How Mature is Your Wine Sales Management Model?

I recently became familiar with the concept of CMM (the Capability Maturity Model) during an ideation session with a tech-pro friend with whom I frequently collaborate. Maturity Models come from the field of software development, but I immediately began to draw correlations to the wine industry.

The term, “maturity,” relates to the degree of formality and optimization of processes. On the immature end of the spectrum, you have chaos or informality.  From there, the organization “matures” through various stages culminating in “sustainable, predictable results.”


As a consultant specializing in helping wineries accelerate their distribution and sales, my mind began immediately thinking of ways I could help clients “move up” the ladder of maturity in their sales process.

I’ve been writing for some time about how the model our industry’s been using for 30+ years now is “broken.” What once worked to grow sales and distribution in the US no longer works for various reasons. You can read about those reasons in other posts.

Of course, there is a wide array of maturity levels among winery sales teams. So, here I offer a little self-assessment every winery can use to evaluate their current state.


You operate with a highly informal, just-do-it mentality. This is a more intuitive model driven primarily by strong relationships with distributors. You’re so afraid of burdening your sales team with “admin work” you leave it up to them to mostly manage themselves. One of the attributes that characterizes this level of maturity is your sales team tends to more closely identify themselves with their distributors than their own company by defending them and helping them justify poor performance. Account selection could best be described as “go-with-your gut” or “ask-your-distributor.” You believe your wines are so unique and so distinct, all that is lacking between you and success is more education.

Documented Process

You have developed some repeatable processes which may include establishing goals by brand, channels of trade, and premise. You even have a rudimentary process for targeting key accounts (but it’s based upon highly subjective and qualitative inputs like Zagat lists rather than hard data and empirical evidence of potential). You do a great job of measuring performance but tend to use lagging metrics (shipments, depletions, and accounts sold) rather than leading metrics like sales per point of distribution potential (velocity) and # of wines by the glass for specific product sets in specific account sets (right wines in the right places).  You are still clinging to the fantasy that the right incentives or the right amount of portfolio education will somehow cause your distributor to meet your expectations of them.

Predictable Results

You’ve identified the 20% of the accounts that drive 80% of the business and have the systems and disciplines in place to monitor sales activity and results against them. You don’t rely on your distributors very much beyond maintaining inventory and delivering the products your team has sold to accounts. You’ve taken complete responsibility for your own results and have separated your sales team into two distinct functions: those who manage distributors & business units and those who actively sell to key accounts (on, off, chain, and independents). You fully leverage all available data and technology to set goals, conduct surveys, record daily sales activities, and meticulously track compliance against your on and off premise chain authorizations -all using a mobile device.

Of course, there are more than just three stages of maturity – probably closer to five. But, I hope these three broad “buckets” have given you something to think about and discuss with your team. If, after some self-reflection, you think you might need some help from outside experts like me,  send me an email at or visit my website

6 Reasons You Don’t Sell all the Wine You Make

The wine business is the most competitive consumer product group in the world. I defy you to come up with a category with more choices and more complexity. Oh, and guess what- every vintage is different!
Not to belittle the talent it takes to grow grapes and make wine, but you could be awesome at both those things yet if you suck at selling it, you’d better have a fat bank account from which to hemorrhage money.
If you (profitably) sell all the wine you make consistently every year, stop reading this post. You sure don’t need to waste one more second listening to me. But, if you’re among the THOUSANDS of winery owners who lay awake at night because the grapes for the new vintage are ripening in the vineyard while the current vintage remains stacked in your (or worse, your distributor’s) warehouse, please read on.

1. Depending too much on your distributors. Bottom line, distributors can only magnify YOUR efforts. If no one from your sales team has been in the market for six months (and I mean to work that market), don’t blame the distributor for your piss-poor results. All they are doing is magnifying your effort which, of course, is zilch. You’ve got no business asking for meetings or anything else if the remnants of your sales team’s shoe leather isn’t strewn all over town.

