The Lucky Companies
by Dave Kurlan
Reprinted from the Winter 1995 issue of Smart Selling
Many companies don’t know just how lucky they are. Sales go up and they think they’re doing something right. New accounts are opened and they think they outsold their competition. Existing accounts expand and they think they own that customer. In reality, these good things often happen because a competitor did something wrong or a company’s lowest price was lower than their competitor’s best price. Hardly things to brag about. The true ineffectiveness of the sales organization often goes unnoticed as these occurrences have a blinding effect on management. Managers focus on positive outcomes that aren’t occurring for the reasons they believe. They often ignore the negative outcomes which, in reality, hold the key to future growth.
What if managers looked at what wasn’t happening instead of what was? What if they realized how few appointments were being scheduled with new prospects? What if they knew how ineffective their salespeople were during their first meeting with new prospects? What if they saw how many unqualified quotes and proposals were being prepared just because a prospect asked for one? What if they realized how many valuable company resources were being used in the process? What if they recognized how ineffective their salespeople were when it came to closing business on any point other than price?
Management regularly looks at the total sales for the period to date compared to last year. That’s very misleading because on the whole, the economy is up and most industries are up. So rather than seeing that their market share hasn’t increased, rather than seeing that their margins haven’t gone up, they see that sales are up and slap themselves on the back! When management comes to grips with the reality of their sales organization they are faced with questions that they normally wouldn’t have to answer.
Why are my salespeople this ineffective? Why don’t they do what we ask them to do? Why do they waste so much time? Why aren’t they asking better questions? Why aren’t they making enough calls? Why do they continue calling on people who don’t want to do business with us? Why don’t those people want to do business with us? What did the salespeople do wrong? Why does it take so long for them to close? Why are the margins going down? Why are they so complacent? Why aren’t they closing more sales? Why aren’t they opening more new accounts? Why are they loosing accounts?
The problem is that even if management learns to ask the right questions, the answers are very difficult to come by. They can look at spreadsheets and see the numbers – the history – but they won’t see any answers in those spreadsheets. So how does one go about finding the answers to these questions? How does management know whether they have the right salespeople to grow their company? How do they learn which salespeople could be selling two to three times more than they’re selling right now? How do they determine what kind of support to provide in order to get the right people producing two to three times better? Evaluate the sales organization.
Evaluations aren’t new, although there are new ways to use them. Companies traditionally used tests to screen sales candidates. Traditional tests were often psychological, personality, aptitude or behavioral based, most of those failing to accurately indicate whether a salesperson really would sell as opposed to might sell. Recent work by Dave Kurlan, of the Objective Management Group, Inc., in Southboro Massachusetts has changed all that. His candidate screenings, customized for a client’s business, accurately predict whether or not a candidate will bring in the business. They even tell you what kind of training help a successful candidate will require in order to improve!
Corporate users swear by them, especially after they make the mistake of not following the advice provided at the end of the recommendation. Those who they hire against the recommendation of Kurlan usually fail within three months while those hired according to his recommendation regularly rise to the top of the organization in record time.
That’s great you say, but what about the people I already have? Kurlan created a more advanced evaluation for existing salespeople. First they are evaluated individually and then the results are integrated to form an evaluation of the entire sales organization. The results clearly communicate the changes which management must make in order to get the most from the existing organization. Management can expect a lot of commentary that they might not have wanted to hear, rather than traditional, sugar coated reports without substance. In the end, they’ll have the answers to all the questions they finally learned to ask – and more! They’ll know which people are the right people for the future, how to help them realize their growth potential, and how much growth to expect. They’ll understand the changes that must be made to their hiring criteria in order to attract, hire and retain stronger salespeople. And they’ll know from which people will fail to grow any further.
Companies don’t have to move forward with blinders on. There are powerful navigational tools which can help them see in the dark, find answers that are hidden deep below the surface and provide solutions to problems which they themselves have yet to recognize. Your company can have a leading edge sales organization as easily as a leading edge product or technology. It may be even more important than your product or technology.