I was lucky enough to get sales management guru Suzanne M. Paling on an exclusive interview recently.
She explains with great detail the ins-and-outs of managing sales teams, whether it is a one-person team, or much larger groups.
And, she reveals some of the biggest mistakes that top level executives make in trying to find, hire and manage sales teams. Some are not as obvious as you might think.
What follows is the audio recording and transcription of key principles and teachings from her long background and experience as a sales person and sales consultant.
Her book, the “Accidental Sales Manager” and additional resources are a must-read. It’s a Survival Guide for CEOs, Business Owners and Presidents that will radically change the way you think about sales teams and management of them.
Jon: Hi everybody and welcome to this edition of the interview series with me, Jon Rognerud and distinguished guests. Today, we got something exciting for you, boy, we have Suzanne Paling with us she wrote the Accidental Sales Manger, and I’ve been wanting to do this or awhile but frankly, she’s hard to track down, she’s so busy, she’s out there doing amazing things in this space, we’ll hear all about it today. So I want to welcome her, Suzanne Paling.
Welcome Susanne, thanks for taking my call today. Now I have some questions about what you do, your book, The Accidental Sales Manager, and some other follow up items and I really look forward to this, in fact it’s very exciting because sales is one of those somewhat scary keywords, if I can use that SEO sort of relationship here. But people are really just sort of, should I say, excited about the ability to hire sales teams and to get more sales into their organization overall to build their company, as sales is so critical and I know you’re an expert in this area and my first question really is this, because I wasn’t quite sure, Suzanne, what area as a business do you focus on, you know what markets, B to B, B to C, is it industrial or is it more the shoe store kind of sales, or what specific do you do, what markets?
Suzanne: That’s a great question Jon and I want to thank you for having me on today, I’m really looking forward to our conversation. I focus exclusively on business to business, but I don’t focus on any one particular industry. I’ve worked with everybody from a construction company to a catering company and everyone in between.
Jon: Brilliant. That really sets the stage here. Ok good. The next question, sort of in that, is what we will discuss here today is, will this work for small ticket items, or high ticket items like are we talking about $50,000 sales agreements and contracts or is this more of a one to one kind of, what’s the best sort of way to state that?
Suzanne: Again, just like I don’t focus on any one particularly industry, I don’t focus on any one particularly price point. I have done extensive work for a fastener company, for instants, they sell nuts and bolts and screws, some of the sales are very low in price, low ticket items. I have worked with several software companies, who sell software packages in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. So it really doesn’t matter. The size of the transaction has never been important; it’s really whether or not they are closing the sale, regardless of how much the sale is for.
Jon: Oh that’s brilliant. So, just to summarize that, there really is no special consideration. My question really was there really anything or anybody that it will not work for? I mean, you talked about the B to B market place, but I guess the answer is that it really doesn’t matter.
Suzanne: No it really doesn’t matter. I don’t work in retail; I don’t do any kind of business to consumer type of sales. It’s all business to business, but it’s across all industries and it’s across all price points and transaction amounts.
Jon: Brilliant. Brilliant. How long, Suzanne, have you been doing this, just a little bit about your background real quick, what sort of brought you to this space, and how long you been at it?
Suzanne: Sure. I am a lifelong sales person. I started off selling health and beauty aids, BHBA sector, and I covered New England for companies like Dana Perfumes and Revlon. I called on I think a company everyone would recognize I called on the drug store CVS, for Sears, and JC Penny. I did that for quite some time and then I made a switch into publishing. I worked for the Research Institute of America Group, selling professional publications to lawyers and bankers, professionals of that nature. I sold for about a year then moved into sales management. And I managed both those selling on the phone and those selling in the field, which was really diverse experience. The motivation sometimes and the skill sets that are needed for inside salesperson verses outside sales are different. So that was a lot of fun. Then about fifteen years ago I started my business. I needed a little bit more flexibility in my life, and I thought well there must be companies out there beyond that maybe aren’t ready to hire a fulltime sales manager, but that needs some sales management expertise. And luckily, for me, there were a few that did. So I’ve been doing this for about 15 years and very happily so.
Jon: Oh yeah, that’s brilliant. The ultimate entrepreneur sort of creating your own atomies and life style and providing real value there. That’s brilliant. Your new book, by the way, The Accidental Sales Manager, A Survival Guide, its out and the question that appears immediately in my mind is, who are accidental sales managers?
