Having a large customer the size of an 800-pound gorilla drives rapid revenue growth, but it also carries hidden dangers for your business.
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Thinking Big with Jeff Schneider
Our Accelerator Interview series, “Thinking Big” is our way of sharing insights from successful entrepreneurs, business leaders, and CEOs within the Kinesis community.
Kinesis works with many small businesses, all of whom face a common set of challenges. One of the most prominent? Hiring, developing, and empowering a successful sales team. This week, we sit down with a leading sales expert Jeff Schneider to discuss this phenomenon - and what businesses can do to address this growing concern.
Shawn: Hi Jeff. Thanks again for sharing your insights and experience with the Kinesis Accelerator readers. Tell us about your consulting practice and the Sandler Sales System…
Jeff: My pleasure Shawn. I do a lot of things for my clients, but at the heart of it all is helping them improve their selling performance. I have a training center in Downtown Portland where I hold boot camps, seminars, and weekly sales and sales management training classes. I also have hiring assessments, an online learning system and customer service and enterprise selling solutions.
The Sandler Selling System is, in my opinion, so cool. I say that because it is almost an “anti-selling system.”
Shawn: I’ll admit that when I first heard you speak over 6 years ago, you presented ideas about sales that were totally foreign to me. In particular, the Sandler philosophy helped me see that sales wasn’t what I thought it was (pushy) and instead a process of looking for “fit.” Tell our readers more about this idea of “fit”….
Jeff: Yes, it is a little unconventional. By design. Sales has such a terrible reputation. Everyone has had a bad experience with a salesperson, so most people are very hesitant when a salesperson is trying to sell them something. They resist the seller that uses traditional tactics (I call it The “Heisman Trophy Pose”). So in order to sell effectively one must act very differently from traditional sellers. Traditional sellers try to talk buyers into buying. So we actively try to disqualify the prospect. The key is to be a trusted advisor and to learn to become OK with hearing “no”. Trusted advisors are completely focused on the best outcome for their clients. So the real question is not how to persuade you to buy from me. The question is: Is this a good fit, for both you and for me.
Shawn: I see a lot of frustration with “sales” as a discipline. In fact, with our clients, it’s often the most difficult position to staff. What are some of the dynamics that make it so hard to hire salespeople and scale a sales department?
Jeff: First of all, if a seller is any good then they are probably able to sell you in the interview. An interview, after all, is a lot like a sales call, and they are presumably selling their favorite product. In addition, there is a certain amount of over-promising and embellishing that is generally considered acceptable within an interview (much like political campaigns). So it is awfully hard to determine how likely a candidate will be from the answers they give in an interview. Therefore, a lot of business owners make bad hiring decisions the first couple of times they attempt to hire a seller and eventually give up.
Another challenge is that salespeople need to be actively managed, and most CEO’s either don’t know how to effectively do that or don’t want to. Accountability to revenue goals and prospecting behavior are best practices that many owners tend to shy away from. So many small organizations find it nearly impossible to scale a sales organization without simultaneously making a commitment to professional sales management.
Shawn: That’s interesting. Following on that idea, what are some of your recommendations for how business owners can get better at hiring for the sales position?
Jeff: I believe that the best predictor of future success is past success, particularly success in a similar role and industry. The first thing that owners should do is create their Ideal Candidate Profile (ICP), which describes the traits that will be interviewed against. Then, develop questions to test for these traits. If one of your traits is “self-motivated,” don’t ask them if they are self-motivated. Ask them to tell you about a time in which they faced tremendous challenges and their self-motivation enabled them to overcome tough odds and accomplish their goal. Be resolute to not accept vague answers. They should be able to describe a situation specifically if they are in fact “self-motivated.” Lastly, assess your final candidates. Use some form of online testing to gain empirical data about the candidate. I use the DISC and Devine assessments for my clients, but there are a lot of good options out there.
Shawn: Let’s talk about red flags. One of your services is sales training – I’m wondering how a business owner can tell the difference between a sales professional who might need help through training and one who simply isn’t the right fit for the job? In other words, what should leaders look for to know that their team needs help through training vs the “red flags,” that mean they’ve hired the wrong person for the job?
Jeff: Well a good starting point is to determine if the seller’s problem is a “can’t do” or a “won’t do.” Some sellers do not want to do certain types of prospecting activities, for instance. Others don’t want to change the way they have been selling for many years. Training will not help the “won’t do” seller. If the seller is willing to learn and grow then they may be a good candidate for some form of sales training. But there are some sellers that simply should not be in sales. Their innate skills are better utilized in different positions. I see a lot of sellers that were originally in customer service or tech support. They did a good job there, so they got “promoted” into sales, and they struggle. They simply may not have the temperament or motivation for sales. And training won’t help. The Devine assessment in particular can be extremely insightful for these types of situations.
Shawn: What are some of the marketing strategies you’re employing right now? What lessons can you share about marketing?
Jeff: I do a lot of things that are designed to create brand awareness with my ideal clients. I advertise in the Portland Business Journal and Oregon Business Magazine. I have a newsletter that I email to over 10,000 people weekly with sales tips and news of upcoming events (email me at email@example.com if you would like to receive it). And I am diving deep into social media. I think LinkedIn is now my top platform for communicating with my potential clients. I have invested in video and am creating content weekly that is relevant to my ideal clients, in addition to writing content. The way buyers buy is changing so quickly, and most of their buying journey is now taking place behind the scenes. We need to figure out where they are going to learn about companies like ours, and make sure they find us there. Then, make sure they find our content to be relevant and compelling.
Shawn: Ok, last question. If you could wave your magic wand and change one thing about how business owners think about sales, what would that be?
Jeff: The myth of the “Natural Born Salesperson.” There is no such thing. The sellers that remind you of this myth tend to be the most annoying. All sellers are in need of coaching, training and encouragement from their manager. Most could also benefit from professional training that imparts a systematic process for selling. But the savvy business owner knows that there is not a perfect salesperson out there that they can hire and turn them loose and sit back and watch their company grow exponentially. It just never seems to happen like that.
Curious about the differences between sales and marketing, and how to make both successful in your organization? Check out our helpful guide.