Ali Ghaemi

Aug 272017
 

In Sales and sales management circles few would argue that compensation, a major component of which is income, is trivial or a minor issue. Modern management theories tell us that not only happy workers stay longer, but also they are more productive. We know that pay is often top of mind for employees, but other factors also chart well. When one is not caught in the vice of low or unsatisfactory pay, one is enjoying his or her work and is therefore engaged, committed and sees a future.

In the book The Code of The Extraordinary Mind the author speaks to Richard Branson about the secret to the billionaire’s serial success. Branson tells the author the secret is to have a vision, hire great people to execute it and then get out of their way. Notice, he didn’t say pay them 30%, or whatever, in commissions.

Imagine now for a moment all this evidence, wisdom, research and information out there and next to none of it is applied to the profession of sales by the responsible management and the companies at which they work. The whole thing is on autopilot, has been for years and clichés abound. The conventional wisdom hangs like an albatross around the neck of management and human resources. In the well-argued book Drive author Daniel Pink makes an evidence-based case for not paying salespeople commission and SPIF when creativity is required.

Is any company taking heed of the applicable information? All indications point to the answer being ‘no.’ This website has long argued that people management has to be personalized for the individual and one size does not fit all. Why are so many sales departments and companies struggling, and why does anyone need extra pushing and shoving, if salespeople uniformly respond to extra commission and variable incentive? The answer is that salespeople do not and like any other profession and group individuals respond differently and have different motivations. We even wrote about motivation for salespeople as a function of their cultural background on this site in November, 2016.

Why then are companies not overhauling how they compensate their employees in general and sales department in particular and instead prolapse to the same old? We know now that as a matter of random statistics most of the sales team likely responds better to and is more responsive to things other than being paid on commission. How about looking at 100% salary entitlement? In addition to the above arguments, there must be a reckoning that today’s customers are better informed and sales is becoming more of a team sport. A successful sales team is not only comprised of different people (inside, outside, technical, post-sales consultancy..), but also requires adapting to customers’ buying process, which is an outward outlook and not necessarily satisfied by internal necessities.

ventilation pipe (flexibility)

Photo Credit: Bilderjet

Instead could individuals be motivated and double their efforts for:

  • Peer and employee recognition
  • Additional time off
  • Health, or other, club membership
  • A gift card for the salesperson’s significant other
  • Paid learning opportunity or mentorship
  • Paid-for recreational classes such as cooking, climbing or arts and crafts,
  • Job promotion (with a caveat)

Keep a higher emphasis on variable compensation for those who are actually and demonstrably motivated by it and remove the yoke from those who just do not care for it and either do not perform better given the scheme or do so only marginally.

There is no doubt that driving sales and winning deals is the raison d’etre of any sales organization. The question we should be asking is what actually drives performance versus what we have always accepted drives performance.

Indeed, sales management must measure all that leads to a sales win (could be customer engagements, presentations, customer meetings, marketing response rates, etc.) and develop a compensation plan based on low and upside potential calculations, team alignment, composition and of course how all of this is being measured, but understand that the drive to create the components of success is propelled by different means among individuals.

 

*Things That Need To Go Away: We Do It That Way Because It Is Always Done That Way

 

Individual

Photo Credit: Geralt

 

Jul 032017
 

American business channel CNBC has an article on the state of vacation days taken and untaken in the United States and the picture is not pretty. The article quotes a study by a “coalition” that advocates for taking time off and using one’s vacation days.

A quick detour and a couple of remarks should come first. Firstly, the article is timely. Summer is primetime for vacation days. Many people take time off to enjoy the weather and travel, children are off and parents coordinate with that. Over in Europe many citizens enjoy vacations allowances ranging from four to eight weeks. This article’s publisher being CNBC is also quite interesting. CNBC is a pro-business and corporate outlet. It is not one to advocate for employee and workers’ rights. Finally, Project: Time Off has its own agenda. The study, on which the article is based, seems to have followed a scientific methodology, but it is always prudent to read these studies in the context of its provider.

Photo Credit: Atlas Green

On to the study and it demonstrates that taking one’s vacation days are advantageous for those seeking to obtain a promotion or a raise at work. It coins the term “work martyrs”. The studies are US-based, but it would not be a surprise if the results apply to the rest of a world that is fast becoming increasingly industrialized. Quoting the article, “people who use their vacation days are more likely to get a promotion or a raise.” The study demonstrates two things:

  • Only 23 percent of those who forfeited their days were promoted in the last year, compared to 27 percent of “non-forfeiters.”
  • The study also found that 78 percent of forfeiters received a raise or a bonus in the past three years, compared to 84 percent of those who did use all of their paid time off.

