A Job Interview Is Not About You

Selling yourself is always the most important phase of a sale because people are only interested in what you have to offer once they trust you. It’s not easy – it’s a cynical world, that’s why you need an impeccable social presence, especially on LinkedIn, with a profile that attracts people to you. Avoid the ‘quota crusher’ persona and instead show yourself as a domain expert with strong values who is well networked. Also, have a CV that is well honed and tailored for the role you're seeking. LinkedIn does not replace a resume.

But before you can sell someone’s product, service or solution; you’ve got to secure employment with them. Selling yourself is everything at the job interview and there is a key rule to follow if you are to succeed. It will seem counter-intuitive but here it is: It’s not about you – it’s about them! That’s strange, you’re thinking, they’ve asked me in for an interview and they’re asking questions about me – of course it’s about me! They want to compare me with others. No, they want to know what you can do for them compared with what others can do for them. There is a very important distinction – what can you do for them? Not, tell us everything about you. Avoid the temptation to waffle-on about yourself… can you hear the snoring? Instead, show insight in your understanding of what they need from you and how you can deliver for them.

Think about what’s going on in the mind of the potential employer. After all, that’s what masterful selling and negotiating is all about – obsessing about what’s happening in their world. Employers hire someone because they have a problem or an opportunity but they worry about hiring the wrong person. This is because it’s one of the most costly mistakes they can make. It’s expensive in terms of money, time, market momentum, credibility and emotional energy. Recruitment fees are significant but lost time and effort is much more costly. They also worry about the risk to their business and reputation if they entrust their brand to someone who fails to deliver or damages relationships through incompetence or unethical behavior. The best recruitment consultants focus on cultural fit as the number one key criteria once they have a short-list of candidates.

Employers always have a range of candidates that appear to be equally qualified but skills alone are not what make a sales employee successful. Qualifications and skills are prerequisite rather than differentiators. What the employer cares about most is the person’s ability to influence and deliver results while also being a good cultural fit within their team. There are myriad qualified and knowledgeable employees that don’t get promoted because of poor attitude. The sad thing is that they often never know the real reasons they were passed-over for promotion.

No-one really cares about what you know or your qualifications. They care primarily about themselves and what you can do for them. All employers, consciously or not, seek the three Cs in hiring someone: Competence, Commitment, Character or Cultural fit.

If you’re older, then you need to show that you’re energetic, healthy and technology-savvy. If you’re younger, you need to overcome the stereotype of being a casual, impatient, itinerant, ‘click and flick’ technology distracted, unwilling to diligently serve and prove yourself before being rewarded with promotion. Your LinkedIn profile and online social presence therefore needs to break the stereotypes and address any concerns before you can make it to the interview stage. Remember, a LinkedIn profile or CV will be used to screen you out of their process if not crafted masterfully.

Success is a 50:50 proposition in that both you and your employer are needed in the equation. Do your research online and within your network to assess whether your potential employer is Competent, Committed, and of good Character or Culture. The issue of alignment is not a sales ploy, it is genuinely important and goes both ways. You need to know your boss is committed to your success and able to deliver.

In addition to the three Cs, you need them to discuss the three Ps. You should evaluate the potential for success within their organization based upon their response to the following topics: People, Proposition and Patch. Your employer has an obligation to provide an environment within which you can be successful. This means they need to have people you are proud to work with (competent, committed and of good character), and a value proposition that is strongly differentiated in the market; and a territory (patch) that is viable with an achievable target. During the interview process, you should gently and humbly explore all of these things.

You should also gain an understanding of their expectations for the role and the process for selecting and then hiring the successful candidate. Here is a phrase that could transform any job interview if delivered well.

‘I think the most expensive mistake you can is to hire the wrong person in this kind of role. But equally for me I can’t afford to accept a role with the wrong employer. Rather than sell to each other I would like to understand whether this is a good fit for both of us. Like you, I’ve done my homework for today so may I also ask some questions I think only you can answer?’

Adjust the phrasing to suit your own style but the important thing is to establish genuine empathy for their difficult task of evaluating candidates for the role and assessing cultural fit.

Experienced managers however often regard the interview persona as a façade. They can be cynical so be prepared for what they may ask and be ready with your own insightful questions. If you are asked direct questions, then provide candid direct responses. Never avoid answering a question.

Remember, you wouldn't be at the interview if they did not already believe you to be qualified and experienced. They are fishing to see whether you are a cultural fit and ‘the real deal’. Provide examples of situations you’ve navigated to convey the strength of your suitability.

Here is an excerpt from my book, The Joshua Principle, where Joshua Peters is being interviewed for a sales role slightly beyond his qualifications:

Joshua sat with Janet Reynolds in the CEL boardroom. She possessed a disarming manner that masked a laser-like ability to get to the truth. She had granted him an interview because she liked his direct approach and evidence-based validation of performance and capability. It didn’t take long for Janet to get down to business.

“On paper, you don’t make the grade for this job but you sold me on giving you an interview. Tell me, why should I take the risk of hiring you?”

Joshua looked her in the eye. “I know that hiring the wrong person for this role is the most expensive mistake you can make. It will cost you time, energy and revenue. Worse than that, it could damage your reputation and brand. Equally for me, I can’t afford to take a job with the wrong employer. I’m looking for a long-term successful career move. Rather than sit here and sell to you, I’d like to explore whether there is genuinely a good fit for us to work together. Is that an approach that works for you?”

“Sure, but you haven’t answered my question.”

“You see me as a risk because I don’t have specific industry experience or a CV that shows stability and long term performance. Are these your main concerns?”

Janet didn’t like losing control of the conversation. “Let’s come back to all that later. You’re right in saying the biggest mistake I can make as a manager is hiring the wrong person, but what’s the biggest mistake most sales people make?”

