5 Ways to Build a Winning Sales Culture

5 Keys to a Winning Sales CultureHow do the best sales leaders create a culture that enables top producers to thrive?

In the enclosed video, I map out five leadership keys to creating a winning sales culture.

  1. Be a culture champion. Culture is a reflection of how we lead, and it starts with you. What’s your vision for success? How are you putting people in a position to succeed? Make sure you communicate courageously and consistently. Everyone is watching.
  2. Be a performance coach. If you expect a high level of accountability and performance from your employees, lead by example. Make sure everyone understands what they can expect from you (and, in turn, what you expect from them).
  3. Be a teacher. We know that buyers are looking for added value from vendors and sellers. Arm your team with information by promoting a culture of continuous learning. Encourage your employees to share best practices, learn from outside the organization, and keep on pursuing their own professional development. Be a student of your industry, and make sure your employees do the same.
  4. Be a change agent. In the new economy, the organizations and leaders who look at every change through the lens of opportunity are better positioned to win. Invite change and innovation and challenge everyone to contribute ideas that help the team improve.
  5. Be a mad scientist. Immerse yourself in the rich data that’s available about your buyers and sellers and use it to make more informed decisions. Quantify your sales strategy decisions with intelligence.

5 Keys to a Winning Sales Culture from Ryan Estis on Vimeo.

My new ebook, Leading Breakthrough Sales Performance, looks at how sales leaders can create teams of informed, motivated, savvy sellers that are ready to meet buyers’ new expectations. Download the ebook for case studies from dynamic sales leaders at HP, Grainger, the Dallas Cowboys, MassMutual and Medline.

Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.

Coaching and Courageous Conversations

This post originally appeared on SmartBrief’s SmartBlog on Leadership. Check out all of the posts in their series on communication.

Courageous conversationsOne of the fundamental challenges that sales leaders face today is managing performance and creating consistent accountability around performance targets. Addressing and coaching people through underperformance requires the willingness to have courageous conversations.

Having conversations about performance and expectations, and then holding people accountable to results, can cause tension. However, those conversations are a critical aspect of cultivating a high-performance culture. Managers who shy away from or ignore those hard conversations inhibit morale and limit the performance potential of the entire sales organization.

Here are four ways sales leaders can approach performance conversations courageously to coach people through performance challenges, create alignment and ultimately raise both accountability and sales performance.

1. Set clear expectations.

Make expectation-setting a conversation. Work with people in collaboration to set goals and achieve buy-in. At the end of an expectation-setting conversation, everyone (the sales manager and the performer) should walk away feeling aligned and positive about the decisions made. Here’s the secret about performance management: If you set clear expectations and get buy-in from the performer ahead of time, it’s easy to have courageous conversations about performance down the road, because everyone’s on the same page. Nothing comes as a surprise.

2. Outline specific performance plans and consequences.

When you set goals and expectations, you should also map out a plan for how the result can be achieved. Sales reps should understand the activity requirements and process, the rewards for meeting goals, and the consequences for falling short. If people aren’t meeting the plan, it should be expected that you’ll address those issues and implement corrective action head-on.

3. Check in with employees often.

Great sales leaders are hands-on coaches. Have regular conversations with employees about their progress, opportunities and obstacles. Be a manager who supports, guides, counsels and mentors. Remove barriers and put your people in a position to be successful. And, if an employee is going in the wrong direction, take corrective action. Have open and honest conversations to remind employees what’s expected of them and how they can get there. Give specific examples by socializing best practices. Over time (and when expectations are clearly communicated upfront), employees will rely upon and even look forward to frequent, informal check-ins about their progress.

4. Get honest with underperforming employees.

Sales performance is black and white: it’s all about the numbers. If someone falls short, be direct and help them understand where they’re going wrong. Sales leaders who don’t have courageous conversations about underperformance are doing their employees a real disservice. We owe it to our people to have honest conversations about performance to help them grow and succeed. And, if the role isn’t a good fit, it doesn’t serve anyone to prolong that situation. If someone is ill-equipped for the job, and consistently fails to meet their numbers, responsible leaders have the courage to confront those situations and make the change.

Consistent, courageous conversations help drive accountability and performance. Top producers thrive in this kind of work environment and welcome the challenge. When expectations are clearly defined and people are supported, they are in a better position to produce their very best result. No one can hide because the expectations are clear, and performance conversations happen consistently. Issues are addressed head-on and people aren’t afraid to ask for help, collaborate with others, and invite support.

