What to look for when hiring sales people

Edited excerpt from What Separates the Strongest Salespeople from the Weakest by Steve W. Martin:

I recently conducted a research project involving nearly 800 salespeople and sales leaders to better answer this question: What separates high-performing salespeople who exceed their quota from under-performers who miss their quotas by more than 25%?

1. Verbal acuity. On average, high-performing salespeople communicate between the 11th and 13th grade level when scored by the Flesch-Kincaid test as opposed to the 8th and 9th grade level for underperforming salespeople.

2. Achievement oriented personality. They are fixated on achieving goals and continuously measure their performance in comparison to their goals. Over 85% of top salespeople played an individual or team sport in high school.

3. Situational dominance. A relaxed-dominant salesperson speaks freely and guides the conversation as he confidently shares his knowledge and opinions with the customer. An anxious-submissive salesperson is forced into reactive behavior and his tendency is to operate under the direction of the customer, never being in control of the account.

4. Inward pessimism. Over 90% of all salespeople described themselves as optimists, but two-thirds of high-performing salespeople actually exhibit pessimistic personality tendencies. I theorize the explanation for this dichotomy is that salespeople always have to maintain a positive attitude and pleasant demeanor while in front of customers. However, inward pessimism drives a salesperson to question the viability of the deal and credibility of the buyer, and thus to ask the customer tougher qualifying questions and to seek out meetings with senior level decision makers who ultimately decide which vendor will be selected.

(1) “Over 90% of all salespeople described themselves as optimists, but two-thirds of high-performing salespeople actually exhibit pessimistic personality tendencies.” How can you test for this?
(2) Cf. How to interview sales people.

How to respond to critical customer feedback

Edited excerpt from We don’t care enough to give you constructive feedback by Seth Godin:

Most of the time, people won’t bother to give you feedback. But when someone does care enough (about you, about the opportunity, about the work or the tool), the ball is in your court.

You can react to the feedback by taking it as an attack, deflecting blame, pointing fingers to policy or the CEO. Then you’ve just told me that you don’t care enough to receive the feedback in a useful way.

Or you can pass me off to a powerless middleman, a frustrated person who mouths the words but makes it clear that the feedback will never get used. Another way to show that you don’t care as much as I do.

One other option: you can care even more than I do. You can not only be open to the constructive feedback, but you can savor it, chew it over, amplify it. You can delight in the fact that someone cares enough to speak up, and dance with their insight and contribution.

Because then, if you’re lucky, it might happen again.

(1) Thank you Chanie Weisenberg for the tip.
(2) Cf. When your product change is greeted by a torrent of complaints, what should you do?

How to listen without judging — a guide for managers

Edited excerpt from Practicing Non-Judgment by Leo Babauta:

What I’ve noticed when I experience anger, frustration, and disappointment, is that I am judging my experiences (and others, and myself) based on whether they are what I want, whether they are good for me or not. But why am I at the center of the universe? What about the other person? What about the rest of the universe?

If I drop away my self-centeredness, I no longer have reason for frustration. The experiences are just happening, and have nothing to do with me. They are neither good nor bad, they’re just happening.

Now, I realize we can’t do this all the time — as humans, it’s part of our experience to judge. And that’s OK. I’m simply suggesting that, some of the time, we drop the judgment and just experience.

(1) For managers, there are positives and negatives to being judgmental. The positives: You have to be judgmental if you want to set high standards and create a culture committed to excellence. The negatives: Put yourself in your team’s shoes — it’s debilitating to feel constantly judged and criticized.
(2) How do you get the balance right? This is a personal issue I grapple with. I’m extremely judgmental, and I think I often get the balance wrong. Suggestions, anyone?
(3) See (i) The 5 psychological traits of successful startup founders, (ii) Which is better: a CEO who tolerates mediocrity or one who throws tantrums? (that post caused a furore inside Seeking Alpha), and (iii) How the “too nice” manager kills your career.

How to ensure your company is customer-centric, and the challenge for ad-supported services

Edited excerpt from 3 Ways To Turn Customers Into Rabid Fans by Erica Andersen:

1) Use “Will the customer love it?” as your primary screen for action.
2) Work backwards from the customer.
3) Support your great customers vs. policing the bad ones.

