Category Archives: Tony Cole

How to Win Business in Any Market at Any Time

By Tony Cole

Tony ColeSelling in any market is one of my favorite keynote speeches or workshops to deliver. When addressing a group of sales people or sales managers, I always create a stir when I loudly pronounce that the way to sell in any market is to “Stop making excuses and just sell.”

When there are disruptions/economic conditions in your industry that cause you to get out of your normal flow in business, sometimes you end up spending more time playing defense than you do playing offense.

In our primary markets – insurance brokerages, banking and investment services – disruptions have become a quarterly occurrence. In my 20+ years in this business, I have asked audiences across the country if they have ever gone through a three-year period in their business when there wasn’t some sort of the disruption in the “normal” flow of business. In short, their answer was no. In fact, disruptions in flow of business have become the norm.

In a recent discussion with one of our current client’s brokers, they described that the market is a hard market right now meaning that some prices are stable and some are going down. As a result, some of the markets/carriers were lowering prices to grab market share. When this happens, a broker’s own clients sometimes decide that it’s time to go for better premiums with the same coverage. So, when this happens, brokers (like my client) have to play some defense to protect their turf. And when that happens, brokers have a tendency to take their eyes off of prospecting – they stop playing offense.

I have several clients in the bank-owned investment brokerage business. Last week, the Department of Labor passed new fiduciary regulations that have caused and will continue to cause a major disruption in that business. Studies indicate that companies will literally spend billions of dollars to make sure they are compliant with the new regulations. Not only will this require an investment of an enormous amount of money, but it will also take millions of hours invested by many for compliance training. None of these activities are offensive in nature and so, in the end, will actually cost millions, maybe billions, more in lost productivity.

This is not necessary! Here are just a couple of things to keep in mind as you attempt to manage performance during difficult periods:

  • Unlike 2008 (when a substantial piece of the market did shrink), the current situation is not the same.
    1. Businesses are not going out of business because insurance premiums are going down.
    2. The amount of money in play in retirement and personal savings has not shrunk. If it’s a multi-billion/trillion dollar pile of money today, it will still be a multi-trillion pile of money once the Department of Labor regulations are fully implemented (January 1, 2018)
  • If your clients have a tendency to want to shop in a tough market, so do the clients of your competitors. Companies are in play, but you have to take the phone “off of the hook” and call them.
  • People that have invested their money with advisors that have not treated them in a way that is consistent with the new regulations (client focused/fiduciary responsibility) will be in the market to find an investment advisor/representative who will.
  • If you find that it is your smaller clients that want to shop – let them. My guess is that, if you let the bottom 20% of your insurance clients go, it will represent less than 5% of your total revenue. One new client that looks more like your top 20% will replace at least 10 of your bottom clients.
  • If you are a financial advisor – ditto. Frequently, my friend from CUSO management and I discuss the segmenting of books of business. Time and again, the 80/20 rule applies. Actually, based on his business intelligence, that industry looks more like 30/70. But, still let the smaller accounts work with licensed bank reps or bring in an associate that can grow by growing with smaller accounts.

The bottom line is this: as a sales leader in an organization, you have the responsibility to keep your people focused on what it takes to win in any market, any environment. Regardless of the score of the game, you have to:

  • Coach them to change behavior and improve skill
  • Motivate them like it’s a championship game
  • Hold them accountable – do not allow excuses for lack of effort

Just like in a sport of any kind, stuff happens. A team gets a big lead, catches a break, the wind shifts and the kick goes wide. It doesn’t matter! You cannot win just playing defense.

Sooner or later, you have to score more points than the opponent. That is offense!

Tony Cole is president of Anthony Cole Training Group.

2016 New Year’s Resolutions

Focus on the goals for your team and what concerns you most

By Tony Cole

Tony ColeHere we are, once again at the start of a new year. As you look ahead, what are your goals? What are the goals for your team and what concerns you most? As a sales manager or VP of Sales, I am certain that you could come up with a long list of to-dos that, if well-executed, would bring you great success in 2016.

