Developing Super Salespeople
Dave Kurlan started his professional sales career selling knives door to door in 1973. Of course, says the Massachusetts sales-development expert, “You couldn’t do that now!”
But for someone serious about honing his sales skills, it was a great experience, as was his later foray into retail sales as the owner of a store selling expensive, electronic musical instruments and equipment.
Nowadays, Kurlan is using what he’s learned during a sales and sales management career that spans more than two decades to assist everyone from Fortune 500 firms to smaller, growing companies in 150 industries.
UNDERSTANDING THE SALES FORCE
Kurlan’s specialty is understanding salespeople – their strengths and weaknesses, what makes them tick.
His ground-breaking work in evaluating sales professionals uses Objective Management Group’s Sales Candidate Assessment®, an evaluation process conducted by his firm, the Objective Management Group Inc. in Southboro.
But as important as these evaluations are in his work, Kurlan’s sales expertise wasn’t always confined to this discipline. His first company, of which he is still president, is a sales training firm called David Kurlan & Associates, Inc.
As he recalls, he decided to concentrate heavily on evaluating the sales force back in 1989 because “I got frustrated with certain aspects of sales training: It was corrupted by the nontrainable salespeople we were forced to work with. I knew if we could keep them out, the training would work better.
So his evaluation method was born. And it has proven to be such an effective too, in fact, that approximately 150 other sales training firms nationwide require their clients to go through Kurlan’s process before they will attempt any training of their own.
Kurlan says company owners like it not only because it reveals an individual’s weaknesses, which can be corrected, but “if a salesperson is found to be untrainable, you will know before you invest thousands of dollars and months of energy.”
How does the evaluation work? In a nutshell, it is designed to be used primarily two ways.
First, it can evaluate an existing sales organization, showing company owners if they have the right people to help them meet their corporate goals. Secondly, it can also be used as a screening device to help the interviewer determine if a sales candidate will succeed.
Kurlan doesn’t rely on psychological testing or skills-based training because he doesn’t believe that they show whether an individual can sell – nor do they fix any problems a person may have that keep him or her from being a super salesperson.
Rather, his firm has identified and measured major and minor characteristics that determine whether or not a salesperson will be able to sell effectively.
To give you some idea of what this entails, here are five classic weaknesses that Kurlan says everyone in sales should be aware of:
Nonsupportive buying habits: This issue is critical, says Kurlan, to a sales force’s success or failure.
Say a salesperson makes his personal purchases based on price, but his company wants him to sell pools on benefits and value, not price. Or say a spa sales associate is a comparison shopper who visits several stores before she makes a major purchase of her own, yet her company wants her to close at the first opportunity.
In both cases there will probably be trouble because the salespeople’s purchase habits are so different from the ones their employers are pushing.
Uneasiness about money: Frankly, some salespeople are a little uncomfortable trying to sell high-ticket merchandise. If big price tags make your salespeople nervous, it’s better to find that out up front because the pool/spa business isn’t for them.
Emotional involvement: Individuals who are unable to remain level-headed under pressure will not hear what their customers are saying and will find it tough to stay in control of the sales process. Regardless of the prospects’ temperaments, it is critical for the salesperson to stay cool in order to close the sale.
Need for approval: People who need strokes and place a great value on popularity will ultimately be disappointed by a career in sales. Conversely, individuals who accept rejection as part of the job and thrive on risk-taking will go far, says Kurlan.
Weak mental reinforcement: We all “play back tapes” in our heads that can either help or hinder us. If, for example, a salesperson tells himself that it’s all right not to go for a close with every likely prospect, says Kurlan, he probably won’t ever win a salesperson of the year award.
So, what would be an effective sales closing for the kind of high-ticket products this industry sells?
Kurlan doesn’t believe a salesperson needs to worry about having a specific strategy or line. “If you just focus on closing techniques,” he cautions, “it will result in customer stalls, putoffs and objections.”
Instead, he suggests, “If you offer a thorough presentation and cover all of the unpleasant topics such as money, competition and time frame, then the close will take care of itself. I could give you the best of the sales-closing techniques, but if you haven’t overcome your weaknesses as a salesperson, it won’t work.”
Kurlan offers sales managers and business owners one last suggestion: “You need to raise your expectations. By that, I mean, demand more from your salespeople in terms of performance and stop accepting excuses.
“When you do that,” he says, “then and only then can you really grow your company.”