Joshua paused before answering. “The two big mistakes are pursuing business that cannot be won and selling to people who cannot buy.”

“So how do you avoid wasting time and resources?”

“I qualify properly. I then invest with people at the right levels to set an agenda that creates value and an advantage.”

Janet was skeptical but Joshua leaned forward. “Janet, I know this all sounds cliché but I’ve done my research. CEL is who I want to work for. I’ve done more than visit your website, LinkedIn profile and read analyst commentary. I’ve met with some of your customers. I believe I can learn from you in selling real solutions to serious business problems for large organizations.”

“That’s all very well, but how does this overcome your lack of experience in our industry?”

“All risk comes from not knowing what we don’t know. In the case of hiring me for this role, the issues are whether I’m competent, will I be committed and am I a cultural fit. Employers usually hire based on skills yet have to fire based on poor fit or performance. I would like you to get to the truth of who I am and what I offer by talking with the most qualified people.”

Janet said nothing.

“I know that what I’m about to suggest may seem unconventional but I would like you to meet with the CEO of my biggest and most recent customer, and also with my current boss. I know that references are usually used to validate the decision at the end of the process but in my case I would like the reference phase to occur early. Is that something you would be willing to do?”

Janet sat back and a wry smile appeared as she spoke. “I’m intrigued as to why your current boss would be willing to act a reference. Is he trying to manage you out?”

“Actually, it’s the opposite. He wants me to take a promotion to sales management but maybe that’s the first question you should ask him when you meet.”

There was a period of silence before Janet finally spoke. “Let’s come back to that at the end of this meeting. Right now I would like to focus on your approach to selling. Do you regard yourself as transactional or are you strategic in how you sell?”

Janet had unwittingly but instinctively set the scene for Joshua to talk about RSVP. “Both are important and require good relationships and effective tactics but it’s also essential to offer unique value and have complete understanding of their buying process. Relationships need to be managed strategically which means positioning early, starting at the top, understanding the power-base within the organization and then aligning with winning agendas. But more than that, I know we have to become part of a compelling business case.”

Joshua continued, focusing on strategy and changing the rules on competitors. The conversation demonstrated real substance in Joshua’s knowledge and maturity. Janet was impressed with what she heard and progressively became more open. Joshua knew he needed to sell through asking questions and, more importantly, he needed to understand Janet’s process for evaluating and hiring the successful candidate. He changed the direction of the conversation.

“Janet, what happened here at CEL to create the opening for this role?”

“To be candid, we hired the wrong person, they didn’t perform. It was as you described – they appeared to be qualified for the role but they were not a good fit.”

Joshua already knew this from meeting with one of their sales people. He was glad she had answered honestly. Janet had passed the first test and he seized the opportunity to begin to understand her selection criteria.

“What will make the right person successful in this role? What defines a good fit?”

Their meeting lasted ninety minutes and Janet agreed to speak with Michael Blunt and David Thomas as the next step. Joshua would brief both men concerning what he needed them to cover in their conversations with Janet. His adaptation of Damien’s interview phrases had worked. At the next interview Joshua would do a lot more of the questioning and move on from the three Cs to the three Ps. He would focus on how CEL uniquely created value for customers and also the caliber and style of the People with whom he would be working. Lastly he would discuss his territory – Patch – to ensure he had a viable market within which to operate.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: tec_estromberg

How To Hire Sales People. Sales Aptitude Test

At the end of this I’m going to gift you my sales aptitude test, absolutely free. For the last four years it’s only been available to those who purchased my book but I’m on a mission to give much of my IP away and live the law of reciprocity. I’ve been in professional selling for 30 years. During that time I’ve been a sales rep, sales manager, sales director of public companies, and managing director of my own businesses and also for global operations in Asia-Pacific. I've written a bestseller on selling and taught it for a university and run dozens of courses. You’d think I would be masterful at hiring the right sales people. But I have a confession to make; it’s incredibly difficult to hire great sales people and I’m probably no better than the majority of others leaders seeking to build effective teams to drive revenue.

What defines the right sales person and how do you screen-out the dross? Once you’ve got a short-list, how do you get past the masterful façade being projected? How do you differentiate the candidates? I’ve written about the importance ofcultural fit and how to best execute a job interview but for the employer or recruitment consultant, how do you get the truth about the real person, their capabilities, their values, and their defects?

Without doubt, the biggest mistake a manager can make is to hire the wrong person. This is because it damages your own personal brand and wastes huge amounts of time and emotional energy in managing the person out. It also has devastating consequences on revenue and lost momentum. Finally, it can also damage corporate relationships in the market-place. Never hire the best of the bunch. Only hire the right person – the one you feel strongly will be successful in the role and fit within your team culture. Here is what I regard as the best process for hiring and also rules that should never be broken if you are committed to managing risk.

Go beyond the job description and qualifications. Forget generic job descriptions! Instead write an ad that talks about what the person is expected to do and how they will need to execute. Ask them to write a one-page letter, attaching their CV, highlighting why they are the ideal candidate to join your team. Don't accept something that merely plays back the advertisement and obviously reject those who do not have prerequisite qualifications and experience. Does their CV provide evidence of consistent high performance? Have they been with past employers for sustained periods of time? Do they possess the necessary qualifications and experience?

Progressive screening to qualify out. Now that you have an initial group of candidates who have the necessary qualifications and responded as requested; it’s all about a progressive qualification process to continually screen down to a short-list.

Can they write? If they could not write a good letter (structure, grammar and spelling) or failed to do basic research and adapt their pitch, then reject them immediately. The covering letter and CV should also have been tailored to show relevancy for the role. You don't want a generic sales person and neither do your prospects and customers. Seriously, this is important because if you hire someone with poor written communication skills, you will forever be editing or rewriting proposals or correspondence – you don't have time. Worse than this, they will submit losing proposals that miss the mark with prospects. In complex B2B selling, written skills are essential.