But, what is really different about 2016 than last year or the year before? I imagine some of the problems that existed in 2015 also existed in 2014 and 2013. Most problems don’t disappear just because we want them to disappear.

Take my health for example. Last year, I had a doctor inform me that I had a life-changing health condition. I knew that I needed to be more conscious of my diet and exercise– my wife, Linda, had been telling me that for 30 years. However, this is a tall order for me, a man who loves to cook and eat. I have never been a big drinker, I exercised somewhat regularly and, beyond the occasional cigar, I thought I was living a healthy lifestyle.

But, apparently I needed to do more. I bought a FitBit, one of those watches that monitors your steps (10,000 recommended daily- which translates into 4-5 miles depending upon your stride length) and I set up the supporting online program that allowed me to enter my food and water intake.

I immediately began to monitor my watch to see how many steps I still needed to get in before the day was over. Where, once upon a time, I would go to the gym and do a heavy workout, my lack of consistent behavior had allowed me to gain weight. After a long day at work, who wants to work out for an hour? So, I changed my mindset and my goals and took up walking the neighborhood to complete the 10,000 step per day goal. Now, I supplement my fitness program with work outs at the gym.

Surprise! Now, that I am monitoring my daily habits, I realize how unhealthy they were in the past. In the space of a couple of months, I have lost 20 pounds and I did not gain a pound through the holidays, which was no small feat for me. Needless to say, I feel better, look better and am healthier than I was prior to monitoring the things that I can control.

Here are my suggestions for New Year’s Resolutions that, if implemented properly, will eliminate many or most of your sales problems.

Focus On Those Things You Can Affect: Recognize that while you can’t control the economy or the world of selling, you can control how you approach it. Recognize that you must have salespeople who know how to prospect and reach out to find business.

Manage Your People’s Performance: Inspect what you expect. You will be amazed to discover that the very act of inspecting the right metrics will improve sales (or your health). A weekly huddle to review numbers will call attention to the under-achievers. No one wants to be at the bottom of the board. Peer pressure is a valuable tool for getting results. Use it to leverage sales.

Eliminate Excuse-Making: Stop making excuses for your salespeople and stop accepting them from your salespeople. Introduce a sense of urgency into your sales culture. Too often, we accept unnecessarily long sales cycles. Teach your people to work prospects through the pipeline efficiently. Help them learn to eliminate those who are clogging the funnel so they can focus on finding those prospects who will buy.

Coach Your People: Focus your training and coaching to improve skills and change behaviors. Make your salespeople role-play. “Have them “practice perfect performance” so that when they are under pressure, they are able to focus and sell.

Apply The 80/20 Rule To Yourself: If you perform 20 tasks week after week, there are probably 4-6 tasks that really matter. Those 4-6 tasks generate 80% of your results. Find out which 4-6 tasks are your Go-To’s. Spend 80% of your time on these Go-To tasks.

Always Be Recruiting: About 20% of your sales team is not performing adequately. This 20% is never going to perform adequately. Fire them. In order to do this, you must be able to replace them. Recruiting is one of your 4-6 tasks that really matter. Spend time finding people who will sell.

Summary: Success in selling isn’t all that different from success in fitness and health. There will always be issues that exist beyond our control—we can’t control our genetics which predispose us to certain conditions, but we can control our habits like sleep, diet and exercise.

In selling, we can’t control the economy or the consumer. But we can control our behaviors – like prospecting and number of dials, number of appointments, etc. – that contribute to our personal and company economies. We can control how we interact with customers, learning to reach out and stay consistently in touch.

In managing a sales team, your job is to control those behaviors that contribute to the company’s sales. Thus, while you can’t control John or when John makes prospecting calls, you can control your inspection of his behaviors and, ultimately, you can decide whether he is productive enough to be on your sales team.

