In this episode, we uncover the 15 most common sales problems that reps are likely to face, and how to address them now.
Suzanne Paling, is Principal at Sales Management Services, a sales management consultant to small business leaders, and author of The Sales Leader’s Problem Solver: Practical Solutions to Conquer Management Mess-ups, Handle Difficult Sales Reps, and Make the Most of Every Opportunity, which is the winner of the USA Book News Award in the Business/Sales category in 2016.
The Sales Enablement Podcast with Andy Paul was formerly Accelerate! with Andy Paul.
Andy Paul 0:35
Hello and welcome to the Sales Enablement Podcast. I am joined today by Suzanne Paling. She’s a principal at sales management services, a sales management consultant, a small business leader and author of an award winning book the sales leader problem solver, which is the winner of the USA book news award in the business/sales category for 2016. So Suzanne, welcome to the Sales Enablement Podcast.
Suzanne Paling 1:28
Thank you very much, Andy.
Andy Paul 1:30
So I may take a minute to fill out that bare bones introduction, you know, how’d you get your start in sales, for instance.
Suzanne Paling 1:38
I’m a career salesperson and sales manager. And I began my sales career as a field rep covering New England for consumer products companies, and then moved into professional publishing, I sold for a period of time and then became a sales manager. So I’ve just always always been in sales or sales management right out of college. And 20 years ago, I started my business sales management services, five sales management advice and assistance to companies looking to increase revenue by improving their sales organizations performance.
Andy Paul 2:11
I’ve done a lot of that same work too. So we’re colleagues in that regard. So one to sort of lead off talking about your book, you’ve written the sales leaders problem solver. And we’ve talked before we came on about a lot of real world problems that you identify in there. So what was the impetus to write the book?
Suzanne Paling 2:37
I took a look at the 15 most common problems that my clients were facing, such as the rep that won’t prospect for new business, or the rep that spends too much time on social media. And I walk sales leaders through the process of solving the problem. I show them how to clarify the problem. Get the facts, create a plan. strategize with their direct supervisor, and then meet with the sales rep.
Andy Paul 3:05
So were there other books that address this?
Suzanne Paling 3:10
I haven’t seen a book quite like it on the market that goes problem by problem and looks at each problem individually and walks the sales leader through a way to solve the issue.
Andy Paul 3:22
Yeah, one of things I really enjoyed about it I’d mentioned before is that when you identify the 15 problems, they may be considered by some to be served. But the fact is, this is the real world problem. So if you were, say, your day to day as a sales manager, one of the things that you’re facing most frequently. The other ones that you talk about are fairly common. So I’m going to go through a couple of them more in depth because I thought the solutions were kind of interesting and we can have a little good discussion about it. So the first one that I wanted to talk about was probably called the inconsistent Sales Rep. So in this you give an example of Stan who hits quota on the year but doesn’t do it on a consistent basis throughout the year, up and down from month to month. So, let me start there. And because I know a lot of people listen to that and say okay, well, you know, Stan hits his number for the year. Why is this a problem? Why is it an issue if he doesn’t necessarily make it, you know, say six months out a year, he makes quota in six months, he doesn’t, but on the balance for the area’s making quota for the year now. So why is that a problem for sales managers?
Suzanne Paling 4:36
It’s a problem for a couple of reasons. at year end, someone like Stan might make their number, but typically they just make it and it’s not a problem. It’s a problem because the sales leader can’t really count on them ever. They’re either the big hero, or they’re the gold and this leads to a lot of inconsistency. by month and quarter by quarter. So where this rep Stan may come in for the year, he misses probably several quarters worth of business. This might cost people bonuses and the group and possibly even the sales leader. It also sets a tone for the rest of the sales staff. When this happens constantly. The sales staff understands that it’s okay. You can be really wild really up and down with your sales as long as you make it at the end of the year. Everything’s all right. And it really isn’t. And that’s not how most sales leaders want their sales organization to be run.
