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Hiring Sales People has its Costs – Interview with Marc Levine

Posted on: October 17th, 2014 by Monika No Comments

In our efforts as a consultative sales training and coaching organization to comprehensively assist our clients to achieve their business goals, we cooperate with professionals and organizations that provide services aligned with our philosophy and outlook. I’ve been fortunate to work together with Marc Levine of Retensa, who has been helping organizations like Citibank, Prudential, and Kinko’s achieve results by developing business and developing people for over fifteen years.

Marc has been a regional sales rep and sales director in technology and consulting services always producing superior results. Marc’s also been an executive coach and communications trainer helping companies engage people and reduce costs.

Currently he is the Senior Engagement Manager at Retensa focusing on helping companies improve the employee experience and retain top talent.

 Marc Levine

Monika D’Agostino: Hi Marc, and thank you so much for talking to us today. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about on-boarding and the high cost of employee turnover. Let’s dive into it.

Monika: Why do clients work with you?

Marc Levine: Our clients come to us understand why people join their company, why they stay, and why they leave. Next we help them build and execute retention strategies which may include mentorship programs, manager development and leadership coaching. 

Monika: People often speak about the costs of turnover? What is the real cost of turnover?

Marc: Turnover costs can range from 20% to 150% of an employee’s salary in direct and indirect costs. An employee making $100,000 would cost $20,000 -150,000 to replace. Think of the costs of recruiting a sales rep from external costs of recruiting to internal costs of the time for each person involved in the process. Training costs are high and time consuming. New sales reps may take 2-6 months to reach productivity. Finally there is the opportunity costs of lost revenue in the territory. We help clients determine their true cost of turnover.

Monika: What are our clients struggling with the most?

Marc: Our clients struggle in a few areas. The overall theme is helping them make data driven decisions instead of guessing as to what their employees think and feel about the organization.

For some morale is down and they don’t know why. They’ve tried different things to improve morale and nothing has changed. We talk to their employees and capture an honest understanding of what is happening and present this information to the client. Studies show that the executive team can receive less than 10% of the true frontline employee experience.

Other clients want more efficiency in capturing their exit interview data and need help to automate their reporting. Exit interviews are one of the best sources of capturing the employee experience. Unfortunately, people can be reluctant to be honest with HR. We help clients separate the noise of the vocal minority from how people truly feel about leadership, benefits, individual managers, the company brand, and their coworkers.

Of course others are losing their talent and don’t know what will resonate with them to keep them. We may provide retention skills training that allows managers to see the signs that an employee is about to leave.

Monika: What’s the most overlooked factor in turnover?

Marc: The manager. People leave managers, not companies. Your relationship with your direct manager is the biggest factor. Money is usually third to sixth on the list of why people leave companies. However, with sales reps “messing” with their compensation, which causes them to lose trust in the organization, will also be very high on their list of why they leave. 

Monika: Tell us a bit about Retensa:

Marc: For 15 years we’ve been helping organizations attract, motivate, and retain their best people. Through our extensive research we created a lens to view the employee experience. Our “Employee Life Cycle” model is taught in colleges and Fortune 500 companies. Currently we work with clients in 40 countries and in 13 languages, from Nestle to high growth companies with 30 employees. Our vision is that “everyone works in a job where they feel engaged and inspired.”

We’re here to help companies keep the talent that they want to keep. Your readers should feel free to email me with questions, or anyone would like to receive a white paper on the cost of turnover please contact me at Marc@retensa.com

Monika: Thank you for your time, Marc. I hope that our readers now have a better understanding of why on-boarding and retention is so important to their success.

Women in Sales – Are We Equals?

Posted on: April 17th, 2013 by Monika No Comments

Last week, on the train back from a business meeting in New York City, I started reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”.  I honestly didn’t expect it to be a page turner but it turned out to be just that.  Sheryl has a writing style that I as a professional woman can easily relate to. Her stories are insightful and I was stunned how many light bulbs went off in my head when she was pointing out over and over that we “women in business” haven’t quite arrived.

Some examples that she featured were just simply eye opening and at some point I put the book down to reflect on my personal experience as a woman with many years in the business world.  While I could relate to most of the examples that she was pinpointing, I also felt that my personal journey, while tough at times, never left me feeling that I was inferior to my male colleagues or that I was treated differently.

After some soul searching I asked myself the question whether it had something to do with the fact that I was in sales.  Maybe, Sales is an equalizer, I thought.

Is the Business of Sales an Equalizer?

Most business practices cannot be measured in numbers only. In sales, that’s all that matters. If you put numbers on the book and you sell, nobody (sadly) cares how you do it and you are simply measured by your accomplishments.  It’s your performance that counts.

When I was employed as a sales professional, I was usually the only girl on the team. While my male colleagues were a bit suspicious and cautious at first, they had no choice than to accept me once I started producing.  They had to treat me with respect, because my managers were pleased with the results that I brought to the table and the ultimate judge is not your sales manager, but your prospects turned to clients.  If you cannot convert sales it doesn’t matter whether you sales manager likes you are not.  As a matter of fact, it doesn’t matter if anybody internally takes a liking to you personally or not as long as you keep closing business. It’s really all about performance!

It was at that point where my light bulb went off.  Sales is one of the few disciplines were women (when successful) are equal to their male counterparts.  In sales we are part of the group, we have a seat at the table, we don’t choose a chair in the back (just like Sheryl notes in her book).  Our voices are heard when we bring results.

Removed from the Politics?

