Success And Failure word on Signpost isolated on blue background

The One Sales Leadership Rule That Cannot be Broken!

There are not many simple rules in sales leadership that you can ALWAYS rely on. Here’s one of them… Great sales leaders know how to consistently find, select and hire top 20% sales candidates. It’ simple, great teams are made of great people! I know I’ve tried to build something big and got stuck before I could take off because of my poor hiring practices. Honestly, I was a bit naive. The scary part is that you can have all the other attributes to be a great leader, but if you miss it here you can’t really make up for it. Hiring well is the fastest track to a relatively stress-free management life that makes you look great in the meanwhile. I remember the new sense of controlling my destiny, in a very chaotic environment.  It was just what I needed to get where I was trying to go.

Think about this quote, what could this mean to your business? I will personally vouch for this; I’ve seen this kind of result over and over again.

“The top 20% of sales people produce 120% more than average, the top 4% produce 250% more than average.”

-Geoff Smart, Topgrading

I’ve seen a top 4% performer come in and change everything by showing what can be done. You don’t get those folks all the time, but when you do, it’s a total game changer… The team is lifted, new standards are set, and the future truly does take on a new perspective.  

Here’s the rub on sales recruiting without a strategy and a process in place. Today nearly 60% of 1 million salespeople recently surveyed are under quota, failing in their role, unhappy with their job and costing their organizations substantially. These represent most of the sales candidates that are in the market looking for a new job. No wonder it is so easy to make a bad sales hire.  A big part of the puzzle is to avoid letting underperforming candidates enter your interview pool. I have numbers that suggest you will become 368% better just by doing this! 

Remember there are just 2 types of candidates out there:

  • Those who have the right sales DNA, motivation and right fit sales experience for your role; and 
  • Those who do not. 

The top 20% have the right sales DNA to execute well in a live selling environment when the pressure is on to do the right things. Secondly, they have the motivation to do some of the less glamorous and difficult things required to be successful (prospecting comes to mind here) and must have the selling competencies required to execute. Here are some of those required competencies: 

  • The ability to ask tough penetrating questions, without fear of hearing the word ‘no”;  
  • The ability to control emotions in a difficult moment;  
  • Money perception (can they sell multimillion dollar deals and not sell on price);  
  • Rejection strength;  
  • Positive outlook;  
  • Lack of excuse-making when obstacles present themselves (and they will); and  
  • Commitment to doing the hard things.  

These are a few of the selling competencies that separate those who are the best (top 20%) from those who are not. 

It can be difficult to measure some of these things in an interview process because many of these high performing selling traits are hidden from view.  Here’s the big trick… having a strategy, a process, and the tools to uncover these hidden success traits, before you hire them!  If you’re interested, here’s a 5-minute read on hidden weakness and sales DNA, take a look here. It’s eye-opening! 

Consistently recruiting top talent is an art and a science and most importantly it’s easy to learn and immediately actionable. 

Until next time, stay shrewd my friends. 



sticky notes on wall

Enterprise Sales Executive Hires – 4 Absolutes Must Haves

1. Personal Presence

This can mean so many different things.  So here’s what really matters in this instance… how would they be received with your best prospect?  An Enterprise Sales Executive (ESE) should be involved in finding, managing, and closing million-dollar deals which means they will need to be talking the executive suite.  Therefore, who should that person be?  Do they have executive presence? Do they give off a believable and trustworthy vibe?  How is their articulation?  Is there a calm confidence? Do they get rattled easily?  There are also six hidden sales weakness that can derail someone’s ability to successfully operate in this kind of higher-level sales environment.   

2. Opportunity Qualification

 Ultimately the ESE needs to qualify and find million-dollar strategic problems that your solution can solve. Do they understand how to talk business strategy with decision makers to uncover those strategic problems? Are they able to effectively set up a meeting with the right people and set objectives?  If not, you will be paying someone to waste their time and company resources in pursuit of opportunities that don’t pay off.  This is where bloated pipelines and bad sales forecasts come from. Here’s how you determine if they have the skills… do a role play with them.  You’re the prospect and they are selling one of their previous solutions to you. First, watch to see if they attempt to set up the meeting objectives, here’s a basic example: “What are the most important things you’d like to cover in our meeting today?”  Then, do they ask good qualifying questions that will get to the heart of the matter? Here are more examples: “9 months after you put this solution in place how will you measure success? Assuming we were the perfect fit, when is it critical for you to have this live?  Why is that date important?”   Notice in the previous example, there is little to no product talk, and they should be using questions to get the prospect (you in this role play) to do most of the talking, while they are actively listening.  If these skills are not apparent (doesn’t have to be perfect), it’s time to say goodbye! 