2. Too much emphasis on product knowledge. Let me preface this by saying I have the palate of a wolf and in a million years I could never become a Master Sommelier. My hat is off to anyone who can do it. They are the rock stars of our industry and they deserve our unwavering respect. But, I’ve sold millions of cases of wine in my career and made a handsome living for my family with only a slightly above average knowledge of wine. Wine knowledge is great- in fact its compulsory. But if you own a winery and you think “more education” is going to help you sell more wine, get used to disappointment. If your job is to sell wine or manage a team of people who sell wine let me give you some sobering advice: no one makes any money in this industry until someone BUYS something. I know this sounds blasphemous, but our industry revers wine knowledge at the expense of commerce. If the word “sales” is anywhere on your business card, you should sniff & swirl less and pound the pavement more.

3. Success in selling wine is not about persuasion. It’s also not about giving a great presentation or expertly overcoming objections. And, it sure as hell isn’t about features and benefits. I swear if I hear one more salesman tell me how often they stir the lees or how great their wine pairs with seabass, I’m going to drop an f-ing toaster in my own bathtub. Success in selling is about targeting the right customers and helping them improve their business. You can get anything you want in life if you’re willing to help enough other people get what they want. Shut up. Do your homework. Come back when you can add real business value. Rinse & repeat.

4. Treating all customers as if they had the same value. It’s shocking to me how rare it is to find a sales leader in the wine business that not only believes in the 80/20 rule but has the discipline to apply it. “Accounts Sold” is the worst metric in our industry because it assumes an account is an account is an account. A better metric is sales per point of distribution (velocity). Identify the 20% of the customers who sell 80% of the wine in each market and ignore the rest until you’ve met your volume goals. And for heaven’s sake, don’t ask your distributor to do this for you. It’s 2018 for crying out loud. The data and technology exist for you to do this yourself.

5. Most salespeople suck at time management. It’s a fact: left to their own devices, salespeople rarely act in the best interest of the company (or even themselves, for that matter) when it comes to how they spend their time. Sales people need direction. The single fastest way to accelerate your sales volume is to restrict all sales activity to only the most attractive and responsive accounts and ignore the rest. Sales people everywhere confuse activity with achievement – and shame on you sales leaders for letting them do it. Being “busy” is worthless unless its accompanied by a large stack of orders. So, the reverse is also true- if a salesperson consistently meets their sales goals year after year, they should be allowed to do whatever they want whenever they want to. They’ve earned it. For everyone else, though, the solution is CRM. “Oh, it’s too expensive. Oh, it’s so complicated. Oh, it’s so ‘big brother-ish. Oh, we don’t want our salespeople doing all that admin.” Let me clue you in- they’re already doing admin, they’re just doing it poorly. Fire your 2 or 3 worst performing sales people and use the money to invest in CRM. Don’t look at the cost. Look at the ROI. Which is more expensive? A fork lift or a hand truck? Fork lifts, while more expensive than hand trucks are worth every penny when it comes to moving wine around in your warehouse. If you want to move lots of wine in the market, invest in CRM.

6. You don’t know enough about where all your wine is sold now. Complacency cannot exist in an atmosphere of knowing. The data exists right now to know where every bottle of your wine was sold (talking retail level depletions here a.k.a. RAD). By store address. By SKU. By channel of trade. Chain or independent. You get the idea. This data should be on every winery owner’s desktop in a format that can be sliced and diced and analyzed with just a few mouse clicks. Another great reason to use CRM. Not only should you know who your best accounts are all over the country, you should be able to communicate directly to them. It’s been said, “The best thing to put in a vineyard are the owner’s footprints.” Well, “footprints” in the market is equally important and business intelligence at your fingertips is what makes those footprints. I want to make a very significant point, here: I’m not talking about the depletion reports you get from your distributor. I’m talking one centralized source that collects, aggregates, and delivers the data for you. You can’t afford not to be buying this data and the tools to analyze it.

It is so easy to get caught up in the romance of wine in this industry because wine is romantic. After 34 years in the industry, however, I can credibly say there’s a terrific paucity of business acumen. I hope this blog post makes lots of winery owners stop and think about the business part of their wine business. And, as always, I’m here to help with that.

Ben Salisbury is an industry veteran and former sales executive with Constellation Brands and Ste Michelle Wine Estates. He now operates his own sales consulting practice for the wine industry.

