Category Archives: Sales leadership

You Just Sent One of Your Salespeople Packing. Do You Know What He’s Taking with Him?

You just fired Mario, who was struggling to make his quota. You kept his company-issued laptop, de-provisioned him from your company’s cloud services, intranet, and online databases. Shut down his corporate email account. “Phew. Glad that’s over!” Every box on your HR department’s Exit Procedure Form, ticked. Time to head out for sushi!

child_stealing.s600x600 While you’re deciding between Uramaki or Makizushi, you have a queasy feeling about Mario. During his tenure, Mario received price lists, proposal templates, discount schedules, engineering updates, and new product announcements. He had internal memos about product defects, and patches—or workarounds—for service issues.

He had the sales team’s compensation and incentive plan down to the tiniest details, PowerPoints loaded with opportunity heat maps and sales performance pie charts. You’re not sure if he saw the specs for your upcoming software release, marketing’s five-year strategic plan, and HR’s recruiting strategies and tactics, but IT just told you that he had unrestricted access.

Where, oh where is that stuff now? Who might be reviewing your files and documents and forwarding them on? Hard to say. Mario’s not answering his cell phone or responding to email. You loosen your tie and order a drink, because your wasabi just got a little hotter.

To competitors, Mario is a walking, talking, sharing goldmine of company intelligence—a not-insignificant risk. In fact, in the 2013 State of Cybercrime Survey, when US public and private-sector executives were asked “with respect to your organization, what is the most adverse consequence that has ever occurred from a security event caused by an insider?,” their top response was “loss of confidential or proprietary information.”

How can companies protect themselves?

Prepare.
“Companies should focus their security efforts by identifying the data and systems most in need of protection, then act to limit access,” according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Stop Information Theft by Employees. Proper preparation also includes planning for the end at the beginning. Before hiring a new salesperson, require a signed non-disclosure agreement (NDA), and when appropriate, make sure company communications conform to designations such as proprietary or confidential.

Prevent. Data Loss Prevention software such as Migrate2.com “can help to protect data from any number of sources, such as portals, applications, personal employee information, e-mail communications and documents,” according to the company’s website. In addition, by regularly updating price lists, commission plans, and other company-confidential documents, you can reduce their usefulness if they fall into the wrong hands.

Detect. An employee who intends to obtain confidential information can be exposed through tracking new activity in keyword searches, or from the employee’s requests to access databases that might be outside of his or her normal business needs. Some software applications like IBM’s InfoSphere Guardium Data Activity Monitor can issue alerts when risk conditions are met.

Respond. While forensics tools, such as EnCase, help organizations discover after-the-fact extent of information theft, companies respond poorly to information breaches for a major reason: no one likes to publicize or even talk about them. “Yeah, as of today, Mario’s not on the team. Heaven knows what he did with our customer contact lists . . .” Instead,

• At the employee’s exit interview, retrieve the file copy of the signed NDA—assuming you have it—especially if it was completed more than a year ago. Remind the employee about what’s enforceable, and underscore the company’s intention to maintain the terms of the agreement.

• Don’t sweep the situation under the rug. Let your sales team and others in the company know right away what happened, which information was compromised, which risks are most concerning, and why.

• Let anyone with skin in the game—including employees, customers, and resellers—know how you will respond, and provide guidance for actions they need to take.

• If breached information might compromise a customer relationship, make sure you take steps to manage the problem before your customer learns about it.

Salespeople possess a rare blend of corporate information—one that’s useful to many outside the organization. With Mario, at least there’s a consolation: a year from now, his pirated information probably won’t be any fresher than your sushi.

A Good Social Media Policy Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

“When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.”—Mississippi Senator Trent Lott

Lott resigned from the US Senate in 2002, just fifteen days after this immortal on-camera blunder. If he had a Twitter account back then, Mr. Lott might instead have Tweeted, #America would be better off if it had voted for a #racist in the 1940s and opposed #civilrights. #segregationrocks

Right now, there are thousands of Trent Lott’s sharing opinion through Tweeting, blogging, and other social media. And they’re not just politicians, but business executives, middle managers, health professionals, athletes, entrepreneurs and public servants.

When their sentiments get weird, the aftermath looks like this:

A Business Insider executive has made some comments on Twitter that do not reflect our values and have no place at our company. The executive has left the company, effective immediately. Business Insider’s team is composed of more than 100 talented men and women of many backgrounds, and we highly value this diversity.

Henry Blodget, CEO of Business Insider, wrote that contrite clarification on September 10, 2013. He had little choice—he was in damage-control mode. Pax Dickinson, the company’s now-former Chief Technology Officer, used Twitter to make racial slurs, denigrate women, and bash gay rights, according to blogger Anthonia Akitunde on American Express Open Forum.

