Our goal at Building the Sales Machine (BTM) is to enable sales leaders in the tech community to help and learn from each other. We’re all in this boat together, trying to help revolutionary companies disrupt the norm. To make people’s lives easier, better, more fulfilling. We’ll aim to bring some of these great teams, leaders, and strategies to life through our articles, meet-ups, speaking events and interviews.
For today’s Q & A, we’re publishing our discussion with Mark Brooks, the VP of Sales at Likeable, a company that makes social media software for SMBs.
Do you believe you’ve built a metrics driven environment? Whats an example of something you’ve done that other organizations may not have thought of?
Making decisions based on data is a far more effective way to steer a sales team versus relying on anecdotal observations. I’ve found that pushing this concept all the way down to the sales rep level can create a culture of data awareness that makes for a better functioning team. Far too often, the burden of data analysis falls on the shoulders of management. But when data-driven decision making happens even at the lowest level, it not only strengthens the “bench” (future management candidates), but also creates self-aware individual contributors.
A scalable way I’ve found to coach reps how to analyze their own numbers is to open my morning sales meeting with a data analysis session. Before the start of each day, I compile a report of the activity from the day before. Everything from demos set, to close rate, to dials made is included in the report (both for the day and cumulative for the month). I email this data out to the reps before they start their shift. Then at the start of each meeting, I ask them to open up the daily report, take a minute to analyze the data, and to then provide the group with one piece of insight. Hands get raised, and I pick a few reps from the crowd.
At first, the answers are very basic. They’ll typically state the obvious, something like, “We closed a lot of deals yesterday”. I’ll then coach them to tell me something not obvious in the data, to look at the relationship between the numbers, the percentage gains or losses, what trends are setting in, etc. After a few weeks, you’d be surprised at the depth of analysis you’ll get from even your most junior sales reps. This activity not only better prepares them as future leaders, but it also helps them successfully correct their own behavior.
Thoughts on performance management minimums? How do you set the minimum expectations for your org?
Sales reps crave the comfort of knowing what they’re being judged against. No one wants to come to work with the uncertainty of when or why they’d be terminated. There’s a lot of anxiety in this ambiguity, and this anxiety can lead to a lack of trust in management and can directly impact performance. That’s why it’s critical to be consistent and have a published performance management plan that clearly sets forth minimum expectations. More importantly, this performance management plan needs to plainly state the conditions one would need to meet in order to be terminated based on performance.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about minimum expectations is that they should be aligned with “quota” or whatever number you determine is the sales target for each rep. Rather, the minimum performance standard, or “M.P.S.”, should be a number that correlates to “paying for their seat”. The M.P.S. is the number where anything below it would cost the company money to keep the sales rep employed (not including commission/bonus). Once this number is calculated, set forth how many months in a row you’re willing to accept not hitting the M.P.S. as grounds for termination.
In our organization, if a sales person failed to hit their M.P.S. in January, they’d be verbally warned in February. If they failed to hit the M.P.S. in February, they’d be written up on a performance improvement plan (P.I.P.) in March. If they failed to hit in March, they’d be terminated. Three months in a row of sub-standard performance and you’re out. If they hit the M.P.S. in any of those three months, the “clock” would reset.
Using this model makes it easy and justifiable to quickly flush out poor performers from the organization. And because the M.P.S. is typically low enough as to be easily achievable by the average rep, it will give the bulk of your team the illusion of job security, which frees their mind to focus on producing.
What interactions / meetings should managers be having with their reps and why?
It’s always important to strike a balance between supporting your sales people and allowing them to “fail forward” on their own. But I believe that at minimum, a manager should have five basic types of interactions with their reps.
One, I think it’s important to have a morning meeting every day before they start selling. This meeting is used to set the tone and can be as quick as five to ten minutes, but never more than half an hour. I like to review any company information that needs to be disseminated, to recognize outstanding performances from the prior day, and to motivate them to take on the coming day with energy and confidence.
Second, there’s a lot of value in having at least one weekly sales training session, focused on correcting a behavior your data shows needs improvement from the prior week. I like conducting this training on Wednesdays after lunch as it’s a great way to break up the week.
Third, managers absolutely need to engage in something called “floor time”. This is the act of actively shadowing your reps on their sales calls and providing insightful feedback in real-time. In reality, this should eat up the majority of a manager’s day and increases the buy-in from the reps as they see the manager “in the trenches” with them.
