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“Put Me In Coach, I’m Ready To Sell!”

Posted on August 12, 2018 under Sales Management 101.
“Put Me In Coach. I’m Ready To Sell!”

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I’m aging myself by taking such liberties with the lyrics from Centerfield (the John Fogarty hit from 1985), but let there be no doubt, selling is a contact sport and, sadly, too many people enter the game unprepared and for the wrong reasons.



Owners and Sales Managers, a question:  On a day-in, day-out basis, how productive is your sales force (really)?  How much contact do they really have with your customers, current and potential?




All too often, senior management (across all segments of corporate America) has an inflated, unrealistic opinion of the competency of their sales team – with potentially disastrous long-term results. The perpetuation of sales force mediocrity can be tied to many things (bad hires, no written goals, a lack of accountability, refusal to make the hard decisions), but one thing is certain: for small and mid-sized companies, the risk of allowing your sales team to morph into mediocrity and become the most underutilized resource in your company will create a culture that nurtures underperformance – across all departments.


With pricing continuing to ‘make no sense’ and margins being tougher and tougher to maintain, owners and sales managers are spread so  thin that effective, hands-on sales management is virtually  non-existent.  There is no one with the time to coach, to train, to mentor, and to hold people accountable.


In too many cases, the creation of a true sales career path with consistent coaching is an afterthought or a tool that is provided only to the ‘newbies’ and under performers.

If senior management is not using coaching to support your sales team, you’re preventing them from:

*reaching their potential (personally and professionally)

* creating new solutions to old problems,

*and most importantly, from driving positive corporate change as leaders of your organization.

If you aren’t asking them the hard questions, making them do the things they don’t enjoy, and forcing them to improve the areas where they are weak, you are at risk of falling into the trap of sales mediocrity.


I would proffer that  were you  to put 100  sales men and women in a room (this includes anyone who has any of these following job titles on their business card:  Account Executive, Sales Professional, Sales Rep, Sales Executive, Results Manager, Customer Specialist, Business Development Officer, Sales Engineer, Solutions Analyst, Sales Consultant, Ninja Selling Pro, New Business Development Specialist, etc, etc, etc.), the actual breakdown relative to skill sets would be as follows:

*SALES PROFESSIONALS: only 10% will be true sales professionals i.e. they know how to develop new business, grow revenue with existing clients, and maximize margins (they live to sell vs. just selling to live)

*WANNABEES: 30% will have no business being in sales at all – period.

*SALES/CUSTOMER SERVICE: 35% are ‘place holders’.  They will usually cover their draw, are going to provide excellent service to their existing clients, will follow up on a lead if it’s sent their way, but are way out of their comfort zones when it comes to developing new business.

*DEVELOPMENT TEAM:  the final 25% are solid performers who, with the right motivation, a break or two, and ongoing training will become “PROS”.  They are the future of your company!


Did you ever stop and think about how many hours professional athletes have practiced in their lifetimes.  Ever wonder why Michael Phelps has a coach to help him with his breaststroke? Or why Dirk Nowitski has a jump shot coach? Or Rafael Nadel a back hand coach? It is certainly not because they are under-performers or WANNABEES. It is to support exceptional performance in the quest for constant improvement.

There is a fascinating book that I would encourage everyone to add to their sales library: Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell (the author of Blink).

Early on Gladwell quotes neurologist Dr. Daniel Levitin: “ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world class expert – in anything.” “In study after study of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, chess players, composers, concert pianist, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again.”

Gladwell goes on to give other examples: the Beatles, Bill Gates,Steve Jobs and shares this observation from John Lennon: “it was fascinating, the more we practiced, the better we got.”

How many hours of practice do you think the average printing sales person has committed to his or her craft?  How many hours of coaching have they received?

 Are any of us even close to approaching 10,000 hours?



Do you  know what makes your sales team successful?

Do you have an inventory of their strengths and weaknesses?

Do you have a “custom success profile” of your top producers to use as a barometer for future hires and as a developmental road map for the rest of your team?

Do you know how the SALES PROFESSIONALS on your team actually compare to your WANNABEES (every sales team has some) when it comes to organizational skills, recognition needs, imagination, sensitivity, social need, competitiveness, assertiveness, probing levels, tension, and flexibility?

You should!  The short and long term financial health of your company depends on it!

PS:  In case you don’t recognize the center fielders I’ve pictured (and who I consider the best of the best) , I’ll list the names the next time I post something ‘brilliant’.   As always, thanks for being here.

Craig McConnell, President 


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Managing Your ‘Unmanagable’ Sales Menagerie

Posted on under Sales Management 101.


Managing Your Sales Menagerie

I doubt that there is a sales manager anywhere who has not at one time or another stared out at his ‘audience’ at an early morning sales meeting and said (with apologies to Billy Joel) ‘Man, what am I doing here?”

You get no eye contact (think Southwest Airlines as you try to keep the middle seat empty), body language that is bored and apathetic at best, and in many cases you find yourself trying to have a discussion with a group of people who have suddenly forgotten how to talk.

What are you supposed to do with the reps that expect preferential treatment, never take responsibility, or always find something to whine about?  Or, what about the ones who have lost the ability to think on their own and are quick to blame you for their lack of productivity and have more excuses than Missouri has meth labs?

