SHL is CEB: Changing the future of influencing sales effectiveness.

One of the great things about SHL becoming CEB is that this opens up a whole new approach to working with sales leaders around sales effectiveness. Conceptually, it is simple. “What the Best Companies Do”. Specifically, CEB has insight and best practice data points, extracted via its global members (i.e. top sales organizations around the world), that pinpoint exactly what the best sales organizations are doing around strategy, sales leadership and sales talent.

Now the CEB has a dedicated practice that can answer the common question from sales leaders:

“That research insight is fantastic – now, how do I implement change to become like these best in class organizations?”

SHL’s Talent Measurement Solutions arguably contains the most researched tools on the planet that can be used to help sales leaders influence the destiny of their sales results. And whether you are a Sales VP with a sales force of over 500, or a Sales Manager with just three sales reps – who wouldn’t be interested in learning more about how to shape their own destiny?

Be it bringing in the best sales talent, or perhaps onboarding sales talent expertly to increase speed to performance, or even trying to identify the ‘Challenger’s’ already immersed in your sales efforts, there is something there for every sales leader to take an interest in.

Stay tuned for more details over the coming weeks. And in the meantime, check out this animated short clip that explains the SHL is CEB genesis.



Is Facetime important for Sales Reps?

A recent article in the Globe & Mail on February 27th 2013 – “Telework or teamwork? The office evolves”, talked about some of the benefits and drawbacks to employers and employees alike when it comes to enabling the workforce to work remotely. It can be a cost saving for both for a start – and act as an attraction factor for the organization that offers a better work life balance. But as sales managers have pondered for decades whilst their lone wolf sales reps are gone for days on end, presumably knocking on customer doors, does working away from the office actually lead to improved business outcomes?

Not necessarily. This is because not everyone is suited to this kind of remote working arrangement and it very much depends on the type of job one has. Sales reps, who have a lot of interaction with their customers (note, should be having a lot of interaction with their customers), probably would be indifferent to the idea of a permanent base away from the office. Mainly because they are rarely there in the first place and if they are, they are likely being asked for expense sheets or other pesky request from sales management. Sales reps are likely to be successful or unsuccessful based on their skill sets with clients and prospects, rather than where their office is. But for more traditional office staff in areas such as Finance, IT, HR, Customer Service or Research perhaps, there is more to consider.

Whereas there is a wealth of data out there to suggest that there is a link between ‘telecommuting’ and increased level of job satisfaction, job performance and a decrease in the intent to quit, this doesn’t mean one size fits all. After all, the realities of telecommuting include:

  • Virtually no physical interaction with coworkers
  • Minimal daily social interaction
  • Lack of camaraderie
  • Blurred work and non-work life boundaries
  • The dishwasher will not empty itself

Although the fact that no one will be interrupting you every 15 minutes complaining about Jeff from Finance, you also forgo the water cooler chat about the Hockey game last night and whether or not Jose Bautista will hit forty home runs. More importantly, you also have to instill your own personal discipline regime to ensure things get done. And that isn’t in everyone’s DNA.

The concept of ‘assessing’ current and prospective employees with regard to whether they will embrace the remote worker mentality is a topical area. Companies like SHL embed this into assessments for pre-hire purposes with organizations all over the world based on the research that goes into their tool development. For a few years now, organizations have been asking for this data to help them make key hiring decisions based on what they need now and potentially what they might need in the near future when office requirements might change. Although Richard Branson feels that this change still might be a few years away to affect everyone, it is still very much in vogue now as the likes of Telus, who are looking to have 70% of their workforce remote by 2015 can attest.

Remote Worker Assessment

Remote Worker Assessment

In the assessment vein, here are some of the key competencies and preferences required in remote workers to ensure success:

Ambiguity Tolerance:  the ability to work and succeed in achieving targets whilst sometimes having unclear direction.

Intrinsic Motivation:  being motivated to work hard and meet goals by one’s own desire for achievement rather than desire for reward or fear of punishment.

Autonomy:  keeping on task and solving problems without direct on demand support from you line manager.