Tony Cole is president & CEO of Anthony Cole Training Group. Download Tony’s free eBooks Hire Bankers Who Will Sell and The Extraordinary Sales Manager.

Hire Salespeople Who Sell

By Tony ColeTony Cole

We are quickly approaching the end of the year. In fact, many (and maybe most) would say the business year is as good as over. As you take stock of your team’s performance, what concerns you most? Is it the challenge of maintaining your company’s market share? Are you worried that your people are not selling? Are you concerned that they even have what it takes to sell?

Recruiting is the biggest problem identified by those participating in my keynotes. The question is always, “How do I hire better salespeople?” Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. But one thing you must recognize is that you and your process are responsible for the quality of the salespeople on your staff today. In other words, your recruiting process is perfectly designed for the team you have. So, if you need more productive salespeople, you will need to change your recruiting process.

Recruiting is like sales. A salesperson must have a system. He must have a pipeline. His activity must be consistent. Like this salesperson, you must have a system and you must execute the recruiting process exactly like you wish your salespeople to execute their sales process. Recruiting, like selling, is not a “sometime” thing- it must be a consistently planned and implemented activity.

You must have a Recruiting Pipeline, like your salesperson has a Prospecting Pipeline. Individual salespeople are required to fill their Prospecting Pipeline. Sales managers and sales leaders must be required to fill their Recruiting Pipeline. After all, if you had salespeople who didn’t have sufficient Prospecting Pipelines, you would be concerned about their future and the future of your company. As the person responsible for recruiting and sales production, the same should hold true for you and your Recruiting Pipeline.

To implement a Recruiting Pipeline, ask your sales team to let you know if they run across someone at the networking opportunities they attend. Ask them who they know. “Who should we be talking to? Do you know anyone who might be looking to make a change?” You must make your own efforts as well. Sometimes salespeople will not wish to offer up names, thinking that these people might present competition.

Meet with other employees to find out who they know who might be a good fit. Put together a Recruiting Team and ask these people to submit candidate names once per week. Implement a Recruiting Huddle and hold yourself and everyone else accountable. Talk to your neighbors, your tennis partner, your golf friends, etc. Ask them who they know who might be looking for a sales position. You never know where you will find your next producer and your goal is to fill your Recruiting Pipeline with prospective hires.

You must also determine your Pipeline Success Formula—how many names must you have in your pipeline to hire one good recruit? How many names must you acquire to find one candidate that you will hire, contract and on-board? If you don’t already have a Recruiting Pipeline and have not done this consistently, you will have to guess until you get enough experience.

Recruiting requires you to be proactive. Have a consistent process, do the behaviors and inspect your activity just like you do your sales team’s activities.

Last, but not least, you must identify the ideal salesperson candidate. What are the skills and strengths most necessary for success in your company, industry and marketplace? It is imperative that you determine a profile for the ideal candidate because otherwise you might hire just to fill an opening, thinking a warm body is better than none.

In this process, you must identify the type of salesperson you need and how your current sales staff measures up to the ideal salesperson.

I recommend an objective assessment that screens for sales skills, weaknesses and compatibility like the OMG Sales Candidate Screen. The Sales Candidate Screen gives you a succinct and accurate glance at a recruit. Will he take responsibility for his successes and failures? Will he get referrals? Can he handle prospects? Will his desire to be liked get in the way of selling? Does he take put-offs? Will he make presentations to unqualified prospects? Is he a hunter who will go out and find business? Or is he a farmer who has the ability to cultivate current business?

How many of the right people do you have today? Would you have hired these salespeople if you would have had better insight? If you had this type of sales ability knowledge before you hired them, would your on-boarding be different? Do you even know what weaknesses you should be coaching to fix?

So, you must know what you are looking for in a candidate and you should know in advance the problems that a candidate is bringing to the table. Clearly, resumes are not the answer because they typically present a stellar candidate. Face-to-Face interviews are often misleading and can take you off-track if you particularly like or dislike a candidate.