LinkedIn social proximity. LinkedIn is phenomenally powerful and it is likely that you know someone who knows someone who knows your candidate. Use your network to check the candidate out informally. Do it as an ‘off the record’ conversation, nothing official. Ensure the conversation is nuanced and that you pick-up the subtext of commentary about the individual. None of these conversations should be with a formal referee listed on the CV and certainly not with their current employer.

Psychometric Testing. The next step is to conduct psychometric testing (intelligence and operating style) and personality profiling (if not incorporated into previous). Here is something controversial: I don't hire amiable personalities for business development roles – they have no chance of executing concepts such as Challenger Selling. Anyone who has a personality that avoids conflict or tension will be high maintenance and struggle to execute – you will forever be pushing them. The HR department will not like this, nor will they be in favour of informal ‘social proximity’ conversations but you cannot afford to get the hiring decision wrong, and you must take all necessary steps remove risk from the hiring process.

Written Exercise. Can they write under pressure? Before you run your ad, take the time to create a realistic sales scenario with a two page brief supported by a subset of your marketing collateral. This should be tailored for the sales role (field sales versus inside sales versus pre-sales / solution architects). Only give the candidates 24 hours to respond. For a business development role, ask them to write a two page executive summary that would lead a formal proposal. You’re looking to see whether they can construct a relevant, concise, professional, logical, evidence-based letter that focuses on business value rather than features of your company or functions of your product, service or solution.

The Interview. This is where you are laser-focused to determine cultural fit. They have already demonstrated that they have the skills and qualifications to do the job but now it’s all about their values, work ethic, attitude and personality. Put them under pressure and ask them to provide real examples of how they’ve dealt with difficult situations. Ask them these kinds of questions:

  • How do you define ‘strategic selling’ – what do you do that makes you ‘strategic’?
  • What was your biggest loss and what did you learn?
  • How do you qualify an opportunity?
  • What was your biggest win and how did you create value and manage risk?
  • What’s your approach for building pipeline?
  • What are the professional development books you’ve read in the last 12 months?

Integrity trap. If the candidate comes from a competitor, ask them what they can bring to role beyond their skills and experience. Ask them what IP they possess that can help them accelerate their success. If they say anything other than their insights, domain expertise and relationships; don't hire them. Anyone who offer to bring a contact database, pipeline report, or any other private and confidential information belonging to your competitor will most likely do the same to you when they leave. Integrity is everything – yours and theirs. There are also obvious legal issues you could become embroiled in. Your personal and corporate reputation is everything so reject anyone who shows poor moral judgement.

Reference checking. Never delegate reference checking and never make it an afterthought. Always select the people you want to talk with rather than the ‘buddies’ listed as referees on the candidates CV. You know they will say nice things and report back to the candidate afterward. Instead select the most senior contact of a large deal they won, or a senior contact with their biggest channel partner. The hiring manager (the person who the candidate will directly report to) must do the reference checks personally, over a coffee if possible rather than a phone call.

Again, hiring the wrong person is the biggest mistake you can make. It will cause you enormous pain and damage your own career. When in doubt about a candidate, don’t hire them. Wait, be patient, get it right. If you use a recruitment consultancy, make them earn their fee by ensuring they understand your culture and that they define value in fewer CVs rather than more CVs. Don’t let them bombard you with marginal candidates or send you anyone that is not both technically and culturally qualified. The very best recruitment consultants work with a ‘less is more’ ethos and invest the time with you to understand your culture.

I promised you a free Sales Aptitude Test for complex B2B selling and here it is.http://rsvpselling.com/content/sales-aptitude-test. The password is RSVPYES. You’ll need to register on my website so that your results can be saved and you can take the test as many times as you like. I won't use your details to market to you – no spam, no newsletter, no contact. The self-assessment takes approximately 50 minutes but there is no time limit and it can be completed in multiple sittings. Upon completion, summary scores are provided for the following seven competencies in professional selling:

- Sales Process
- Communication
- Knowledge, Attitude and Skill
- Opening
- Closing
- Objections
- Opportunity Development

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main Image Photo by Flickr: Sam Churchill

Top 5 Reasons To Fire A Top Sales Performer

I'm not a fan of 'stack ranking' which is the practice of creating a performance table and firing the bottom 10% to 15% every year. It's usually carried out summarily on a quarterly basis targeting the bottom 3-5% of sales non-performers. Think, Lord Of The Flies meets Celebrity Apprentice, for the right image in your mind.

Numbers never lie but numbers never tell the whole story either... real leaders dig deep and uncover root cause before firing-up the flame thrower. Sales performance is a partnership between the sales person, their manager and the company providing intrinsic value in the market offering. Getting up to speed takes time and sales success can be a complex equation.

Yet the biggest mistake I consistently made when leading companies and sales teams was holding on to the wrong people for too long. I deluded myself into thinking that my inaction was driven by good values (be patient and continue to help) but in hindsight, maybe my weakness was driven by fear. We all worry that if we fire sales people, then we won't have the resources to go get the revenue so desperately needed. We are almost always desperate because head office piles quota uplift upon quota uplift in their relentless pursuit of shareholder value! They compound the problem by fiddling while Rome burns withholding headcount approvals and nitpicking over recruitment fees. Mixed signals from on high seem commonplace.

Today I work with sales leaders and CEOs and I'm constantly exhorting them to make the tough decisions concerning their teams. Retaining the wrong people always turns caustic but before that, they consume endless amounts of energy and time. Jim Collins agrees with me and if you want proof, read his classic leadership tome, Good to Great. It's one of the first things that he nails: Get the wrong people off the bus and don't worry about having some empty seats... the right people will get on the bus and fill them.