Suzanne: That’s a really great question. It’s typically the president of a company who finds her or himself reluctantly in charge of sales force. And these presidents might have a background in finance or computer programming possibly they invented the products or services the company is built around. The company grows, there’s a sales force and that sales force needs to be managed. And even though these presidents aren’t the most qualified people, no one else in the company is better qualified to manage the group. Sometimes when presidents go to other executives in the company to ask them to manage the sales force, they threaten to quit, if forced to do so. So these presidents have to take on the job. They don’t have a formalized sales background; they’ve never carried a bag, so to speak. And so, in many cases they have very good general management skills but they are at a loose on how to handle the sales people.
Jon: Oh yeah, I’ve seen that in organizations that I’ve work with and it’s not fun. And one of the things that I look at immediately surrounding that because they’re in this critical position, what kind of mistakes or errors, do you have some sort of a bullet list or something like that, that these accidental sales managers typically make?
Suzanne: Yeah, that’s a great question. There are four errors that they typically make.
The first error is not having a plan for the recently hired sales persons first few weeks on the job. A lot of times when presidents hire a new sales person, they just say “Ok, it’s great to see you, here’s your desk, now go sell. You said you could, now go do it.” And they don’t have any kind of an orientation or training period setup. There’s no sales manual. The work areas not setup. They think they can automatically go sell.
The second mistake that they make is confusing the pipeline with the forecast. The pipeline is made up of all the prospects that the sales person is working on, at all phases of the sales cycle. The sales forecast is made up of those clients or those prospective clients who are in the final stages of potentially buying the product. And so they use the pipeline as the forecast and they get this very very bloated report with all of these different prospects at all of these different sales cycles . It’s very difficult to see who’s going to close.
The third mistake that they make is they don’t have a sales reporting system. They may have some kind of a CRM system like ACT, like goldmine, like salesforce.com, but they’re not really using it. And they don’t have a daily call report, a pipeline report, a productivity report that paints a picture for them of what their sales reps are doing, day in and day out.
And the fourth thing they commonly do is fail to set minimum productivity goals that are scaled down for the new hirer, and scaled up for someone who has been with them for a long period of time. They don’t set goals for how many prospecting calls, product demos, proposals, or closed sales the person should be generating on a weekly, monthly or quarterly bases. They feel like goals, they shouldn’t have to give sales people goals. They should sell, they should be out there, they should just do it and goals focus sales people.
So those are the four errors they commonly make, the accidental sales manager.
Jon: Oh well that’s brilliant. I know we’ll get into little more specifics around that on how to manage that, but I know on a previous call you had briefly stated there are some key things that, some two or three things that a good accidental sales managers can do for their sales people to sort of help this along. Can you break that down again?
Suzanne: Yes, there are three things that they can do right away. They are not costly, they are very cost effective.
The first thing they need to do is set realistic sales goals. Set goals for the number of cold calls, the number of product demos, or the number of appointments with decision makers that the sales people should be making on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly bases. And make sure that the goals are scaled down for someone you recently hired and make sure they are appropriate for someone who is tenured, who has been with you for awhile. And make sure that the goals are keyed into a motivated compensation plan. Always, always make sure you have some kind of a fun, simple easy sales contest running.
The other thing to do is provide the tools and training that they need to succeed. For instants, get together with your current sales group and put together a sales manual, and put in sample introductions, answers to common objections, competitive data, and competitive product literature. Help them, assembly a notebook that helps sales people have the answers they need right at their finger tips.
The other thing that is so simple and accidental sales managers forget to do this all the time. Just meet with them on a regular bases. Just sit down and talk with them. Review their accomplishments for the week. Address any concerns. Hold them accountable. Listen. Offer advice. Congratulate them on closed sales. As the president of the company, you have tremendous knowledge, share it with them. Let them know you care, let them know you’re interested. Let them know you’re keeping track of what they’re doing. It costs no money at all to sit down with them.
And lastly, think about the group. Think about were their strengths and weaknesses lie and buy a book for everybody on sales. Buy the same book for everybody and read it a chapter at a time and discuss it together. It costs almost nothing.
Jon: Oh yeah that’s brilliant. I’m on the marketing side and I have found that sales folks tend to sort of segregate. Hey, we’re all in sales and you’re in the marketing area, when in fact I try to let them know that anything they do is marketing, by the way of behavior and you mentioned those sales scripts and what to say, what to do next, you know how it’s sequenced and yeah, I agree with you, those are brilliant points. One of the things that I’ve also found, and you way more than me, are having “A” players on your team, quality hirers, and I know that the hiring process can be a burdensome one, you know, just finding that quality. You also have some real killer tips to avoid, essentially hiring mistakes. What are those?