3. Business Development

This is job #1 for an ESE.  One of the first questions are expectations.  Is there a current lead generation program at your company supplying leads?  If so, what percentage of net new leads are expected to be generated by the ESE from their own efforts?  Not having a mutual understanding of expectations can cause the wrong kind of turnover in the sales department.  Generally, most B2B marketing efforts are responsible for 40% of lead gen.  That leaves 60% to our new hire if this is your case.  Therefore, I would like to know the strategies and tactics they used in previous roles.  Strategies would include: the message (elevator pitch) they used; the companies they called on and why; their entry point into the organization and how they negotiate to the key stakeholders or decision makers.  Tactics would be their process (behaviors): networking; email; LinkedIn; cadences; how did they organize and execute, what were their numbers (time and effort spent vs. results).  If they cannot articulate this with convincing ease, it means this dog don’t hunt.

4. Deal Management

When you think about it, deal management is all about negotiation.  It’s about knowing what’s needed to win a deal and negotiating along the way to get what’s needed for the win. It’s herding the cats to bring everything together.  Some of the key pieces include… articulating a problem that is a must solve and why; getting Key Stake Holders to sponsor the project; getting buy in on decision success criteria and how it will be accomplished; getting early buy in on order-of-magnitude budget; making sure the person(s) who will sign the check agree to prioritize the spend (before the project proceeds).  Can your ESE candidate and those who are on your team articulate the process of what techniques they use to accomplish each of these things?  For candidates listen to them explain how they have managed important deals in the past.  This is not a place for “fly by the seat of your pants” selling, to see if it works.

If you’d like to see our description of “The Anatomy of a High Performing Enterprise Sales Executive” go here.

Selling competencies combined with sales DNA (the ability to execute in a selling environment) are the keys to getting your team to take things to the next level! 



enterprise sales hire resume

Enterprise Sales Hires – Don’t Let Resumes Fool You!

I must admit there have been many times I’ve been impressed with how some sales executives present themselves on paper.  But I must remind myself that many of those impressive resumes have been written by a hired professional, which is certainly worth giving them a point for effort. However, it will not tell you if they can sell and the underperforming candidates certainly won’t tell you if they can’t sell either.  The goal of the underperformer is to get the job to keep a paycheck coming in. Your goal is to eliminate these folks from ever getting close to being hire by your company.  If you’re reading this article, you probably already know what a drag on your progress hiring an underperformer can be! 

The good news is there’s always good information to glean from resumes to flush out the bottom 80% pool of candidates. The first key is to make sure you stick only to the facts on the resume and that you can validate it.   Here are 3 factual pieces that can help your initial screening process and be validated: 

First, a few things to discount… job descriptions, hobbies, words like developed, created, designed, introduced, engineered and analyzed. These descriptors are fluff… don’t be distracted by them. 

Stated Objective:

Many times you see stated objectives like sales management, but it’s submitted for a sales executive role.  These candidates are essentially saying they are looking for whatever they can find and did not take the time to customize their resume to fit the potential role.  Successful people know what they are looking for and don’t waste their time on opportunities that are not a fit.  If you decide to let someone in the process that desires another role, you risk of problems down the road can go up dramatically, if not addressed properly, up front.


As a guy who has interviewed thousands of sales candidates and hired hundreds, there is one resume attribute that does not lie… it’s consistent success!  Inconsistent accomplishments likely point to success anomalies. However, when you do see they’ve had consistent success across several companies, you have a high probability of an “A” player (top 20%).  “A” players are successful everywhere they go.  They also are very proud of their accomplishments which are easy to spot on their resumes. Here’s a rule I go by: If there are no specific and consistent accomplishments, they probably don’t have any, therefore no interview.  Yes, even when they are in your industry and may require little training.  You can’t train someone to be the best, it’s a character trait.   

Staying Power vs. Ramp Up:

The larger the deal sizes that your enterprise executives are going after, the longer the sales cycle will be. Typically, 6 – 9 months is the average length of a larger deal. You should plan on at least 2 sales cycles for a newly hired sales exec to ramp up to full production.  That means they should have a history of at least 4-5 sales cycles to be considered successful in a previous enterprise selling role.  When I ask how long their typical sales cycle is and compare it to their longevity at a company, many times it’s clear they leave before they can positively impact the companies they have worked for.  As an example, if someone says they had a 9-month sales cycle, but they left the company in less than 2 years…this is problematic.  Most likely they left before they were asked to leave, or they couldn’t figure out a way to be successful, leaving to find another company to support their potentially bad selling habits. When you see resumes that have great success but no stability, hirer beware! It most likely means they were handed a nice deal or two and then left after they had to start working their territory to be successful… it happens all the time.     