Creation of Structure: keeping workspace organized and creating a repeatable work routine.

Comfort with Social Isolation: tolerating minimal social contact via online technology

Work/Life Separation: providing a quiet environment, separate from home life, to work effectively.

Risk Taking: making decisions with little or no assistance.

Proactiveness: taking time outside of normal 9-5 hours to ensure success on the job.

Individuals who demonstrate these kinds of abilities and work preferences are more likely to not only be at peace with ditching the office, but also more likely to be productive and successful. If the latter is not the case, organizations will find that this will offset any real estate costs that have been slashed due to their workforce being based in the burbs and home offices. And management will still have no one to talk hockey with.


But what is the dominant Sales Leadership view on this? Is face-time that important for sales reps? Is out of sight out of mind? I would be interested in your comments.

The Look Ahead: The Sales Challenger

I recently parked my own sales consulting business to take on a senior leadership role at SHL – a company that I used to work for a few years ago. Despite the fact that I was enjoying the flexibility of running my own business and experiencing the ‘Tranquility of Solitude”, the prospect of a Managing Director role with SHL was made all the more enticing due to the fact they have recently been purchased by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB). As I have written about in this blog before, the research done by the CEB’s Sales Executive Council (SEC) around the best practices used by the best sales reps in the world deserves merit and further inspection. Especially when you are looking to hire a sales rep with this research in mind.

CEB & SHL : understanding the relationship between behaviours and talent

CEB & SHL : understanding the relationship between behaviours and talent

What are the qualities to look for when you need to hire a sales superstar?  Conventional wisdom says look for the candidate with a strong ability to ‘build relationships’.  Conventional wisdom is wrong. And as we know, the focus on ‘relationship building’ is incredibly broad.

The need to understand the behaviors top-performing sales reps demonstrate that their average-performing counterparts do not drove an exhaustive study of thousands of sales reps by CEB.  Uncovered was a fascinating and valuable profile of the critical competencies possessed by sales high-achievers.  CEB calls the sales high- achiever the Challenger Rep®.  And this is what to look for when designing selection process.

The Challenger

The Challenger

I will be picking this up in more detail over the coming weeks. Understanding the critical competencies and behaviours associated with this role fits in with the theme of the ‘Sales Performance Improvement‘ blog – and should provide compelling reading. Please stay tuned.

In the meantime, please do join us for a webinar on January 31st – “The Challenger: The new rules for identifying top talent” This is the first webinar of its kind to look at the Challenger Sales Role and how you go about identifying the traits that lead to success in the recruitment process.
Register Now


The Tranquility of Solitude

I have read a few posts over the past few weeks on the subject and power of ‘referrals’. With the caveat being as long as a few fundamental rules are followed, word of mouth referrals are one of the most effective forms of advertising out there – and one of the easiest ways to earn (and give) business. As sales executives, and quite often in the role of the ‘Lone Wolf’, asking for and giving referrals in a pay-it-forward fashion can be the life blood of our profession. Whether you are a regional sales representative covering a large geographic area or a home-based telephone sales agent, the fact remains that you spend a lot of time by yourself when you are not in front of or on the phone with customers. Using some of this time to put together a plan to help get more business opportunities and leads outside of traditional fashion is essential. A plan including a look at what is right on your doorstep.

A novel approach to referrals

As luck would have it, I was recently invited to a business networking breakfast event as part of an article I was writing for a local magazine. The meeting was for a local chapter of Business Networking International (BNI), which provides structure to how referrals are made in amongst a plethora of different businesses. A prompt 7.30am start on a Tuesday morning, these meetings run weekly and are structured around a formal agenda that is identical to any other BNI meeting around the world. At present, the Beaches Chapter has 28 members who are local entrepreneurs and during the meeting each had the opportunity to deliver their own ‘infomercial’ to other members (and me!) for 60 seconds. In short, this is a chance for members to promote and differentiate their business to their peers and explain the ideal client or customer with associated needs that most suits them. The group consists of many different expert professions from Charted Accountants to Graphic Designers, from Business Lawyers to Home Inspectors. Listening to 25 infomercials, it wasn’t hard for me to imagine people in my network who would have interest and needs that can be met by the experts at hand.