Andy Paul 5:38
Yeah, well, I start curious because you know, I was thinking about it as well as it is. If you look at your sales team, let’s say you’ve got five or 10 reps selling your small company. Yeah, statistically, you may only have four of them that are hitting quota in general. So the fact that you have one That’s hitting quota, but it’s not in a manner that is consistent or necessarily as predictable, which is a very valid point in terms of predictability, but they’re still doing it. Isn’t that something to be managed but not really dire?
Suzanne Paling 6:17
I agree with you, it isn’t probably the most dire problem the sales manager faces. And what I say in that chapter, particularly about a sales rep, like Stan is most sales leaders don’t want to chase Stan off, because he’s proven time and time again that he can sell. But he’s a bad example to the other reps and he often leaves the sales leader, hanging, wondering whether or not they’ll make their number for the quarter or even the year. Sometimes it’s a bad position to be in. And I try to walk the sales leader through the steps towards talking to Stan getting him to recognize the issue and working to make it better, not perfect, but better be connected. Say in the book a rep, like Stan will always be slightly up and down. There won’t be anything you can do to make it perfect. But you can try to improve the situation.
Andy Paul 7:09
Yeah. So then you Alright, so let’s go through your process. First I want to come back to a couple more questions about that that I’m curious about. But so users talked about this before as one is, is you have a sort of standard process. I think it’s really good for sales managers to have developed a process for how they address problems. And you talked about summarizing problems and analyzing patterns so much once you step people through that, so they understand as a manager, how you would start addressing the problems you find.
Suzanne Paling 7:41
The first step is to clarify the problem. With a rep like Stan, you have to understand exactly what you’re dealing with, because you want to zero in on it. There may be a number of things you don’t like about him in terms of his abilities as a rep, but you need to figure out what is that one problem Where you want to focus your efforts and figure out what that is. And the next thing you want to do is gather data on it. And so assemble the data that shows you exactly what is happening with Stan. And when I suggest this to my clients, they always say to me, I know the numbers backwards and forwards, I don’t need any help. I know the numbers. And what I encourage them to do is look at the numbers in a different way, spin them, talk to other people, ask them what kind of reports they run, and get a full look at what’s happening all the time. People say to me, you know, when they look at different reports and spin the data a little bit differently, they’ll say to me, I had no idea, or I really never knew or this came as a big surprise to me. So after you’ve run the data, I tell people to pretend there are no office politics, pretend you can do whatever you want, and solve the problem for yourself. What would you do if no one could tell you? How would you go about solving this problem. And then go through the process of writing it down. Use some of the facts and figures that you’ve put together and create a supporting report for how you would go about solving the problem. And then bring it to your direct supervisor. Or if you’re the CEO, owner of the company, perhaps bring it to a roundtable or board of directors and say, This is our problem. And this is how I recommend solving it. What I also tell people to look out for is being too protective of the report, they’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating it. They’re nervous about approaching a supervisor about it, they get closer to it than they think and are prepared to compromise a little bit. Okay, what I often find is the CEO, the business owner, the President is one or two levels above the sales leader and sees things from a different vantage point, and they might have some suggestions and some good ideas. You haven’t even thought of it.
Andy Paul 10:01
It’s time to think in terms of corporate culture and how they treat people and how they want people to be treated . Yeah, it’s really important to get a different perspective from your own as a manager.
Suzanne Paling 10:16
Yeah, they often have some very good ideas. And together, work out a solution that both parties can get excited about that both parties can feel that is acceptable to both of them, and then go about the process of speaking to the rep at that point, and not before.
Andy Paul 10:36
Okay, so one of the questions I had is, back on sort of the inconsistency, you talked about, if reps, you know, achieving the monthly goal and missing their monthly goal. And you said without consequences, I’m sort of curious about that. So, what consequences do you think there should be for somebody that unbalanced is making it but you know, it’s not doing it perhaps in the way the manager likes to see in terms of a more predictable month to month.
Suzanne Paling 11:13
So it depends on the length of the sales cycle. Not all companies are the same. But I suggest that you tell them, if you are, if you go two months in a row without making a quota, or you’re not at the group average, you will be put on probation.
Andy Paul 11:31
So even if there’s somebody that may have been there for company for five years, and they’ve always made quota on the end, but they’re not being consistent.
