Sales Professionals Gone Wrong

Bad sales tactics are everywhere, despite the abundance of training available to sales professionals. Positively reinforcing good behaviors just doesn’t seem to be enough to keep bad habits out of the business.

If we don’t address the problems, they will never go away. So, in hopes of removing bad habits from sales professionals’ repertoire, I wanted to share a few that I consider to be among the worst:

  • Talking at someone until they buy. I’m not talking about persistence or well-timed follow ups; I’m talking about badgering someone until they buy just to make you go away. This practice is not uncommon among sales people. Notice I used the word “people” and not “professional.” Someone who talks at a prospect until they buy is the furthest thing from a sales professional. It is an amateur move in my book. Talking a customer’s ear off will not make their need for the product more urgent. It will, however, make them walk in the other direction.
  • Handing off your prospect to a “closer” or third party. A word of advice, if a customer does not want to buy the product from you, they will probably not want to buy it from somebody else. Handing off your prospect is a waste of your time and theirs.
  • Lack of or too much follow-up. Do not bombard a client with follow up calls. But don’t forget about them, either. Without the right follow-up techniques, potential sales will be lost – especially if the customer feels like they’re being treated like a one-time commodity.

I’d love to hear from you about other bad sales habits that need to be eradicated from practice.

Are sales professionals more than just people who sell?

Something that has been on my mind lately is the difference between a “true” sales professional and someone who merely sells something. Some may say that there is no difference; that their end goal is the same and therefore they are all sales professionals.

I beg to differ.

I hear the same words used repeatedly when describing a sales professional—passion, ethics, trust, knowledge. None of these words are mentioned in relation to someone who is merely selling.

Someone recently posted this very question on LinkedIn, to which one individual replied:  “A true sales person has a passion, not just for selling, but for doing things the right way with a high ethical standard that stays around even after the sale is closed and the ink is dry. They will take a true consultative approach and conduct a needs analysis to find out what the client or potential client really needs and find a tailored solution to not only fit that need, but to fit a budget as well.”

That really hits the nail on the head. True sales professionals – the A Players – aren’t driven purely by the desire to earn bigger commissions; they are driven by a desire to meet and exceed their customers’ expectations.  The client relationship is of the highest importance.

On the other hand, we have the person who is merely selling. It isn’t about ethics, passion or customer relationships. It’s about money.  They put the commission above all else, including the needs of their clients.  Unlike sales pros, “sellers” pay no heed to whether the product or service will actually benefit the prospect they’re pitching; there is no trusted relationship and no interest in cultivating one.

Sellers vs. sales professionals – what do you think?

Motivating Sales Professionals during Uncertain Economic Times

This week’s guest blogger is Jennifer C. Loftus, national director for Astron Solutions, a New York-based consulting firm dedicated to the delivery of sales compensation consulting services.

For years, cash has been king.  Who doesn’t know a sales professional who regularly earns six-figure commissions?  That high performer might even be you!  Incentive compensation and sales commissions historically have been the primary tools used to recognize and reward sales success.

However, with today’s economic climate, most sales professionals will not enjoy the large pay gains for performance compensation they did in previous years.  The Alexander Group, Inc., a well-known sales growth consulting firm, predicts sales compensation pay will increase just 4% this year. With escalating food and gas prices whittling away at that increase, a sales commission plan quickly loses its desired motivational impact.

What can we do to ensure organization success and continued motivation during these uncertain economic times?

Adopt a total rewards perspective that focuses on more than just base pay and commission for sales representatives.

The concept of total rewards is simple.  Sales managers have many tools at their disposal for employee reward and recognition, and they aren’t all about base pay, bonuses, and benefits.  Today’s proactive managers use all five elements of total rewards – pay; benefits; work/life balance; performance and recognition; and development and career opportunities – to attract, retain, and motivate their teams.  When combined, these five elements provide many non-cash opportunities to motivate and retain great employees.

Non-cash total rewards can effectively recognize specific behaviors necessary for success, while avoiding a negative effect on the department’s bottom line.  By using non-cash rewards, managers can also avoid possible negative impacts on cash flow and increases to departmental fixed costs, and enjoy greater flexibility for customizing a package to reach each team member’s motivational sweet spot.

Moving beyond formal cash compensation programs also allows managers to recognize success faster.  Many sales pros like this quick response time. To Generation X and Y team members in particular, waiting six months for a commission can seem like a lifetime.

Lastly, depending on the type of non-cash award provided, there may also be little or no income tax implication; music to everyone’s ears.

