One Crucial Lesson My Manager Taught Me

If I asked you what the most important tip, technique or strategy is that you learned in your sales career, what would you say? I easily remember the one that I learned early on because I’m reminded of it nearly every day. In fact just last week I read a story about Gary Emanuel, the defensive line coach for the Indianapolis Colts, and I was reminded of the first lesson my sales manager taught me which was, “No matter how discouraged you get when cold calling or prospecting, never give up – because the very next phone call you make can change your day, or your career.” Here’s what happened to Gary:

Earlier this year, Gary wasn’t working in the NFL. In the last 31 autumns, he had been the typical football journeyman, working on 10 college staffs (including the likes of Plymouth State and Purdue) and only one pro staff (49ers, 2005-06). Gary’s dream was to return to the NFL but there were no teams banging down his door to interview him. So what did he do? He took action and began cold calling…

Call after call resulted in nothing but the typical, “You can send us your resume,” but he kept calling. Finally he reached the General Manager of the Colts, Ryan Grigson. Grigson told Peter King of Sports Illustrated:

“He cold-called me.” Grigson texted me (Peter) after the 17-14 win over Cleveland. “Getting (Emanuel) was like finding money in the street. We had all kinds of big-time recommendations, and after Chuck (Pagano – the head coach) and I met with Gary, we didn’t even want to talk with another DL coach.”

How’s that for a successful cold call? Now I’m sure that Gary, like you or me, got discouraged from all the other calls he made to teams that gave him the brush off. I’m sure he got tired of sending out his resume and calling back only to hear the same old brush off, “Oh, we’ll get back to you if we’re interested.” I’m sure the phone was heavy to pick up after a while, and I’ll bet there were times when he thought about giving up. But he persisted and he made that next call. And look what that persistence resulted in for him.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been calling and calling (both as a sales rep and as a sales consultant), and how much I’ve wanted to just give up. But I always remember what my manager taught me about how you never know what that next call can bring. And because I’ve made that next call, I have many stories of my own, and I can tell you now that many of my biggest clients came because I was willing to keep calling. In fact, here’s one of my favorite results:

Years ago I decided that I wanted to try and get a 30-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers anniversary patch for a new authentic jersey I had purchased. I didn’t know anyone at the Buccaneers so I did what I had been taught to do – I started cold calling. First I looked on the official team website and found out who the head trainer was. Using the techniques I teach and write about – being polite to gatekeepers by using ‘please,’ being assumptive and using instructional statements – I got through to the training room and was told that the trainers and team were in their final preseason work outs offsite and that I needed to call back in a few weeks. After several more calls to the department, I finally got the head trainer on the phone but he told me that he was too busy now preparing for the season, and that I could try him again in a few weeks. I did. When I got him on the phone again, I explained what I wanted and he said he would see what he could do. He took my name and address down and I waited.

After a couple of weeks, I still hadn’t received anything. Now, many people might have given up by then and thought that just getting through was victory enough. Not me. I kept remembering what my manager had taught me and kept remembering all the good results I had achieved from being persistent and from continuing to cold call. So I called again.

By this time the season had begun and the Buccaneers were winning. By now the trainer knew my name and was getting used to my call. By this time there were some things to talk about besides the patch. This time he took my name and address again and seemed to be paying more attention as he did it. A week later I got a package from the Buccaneer training room and when I opened it I found two jersey patches – one home and one away – and a complete decal set with helmet sized Buccaneer flags. It was a pretty cool package. So what did I do? I kept calling…

After a few more weeks and a few more victories, the trainer and I developed a friendly relationship. When I explained to him that I would be flying to the 49er game in a few weeks, he said something that has changed my experience as an NFL fan. He asked me if I’d like to work as part of the training staff and assist one of the coaches on the side line of that game. I can tell you now that experience was one of the highlights of my life!