1. What if your customers aren’t your users?  This is the case for free, ad-supported services. The revenue comes from advertisers, but depends on users. The conflict between the interests of your users and your customers (advertisers) is non-trivial.
2. The solution: Follow Google’s principle: “Focus on the user and all else will follow”. However, this only works if your ads don’t detract from the user experience.
3. In the cases where we’ve been insufficiently user-centric at Seeking Alpha, the reason has been because our ad products don’t enhance the user experience, leading to a clash of interests between users and advertisers. This is a systemic problem in the digital advertising industry.
4. Google search ads enhance the user experience. But what do you think about Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter ads, or native advertising on publishers’ websites?
5. On setting a clear principle to be customer-centric, see Polyvore CEO Jess Lee on what makes startups successful and Jeff Bezos on strategy.

Increasing customer loyalty with “Memorable Engaging Moments”

Edited excerpt from Turning your Customers into Fans by Ryan Battles:

At a company I used to work for, our co-founder was always striving to inject “MEMs” into our product, that is, “Memorable Engaging Moments.” Essentially, we were trying to create situations where a customer does X, expects Y, but receives Y, Z, and a few other extras. This works in any type of business, not just software.

When I had a flat tire that needed fixed, I ran it into the auto mechanic near my office. They fixed the tire. I then asked how much an oil change would cost. Knowing that I was not a regular customer, the technician said, “For you, nothing. Bring this card in for a free oil change next time you need one. Thanks for trusting us with your business today.”

Not only did I come back to that establishment for my oil change a few weeks later, but I continued using them for projects large and small ever since. I’ve even recommended them to a few friends in town looking for a mechanic. I became their advocate.

In what way can you do something unexpected whenever someone purchases your product? People are getting used to transactional emails, “thanking you” for your purchase. What if you actually sent them a short video clip of someone on your customer success team (or yourself if you are a solopreneur) thanking them by name, and giving them your email if they have any questions or concerns?

How your office influences your employees’ decisions

Edited excerpt from Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock:

For years we’d been testing ways to improve the quantity and quality of Googlers’ lives. We decided to test three types of intervention: providing information so that people could make better food choices, limiting options to healthy choices, and nudging. Of the three, nudges were the most effective. Nudging involves subtly changing the structure of the environment without limiting choice.

We measured the consumption of microkitchen snacks for two weeks to generate a baseline, and then put all the candy in opaque containers. Googlers, being normal people, prefer candy to fruit, but what would happen when we made the candy just a little less visible and harder to get to? We were floored by the result. The proportion of total calories consumed from candy decreased by 30 percent and the proportion of fat consumed dropped by 40 percent.

We turned to our cafés to see if a similar small nudge could change behavior. We supplemented our standard twelve-inch plates with smaller nine-inch plates. We put up posters and placed informational cards on the café tables, referencing the research that people who ate off smaller plates on average consumed fewer calories but felt equally satiated. 32 percent of Googlers tried the small plates. Total consumption dropped by 5 percent, but waste — the amount of food thrown away uneaten — fell by 18 percent.

We’re influenced by countless small signals that nudge us in one direction or another, often without any deep intent behind the nudges. Organizations make decisions about how to structure their workspaces, teams, and processes. Every one of these decisions nudges us to be open or closed, healthy or ill, happy or sad. Now look around you right now and discover how your environment is nudging you and those around you already.

How to implement a functional training program

Edited except from The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz:

The best place to start with training is with the topic that is most relevant to your employees: the knowledge and skill that they need to do their job. I call this functional training. It can be as simple as training a new employee on your expectations for them and as complex as a multi-week engineering boot camp to bring new recruits completely up to speed on all of the historical nuances of your product.

The training courses should be tailored to the specific job. If you attempt the more complex-style course, be sure to enlist the best experts on your team as well as the manager.

As a happy side effect, this type of effort will do more to build a powerful, positive company culture than a hundred culture-building strategic off-site meetings.

