Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. Could you tell me a little bit more about yourself? How did you get here?
Dave: I grew up in a family where you could have almost anything that you wanted – as long as you worked for it, and paid for it. We were a typical middle-class family and my parents did what they could to make sure there was food on the table, but all the other things that you would want to do as a kid had to be earned. So I did the typical kid things – paper route, shoveling driveways in the winter, mowing yards all summer – until I turned 14, when I switched to picking tobacco for two years. I also started painting houses to not only make money to pay for college, but also for the extra things that I wanted. Fast forward to 1986 when I became a client of Sandler. I loved the content, because it’s based in psychology. It was consultative. I began working for Dave Sandler in 1988; became his partner in 1994; and kept buying pieces of the business until 2012, when I bought the business outright. It’s still a mission, but it’s something that I look forward to each and every day.
Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders, and aspiring leaders, take their leadership skills to the next level?
Dave: I believe one of the qualities of an effective leader is to adopt a servant-leader attitude. Being a leader does not entitle you to run a dictatorship. People would rather work with someone than for someone. Figure out what you can do to be helpful, moving the large rocks impeding the people who work with you. They’ll appreciate it, and that’s true servant-leadership.
Communication. I think you need to make sure that you’re over- communicating. You can’t just send an e-mail and expect that to serve as an official update. You need to communicate in a way that will allow your team to grasp and internalize your message.
Connect with those who work with you. An effective leader can tell you what’s going on in the personal lives of their staff, enabling the leader to tie in to personal goals. They can tell you their kids’ names. If you are somebody who has to look at name tags as you walk the hallway —well, that’s just a difficult situation. Now, in a larger company, perhaps that doesn’t apply, but for a small team, you really need to be aware of the details.
Accountability. A culture of accountability means that you set very clear expectations; make sure people understand them; and clearly outline what success and failure look like. You also need to be congruent, to make sure that your work product is done within the timeline that you’ve given everyone else. You can’t say, “Well I was busy with other projects and I’m the leader, so I don’t have to abide by that.” You need to be as professional and responsible as you expect your team to be. Meet deadlines; show up to meetings on time, etc. That’s an important part of being an effective leader.
Adam: What are your three best tips for sales people and for sales managers?
Dave: Have a sales process.
Most organizations do not have a published sales process, so everyone attacks the sales process and the management process differently. If you want to increase your effectiveness as a sales person, or as a sales manager, you should all be playing from the same playbook.
Track net new conversations. Most sales people and managers go straight to their sales funnel -what’s in the funnel that I can close – and that’s fine. Very few people look at the front of the funnel to examine the time and energy being spent to feed the funnel, or that they are scheduling enough activity to continue growing it.
Ask good questions. You have two ears and one mouth -use them in proportion. So be a doctor. Good doctors ask a lot of questions. They don’t prescribe a solution without diagnosis. Sales managers and sales people sometimes “show up and throw up” without first asking for important information, or asking important questions.
Adam: What advice would you give to somebody interested in selling to big companies?
Dave: Again, I would say, follow a process. We believe step number one should be account planning and territory planning. It’s important to know what types of clients and prospects that you have in your territory and how you sort and classify them so you can spend the appropriate amount of time developing an attack plan.
Opportunity identification. You need to figure out who in the territory and specifically who within those companies you need to get in front of.
Qualification. You have to make sure that your prospects are qualified. Just because they’re willing to speak with you does not mean that they’re able to make any decisions, so qualification is key.
Solution development. You and the prospect should create a solution. Presenting a solution at the initial meeting is a mistake. You should have them build it.
Propose in advance. How do you ensure you’re not negotiating away your margins? Your proposal should be reviewed by coaches before you make it. Get their input before you make your presentation.
And finally, service and delivery. Create an effective plan to execute a proper hand-off to service. Ensure that you understand the cast of characters, and that you go deep and wide within the organization. You want to be sure that you’ve earned the right to subsequent opportunities, to sell down the line.
Adam: What’s the biggest mistake salespeople make, and how can they avoid it?
Dave: We all fight the challenge of being consistent. Performing the consistent behaviors, every single day, is a difficult thing for many salespeople, and that’s why their sales hit peaks and valleys. I think the biggest mistake that salespeople make is that they don’t ask questions. We rely on our product knowledge to carry the day when, in reality, the first job during the first call is to ask good questions. I’ll again use the doctor analogy. When you walk into a doctors’ office, they don’t start by showing you all of their diplomas. What salespeople do is they want to talk about their company, and tell you about their products and services. Like good doctors, they need to ask a lot of questions to identify the problem. Such as, how long have you had the problem? What have you done to try to fix it? What’s the impact of that problem? If you ask the same types of questions – act as a doctor of sales – you will be far more productive.
Adam: What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Dave: David Sandler told me to spend a huge amount of time in the first five years of your career learning everything there is to know about your business and then mastering it. He explained that most people give up after the first year or so. Not give up in the business, but give up in the sense that they think they know enough to be successful. Very few people dedicate five-plus years to become 100% confident in their job. Some experts have said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master anything – but how many of us have actually spent that amount of time mastering our day-to-day business?
The other piece of advice that I received was in regard to being an entrepreneur. We spend half of our time building a business, building a career, and we take calculated risks. We work hard, running all aspects of the business. But when entrepreneurs achieve a certain level of success, they sometimes stop doing what they did to make them successful. Instead of progressing into growth mode, they actually go into protection mode. They stop taking calculated risks. They stop working the long hours. And then they are shocked that their business is not as successful on the tail end as it was on the rise. Why? Because they changed the way they attacked the business. This is also true in sports. How many times have you witnessed teams that were winning and then tried to simply “keep the lead”? Without that same fire, they lose their edge and, often, the game.
Adam: What are your best tips for an audience of entrepreneurs, executives and civil leaders?
Dave: You need to share your goals. Oftentimes, leaders spend a lot of time formulating their plans, but they don’t spend an equal amount of time communicating with those charged with implementing the tasks. Continue to share your goals and the road map to get there because the more you include those who are affected or are going to be doing the work, the greater will be your chance of reaching your goals. Take it from your idea to our idea.
Communicate in different modalities, depending on your age. I send e-mails and that’s great – if my team READS the e-mails. But in today’s world, we’re bombarded with so many different types of communication that it’s hard to keep up. We’ve begun to reinforce major emails with a video, explaining what’s going on. We do podcasts and webinars. We’ll hit every modality multiple times. For instance, when we’re presenting a new program – something that you would expect to take six minutes to absorb- we’ll continue messaging it for almost six months, just to make sure it’s seen and understood.
Build up others. As an entrepreneur, you need to check your ego at the door. Offer compliments; give credit where due; acknowledge work well done. Most importantly, do not take credit for everyone else’s work product. You will lose the respect of your team.