In this first entry of our new monthly feature, Featured Company Q&A, Brian Kisslak, Vice President of Sales, AccuWeather, shares how his company weathered the economic storms of 2009 and his strategies for building and managing a top sales team.
1. What do you enjoy most about working for AccuWeather?
AccuWeather is unique. We compete in so many different industries and have specialized sales teams focused on each one. I enjoy the diversity of each day, as well as the exposure and learning opportunities that come with managing a diverse sales organization across our portfolio of products.
2. What unique quality separates AccuWeather from your competitors?
There are so many aspects that make AccuWeather different. Our success is due in large part to the quality people on our team and strong work ethic prominent throughout our entire company. Our creative energy and expertise in technology is combined with a passion for winning. This combination serves us well in today’s fast-pace business environment. We are also a global sales organization; our willingness to hop on a plane in a moment’s notice and adapt our products and business models to a new global opportunity truly sets us apart.
3. We are all coming off of a challenging year, how has AccuWeather handled it?
We are very close to hitting our growth targets for the year. We are also uniquely poised to take advantage of all the good things that will occur when this economy opens up. We are constantly evaluating our focus and implementing changes to take advantage of opportunity in the market.
4. What would you like SalesJournal.com readers to know about AccuWeather?
We are a company that most likely touches your readers every day in some way. From Disney, CBS, ABC, CNN and Fox News to the NFL and Big Ten Network, as well as hundreds of local newspapers, radio and TV stations, we serve weather information to the world. AccuWeather competes in a highly complicated world of technology that lives on web sites, Blackberries, iPhones and other smart phones. The AccuWeather team works very hard to deliver products that save lives and make a difference. The next time you need weather information, sample an AccuWeather forecast.
5. What specific goals, including those related to your specific position within the company, have you established for 2010?
We recently opened a new office in Manhattan and will soon be expanding to London. The opportunities (domestic and international) and planned growth must be carefully managed. My energy in 2010 will be focused on achieving revenue and profitability targets by improving all that we do in our sales organization. Close it earlier, close it faster and close it smarter.
6. What creative strategies have you used to encourage/influence your sales team?
I have “mixed things up” by asking my executive sales directors to encourage change in regards to their sales teams’ account and product assignments. By doing so, the salespeople are becoming more complete in their approach and better able to construct customer solutions that cross multiple product lines. I have also focused on investing more in consultative and needs based sales training initiatives. Finally, there is nothing like a positive attitude when it comes to influencing people.
7. What is your favorite methodology in sales training and/or business enhancement?
Sales and the science of selling continue to change for me. My favorite methodology 10 years ago now seems out of date. I have taken the best of the best and work to make sense of it all. A balance between reading, formal training and live field focus on sales skills seem to work best for the organizations I have managed. Study them all I say.
8. Are there any books, sales related or leadership related, that you use as a guide and/or wouldrecommend?
There are a ton of great books out there. A few that stand out are:
- Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
- Spin Selling, Neil Rackham
- Selling the Invisible, Harry Beckwith
- Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds
- Selling to Big Companies, Jill Conrath
9. Do you have a mentor that you contribute your leadership success to? Do you feel it is important to have a mentor?
I have been fortunate to have worked for several extremely talented and bright CEOs, presidents and leaders in my career. Each one “mentored” me in a different way and on different aspects of my career growth. I don’t have one mentor today. I do, however, have a handful of people I trust to provide advice.
10. What sales advice do you have to offer our readers?
No matter your title, your personality, or your career…if you are alive, you are selling. So as long as you are selling, always remember: Do it right (learn the science of selling). Do it often (practice makes perfect). And do it now!
11. When you hire, how do candidates stand out in order to be selected to help with the growth of the company?
This one is a tough one. There is no recipe for what I look for in a candidate. It has so much to do with the easy stuff such as the experience, resume and prep work for the interview. But in the end it often comes down to something I call “personality chemistry.” I like to hire people who show obvious passion and take an honest approach. They must have both emotional intelligence and common sense along with a drive and desire to compete and win! Above all, they must be able to communicate all of the above in a likeable and crisp approach
12. What characteristics do you look for in a sales professional?
All of the above.
13. Do you feel a sales professional must have experience in the industry they are selling in order to be successful?
I most cases, absolutely not!
I am a good example of what can be accomplished if you put your mind to something. I spent most of my career based in New York City managing sales organizations in the commercial building products and commercial furniture industries. I decided to look for a new and more exciting career in the technology arena post Sept 11th. I felt a strong drive to be in an industry and with a company that offered a blend between media and technology. Dr. Joel Myers, president and founder of AccuWeather, hired me in early 2002 — with no experience in media, commercial weather or advertising — to manage the different sales forces. After a lot of hard work and learning, I gained the specific knowledge to grow the different organizations. If you don’t have industry experience, you must possess drive and a desire for constant learning, as well as a solid base of business principles. Oh yeah… you also need the sales skills to sell someone to hire you without any experience in the field you are targeting!
14. If an individual or the team as a whole is not meeting goals, what is your approach to nurture this?
The first task at hand is to understand why the goals are not being met. There might be extreme reasons in the market that are causing poor performance, such as product obsolescence or a technology advance by the competition. If, however, the reasons are based on skill-set or “choice issues,” then the steps are easy to define, not necessarily easy to accomplish. By the way, “choice issues” occur when an individual chooses not to be driven in their approach or chooses not to execute at a particular level. But let’s assume in this case that the reason the goals are not being met relate to the sales skills of an individual. I would not say that I take a “nurturing” approach. However, I do train, mentor, demonstrate, role-play and train some more in an effort to improve the quality of the sales approach throughout the entire sales cycle.
I also find that many goals are not met because sales people frequently forget that most of what we do in sales centers on the fact that we are all people. It still amazes me that I have to urge sales people to connect with others (customers). It is too easy for a sales person to only connect via email today. Salespeople have to focus on face-time and the quality of the face-time.
15. How much time do you need to know if a new sales hire will “make it”? What are some indicators/behaviors?
Everyone is different. I have hired top-guns that did not make it. I have also hired young professionals and recent college grads that made it to the stage for the annual awards within a few months. The three best indicators to success for me are intelligence, drive and the ability to learn (and implement from that learning) quickly. If you introduce me to a person who possesses these three qualities, I will show you a person who can win.