Sales Question and Answer #18 – Are sales people made or born

This is a Sales Question and Answer article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator. Follow Dave’s latest Tweets at @davekahle.

Article By Dave Kahle

Q.  Are sales people made or born?

A.  I field this question, in one form or other, in almost every seminar I do.  Just heard it again yesterday in relationship to the competency of building relationships.  The questioner opined that building relationships was a natural talent.  You either had it or you didn’t.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is this:  On some issues, the person’s opinion says more about that person than it does the subject of his thoughts.  I’ve found that to be true in regards to the question “Are sales people made or born?”

Nature vs. Nurture

Seven Principles of Learning: Principle 7

Those sales people who have learned on their own, who have never been trained in the best practices of the best sales people, have a tendency to hold that sales people are born.  After all, no one taught them.  So the degree of success that they have attained must have been a result of natural talent.

On the other hand, those sales people who were nurtured in a company that trained and developed them hold the opposite opinion.  They saw that there are best ways of doing almost every thing a sales person does, and that most people in their training class were able to learn to do those things.  So from their perspective, sales people are made, not born.

So where do I fit on this issue?

Seven Principles of Learning

First, it helps if you have a basic set of personality characteristics and aptitudes to begin with.  Some people are just not suited to the job of the sales person.  That’s why we sell pre-hire aptitude assessments – to measure the aptitude of the individual for a sales position.  But, just because someone has the aptitude does not make him/her a good sales person.  And it is unreasonable to think that most sales people are going to learn the best practices on their own.  They must be educated in the best practices of the profession.

That’s where the “making” of a good sales person comes in.  It is an unfortunate truth that the overwhelming majority of sales people have never been educated in the best way to do their jobs.  And, those companies who invest in the regular and methodical development of their sales forces generally out-sell those who don’t.

The position that sales people are “born” becomes then, for many companies and sales people, an excuse for not investing in their development.  If sales people are “born”, then no amount of education will change their behavior.  So, why invest in developing sales people?  And, from the sales person’s perspective, why invest in developing yourself?  You can’t learn anything, because, after all, you either have it or you don’t.

The concept that “sales people are born” then becomes a rationale for abdicating responsibility.  That position absolves the company of the responsibility to invest in developing sales people, and it absolves the individual sales person of the responsibility to learn and grow and develop.

It helps if you have a natural talent for it, but everyone, given a basic set of aptitudes and personality traits, can learn to sell.  Sales people are made and developed, not born.

Seven Principles of Learning

Copyright MMX by Dave Kahle
All Rights Reserved.

Images from the “Seven Principles of Learning” series by Darren Kuropatwa on Flickr under Creative Common license.

Sales Best Practice #25 – Maintains good records about customers

A best practice for sales people by guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

Maintains good records about customers by using an ‘account profile’ and ‘personal profiles’ for every account.

It is the Information Age.  That means wise and effective sales people collect, store and use good information about their customers and prospects. That information provides the salesperson with a competitive advantage, is invaluable for planning for the best use of his sales time, and allows him to be much more effective in his sales calls. 

In this day of CRM systems, hand-held devices and smart phones that make information management so easy, it’s a wonder that I even have to mention this, but the sad truth is, there are still sales forces that don’t use any kind of automation tool for salespeople.  And, even in those who do have some kind of electronic system for information management, a considerable portion of the sales force doesn’t comply with the company’s directions for collecting information.

            These salespeople realize that information – particularly information about the specific opportunities within an account and the quantifiable potential of every account – brings with it some accountability.  If account X has this much potential, for example, what are you doing to acquire it?

            It is that accountability that frightens the information-leery salesperson.

            But not the sales masters.  They understand that specific, useful information about every account – the kind you would collect and put into an account profile – is valuable, not only for the salesperson, but also for his/her company.  They welcome the accountability that rises out of information, as they understand it helps keep them sharp and focused.

            Even in companies which do not have a system-wide electronic approach to information management, the best salespeople create their own tools, and discipline themselves to rigorously use them.

            That’s why this is a practice of the best.

For more information about this best practice:

If you are a subscriber to The Sales Resource Center®, review Pod-43: Managing Information Before it Manages You, and Pod-45: How to Collect the Right Kind of Information.

Copyright MMXII by Dave Kahle
All Rights Reserved

 Image by Victor1558 on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Commence CRM Makes Mobile Computing Easy

Apple iPad 2

The mobile device market is booming.  2012 will be the year that mobile devices, specifically tablets, end up as holiday gifts for more people than ever before. While many of these tablets will be used mainly as social media devices, more and more companies are beginning to outfit their field sales and service personnel with tablets for business use.

What does this mean for CRM solution providers?  Well cloud based CRM providers like Commence Corporation are paying very close attention to the mobile explosion and understand that the use of these devices for business purposes will continue to grow.