The numbers are close with respectively four and six percent difference between the samples, but even if the percentages were identical it would be illustrative that people taking their vacations are not harming their prospects at work. The study asserts that folk who take their vacations are recharged, more creative, ironically harder workers, etc. For salespeople it is good to remember that the top indicator of success is working hard. Finally, remember those vacationing Europeans? There have been multiple studies over the years that they are more productive than Americans, Canadians and everybody else.

*Things That Need To Go Away: karoshi

woman by the water

Photo Credit: Danka Peter

May 142017
 

The world has advanced much and there is a lot of useful and productive technology to work with and leverage whether it is an industry, company or individual that is the topic of discussion. This website has touched on many of them with much more to come, but this post is about good old fashioned customer service.

A good friend of mine Nissar Ahamed who runs the CareerMetis website e-mailed me reminiscing about a business, which I once had introduced to him. By introducing, I mean, he and I once walked over to grab an egg sandwich. He also picked up a coffee. It is a simple, and rather small, coffee stand in the PATH below King Street West in Toronto called Treats. The name is unimportant as is the location really. Down there one literally finds dozens of counters and shops serving morning coffee, banana bread, croissants and juice to passers-by on their way to work. Nissar dropped me a message saying how he misses the (non-descript, cramped, limited menu, with no name recognition, plain – these are my words) place. In fact, Treats is a mini-chain, but as far as companies go theirs is rather unknown and, as mentioned, the take-out only coffee shop is barely noticeable or stands out amidst the plethora of better-known and flashier competition. Nissar even mentioned that the Tim Hortons he now frequents (since his office location has changed) is no match for the old place.

Photo Credit: Nousnou Iwasaki

Now, you are asking yourself, what is so great about this bona fide kiosk that beats everyone else and puts a $3.5 billion company to shame? Is it the coffee? Is it the muffins? Is it the croissants? Could it be the egg sandwich they prepare? Is it the swift service or the bottom-less beverages? Perhaps they have the best banana and apples in the bowl ready for customers every morning?

The answer: none of the above. It is the… customer service. Oh, how… non-digital.

Grossly assuming they have 250 customers a day I made a back-of-the-envelope calculation that on average they have over 66,000 individuals to serve a year. Yet, the middle-aged East Asian couple who run the place will always smile, always thank you, always semi-bow or wave and seem grateful to have you as a customer. There is a glint in their eyes (don’t worry, inside sales professionals, there could be a ‘glint’ in the voice too). It is a small thing that costs them nothing and they do not have to do, but recurs day in and day out.

The result? Customer loyalty,  well wishes and a very small business that can stand head and shoulders above mega-chains, flashier competitors, cool businesses with Instagram accounts, advertising budgets, marketing departments and real-estate location managers. The experience and service there are tools in their arsenal that they deploy without presumably even meaning to and, in this day and age, the genuine care translates to word-of-mouth, loyalty and business.

What does interest one is how whether it is a cultural thing or an ingrained habit they seem to be unaware of their own behaviour.

It is a lesson for all of us in the sales game, management business, human-to-human interaction domain and for anyone who has noticed the world is being commoditized.  I once personally walked 10 minutes out of my way to get to the couple, walking past tens of businesses who could have sold me something very similar for a morning sandwich. The point is not the mere minutes, but the many other choices en route. I don’t even drink coffee.

Photo Credit: Mike Wilson

*Things That Need To Go Away: Assuming technology overcomes the need for cherishing and serving customers.

Apr 272017
 

Dan of Sales Talent Agency shared a report, which is worth reading for sales and sales management professionals. Sales Talent Agency is a recruitment agency and, as such, is obviously self-interested and the report is part of the company’s marketing collateral. With that said, the report is the result of a survey of 4,860 sales professionals from a range of experiences, industries and regions which makes it useful. What is more – importantly for Canadian readers – it is Canada-focused, which makes the report valuable to those north of North America given the scarcity of Canada-only research.

salary guide Canada

There is a host of interesting information in the report.

  • How much sales professionals make given their years of experience,
  • Job titles are rather meaningless (and so Sales Talent Agency has gone further and asked whether folks manage anyone or not) as many directors and vice-presidents do not nowadays,
  • There is information regarding what salespeople want (which matches previous reporting on this website),
  • There is information on job stability,
  • 70% of respondents felt their targets are achievable,
  • Et cetra.

How much sales folk get paid is important to salespersons, sales managers and compensation and human resource management. Compensation, however, is one of the many levers of motivation and partnership and the report touches on that as well.