Courageous leaders are present with presence. They communicate with both clarity and consistency. They attack issues head-on. They hold everyone accountable. They champion a culture of expectations, accountability and high performance. And they have a whole lot of fun beating the competition and growing the business.

Looking for more sales leaderships insights? My new ebook, Leading Breakthrough Sales Performance, takes a deeper dive into how customers are transforming — and how sales leaders at category-leading companies are responding. Download the ebook.

Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.

When Saying “No” to a Customer Makes Sense

When saying no to a customer makes senseCustomers — even your very best customers — aren’t always right. That old adage can quickly take a company in the absolute wrong direction. Saying “no” to customers, when it makes sense, can keep your business tracking in the right direction.

Every organization wants to delight customers, deliver on promises, and add value at every touch point. Makes sense. Today’s customers have elevated expectations, and we better take good care of them because an alternative choice is usually just a click away.

However, there are certain kinds of customers and specific types of customer requests that threaten to pull a company down a path that doesn’t align with the strategic plan. You can’t let an isolated customer inquiry or incident pull you away from your core focus and philosophy.

Leadership needs to decide on a company’s core competencies and growth strategy. Not every customer (or customer request) will fit into your tightly defined niche and plan. It’s very common for customers to ask for support that extends beyond a company’s core capabilities. After all, more of a good thing is seemingly good for everyone, right? It actually depends. While it pays to stay open and consider new opportunities, it’s also important to take a step back and determine if a customer’s request is an opportunity or a distraction. So often, in the rush to grow forward I see it becoming the latter.

When a customer asks you to move in a direction that doesn’t align with your core business strengths and values, it can actually serve your long-term best interest to simply say no. It took me several years and some real suffering as an entrepreneur to learn this lesson. I was conditioned to say yes, make sales and make everyone else happy. That philosophy wasn’t good for me personally or the business. Today, a core part of our our growth plan is having the discipline to say no when opportunities simply don’t align or they show up way too soon.

The challenge, of course, is learning to say no without jeopardizing important customer relationships. It’s possible to say no and actually impact the relationship positively.

  1. Say no — and at the same time offer an alternate solution or recommendation. Customers appreciate the pass in lieu of a resource that’s better equipped to offer the right support. When you refer business to a more appropriate vendor, everyone wins: your customer gets the support they need, the referred company happily gets a new client, and you stay focused on your most successful work. You’ll also begin to build advocacy and typically those right-fit referrals will start coming back to you.

  2. Say no — and offer very solid rationale for why it’s in the best interest of the customer. Customers appreciate transparency, which builds trust and can serve to strengthen the long-term relationship. When you’re honest about what you’re capable of, you create realistic expectations. On the other hand, when you say yes and wing it, you create false expectations and will probably burn valuable time, resources and energy trying to deliver.

  3. Say no — and consider together what the best alternative option could be. So often, the customer wants you to listen, understand, and partner. Ask for more information. Listen closely. The “no” isn’t the relationship killer — it’s the context and delivery. Saying no but working diligently to arrive at the very best, mutually beneficial outcome is actually an opportunity to advance the partnership.

It’s tempting to chase every new opportunity and sale, but you’ll be better served by focusing specifically on opportunities that fit best. It’s up to you to define that niche. When it makes sense to say no, doing it the right way will also build stronger client partnerships and a business that’s better prepared to grow.

Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.

Tapping the Collective Consciousness

Change.

Customers are changing, the marketplace is changing, the competition is changing. What does that mean for corporate strategy and forecasting? It means executive teams can’t go into board rooms, shut the door, and determine all the right moves to deliver the best strategy for the business. That just doesn’t work anymore.

Good ideas are everywhere and I recently had the opportunity sit down with keynote speaker and collaborator Seth Mattison to talk through how leaders can open the lines of communication inside an organization, tap into employees’ best thinking and bring forward the very best ideas to fuel creativity, innovation and growth.

How can leaders and managers identify important changes and trends? How can we listen to everyone inside an organization to find good ideas? Check out the enclosed video, where Seth and I explore the topic further.

Tapping The Collective Consciousness from Ryan Estis on Vimeo.

Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.

Sales Auditing Improves Results

As a sales leader, what are you inspecting?

Here’s a typical post-sales call conversation:

Sales Manager: “How’d it go?”

Sales Rep: “Great!”

Sales Manager: “Going to get good business out of this one?”

