Sales Team Effectiveness

History is said to repeat itself, and sales history is no different. Whether it’s the dress code, the compensation plan, or the frequency of sales team meetings, chances are you have heard someone in the sales team say; “we’ve done that before.” Let’s take a look at the different ways organizations tried to become effective at selling over the past 100 or so years. Why? Because chance are, you’re organization has all or some of these forces at play. All of them need to be used to help your sales team succeed.

1890-1920: The Era of Sales Science

The sales frontier….In this era, pioneering companies focused on defining the expectations of sales people and their sales managers. They realized that salespeople needed to build trusting relationships and also be experts in their product. More importantly, organizations focused on defining sales systems, methods, and approaches that would work. In this era people began to understand and write about what professional selling entailed.

More importantly, individuals sought to proactively teach new salespeople about the profession. Most of the learning was informal, with a focus on teaching individuals how to sell through examples and through coaching. Pioneering sales managers found that isolating the transaction as a specific moment in time allowed them train new salespeople and fellow managers on what happened, why it happened, and how to avoid any missteps in the future.

Because sales managers were often seasoned salespeople, they were able to relay stories and effective strategies for engaging customers. Topics such as “how to approach a customer” and “how to give a handshake” became part of many sales training programs.

Some questions to consider…. Are you in a frontier sales organization?
– Does your sales organization change the sales compensation plan frequently?
– Does your sales training seem to focus solely on making salespeople product/solution experts?
– Does your formal sales training program last a few days and are sales managers expected to coach and teach in the field?
– Does the organization focus on facilitating one transaction at a time?

1920-1945: The Era of Sales Process

The roaring 20’s of selling….This era saw a shift occur within sales and sales training practices. Up until this era, the focus had been on helping salespeople identify and close one transaction at a time. Sales teams quickly realized that the approaches grounded in the previous era began to create some challenges. Teams were having trouble scaling their efforts to reach more people. Facilitating more transactions in a more methodological manner became the focus. Team members and trainers developed methods to train new sales representatives on repeatable sales processes. The sales process become the foundation for effectively facilitating more transactions.

It was during this Era that many of the terms we use today were coined such as; canvassing, territory, quota, sales team, and sales process. Up until this time, most salespeople learned on the job, through self-directed methods of trial and error or by watching others. Sales managers began using printed tools such as books to teach their sales teams. Training was designed to help salespeople understand the product features and benefits, how to make an effective presentation, and how to close strong. Entire approaches to selling began to focus on the importance of flashy sales presentations and the art of overcoming objections. The importance of a positive mental attitude became a cornerstone of many training classes.

Are you in a roaring 20’s sales organization?
– Nobody can train salespeople better than the sales manager!
– Are motivational talks given to salespeople repeatedly?
– Is 75% (or more) of sales training content really product training?
– Do sales managers believe all failures stem from a poor attitude or lack of motivation?

- Does your organization have the capacity for multiple transactions at a time?
– Is your sales team focused on being “flashy”?

1945-1985: The Era of the Sales Relationship

Is your sales team stuck in the “All about me Era”?…. In this era, immediately following World War II, individual luxuries exploded as consumers began to demand more and more comfort in their lives. The age of the advertiser and marketer had arrived with the creation of mass communications (such as television) and the explosion of print media. During this time, sales training emphasized pre-closing activity and landing new business deals. Training audio tapes began taking hold, printed newsletters were more prevalent, and more magazines supported the needs of salesperson development. The goal of sales training focused on helping salespeople gain the attention of the prospective buyer, building the prospect’s interest, and turning that interest into desire to take action through a personal relationship. Many salespeople were taught about the hierarchy of buyer motivation. As a result, training included different types of customer relationships and their unique needs (i.e., buyer types, decision makers, “gate keepers”, coaches, etc.). Sales training included closing techniques, scripted responses to buyer objections, and understanding buyer body language. Emerging technologies such as the portable phone and the fax machine were also trained, helping salespeople become more accessible to clients. As a result, clients had faster access to salespeople who were often the first person they would call with any questions or concerns.

Do you work in an “all about me” sales organization?

- Training is conducted on the types of buyer behavior sales teams encounter.
– Salespeople are expected to serve customers after the sale but very little training is provided in that area.
– Training is heavily focused on overcoming objections and “canned” responses to buyer concerns.

- The organization seems to be focused more on salesperson activity, then on sales team learning
– The sales team is isolated from marketing and the learning organization.

1985-2005: The Era of Sales Technology

Is your sales team from the “dot-com” sales era?… During this era, the internet boom was coupled with the wide-spread use of computer technology in client organizations. Because sales processes were well understood and consumer behavior become well known, organizations turned to technology to help speed up salesperson reaction times to market trends, keep them abreast of important industry news, and develop a more solid understanding of their clients. Customer Relationship Management and Sales Force Automation tools became widely. The newly available information enabled the entire transaction experience became more widely understood by marketing, selling, and servicing departments.