Suzanne Paling 11:42
They’re not consistent. And you also have to look at the fact that they might make quota in the end, but the other people in the group might be ahead of quota by 2030 or 40%. So in the end with the big dips that this person takes, they might be costing you money and themselves money and commission as well.
Andy Paul 12:04
Like I spent how your commission plan is structured, right? I mean, if it’s not done on a, you know, percent of annual achievement, but it’s done on a monthly basis, they could be costing themselves money.
Suzanne Paling 12:16
Yeah. And the company. And again, the bad example, which really comes home, salespeople tend to imitate each other. And when they see a rep who goes on this rollercoaster ride without any consequences, they interpret that as perfectly reasonable behavior.
Andy Paul 12:32
Sometimes when people are emulating the inconsistent rep is that, as we sort of mentioned before, is that you take the standard distribution of you know, any sales forces, you’re gonna have probably majority that aren’t making quota. So, you see, this I’m sure all the time is there’s lots of people that are on staff that are watching past their expiration date. So those are more of the bad examples though, right? I mean, to me if when I was trying to prioritize looks and reading sort of through this and saying, Okay, let’s prioritize. You know, I’d really prioritize that mediocre sales rep, which is another chapter you have about how to deal with those that just aren’t good.
Suzanne Paling 13:20
And they can sometimes just make or just miss quoted to, for the reps, they’re consistently not achieving quota. I think that’s a different problem. And sometimes easier to solve. Most companies have some kind of policies and procedures for putting people on warning when they aren’t making quota. The problems I tend to look at are the trickier ones, where you want to save this rep, but they’re causing harm. You know, in the case of the inconsistent rep or the mediocre rep. There are problems with having a rep like that on the staff.
Andy Paul 13:55
So quantify if you can, what the harm is that you think the inconsistency is creating for the company and setting aside you know, fact there may be seasonal bonuses plans or you know, things like that for for managers, but in terms of the business and the company itself in your mind you know, quantify that harm that happens when through an inconsistent rep.
Suzanne Paling 14:24
The sales leader is always panicked about whether or not they’re going to hit their number and often or sometimes hitting their number depends on this up and down rep coming through. It sets a precedence for the other reps because they do watch and emulate each other. And though they might make quota in the end, they may be missing a lot of additional revenue through their dips, you know, during their really down periods. They may be missing sales all together that they could close if they were more consistent in their approach and had an understanding of why they dip and the way they go up and down the way they do you know, what is it about that behavior that’s driving them?
Andy Paul 15:08
What have you found through your work and through your research for the book that there were some common causes for inconsistent sales reps?
Suzanne Paling 15:20
One of the causes that I found was they tended to really wear themselves out. If they had a really, really good month, the energy level or a quarter of the energy level for the next month or quarter really wasn’t there. And it took them some time to recover and get back up to speed. That was after a good month or good quarter. Likewise, if they had really bad sales, they had a hard time recovering the way other salespeople do. It took them longer to recover longer to set the new better pace for themselves.
Andy Paul 15:59
Alright, so let’s let’s jump on to the next one. So the next one was one that sort of near and dear to my heart is CRM non compliance? Now, again, I think people reading the title may say, huh, but this is a real problem. It is a real problem and it’s widespread. It’s certainly in our current iteration and it is pretty widespread. Why is compliance still such an issue?
Suzanne Paling 16:47
If you put notes into the CRM system, you are held accountable to those notes. If you leave sort of a less specific trail, you’re not held as accountable. Or it seems more mysterious or the notes are hard to interpret. Likewise, with a sales forecast or a pipeline, the less information you put in there, the less you can be questioned.
Andy Paul 17:12
I think this is a point for managers that are listening to the show to understand that reps and one of the issues with those reps, just they don’t innovate.
Suzanne Paling 17:27
That’s correct. They don’t want accountability.
Andy Paul 17:30
So it’s always sort of ironic, right? Because the reason that people get into sales in the first place compared to working a standard sort of nine to five desk job is that they are accountable for exactly what they’re doing right that their ability to earn right now I’m attracted sales because I can earn more money or I know that the my success is based directly on what I do and the effort I put into it, as opposed to and it’s very clear what I did, as opposed to working instead of a traditional desk job where it’s, you know, my contribution, I’m part of a team, maybe my specific contribution can’t be measured the same way. So that’s one of the appeals of sales, but on the other hand, they don’t want to help be accountable for the details.