The High Cost of Unrealistic Sales Goals

One of the greatest thrills of a top-performing salesperson comes from hitting their sales goal. Not just once, but consistently. So when you, as a leader, habitually put the targets out of the reach of even your best performers, it’s like shooting yourself in the foot and them in the heart.
Stretch goals are fine. Stretch goals are healthy. But there is a big difference between a stretch goal that offers a tantalizing challenge for your sales team and one that sucks the very life out of them.
The first and most costly part of unrealistic goal setting is silent non-compliance. Your best salespeople will just “check out” and the worst part is you won’t event know it. They’ll put on a rah-rah face and go through the motions, but inside their own heads they know full well there is no way that goal is getting met.
I would like to come right out and say that goal setting for sales teams is a fine art. I’m glad I own my own company, though, because if I’d used the word “art” in relation to “sales” in my former life (flesh pressed into the sweaty ranks of a corporate sales scrum), I’d be staked out on the ground and gagged with the sales leader’s tube socks. I’ve never been much of an athlete but, having spent a career in sales, I’ve had a belly full of sports analogies. Arms locked; head down; throw your gut into it; never quit; never say die. Second place is the first loser and all that.

I know I’m going off on a tangent here but this is a big part of the problem – especially in the adult beverage industry – sales teams led by frustrated “athletes” with pseudo-macho swagger. I’ve got no problem with “leaving it all on the field,” but last time I looked, a P&L wasn’t printed on Astroturf. Ironically, “winning” with customers from a sales perspective has absolutely nothing to do with “drive” and “guts.” It’s about much softer skills like dependability and trust. When I look for great salespeople, I don’t look for the drive of an athlete, I look for the heart of a servant. I place a much higher value on promise-keeping than butt-kicking. No doubt there are plenty of former (and current) athletes that are excellent sales pros doing a great job year after year. My point is unrealistic sales goals are too often created because of the macho mindset so prevalent in our industry.

OK, back to the main point. The second most expensive cost of setting unrealistic goals is that it fosters a culture of failure. What normally happens when a salesperson continually misses their goals? That’s right: they either quit or get fired. Either way, it’s failure through and through. Now, for those who might say, “Good riddance,” keep in mind it’s impossible to keep great salespeople on the roster in an environment like this because culture is important to sales pros and, as I’ve said before, culture eats strategy for breakfast. Per my previous post about why sales incentives don’t work, great salespeople aren’t going to respond to your “carrot and stick” approach. Nothing will drive them away faster than goals that are too high because nobody likes to feel like a failure.

So, what am I saying? Create a soft, cushy environment? Give everyone a trophy? Of course not. This is business we’re talking about. A business has goals and they need to be met consistently. Just be smart about it. Be mindful of the cost of unrealistic goals. One way to tell if your goals are too high is to ask yourself how often your team achieves them. If everyone on the sales team is missing the goals, they are probably too high.

The last cost of unrealistic sales goals that I’ll cite is poor quality of distribution. In the pursuit of aggressive goals, salespeople and distributors will do things that are not in the best interest of the brand. For example, a common tactic is to write lucrative incentives for distributors to go out and gain new distribution. While this might look good on the surface, what you end up with in reality is placements at restaurants and retailers where the account buys just enough to qualify the distributor sales rep for the incentive –and no more. A very large percentage of those accounts never purchase your products again. This goes on every day of the week all over the country. Is the equity of your brand truly enhanced when you gain 50 new points of distribution but 45 of them never purchase your product again? These “one-and-done” sales come back to bite you because there’s no stickiness to them. Now, for those companies wise enough to invest in a CRM system that is embedded with RAD data, this can be monitored. Without CRM, however, you may not even know this is happening.

Setting goals that stretch an organization to full potential is a critical business imperative for any consumer product company – especially within the hyper-competitive wine, spirits and beer industries. Goals that are unrealistic and un-achievable, however, are not only counter-productive but very costly in terms of failing to keep salespeople engaged and the erosion of precious brand equity.