Within sales training, more emphasis was placed on service after the sale as well as bundled products into more encompassing solutions. Companies began teaching salespeople about consultative selling and how to valuate solutions. Salespeople were taught to become more problem solvers and required to think more like a CEO who understands the entire ramification of a purchase decision. Due to the complexity in the market, training focused on vertical expertise and project management skills. Sales managers began to hire for skills rather than training existing salespeople. Training programs began to focus on new-hire programs as sales talent become harder to find. Centralized training and annual events became more difficult due to dispersed teams.

Do you work with a dot-com sales organization?

- The paradigm seems to be “hire for the right skill and personality traits” as opposed to training existing salespeople.
– New hire training focuses on CRM training, product training, and administrative skills. Selling skills training is almost non-existent.
– Salespeople are responsible for the own professional development and skills attainment.
– Sales managers spend more time troubleshooting deals, filling out paperwork, and working company issues than coaching salespeople.

Will Your Sales Team Make it Through the Current Economic Turmoil? – Part 1

What if I told you that there are just 4 key codes that must be in place if you want to unlock the power of your sales team and navigate your way through this current economic turmoil and beyond?

After all these years of searching for the elixir, the cure all, the silver bullet… I have come to discover that for you to grow revenues you need to focus your energies on understanding and implementing the key code combination that I am about to share with you.

These 4 codes are the recipe that will unlock the power of your sales team to deliver their sales results…consistently!

However, because there is far too much information to dump on you in just one sitting, I have decided to send you this newsletter over a number of installments which will

a) give you time to digest the material and
b) more importantly, execute the ideas contained herein.

Before I share them with you, let me establish a context for the information I intend to divulge. Come into my common sense corner for just a quick moment and let’s understand a principle truth that you as a sales leader must first to come to grips with. Whilst this core principle may sound pretty basic and “un-sexy” it is the fundamental ingredient of any highly functional team.

You can teach a pig to climb a tree but you’re better off to use a monkey.

In a recent podcast with Paul Macklin, the principal and founder of Amazing People a highly sought after Organizational Development Company, Paul and I discussed the impact of leadership, coaching and other methods of improving people performance.

In our discussion Paul used the metaphor which I would like to reiterate for the purposes of understanding the key principle when it comes to developing a sales team that is capable of generating consistent sales results, no matter what the prevailing market conditions. So let’s listen in on the dialogue….

PAUL MACKLIN: Let’s say I’m a luthier – a person that makes violins. And let’s also say this was way back in the old days before you went to the hardware store to buy your lumber. You would go to the forest to find a tree to make the violin from. You would look for a certain quality of timber. You would want something that was straight and fine grained, free of knots. And you would cut the tree and then you would season the lumber for a period of time. Only then would you have the right piece of wood. This, in an organizational metaphor context is recruitment. The first question I ask a team leader when I’m working with them on improving team performance is, “Who have you got on the team?”

IAN SEGAIL: Do you have the right people on the team?

PAUL MACKLIN: “Do we have the right people on the bus”, right. So recruitment and selection gets you the right people and if you had asked me, “What is the most significant factor in developing a high performance team?” I’ve got to always say, it’s selection. There’s a friend of mine Fred Hull who says, “You can teach a pig to climb a tree but you’re better off to use a monkey.” This principle of, “the right team first”, is powerfully expressed in the business classic book Good to Great. Here, author Jim Collins says, “…to build a successful organization and team you must get the right people on the bus.” Jim’s research shows that great companies and great organizations make sure that, whatever it takes, they get the right people on the bus and then make sure that they put them in the right seats.

Right now, do you have the right people in your sales team to carry your company through the rapids of economic turmoil the world is currently experiencing? Currently your team would be made up of combination of four types of salespeople.

Typically salespeople will tend to fall into one of the four categories below:

Firstly, the Rainmaker.

The naturally talented rainmaker has an innate gift for selling. These gifted salespeople will make sales whatever, wherever, and for whomever they sell. These make up between only two to five percent of the sales population.

The rainmaker is recognized as that rare bird that is exceptionally successful in bringing in profitable business to his or her organization.

Oh, how we wish we had three or four of them! How we struggle to find and keep them! How much pressure is relieved when we have a rainmaker on the team! These people are the naturals. They are the gifted and talented salespeople. These rainmakers can sell in any economic climate!

These are the Roger Federers, the Mohamed Alis, and the Tiger Woods of selling. When you watch Roger Federer on the tennis court, you know that you are in the presence of a “natural.” The media describes Roger’s tennis using words such as clinical, mastery, finesse, artistry, graceful, and so on. Similar things are said about Tiger Woods and other individual sporting greats. What makes these players so great are not simply their well honed and practiced skills, but their awesome natural talents. These abilities when combined are harnessed to deliver greatness.

