“Questions from the Field" asks top sales performance leaders – practitioners and consultants, authors and solution providers – to share their expertise on building smarter, more confident sales teams.


What piece of advice would you give to a newly promoted sales manager in his/her first role leading a team?

My advice to a newly promoted sales manager would be to take a deep breath, brace yourself and get ready for an interesting ride. Seriously, making the “pivot” from sales rep to sales manager is arguably one of the most challenging ones to make in a sales executives career. There are different skills required and a different mindset that needs to be considered – getting work done through others as opposed to doing it all yourself (which may have worked very well for the star sales rep). Understand and appreciate that it is a different job and skillset that will take time to learn. Seek out training, get recommendations on a couple of good sales management books, subscribe to a few good sales blogs and seek out mentors in the organization who may be able to help. Ok, that may be more than one piece of advice, but it’s an area I'm pretty passionate about.

Thinking back over your career, what would you rank as the biggest/most important innovation in sales and/or sales training?

I am a fan of incorporating social selling tools into the traditional sales process – in other words it’s not about Social Selling completely changing sales, but I think tools like LinkedIn have already changed the way we research our prospects and customers, connect with professionals in our industry and interact on a daily basis. There is information available within a few clicks of a mouse that used to take hours of research or subscriptions to proprietary data sources to collect. I’m also excited about ‘practical” mobile solutions for selling – not ones that are just pushed to the phone because it sounds like a good feature, but ones that help the rep be more effective and improve their selling skills. Sales reinforcement programs that present scenario-based challenges, and on-demand eLearning fall into this category.

What’s the biggest/most common sales challenge your clients/colleagues are facing this year, and how are you helping them address it?

With the improving economy and projected growth of sales teams, one of the biggest challenges we see is onboarding new reps in an efficient, cost effective way. The cost of having a sales position sit unfilled can be quite costly, but not nearly as expensive as filling it with the wrong resource who is not set up to be successful in that position. An effective onboarding program includes hiring the right type of rep for the position, training them appropriately, setting expectations for performance and coaching them for success. If we can improve this process, we can mitigate risk while reducing the time it takes them to start delivering at quota.

What’s the one thing you wish all your clients/colleagues were doing (that they aren’t today) and why?

I wish that more of our clients and colleagues were listening more and broadcasting less. It may seem trite, but listening is a fundamental skill for any sales professional, and unfortunately we find that many reps don’t do it well. Even though they know they should listen more, they tend to be so busy crafting their response and delivering their message that they don’t take the time to really listen to their customers and prospects.

We need to ask more open-ended questions and then be quiet long enough for the customer to process an answer and respond. Many reps jump in with another question or a statement in an attempt to fill the awkward silence – and they lose the chance to really learn what’s on the customer’s mind. The customer will tell you the answer if you are quiet long enough to hear it - and they will tell you what you need to do to win the deal if you really listen to them.

What’s the toughest question you received from a client/colleague this year?

When discussing sales training programs, a difficult question we frequently get is “how do I really make this sales program stick?" Clients are really trying to maximize the return they get from an investment of sales training, and there is widespread recognition that the “one and done” training workshops don’t result in real behavior change. Our response is that a true selling skills program to be successful, it needs to include strong executive sponsorship and management involvement before, during and after the training. Interval reinforcement, skill application, eLearning and sales coaching activities need to be incorporated into the overall plan to encourage adoption of the new skills over a period of time. There’s no magic bullet, it takes time and effort to change behaviors.

Have you had a professional mentor who was especially influential in your career? If yes, what lessons or advice have proven to be most impactful for you?

I have belonged to several executive groups over the years and participate in a weekly one-on-one with my Vistage chair. A professional coach or mentor can go along way to helping cut through any smoke screen or excuses and help keep you on task toward personal and professional growth. My biggest take away is to embrace the process – lay the issues and challenges out there and then be willing to listen to the advice and experience from others who may have a different perspective and more experience than I do. You have to be willing to be a bit vulnerable, which can be uncomfortable for executives that are used to being confident and infallible.

Are there sales/training leaders you feel are doing an exceptional job in their organization/market? Why and what can their peers, specifically, learn from them?

I’m presently writing a book with Steve Andersen, founder and president of Performance Methods, Inc. Steve has the deepest understanding of the long-term relationships between customers and their suppliers I’ve seen. PMI’s stellar record of customer success is a tribute to what they have accomplished. Steve’s is a team to be admired.

What social media platforms do you use regularly, and, of these, which one do you find to be the most useful in your professional life?

As noted above, I think LinkedIn is a game changer and we’re just starting to tap the full potential for selling. I also use Twitter to track key in influencers and more timely information.

If your sales philosophy were a movie, what would the title be?

I recently watched “McFarland, USA” about the unlikely running coach in a small central California town who transforms a group of runners into a championship cross country team. In sales and in distance running, it’s a lot about showing up, doing the hard work and being willing to tough it out to the end of the race. I wish there were more shortcuts and magic bullets, but as the movie demonstrated it’s often grit and determination that wins. Whether it’s making prospecting calls or delivering a competitive sales presentation, Sales is often about who works harder and wants the win.

What’s the best sales or business book you read this year?

I had an opportunity to hear Dr. Gustavo Grodnitzky speak at an executive event recently and really enjoyed his book Culture Trumps Everything. His work on organizational culture is fascinating, and from a sales team perspective it’s very relevant. Even for sales people I completely agree with his philosophy, “People work harder for cause than for cash. Purpose supersedes pay.”

Ray Makela oversees all client engagements for Sales Readiness Group (SRG) as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.

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