Suzanne Paling 18:16
And likewise, if you have to fill out whether you won or lost the sale, it begs the question, well, if you lost why, and that’s another detail, they like to keep kind of murky. Well, we lost to someone, they decided to stay with the status quo what they currently use, well, that may or may not be true, they don’t want to put a lot of detail in about the loss of the sale.
Andy Paul 18:40
So it seems sort of the flip side to the not wanting to be held accountable is it may be phrased a little bit differently for many sales professionals is that they see the CRM system as just sort of an instrument of command and control by management.
Suzanne Paling 18:59
It’s another way to spy on me, another way to criticize me, another way to hold me accountable when I’m not always responsible for all the problems and all the issues that go on.
Andy Paul 19:10
Right. So if one of the issues started driving issues, I believe it is in CRM non compliance and reps not using it fully, by entering in their call notes and call record zone is that they don’t see what’s in it for them. I mean, similar to prospects, right, and prospects never going to buy something from you if they don’t see what’s in it for them. So what should managers be doing? In order to make the reps understand that? What’s in it for them and the value to them of making sure they’re using the CRM system the way that you’ve intended to be used?
Suzanne Paling 19:47
A lot of times in each chapter in the book, I talk about how the problem got started to begin with. And especially in the case of CRM, non compliance, a lot of that starts in the hiring phases, and what I recommend is that sales leaders ask a lot of questions during the interview process about the reps current CRM usage and how they view CRM. And that they have policy and procedure set up to ensure compliance with the CRM that the rep understands before coming on board. I also recommend that different people throughout the company speak to the reps about how they might use CRM and some of the information within and how valuable it is to them. I suggest that sales leaders and company leaders always have the CRM open and use it when they’re speaking to the rep and whether it be on Skype face to face, what have you. So they’re always looking at it, using the information utilizing it. And last but not least, calling the rep on it right away. You didn’t put the notes in for XYZ company, where they have to be diligent, and you have to remind them right away to put those in those notes. You’re important to me, the marketing director, the product manager, the CFO, we need to see those notes.
Andy Paul 21:07
I think, first and foremost, is that, you know, there’s one thing within it’s an evolution. The evolution of how we’re reviewing CRM is that, and sales in general is that reps have to understand that account information doesn’t belong to them. Yeah, we’re reps and sales reps, and sales professionals are pretty portable, in terms of their ability to change between companies. And in the past that Rolodex, those contacts that always used to be their information, right. That’s how they saw themselves protecting their position. But now we’ve got this greater transparency. And they really need to understand that this is this corporate list. The account information is a corporate asset. It’s not personal property.
Suzanne Paling 22:02
Andy Paul 22:04
And, you know, secondly, as you talk about in terms of policies, and hiring, I think you need to make sure that people understand that using it per the policy that you’ve set up is really a condition of employment. Yeah, this is when I work with companies and I’ve had several multiple CEOs ask me about this. I’m fairly straightforward about it. You know, it’s not, it’s okay, if you’re partially compliant, there’s a reason we’re using it. And if we’re not using a tool, like a front end tool, like a sales development platform or something else that they rep uses as part of their job that automatically populates CRM and they have to go in and intro to the call notes. They got to do it. I mean, it’s it’s there’s a reason and there’s really no question.
Suzanne Paling 22:52
Yeah, it’s part of your job. I also think that reps like anyone get close to their customers emotionally because they’re calling on them on a regular basis. And it let’s say they usually talk to them every week or so and a month has gone by and they haven’t spoken to a particular decision maker at a company they call on regularly, the sales leader, the CEO, someone might notice that and think, hmm, what’s going on there? You know, when they can come in and maybe take corrective action, but if they don’t know, if they’re just left in the dark, they’re not sure what’s going on.