The challenge for online CRM providers like Commence is to ensure that the data is not only accessible from any device, but is also properly formatted for that device.  To support this Commence CRM requires nothing more than an internet browser to access customer information. Secondly, Commence has resized the software to meet the size and space limitations of the mobile device industry.  Today’s next generation Tablets for example range in size from 7, 8, 9 or 10 inches in diameter.  Data displayed on a 10 inch screen may not format properly on a 7 inch screen unless it is resized for that device.  Commence has ensured this so that users can properly conduct business on any size device.

One of the other nice features of Commence CRM is that mobile access is free with every edition of the product.  Now that’s something no one will complain about.  To learn more about Commence online CRM software visit the company’s web site at commence.com.

Image “Apple iPad 2” by IntelFreePress on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Gaining Market Share in a Difficult Economy

This is a Customer Management article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator. Follow Dave’s latest Tweets at @davekahle

The problem with relationships

By Dave Kahle
customerswantedIn the B2B world, the relationship between the customer and the vendor, and more specifically, the vendor’s sales person, can be of utmost importance.

It doesn’t take long in the business to understand that if the customer dislikes you, he is rarely going to see you.  And if he does know you and trust you, he is more likely to do business with you.

Creating positive business relationships with all of your customers and prospects is, then, a fundamental step in the path toward success for any B2B sales person.

Having said that, the existence of positive business relationships is one of the primary hindrances to success for the typical field sales person.  I know that seems like a contradiction, but let’s dissect how this works.

See if this doesn’t sound familiar.  The typical field sales person, when presented with a sales territory, naturally attempts to see as many people as possible, and sets about building relationships with some of them.  Since he typically has more accounts than he can effectively handle, he naturally tends to spend time with those with whom he has some affinity.  He likes those customers who like him, and he spends more and more time with those with whom the relationship is easy and natural.

Over a few years, these relationships become solidified, and the sales person is content to work with that set of people with whom he gets along.  Given the choice of making a cold call on a prospect, and visiting an existing relationship, the natural inclination is to go where it is easiest.  Relationships coalesce, and the sales person develops routines based on them.

For years, this mode of operation was acceptable.  In a growing economy, most of the customers grew as well, and all the sales person had to do was show up and he’d expect a certain percentage of the business.  Life was good, and the job was easy.

Now, however, most of the customers aren’t growing, and most sales territories are down.  Many of those same customers are struggling to stay profitable.  The sales person’s market, defined as the people with whom he/she has positive business relationships, has shrunk.  In many sales territories, if the sales territory is going to grow, or at least gain market share, the sales person has to look outside of his current relationships.

Sales people, who became comfortable calling on the people who liked them, are now faced with an uncomfortable prospect:  In order to gain market share, they must go where the market is.  And, the market is bigger outside of their relationships than inside of them.  If they are going to grow their sales, and their income, they must reach out beyond their current relationships, and call on people who don’t know them.

Unfortunately, many are hampered by their existing relationships.  They have invested so much time in some customers, who frankly, aren’t worth it, that they can not extricate themselves and devote the time and energy to creating new relationships and new customers.

Their existing relationships are the greatest hindrance to their success.

Some Solutions

Ultimately, there must be a change in the sales person’s routines.  He has to spend less time with those of his current customers who are struggling or of smaller volume, and more time with customers who offer greater potential.

But changing established routines is an arduous task that requires, in most cases, both management intervention as well as willing sales people.

The starting point is for sales management to create specific expectations, measurements, and rewards and consequences for the sales people.  It’s no longer effective to announce, “We need more new customers, guys” and think that will get results.  Changed behavior requires specific expectations, something like “One new customer per month, for the next 12 months.”  It requires regular measurement and mid-term corrections.  Management should be meeting with every sales person, every month, and measuring progress on the expectations.  There should be both rewards as well as consequences.  For example, double commissions for the first six months of a new customer’s purchases will light a fire under most sales people, especially when coupled with a consequence like removing some current accounts from the sales person’s territory.

As a distributor sales person, my territory was cut every year.  I started out with responsibility for 77 accounts, and ended up with a territory of just 17.  My sales grew from nothing to over $5 Million a year.  Each time my territory was cut, my business grew.  I would not have done that on my own.  I would never have volunteered to give up 80% of my customers, but, in retrospect, I’m glad my manager had the courage and conviction to do it.

Once the expectations are created, the measurements put into place, the consequences and rewards fixed and articulated, then management needs to educate the sales people in the best practices of creating new relationships.  Some are absolutely unsure of how to make a cold call, and most have totally unrealistic expectations.  That’s where training and education come in.

You can’t expect people to do something if they have never been educated in how to do it.

Having said all that, you cannot realistically expect every relationship-oriented sales person to change his routines and excel at the new expectations.  For those who don’t seem to be able to make the transition, you’ll have to decide whether they are profitable with their base of customers and reduced sales volume, or whether it may be wiser to find someone new and more trainable.

Don’t let their relationships hinder your business.

Copyright MMX by Dave Kahle
All Rights Reserved.

Image by Aunt Owwee on Flickr under Creative Commons license.