Fourth, I like to have a standing one-on-one at the beginning of the month with each rep to discuss the previous month’s performance, their development priorities moving forward, and what their goals are for the coming sales month.
Lastly, I also think it’s important to encourage an “open-door policy”. If sales reps know you can be approached with any issue or problem without fear of judgment or reprisal, it creates the trust necessary to solve problems and optimize performance.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from a mentor?
Something that always stuck with me was the advice that “perception is reality”. This simple truth permeates so much of what it takes to be an effective leader at all levels. At the core, leading is about getting other people to follow you, and a lot of that has to do with how you are perceived.
It is often the case that what you know and believe to be true in your own head is not how a peer, boss, or subordinate perceives the situation. That’s why it’s important to actively nurture the perception you want others to have of you. And quite frankly, acknowledging the fact that perception is reality also adds an intriguing political dimension to your day-to-day activities.
For instance, when dealing with my own boss, I try to cultivate the perception of being organized, reliable, and in control. I am conscious of making meetings on time, sending daily updates without being asked, and proactively explaining how I plan to course-correct if the need arises.
With my reps, I try to cultivate the perception of trust, empathy, and confidence in their ability. I am conscious to constantly recognize outstanding performance, to relate stories of what it was like when I was in their shoes, and to be patient while they build the right habits.
Being aware of how you are perceived not only enhances the buy-in from your staff, but it also plays a key role in supporting your own career advancement.
Most interesting thing you’ve learned about your sales team from looking at the numbers?
One of the most interesting things I learned about my sales team from looking at their data was something I dubbed “the lemming effect”. The team itself was rather mature and had been working with each other for a while. On days where activity was excellent, everyone had made a ton of dials and almost everyone had made a sale. Unfortunately, the problem was that whenever we had a poor day, almost all of the reps had made a relatively low amount of dials and few if any sales were made.
What was interesting to see was that, for better or worse, my team was no longer a group of individuals, but actually moved and acted together like lemmings. They fed off each other’s energy and this snow-ball effect had a material impact on results.
That’s when I decided to designate a sales rep as the daily “C.E.O.”, or “chief energy officer”. I would rotate the designation and this person’s job was to be the model of high energy, to encourage the group when activity was low, and to lead the charge by example. Each daily C.E.O. was given creative license to come up with different ways to motivate the group on the floor, and before long, the team was able to consistently work itself out of having collective slumps.
What do you think of cold calling? Should sales teams still be using it?
Far too many companies poorly prepare their sales reps for the realities of cold calling. They hire “customer-service types” that don’t have the mental toughness for the task. They avoid explaining the danger of taking rejection personally and more often than not, they fail to provide them with a script. The end result is always the same: quick hang-ups and dejected sales reps. This lack of planning can lead organizations to declare that cold calling is dead.
But the reality is that cold calling is, and can still be, a very effective way to win new business. The problem with cold calling is that, in a lot of ways, it’s a “lost art”. Without understanding the psychology of what it’s like to make a cold call, and more importantly what it’s like to receive one, it can be very difficult to effectively scale out an outbound strategy.
The key to successful cold calling is three-fold. First, you have to have a hiring profile that targets aggressive “hunters” with a personality that can take rejection with a grain of salt.
Second, you can’t tell your reps that cold-calling is a “necessary evil”. While it’s essential to be forthright about the challenges, it’s more important to relate how amazing it is to create value from nothing. Keeping them positive is half the battle.
Lastly, you need to develop a script that will allow your reps to control the situation and create the illusion of a natural conversation. For instance, by asking a low-risk question at the beginning of the call, something like, “can you help me out with something?”, you can dramatically increase the likelihood of explaining your purpose and finding the right person to speak to.
Climbing the decision tree at that point is a matter of being diligent about following up with decision makers and being brief and clear with your value proposition and intentions. There are a lot of nuances and tricks to increase the rate of success, but at the end of the day, cold calling is a numbers game. If your sales hiring profile targets hunters, you maintain positivity in the face of obvious challenges, and you have a scripted, scalable plan in place, cold calling can become a major driver of revenue growth.
Mark Brooks is the VP of Sales at Likeable Local, a New York City-based social media software solution for small business owners. Before joining Likeable, Mark spent three and a half years as a Director of Sales Operations scaling out an internet marketing business venture for Rogers Communications in Toronto, Ontario. Prior to Rogers, Mark got his start in SaaS-based marketing models with Yodle. Mark is a die-hard Yankees fan, and has discovered the solution to a long, taxing week of work is a pint of craft beer.
You can find him on Linkedin here.