Power of Referrals

And that is how it all works – referring your fellow members to people in your network to help them grow their business which is then reciprocated. As the local President points out, the BNI approach is not a ‘breakfast club’ – the group has a target of $500K (and they have closed $90K since June) worth of referred business for the year.

The 3 perils of referrals

This approach is distinctly different from more traditional types of referral attempts that happen in a more corporate structure, especially where different types of sales forces reside. I experienced this first hand in a national consulting firm where ‘cross selling’ was key strategic imperative and referrals were encouraged across practice areas – in effect, incentivising business development professionals to introduce their peers to their clients. This worked in some logical areas and between certain individuals – however, in most cases, this was not successful for the following reasons:

  • Credibility: Some sales reps feel uncomfortable introducing colleagues to their key accounts for fear they will screw up the existing relationship. A true credibility issue. A kicker here, especially in a contracting economy, if the client only has x amount of $ to spend with their company, best not tempt them away from where they are spending it now.
  • Compatibility: The classic square peg forced into a round hole situation. Brad asks his key client to meet with a colleague to discuss a different solution area, but there is no real client need or premise to make this a logical thing to happen. The client accepts the meeting because Brad asked them to. They find it interesting. But without a pressing need, the client is likely to forget all about it within hours. It goes nowhere, to the frustration of the sales rep who was already pretty frustrated at having to do a feature dump for 45 mins to a silent audience.
  • Accountability: This really falls on the fault of the organization. If you don’t prepare the referral process, complete with proper incentivisation and guidance, it is bound to fail. In addition, the company must be prepared to help those who may not be an expert in sales position the referral with the client – or at least help them recognize whether or not a meeting should be set up in the first place. Even if all this is considered, someone needs to be accountable for collecting data to prove it’s a worth-while initiative.

In-company corporate referrals, as you can see, are not straight forward. Obviously, if you are part of this type of scheme within your organization, you generally have to play ball. However, it might be worth checking out different types of referral programs in your local neighbourhood to see how you can tap into non-competing sales team – read a group of sales individuals – who are willing to help you to help themselves.

A new project

In this vein, as I walked away from the BNI meeting I felt galvanized and motivated to give this approach a try, all the while following my own CCA advice – ensuring I am credible, compatible with potential opportunities and accountable for the whole process. I will document the experience over the coming 12 months or so starting in October. During my ‘galvanized’ mindset, I also felt lucky, in as much that being a lone-wolf sales professional allowing me to give this a go. Being an ‘out on your own’ type is not all bad. To me, the tranquility of solitude.

Please note the Coaching Controversy Part III will follow in October 2012.

The Coaching Controversy Part III: What to Coach? Advancing Opportunities.

This will be posted by the end of the month. Please visit back then. As always, thanks for reading and following.


The Coaching Controversy Part II: Is ‘When’ more important than ‘How’?

Five Key Principles for Knowing When to Coach, by Matt McDarby, Founder & President of United Sales Resources LLC

Like a rising tide that lifts all boats, an effective sales manager can intentionally lift the performance of an entire sales team by focusing on a few fundamentals of great sales management.  Conversely, a sales manager who is not so effective can have the effect of dulling the capabilities of a team or worse… effectively lowering all boats to the harbor floor and rendering them valueless.

So what is it that separates effective sales managers from ineffective ones?  If we’re to set aside the really bad managers out there… because they’re so bad we can’t even put our fingers on where the badness begins and ends… and focus instead on those who are just ineffective, then the task of answering this question becomes a bit easier. 

By studying the research of people like Neil Rackham, Richard Ruff, Ken Blanchard and others who have used research to develop models for effective sales leadership, it is possible to isolate key areas of difference between average and excellent sales management performance.  In this three-post series, we are focusing in on three of those key areas of difference.  Matt Goff’s first post centered squarely on the idea that great managers know who to coach.  In other words, they invest their time on the largest portion of people who give them and their company a positive return on their management time. 