Suzanne: You need to setup a hiring process and not rush through it. You need to decide, in advance, how you are going to go about hiring the new sales representative. You need to follow that step by step all the way to the end. What I recommend is that you write a very tight, very specific job description and then either work with a recruiter or post your want ad, screen your resumes and then conduct a phone interview, with potential candidates that you like. And with those that do well on the phone interview, ask them to take a sales assessment, an on line sales assessment. That allows you to determine whether or not they really can sell. That lets you determine, Jon, objectively. And then based on what you learn from the sales assessment, invite them in for a face to face interview and base a lot of your questions around your findings in the assessment. And then from there have them back for a second interview and potentially make them an offer.
Jon: And that assessment, it’s going to vary from business to business? Or is there a work sheet or an approach that you use that can be sort of tuned to each and every business?
Suzanne: I use Caliper. And Caliper has about 30 sales job descriptions on their software. So you describe the job to Caliper and they are able to fit the software and the job description as close as possible, and with 30 I have never gone wrong with them. So you get a really good idea of how your potential sales representative would perform in the job that you want to hirer them for. Is it mainly account maintenance? Is it all cold calling? Is it a commodity item? Is it a very niche item? You answer all these kinds of questions and then they take the assessment that is best suited for the position you are hiring for.
Jon: And that’s great. I didn’t know about that. How do you spell that product name?
Jon: Okay, caliper. Oh I see, like caliper, checking your BMI or something?
Suzanne: Yeah, yeah, that’s what I use, there are many other ones that are available, but I think it’s the very best one on the market.
Jon: The question was really, what three budget friendly, time friendly sales tasks could business owners and entrepreneur take on that would yield big pay off? It was on the list.
Suzanne: Yeah, sure. And that’s a great question. As I mentioned before, one of the most budget friendly things that you can do is meet with your sales reps regularly. And offer your expertise. A lot of times beyond, presidents of companies are very busy, they worry that if they meet with the sales reps on a regular bases that all the sales rep will do is complain and they’ll be held captive and it will be a waste of their time. Not at all, these meetings are on a regular bases, no longer than a half an hour, set an agenda. It’s not the reps half hour to complain. If an issue does come up and there is cause for concern, set another date to meet about that. But again, have an agenda, stick to it, hold the rep accountable. It’s a two way conversation, and when the meetings done, it’s done.
The other thing is to set a realistic sales forecast, with mile stones. And what that means is, the rep can’t just decide to suddenly put an account on the sales forecast. You have to decide when the account qualifies to get on the sales forecast. Remember, this is a report that tells you when every bodies ready to close. I always say, with most of my customers, I say that unless the decision maker has participated, at the very least, in either a product demo, or a meeting, they can’t be on the sales forecast. Not possible. So use the milestone as a way to keep people off. And as I mentioned before, buy a book on sales and read it together. What I find very powerful is, the president selects the book, buys a copy for each person, but the president rotates the responsibility for discussing the book. Each sales representative is responsible at any one particular time for reading one of the chapters, and running the discussion so that the president isn’t always in charge of it
Jon: Oh yeah, that’s a great tip, I really really like that. And also, I know you and I have talked about before the idea that we talk about sales teams, but in fact you could have an accidental sales manager with one sales person. How does that work?
Suzanne: A lot of company presidents, Jon, think that if they have just one sales person that none of this applies to them. But the problem with that is nothing is further from the truth. When you have just one sales person, they can become very isolated. They don’t have a peer to talk to. Often, the president is busy and doesn’t spend a lot of time with them. So it can be a very difficult situation. If you’re only managing one person, all the more reason you should pay a lot of attention to them. What I say, is meet with them on a regular bases. And not only meet with them but drop by once in awhile and just say, Hey how’s your day going? If it’s an inside sales person, stop by and say, Hey what’s up? Who have you talked to today? What’s going on? If they’re out in the field, just give them a casual call. Just to let them know that you’re thinking about them, and make sure to compliment them on something or let them know that you have noticed something. Because they are the one man band, you’ve only got the one sales representative, make sure and send them out for training once in awhile. Make sure and send them off site. Because they don’t get to hang out with the other sales people and learn, sort of shoot the breeze. They’re kind of on their own. And when they go to some kind of off site training session, they meet other reps, they get great tips and it really motivates them. More than anything else, make sure they are reporting into you on a regular bases, so you have a pretty good idea of what their up to.