Sales Rep: “Definitely!”

…and then everyone moves on.

Sales leaders have an opportunity to develop and drive performance through a detailed post-call analysis audit. Better questions to consider after a sales call include:

  • What are the economic drivers that will influence the customer’s decision?
  • What commitment did you earn today? What are the agreed-upon next steps?
  • What went well? What would you have done differently? Where can we improve next time?
  • Who else could possibly impact the decision?
  • How are you going to add value after the call?

Add questions that are relevant to your unique situation, competitive landscape and sales cycle.

Make auditing a consistent practice and part of your sales culture. Ask harder, more detailed questions and guide reps through the importance of creating a detailed, specific sales road map and timeline post-call. You’ll accomplish several things:

  • Help sales reps understand how to structure more effective calls and invest more into pre-call planning.
  • Reinforce best practices and gain valuable insights to share with the team.
  • Create consistent standards and expectations around a quality sales engagement.
  • Spend less time going forward time on low-yield opportunities.
  • Shorten the sales cycle.
  • Drive sales growth.

Auditing and analyzing sales calls and then socializing the best practices and lessons learned is one of the best development opportunities inside a sales organization. Over time, it has a measurable impact on results.

In the enclosed video, I talk through the importance and impact of post-call analysis.

Value Drivers from Ryan Estis on Vimeo.

Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.

Busy Is the New Fine

Busy is the new fineYou run into a friend in line at the coffee shop. You ask how they’re doing. Five years ago, I can bet their response would have been “fine!” Today? Everyone’s “busy!

No matter who I talk to, everyone struggles with feeling busy. As we’ve become more connected, we’ve also found ourselves time-poor, tapped out, and being asked to do more with less. So, how do we as employees, leaders, community members, spouses, parents and friends maximize the efficiency in every 24 hours while still leading a balanced, happy, healthy life?

It’s not an easy question, and there isn’t an easy answer. But, we all get the same amount of time every day. The differentiator is how you manage those hours. Peak performers learn how to focus on the right things during the day — spending time on things that matter and minimizing all of the distractions in between.

Time management is a critical theme among leaders for many of the companies I support. Spending too much time on the wrong, low-yield activities is one of the biggest reasons I see producers missing their numbers. Usually, it’s not a lack of competence. Instead, the issue is more often how they’re allocating their resources and spending their time.

I’m still learning how to best manage my calendar to create optimal business performance and personal happiness. But, after a very (here comes that word again!) busy 2013, with 80 live events, most of them involving travel, I’ve learned a few tips that help me keep my schedule under control and afford time to enjoy life outside of work.

Here are my 5 time management keys to consider.

1. Have a plan for every day.

If you wake up without a prioritized, scheduled plan for the day, you’re already a step behind. I find it most helpful to organize my day by “day parts” — chunks of time dedicated to my most important priorities.

A good day plan also includes white space. Instead of scheduling back-to-back meetings from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., give yourself a little time during the day to recharge, think strategically and creatively, and respond to any true crises that may come up. Taking short breaks (to walk around, go outside, or get a glass of water) leaves you refreshed and ready to tackle the next challenge.

2. Schedule time for creative thinking.

On the same note, scheduling dedicated time for creative thinking is something far too few companies include in their best practices. Creativity time should be scheduled and honored just like meeting time.

Here’s an interesting thought for managers: What if you blocked out creative thinking time for your team every week? Let’s say that every Wednesday from 3 to 5, it’s time to think creatively. That means no one’s on the phone, no one’s emailing, no one’s dropping into your office. Instead, your entire team could slow down and focus on idea generation, strategic thinking, brainstorming and connecting the dots.

Most corporate office environments are extremely distracting places and simply aren’t conducive to efficient work output. That’s why more people opt for the coffee shop or home office to handle important work that requires real thought. Introducing some calm, quiet thinking time into the workday chaos can lead to new ideas and energy.

3. Remember wellness.

For me, making time for my own health and wellness is non-negotiable. My workouts are on my calendar, and they don’t get moved. If something is a priority, schedule it. If it’s important to you to exercise, call friends, or go on a date with your significant other, put it on your calendar and give it the space it deserves. Otherwise, it’s easy to lose sight of your priorities and let other (usually work-related) responsibilities drown everything else out.

4. Don’t let your inbox control your day.

Email is one of the biggest time-killers we face. Everyone has experienced accidentally losing an hour or two just by responding to the constant inbox influx.