At the end of this article I'll give you my 'Rule of 24' for deciding who needs to go and who should stay, but now here are my top 5 egregious traits that should cause you to target a sales person for negative attention.

1. Phil The Corporate Psychopath: Life is way too short to work with nasty politically motivated whack-jobs who spend most of their day plotting and scheming how to 'do people over' who are just trying to do their jobs. Their twisted evolutionary 'survival of the nastiest' ethos destroys a culture and leaves a trail of destruction. Yet all this is usually veiled behind a charming facade. The warning signs are that they're a control freak, emotionally manipulative narcissist who happily seeks to burn you out. They think nothing of telling lies and are masterful at managing-up, climbing the corporate ladder by using the knives they've wedged in the backs of others as their foot-holds. They have a very nasty side when challenged and are uber-competitive, casually stealing other peoples ideas and taking the credit, while masterfully positioning others for the fall when something they're working on goes badly.

If you work for one of these people, forget talking to the Human Remains department, just go find another job and leave as soon as you can. If one of these people works for you, regardless of their apparent high performance, manage them out as fast as you can. Nasty people don't belong in your team.

2. Mike The Network Marketer: Your customers belong to you, not the sales person. The employment contract they signed states it clearly and every relationship they build while on your dime is a corporate asset. Yes, people build personal relationships with clients, and customers sometimes choose to follow sales people when they move... that's their right. But for a sales person to be leaning on your customers to join their side business is wrong, plain and simple!

Back in the late 1980s I was in the Amway business for 6 years and did pretty well, earning the equivalent of an annual salary on the side and was front-line to one of the biggest couples globally today. But I built my network of well over 1,000 down-line without compromising my employer or my integrity. While I was at my MLM peak and a sales manager in the corporate world, I fired a sales person who worked for me when his customer complained about being invited under false pretenses for dinner only to be pitched 'the plan'. We had a clear understanding that neither of us would engage in this behavior... it was a sacrosanct rule.... fired.

3. Side Deal Sam The Slippery Snake: Overt corruption can bring a business to its knees, especially side agreement letters hidden in the drawer or commitments that no-one wants the auditors to see; these end careers and for good reason. People who sign business with zombie skeletons hiding in the closet have no place; neither do sales people who have corrupt arrangements with resellers or 'partners'. Transparency in dealings is essential. You cannot afford to be associated with an employee doing dodgy deals. Dishonest people must be terminated.

Here's a law of life – your reputation is everything. Integrity is a prerequisite for sustained success but 'integrity' goes beyond mere honesty. It is about being a person of your word and being someone who does everything possible to honor commitments. No weasel words, no wriggling out of what has been promised. No commitments that cannot be fulfilled. Make no mistake, being mercurial or duplicitous always comes home to fester.

4. Lester The Liar: Honesty is the foundation on which every successful career is built, so if trust has been broken, the person's career is effectively over. Lying through omission, cheating on expenses, lying about whether you're working or not, misleading people about the relationships you have or the meetings that have occurred... it's the kiss of death. Without trust at every level, there is nothing. If you don't trust your employee, don't keep them around.

5. Harry The Sexual Harasser: You have an obligation to protect everyone in your employment and also your customers. Slimy sexual predators have no place in your employ, and neither do bigots and racists. Your own team culture is a sub-set of the corporate values so be very clear about what you stand for. No preachy holier than thou Pollyanna persona... just you being the real deal about standing for what is right. Understand people's real values and beliefs... it is a real predictor of behavior.

I promised you that I would provide my framework for deciding who belongs in your team and who should go. Here it is: The Rule of 24.

Bonus list... not worthy of firing someone but notable mention:

Virgil The Victim: The very best sales people find a way to be successful despite their environment. They find a way to create success. Victims endlessly drain energy, time and resources. Everyone needs to be resourceful and show initiative.

Nelly The Nasty Gossip: Negativity is poison and gossip is the cancer of the workplace. Yet it's amazing how many nasty gossips package their toxin in pretty packages. 'I'm really concerned about...' If people are concerned, challenge them about what they are going to do to help.

Neville The Negative Naysayer: 'I don't want to be negative but... ' And then they go on to be wrist-slashingly negative. You've heard it many times. People with negative attitudes bring people around them down. Sales is difficult enough without attempting it with a defeatist attitude.

Bill The Empty Suit: Social selling means that we sell naked. If the emperor has no clothes then the whole world will know... all they have to do is look at the profile in LinkedIn or run a basic Google search. A person's social proximity reveals much about the company they keep. Does their social profile show substance and insight; and can they carry a conversation with some gravitas?

Liam The Luddite: Everyone in sales today must be technology savvy. This includes being able to leverage social platforms and conduct online research. Success in selling requires people to create mash-ups on methodology and technology to listen, engage, build brand, collaborate and sell effectively.

Sid the sloth: Work ethic is an essential element of sustained, predictable success. Anyone who does not work hard should have a big question mark above them. There is no room for sloppy in highly competitive markets. As the manager of a sloppy employee, you will inevitably be dragged into rewriting their proposals and salvaging your own brand.

Now it's over to you. What are the traits you see that destroy careers, or worst still, warrant dismissal?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main image photo by Flickr: Mike Poresky

The One Anomalistic Trait to Scout Out When Hiring Sales Falcons

Courage? Sticktoitiveness? Testicularity? Tenacity? Empathy? Resiliency? Amiability? Challengery? Strategery? Positivity? Attitudidinality? And the winner is...

