in any particular order. You don’t have to ask them all. Since most interviews are normally one hour-long, you probably won’t have time to ask most of them anyway. That’s OK. Just select which questions are most important for you and be prepared to ask them.

I would encourage you to create your own list of questions. However, I hope you get the point that you need to take responsibility for your career and financial future. Put your fear and anxiety aside and ask tough questions. I guarantee that most potential employers will respect you for it. This shows you have done your homework, you are prepared, and that you take sales seriously. That’s exactly the type of salesperson most companies are looking for.

Please let me know if you have any comments.

Note: The above questions were published in my e-book Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.