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Questions and Answers for Managers


Questions and Answers

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Once a month, Dave responds to questions from sales managers in his Ezine, “Thinking about Sales.” This is a compilation of those answers. To subscribe to the Ezine, click here. Check back often, as new answers are added regularly. If you are a publisher, feel free to use these in your publication as they appear, or edit them to fit your publication's needs. Make sure that you print and return the publication terms of agreement if you decide to use any portion of the editorial content offered here.

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QA-SM-1 Q. Which of these two choices is more likely to result in an effective sales person: 1. hiring someone with technical expertise or industry experience and training them to become a sales person, 2. hiring someone with sales aptitude, and training them in the product knowledge and technical aspects of the job?
A. That's simple. I think you are almost always better off hiring someone with sales aptitude and educating them in the technical part of the job. Here's why... [Read More]

QA-SM-D-1 Q. Dave, I'm from outside the industry, and am accustomed to what I see as a much more professional sales force than what I currently have. Am I off-base in expecting a professional group of sales people, as opposed to the 'nice guys' who don't seem to take their professions seriously that I inherited?
No. You're not off base. You've just stumbled upon one of the biggest weaknesses in most distributors - the sales force! It's one of the most common laments I hear from distributor principals and sales managers: "I wish I had a more professional sales force... [Read More]

QA-SM-44 I wanted to do some sales training last year, but it just wasn’t the right time for it. We had too many things on our plate. Looking at our calendar this year, I am coming to the same conclusion. Am I ever going to have time to do sales training? Will it ever be the right time?
Great question. Probably the number one reason sales managers don't provide sales training for their teams is "the timing just isn't right."

Why is it that some companies, regardless of the press of the urgent and the demands of the customers, find time to provide regular training and development opportunities for their sales force, and others, in the same industry, just can't make the time? [Read More]

QA-SM-42 Q. I'm frustrated. My sales force just doesn't seem to be motivated. They agree with me at sales meetings, but then don't follow through. Any ideas?
Yes. I just had a phone conversation with a client who had a familiar story to tell. He had built his business on the model of an entrepreneurial sales force. [Read More]

QA-SM-39 Q. How do you switch from paying your sales people based on the sale to paying them based on the collection of the sale?
Any time you make changes to a sales person's compensation plan, you are playing with fire. Any adjustments require that you be sensitive to their plight, and thoughtful and methodical in your approach. It's worth the time to do it right. [Read More]

QA-SM-37 How can I set sales goals with any degree of reliability when this year’s economy is so uncertain?
I can appreciate your problem. The economic atmosphere is so uncertain it’s difficult to predict what is going to happen even a month from now....[Read More]

QA-SM-36 Part II. I’m seeing a lot of anxiety and nervousness about the economy all around me. Do you have any thoughts on how to respond to this?
There is a season for everything, or so King Solomon said. Specifically, he said, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven [ Read More ]

QA-SM-35 Our president recently suggested that we penalize the salespeople for not meeting their goals by taking commissions away from them. Do you have any thoughts?
Wow. My initial reaction is that it sounds so harsh. Put that way, and you are liable to lose 90 percent of your sales force, just on the principle of it. But, let's spend some time thinking about this....[Read More]

QA-SM-33 I have three new salespeople, and a handful of more experienced reps. I find myself spending a disproportionate amount of time with the new guys, and, therefore, ignoring the others. Is this OK? Or should I spread my coaching time around to be equally available to all of them?
Let me give you a short answer as well as a long answer. The short answer is this: Yes. It's OK. You're doing fine. Here's the long answer. As you work intently with the new salespeople, hopefully you are helping them to understand how to do their jobs well. You are educating them in the principles and practices of successful sales in your field. Not only that, but you are also, I hope, helping them to create positive habits which will be repeated numerous times over the next few years....[Read More]

QA-SM-32 Here's an issue that I confront with my sales people all of the time. They are afraid to press for the next step, because they don't want to experience the rejection of hearing a "NO." So, they try to keep the sale alive by not asking for resolution. This keeps them involved with customers who aren't interested and prevents them from moving on. Any thoughts?
Great question. There are two issues here. First, dealing with the sense of rejection that very often comes with hearing a "no," and, second, pushing for a resolution so that you don't waste time with people who aren't going to say "yes." [Read More]

QA-SM-31 I'd like to provide my salespeople (and all the employees) information on costs, profits, etc., so that they have a healthy understanding and respect for our owner's investment and risk as well as their value. Any suggestions as to how to go about it? Yes. I'm an advocate of "open book management" which is the term used to define this approach. What it means is that you share with your employees certain proprietary financial information and how their behavior influences those numbers. You do so on a regular basis. [Read More]