The Sales Talent Agency Sales Salary Guide Is Here.

Do you see yourself in the report?

STA Salary Guide

 

*Things That Need To Go Away: large discrepancy in what companies pay salespeople of the same experience in base salary based on how recently someone entered the organization’s workforce. Internal promotions receiving 4% raise per year, while new employee arriving 20% ahead is illogical.

Apr 102017
 

My friend Chris texted me a picture of the The Boss Baby from the movie of the same name that is in cinemas right now. The baby’s line “… Cookies are for closers.” is a reference to Alec Baldwin’s character from the seminal ‘sales’ film Glengarry Glen Ross of course. In that film Alec Baldwin and a host of sales characters interact in a real-estate sales office as the company goes about countering slumping sales with, er, leads and, cough cough, some motivation.

Boss baby

So, need some sales inspiration? Need to find the tip of the spear of materialism? Need to laugh at the exaggerations, salesmanship, hyperbole or incredible lines? Here is a list, in order of release, for you salespeople and observers of salespeople.

These films should mostly focus on the ‘sale’ rather than are about salesperson’s lives and other endeavours, but included are films that at least delivered a good line or two.

Now don’t go watching these! Instead, get out there and sell something!!
1. Tin Men (1987)
2. Cadillac Man (1990)
3. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
4. Jerry Maguire (1996)
5. Boiler Room (2000)
6. The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
7. The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (2009)
8. Love & Other Drugs (2010)
9. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
10. Unfinished Business (2015)

Let me know what I missed.

*Things That Need To Go Away: High-pressure aggressive sales (which thankfully is as obsolete as the cathode ray tube television).

Mar 142017
 

Unless one is dealing with an invading army (whose soldiers have eyes that emit their version of LASER no less!), being ignored is rarely a nice experience. It makes one feel unwanted, rejected and base – all the qualities that evolution has taught humans to dislike. Some may be more immune to the negative reactions that come with it than others. Most persons, however, would regardless take it badly.

Every salesperson has experienced it time and time again. The customer who does not reply. The prospect who does not follow up subsequent to a first conversation. The follow-up call that does not happen. The e-mail goes unreturned.

It is a sad reality that whether out of carelessness, a lack of class, being busy, politeness or pressures at work many sales e-mails go unreturned. It is ironic because promptly responding or a firm ‘no’ would go a long way towards saving everyone time, but alas let’s not launch into a discussion of logic and illogic here.

Instead, let’s look at what to do in such situations.

First and foremost, you have read it here before. Make you communication relevant and personalized. If you have not already then read this. Spending time researching calls and e-mails is better and more conducive to success than the alternative. It is ultimately a time-saver to invest time to look for relevant and applicable information.

Secondly, every salesperson should be frank enough to disqualify as well as qualify his or her customers and pipeline. Time and resources need to be spent on productive work and not folk who are uninterested or inattentive. This is not an invitation to rely exclusively on inbound marketing, but rather insistence to deal in reality and productivity. If you have more good leads than bad or more leads than time then you are in a good situation to execute on this advice anyway.

Thirdly, if the salesperson knows a game is being played the best advice is to not play. After all, one is not gamed if he or she is not playing. Focus should be on productive work. At the very least, one has detached himself from the negative effects of this behaviour.

With that said, here are several bullets based on my experience that will help with the response rate.

  • Be prompt. Respond right away to inbound calls, e-mails and leads. First, this in and out of itself increases one’s chances, but also if multiple follow-ups and attempts are needed the first one was the aforementioned. Importantly, per Insidesales.com, “the odds of qualifying a lead in 5 minutes versus 30 minutes drop 21 times and from 5 minutes to 10 minutes the dial to qualify odds decrease 4 times.”
  • Do leave a voice-mail. Voice-mails are likely retained whereas missed calls are not. Hearing your name and reason for call also begins the process of awareness.
  • Unanswered e-mails require follow-up. No, not of that kind. Of this kind: forward your last e-mail and keep it as short as possible. Exclude a salutation and signature and ask a simple follow-up question. The details and explanation are in the original e-mail that are being forwarded.

“Want to follow up in case this e-mail got buried.”

“What would be a good next step?”

“Is there some way to find out if this is a priority?”

That is it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Things That Need To Go Away: Sales And Customers Working Against Each Others’ Interests. Collaboration, Service and Honesty Wins.

 

Feb 042017
 

PCMag has updated its rating of accounting software in an extra useful way.

First, the ratings are determined by a panel of the magazine’s community members.