“Natural born” salespeople are like this too. That’s why we call them rainmakers.

  • We watch in awe as they build rapport with the “un-rapport-build-able.”
  • We are amazed at their ability to read the state of play, asking just the right questions at just the right time.
  • We are “gob-smacked” at their ability to make things happen, and to pull last minute rabbits out of seemingly empty hats.
  • We look back at what they do, and how they do it, and are struck with wonder.

Yes they have skills, yes they have knowledge, but most importantly, underpinning all of that is pure, natural talent. If you’ve ever had the good fortune to work with a rainmaker, then you have, most likely, at some time, had the desire to clone them. Rainmakers have an innate talent, a natural ability and insight that enables them to “sell intuitively.”

Unfortunately however, the universal problem that all business owners, entrepreneurs and sales managers face is that whilst there are many pretenders and try-hards about, there are simply just too few real rainmakers to go around. So whilst it’s wonderful for you if you should be so lucky as to have a rain maker on your team, the question that probably haunts you constantly though is, what if they leave? What if they are poached by your competition?

Also if you are fortunate to have a rainmaker on your team you know how precious and demanding they can be. There are no doubt also times where you feel held to ransom by these talented individuals and wonder if they are worth it!

Secondly, experienced salespeople

The second group are those experienced salespeople with many years of knowledge, education and street smarts behind them. Typically they would have been around a particular industry sector for a number of years. Through years of dogged persistence they have advanced their sales careers. These savvy sales people are often regarded as experts in a particular field. Years of experience have honed their knowledge of how to apply their solutions to their customer’s problems. Their knowledge and skills, which have evolved and developed over time, help them to establish credibility quickly and easily with the customer. They have sharpened their instincts over time and have learned through trial and error how and when to create sales. Unfortunately, it takes years to grow and develop these sales producers. If only you could “put an old head on young shoulders!” These experienced salespeople only make up between twelve and twenty percent of salespeople.

Thirdly, well-trained process driven salespeople

There is a small group of salespeople who have been fortunate enough to either currently work for, or they have had the opportunity to work for, a sales organization that invested in them with effective sales training. They have also learned to follow a pre-tested specifically engineered sales process that consistently delivers results. These well-trained, motivated and process directed sales people utilise their proven knowledge and processes to significantly outperform their competitors. Their training includes product knowledge application training which allows them to clearly understand the problems that their product/service solves. People persuasion skills and how to follow a pre-tested specifically engineered sales process are also part of their ongoing training and coaching regime.

However, unfortunately because of the investment required to train and up-skill these salespeople, they are very few and far between. In fact this small, well-trained, motivated and process directed group of salespeople make up only around ten to fifteen percent of the sales populace.

The forth group, the ordinaries

Finally there is the group that the large bulk of the sales population fall into, this is the category of pedestrian or mediocre salespeople. This class of the sales population have managed to maintain a career in selling by scraping by, often simply by stumbling across “ready-made sales.” In the majority of cases, these salespeople have been fortunate enough to come across situations where the customer is already in the market ready to buy or change suppliers. Often they are just the right person at the right time. It is more often than not that the customer chooses to buy, rather than the salesperson actually making the sale. With limited training and no clear sales process to follow, this group of salespeople often move from job to job, industry to industry, falling dismally short of their selling potential and sales results. During good economic times this group of mediocre sellers somehow fly below the radar and get by. However when things toughen up and sales have to be made, this is when this group come unglued. Depending on the industry, this majority group of salespeople make up anywhere between fifty to sixty percent of all salespeople.


Review the players that make up your sales team. How many of them are:

  • Rainmakers
  • Highly experienced
  • Process directed
  • Ordinaries

Looking at the your numbers above, on average, if you are like most sales teams out there in the market place, then the majority of the salespeople that make up your sales team are not likely to be rainmakers, highly experienced or process directed salespeople. The bulk of your sales team will be made up of ordinaries.

Now, I can almost hear you wailing, not me! Not my team! Well let me challenge you to re-read the definitions of the four types of sales people. Seriously, if your life depended on it would you really back the players on your team? Look again at the salespeople on your team that you may have credited with being process driven. Do they consistently deliver their required sales results month in, month out?

What about those salespeople who you have ascribed to fall into the category of “highly experienced”? Are they really a match with the definition above, or have they just been around forever? Do they build credibility quickly and easily with customers and prospects? Are their sales instincts really sharp or have they been blunted by years of neglect and lack of renewal? Do they truly know how and when to create sales?

