After coming out of corporate life in 1992, Jonathan Farrington had a vision: to build a network of sales thought leaders to collaborate and share their wealth of experiences and knowledge on a single online platform.
Within several years, he had gathered a multitude of highly respected sales professionals willing to contribute thought leadership online at regular intervals for the benefit of the overall sales space. Beginning with individual sites for Top Sales Experts, Top Sales Management, Top Sales Articles, Top Sales Events, and so on, Jonathan’s group eventually merged 7 separate sites into one: the world’s first online “sales hypermarket”: Top Sales World.
Jonathan has over 40 years of experience in sales and marketing and has guided hundreds of companies and thousands of individuals around the world toward optimum performance levels. I recently had the pleasure of talking with him about sales management best practices, measuring sales training success, tips for hiring top sales talent, and much more.
(Psst: He also gave me some insider’s knowledge on Top Sales Contest, which is seeking nominations for the best sales professionals on the planet. Read on to find out what the contest is about, what the judges are looking for, and when the winners will be announced. Be sure to nominate your top sales colleagues!)
1) In your work with sales professionals and organizations, what are some of the most common sales management problems you encounter?
One of the biggest problems I’ve seen that sales managers have is that they arrive in the position and they’ve never been trained to manage. And the root of this problem is that their companies are not investing in their management training.
Eighty-two percent of sales managers are appointed to that position because they were the highest performing salesperson when the vacancy arose, but that really is no basis for appointing a manager. It’s a completely different set of skills from being a sales rep. You’re going from being responsible purely for yourself to being responsible for the future, success, and well-being of a whole team of people. It’s not an experience you can attain simply from watching other people – you’ve got to be properly trained. I would estimate that more than 90% of sales managers working in all industries have never had formal sales management training. And even those that have were trained after they had problems in their new management position that required that training to solve.
2) If a junior sales rep wants to become a sales manager, what steps should they take to ease the transition?
First of all, I would beg the question: Why do you want to become a sales manager? Becoming a sales manager is often perceived as a step up, but it actually isn’t always. The top 5% of sales professionals know much more than their managers anyways. So you have to question the motives for anyone looking to step into a sales management position.
If they’re still convinced that they can and want to become a sales manager, they’ve got to take the responsibility for training and adopt the mantra that it’s going to be a tough link. The great news is that all the sales management training information they want is there in front of them on the internet. For example, on Top Sales World we have a whole section called Top Sales Management, where we provide interviews, tips, articles, webinars, and videos – all the materials a sales manager could possibly want!
For sales reps who want to go the management route, they’ve got to start thinking about it before the opportunity arises. The average tenure today of a sales manager is only 18 months. So what happens when they get promoted to that role? Not only are they floundering, but they’re trying to find quick fixes so they can survive. They won’t have time – and they won’t have time to undergo formal training once they have the position. The key is to plan ahead.
3) What’s the difference between a great sales manager and a great Sales VP?
It’s a completely different set of skills. The VP of Sales takes a corporate view and the sales manager takes a more focused, internal sales team view. The VPs of Sales that I’ve trained had had a much wider commercial bandwidth than sales managers – they’re in tune not only with what’s going on in their company, but also what’s going on in their industry. They’re commercially astute, financially astute, and politically astute. Your average sales manager shouldn’t be rushed into a role that deals with a lot of those advanced issues.
4) What can sales managers do right now to improve their sales coaching?
I think sales managers need to understand their individual sales reps better and cater their sales coaching to individual needs. Right now, I see many sales managers coaching their whole team on subjects that aren’t relevant to their individual salespeople. In order to be able to coach effectively, they need to understand each, unique member of their team – what motivates them, what their ambitions are, what their strengths and weaknesses are – and then work on remedial action with each individual. Unless it’s a short coaching session with the sales team, which I always support, coaching should be totally relevant.
What I’ve found is that the salespeople who really need coaching are not only the ones that are floundering, but rather, the ones that have potential. High-fliers don’t need coaching as much as they need direction and support.
5) How should sales managers balance one-on-one training and group training?
Every sales team is different. Like I said before, you can conduct group coaching on specific topics, but perceived gaps in the education of individual salespeople need to be addressed individually. There’s absolutely no point in giving a session on presentation techniques when 60% of the sales team can already present more than capably. Yes, they might pick up a few tips – but it really isn’t a good investment of their time. Making external calls with individual members of your sales team on a fairly regular basis and observing strengths and weaknesses is absolutely valuable.
6) How can a Sales VP measure the impact of sales training and development investments?
Much more easily than you’d think. First, think about what your specific objectives are. If your salespeople weak on price negotiation, for example, you’ll want to help them improve their negotiation skills. That’s a clear objective, and at the end of a given period, it can be measured. Unfortunately, far too few sales training companies agree on front-end objectives that would allow results to be benchmarked against those agreed-upon objectives. So make sure you choose a sales training company who is not just there to pick up a paycheck – you want to work with a company that’s prepared to share the risk and to work professionally.
7) How can salespeople become better commercial networkers? Is social selling the answer?
