5 Ways to Tell If Your Sales People Aren’t Working

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Having lead dozens of salespeople and read thousands of sales call reports over the years, I have developed a highly receptive “BS detector.” Effective salespeople typically have winning personalities, which can be a double-edged sword. They have that perfect combination of being great listeners and smooth talkers with a highly persuasive way of interacting with other people. I’m not talking here about smarmy hucksters, but rather people who truly have a gift. An adept salesperson is often a very caring person. They can engage in small talk with ease and they make other people feel important. However, these same talents and tendencies often have a negative side. When things start to lean towards hyperbole and – in the worst cases – fabrication, you could be dealing with a completely different animal.

One of the jobs of a sales leader is to coach and teach people how to reign in some of these “gifts” and show a little restraint. It’s gratifying to see how time and maturity have a way of softening the edges and refining the nuances of dedicated salespeople. Exuberance is moderated with experience. The innate talent for moving others is raised to a high art.

But how can you tell if your salespeople are just plain full of it? Let me save you some time and trouble by providing you with five telltale signs you’re being taken for a ride.

1. Complaining about all the hard work.
Whenever I hear a salesperson blather on about how much work they have to do or how many hours they’re putting in, a big red flag goes off in my brain. Being a salesperson IS hard work. The profession is characterized by hard work and long hours. If you feel the need to tell me about it, you are most likely not doing it. This is a classic sign that a salesperson wants me to think they’re working hard. I’ve had the pleasure of leading some remarkable and highly successful people over the years and not one of them ever complained about how much they were working.

2. Making excuses.
You’d think this would be a little easier to spot but it can be very subtle so you must pay close attention. Excuses come in all shapes and sizes, but they all add up to the same thing: failure to take responsibility for your own outcomes. These people always have a convenient explanation for why something didn’t get done or some deadline didn’t get met. If you want to be a distinguished sales leader, accept results only – never excuses. Something either did or did not get done. No explanation needed. No explanation expected. I don’t need to hear why. Just come right out and say it. “I didn’t do it and I have no excuse.” Now, doesn’t that feel better? This can be used in all aspects of life, not just the profession of selling.

3. A vocabulary of empty buzz words.
Listen closely to the language of your salespeople. Do they have go-to phrases championing their supposed productivity? Such mendacities include “pushing for,” “trying to,” “waiting for,” and – my favorite – “working on.” Then, of course, there’s the granddaddy of them all: “hoping for.” For crying out loud, there’s a whole book written on this one! It’s called Hope is Not A Strategy. It’s your job as a sales leader to eradicate this baloney. What we want to see are words and phrases like, “met with,” “received an order commitment from,” and “closed the deal with.” Anything other than that is just fluff.

4. Lengthy call reports.
I’m really not a fan at all of sales call reports. Results talk; BS walks. “Are you on track to meet your sales goals?” That’s all I need to know. If you must have call reports, better to have a short & sweet but veracious one than the War and Peace of claptrap. As Shakespeare would have said, “Me thinks thou doth spew forth too much.” One of the most reliable signs you’ve got a slacker on the payroll is the flowery and empty chatter of a lengthy call report. Teach your reps to include only the most relevant info. Salespeople who aren’t’ working very much love to tell you how much they are and the call report is their favorite vehicle with which to do it.

5. They never seem to have enough time.
In his must-read book, The Four Hour Workweek, Tim Ferris said it best: “Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing, and is far more unpleasant.” Wow, it’s hard to add anything to that! No one has any less time or more time than anyone else. Don’t use lack of time as an excuse for not getting things done. The profession of sales is one of the highest paid jobs around. According to US News, the average salesperson earns $65k per year. From my own experience, I know the very best make well into six figures as a base salary with bonuses as high as 25-30%. If you are being paid this kind of money, there’s only one thing your company wants in return: profitable results. Learn to manage your time well and prioritize. Narrow the focus of your activity on only the most important things.

All of this comes back to hiring the right people to begin with. Outstanding sales teams are built one person at a time. Get some training for yourself. Learn to be very good at assessing talent. Rely heavily on your HR team because this is their area of expertise. Beware the trap of falling in love with the job candidate in the interview. These same people who charm you from across the desk could easily be your worst nightmare. Don’t rely too heavily on resumes or even the interview itself. If there’s any truth to the adage that the person you interview is not the same person who comes to work for you, it is especially true of salespeople.

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