In this post, I will focus on when to coach, which is a second area in which excellent sales managers separate themselves from their average counterparts. 

The “When to Coach Principles”

 Let’s face it… the fact that a sales manager would even consider the question, “When should I coach (versus doing something else) to bring about the business outcomes that I am paid to achieve?” suggests that he or she is probably a very good manager. 

If simply considering the question of when to coach means that one is likely an above-average manager, then having answers to that question must surely mean that one is in the upper strata of today’s professional sales management ranks.   Wouldn’t it be valuable to know what some of those answers might be?  (Yes! – Ed)

The “When to Coach” Principles follow:

  • There is a time to sell and a time to coach.  It is not possible to do both at the same time effectively.
  • Who we are coaching affects when we coach.  We need to invest more or less time coaching individual salespeople because of who they are, their learning style, their workload, and a range of other factors . One size does not fit all.
  • Different types of coaching require different amounts of time and preparation.  Choose them wisely and don’t short-change the types of coaching that require a significant investment of time.
  • Coach early and coach often.  Our window for influencing the actions of salespeople closes earlier in the selling cycle than we might realize.
  • We should coach when the risk of not coaching is too great.  When future outcomes are at stake, the risk of missing an opportunity to coach is massive. 

Let’s break these down a little bit.

Selling v Coaching

Knowing that there is a time to sell and a time to coach is one of those easy to understand but difficult to execute principles.  Once a sales manager has been trained and has experienced what it is like to quietly observe someone else’s performance with an eye toward giving  that person targeted feedback, then that sales manager understands just how difficult it would be to try to sell at the same time.

For those who haven’t experienced this, we can use the analogy of a golf pro standing in the same driving range stall as his student, swinging his own club and striking balls straight down the middle at the same time that he gives the student advice on his or her swing.  The student naturally questions the advice that the teacher doles out because the student knows the teacher wasn’t paying close enough attention.  The student may give tacit acceptance to the teacher’s advice, but the likelihood of the student’s behavior (i.e. his swing) and performance changing are slim to none.  The same occurs with managers who attempt to offer feedback or give coaching when they’ve been in the thick of the meeting as a participant and not as a quiet observer.  If one’s mission is to coach and improve someone else’s performance, then they must not be part of the performance themselves.  

Who Affects When

Regarding the principle that who we are coaching affects when we coach, I must refer back to the first post in this series by Matt.  “…Coaching should start on the sales reps that have the highest potential of the core performing group / steady eddies, rather than those who already have higher sales performance of the core performing group.”  Fair enough.  It stands to reason then that an important part of the answer to the question of when to coach is, “Coach whenever your high potential core performers, also known as under-achievers, need coaching.” 

When do opportunities to coach under-achievers tend to come up?  In addition to the skill and/or strategy coaching sessions that a manager must deliver, an opportunity to coach that may be particularly appropriate for the under-achiever is the “you’re not delivering what I think you can” conversation.  This conversation may occur in the context of a formal review, in the context of a periodic territory or business review, or it might just come on a Tuesday when the sales manager becomes upset at the lack of production by a high-potential salesperson.  The bottom line is that there are specific opportunities for coaching that are appropriate for under-achievers and perhaps not for anyone else.  (How to coach these people is a topic for another day.)

A Different Approach is Required

If it is true that different types of coaching require different levels of planning and time on the part of a manager, then we must consider when different types of coaching can be fit into the manager’s operating rhythm.  In this sense, when to coach becomes a practical consideration versus a philosophical one.  Neil Rackham and Dick Ruff categorized sales coaching into two broad categories, skills coaching and strategy coaching, in their book, Managing Major Sales (Harper Business, 1991). 

Among other reasons, they did so to explain the role of coaching in simple versus complex sales.  In short, they were illustrating that in major, complex sales, the role of a coach tends to include strategy coaching and skills coaching whereas the role of a coach in simple sales was almost exclusively in the area of skills coaching.  So, it seems that a manager in a complex selling environment (e.g. commercial property and casualty insurance sales to Fortune 500 companies) has to consider an additional investment of his or her time into sales strategy coaching than would a manager in a much simpler sales environment (e.g. individual term life insurance sales).  If one operates in a simple sales environment, then the question of when to coach is answered, “Whenever my people need to apply some skill to achieve the outcome that we want.  I need to coach then.” 