I also remembered that it relieved me from having to play the political game.  Many years ago I was traveling to San Francisco to attend a sales meeting and the first night after dinner the team ended up at the hotel bar for a nightcap.  At first we were drinking wine and beer but then one of the junior sales people who wanted to impress our sales manager suggested to do shots.  One of my fellow team members, who happened to be a guy and I just looked at each other and we had a common understanding of what we will do next. Tim, a manly looking guy (Dwayne Johnson alias The Rock lookalike, anybody?) who is sensible, sensitive and also a good listener (which of course made him an excellent sales person) and I excused ourselves and went upstairs to our respective rooms. I myself decided to watch some mindless television show and Tim probably checked in with his wife who was at home with their small children. The looks we got indicated that people thought we might have had something going on because we left at the same time. But Tim and I didn’t care. We didn’t have to play the socializing corporate game. We didn’t need to impress our sales manager because we were both top performers.

The Equality Gap

Needless to say that women show results in every industry and every profession, albeit though, there are ways to put us down by questioning our style (women who are driven are often viewed as aggressive, but men aren’t?), or our approach (women who are competitive are often viewed as you know what, but for guys that’s what’s expected?).  Are our results measured with the same parameters as men’s results? In sales, my experience has been that none of that seems to matter as much as in other professions.

So, in closing, I am asking all my fellow sales women out there.  Do you also feel Sales is equalizer or has been an equalizer for you?

Setting your Benchmarks for Hiring Sales People

Posted on: September 6th, 2012 by Monika 1 Comment

Having been in the field of sales and sales training for so many years, I know the recruiting process can be complicated, lengthy and full of pitfalls. Do you go with your gut feeling? Do you trust all the references? Do you hire somebody who is charismatic, or somebody who knows the industry? What can and should you measure objectively to help ensure that you’re making the right choice?

First Impressions

Many companies feel that sales people should be aggressive and gregarious. In a consultative sales environment that can actually be an obstacle rather than an asset. Hiring a good sales person is as difficult if not harder than hiring a good account manager. The challenge is to make sure that no matter what, your sales people will conduct themselves in a professional way. After all, they are usually the first introduction to your brand or company.

I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered unprofessional behavior from sales people who were calling on me as a business owner. Bad first impressions can ruin your  perception of a brand and the likelihood of you choosing that brand and working with that company will be lower. It’s a fine line between persuasion and intrusion. Good sales people need to find that balance every single day, every single time they pick up the phone and every time they interact with a prospect.

Sometimes, the desire to sell is so high that courtesy goes out the window. Often, sales people want to impress with product knowledge rather than understanding the prospect’s needs. Very often this is caused by pressure to meet numbers rather than building long-term relationships

Finding a Fit

So, how do you choose a sales person who will fit in with your organization’s culture? Let’s say you think you’ve found the right candidate. You’ve interviewed that person, so have others in your organization. You’ve done reference checking, and everybody is more or less in agreement that you have a good match. Now, what can you and what should you do to objectively establish how good a fit they really are. The good news is there are a number of widely tested tools that can provide you with the kind of support you can readily use, without taking large chunks out of your day and your budget!

You can utilize tests such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, but also have a look into the Kolbe A Index, which you can administer to your entire team and then your candidate(s) to determine how well they fit and can work together with the other members of your team. You’ll find the results can be real eye-openers!

What Strengths Are Most Important?

Once you’ve found the right personality and work-type match, let’s make sure everyone’s working in the same direction. In our B2B environment today, standing out and becoming your clients’ provider of choice demands a comprehensive, solution-oriented or consultative sales approach, built around your own client-centric philosophy.

You’ll want to examine your own sales process. Will your sales person need to do their own prospecting? Will they have to work with other team members to push a sale through the funnel? Being a door opener and/or a team player at the same time could present a challenge. Sales people always have at least one area of weakness and depending on your organizational DNA that will determine your hiring criteria. For example, if you have an inside sales team available, you can hire outside sales people who are strong relationship builders and closers.

As far as one area of sales competency is concerned, you need to make sure that your candidate is a good listener. That is something you can easily assess during the interviewing process. Pay attention to how many questions your candidates ask vs. the candidates tooting their own horn. You should also make sure that your candidate is a good writer because written communication is key to making connections today in the evolving use of social media and email communication. Here’s another important step in the interviewing process. Before hiring sales people engage the candidates in phone conversations. In today’s B2B environment almost all prospecting is done over the phone.  Sometimes people come across strong in-person, but their phone presence is weak.

Assessing Sales Skills & Knowledge

We’re getting closer now. Your candidate has good oral and written skills, has a good phone presence. But what about all the other areas of sales skills and knowledge that are essential to being a top sales person? We have worked with our research partners for many years to establish eight areas of sales competencies that have proven to be the foundation for the success of top sales professionals in a wide range of industries. So, how do you find out if your candidate possesses these competencies, and in which areas is there a need for improvement? Within our Consultative Sales Certification Training Program we have an integral element which is our initial Sales Skills & Knowledge Assessment. We have all participants to work through this assessment before we conduct any training. This comprehensive assessment gives you a very detailed and measurable view of a sales person’s skills and knowledge in the arena of solution-oriented or consultative selling. It also helps you understand if their strengths or opportunities to grow are in prospecting, overcoming objections, closing the sale, etc.

This assessment helps our clients hire the right people and after a successful completion of our sales training efforts we can test their consultative selling skills and knowledge again to gauge their improvement. We have found that even the best sales people have areas of improvement and the only way to measure is working off a set of well-established benchmarks.

Bottom line is that you can’t hire the right person if you don’t know what you are looking for and you can’t measure success if you don’t have a benchmark.