Many companies encourage employees to use social media to converse online. “We want our management team to engage with our stakeholders. Here are all the passwords to our social media accounts. . .” Before you unlock that gate, think about what you have exposed. Corporate image and reputation, customer loyalty, brand equity. Did I leave anything out? Oh yeah, goodwill. The term no one really understood back in Accounting 101, but it’s probably on your company’s balance sheet. An asset at great risk—though few mention anything about social media’s role.

Still want to give up those passwords? Giving an employee access to your company’s online voice is like giving a first-grader a power saw when you don’t know if she can be trusted with scissors. “Here you go, Sweetie. The plug is right over there on the wall.”

I admit this comparison might seem unfair. After all, executives are adults, and we assume they could not get hired without a baseline cadre of social skills. And there’s pressure on them to speak up. Seventy percent of Fortune 500 CEO’s have no presence on major social media networks, according to a recent report by CEO.com and Domo. “People want CEO’s who are real. They want to know what you think. Can you think of a more cost-effective way of getting to your customers and employees?” said Bill George, a management professor at Harvard Business School.

The answer depends on how you interpret getting to. Dickinson’s misogynistic and racist statements got to customers and employees, but not in the way Mr. George envisioned. “Social media—with its demands for quick, unscripted updates that can quickly go viral—poses risks for top managers and the companies they represent, in the form of lawsuits, leaked trade secrets or angered customers,” according to a Wall Street Journal article, 140 Characters of Risk: Some CEO’s Fear Twitter.

Lawsuits and leaked trade secrets are real risks that give purpose to creating regulations, rules and policies. But in the still-nascent social media world, people resist the idea because it smacks head-on into the freedom of speech, serendipity, and unlimited sharing we cherish.

So recommending that companies formalize social media policies to establish boundaries, controls, and governance might sound like corporate totalitarianism, but it will reduce a multitude of risks. Here’s what to include in a social media policy statement:

1. A definition of company confidential information, and a list of what may not be shared under any circumstance.

2. Legal definitions of defamation, libel, and slander, and examples of related statements your company prohibits in social media.

3. Legal definition of fair use, and what’s prohibited for employees to share.

4. Explanations of what constitutes threatening or harassing comments, along with a clear boundary for what is unacceptable.

5. Establishment of boundaries for posting product claims, offering comments about competitors, providing customer endorsements, and sharing customer references.

6. Company policies for voicing comments about religion, politics, and social issues through corporate social media accounts.

7. A description of how the company monitors its social media conversations.

8. Explanation of the consequences of non-compliance, and how the company intends to enforce them.

Finally, no social media policy is complete without at least a mention of good old Respondeat superior, the legal doctrine stating that a company is responsible for the action of employees within the course of employment. A short translation: an employer could be involved in litigation for anything stupid or insensitive that an employee says online.

Will written social media policies protect your company’s reputation from fallout over employee social-media indiscretions? Not by itself. People say things, and last time I checked, Twitter did not offer a Preview button, not that we don’t desperately need the feature to protect us from ourselves. Maybe after the IPO, the company will develop a clever reality check: “This is inane. Are you still sure you want to say it?”

In the meantime, engage online! Hold conversations! Create killer content! But before all that—hope for the best, plan for the worst, establish unambiguous social media policies, and make sure they’re followed.

Announcing the Winners of the 2013 Sales Ethics Hall of Shame!

“Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” – Mark Twain

Passion, focus, and relentless tenacity—table stakes for achieving any revenue goal. “Team! Let’s take that mountain!” At this point, things get complicated. For some organizations, doing the right thing doesn’t have a fitful place in the tactical mix. “Ethics? What’s that?” A few enterprises, like these award winners, lose their way. Others discover that the scramble toward the revenue summit traverses a slippery ethical slope.

Candidate companies for my 2013 Sales Ethics Hall of Shame had to clear three exacting hurdles. First, the primary purpose of the enterprise couldn’t be illegal, like human trafficking or selling crystal meth. Second, more than one employee had to be involved in unethical activity. And third, any chicanery had to be repeatable and scalable—in other words, embedded in the company’s business process.

The 2013 winners passed another demanding threshold, one that no formulaic analysis can expose. The company’s practices had to bury the ethics needle all the way into Eeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwww!, and keep it there. Not easy to do, but as you’ll read in these vignettes, these four inductees have what it takes—and more.

Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corporation. First, needlessly frighten prospects. Then, close! Close! Close! Imagine you’re sitting at your desk and the phone rings. You answer, and the caller from Dun & Bradstreet Credibility tells you that your company’s credit status has changed to “high risk,” and that your poor credit score could deter lenders, suppliers, and clients. The salesperson pitches you to buy a credit-management service, CreditBuilder, from his company to rectify the problem. What do you do? Until the call, you had no idea.

According to a June, 2013 Wall Street Journal article, Krista Bradford, owner of a small company, The Good Search LLC, spent almost $1,000 on the service, but now believes she was misled. Her “excellent and extensive” credit was always paid on time, and once she signed up for CreditBuilder, her credit rating changed, “as if someone had simply flipped a switch,” she said in an interview.

She’s not alone. More than a dozen other business owners revealed to The Wall Street Journal that they had been misled by the same pitch. “These business owners raised questions about whether Dun & Bradstreet Credibility, a three-year-old company . . . is unfairly preying on their anxieties, in order to sell its credit-management program. Credibility’s sales pitch is particularly worrisome, some say, because of its close relationship with its former parent, Dun & Bradstreet Corp.” A former company employee shared that the telesales script provided to staff prompted them to say that based on a lack of credit information for the prospect, “it looks like you may be a failing business,” and then to recommend CreditBuilder as a solution.

Pilot Flying J. When customer rebates are withheld, profits and sales commissions grow. After the FBI raided Pilot Flying J’s Knoxville, Tennessee corporate headquarters in April, 2013, their investigation produced an affidavit that asserted Pilot employees discussed “a new internal Pilot two-tiered pricing structure that would impose higher prices on less sophisticated customers.” The FBI’s 120-page affidavit was “filled with detailed allegations of how Pilot’s sales team deliberately withheld rebates to boost profits and sales commissions,” according to a Wall Street Journal article, Pilot Truck-Stop Chief Pleads: Don’t Sue Us.

Pilot CEO Jimmy Haslam III, who also owns the Cleveland Browns football team, pleaded ignorance, saying he didn’t know about the internal practices that led to the FBI’s fraud investigation. “I was absolutely not aware of any of this,” he said. The FBI alleges that 250 of Pilot’s 5,000 customers were not reimbursed for earned rebates. Now Mr. Haslam acknowledges that his biggest job is rebuilding customer trust. “We hope you’ll continue to do business with us,” he told an audience of mainly trucker customers. “I hope you’ll give us a second chance.”

US Coachways – If your customers consistently berate your service, you can always get a good online review from your employees, friends, and probably your mom—if you ask nicely. US Coachways operates a charter bus service in New York State. But if you want to hire the company to provide transportation for your group, you might have second thoughts. “This company basically ruined what was otherwise a great trip,” wrote one reviewer, who was quoted in a New York Times article last month. The article continues, “Currently, the company has fourteen reviews averaging one star. It is not possible to get much lower than this.”

Sensing the revenue at risk from these negative reviews, Edward Telmany, the company’s CEO, took matters into his own hands. “We get bashed online,” he wrote to his employees in 2011. “We are loosing [sic] money from this.” But instead of improving service, Telmany’s solution was to hire writers to post fake reviews. He even required his employees to post comments on Yelp. One review gave a five-star rating that began, “US Coachways does a great job!” The “reviewer”? Edward Telmany. According to the Times article, “the company agreed to pay $75,000 in fines and stop writing fake reviews.”

Star Scientific. When you don’t have a GL account called Favors to Politicians, just put the expenses in Sales, General, and Administrative. Jonnie Williams, CEO of Star Scientific Inc., a Virginia-based nutritional supplements manufacturer, “contributed $108,448 in corporate jet travel to [Virginia governor Bob] McDonnell’s gubernatorial campaign and political action committee. Williams became even more generous with personal gifts or loans to the McDonnell family that topped $145,000, including five-figure checks to two daughters for their weddings and a $6,500 Rolex watch engraved for the “71st Governor of Virginia,” according to an article in the Richmond Times Dispatch. When the governor’s wife, Maureen McDonnell, flew to New York City to do some shopping, she picked up a $10,000 suede jacket, two pairs of designer shoes, a Louis Vuitton leather handbag, and a designer dress—all on Williams’ tab.

“I admire people who are entrepreneurial, who are finding ways to create opportunities in Virginia . . .” McDonnell said of Williams at the height of their bromance. But Williams’ largesse didn’t come purely from generosity. The Richmond Times Dispatch article reported that “Star Scientific representatives were lobbying senior McDonnell administration officials to include the company’s anti-inflammatory supplement, Anatabloc, in every state employee’s basic health benefits package. The request was denied, and a review by Democratic former Attorney General Anthony Troy found no evidence that either Williams or the company received any benefit, appointment, or other special treatment from state government during McDonnell’s term.”