I arrived in San Francisco the same day as the team, and that evening I went to the team hotel and met the trainer and he introduced me to other coaches and team members as they went through the lobby. He gave me an official coaching shirt and cap (that I still have), and a coach’s pass and parking pass for game day. The next day I arrived at the stadium at 9:30 am as the first bus of players and coaches arrived. I went through the player’s entrance and into the locker room and spent the whole day as a member of the Tampa Bay coaching staff! I don’t have time to relate all the memorable experiences I had – like patting Chris Sims on the shoulder pad after his first NFL touchdown pass or the memorable after game speech by a fiery Jon Gruden – but trust me, it was an amazing experience. And all because I was willing to keep calling.

I remember that experience and many other successful, unexpected calls and results even today when I have to make cold calls. I remember my first sales manager teaching me the importance of being persistent no matter what and of the value of making that next call – or next 100 calls. I remember this lesson when I read stories like Gary Emanuel’s, and I’m constantly on the look out for similar stories of the pay off of persistence and of never giving up. And I always find them.

Today as you face a day of cold calling or prospecting, I hope that you, too, remember the crucial lesson I learned all those years ago. That no matter how discouraged you get when cold calling or prospecting, never give up – because the very next phone call you make can change your day, or your career.

Experienced Sales Reps – Should You Hire Them?

Who would you rather hire for your inside sales team – an experienced inside sales rep with experience selling different products or services across several companies, or someone new to sales, say a college graduate, or how about a waiter or bar tender or someone one else new to sales? The proper answer here, of course, is it depends on the individual circumstance. But as we’ll see, if the proper systems are in place, it’s usually a wiser choice to go with someone new to sales. Let’s find out why.

While conventional wisdom would lean towards hiring someone with specific inside sales experience, what common experience tells us is that that choice is rarely a guarantee of good performance. In fact, after hiring or being involved in the hiring of thousands of experienced inside sales reps, I can tell you from personal experience that it is very rare to hire an experienced sales rep who turns into someone truly exceptional. It’s more common to find mediocre sales reps who continue to produce down to their level of past production. There are many reasons for this.

To start with, most sales reps have never received the kind of sales training that leads to consistently good results. Sales training, and its constant reinforcement, is an area that is either under developed or an effective extension of product training. After initial orientation and training, most inside sales reps are left to either figure it out on their own, or to sink or swim. This leads to a lot of sales reps who develop poor sales skills that they repeat over and over again as they ad lib their way through their jobs. It’s these very same unsuccessful reps that are looking for work when they answer your job posting.

This has been my experience, and I’m not alone. In fact, in their book, “How to Hire and Develop Your Next Top Performer” by Greenberg, Weinstein and Sweeney, the authors compared results from hundreds of thousands of assessments that were conducted over several decades with actual sales performance measurements and found:

55 percent of the people earning their living in sales should be doing something else.
Another 20 to 25 percent (of salespeople) have what it takes to sell, but they should be selling something else.

They concluded that based on these statistics, the practice of hiring experienced sales candidates will produce an unsatisfactory result as much as 80 percent of the time! That may seem a pretty dire pronouncement, but it once again rings true in my experience and, I’m willing to bet, in the experience of many of you reading this article as well.

Now before you throw your hands up in the air and decide to abandon your sales efforts completely, the good news is that there is a solution. The solution is to invest the time, money and effort in defining your sales process, developing a solid training program that teaches the best practices of your sales process, and then to give your front line managers the tools to manage your rep’s adherence to these defined sales processes. You can see a video of me describing this process on my website.

Once you build these processes, you will be in the unique position of being able to hire and successfully on board new talent into your sales team. The great thing about hiring someone new to sales is that they are a blank slate without any poor sales skills and habits. Rather than trying to undo years of poor performance and attitude, you can spend your time actually training someone the right way from the beginning. After that, your time can be spent reinforcing and measuring adherence to your best practices. The major benefit here is that you can shorten the time it takes to evaluate whether or not the person you’ve just hired has the ability and desire to succeed in your sales environment.