When developing a total rewards program, it’s important to consider these key principles:

  1. Link program elements to the organization’s strategic plan, mission, and values.  Individual achievement shouldn’t be rewarded if teamwork is a valued behavior. Likewise, using meaningful objectives such as reducing excess inventory, selling higher-margin products, or increasing customer retention will result in the greatest return on investment (ROI) from the program.
  2. Include short- and long-term goals.  Both play an important role in ensuring sustainable organizational success, particularly in a challenging economic climate.
  3. Tailor the program to the team’s specific needs and wants.  For example, while pre-paid gas cards may possess high motivational power for someone in Texas, a New York City resident may instead appreciate a four-day workweek. At the same time, someone in Chicago may prefer cross-training opportunities.  Build a variety of rewards into the toolkit for maximum ROI.
  4. Ensure that line of sight exists between the team’s job duties, goals, and rewards. A sales professional must be able to influence and achieve his/her goals through regular work activities.

What worked in the past isn’t necessarily what will work moving forward.  Cutting edge sales professionals go beyond the traditional base + bonus + benefits mindset to be successful in today’s economy.

By considering all possible compensation elements - total rewards – sales managers open up a world of compensation opportunities that are better tailored to their team’s personal and professional needs, while also attracting, retaining, and motivating the most talented professionals.

Using a total rewards approach ensures a win-win work environment for everyone, even in the most challenging of times.

Quit with the gimmicks!

A friend of mine recently received a card from an advertising agency that had been trying to get her business. It contained a packet of flower seeds and a note that read “We’ll make your business bloom” and included the sales rep’s phone number as the call to action.

Both the card and the seeds were immediately filed away in the trash can – along with any hope that agency had for getting her business.

Was it an attention-getter? Sure. Did it demonstrate a level of creativity? Absolutely. Did it motivate her to finally return the sales rep’s calls? No.

My friend was insulted that the agency believed a tacky mailing would get her to change her mind. She was also annoyed that any company, especially one that wanted her business, would waste money on something that had very little chance of working.

I have yet to hear of anyone who has been swayed by cheesy promotional gimmicks. Mailing out a “penny for your thoughts,” toy truck to “let us drive your business” or a pen emblazoned with your company’s name, logo and phone number will not engage a prospect who doesn’t want to be engaged.

So why do these stupid tactics still rank high on the list of sales techniques? They are nothing more than a waste of time and money, yet they continue to dominate the sales industry – account reps at recruitment firms are particularly guilty.

We need to stop demeaning ourselves and our prospects by using gimmicks. Let’s get back to the sales basics by demonstrating value, establishing trusted relationships and respecting our prospect’s time and intelligence.

There is probably a very good reason your phone calls are not being returned. Top sales pros will figure out what that reason is and find a way to address it, or accept that it may be time to move on to the next prospect in the pipeline.

A packet of seeds, little red fire engine or a baby shoe isn’t going to get you any closer to that deal.

Is walking away from a deal the right way to go?

Over the years, I’ve walked away from a number of deals that were just not a good fit. In some cases, I felt that it would compromise the integrity of my business. Other times, it was clear to me that the client would be too difficult or high-maintenance to make the relationship mutually beneficial.

My track record in these situations is good. Walking away was a smart move financially because resources weren’t wasted on clients that simply could not be pleased. It also spared my team and me a great deal of drama and frustration.

Despite these facts, I am frequently questioned on this stance. I’ve been told that it is weak to reject business because of what might happen, and that I’m just not “hungry” enough if I’m not willing to close every deal regardless of what my gut is screaming.

Curiosity finally got the best of me. I wanted to know where others stood on this issue, so I asked my LinkedIn connections what they thought about turning down business to preserve integrity or avoid sinking too many resources into a difficult client.

When it came to integrity, the responses were pretty clear. “In a choice of integrity vs. the deal, the answer must be integrity. As a sales person your integrity is your only real possession. You must do what you say you will do and advocate for both your client and your company. To do this at the expense of your integrity is to invite a short career in sales,” wrote one respondent.

Another wrote:  “Your client base is a reflection of your company. Working with clients that are questionable in the integrity department can only cause difficulty, even if that difficulty is only angst for you and your company. Work with high integrity clients, and more high integrity clients will follow.”

Turning away difficult clients was a lot less black and white, with most advocating taking it case by case and weighing soft costs against hard dollar revenues.  For instance, one respondent wrote that “it is never a good idea to do business with a difficult customer, if by difficult you mean someone who will not pay timely (or at all), does not generate good referral business, etc. It is a good idea to work with difficult customers if you define difficult as demanding. Demanding is ok. Not paying is quite bad.”

Another noted that “…some difficult clients are just challenges, while others will tear teams apart, causing emotional wreckage that will be far more costly in the long run. I tend to side on what the effect will be on our teams (long-term view), rather than the (short-term) instant gratification of a signed contract.”

And finally, “You need to do the dollars. If the deal is still profitable to a level acceptable to the company taking a look at increased customer service needs which are added into the contract, then it’s the responsibility of the company to do the deal…Not everyone is going to be the dream client. As a matter of fact, a tough client keeps you sharp. It’s not integrity that would drive someone to saying ‘no’ to a tough client. It’s ego. Remove the ego and you can get back to the business of doing business.”

What do you think?