Why Sales Incentives Don’t Work (And What To Do About It)

Conventional wisdom is a powerful thing but it is also frequently and horribly incorrect. As human beings, most of us are definitely motivated by rewards. But, when it comes to using sales incentives to “motivate” sales people, the misconceptions abound.
I’ve written before about the futility of trying to “motivate” salespeople. If a salesperson needs to be motivated, he/she shouldn’t be on your team. Period. End of story. If you can’t change your people, change your people. As my business hero, Marcus Lemonis, says, “People. Product. Process.” Businesses tend to spend way too much time on the Product part and not enough time on the People part. And when it comes to Sales People, it’s all too common to see them as interchangeable cogs in a machine that only requires a little grease now and again to make it move faster.

Great salespeople need no motivation outside of themselves to consistently perform at a high level. I speak from experience here. Some of the top performing salespeople I’ve led over the years had absolutely no idea where they stood in relation to their annual bonus attainment as the year drew to a close. Sure, they loved getting the bonus every year – in fact, they expected it. But, the way they got it was to work themselves into the ground and then wait and see what their bonus was. I kid you not. And guess what? Their bonus was always the largest among the team members.

Most great salespeople care about two things above all else: winning and pleasing their customers. It’s in their DNA. They jump out of bed every day and attack their jobs with gusto. They do it because that’s who they are and not because someone else is “driving” them. By the way, whenever I see a business plan that has the phrase, “drive sales by doing ____,” I want to throw up in my mouth. These plans are written by people who don’t have a clue how to achieve outstanding sales results year after year. But I digress. The very best sales people will walk through walls to please their customers (and they do it of their own accord). They will work long hours to keep their promises. And, yes, they expect to be rewarded for their efforts. The primary job of a sales leader, therefore, is to find and keep these people – not to create clever ways to motivate them.

Let me pause to clarify something. I am not saying you should not offer sales incentives and bonuses to your top performers. Quite to the contrary. Just don’t go around thinking you can get an average or mediocre salesperson to improve their performance because you hold out some juicy carrot.

So what can you do? There are far better ways to accelerate your sales results. Assuming you have great sales people to start with, ask yourself (and maybe a few sales team members) some of these questions below. A word of caution here – if you’re not 100% committed to solving the deficiencies you uncover, don’t even go down this path. You’ll end up doing more harm than good by giving your sales team false hope.

1) Does your sales team have the tools and resources to do their job well?
2) Are you making it easier or harder for them to keep their promises to their customers?
3) Do they have realistic sales goals?
4) Do the goal posts keep moving?
5) Are the rewards for keeping and maintaining your best customers commensurate with acquiring new customers?
6) Do you routinely provide recognition of top performers among their peers – especially at company-wide gatherings?

Some of the things on this list cost very little, and those that do cost money offer a much higher return on investment than offering more “incentives” to your sales people.
Lastly, please consider the wisdom offered in this great Ted Talk by Daniel Pink called “The Puzzle of Motivation.” It’s a good place to start if you’re ready to start seeing sales incentives in a whole new light.

The 3 Best Ways to Demoralize Your Sales Team

I’m not sure who would actually want to demoralize their sales team, but I’m sorry to say it happens every day of the week. I mean, everyone wants their sales team to consistently perform at a high level, right? But, like many things in business, good intentions don’t always translate to best results. Conventional wisdom, after all, is often wrong.
There’s an old joke about a man who goes to the doctor complaining that every time he drinks coffee he gets a sharp pain in his right eye. The doctor’s sage advice? “Try taking the spoon out of the cup.” These 3 ways of demoralizing your sales team are those “spoons in the cup” and if you’re not happy with the current level of production from your sales team, you just might be in the mood for my nickel’s worth of free advice.

1. Measure activity instead of results
I know countless sales leaders and business owners who sincerely believe more sales calls will result in more sales. In theory it seems logical, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Unless you’re in telemarketing, you’re wasting valuable time on a very low-probability activity.

In order to embrace the more-equals-more approach, you’d have to accept certain assumptions. One of those assumptions is that buyers are always ready to buy the minute they pick up the phone. Or that it only takes one great sales presentation to close a sale. The truth is, it can take up to 10 or 11 “touches” until a buyer signs the order. Another supposition is that a prospect is a prospect is a prospect. If they are not buying from us now, they are fair game. The truth is that not all accounts are equal. Not even close. The name of the game here is quality, not quantity.