These 3-resume screening techniques will eliminate a high percentage of underperformers who are trying to get in your resume pool, save you a lot of time and it is a process that can be delegated.  Stay shrewd my friends. My true north for hiring is “don’t settle, select the best.” This reasoning originates from experiencing bad hires.  I’ve seen how much management time it takes, how in the end they underproduce, while losing deals to the competition to name a few. No matter how great a manager / leader you are, you cannot fix an underperformer. Getting the noise out of your pool of potential candidates begins with knowing what you are looking for on a resume before you invest any of your precious time interviewing them.  Keep your standards high and don’t settle!  Stay thirsty for the best and you will be rewarded! 

To find out more about the six hidden weaknesses along with other critical considerations go here

More thoughts on hiring next week! 



sales person looks at computer

I’m Tired of Excuse Making From the Sales Team!

Excuse-making from the sales team drives me crazy!  It’s like saying you give up and you can’t do any better.  The reality is it’s either BS or they just don’t know what to do.  My experience… it’s a little of both.  It’s okay to miss a sales target occasionally, but its never okay not to have a plan to improve.  Excuse-making begins when poor results begin to show, and the sales team doesn’t know what to do.   

So where does that leave you? What does one do with the excuses? The good news is you don’t have to know all the answers.  You just need to know that excuse-making is a deadly sales disease that stops progress cold and is unacceptable.  First, compare what your team is doing vs. what it should be doing. This article should help: Breakthrough Sales Growth for Small Tech – 9 Essentials

Start by asking some basic questions…

  • Do I have the right people in the right seats, and can they get us to our destination? 
  • Am I the right person to be leading the sales & marketing effort or do I need help?

Next, see if your team has a basic plan and a process:

  • Is the lead generation working?  Do they know the quantity and quality of leads we need to have to be successful?  Are we getting enough to make our goal? What are we doing differently today to get a better result than yesterday? What’s the lead gen calendar / plan look like for the month, quarter, and year? Are we getting real leads from our very expensive trade shows or are we just tracking who came by the booth?
  • Is the sales team’s one-to-one sales prospecting plan working?  Do we have a Target Account Profile that is driving us to win bigger more qualified deals? What is our qualifying message and is it compelling, easy to understand and directed toward the decision makers issues?  Are we having real business conversations with these targeted prospects that convert to sales opportunities or are we just taking what is given to us?
  • Is our close rate of sales opportunities near or above 30%? Are the opportunities in our sales pipeline well qualified and sponsored? Are these opportunities moving towards close with commitments from the sponsor along the way?  Are too many sales opportunities stuck in the pipeline with no strategy to move them to close? Why is our sales forecasting always off?

Don’t let your team focus on the wrong end of the sales problem which are the bad results accompanied by excuses to avoid responsibility.  Bad results always point to poor execution. The right end of the problem demands excellent execution of strategy, people, process, and metrics. This combined with coaching and accountability will elevate your team and your revenue fast!

BTW, I have a lot more questions (and answers) if you need them!

successful sales team results

Breakthrough Sales Growth for Small Tech – 9 Essentials

There is nothing better than enjoying a great steak, prepared medium rare, cooked over hardwood coals, with a side of fresh hot fries, and an inky Cabernet, please.  A quality steak house always does the right things right and it shows in the amazing food it serves, in the high prices it demands, and in the many customers who are willing to buy.

Similarly, companies with successful sales teams have no trouble attracting customers, standing out from the competition in a crowded field, or commanding a premium price for their offer.  Just like a great steak house, they do the right things right.

So what are some of those right things to develop a successful small tech sales team?

  1. Having a strategy which the company uses to differentiate itself in the market,
  2. Correct target marketing and territory management that aligns with the differentiation strategy,
  3. Lead generation process, strategy and its effective execution,
  4. A selling system and its effective execution toward early qualification and deal management,
  5. Metrics used to identify early failure points and the corresponding sales process for improvement,
  6. A pipeline system that identifies quality opportunities over quantity of opportunities while delivering an accurate financial forecast,
  7. The effective motivation of the team (compensation, quota and mission),
  8. Hiring “A” level salespeople, meaning the quality and fit of the individuals on the sales team; and finally,
  9. Effective leadership that provides ongoing strategic direction and coaching of the team with measurable continuous improvement in each of the above items.