D. None of the above.

Now before I answer this 64 million dollar question, I will quote Calvin Coolidge and Theodore Roosevelt:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
It is not the critic who counts; not the [hu]man who points out how the strong [hu]man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [hu]man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if (s)he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his/her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

My answer in 2015 with the axis of evil being commoditization, complexity and infinite cloud-based competition is... Survey says!:

The ability to develop sound business acumen in order to analyze businesses effectively and generate profound new insights that help customers reframe and visualize critical aspects of their business in novel, new and disruptive ways.
In a word: Insightfulness

Let's unpack this bold statement. No matter how much of a winning personality, positive attitude, team player and willingness to work hard would traditionally give a field salesperson an edge prior to 2010, it's unlikely to even land a meeting circa 2020. Why? Without a provocative insight to crowbar open the door against 300 extremely similar messages in a CXOs inbox, you're toast! The days of Dale Carnegie are a given. This is like touch-typing skills, it's no longer a profession unto itself, a certain level of computer literacy is simply expected as table stakes. Placing Microsoft Excel or Word on your CV is expected and frankly, not even necessary.

If you master insightfulness, which is defined as the ability to analyze business models from an analytical financial level, to a strategic level and even a technology cusp level and synthesize these crystalline insights into tangible actions in a plan that a client can take to improve even incrementally, you will have a Herculean edge.

Even if you've ever been a victim of agism, or patently you are competing in this still discriminatory world of gender and cultural bias, even if you are a self-described Luddite, or introvert: this quality of insightfulness alone will ensure that you not only land opportunities, but that you rapidly transition to meeting with clients and riding the light beam of trusted advisor status.

You don't need an MBA to accomplish this level of insight. Remarkably, books on insight selling and challenger methods can often simply reaffirm the importance of this skill-set over and over again without necessarily giving you a concrete set of steps to actually do it. You need a treasure map to the fishing rod which is the insight generator and creativity within your own head. Don't discount a mastermind group that meets weekly just to brainstorm unique insights in an industry grown stale with cacophonous white papers declaring the winners and losers in quadrants.

To develop this acumen I would recommend books like Blue Ocean Strategy and Bottom-Line Selling by Jack Malcolm where Jack stresses reading the balance sheet, gleaning insight from an annual report and ways to understand the true business situations customer's are facing from the corner office vantage point. Blue Ocean is a great way to leverage a strategic process called a strategy canvas to start thinking differently about unique and compelling value that is completely differentiated from the competition.

From a military strategy perspective, this is called outflanking. From a branding or Al Ries perspective, it's declaring a new market and being the self-proclaimed leader.

Other methods include First Principles thinking which Elon Musk is famous for and Design Centred Thinking. One great way to get here is to ask yourself consistently, "If placed in my customers shoes, how would I revolutionize their business model knowing what I know and extrapolating around the bend based on my unique experience in the channel?"

Studying disruptive innovation from Harvard Business Review, Geoffrey Moore of Crossing the Chasm, Steve Blank and Clayton Christensen essays may seem like the fodder of pedantic entrepreneurs but they're very much applicable to tuning your ability to see the world differently.

Building your insight acumen is not something that is typically trained on in a sales workshop where processes, scripts and question sets are drilled and rehearsed. How you sell, how you look at the world, how you approach business is your unique footprint on the ecosystem. This is the snowflake or prism of your mind that truly becomes your calling card over a long career inside an industry or even if you're brand new to a market or the market is white hot, it's the genesis of your personal brand.

The generally held idea is to assess your marketplace, become a subject matter expert (again, no advice as to how) and bring back insights to your prospects and clients in this way to in effect, chum the waters so the sharks bite. This is a traditional view but risks commoditization of even these insights. The top salespeople, the Falcons that are soaring past quota year after year, are actually advising clients at a high level on positive risks worth taking: hardware to the cloud, opex from costly capex, open source from closed, manual to automated, mobile computing paradigms, Internet of Things. Tectonic shifts. These technology megatrends that are rendering B2B environments a great deal more like B2C cannot be neglected.

I may be debated on this point. I think persistence is the old world standard. It's a given. Dale Carnegie to a tee is a must. It's the essence of beguiling, as Guy Kawasaki encourages.

But what's going to get you into the meeting? What's going to preference you in the RFI? As Ago Cluytens state: "Lead with value." I would say a heat-seeking key insight will stop them in their tracks.

If you can generate one unique insight, you can become a font of insights and become a resource for not just sound great ideas to satisfy the conservative spectrum of the audience, but big bold hairy moonshot ideas for those mobilizers and disruptors in the accounts.

Everyone is looking to be inspired and many are looking for a magic bullet. Strategic sales has become a collaborative process where those that lead with insight, help their prospects and clients unlock insight and build synergistic masterminds that spawn new realms of knowledge and innovation will rule the new world.

The modern sales falcon is indeed an anomaly. A merchant of insight, she alights on the air currents of fractal levels of technology singularity driven by insights only she can create and share.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main image photo by Flickr: Stefan Groen

How many salespeople will be left?

Pundits and analysts have predicted the demise of all sellers by 2020. With 18MM sellers this is a bit of a Nostradamus hubris causing some serious cognitive dissonance. One CEO actually declared he'd never hire a salesperson again but then a second glance revealed almost comically that all his customer service reps are actually already doing some pseudo transactional selling. It's been posited that 30% of field selling will be going away very soon.

Would you agree? Is Sales as we know it going away to be replaced by AI or is it just morphing into something that is going to look a great deal more like a combination of sales and marketing?

Phil Fernandez, the founder of Marketo, talks about the rise of the Director of Demand Generation in his prescient book "Revenue Disruption." These futuristic specialists take a bold, data-driven approach to driving leads into the business. Perhaps the new roles that emerge toward 2020 will be something more towards this side of the spectrum and top of the funnel.

I unleashed a furious debate on this topic in the Strategic Selling Group so I wanted to bubble it up to the LinkedIn Publishing Gods. There are two camps that seem to be emerging on this topic:

Camp ONE: Let's just automate the blazes out of everything and run it all through a big dashboard! Spreadsheet jockeys rejoice in exaltation!