I’d rather see a salesperson spend 40-50% of his time researching and qualifying the most promising prospects before ever picking up the phone. There is a direct correlation between high closing ratios and a solid qualification process. Whatever you measure, you get more of. If you want more sales calls, please keep measuring them – just know that as you do, you’re sucking the life out of your sales team. Now if you want more sales, measure only the results.

2. Tell them HOW to do their job
“Just give me my sales goals and leave me alone” is a common but unspoken sentiment among most salespeople. The world is full of sales leaders who believe their job is to ride roughshod over their salespeople who, without your constant supervision, would spend all day sharpening pencils and rearranging their desk. If you are worried about this behavior, the problem is YOU, because you’ve done a poor hiring job.

Micromanagers are a curse to any sales team. They slow things down. They create fear and loathing. It would save everyone a lot of time if they just came out and said, “I think you’re incompetent.” Every unsolicited suggestion, every “constructive” critique chips away at a salesperson’s self-esteem. Creativity and the ability to think fast on your feet are key components to sales success. So if you don’t care about sales success, by all means, get your people to question themselves and to think they need to stop and ask your permission before proceeding.

3. Show you don’t trust them
In Stephen M. R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust, he calls trust a “critical performance multiplier.” The ability of a salesperson to perform at a very high level is in direct proportion the level of trust given to them by their supervisor. Everyone knows what it feels like to not be trusted by your boss. You can just feel it. One way this shows up in a sales job is your boss calling you at the end of the work day on the pretense of “seeing how your day went” and instead listening as hard as he can for background noises that might indicate your presence in a bar, or far worse – at home playing with your children. And, of course, their favorite day of the week to do this is Friday.

The whole “weekly/daily” call report is also a great way to show your people you don’t trust them. Look, you’re either hitting your sales goals or you’re not. If you don’t think your sales people are capable of achieving their sales goals or can’t be trusted to conduct themselves at work with honor, you should fire them on the spot. No amount of babysitting or micro-managing is going ameliorate a lack of integrity.

A final note addressed to Presidents and CEO’s: if you are not happy with your company’s sales results, don’t be too quick to blame your sales people. Take a good, hard look at the sales leaders, too. More often than not, salespeople are being held back from their potential by their leaders. After all, it’s quite true that people don’t quit companies, they quit their managers.

Stop depending so much on your distributors

There’s a popular but delusional belief in the wine industry that distributors will build your brand for you. Same goes for spirits and beer suppliers. It seems a reasonable assumption on the surface. After all, that’s how it’s been done since the repeal of Prohibition. shutterstock_312602363The best supplier sales leaders in America have built outstanding careers and stellar reputations on their ability to leverage relationships they’ve worked hard to build over the years with their distributor partners. It used to be that a national sales manager with strong ties to the largest distributors in the country was worth his weight in gold. But, not anymore and here’s why: distributors are constitutionally incapable of doing for you what they used to do. Let the hate mail ensue, but just because something is hard to accept, it doesn’t make it any less true.

Don’t get me wrong. Distributors play an indispensable role in these United States and always will. But times and circumstances have changed considerably in the last 20 years. It’s just crazy, though, how few people have woken up to this new reality, let alone accepted it. If you are a national sales manager and you’re still using the same playbook that got you to where you are today, you are in for a rude awakening. But don’t just take my word for it; consider the facts.
Twenty years ago, there were 2,600 wine companies peddling their wares in the US and about 3,000 distributors. During these glory years, distributors excelled at placing your products in thousands of restaurants, hotels, liquor stores, and grocery chains. And smart suppliers actively participated in the process by investing in education of the distributor sales teams, creating exciting incentives, organizing crew drives and sales blitzes, and bringing sales people out to the wine country so they could capture the magic for themselves. And, of course, nothing was as valuable as spending time in salespeople’s cars and calling on accounts with them; teaching them to sell your brands when you weren’t around. The suppliers who did these things well prospered magnificently.

But this isn’t 1995. It’s 2016 and these tactics are no longer near enough. There are now fewer than 700 distributors and almost 9,000 wine companies competing for space on the retail shelves and restaurant wine lists. While they’ll never come right out and say it, distributors are completely overwhelmed. They have too many suppliers to satisfy. Ongoing consolidation has only exacerbated things. It has made life miserable for the small-to-medium sized suppliers and most have no clue what to do about it.
A good start would be to accept the current reality and adjust your expectations accordingly. You need to start taking more responsibility for your own outcomes instead of expecting your distributors to do it all for you. They will certainly do what they can to help but the best you can expect is for them to match YOUR efforts. If you don’t show up in the market, they won’t show up.