Early & Often

For those of us in a more complex selling environment, the decision regarding when to spend time on strategy coaching and skills coaching is a function of the next principle, coach early and coach often.  There are moments in a sales process when the actions of the salesperson matter more than other times.  Those moments tend to be in the earlier stages of the buying process, when customer’s needs and decision-making criteria are still malleable.  So what then does that mean to the coach and the role that she or he must play to influence salespeople’s behavior? 

It means that a coach also has limited opportunity to influence sales outcomes, and that opportunity is limited to some of the earliest moments of the sales process.  Great sales managers will not only provide strategy coaching in the earliest stages of new customer opportunities, but they tend to revisit the status and health of sales opportunities all the way until they reach the point of diminishing return on coaching.  It is not enough to simply coach once, set it (the strategy), and forget it.  Hence, the “coach often” part of this particular principle. 

Risk / Reward

Finally, when in doubt, a manager should choose to coach when the risk of not coaching is too great.  Some examples of when this risk may be at its greatest include the following:

  • When a strategic error or tactical mistake, if replicated, will have a negative effect on future outcomes. 
  • When a change in strategy is required to bring about a positive outcome, and the salesperson may not be seeing the need to change.
  • When a key customer opportunity hinges on the capability of an average-skilled salesperson.

Editorial Summary

Based on these principles that Matt McDarby has described, it is obviously important for sales managers to tailor their ‘when’ approach to the situation. The five areas discussed are an excellent starting point and tactics that can be used to the sales manager’s advantage.

What other tactics have you used to address the all important ‘when to coach’ question?? We would love to hear from you…


My thanks to Matt for this excellent post. Matt is the Founder & President of USR LLC (United Sales Resources) a professional sales firm that helps small to medium-sized businesses grow by pursuing and capturing their most important business opportunities. Matt was previously VP Enterprise Sales for Huthwaite Inc, a professional sales training & coaching firm, where amongst other things he managed a team of global account managers and authored the ‘Why Cross Selling Fails’ white paper. Prior to Huthwaite, Matt formed MarketSoft Resources which later became Infinity Consulting.

Part Three in Two Weeks!

The Coaching Controversy Part I: Rock Stars or Steady Eddies?

Should Sales Managers try and coach all of their sales reps?

Despite the temptation to continue on with the subject of dominant personality traits and sales performance, which continues to divide the masses via business social media such as Linked In (here for example), I wanted to focus the next three posts on the area of Coaching. Specifically, the decisions sales managers have to make when addressing the coaching needs of their sales organization.

The theme of this blog as you know is ‘Sales Performance Improvement’ – which in my opinion indeed starts with getting the right sales talent into the organization in the first place, perhaps using an assessment intervention to evaluate dominant personality traits. However, even if you have this down pat – it could all be for nothing if the relevant coaching pieces of the puzzle are not in place. As we will see, even the star performers who rarely need coaching and are well rewarded are likely to abandon ship in the face of poor coaching practices.

MORE Appointments!!

Common Language

For the purpose of these articles, I want to ensure we have a common understanding of coaching so I am going to use the definition as described by Dixon & Adamson in the Challenger Sale (because its popular and topical read, and quite frankly, I like it):

An ongoing and dynamic series of job-embedded interactions between a sales manager and direct report, designed to diagnose, correct and reinforce behaviours specific to that individual”

The authors go on to emphasize that coaching is ongoing, tailored and behavioural (i.e. for the latter, application of skill and knowledge rather than obtaining skill and knowledge).

