Announcement: New Posting Schedule

writing a sales blogI love writing this blog. However, due to work and personal commitments, I will now start posting twice a month instead of once a week. My new posting schedule will begin on February 1st.

Please continue to send me any ideas, suggestions and questions. As always, I like seeking feedback.

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 onboard 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 about 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 of 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

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 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.

Are you a sales lead squatter?

I recently read comments on a discussion board from a salesperson who complained that he and his team were being laid off partly because senior “lazy” salespeople were sitting on good leads for too long. In addition, another sales office might be shut down soon.

His argument was that if the senior salespeople cannot convert leads into sales by a certain time period, they should transfer those leads over to junior salespeople who may have a better chance of converting them. He further argued that junior salespeople are more hungry and motivated to close good leads because they don’t have large pipelines to cushion themselves when meeting quota.

Are you a sales lead squatter?Squatting on good leads has always been a touchy subject in sales. On the one hand, you want to be fair to salespeople and give them enough time to work the leads. Depending on the industry you are in, it can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to two years before you can convert a lead into an order.  On the other hand, if you suspect that a salesperson isn’t putting enough time and effort into working the lead, and you feel you could do better, what should you do?

While you can privately complain to others, the best approach is to discuss the issue with your sales manager. But you don’t want to appear greedy or bad mouth your colleague. Instead, you want to take a more “we need to work as a team” or “we need to do what’s right for the company” approach. Maybe offer some suggestions on how you would approach the non-responsive lead. Chances are if your manager is smart, he probably is already aware that there may be a problem. But if you don’t complain, he may not move quickly to resolve the issue.

Why? Because most managers know how sensitive lead transfers can be. It takes a certain amount of deftness and diplomacy to remove leads from one salesperson to transfer them to others. I’ve seen fights and arguments break out on this very issue. In fact, I’ve seen salespeople quit on this very issue.

While this problem can be handled on a case-by-case basis, the best way to avoid sitting on good leads too long is to set some ground rules from the very beginning. This way everyone knows upfront what is expected of them, and what benchmarks they need to achieve in order to keep their leads.

The ground rules could include the following –

1). Number of attempts – while I don’t believe that sales is a process or a numbers game, you would expect a salesperson to make anywhere from 6 to 8 attempts, i.e., phone calls, emails, voice mail and maybe even a customized direct marketing piece. Again, depending on the industry you are in, the attempts could stretch out for weeks, if not months, before a good lead is transferred to someone else, or goes into the dormant file for a while.

2). Has contact been made? – If after x-number of attempts and time goes by, the salesperson hasn’t reached the decision-maker (or even knows who the decision-maker is), then maybe it’s time to hand it off to someone else. In exchange, give the salesperson some other qualified leads to pursue.

3). Contact has been made, but you’re not getting anywhere – Let’s say the salesperson has made contact with the decision-maker, but an order hasn’t been placed. For whatever reason, the decision-maker isn’t budging, and no end appears in sight. The salesperson has been sitting on the lead for months (if not years). At this stage, it’s usually better to have the sales manager step in and work closely with the salesperson rather than yank the lead from him. Simply handing the lead off to someone else may undermine your efforts, and force your company to start from square one. Once your manager has reviewed the situation, he can better determine who and how the lead should be managed.

a helping hand in sales4). You know someone who could help – If a salesperson has been sitting on a good lead for a while, and you know of a contact who can help you reach the decision-maker, what should you do? In that situation, it may be better to hand off the lead to you. Sometimes, the salesperson sitting on the lead may be grateful that you’re taking over because it means he can focus on more productive leads. In addition, he may appreciate your efforts because he doesn’t want to look bad to his sales manager for not closing the sale. Sure, he may have some initial resentment towards you, but eventually, he may see you as being his white knight rescuing him from a bad situation.

Besides laying out some ground rules, another approach to avoid lead squatting to is hold regular pipeline meetings to review leads and accounts. Usually, pipeline meetings are held once a week. Come to your pipeline prepared. Don’t be defensive. Tell your manager upfront if you are having problems with specific leads or accounts. Ask him for his advice – after all, he’s the manager!

If you know you’re not getting anywhere with a lead, and you’ve tried everything you can, recommend that the account is transferred to someone else. While some may consider this a show of weakness, in reality, most good managers will see this as a sign of strength and maturity on your part. Better to cut your losses early than let them linger on to have your competitors pluck your sale from the company.

Remember, your leads and accounts don’t belong to you. They belong to your employer. Like it or not, your employer sometimes needs to make unpopular decisions that may not appear to be in your best interest, but what is in the best interest of the company as a whole.

Better to hand off unproductive leads to others than lose your job because the company isn’t generating enough sales. Exercising good judgment is better than squatting.

Top photo credit: Brighton housing action via photopin (license)

Today is Humiliation Day

 Humiliation. In sales, we face it all the time.

Most of us deal with rejection every day. Prospects hang up on you. Clients or prospects don’t return your phone calls or respond to your emails. Meetings or phone conferences are canceled at the last minute. Clients don’t attend your webinars.

bullying and humiliation in salesSo I guess that it’s no surprise that someone created a special day for it, because today is Humiliation Day.

According to World’s Special Days, Humiliation Day was started on July 1, 1923, by Chinese Canadian immigrants to protest that country’s Chinese Exclusion Act. Each year, all Chinese stores were closed and all celebrations were boycotted that happened on Canada Day (formerly called Dominion Day).

When the act was abolished in 1947, the day has ever since then been celebrated worldwide on January 3rd of each year. Why that day? Don’t know.

The purpose of the day is not to humiliate someone. Instead, it’s to focus is on humility and being humble.

And what can be a more humbling experience than working in sales? Sure, you want to be as positive and confident as you can when you go to work every day. But as we all know from experience, working in sales can sometimes be humbling.

Below are a couple of articles on how to overcome humiliation –

Is It Possible to Recover From Humiliation?, by Cheryl Conner
10 Steps for Getting Over Humiliation, by Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.

To help you reflect on this day, here are some quotes about humility to help you –

“The principals of living greatly include the capacity to face trouble with courage, disappointment with cheerfulness, and trial with humility.” By Thomas S. Monson

“Recognizing your talents doesn’t mean believing they’re limitless. Accepting your strengths doesn’t lead to pride, but instead to humility; you’re less likely to resent what others have if you understand your own bounty.” By Gina Barreca

“Humility is the true key to success. Successful people lose their way at times. They often embrace and overindulge from the fruits of success. Humility halts this arrogance and self-indulging trap. Humble people share the credit and wealth, remaining focused and hungry to continue the journey of success.” By Rick Pitino

List of Major Sales & Marketing Events 2016

sales and marketing conferencesWhile I like to think that my Events Calendar is comprehensive, I know that’s not the case. There are hundreds of  national and international sales and marketing conferences and trade shows scheduled for 2016. In addition, there are many state and regional events to choose from. So as a service to my readers, below is a list of sites that include links to Major Sales and Marketing Events for this year –

The American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (which I’m an active member)

Digimarcon Digital Marketing Conferences

Marketo List of Events

The Complete Guide to Marketing and Sales Conference 2016, from Maria Milea (A Blogger who writes about travel, lifestyle, fashion and online marketing).

The Best Marketing Conferences of 2016, by Marketing Insider Group

The Top 35 Must Attend B2B Sales Conferences of 2016, from Docurated

The Ultimate Guide to 160+ Business and Digital Marketing Conferences in 2016, by Kristi Hines (Freelance Writer and Blogger)