Jon: Yeah, and that’s such a great point there. And also, checking in doesn’t mean micro managing, I’m assuming, because if you’re doing that, they sort of avoid you, the owner, the accidental sales manager, is trying to purposefully avoid trying to manage the person, the sales person, the one person rather, feels extremely in the corner and all alone and when you speak it’s always just bickering and negative conversations.
Suzanne: They want to avoid you, and you don’t want that to happen. So just chat. Ask them how their day is. Say, hey who have you spoken to today? What are you hearing out there? So that they don’t dread every contact with you.
Jon: Exactly, I’ve seen this close up so I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Suzanne: Yes, we all have and it’s demoralizing.
Jon: Yes, absolutely it is. Now this book is written by you, but why did you write the book? What sort of got you to this point? You’ve sort of alluded to it a little bit but can you break that down a little bit further?
Suzanne: That’s a really interesting question to. My first client, my very first client, had a very difficult time dealing objectively with the fact that he had competitors. He wouldn’t talk about them; he would sort of down play their importance in the market place. He didn’t ever talk to the reps about them and would just say things like; “oh their not very good”, or “we shouldn’t even have to compete against them”. And the problem was the reps were taking on this attitude and losing out on a lot of sales to the competition because they really couldn’t objectively address the difference between themselves and the competition. They would be dismissive with the client or not really be prepared to answer any questions. And so I had to talk with the client and say; hey, you need to be more objective about the competition, you need to educate the reps, you need to provide them with datasheets. And he did, and he did a great job and we really made some headway. But at the end of it, I remember thinking, thank heavens that’s over, I’m sure I’ll never run into anybody again that would act that way about the competition. Only to find out that they almost all did. And so that was one in a long string of common problems that I saw. Once I got to about the tenth or eleventh typical problem in a small business when it came to the sales management end of it, I thought; I have to write a book on this. They’re all sort of making these common mistakes, all the time; I’m seeing all these patterns. I need to address that and talk about it. The main pattern that I saw was the problems they had with hiring and on boarding their new sales representative.
Jon: Yes, that’s brilliant. It’s basically a known problem that you saw, that you could provide a solution to which is so awesome. In fact, where can people get a copy of the book? Where can they contact you, email, website, phone etc? What’s a good place for that?
Suzanne: That’s a great question. My website is www.salesmanagementservices.com and there is a link to the book on the website. I also have a dedicated book website which is www.acccidentalsalesmanager.com and that has a link. It is available on amazon.com. They can order the book through amazon.com.
Jon: Can we get it in book stores too? Or is it probably just easier on amazon?
Suzanne: No, it is not available in book stores, it is exclusively on amazon.com. As you know, as we’ve both written books, we book published with Entrepreneur Press and it is available on the entrepreneur website. www.entrepreneur.com
Jon: That’s brilliant. Just to sort of close this out, it’s been so cool to speak with you here today, and you reminded me of some things here today from the past that weren’t all pretty, but in fact we all go through and see so much of this, and it’s so wonderful to get these tips with so much insight. As I close out I sort of think about questions that I get from interviews is; I’ve heard so many ideas and tips and take aways here, but if there was one specific thing that I, as the accidental sales manager, could do today or maybe take action on this week, a thing that you have seen sort of again and again that I could start taking action on to start finding and building out a quality sales team even a sales team of one. Is there such a thing as a one thing?
Suzanne: Yes, there is, absolutely. It’s so simple you’re going to think that I’m making this up. Sit down and write a job description. Make it as specific as possible. Once you sit down and write that job description, very tightly written and very specific about what you want the person to accomplish then you can start the process of planning. To bring this person on board.
Jon: Wow, I’m flabbergasted. It’s almost too simple.
Suzanne: It is. It’s too simple, and it’s the bases of a lot of my work. When I walk into some of these smaller companies, I’ll say, “Oh, by the way, do you have job descriptions for the sales people?” And they say, oh yes, it’s right here. Then they can’t find it, or is from 1989. So sit down and write a real job description, don’t make it generic. Really think about what you want this person to do and I promise from that will come the beginnings of the work you need to do to get ready for them.
Jon: Wow, that brilliant. Well Suzanne, again I thank you for your time. I know your time is precious and I value this very much including all this information that we want to share with our readers as well. I’m going to close it out for now, but thanks again for sharing this with us.
Suzanne: Jon, it was a pleasure. I’m so glad you had me on!