It’s time for you to throw out the old playbook and upgrade to the new, modern approach. And here it is in a nutshell:
First, invest in your own RAD data and the tools to analyze it so you’ll have full visibility into the quality of your distribution. Knowledge is power and you can’t leave this up to anyone else. You’ll be amazed at what you discover when you bring this data “in house.” Second, before you hire another sales person, invest in a CRM system to give yourself power and control of your own destiny. We’re talking beyond-your-wildest-dreams power and control. Lastly, toss out the hollow, useless metric of “Accounts Sold” and replace it with “Accounts sold Against Targeted Accounts” because not all accounts are equal. Identify the 20% of the accounts that are capable of delivering 80% of the volume. If you’re not sure how or where to get this information, give us a ring. We call this Key Account Targeting (KAT) and we do it all day, every day for many suppliers. By narrowing the focus of your sales resources to only the most attractive and responsive accounts, you will achieve two things: 1) dramatically accelerate your distribution growth and depletions and 2) start relying less and less on your distributors. Careful here- I’m not saying you don’t need distributors. That day willnever come. But you can adjust your expectations to better fit reality.

Now here’s the kicker: most people reading this blog post will not accept what I’ve just written. The gray-haired leaders of our industry think they already know it all. There’s nothing new under the sun in their minds. Hey, if doing things the old fashioned way is still working for you, more power to you. But, for the rest of you who aren’t happy with your current level of sales, are frustrated with the quality of your distribution, and aren’t entirely sure what to do about it, there IS hope. If you’re open to completely transforming your business and ready to join the small band of us who are already doing it, we’re ready to welcome you into the tribe.
Ben Salisbury is a 30- year veteran of the adult beverage industry and founder of the fast-growing consulting firm, Salisbury Creative Group, Inc.

Just Because You Build It Doesn’t Mean They’ll Come

It’s worth noting most people incorrectly quote the signature catch phrase of the movie Field of Dreams as, “If you build it, they will come,” but – as any devotee of the seminal flick knows – the precise quote is, “If you build it, HE will come,” referencing the disgraced and footwear-challenged Joseph Jackson. But I digress.

This post is about the all-too-common misconception that filling gaps in a product portfolio will solve any deficiency in your sales results. While this is sometimes true, it is more often than not common sense interrupted by thinking. Some salespeople love to blame everything and everyone but themselves for failing to achieve their sales goals. One certainly shouldn’t discourage the new product development team from creating the next big thing, but salespeople get paid to deliver the number regardless. Rainmakers accept NO excuse for getting the job done.

I’ve sat in many sales & marketing meetings over the years, listening to sales leaders lament the lack of innovation: “If we only had ______.” It is the job of the sales team to generate profitable new revenue no matter what. A “rut” is a grave with both ends kicked out. Get over it. While you’re waiting around for someone else to create something new and exciting, you’ve still got a job to do: selling what’s already on your plate.

Now, in all fairness, salespeople aren’t the only ones who fall into this trap. Just because you DO create a new product or service does not mean it’s automatically going to sell. It might, and that would be great – but it’s not a given. Too many companies have an anemic sales culture because the power and value of a great sales team is discounted in the misguided belief that any fool can sell a great product. Heck, it might even sell itself.

This “if you build it, they will come” mentality can be a genuine trap. One should instead heed the warning, “be careful what you wish for.” Some marketing teams take the sales leaders at their word and create new products as requested. Now, it’s up to the sales team to execute. If you fail, you have no one to blame but yourself. Is it the chicken or the egg? Is it better products that are needed or better sales execution? In a perfect world, you’d have both great products and great sales execution. But if this was easy, every company would be doing it.

Since most of what I write in my blog is directed at sales teams and sales leaders, I want to address them directly here. Instead of focusing on what’s missing in your portfolio, concentrate on the things you can control. Find ways to bring real business value to your customers through great service, dependability, and trust. If you are accessible to your customers, always do what you say you’re going to do, and put your clients’ needs before your own, it won’t matter what products are in your sample bag.