Camp TWO: Complexity and commoditization may actually render the field seller even more relevant than ever before. After all, who's going to navigate the prospect through the morass of data and confusing solution sets?

There's an executive management viewpoint of lowering cost of sales but we don't want to rob Peter to pay Paul here. It's critical that core high-touch functions within enterprise customer accounts not be eroded by short term gain.

I would posit a Camp THREE: The sales people of the future that win must be ninjas with Social Selling, analytics, consultative methods meet insight selling and have tremendous amounts of EQ meets business acumen.

Simon Gibbard describes the sales leader of the future as follows: "You get marketing. Marketing is the new sales, and you’ve got your arms around it. You write copy. You get SEO, paid and earned media. You know how to promote a post on Facebook and LinkedIn. You’ve got a Slideshare account and you use Buffer. Google alerts flag up opportunities to have new conversations. You speak the language of marketing and it makes you a better salesperson. The us and them days are over."

Do you agree that Marketing is the new Sales? Or, as Peter Strohkorb has coined in his stirring manifesto, the age of "SMARKETING!" has arrived.

One thing is for certain, it's a battle royale to stay relevant: relevant to your own CEO with SVP of Sales attrition at an all-time high.

Air Ross declared in his latest e-newsletter: "Studies have said the average B2B sales team loses 27% of its members per year – whether they quit or are fired. That is INSANE!"

So even before the Singularity emerges knocking us all out, we're already seeing enterprises hemorrhaging talent. Some of this could be chalked up to poor management and stratospheric targets coupled with an insidious lack of specialization, to be sure. It seems to be pre-quake jitters.

The modern sales practitioner must not risk becoming too specialized. Futurist Jacob Morgan extolls the learning worker over the knowledge worker as the knowledge worker gets paid for what he knows but the learning worker? She has the agility to adapt and constantly learn how to learn. That's what's so sensational about Jill Konrath's clairvoyant book Agile Selling, it truly allows a holistic approach to life-long learning and up-skilling in organizations.

Ability to learn is the meta-skillset of the perma-employed, ever-adapting sales lion of 2050. I have no doubt!

I've pulled some quotes from this debate for your reading pleasure. Please join the rousing global chorus in the comments below.

Michael Bonner sounds off: "Here's the problem. It turns out that the world does not actually get simpler over time. Marketing has no way to automatically assist someone with a complex decision. Even if they can come up with docs for every possible objection, the majority of people don't want to have to do all the study. How would they ever know when they knew enough. Complex decisions need discussion with experts. Review the studies that show that the quality of the selling experience was a major factor in many B2B and big-ticket sales. That probably won't change by 2020. Computers are a lot of things. Many of them wonderful. They are also cold, heartless, achingly stupid and insensitive (Okay, so it can replace some salespeople)."

John Smibert's contribution: "The sales profession won't die (although many sales roles may). It will change and adapt as the world, and buyers in particular, change and adapt. The profession will find new (or modified) ways to create value for the buyer - to enable a fair exchange of value in ways that cannot be done without human interaction. I believe the sales profession has an exciting and changing future. I predict there will be wonderful new opportunities for salespeople in 2020. As always, those who change and adapt will survive and grow - and those that don't won't."

Shelly Revivo believes: "Nonsense. Automation will innovate but the human element will always be critical. Automation simply helps with profitability and loss elimination of the 80/20 rule."

Adam Thorp explains: "The cost of sales is very very high. So what do you do – you automate. You automate to give sellers more time to sell and you automate to reduce the reliance on a large sales team. Using the 80/20 rule, in theory you can retain those top 20% or performers, still retain 80% of your revenue and see a significant increase in profitability due to the reduction in head count and cost of sale. Change in inevitable. You only have to look at the major players in sales performance management (ie CallidusCloud), sales enablement (ie SAVO), and sales automation (Insidesales.com) to see where the market is going. I remember less than 3 or 4 years ago people saying marketing automation was a just a fad and couldn’t be effective – just look at that space now.

Tracey Preston Cook's mind blowing contribution: "65% of all new careers that will be in existence 10 years from now, have not even been fully identified and many are not currently understood. Most are based on technology either emerging now, or disruptive technologies that are yet to be developed. The question we are asking about sales is one that taps into the fear of our selling futures (I've felt it too - it's normal to fear). It's why we pay attention to predictive statements...positive or negative. What you are selling will change many many many times...that's why you should learn everything you can about sales. Read everything not nailed down. Watch everything not obscured. Listen and observe the best. Learn. Learn. Then learn some more."

Ivonne Teoh reads the tea leaves: "With longer lifespans of 140+ (ask your insurance agent), I wonder what the governments have in mind with new advances of technology and AI for the population. Less people working (displaced by robots), how to support that lifestyle. Gschwandtner may be wrong about the exact year, but it is still on the cards? I don't like telemarketers! They ring at the wrong time, some even selling funeral insurance! Being forced to make a decision where I'm not given enough time to check the info, is a big turn off."

Now it's your turn: Is it just a little history repeating or will sales fall away? Do you believe field sales is toast to be replaced by holo-conferencing? Is the field of sales stronger than ever? What's your message to the CEO of tomorrow as she's looking to make the call on hiring sales leaders? What mix of live salespeople and sales automation is ideal?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main image photo by Flickr: DDW Fotografia

3 Lessons Business Can Learn From Sporting Winners

I was recently interviewed by Kelly Riggs on his BizLocker radio program and afterwards we had a great conversation where I asked him what he thought business can learn from sport. Kelly was himself an elite athlete and he has published two acclaimed books. In the Quit Whining and Start Selling book he provides a sales acceleration formula which is brilliant.

So, from someone who really knows; what can business learn from elite sport? Here is his insightful response with three very specific things.