Andy Paul 23:25
Yeah, no, absolutely. And so that that’s what raises the point and one that, you know, I see time and time and time again, is that it’s not just rep compliance with CRM, but you know, that’s not used by senior management. You know, maybe the sales manager is using it, but if they report to a, VP of sales or VP of marketing and they report to the owner or the CEO. Yeah, starting at the top, oftentimes, just not used at all and I’ve seen the other examples of working with companies with CEOs are on top of it day in and day out.
Suzanne Paling 24:03
And in the book, I talk about little steps you can take to improve the situation. And let’s say the CEO meets all the reps during the interview process, have his or her computer open to the CRM system, so that the rep sees that they clearly use it. Right?
Andy Paul 24:24
Yeah, and have them under certain things that the CEO should be checking in there anyway. And especially in small business, and they shouldn’t be that far removed from the sales process that they’re not not involved with the CRM system. Example of a client I talked about a book about, you know, brought me in because they were having a hard time with sales lead follow up. And it was taking him days if they followed up on the leads at all on and I said, well fix the problem in five minutes. Yeah, we went to the sales admin and said, Look, you’re going to enter the leads. In sales operations, you’re gonna distribute them by the territory to these reps, and turn the CEO and I said at 430, every day, you’re gonna get on the CRM system and check to make sure they all got followed up. And it was like, oh, oh, I’m gonna use the CRM system. And you know, the problem was solved instantly.
Suzanne Paling 25:20
I agree. You know, and in the book, I say, if the marketing manager needs some information that isn’t in there and needs it from one of the reps, have the marketing manager, call them directly once in a while. Imagine the impact that makes.
Andy Paul 25:33
Especially in a smaller company, if they’re selling, you know, something’s relatively high value. I worked with one client, that small company of ours, what they sold was average, maybe $35,000 per sale, that’s not insignificant. People want to know what’s happening on those deals, and you can’t help the rep if you can’t understand and you don’t have the background of what’s really going on. So I thought that the interesting point you made is that the key thing that is not usually done in companies is they don’t define what needs to be entered and how it needs to be entered.
Suzanne Paling 26:09
Andy Paul 26:10
So spend a minute on that.
Suzanne Paling 26:13
One of the things I talk about is that one person is not another person’s know, if I leave in the notes section, the left voicemail will call back in a few days, maybe to me, I’ve said all I had to say. Whereas another person might say, I left a voicemail message. It’s the third one I’ve left in two weeks, I’m having trouble getting a hold of this decision maker. And I’m not sure what the problem is. Those are two entirely different notes. And so what I suggest that people do is work with the one or two people that leave the best notes in the CRM system. And take some of their notes and put them into your training manual Policies and Procedures Manual and show people what you mean by what a good you is, I also say that inside sales reps generally tend to leave better notes than outside sales reps. And so if you’ve got someone who’s really particularly good at it, you know, utilize their notes and give it as an example to others.
Andy Paul 27:16
Yeah, I think that’s a great idea. Just don’t assume that people know what you’re talking about when you say, Hey, leave a note, you know, record the call, tell what happened. Yeah, unless you’re really specific as a manager. And this is not assuming that your your sales professionals are are dumb. It’s just they don’t know. So yeah, spell it out for him what the expectation is in terms of what comprises a good note, and what level of detail that you expect in there.
Suzanne Paling 27:47
And also don’t forget to use the quarterly review. Take part of the bonus and make it around CRM compliance in there. Make that part of the bonus.
Andy Paul 29:20
All right well so the other chapters and we don’t have time to get into them but just what people see is the problems you identify with the ones I liked as selling only to existing customers. Mm hmm. Nothing wrong with having great flow of business from existing customers. But, you know, you’re probably not gonna hit your entire goal that way. No, unless your job these days is purely as an account manager. So do social media paralysis. We talked about them sometimes. You know, we have got a generation of kids that are coming into the workforce that we just can’t assume that they know how to pick up the phone and use it because they haven’t been using the phone the same way that other generations used it when they came into the workforce. So you know, there needs to be some training to help them deal with things that they’re not as comfortable with. salesperson. fiefdom. Gosh, isn’t that a bazillion times where we come into a new company or come into a company that I’m working with new and go six sales reps and the two of the reps have 80% of the accounts because they are the first two in the door.
Suzanne Paling 30:19
Happens all the time.