It’s a great day in the life of a salesperson when they finally realize they already have everything they need to be successful. Strive to become the person your customers can’t live without. Figure out how to execute in spite of your company’s shortcomings. The very best way to differentiate yourself from all the people with whom you compete is to become habitually dependable. You don’t need anyone’s help building that.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself When Hiring a Sales Person

I know of no more challenging aspect of being a sales leader than making good hiring decisions. Leading sales pros requires very different proficiencies than just being a top sales performer in your own right. One of those skills is the ability to assess talent.
Before you can be great at something, you have to be good at it. Before you can be good at it, you have to be bad at it. And before you can be bad at it, you have to try. This pretty much sums up my experience in the hiring-manager dimension of my career. I became very good at finding, evaluating, and hiring outstanding salespeople only because I used to be so horribly inept at it. Experience is the best teacher.

Fortunately, I’ve had several mentors who’ve imparted their wisdom to me. This blog post is about paying that wisdom forward to you. My greatest boss, teacher, coach and mentor, Glenn Yaffa, was the Executive Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates until his retirement. Glenn taught me to ask myself three questions as I considered a candidate for a sales role on my team.

1) Can they do the job?
Yes, skills and experience are important. However, the bigger idea here is “Can they execute? Can they deliver results?” Being effective in a sales role requires the aptitude to get the job done year after year without excuse. Certain challenges will always be present like unplanned price changes, inventory shortages, inconsistent quality, gaps in the portfolio, and competitive pressures. Even so, when you reach the end of the fiscal year, will this person offer up every excuse in the book to justify their failure or will they exceed all expectations because that’s who they are?

Don’t hire “Talkers.” Only hire “Doers.” Let me illustrate. I recently had a coaching session with a salesperson employed by one of my consulting clients who, for three consecutive years, had fallen well short of expectations. I asked him to make a list of the things keeping him from reaching his sales goals. As we stepped back to look at his lengthy catalog of “obstacles,” I pointed out that not one single item was within his control. His mindset, in essence, was, “It’s not my fault.” This is exactly the type of person you do not want to hire. Without further intervention, this guy would always be categorized as a “Talker,” not a “Doer.”

Contrast this with some of the stars on my former sales teams. These rainmakers saw the world from a completely different perspective. Their attitude was, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me” and “My job is to ‘find a way’ no matter.” What a contrast! There are people out there whose internal “will to win” far exceeds any external expectations. They are worth their weight in gold because they know how to execute. They take full responsibility for outcomes and never make excuses. Job number one for a sales leader is to fill your team with “Doers.” No amount of training, incentives, or threats can fix a “Talker.” You must learn how to discover the difference as you evaluate your candidate pool.

2) Will they do the job?
What you want to find are people who are hard working, self-starters, and able to operate with little to no supervision. The idea that you have to motivate salespeople is a fatal mistake. Find people who want to succeed because that’s how they roll, not because someone is compelling them to do so. To discover if a candidate WILL do the job, ask lots of questions about their achievements to date. Ask them, “To what do you attribute your success?” Get them talking about how they overcame obstacles to get the job done. What you are looking for here is the will to win, and asking lots of questions about how they have functioned in previous situations is the best way to discover it.

3) Are they a great fit?
Never underestimate the importance of “fit.” Sales leaders are the keepers of the culture and, as one of my business heroes likes to say, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” The key to establishing and curating a solid sales culture is being clear with yourself and the team about the values and guiding principles that define who you are as a group. A great example of a winning team culture is the “work hard, play hard” mindset. Another one is “we like to win.” Do team members like each other? Do they respect one another? Do they value excellence? Are they committed to continuous self-improvement? Bringing a new salesperson into an existing high-performance team is risky business and an important responsibility of the team leader. Salespeople like to look around at the other members of the team and see similar values. Contrary to popular belief, selling is a team sport; there’s no place for lone wolves. You owe it to your stars to bring in other stars and nothing less. We’re not talking about everyone being exactly the same. On the contrary, there should be an array of diversity among team members so they can draw upon each other’s strengths.