Second, in addition to the ratings there is a directory of 66 products available for perusal in the category.

Sage (formerly Sage Software, the publisher of Sage 300, Sage One, Sage 50c, etc.) has won the category. SAP has lost the category. Not bad, given how it is the smallest of the top-rated companies from a revenue perspective. Perhaps it is a testament to the power of focus as Sage has been shedding product lines and trimming its portfolio in the last ten years. It also dodged a bullet when its intended acquisition of MYOB did not go through – although it did get sued for it.

While six products are listed the top contenders do not offer the buyer as many choices and make finding a top software for each market segment easier. PCMag’s list has curiously mixed products for personal use (Quicken), SMB (QuickBooks and Sage) with Mid-Market products (Microsoft) and Enterprise Solutions (SAP and PeopleSoft). Also, the two ‘swift’ products either belong or belonged to Intuit.

Top Accounting Software rating

An earlier article also provided a guide for Cloud-based accounting software.

 

*I used to work for Sage, Microsoft and Oracle.

Dec 132016
 

Who here has not received an offer of employment with a strict deadline of 24 or 48 hours for the candidate to accept? On the other side of the table, how many employers or recruiters reading this have added a clause to their offer insisting the candidate accept within a day or two or else…

The reason for such clauses and conditions seems straightforward.

  • Employers need to know where they stand as they have a need to hire for backfill or expansion.
  • Employers and recruiters have a requisition to fill, which they would like to close as soon as possible in order to move on to the next task.
  • Recruiters work on contingency and would like to get paid.
  • Assigning a deadline to a candidate and offer pushes the candidate to accept thus taking him or her off the market.

Please Stop.

Very tight deadlines are signs of a woefully unprepared employer at best and a red flag against the employing firm at worst. Long-term relationship demand respect from the start and sensitivity towards the other party and not to mention reality.

As a team manager I had a candidate join another group’s team only to leave a week into the job for a position at a credit card company. She obviously preferred the alternative she eventually chose, but had accepted this job under the gun and fearing losing either. Such scenarios are actually quite common.

While these concerns all have some merit they are one-sided, dated and not in line with modern times and, by implication, counterproductive. Why are they working against candidates and employers? Employers derive no benefit from enforcing a clause, which either recruits an employee who may join holding a grudge or feeling pushed or could quit in 3 weeks anyway if he or she were interviewing elsewhere. Fact of the matter is that employers and employees have to see employment as a collaboration where both parties profit and are working towards a common goal. There is no place in the modern workplace for a company that feels superior to the needs of its employees or for an employee who feels above the ‘law.’ If a company gives itself the right to interview multiple candidates and assess them based on its elected criteria, then the employee has the right to interview multiple employers, take time to assess the offer, discuss it with an employment lawyer, consult friends, family or mentors and be comfortable.

While it is reasonable to have deadlines and ask for specific time-lines putting a gun on someone’s head cannot have a happy ending. What does work instead is respectful communication between the parties including an explanation from both sides on with what they are working.

The invitation for candidates, employees and employers to come together benefit from frankness and be supportive of each other should be regardless of the economic climate. Being patient is not helpful to immediate needs perhaps, but will pay dividends in the long-term. Whether it is boom or bust times should not matter. Genuine respect is the way to go and one of the keys to a productive relationship. It also saves everyone time and probably money too.

 

*Things That Need To Go Away: “You have 24 hours to accept our job offer or it’s on to the next candidate.”

Nov 272016
 

There have been a couple of articles in these pages in the past regarding how sales managers need to understand the individuals on their respective sales teams in order to deliver personalized motivation and incentives. This concept resonates with me as a person who has risen through the sales ranks and also as a people manager who has seen the results in action. Articles have appeared here and here because it is something often on my mind. The book Drive partly dedicates itself to the same exploration.

Getting this process 100% right and reaching perfection is like finding the pink unicorn, but the more one applies oneself into this process the better it gets.

With that said, here is an article that is original and well worth reading for those managing diverse salespersons. Written by academics and authors Christian Homburg and Sebastian Hohenberg of the University Of Mannheim in Germany this research piece addresses sales management, training and human resource departments and discusses motivation and incentive planning within different cultural environments, which is applicable at multicultural sales settings or for sales managers in matrixed and multinational organizations.

Bottom-line again: different people need different approaches and a one-size-fits-all approach is lazy and less productive.

Image from Sebastian Hohenberg and Christian Homburg (2016) Motivating Sales Reps for Innovation Selling in Different Cultures.

Image from Sebastian Hohenberg and Christian Homburg (2016) Motivating Sales Reps for Innovation Selling in Different Cultures.