Instead, take control. Decide when during the day you’re going to check and respond to email. Worried about missing something important? Ask yourself: Which is more important, the prioritized task I’m working on now or the next email that lands in my inbox (whatever that happens to be)? Usually, the inbox loses.

5. Rest.

Everyone needs their own routine for winding down at the end of the day. For me, that means not using technology for the last hour I’m awake. Give yourself a chance to rest and rejuvenate, and give your team the same respect. If you’re consistently sending your employees emails at 1 a.m., consider the example you’re setting.

Creating an efficient, prioritized schedule can actually give you an edge. In a world where everyone loves to talk about how busy they are, the leaders and performers who have clear control over their time have the advantage.

Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.

Leading a Legacy

Tom HeinenTom Heinen is co-owner and operator of Heinen’s, a third-generation, family-owned (and much-loved) grocery store based in Cleveland, Ohio. Heinen’s has 18 stores across Ohio and, now, Illinois. The company has developed a world-class culture by focusing on people over profit, being transparent and generous, and trying to make a difference in the lives of those they serve. I spoke at Heinen’s annual service recognition awards this year and I was blown away by the company’s strong culture and the commitment of their employees. I sat down with Tom Heinen to learn more about the history and guiding principles of the family business.

The booming business that Tom and his brother Jeff run today started a long time ago. Tom’s grandfather, Joe Heinen, opened his first store in 1929. He had come to Ellis Island as a baby, and at age 26, in the depths of the Great Depression, he left his job working in a butcher shop and opened his own store, where he could test his new ideas. As the stories go, there were hundreds of people lined up looking for work. Many people couldn’t pay. Joe made trades — food for work — and started his family’s deep connection to the community.

Over the next fifty years, Joe Heinen opened a bigger market, then more and more stores, became the first store to sell pre-packaged meat so that customers didn’t have to wait in line at a butcher counter, and introduced the concept of a one-stop supermarket to the area. He was an entrepreneur ahead of his time.

Winning with products and people

By the time Tom and Jeff Heinen took over in the early 90s, the industry was changing — fast. Customers had higher and higher expectations, along with an expanding knowledge of food. The brothers knew that they needed to formalize the company’s management processes and focus on developing the next generation of leaders.

When they developed the company’s strategic plan, Tom and Jeff chose to focus on their long-time strengths: products and people. They knew they couldn’t beat the big chains in every product category, so they picked the products where they wanted to be the best, like produce, meat, seafood, wine and beer and wellness. Second, the Heinen’s team knew that their people were their strength. Shoppers associated Heinen’s with friendliness and helpfulness. So, they knew that customer service would be a differentiator.

Instead of trusting that the company’s reputation for customer service would remain strong on its own, Heinen’s doubled down on customer service training, teaching employees four steps to creating customer intimacy:

  1. Be crazy friendly.
  2. Be helpful.
  3. Share your knowledge.
  4. Be invaluable.

Employees are expected and encouraged to learn everything they can about Heinen’s products — not necessarily so that they can upsell customers, but so that they can share helpful information with shoppers. Tom wants every employee to strive to become a “trusted foodie,” sharing product benefits, food pairing ideas, and unique qualities of Heinen’s thousands of products. Heinen’s knows that its customers are more knowledgeable about and interested in food than ever before — and they have more questions. By learning and sharing about their food, Heinen’s people are meeting customers where they are. Fast, friendly service isn’t enough anymore — customers expect food experts. The end goal of all of this education and expertise: to become so valuable to customers that, even if a new grocery option opened, they’d never think of leaving Heinen’s. “Our customers trust us,” Tom says. “We’ve built that brand equity over many, many years of treating them right and being honest with them.”

Heinen’s people-first philosophy acknowledges that its employees are the linchpin of its success. The strategy: make sure every employee loves working at Heinen’s. If that happens, everything else takes care of itself. Tom tells employees in training: You’re our marketing, customer service, and product inspection department. You’re everything to Heinen’s.

Being a steward of the business

Beyond a dedication to products and people, Heinen’s feels different because of its history. The company’s leadership is focused on improving the business and honoring the legacy that came before them. The Heinen family sees themselves as stewards of the brand. Tom put the company’s focus this way: “We don’t measure success by how much money we make. We measure success by making enough profit to re-invest in the business. We invest in people first, then in facilities and technology.” For Heinen’s, money isn’t the goal or the destination. It’s fuel for the business. Tom and Jeff Heinen aren’t trying to grow their family company so that they can sell it and put their feet up. They’re working every day to leave the business better than they found it. That sense of honor and tradition comes through when you talk to Heinen’s customers and employees.