QA-SM-30 I'm definitely known for having very high expectations that aren't so easy to meet. I wondered if you could elaborate on what strategies you have seen succeed regarding this? Believe me, I understand. It is so easy to look at an issue and think, "I (or we) can do … (some really high performance in that issue)" And, under ideal circumstances, you really could do that! The problem is of course, that rarely does it exist under ideal circumstances. For example, let's say that you determine your sales group could build the business by 25 percent this year. So, you, since you are in the habit of creating high expectations, decide to set a goal of a 25 percent increase in sales for your group. [Read More]

QA-SM-26 Being a branch manager and having 6 reps and no sales manager, how do you delegate some of their requests back to them without discouraging their efforts? Begin with clear expectations. What you expect the salesperson to do ought not to be a secret, nor a matter for negotiations. Now, before we go too far, let's stop and think about this a bit. One of the biggest time wasters for salespeople is the amount of clerical work that they are often expected to do. These typically include things like looking up prices, sourcing new products, creating quotes, managing price increases, checking on back orders, delivering literature, etc.
[Read More]

QA-SM-23 I am currently working in a family business. For about ten years sales have been decreasing. I was just appointed as the head of sales. I have several salespeople who have been with the company for 30-40 years. They simply refuse any system or training that shakes even slightly their comfort. They have made it very difficult to make any progress. Even the president has told me "they are untouchable." How can I manage them? If you don't feel that level of support, then abandon the plan. If you try and fail because he backs down to the sales people, it will significantly hinder your ability to manage at all. At that point, you, and everyone else, will understand that you are impotent in your ability to manage these people. You might as well resign. If, however, you feel that the president will support you, then you must go ahead with the plans to redesign the sales structure. Since you are changing the structure of the organization, that change impacts everyone, not just these sales people, and is not, therefore, personal..... [Read More]

QA-SM-21 We are intent on revising our decades-old sales compensation plan. Management is divided. One half favors straight commission, and the other doesn't. What are your thoughts?
In my work as a sales consultant, I am routinely involved in helping my clients revise their sales compensation plans. My company, on almost any day of the week, has an open compensation plan project that we are working on for some client. I say that to let you know that I have extensive experience with sales force compensation plans.....[Read More]

QA-SM-20 How does one stay non-threatening when you sell a distributor who sells customer A. Customer A grows and starts to buy direct from competitors (one step vs two step). How does one start selling direct to Customer A without threatening the distributor?
This is one I can really empathize with, having been on both sides of this issue (distributor and manufacturer) on several occasions. From my experience, the best results come from clear, above-the-board discussions with the distributor. A frank conversation that addresses the issue: This customer is not going to buy from you. In order to save the business, we're going to approach them direct. We're doing you the courtesy of letting you know our plans. That's life.... [Read More]

QA-SM-19 My salespeople all acknowledge the wisdom of spending more time in their high potential accounts, but they don’t do it. How can I get them to actually do what they know is the right strategy?
You are up against a problem that goes back to the beginning of history, and continues to plague us today. How do we, or in this case, get someone else to, do those things that we know are the best things to do? [ Read More ]

QA-SM-17 How often should a sales manager visit the customers?
There are a couple of ways to answer the question. From one perspective, you need to have your own relationship with the good customers in your area of responsibility. There are several reasons for that. [Read More]

QA-SM-16 Dave, I'm wearied by the preponderance of books and business advice by all these sports coaches. What's your opinion? How many different coaches do we need to hear from? What makes these books so popular? Is it another example of our infatuation with sports and the desire to bring that into our own lives? I can understand the fad for sports coaches dolling out success formulas. From the athlete's perspective, the character traits that are developed through successful sports involvement will serve anyone well in the business world. From the point of view of the manager or executive, many of those leadership techniques that make a sports team a winner are techniques that help the team play at their very best. Those are desirable and helpful in the world of business. And, it's been my observation that as kids grow up, those who participate in sports have a much better chance of staying out of trouble and succeeding than do those who refrain from athletic competition. So, on the surface, I can understand, and to some degree, support the fad... [Read More]

QA-SM-14 Our business has been struggling for the last year or so. Several of my salespeople are just not producing. I'm not sure I can continue to work with them. When do I decide to terminate their employment?
In an ideal world, everyone would succeed, and our biggest problem would be how to acknowledge the real heroes among a group of deserving colleagues. But it is not an ideal world, and every sales manager is, at some point, faced with this decision. At what point do you decide to fire them? This is a very personal decision embedded with emotional ramifications. There are all sorts of individual mitigating factors which influence the answer to this question.... [Read More]