Andy Paul 30:20
Yeah. Business owners just understand why.It’s why it’s killing their business. So often, you see hiring managers get somebody to come in and they just want a title. And I think Well, yeah, I can give the title that serves no skin off my back until they get three or four other people on board. And suddenly everybody wants to be vice president of sales and you think it’s just a name on a business card, but it can create more trouble than that.
Suzanne Paling 30:48
Yeah. Causes real problems.
Andy Paul 30:50
Yeah. So lots of good problems there. Good Book. People should pick up and read it and will give Suzanne a chance to tell you in a few minutes how to find out more about it. And Suzanne now we’re in the last segment of the show where I’ve got some standard questions I’ve asked all my guests. And the first one is a hypothetical scenario in which you have just been hired as VP of sales by a company whose sales have hit a rough patch. Not only are they consistently inconsistent, and the CEO is anxious to sort of hit the reset button, get a sales turnaround going. So what two steps would you take in your first week on the job that could have the biggest impact?
Suzanne Paling 31:27
The first step I would take is to have everyone take an online sales assessment so that I could see who really should be in sales, maybe who should consider another profession, and where they specifically needed help. So it would save me six or nine months of getting to know the reps and finding out where they were strong and where they had challenges. I would know right away And the second thing I would do is look at the common challenge across the board. What was the one thing that the whole entire sales staff struggled with? And I would buy them all, a book, a sales book that dealt with that particular problem, and we’d start reading it chapter by chapter in the staff meetings.
Andy Paul 32:34
Okay, so here’s an interesting question about that. This is one I’ve asked several other guests to have said something similar to. Would you give them time during the business day to read the book?
Suzanne Paling 32:46
I would not because that’s something they need to do on their own time they need to be selling, if they all missed their number, and if the company was struggling we need to spend the day selling.
Andy Paul 32:56
That’s an interesting question because, increasingly, I’m talking to guests working with companies that say, “ Yeah, for asking our people to take on this task of, you know, reading and learning and so on, shouldn’t we be allocating some time in the day to enable them to do that?
Suzanne Paling 33:15
I would not know I’d have them read it in their own time and in a quiet space where they could concentrate and take notes.
Andy Paul 33:22
Okay. All right. So let me move on to some rapid fire questions. You can give me one word answers or elaborate if you wish. So when you Suzanne, are out selling your services, what’s your most powerful sales attribute?
Suzanne Paling 33:37
Andy Paul 33:49
Okay. So who’s your sales role model?
Suzanne Paling 33:56
I would say Linda Richardson. She wrote the book, Stop Telling, and Started Selling. And for me as a young woman, knowing that there was a woman out there who was successful enough in the profession to write a book was very inspiring to me.
Andy Paul 34:12
What’s one book you’d recommend every salesperson read?
Suzanne Paling 34:25
Proactive sales management by Skip Miller.
Andy Paul 34:29
Okay, great book. He’s been a guest on the show as well. Okay, and so the last question for you today is what music is on your playlist.
Suzanne Paling 34:44
I listened to a lot of Melissa Etheridge, Fleetwood Mac Neil Young, that kind of music.
Andy Paul 34:52
Good, nice, solid 70s 80s stuff. Mm hmm. Excellent. Okay, perfect. Well, Suzanne, thanks for being on the show.
Suzanne Paling 35:03
You can go to my website, www.salesmanagementservices.com And of course, I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Andy Paul 35:13
Okay, excellent. Well, again, thank you for being on the show. And friends. Thank you for spending time with us today. Remember to make a part of your day every day to deliberately learn something new to help you accelerate your success. An easy way to do that is to join my conversations with top business experts like my guest today Suzanne Paling, who shared her expertise about how to accelerate the growth of your business. And if you enjoy accelerating and the value we’re delivering them, please take a quick minute right now to leave your feedback about this podcast and iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you listen. It would be very much appreciated. So thanks again for joining me and until next time, this is Andy Paul. Good selling everyone. Thanks for listening to the show. If you like what you heard, and want to make sure you don’t miss any upcoming episodes, please subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for more Information about today’s guests, visit my website at AndyPaul.com