If you were the manager of a world class sports team, would you be happy to take your team onto the field as they stand right now? Well it may not be life or death and you may not be the manager of a world class sports team, but why would you settle for a second rate sales team who deliver sub standard results? Forget about the fact that you are working in a tough economic market place. Someone, somewhere is currently still achieving their sales quota in your space! Therefore for you to manage and drive a sales team that delivers consistent sales results, as a sales leader you only have two options, either…

  1. Work hard to find and keep rainmakers, highly experienced or process directed salespeople. If they are too hard to find and maybe cost too much to hire and retain, then your second option is to…
  2. Develop your own team of motivated process directed salespeople.

In other words if you currently don’t have a champion team, you will need to either go on a recruitment drive or implement the strategies and processes required to unlock the potential of your sales team. The fact is that finding and hiring rainmakers, highly experienced or process directed salespeople may be too expensive or take too long. Also, due to a number of variables, replacing your current team may just not be an option right now. The great news is that you can develop your own team of highly process directed and motivated sellers.

Because whilst finding rain makers and experienced sellers may require an element of good fortune, training and developing process directed salespeople is well within your locus of control. There are some specific things that you can implement that I will show you the over the next few weeks to help make this happen.

Over the next few articles it is my intention to unpack the 4 key codes that make up the combination which will free your sales people from their current limitations and ensure that you develop a team of champions!

Is Your Sales Team Suffering From Call Reluctance?

  • Do your salespeople make excuses instead of getting out and developing new business?
  • Do your salespeople spend more time “being busy” than making contacts?
  • Do you have salespeople who always seem to be “putting out fires” rather than prospecting for new business?
  • Do they always have something else to do other than make prospecting calls?
  • Can your salespeople give you a dozen reasons why the market is down?

If these questions rang true for you then your poor sales results may be more a problem of call reluctance® than a failing economy!

More than competition, price or a failing economy, repeated studies have demonstrated that call reluctance® is more responsible for underperformance in sales than any other factor (Walsh, 2004)

In this current economic climate where sales have to be made as opposed to customers just buying, an old sales enemy has reared its ugly head. Call reluctance®!

The truth is that this problem has never really gone away, but because, in general, sales have been relatively easy to come by, this curse was able to lurk at the fringes of sales society. Over the past ten years of economic growth, only the heaviest sufferers of this psychological malady were really impacted. Today however, is different. Call reluctance® has become very prevalent within sales teams, especially amongst those teams that have had it relatively easy for a long time. Did you know that even your top producers and most experienced sellers can struggle with this issue?

The phenomenon of call reluctance® may very well be killing your sales production right now, much more so than the turbulent economy. If this problem is plaguing your sales team, it means the difference between you meeting budget and dropping further behind!

So, if you or your sales team are not getting in front of enough new prospects and creating new demand, you need to keep reading further!

“Hundreds of salespeople interviews across many nations and tens of thousands of psychological assessments and a large body of scientific research have conclusively shown that sales call reluctance is not some moralistic protest against the nature of the sales process. It’s the result of fear: physical, personal, career-paralysing fear.”- The Hard Truth About Soft-Selling by George W. Dudley and Dr. John F. Tanner.

The first step in combating this sales destroying roadblock is to firstly diagnose it and then to name it. In this series of articles I will expose you to

a) how to recognize “call reluctance®”,

b) how to “call it” and make people aware of their call reluctant behaviours and

c) give you some practical ideas around how to get your call reluctant team members to start hitting their sales straps again.

Just What Is Call Reluctance®?

Most people who have ever been in sales have experienced sales call reluctance® at one time or another. Sales call aversion is the number one reason people fail at selling. This issue even limits the careers of the more experienced and otherwise self motivated, goal-directed sales producers for two main reasons:

  1. Firstly, avoiding new business sales calls creates mounting anxiety and pressure which results in immobilization.
  2. Secondly, because they haven’t had to rely on making new business sales calls to achieve their sales targets. This has caused them to become complacent about prospecting for new business, effectively choking off their new business pipeline. With no new business coming in, sales pressure mounts and exacerbates call reluctance® even further creating a downward spiral of fear and immobilization.

In 1979, research scientists Dudley and Goodson originated the theory which is technically known as “Inhibited Social Contact Initiation Syndrome” (ISCIS) (Baker, 1998). Many of their findings were published in the 1986 book “The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance: Earning What You’re Worth in Sales.” The authors called this aberrant cocktail of self defeating thoughts, feelings and behaviours that salespeople use to in order to deal with the strain and anxiety of new business generation, the “fear of self-promotion.”

At its essence, sales call reluctance® is the experience of a heightened level of fear which inhibits the number of sales calls a salesperson will make. This intense feeling of apprehension can be so overwhelming that it renders the individual incapable of selling at all. As Connie Kadansky, principal of Exceptional Sales Performance, whose business it is to help salespeople overcome this problem, points out, “Call reluctance® can reduce a salesperson’s knowledge, skills, abilities, and talents to a point where he or she is almost useless.”