No startup has time to do optional things. Therefore, training must be mandatory.

(1) This is new ground for me. As Ben wrote in Four reasons why you should train your team, “My personal experience with training programs at companies where I had worked was underwhelming.”
(2) Re. “It can be as simple as training a new employee on your expectations for them” — perhaps this is about clear communication more than “training”. The mistake we often make as managers is that we think we’ve communicated clearly, but we haven’t. Making the communication more formal, such as setting up a “training session”, is a neat solution.

Four reasons why you should train your team

Edited except from The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz:

When I first became a manager, I had mixed feelings about training. My personal experience with training programs at companies where I had worked was underwhelming. Then I read chapter 16 of Andy Grove’s management classic, High Output Management, titled Why Training Is the Boss’s Job, and it changed my career.

There are four reasons you should train your people:

1. Productivity. Andy Grove demonstrates that training is one of the highest leverage activities a manager can perform. Consider putting on four lectures for 10 people, which take a total of 12 hours work. Next year those 10 people will work a total of 20,000 hours. If your training results in a 1% improvement, you will gain the equivalent of 200 hours of work.

2. Performance management. If you don’t train your people, you establish no basis for performance management. If you fire someone, do you know with certainty that they both understood the expectations of the job and was still missing them?

3. Product quality. Companies neglect to train new engineers. This leads to inconsistencies in user experience, performance problems, and a general mess.

4. Employee retention. I found there were two primary reasons why people quit their jobs. They hated their manager, appalled by the lack of guidance, career development and feedback. Or they weren’t learning anything. An outstanding training program can address both issues head on.

How to interview sales people

Edited excerpt from The World’s Best Interview Question …and 4 other hiring tactics to avoid ending up with salespeople who can’t sell by Sonya Meloff and Jamie Scarborough:

1. In the first 30 minutes of your initial interview, decide if you would buy from them. Put yourself in the mind of a potential customer. Have a conversation and allow them to engage with you. If, after 30 minutes, the answer is “no,” reject them from the process. If the answer is “yes,” progress the candidate to a much more rigorous analysis.

2. Find some proof that they have a strong work ethic. The clearest evidence is someone who knows their own performance numbers extremely well because hard workers love to be measured. The best reps discuss their performance history proudly and confidently both on their resume and in-person.

3. Dig into their sales metrics. How well did they perform compared to their peers? You should be looking for people who consistently rank in the top 25% of performers in each of their previous roles.

4. Ask them “How did you prepare for this meeting with me today?”. That exposes the sales imposterwho survives entirely on hustle and personality.

5. Assign each short-listed candidate a project (such as a 30, 60, or 90-day plan) that helps determine how job-ready they are, how much effort they put into things, and also gives the candidate a chance to get more invested in our company. Instead of sending them home to do this and present to you later, invite them to work with you for a couple of hours on the project so you can get a real sense of how they think and tackle challenges, how coachable they are, and how much you enjoy spending time with them.

(1) On “invite them to work with you for a couple of hours on the project”, cf. Lou Adler’s treat job candidates as consultants.
(2) See also: How to run a job interview.

The limits of trying to test people when you’re hiring

Edited excerpt from Why we don’t hire programmers based on puzzles, API quizzes, math riddles, or other parlor tricks by David Heinemeier Hansson:

I remember the first time I interviewed for a front-end programming position and got asked how to do something in JavaScript on a white board. The specifics are vague, but it’s crystal clear how stupid it made me feel and how little it had to do with the actual job.

I’ve known fabulous programmers flame out in the quizzing cage and terrible ones excel. So unless you’re specifically hiring someone to design you the next sorting algorithm, making them do so on the white board is a poor gauge of future success.

The only reliable gauge I’ve found for future programmer success is looking at real code they’ve written, talking through bigger picture issues, and, if all that is swell, trying them out for size.

(1) In other words, the problem with using tests to ascertain a candidate’s capabilities is that tests don’t replicate a real work context.
(2) Here’s an alternative approach: How to run a job interview.
(3) See also The best question to ask in a job interview: Sonya Meloff and Jamie Scarborough.