Still, that leaves people pondering the business relationship—or friendship, if you work in the governor’s office—that has spawned a federal criminal investigation. This past July, McDonnell publicly apologized for accepting gifts from Williams. Once a possible Republican presidential contender, McDonnell has fallen from grace. Rich Galen, a McDonnell spokesman, is bitter. “Apparently, the US government has given Star Scientific a free pass for unspecified misdeeds in return for the testimony of Jonnie Williams.”

“Be a trusted advisor!” “Deliver outstanding customer experience!” “Sales is all about providing value and exceeding customer expectations!”—customer-centric bromides that rattle around the blogosphere. But to a shady executive, they are utterly meaningless. So while most everyone nods and agrees that bad ethics are bad for business, Twain’s point still hits home.

I wonder which companies will be inducted in 2014?

The Road to Sales Is Paved with Positive Intentions

In a sales call, which of the following salesperson attributes is completely within the salesperson’s control:

a. Persuasiveness
b. Intent
c. Rapport
d. Trustworthiness

The correct answer is B. Each of the other choices depends on the perceptions of others. Mahan Khalsa, author of Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play, described the idea with plainspoken eloquence back in 1999, when his book was first published: “The decision to trust doesn’t start inside [your prospect]—it starts inside of you. Intent is a choice, and your choice will have consequences. You will communicate your intent whether you want to or not . . . Based on your intent, people will decide to trust you or not.”

Not everyone adheres to this idealization. In a blog, 3 Sales Strategies to Build Trust When Your Prospects Don’t Believe You, Jill Konrath wrote, 1) Don’t say anything nice about your product/service, 2) Focus on being helpful in every interaction, and 3) Be truthful, even when it hurts. I can’t quarrel with her recommendations, but they tiptoe around the big beastly culprit behind distrust: bad intentions.

That sounds judgmental, so I’ll tone it down a notch. How about misguided intentions? They are everywhere in selling. Just sit in on a quarterly sales kickoff meeting, and breathe the smoke. Then, venture out into some sales calls. “My intention is to . . . close this deal . . . get this prospect to move to the next step . . . make my quarterly quota . . . keep my job for another year . . . make Club . . . impress my boss . . . make my bonus . . . outmaneuver my competitor . . . prove I can land a big customer.

On the other end sits the prospect, who perceives the signals that emanate from those intentions. How many truly trust a salesperson who waltzes into a meeting, hellbent on closing the deal? The intention I’d like to see is “creating a mutually-valuable result that brings success to both seller and buyer.” I know it sounds soft and squishy. The same kindly sentiment you’d expect to hear Mr. Rogers say if he were making a sales call in his neighborhood. Hang in there with me, though. Any salesperson who doesn’t hold sincere concern for his or her client’s success isn’t trustworthy. But any salesperson who doesn’t appear to have a reciprocal concern for his own success appears strange—at least to me. “It’s not really important whether you buy from me. I just want to help out.” That seemingly-benign statement gives me the jitters.

A 2012 article from Psychology Today, Positive Intentions Build Workplace Trust, offers three questions to ask about personal intentions:

1. What is your attachment level? The higher your attachment to a particular outcome, the greater indicator of your intention.

2. What is your comfort level? If you’re feeling great about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, your comfort level, most likely, matches a positive intention.

3. What is your assumption level? Check your intentions by the assumptions you make about others, since we tend to believe people are like us. If you’re well intentioned and trustworthy, you’ll assume most are, too. If you’re not, you’ll doubt others are.

Good stuff, though I disagree with #2. Not a week goes by that I don’t learn about a person with fiduciary responsibility caught stealing from the till. A person can have truly malevolent intentions without experiencing a shred of remorse. To my knowledge, nobody has said, “making those illegal deposits to my personal bank account over the past three years was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done!”

The road to sales is paved with positive intentions. But fostering positive intentions isn’t formulaic. Positive intent requires a combination of empathy, honesty and moral integrity – behaviors anyone can cleanly show in seconds on a PowerPoint slide, but can only be modeled over years of consistent practice.

Many things influence sales outcomes, but positive intentions are one of a select few that are under a salesperson’s full control. When building trust, why squander that important choice?

Evolution or Extinction? Is the Sales Workforce Future-ready?

Will salespeople be driven into extinction, victimized by over-predation by cost-cutting CFO’s? Will they be rendered irrelevant by empowered buyers? Years from now, will anyone remember the glorious meaning of Individual Contributor? Will the selling profession be able to extract itself from the primordial swamp that sustains festering, negative sales stereotypes?