There isn’t a sales organization that I have worked with or worked for that has not paid some degree of lip service to sales coaching. And why not – there is plenty of evidence that links coaching with skill and performance improvement as a trawl of the internet will uncover (or look at Steve Richards recent article regarding ‘Neuroscience and Sales Coaching’ as an example from this platform). Clearly, done well in business, sports, performing arts and yes, even ironing – coaching works. But too often the process and implementation of coaching is left too much to chance. The best sales organizations don’t let this happen however. Amongst other things, they ensure their sales managers can answer three important questions;

  1. Who to coach?
  2. When to coach and
  3. What to coach.

The latter two will be picked up for the next two articles.

Who to Coach?

The ratio of direct reports to sales managers often is less than ideal. Therefore a common complaint from sales managers is ‘I don’t have time to coach everyone given all the monthly reporting and admin I have to do’. Especially when the coaching is ongoing and tailored to the individual. One answer to this gripe could be ‘great – we don’t want you to spend time coaching all your team because you are right, those monthly reports are due Friday’. A better one would be helping the time taxed sales manager to decide who to spend his or her time with – even if it’s only in the ‘a little goes a long way’ category (monthly reports are important after all). So, focus on the poor performers who just don’t get it? Focus on the reps with average sales pipelines? What about our ‘rock stars’ – will they respond to some coaching attention?

A Good Starting Point

The research conducted by the Sales Executive Council, recited in the chapter ‘The Manager and the Challenger Selling Model’ (from the Sales Challenger), demonstrates the huge impact that effective coaching can have on a sales organization. As part of this research, they conclude that spending time coaching low performers has little impact on sales improvement. In a similar vein, coaching your rock stars also yields minimal return as they are already performing at a high level. I find this a little contrary to what I had led to be believed prior – based on the theory that high performers have the cognitive bandwith to take on more challenging opportunities (and more opportunities period), therefore you can get more performance from them. Perhaps this however doesn’t fit our coaching definition because it is not behavioural  – it is just giving them more stuff to do and more opportunities to make sales. Fair enough. They also indicate that ‘bad’ coaching drives down morale and creates a toxic environment – key drivers in driving unwanted turnover. Affirmative.

The crux of the research demonstrates the power of focusing coaching efforts on ‘core performers’ – or what a former colleague of mine use to call ‘Steady Eddies’ – the average sales reps, who are neither high or low performers. They claim that ‘the median performers on your sales force could see a performance boost of as much as 19 percent given a significant improvement in the coaching they receive’. Focus on spending time on Steady Eddies is the key message for sales managers – there is more return on time invested rather than wasting time on rock stars and if you are a low performer, that’s too bad as we are running a business not kindergarten.

A Better End Point

Where as I fundamentally agree with this position, I feel you need to go a bit further and break down the ‘Steady Eddies’ for further insight into where to spend your time. For example, I believe you have to consider two related areas  – ‘performance’ and ‘potential’. Using a graph with the axis labelled performance and potential helps here – and have the sales manager ‘plot’ the Eddies (see below).

Evaluating 'Potential' aswell as plotting 'Performance'

What they will find is that there are some solid performers (average to above average performance but low potential)– those who don’t have the potential to produce much more than they all ready are, and the ‘under achievers’ (average performers who have higher upside) who DO have the potential to produce more. How you tag these ‘high potential’ reps is a subject for another day – however this is often done via a combination of data points – performance management, assessment data, previous performance etc. I have not met a sales manager yet who can’t at least have a stab at scatter-gramming their sales force (or just the ‘core performers / steady eddies’) in terms of performance / potential. Once done, circle the higher potential individuals and start your coaching focus here. We’ll get into the ‘When’ and ‘What’ over the next two articles. But least we know where to start.

It sounds simple – but you’d be surprised how such an elementary approach to prioritizing a sales managers coaching time can be hugely effective in getting some instant results in terms of increased productivity and pipeline movement. So to recap, coaching should start on the sales reps that have the highest potential of the core performing group / steady eddies, rather than those who already have higher sales performance of the core performing group.

This approach also can act as saving grace for some sales managers worried about their time and remind them with the message ‘don’t let perfect be in the enemy of the good’. Tell them, start here and that it IS a good start and a good way to spend your coaching time.

Join me for parts II (with my third guest writer) and III over the next month. And of course, comments and feedback welcome.