Another benefit of using this method is that since you are hiring people who are new to sales, you can now recruit from almost anywhere. Rather than being handcuffed to running the same old ads and attracting the same old suspects, suddenly you will be free to find and recruit new talent anywhere you go. When I was actively managing and growing a financial service team, I would carry my business cards with me everywhere and would constantly be on the lookout for people who were bright and had winning personalities. I’d chat up people working in department stores, waiters, bar tenders, and anywhere else I found engaging and motivated people. In fact, some of my top producers where found in this way.

Now, let’s get back to the question at the beginning of this article. Is it better to hire an experienced inside sales rep or someone new to sales? Again, it depends on the circumstance because you obviously don’t want to hire someone new who doesn’t have the temperament or desire, and you don’t want to not hire an experienced sales rep who might do well in your environment. The way to be successful with both of these hires is to have a solid training program and follow up mentoring and measuring system to evaluate them. Only in this way will you be able to successfully hire and develop the right candidate.

Three Simple Rules for Success in Sales

If you want to know what truly separates top performers in sales, then look no further than these three simple characteristics below. Each and every top professional I know practices these habitually, and when I focused on these early in my career, I, too, became the top producer in my office of 25 sales reps.

These “rules” as I call them are essential for your success, and you should make it a point to incorporate and work on them every day of your professional career. If you do, you will easily rise to the top of your company and your industry. Read them over now and commit to incorporating them into your daily routine:

1) Invest in your attitude every day. You absolutely must do everything you can do to develop, protect, and nurture a contagiously enthusiastic attitude. Now more than ever, your attitude will be the biggest determining factor affecting your success in your profession of sales. Think about all the negative people you’re going to run into today, this week and this month. Are you going to infect them with your positive, can do attitude, or are you going to get more and more negative with each phone call? IT IS UP TO YOU!!
Starting this week, get into the habit of feeding your mind and attitude daily with affirmations, by listening to motivational CD’s, by reading two pages a day in a positive book, and by goal setting. If you haven’t read books like, “The Success Principles” by Jack Canfield, or “Beyond Positive Thinking” by Dr. Robert Anthony, then go to Amazon and order them today.

An all time favorite of mine is an 8 minute DVD I’ve watched over and over on my lap top called: “Finish Strong” by Dan Green and can be found at their website: www.simpletruths.com That book/DVD alone will be a great investment in your attitude.

2) Sharpen Your Sales Skills. Let’s face it – there is no room for error in today’s competitive sales environment. Sloppy sales presentations, poorly qualified leads, and just plain lazy and bad habits are going to make you miserable in your job. You must, and I mean must, learn, practice and use effective sales techniques that will allow you to identify buyers and then deliver effective presentations to close business.

The Top 20% will do well because they already use effective skills and spend time getting better, but the bottom 80% are going to sink like a stone. I’d say that up to one quarter of all sales reps will lose their jobs in the next 12 months because they won’t improve enough to make it in this environment.

What are YOU doing now to improve your skills each day? Obviously there are many things that will work for you, but one of the easiest and least expensive ways to do that is to go to Amazon.com and pick up a copy of my book, “The Real Secrets of the Top 20% – How To Double Your Income Selling Over the Phone.” It’ll be the best $14 bucks you’ll send this year…

3) Start Listening To Your Prospects. Now more than ever, it’s crucially important that you learn how to connect with your prospects and show them you really care about what they’re going through and what their needs are. 80% of your competition is going to pitch and pitch and pitch, and this turns off the people they are trying to sell. The Top 20% take the time to understand the difficulties their prospects and clients are going through and they find ways to help them. And it all begins with listening.

People are going to buy from people they like, know or trust, and the best way to build this rapport is by asking questions and actually listening to their answers. I’ve written many articles on listening skills, and you can read them in my Blog, or invest in my book and read successful techniques that will help you become a better listener. But whatever you do, you must begin showing your prospects you care, and best way to do that is by listening.

Trust me when I tell you that these three simple rules are the bedrock of success in sales. Eighty percent of your competition won’t do these things, but if you will, you will smoke them in sales. In fact, you can become a Top 5% or even a Top 1% producer if you will just take the time to make these rules daily habits.

Remember – first we form habits and then they form us.