Like so many aspects of the business world, practice makes perfect. Building a sales team that consistently delivers outstanding results starts with the hiring process. Take your time. Be patient. Don’t allow the pressure to fill an open role cause you to rush the process. Be diligent, ruthless, and thorough in judging the capabilities of prospects. Don’t rely too heavily on résumés and interviews. Above all, trust your gut. A good rule of thumb in avoiding hiring mistakes is, “When in doubt, don’t.” If you have any reticence about moving forward with a new sales person, that’s your gut trying to keep you from making a big mistake.

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

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.

To Sell More, Stop Doing This

It’s very tempting to focus on trivial, easy-to-measure things like the number of sales calls made each day, week, or month. But routinely keeping a tally of this useless, hollow metric may be the single biggest mistake sales leaders make.


Keep in mind whatever you measure you get more of. It’s seems simple enough but if you want to get more of something – anything- start measuring it. But, the idea that more sales calls equates to more sales is completely unfounded. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the primary reason most sales teams under perform. The false assumption being made is you can sell something simply by getting in front of someone one time and making a great “pitch.” If that were true, then yes, you should make as many sales calls as you possibly can. But, any salesperson of substance knows this is simply not how it works.

If you begin with the end in mind, the ultimate goal here is to have lots and lots of customers who are truly engaged with your products and brands. To get there, it takes multiple, high-quality interactions with customers before you can fully engage them. Building rapport and relationships is a time consuming process. By emphasizing a certain number of sales per day, you are actually inhibiting or working against this goal. Here are 4 reasons why:

The first problem with measuring the number of sales calls is it does not differentiate between high quality opportunities and low quality opportunities. Not all accounts are equal. This trite and tired metric of number of sales calls can really only measure one thing: effort. But, you can’t take effort to the bank. You can’t pay your bills with effort. You can only take revenue to the bank. “Effort” in and of itself is not a useful metric. What a great recipe for disappointing sales results: treat all customers as if they have the same value and measure the number of sales calls made on this homogenous customer base.

Secondly, the idea that making your salespeople work harder will lead to more sales is ridiculous. If you hired good salespeople to start with, they are most likely already working hard. Putting more pressure on your sales team or requiring a higher volume of work from them will actually hurt your sales – especially from your existing base of great customers which, by the way, is your best source of new distribution and revenue. Instead of focusing on the volume of work being done try looking for ways to improve your sales process and your sales approach.

Third, filling out call reports is a process-heavy task. By “process heavy” I mean time consuming. Time is THE most precious asset a salesperson has. Measuring results, by contrast, takes no time at all. Give your salespeople SMART goals, measure their progress against those goals, and stop worrying about how many sales calls it takes to reach them. There’s a name for salespeople who consistently miss their sales goals: unemployed.

Lastly, measuring the number of sales calls doesn’t tell you much about what’s really going on in the accounts or the marketplace. What if some of those sales calls you tracked were with the wrong people in the account? What if the primary buyer wasn’t present? What if the buyer was present but didn’t like your salesperson or her “pitch?” At best, this metric will give you a false sense of success. What good is a call report jam packed with a bunch of attempted and unproductive sales calls?

From the time you put an account on your target account list until the time they actually buy could be several weeks or months. We call this the “sales cycle.” There’s no set number of “touches” that it will take for them to finally buy (completing the sales cycle). Under-estimating the length of the sales cycle is a huge pitfall most companies make every day. “It takes what it takes” to get a customer to buy something. And whether or not that customer continues to buy from you regularly has everything to do with how they were treated along the way.

So what should you measure? Leading indicators like the number of customers who buy more than one SKU; sales per point of distribution (velocity) and how long a customer has been buying from you. Track real time sales results by sales rep, customer segment, channel of trade and product group. Thank goodness we live in an age when keeping your finger on the pulse of these powerful sales metrics is as easy as a couple of mouse clicks. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools allow you to do it 24/7– even on your mobile device. Things that used to be difficult to measure no longer are.

Isn’t it so much better to focus on sales activities that make the most sense rather than something that can easily be measured? Measure what matters. Ignore what doesn’t. Hire great sales people and let them do their job. Stop slowing them down with useless metrics and meaningless call reports. Focus on results, not effort.