The extinction siren has sounded – at least if you believe Gerhard Gschwandtner of Selling Power magazine, who predicted in 2012 that out of 18 million salespeople in the US, fewer than 3 million will be needed by 2020. A radical trajectory that means in eight years, 15 million people will have transitioned out of sales by retiring, or by finding a new day job. If you believe Gschwandtner’s prediction, you have to wonder when this nosediving forecast will intersect with zero.

Don’t look for a glut of buzzy new fresh-faced recruits to offset the exodus. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is hot in schools today, and unless you believe salespeople build robots, wear white lab coats, and carry stethoscopes, you won’t see the serious, tenacious images of sales hunters adorning career websites. Interested in a rewarding career where you’ll be out on the bricks every day? Consider construction engineering!

“I’ve noticed that people in the Millennial generation just don’t think sales is a cool job.” says Elli Sharef, co-founder of tech-recruiting firm HireArt. “Among our parents’ generation there were millions of people making decent salaries as a sales rep for this that and the other thing. These days salesmen are regarded as shmucks.” It used to be easy to draw people in for sales interviews when you could bait the hook with high financial rewards and workplace autonomy.

At least if you’re an HR recruiter who must appeal to Millenials, there’s kind-of-good news: Many companies are actively redistributing selling tasks throughout the organization, giving positions anodyne titles like Customer Support Associate and Technical Support Specialist. These roles can be staffed with lower-wage people who earn smaller commissions than traditional salespeople, or no commission at all. That improves profit margins, but smudges the crisply-defined boxes in organizational hierarchies. When revenue is driven through multiple departments, where, exactly, does Sales fit?

You can thank Big Data, in part, for leveling the who-can-sell playing field. In a November, 2013, customer experience forum on CustomerThink (The BIG Shift from Service to Sales), a case study described a US-based Fortune 100 financial services firm that provided 1,600 customer service agents with “access to actionable investor information,” and gave them the ability to “use analytics to resolve problems, cross-sell, up-sell, and improve customer satisfaction.” 1,600 Customer Service Agents who don’t need to say, “please hold while I transfer your call to Sales.” That’s employee empowerment!

I promise not to get preachy about how change is the only constant and how salespeople need to face reality, adapt, and evolve blah blah blah—or risk becoming irrelevant. In fact, I believe there will always be a need for salespeople. There—I said it for the record! But in a future-ready sales force, the new generation won’t resemble yesterday’s sales producers. Or today’s. The new generation

1. will proudly wear multiple functional hats as client manager, project lead, support staff, and more.
2. will be more mobile throughout the organization. The future-ready sales professional will build customer value by transitioning from other departments, including marketing, into sales—and then back out again.
3. will be motivated by more than money. As Lisa Earle McLeod of McLeod & More said at a recent program, “salespeople want purpose and meaning” in their jobs, as well.
4. will be concerned with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Twenty years ago, salespeople rarely stressed about whether their products were manufactured using child labor, or by people earning less than a living wage. Today, those issues matter.
5. will be better educated. As selling has become more knowledge-dependent and business focused, formal education requirements have increased, as well.
6. will be lifelong learners. The rapidly-changing demands on knowledge workers will favor those who continue to augment their skills through online courses and professional certifications.
7. will have strong written communication skills, as new technologies expand on—or in some cases, replace—voice as the predominant method for holding sales conversations.
8. will be better connected. When I entered college, social networks did not exist in a formal way. Unlike many college freshmen today, I did not have over 1,000 friends, or even a meaningful network of professional contacts from summer jobs.
9. will be needed to train their managers on social media and other information technologies. The future-ready sales force will enter organizations with more IT knowledge than their supervisors, and they will be valued for bringing innovation into organizations.

The future-ready sales organization will be smaller and flatter than its predecessors. Management-heavy territory/district/region strata will become organizational dinosaurs. Through software automation, salespeople will generate more revenue per person, manage more accounts, and cover larger territories than before. Expect to see a rapid expansion of hybrid selling models that include combinations of outsourcing, channel development and strategic partnering, and the distribution of selling roles to other entities within an organization. Algorithms will take over a measurable chunk of traditional repetitive sales work. And expect voracious competition to hire those who possess the ideal combination of skills. Even though there will be less demand for salespeople, there will be high demand for those who have talent.

Fifteen million salespeople fleeing for greener vocational pastures over the next eight years equates to attrition of about 5,100 per day. Who will replace them? The better question is what will replace them? Will the future-ready sales workforce need dedicated sales professionals, or will new archetypes evolve? Technology no longer limits the possibilities. The answer depends on how an organization intends to manage its strategic risks, what its customers will demand, and its passion for capitalizing on opportunities.

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