Image from Sebastian Hohenberg and Christian Homburg (2016) Motivating Sales Reps for Innovation Selling in Different Cultures.

Image from Sebastian Hohenberg and Christian Homburg (2016) Motivating Sales Reps for Innovation Selling in Different Cultures.

*Things That Need To Go Away: “That Is How Our Incentives Have Always Worked And That Is How They Will Keep Working…”

Nov 252016
 

Forecast accuracy is a touchy subject at most companies and among most sales leaders.

Most sales professionals have the same attitude towards forecasting as a cat does towards a swim in the sea or a diner has towards a rat in his soup. Being held down to a commitment is a part of it. Spending valuable time in a CRM, or would-be, system that outwardly does not provide value to a salesperson’s bottom-line is the major anathema to salespeople. This is difficult argument to overcome because the manner in which CRM/spreadsheets/forecasting tools are (mis)used at companies leaves a lot of room for criticism of the kind. However, when done correctly systematic forecasting is useful not to mention mandatory.

sqkjxvlue3q-cedric-servay

Photo Credit: Cedric Servay

The stock method of forecasting at companies is:

  • Tally the total amount of forecast dollars available. This is typically done for the Quarter and, by extension, for the year, although a company like Salesforce, for example, forecasts monthly.
  • Review which percentage of forecast dollars in similar previous timeframes ended up as sales wins. For example, if 25% of the forecast amount from previous year’s same quarter ended up being a completed transaction then the same ratio should be applied again. Note the opportunity to explore ways to improve the ratio.
  • A thorough review should be applied on top of the above pattern to special deals in the pipeline. That is, if there is a particularly big deal in the pipeline or a especially large miss is occurring in the forecast timeframe then those have to be distinctly taken into account. These one-time ‘events’ need to be taken into consideration exceptionally as they are exceptional to the pattern. Sales managers need to have a bracket for what makes this deal ‘special’ within the context of the company’s average deal size.
Photo Credit Modestas Urbonas

Photo Credit Modestas Urbonas

Special ‘events’ or deals which need added consideration include:

  • Special deals in the pipeline (as described above)
  • Extraordinary misses in the pipeline (as described above)
  • A special scrutiny of the Top 10 of the biggest deals being forecast
  • A special scrutiny of the deals in pipe for the Top 10 biggest existing customers for the territory
  • A special scrutiny of the deals in pipe for the Top 10 biggest customers by company size for the territory
  • Deals which are considered won already although are not officially booked yet.

 

With the process outlined there are several undertakings that would complement the above and should be mandatory.

  1. Everyone needs to be trained on the system and shown how the calculations are rolled up. One should not assume everyone knows, or can figure out, how to use Excel/Google docs/CRM/methodology of choice. Speaking the same language is a must if the company is to work in lockstep. Define and explain your stages, nomenclature and its prerequisites and, if using a tool like Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce.com, Sage CRM, Maximizer, etc., use the out-of-the-box templates and definitions as much as possible. Forecasts need to be a lot more science and a lot less art.
  2. Consistency wins. For the sake of credibility and not sending a message of pointlessness stick with the regimen and enforce it for the medium-term. It will become a matter of lost authority if the company asks for a work and time commitment with forecasting and does not follow through. The sales team needs to routinize the updating of the system.
  3. The process and time spent on the above need to be justified and explained. Having a clear sales forecast enables sales managers to report accurately and be accountable to the company, but also it must be a tool in identifying where and whom requires assistance. That is the personal aspect of forecast accuracy and it is very important. Forecasting is ultimately ironic if it does not help sellers sell to buyers and does not identify buying patterns and cycles. Please read that last sentence again. The macro picture is one of a company which knows, understands and addresses its pipeline and can make better decisions towards its own fiscal health, which helps everybody within the ship.
  4. Think about incentives to motivate the sales team to adopt and maintain the routine. How about 5% of the sales team’s variable depending on forecast thoroughness and maintenance?
  5. It also needs mentioning that companies should automate this process as much as possible. Given how it is a mostly inward looking process and is not adding direct value to customers liberating sales teams’ time to spend more time on customers is a bright idea.

 

And here is the most important thought in all of this to emphasize: the above must not come at the expense of team morale and a customer-focused sales process. Salespersons and sales managers cannot get lost focusing on the above at the expense what is more important: working with customers.

Photo Credit: Greg Rakozy

Photo Credit: Greg Rakozy

*Things That Need To Go Away: New Forecasting Process Or Tools That Are Here Today; Gone Tomorrow