First, you have to understand why you’re networking. Second, ask yourself what you hope to achieve by it. And third, figure out how you can measure the results. If you’re relevant and focused when networking, then it can work for you.
We’re all being bombarded by this need to become more socially aware, and we’re running with it because it’s the thing to do. I think far too few people actually stand back and say, “Why am I on this social media site? What’s the return on my investment? What’s the return on my company’s investment?” The most important question anyone should ask themselves before they start tweeting like mad or spending hours and hours on LinkedIn is: “Where are my customers and prospects spending their time online?”
The whole point of commercial networking is to gain incremental business and to stay in touch with your existing clients. And if you’re doing it for any other reason, it begs the question, “Why?” If you’re there to gain notoriety, to publish articles and improve your image, then fine – as long as at the end of the day, that’s bringing you incremental revenue.
8) Do you think sales managers should hire salespeople with very similar characteristics as their current top salespeople?
I do think it’s possible, in certain industries, to create a DNA of a successful sales professional if you look at your top performers. Observe their characteristics, figure out why they’re successful and how they’ve been successful, and you can try to create a single profile.
But the difficulty with that is that there is no one way to sell. Any training company that says there is only one way to sell is talking out of their bottom, quite frankly. No one can tell us there’s only one way to sell – we have to find the selling style that suits us. What works for one personality and one salesperson will not necessarily work for another. So I think it’s possible to create a template looking at attitude, skills, process and knowledge, but I think you need to be a little bit cautious and make sure to make allowances for individual personality and characteristics.
9) Let’s talk a little bit about these characteristics. Which ones do you think sales managers should look for when hiring new sales reps?
If you look at the top 5% of achievers in the world, they are working from this formula: attitude, skills, process and knowledge.
When you have the right attitude and are motivated, you’re more likely to be willing to embrace the skills you need and to accept that sales training isn’t a one-off event. Sales skills change – they’ve changed in the last 3 years, and have certainly been changing for the last 100, and they will continue to change. The rate of change and acceleration is increasing, not decreasing.
So if you’ve got the right attitude and you embrace the skills you need on an ongoing basis, then you are more likely to adopt processes and the process tools that keep you on track and give you control. You can’t control external events if you don’t have control internally. That’s a fact. You’ve got to be prepared to use sales tools.
Finally, knowledge. I don’t mean product knowledge – that should be a given for any salesperson. What I mean instead is that buyers today typically are not interested in you, your company, your past success, your medals, your achievements or anything else. What they’re interested in before they begin to create a symbiotic relationship with you is what you, your product and your company can do for them.
10) You’re currently accepting nominations for your Top Sales World contest. What are judges looking for in finalists?
People can make nominations until the end of September. In October, the judges will create the finalists, and then we’ll announce the category winners and the overall winner at the Top Sales Convention in November.
We’ll have a formal checklist including 12 key characteristics, which we’re coming up with now. We’ll be looking for attitude, skills, knowledge, process, and use of sales tools.
We’re looking for professionals who have got the right attitude, that are motivated, that have been properly trained, and that are still experiencing ongoing training.
We’re looking for salespeople that have an index knowledge not only of their products, but knowledge of their industry, their sector, their competitors, their own company, and themselves.
We’re looking at their selling process – and in the process section, I’ve added social media and social selling because I think it’s critical today. Forward-thinking sales professionals have embraced social media in most instances.
Finally, we’re looking for the adoption and acceptance and the proper usage of sales tools, sales solutions.
The judges will interview the nominees online using video conferencing. We’re all looking forward to it.
11) Finally, how is the sales industry changing? Where do you see it evolving in the next 5 years?
I think that a lot of sales visionaries in the sales space at the moment are suffering from temporary blindness. They don’t actually want to accept how the sales environment is evolving. And even if they did want to accept it, it’s probably not good for their business.
About 12 years ago, I did wonder whether or not face-to-face selling would endure, or whether eventually it would disappear, replaced by technology and inside sales teams. I don’t believe that now. Relationship selling isn’t dead, but it just doesn’t happen anymore in the first meeting or the second meeting or the third meeting – it takes time to create.
More and more sales solutions are becoming commoditized. Think of all the things that you used to go to a shop to buy that you now buy online. All these smart business owners are taking their sales teams inside to save themselves $100,000+ per year per head. So, more likely than not, they’ll wake up one morning and think, “Hold on a minute. Do I actually need an inside sales professional? My product and solution has become so commoditized that now, I just need order takers. And order takers only cost me $35,000 a year!” So actually, they could save themselves another $30,000 per head. Then go another 5-7 years into the future: those same business owners might wake up again and think the selling part is becoming redudant as long as they have 3 important divisions in place: marketing creating leads, a good technical support back-up team, and a customer team to care about customer retention.
More about Jonathan Farrington
Jonathan Farrington is a globally recognized business coach, mentor, author and sales thought leader, who has guided hundreds of companies and thousands of individuals around the world toward optimum performance levels. He is the Senior Partner at Jonathan Farrington & Associates, based in London and Paris, and also the CEO of Top Sales World. Visit his blog here.