First: Just like sports, business is a competition.

Since we compete for business, it is always in our best interests to hire competitors who want to win and bristle at the very thought of mediocrity. Sure, there is a line one can cross (in sports as well) when it comes to competition, but employers are often guilty of hiring resumes rather than competitors. The problem is that it is too easy to make a resume look good, and most companies have very poor hiring processes. As a result, they hire reactively, screen poorly, and consistently justify bad hiring decisions with the worst of excuses: "It's hard to find good people." 

In fact, there are only four ways to play a game on the field, on the court, or on the pitch: 1) Play to win, 2) Play to win at all costs, 3) Play not to lose, or, 4) Just show up and play. The only real option for long-term success is to consistently play to win - legally, ethically, and morally. Sadly, however, the vast majority of companies just show up and play. It's reflected in their attitudes about business, their lack of planning, and their approach to hiring and managing employees. Lesson No. 1: Hire better. Hire attitude and character first, skills second.

Second: To win consistently, you need an effective game plan.

Winning in sports is a function of leadership, game plan, and talent. Take any one of those out of the mix and your sports performance will suffer - and so it is in business. The thing is, all three are interconnected. Take any two and toss out the third and you have a serious problem.

The bridge between leadership and talent is the game plan, and it is amazing how often businesses today lack an effective, well-communicated strategic plan. In my experience, only 10-15% of companies have a working strategic plan that guides decision making and is consistently reviewed and evaluated.Consider the sports coach whose team was just handed a crushing defeat. Now imagine him or her standing in front of the press and responding to this question: "Coach, it was tough out there today. What was your game plan going in?" Now imagine this response: "Well, guys, to be frank, we didn't have a plan. I just told the team to play hard." Lesson No. 2: Create a strong game plan. Communicate it clearly. Review it consistently. Make sure everyone on the team knows the role they play in executing that plan.

Third: You will not win consistently without a great culture.

It is a truism that great players want to play on great teams. High-performance players, regardless of personality type, are driven to be their best. They won't play (for long) on a losing team or for a mediocre coach. If a coach is a weak leader and/or can't create a winning culture, great players just won't stay. Worse, if a coach can't or won't deal effectively with under-performers, great players won't stay. All of this is especially true in business. 70% of the time, when an employee quits an organization, he or she leaves because of the actions (or lack of action) of their immediate manager or supervisor.

High turnover is like giving away money, and the vast majority of the time it is created by poor leadership. Ineffective performance management is also a major contributor to disengagement and poor morale. Who is responsible? The leader, whether we are talking sports or business. Lesson No. 3: Invest in your leaders, especially at the mid-management level. You can have a great company and a single under-performing manager can ruin your culture.

Wow... Kelly is someone who can both inspire and enable sales teams with both strategy and execution. His radio program is on Mondays at 3pm CST (7am on Tuesdays, Sydney time, for those here in Australia). Here is the podcast library and his interview with me is episode 49. My interview starts about half way through the program (after Suzanne's interview).

Finally, here is an article about why cricket has a great culture... the response following an elite player's death (Phil Hughes) after being struck by fast ball delivery was incredible. Kelly is right on the money when he links the sporting elite to business leadership.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.

Main image photo @ Kelly Riggs 2015.

Landing Your Dream Job Is Easy With LinkedIn If You Do This...

The old adage, it's all about who you know holds true. Some of the best roles that I've ever landed came through a trusted friend who had personally witnessed my exceptional execution in roles. You can pay it forward and be that person for someone else by giving an authentic recommendation.

But you can also be bold and do something in the spirit of massive action that is truly extraordinary.

Submit your CV to over 100 jobs.

That sounds completely bat-guano insane, doesn't it? The truth is, that you are the value and you can explode onto the scene of the gainfully employed like a bat out of hell! Why not put out a velvet rope and let employers line up to get to your contribution. You can lead the reverse auction, you can up your stock. At the end of the day, there are just too many companies that need high quality strategic selling talent.

So the caveat to this, is you must be phenomenal at what you do. I've written a multitude of posts to help you get there. So does it appear that I am advocating quantity over quality? No. There are hundreds of top roles that you can submit to in merely a few clicks. Is quality and quantity possible: Yes, here's how it's viable with LinkedIn.

Customize your resume and cover letter and really take the time to think about each role and write from the hip. I know one executive that literally took the time to apply to hundreds of jobs over a six month passive search and 5X'd her income. It requires radical openness and willingness to change, move anywhere in the world and wait until the match is made. Just like finding the perfect mate, you must wait until there is a mutual understanding of potential and value. They need to see your intrinsic and extrinsic value resplendently differentiated. Simply put: the feeling must be mutual.

Careers are a like a marriage, hopefully yours will be a good one. Needless to say, the divorce rate is pretty high. My philosophy is: Raise your standards and go after exactly what you want. Always play in a band or on a team where your contemporaries inspire you to be markedly better. There are several paradoxes at work here that are worth laying out in bullet points for job seekers interested in landing the 'perfect role.'

1. You must slow way down to speed up.

2. You must break out of your existing networks because even the ones you know who can recommend you in – it's all about who you know like politics and Tinsel Town – really will just limit you to what's come before. You must break the cycle!

3. Very few candidates will reach up beyond mediocrity. Stretch to fill the role that will accelerate you rather than being a huge fish in a small pond of your limitations.

4. Treat yourself like a product and service offering and literally hold dozens of qualified discovery calls with the recruiting organizations filling the buyer role.

5. You only get one chance to build a first impression so the irony here is that if you sound like everyone else, you risk being forgotten.

6. Non-traditional candidates who have struggled stand out, some of the top recruiters are looking for a mix of flexibility, agility and the indomitable human spirit.