 And here’s the beginning of doing them right:

  1. Differentiation – Separating your company from the competition does not mean that you have to have the best product or offering. Often being the best can distract you from what the customer really wants.  Perhaps you have noticed it’s not always the best product that wins! It is so important to truly know and understand your customer.
  2. Target Marketing and Territory Management – Salespeople are expensive! Therefore, it is essential that we leverage their skills and time.  Give me a talented salesperson who is purposely directed to calling on exactly the right target customer with a strategy to get to the decision maker, and I’ll give you a winner. Typically, salespeople are not the best administrators, they need help with this.
  3. Lead Generation – Repeat of point 2 – salespeople are expensive! Sacred prospecting time is critical to every salesperson’s success.  However, a good lead generation program through effective marketing, leverages your salespeople’s time and tells you if your differentiation story is working.  If it is not working, return to step 1 above.
  4. Selling System – Can a new sales person consistently identify a problem with a significant consequence, from a decision maker within your target market, that your product or service can address? That’s the first key indicator to knowing if you have a sales team you can scale.  It is also the start of a meaningful sales cycle worthy of investment of your company’s time and resources.  Without a selling system that gets your sales people consistently across this chasm along with effective opportunity management, your growth opportunity will be stuck.
  5. Metrics – When training a dog who is having trouble getting house trained, you must catch them in the act and correct it immediately or it becomes a bad habit that leads to failure. So too, salespeople need clarity on what the right things are (and are not) with immediate corrections and rewards.   Well-designed metrics that tell you what is happening and when, will allow you to take the right actions that lead to success before it is too late. This is especially important in long sale cycles.
  6. Pipeline – The main thing is keeping the main thing, the main thing. In other words, knowing you have a clean pipeline full of opportunities with merit (versus a bloated pipeline) allows you to continually invest in growth, at your chosen pace.
  7. Hiring “A” Level Salespeople – What most organizations may not realize is that a non or underperforming salesperson is the most expensive salesperson you can hire. They bring everyone else down a notch and they leave untold sales waiting for the competition to enjoy, e.g. unrealized revenue that should belong to you.  If you don’t have a proven process to identify and find top talent with the right sales competencies for your environment, you will greatly limit your ability to grow and scale in any meaningful way.
  8. Leadership – This means just that. It’s first doing the right things listed above.  Then, as Covey says, it’s about doing them right.  It’s making sales people better at who they are and what they do. It’s about instilling belief through example, showing them that the future is bright with demonstrable proof, and giving them a path to success so they know how to get there. It’s about cultural change and transformation so that we know who we are, where we are going and how we are going to get there!

Good selling & sales team development!

drawing of motivated sales team cheering waving hands

How to Keep Your Sales Team Motivated

I have yet to see ability win over motivation to succeed.  Both are important, but a motivated, focused sales effort always wins the day (quarter, year and marketplace)!  Here are six keys to keep your sales team motivated and getting them energized to overachieve. 

1. Beliefs

When your team believes it can beat the dominant player, when they can see the multi-million-dollar positive impact your product will have on buyers, average deal size will grow, your team will develop swagger and your win rate will go through the roof.  There is no more important job for leadership than to instill belief. Without it companies shrivel and people leave. 

2. Income Comfort Zone

There are two types of sales overachievers: The more established sales professional who has the need to maintain a significant lifestyle, and the younger sales professional who is in search of a financial break out.  This is called the income comfort zone. It is imperative to get them in the right zone and keep them there! 

3. Salespeople are Motivated Either Internally or Externally

  • Twenty-three and hell bent on breaking into the top!  These professionals have something to prove.  Quota has little influence on them.  Knowing their INTERNAL why… buying a car, having their significant other stay home with the kids, or buying a new house in the swanky neighborhood is key to coaching them to success.   
  • President’s Club is an example of EXTERNAL proof positive your year of work is the best!  A published leaderboard, a monthly dinner for two, a lunch with the President, these are all a reward for a job well done.  These are but a few ways to fire up external motivation.  When designed correctly, President’s Club is not a cost… it’s financially profitable.

4. Hiring Drive and Purpose First

What’s the sure way to bring down your top performers?  Put up with underperformance and hire average salespeople.  Top performers want to compete with the best and pride themselves on who they are associated with.  Don’t allow underperformance to bring your team down.

5. Having a Comp Plan that Inspires Big Accomplishments

Having a comp plan that sets high expectations and delivers big rewards when big goals are met are key management tools to attract the best talent and keep them on pace.  But IT IS NOT MORE EXPENSIVE if you design the comp plan correctly! High performance comes in an atmosphere of high expectations both from the company and the salesperson.

6. Having a Measurable, Repeatable Selling and Market Strategy

Can a new sales person consistently identify a problem with a significant consequence your prospect has, from a decision maker within your target market, that your product or service can address? That’s the first key indicator to knowing if you have a sales team you can scale. It is also the start of a meaningful sales cycle worthy of investment of your company’s time and resources. Without a selling system that gets your sales people consistently across this chasm along with effective opportunity management, your sales team could become stuck.