QA-SM-13 How many appointments or conversations per day or per week should a salesperson make in order to be successful?
More important than the number of sales calls made is the quantity and quality of sales opportunities unearthed. In other words, if you sales person can uncover $1,000,000 worth of viable sales opportunities in five calls a week, more power to him/her. If another makes 25 calls to uncover the $1,000,000, so be it. Figure out what a viable quantity and quality of opportunities per salesperson is, and track those. It's closer to the mark than calls. The number of calls measures the amount of raw activity your salespeople engage in. The quantity and quality of sales opportunities measures a more significant thing -- the amount of worthwhile activities your salespeople engage in..... [Read More]

QA-SM-11 How much responsibility for collections should a salesman have?
Good question. This is one that comes up a regular basis when I'm working with a client to refine their sales compensation plan. It usually is expressed something like this: "Should we deduct old or uncollectible receivables from a salesperson's pay?" There are two sides to this issue. On one hand, there is an argument to be made that a sale is not complete until the money is received. Therefore, a salesperson should be involved in collecting any old or doubtful receivables. Besides, the argument goes, the salesperson is close to the account, knows the people to talk to, and can probably be more effective at collecting than the collections department.... [Read More]

QA-SM-10 I've heard you mention several times the importance of prioritizing and targeting customers. Can you shed some more light on this?
This is a key issue with me, as I believe it is one of the ways to make the biggest, most rapid change in your results. Too much good quality sales time and talent is squandered on customers who aren't worth the investment. If I can help sales people adjust their investment in time so that they are spending more time on the high potential and less time on others, they'll see an almost immediate improvement in results... [Read More]

QA-SM-9 How do I devise a program from the manufacturer to encourage our dealers to push their sales forces to sell our product instead of some other product, motivate the salesperson to quote our product more frequently in overlapping situations, and appeal to retail users that are taking bids from outside competitors not represented by our distributor?
I think too many of us operate on the assumption that money is the only motivator, whether it is for an employee sales force, or a group of dealer or distributor salespeople. I'm coming to appreciate more and more the power of other kinds of motivators. Let's start there. Don't assume that more money in the deal is going to get you the results you want. What else can you do? The best thing, of course is to have a product that uniquely solves some of the end users' problems, so that you and your dealers are selling a unique solution. While that may be the ideal, it's very rarely the real situation, and most products have competitors which, at least in the mind of some customers, are thought of as equal.... [Read More]

QA-SM-8 I'm finding it difficult to manage my salespeople in our straight commission environment. Any suggestions as to how I can get them to do what I want them to do?
I spent much of my adult life as a salesperson working on 100% commission. I would not have had it any other way. However, as a consultant and sales educator, I'm generally not in favor of 100% commission programs. Here's why: It is difficult to more finely direct a sales force when you pay them 100% commission. You can ask them to do anything, but if it doesn't allow them to make more money right away, it probably won't get done. For example, you can ask your salespeople to prospect for new accounts...... [Read More]

QA-SM-7 At what point during the superstar building process can management step in and provide support for their sales staff?
First, notice that the question is based on the assumption that there is a superstar building process. Let me refine my understanding of what that means. I'm not sure that it is as cut and dry as this phrase would indicate. Superstar building process implies that you can put someone in the front end of the process, intervene in some ways, and pop out the back end of the process a finished superstar. Sort of like dumping chunks of granite in a machine, and having a reproduction of Michelangelo's David pop out the back end. It's just not that simple.... [Read More]

QA-SM-6 How many sales calls should a salesperson make?
Why do I not know how many sales calls a person should make? Because of all the variables. For example, if you are brand new in your territory, you should make more calls than someone who is well established. If you have a compact geographical area, you should make more calls then someone who has a large, rural area. If you carry 20,000 items, you should make fewer calls then someone who sells three lines. If you sell a non-technical commodity product, you should make more calls then someone selling a highly technical piece of capital equipment. And so it goes.... [Read More]

QA-SM-5 What would you recommend for goal-setting for sales managers?
I believe a sales manager should be involved in goal setting in two ways. First, the sales manager needs to insure that all of his/her salespeople have well designed goals. Second, the sales manager needs to have a series of goals for his/her own performance and growth. Let me just emphasize that an effective sales manager makes sure that all the salespeople have well done, motivating goals. Now, what about goals for the sales manager, apart from those of his/her group?.... [Read More]

QA-SM-3 How can we get inside sales to do some proactive sales activities each day? We expect our inside salespeople to use some of their time to shift into the proactive mode to make outbound phone contact to existing and new business. But it is hard for them to do this regularly.
First, how do you get inside sales to be proactive? Answer: You don't. It is far easier to refloat the Titanic than it is to get a group of essentially reactive customer-service-type personalities to change their mode of operation and make proactive phone calls. That's because of the personality of the typical inside/customer service person. Generally, the people who fill these positions are very reactively oriented. By that I mean that if a customer comes to them with a problem, they will knock down walls to fix the problem and help the customer. They are great helpers and problem-fixers. That personality characteristic is one of their strengths, and one of the reasons they are good in that job. [Read More]

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