7. Don't just apply to open requisitions on LinkedIn: find out who is doing the recruiting, study which team you'll be on and craft bespoke InMails to reach out with 30-60-90 day strategic attack plans. Study the company like a prospect that you will partner with and build a compelling, insight driven mission statement for how you'll move the needle once you come on board.

8. The enemy you know is better than the enemy you don't know is cowardice. There are great people out there and great cultures – believe it and make it real for you. It's worth daily fulfillment, believe me.

We underestimate what we can achieve in ten years and over-estimate what we can do in one. We need to choose a profession that aligns our passions with growth opportunities to be challenged and excel.

Breaking the fourth wall is a term I frequently use derived from the Shakespearean theater ethos which is the moment an actor turns and shares their inner thoughts with the audience. This goes back to the fundamentals of Dale Carnegie and how to influence others effectively. Your comfort zone is not the fourth wall. Five companies that auto-reject you because of some peccadilloes in your background where a machine read your CV, is not going to get you into the winner's circle. Honestly, you'll just never be happy if you don't go big. Just like prospecting, 3 precise accounts won't necessarily guarantee closing a million dollar deal, no matter what compelling the business insight you bring to the table: the status quo is just too gaping like a black hole with inescapable gravity toward nothingness. Deepen your bench with a cornucopia of opportunities that excite you to leap out of your bed and yell 'charge!' before the first bird tweets!

Organizations are often looking to play it safe, to not make a mistake, to fit a symmetrical piece in place of another in the machinery. You need to break the fourth wall, take massive action and build your own role in the organization where you land. Position yourself as a change agent and attract those to you in companies looking for your specific brand of awesome.

Your turn: What are your thoughts on the above paradoxes and strategies? Have you taken the easy route of who you know or built on the strength of weak ties within LinkedIn to transcend the limitations of your own network, however large? What do you agree or disagree with in this article? What additional value, tactics or strategies can you add that have helped you land your dream role, rocket your income and break the fourth wall?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au

Main image photo by Flickr: bradfordst219

Are remote employees as effective?

Only time will tell... or can effective hiring practices trump the inherent risks of a lack of supervision?

If you are proficient in hiring competent, trustworthy employees they will be so wherever they log-in from. There is a fallacy of an ineffective remote employee and a myth that increased collaboration automagically occurs when all workers are bundled together in an open office space. As august management consultant Ichak Adizes states, "MT & R" is the great secret to creating thriving organizations. This is a culture of Mutual Trust and Respect. This culture can be built in an office or in the cloud, across oceans or purely virtually.

There are countless tools to foster collaboration but nothing that will inspire a lone wolf to find synergy with peers. Jealous and manipulative people smile outwardly while creating toxicity in the ecosystem of companies of any size.

I believe we are asking the wrong question. What are the criteria that you can effectively use to bring the right talent into your organization so that it will thrive? Period. Anywhere, in any composition.

I believe the behavior and values of leader is the culture so you don't have to look too far from the corner office, to understand what you're getting into when joining the ranks of the up and coming hot tech start-up or legacy stalwart.

Flexible hours are supportive of equality and meritocracy, and fly in the face of top-grading / stack ranking and various other Draconian systems that require issuing demerits on a quota system to even your A players to appease the 'maximization of shareholder value', ego or just plain unwillingness to confront a downsizing masked as 'rightsizing'.

Ask yourself: Is the company you're creating a dictatorship, benevolent republic or democratic and open in nature? Really... ask yourself as a leader? Shouldn't leadership and power be a reverse pyramid where the employees come first, your customers and their experience forming the bedrock on which all else stands? The beauty of fundamental truths like these is that they tend to set us free.

E-learning, teleconferencing, collaboration and real-time communication have progressed so thoroughly that a vast amount of traditional person-to-person required roles can now be achieved remotely.

That's not to say there aren't exceptions across various vertical industries. It's unlikely you'll remotely build a battleship (or Collins Class submarine for those in Australia) but some parts can be assembled in various locations, granted.

There is a camp that rallies for coaching weakness out of people and a camp that rallies for playing to your team members' inherent strengths. A gifted introvert may be comfortable in a less social selling as an extrovert may seek camaraderie.

In sales, I'd prefer to see the time with customers prioritized and optimized. Regulating productivity is very difficult either way, unless you can build out an honor system and regular coaching so that the KPIs that you are measuring allow for various learning styles and paths of execution to achieve them.

Preceding revenue, there are various ways to gauge the progress of and contribution of personnel, sub-goals and sub-deliverables that can be celebrated and managed. "What gets measured gets managed" professed the late great Peter F. Drucker but we must manage the right things. There are not many human conceived systems where that doesn't hold-up in business and in life.

In some cases, remote employees may be even more effective. Proactive managers who are out in the field executing, may find it refreshing to get up and walk around in Jobsian stroll meetings or be with their families.

They may even decide to put in extra effort or be more efficient with their time. The top sales people you hire will ideally maximize face time in front of dream clients especially in a B2B complex selling world.

Inside Sales can even be revolutionized by localizing territories with remote reps dialing in from those regions. You can build a virtual calling team that spans the globe and can be responsive and time-zone aware.

These ideas are obviously not set in stone and there are iterations galore. There are unlimited edge cases like working on the next secret quantum computer, self driving car or aerospace marvel. It's 2015, wait, why are we still building cars? I thought they were supposed to fly? I'll save that diatribe for another post!

Humanity fears change. Maybe fear of remote working is just a sign of the times. Someday there may be interplanetary inside sales forces: GoToMeeting Astral Edition?

Now it's your turn: What is your opinion on this often controversial topic? How have you been effective managing people and teams remotely or being incentivized and motivated as you execute your job in the field? Are there gaps in training or communication? How would you improve this and which style of work do you honestly think is most effective overall?

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au

Main image photo by Flickr: Pic Basement