Remember, you need to treat all your sales people fairly, but you don’t need to treat them all the same.  More importantly, if you have never taken the time to create a ‘sales success profile’ and a ‘talent inventory’ of your team, you are doing yourself and your company a huge disservice.  You need to know what motivates them.  You need to know who needs to take their talents elsewhere.   You need to have a clear understanding of the skill sets and behavioral characteristics that enable your ‘true Hunters’ to consistently develop new business and increase margins.

Every sales team is an amalgam of personalities and styles. I’m going to share with you some of the characters I’ve met over the years; see if you recognize any of them.

Greg the Great

Greg the Great ‘knows’ that you need him more than he needs you.  He’s aggressive, assertive, is a great closer, and doesn’t need a lot of help from you.  He is a ‘pro’ and I would suggest that you be sure to set limits (and enforce them) with Greg, avoid micro-managing him, and then just let him make you look good.

Sunset  Sam

Sunset Sam was Gutenberg’s apprentice and has been in print sales since before color keys.  Sam is very comfortable with his sales volume, his income, and his station in life.  His interest in developing new business is nil.  His interest in new technology and solution selling is non-existent. There’s not a whole lot you can do with Sam, but you’ve got to make sure he is part of the team and you can’t let him become a negative influence. Recognize his long term contributions and encourage him to be the team’s ‘elder statesman.’ Replacing him should be an option (remember, upgrading the level of talent on your sales team should always be a priority), but because of the solid relationships he has developed over the years you might risk losing the business; proceed with caution, but proceed.

See the source image


Elizabeth the Excitable

Every meeting and call Elizabeth has is a ‘great’ one.  Her clients and prospects all love her, she isn’t afraid to talk to anyone, she’s enthusiastic and outgoing, and seems to have everything in common with everyone she meets. People love her, but sadly, she can’t close.  Be patient with Elizabeth, challenge her, teach her that the only good meeting is one that results in a second meeting, help her learn how to ask better questions (and become a better listener), give her public accolades when earned, and make sure you review her weekly ‘to do’ list and hold her accountable.


Polly Perfect

Nobody has a cleaner, more organized work space and filing system than Polly, but she uses change and lack of structure as an excuse for going into hibernation.  Polly puts in lots of hours, but she is busy, not productive.  She works hard and is a great long term planner, but flexibility is not in her DNA and new ideas and ways of doing things make her apoplectic.  She cares deeply about others but can find something wrong with almost anything.  If Polly’s on your team she will have to be taught to deal with distractions and be willing to embrace constructive criticism.  She’ll need to be carefully coached and be given an opportunity to earn small success experiences.  Building awareness and self-confidence will be paramount.

Timid Tim

It’s hard for Tim to be enthusiastic and it is next to impossible for him to ask the hard questions (“What if the client tells me ‘no’?”). Tim can find a million reasons not to prospect and is always doing research on the internet.  His desk is immaculate, is a great list maker, gets his billing done quickly, his clients are loyal (he just doesn’t have enough of them), and is quiet (and passive) to a fault.  What’s a sales manager to do?  Start with prioritizing the basics:  prospecting skills, listening skills, presentation skills, questioning skills; then help Tim with his self-talk and self-assertiveness; teach him the basics of the communication pie (physicality, tonality, language), and finally, make sure Tim knows that you see him as a part of your team.


Debbie Downer

“What’s the use?  My pricing just isn’t competitive.”  Debbie likes to talk about the good old days and blames everyone else for her lack of productivity.  Debbie thinks she is a hard worker but shows up late, leaves early, and loves a long lunch.  Debbie is happiest when the customers call her.  Debbie refuses to set goals (written or otherwise), can be a selfish employee, and has a short attention span.  If you commit to Debbie, know that she will require a lot of attention and patience.  You will need to help her focus and the implementation of an accountability program will be a must.



Curious Carl

There aren’t many Carl’s around; he is a rare breed because he knows that constructive curiosity builds opportunities and opportunities build sales.  He prioritizes really understanding the customer.  He knows their business and how they create value for their customers.  He understands the issues they face and the hurdles they will need to overcome.  He is a solution specialist, not someone who puts ink on paper. Curious Carl knows it is all about being interested  –  truly interested  –   in the customer.  Carl’s customers know that he is not just asking questions because some sales trainer told him that was a good thing to do.  Carl’s goal is to uncover things other sales reps would leave untouched.  Carl’s curiosity builds trust and understanding and that builds sales.  Encourage all your sales reps to be like Carl.

Lucy The Lifelong Learner

Lucy is my all-time favorite. Like Carl, she is a rare breed. If you are lucky enough to have people like her on your sales team you need to nurture them and clone them whenever possible.    She has a personal mission statement that demands that she never stop learning.  She knows that whether we are talking about learning more about your company’s products, basic selling skills, industry trends, or just trying to figure out how things work, it is very important to always be increasing your knowledge.  Lucy manages her time in such a way that there is always time to read and to learn.

Let me leave you with this reminder.  It’s my version of Alec Baldwin’s famous sales speech from GlenGarry Glen Ross:  ABC  –  Always Be Coaching

All too often, sales coaching is non-existent; it is merely an afterthought.

Don’t let that happen to your organization.

If you’re not using your coaching to support your sales team, you’re preventing them from reaching their potential both personally and professionally.

Professional athletes have coaches.  Why should Greg the Great, Sunset Sam, Elizabeth the Excitable, Polly Perfect, Timid Tim, Debbie Downer, Curious Carl, or Lucy The Lifelong Learner be any different?


Craig McConnell, President, PrintGrowPro/SalesGrowPro


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