Heinen’s focus on products, people and legacy makes an impact. My mom, like many others in Cleveland, has been a fiercely loyal Heinen’s shopper for 30 years. I recently read an article on the blog Cleveland Foodie where the author names being close to a Heinen’s as a top consideration in her house search. Focusing on quality, whether it’s quality products, customer service or stewardship, is a winning strategy in 2013, just like it was in 1926.

About Heinen’s – YouTube

Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.

Video: Navigating the New World of Leadership

Navigating the New World of LeadershipIt’s no secret that the experience economy is disrupting the status quo. When the market moves, leaders are faced with the difficult task of staying ahead of the curve.

I recently spoke with Sheldon Senek at Eagles Talent Speakers Bureau about how leaders can navigate this changing landscape and leverage it as an opportunity.

One of the trends that we discussed is the shift from traditional to collaborative leadership. Employees have higher expectations than ever, and there’s a major gap between what they expect from leadership and what they’re getting. Here are a few eye-opening numbers about leadership and performance.

  • Only 39% of employees report having trust in senior leadership. (Source: Watson Wyatt)
  • 65% of the US workforce is classified as under-engaged. (Source: Modern Survey)

So, what can leaders do to narrow the gap between employee expectations and workplace reality? An important element of successful leadership is putting people in a position to be successful. Great leaders know that leadership isn’t about them — it’s about team success. One of the best leadership lessons I’ve learned is: If it involves people, involve them. Give people a voice and empower them to make choices that impact the business.  People work harder to drive results when they have a stake in the outcome.

Watch the full video interview below for insights on the the changing business landscape.

Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.

 

Best of Breed 2013: Leading Breakthrough Sales Performance

Best of Breed Conference 2013Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to give a talk at the 2013 Best of Breed Conference. I spoke about the future sales model IT integrators must develop, the leadership skills required to build new cultures, and the new partnerships that must be forged to move forward.

The best part about being asked to speak at this event was participating. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend sessions with Michael Dell, Meg Whitman, Robert Herjavec and Tim Sanders. It was a powerful lineup jam-packed with progressive ideas and insights about technology and the future of the IT channel.

I personally walked out with pages of notes and thought you would also benefit from sitting in on this experience.  For a short period of time you can. CRN is running a stream of the event keynotes, including my talk on Leading Breakthrough Sales Performance. Check it out on the following link: CRN’s Coverage of the Best of Breed Conference 2013

My complete keynote follows. Hope you enjoy!

Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.

How Will You Be Remembered?

There's no place like home - Ryan EstisFour decades ago, my parents took everything they had and put it into a small starter home in northeastern Ohio. Graduates of Kent State University, they were starting teaching careers and planning to raise a family.

That is the house my family called home.

The house is filled with memories. I am typing this from the kitchen table that was home to hundreds of family dinners. I vividly remember all of the avoiding homework, anticipating holidays and epic battles of one-on-one driveway basketball into the middle of the night. It was a small house filled with an active family coming, going, living and loving. I didn’t always want to be there. I have a different perspective now: I had it pretty good.

The experience has changed. The house is quiet now, inviting and a perfect place to rest and rejuvenate.

A visit home reminds me where I come from. The gift of that reminder this week came courtesy of the 2013 Ohio Human Resources Conference. Thank you for bringing me home. #OHSHRM13

There is no place like home. My favorite teacher stills helps guide my journey with unequivocal support, unconditional love and plenty of wisdom. I am grateful.

Spending time where I started always helps inform where I am going. I am reminded how fortunate I have been to have people that made sacrifices so that my life would be full of choices and opportunity. I think about their legacy and recognize that I am a big part of it. That matters to me and I feel a sense of obligation to do my best.

How am I going to show up today?

It’s a powerful question worth considering. That question keeps me moving in the right direction.

In spite of challenges we encounter, burdens we hold and struggles we face on our own personal journey, the power to respond lies within us. It is a choice. Knowing that I own that decision, no matter the circumstances, is empowering.

How am I going to be remembered?

The choices we make, over time, begin to frame the answer to this larger question.

Legacy isn’t something we often consider in the living that consumes us. I think it’s occasionally worth the reflection.

Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.

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