Next, you must implement a 5-Minute Prescreen Telephone Interview with the goal of initial discovery. Is the resume accurate? How does the candidate handle the phone call? In this case, you are the prospect and your candidate needs to sell you on himself.

The 5-Minute Prescreen Interview sounds like this: “You’ve seen the job post. What makes you a fit?” Ask and then let the candidate talk. The idea is to create an environment on the phone just like the salesperson will face when he is prospecting. Thus, it should be a bit uncomfortable. You must find out how the candidate will act under pressure. Ideally, he will ask you a lot of questions, will press for a follow-up interview and will try to keep you on the phone.

At the end of the 5-Minute Prescreen Telephone Interview, you will say the following: “We are going to make a decision by Tuesday. If you do not hear from us by Wednesday, that means you did not make it, ok? Thanks for your time.” But don’t hang up immediately. A good sales candidate will try to engage you by asking questions. This means that he will likely attempt to do the same in a sales situation with a prospect who is rejecting him. Perhaps he will even try to close for an interview. This means that he will likely attempt to do this with a prospect. If he does one or the other, he passes the 5-Minute Interview and is on to the next step.

[The above article is an excerpt from, “The Extraordinary Sales Manager.”]

Tony Cole is President & CEO, Anthony Cole Training Group. Visit our website or call us at 1-877-635-5371. Download one or both of Tony’s free eBooks, Hire Bankers Who Will Sell or, The Extraordinary Sales Manager.

Five Steps for Hiring Better Salespeople

By Tony ColeTony Cole

Recruiting is the biggest problem identified by most business owners. The question is always, “How do I hire better salespeople?” Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this complex question. However, the one thing you must recognize is that you and your process are responsible for the quality of the salespeople on your team today. Recruiting and hiring are like sales; you must have an effective system in place. Recruiting is not a “sometime” thing; it is an “all the time activity” for sales leaders. Here are 5 initial steps that will help sales managers get ready to hire better salespeople. Then you must put a Hire Better Salespeople system in place.

Step 1 – Realize and admit that you have people on your team today that are underperforming. That is the norm, but that doesn’t mean that you have to accept it. If you do, then you are part of the problem. Break out of the accepted premise that you cannot possibly have everyone on your team hitting their goal – that all you have to do is lower the goals. That, unfortunately, in reality is what most companies struggle with. They don’t actually lower the goal; they just accept mediocrity when goals are not hit. 20 to 30% of the people on the team carry the load; they get the overall performance to exceed expectations while everyone else gets a free pass. Sure, you have people on the way lower end – 3 standard deviations from the norm – but, normally, those are either new hires or producers with large revenue streams who have “retired” but just haven’t told anyone.

Step 2 – Realize that you are perfectly designed for the results you are getting today. Everything you do around recruiting, performance management, coaching, mentoring, on-boarding and training influences your ability to attract, hire and retain better salespeople. When you look at the people you have on the team and put them on an 80/20 grid and realize that 33% of your people are generating north of 80% of the results, you can easily see that those others add virtually nothing to the equation when it comes to new business. My question is this – did you hire them that way or did you make them that way?

Step 3 – Decide today that you are going to hire better salespeople and not deviate from that objective. Now, be careful about this. This can be like deciding to “get fit”. You set a goal for exercise and diet that is unreasonable given your current habits and condition and end up setting yourself up to fail. So, you have to be strategic about this. Segment your sales group into quintiles, identify the traits and qualities of those top people and make sure that, if you are looking to replace someone in the 3rd quintile, your new hire is better than the one you are replacing. According to Brad Smart, author of Topgrading, 75% of new hires are either worse or no better than the person being exited. That is a very painful and costly mistake and you can do better than that.

Step 4 – Put in a process of establishing exactly the right person for the job. In other words, instead of writing a job description, write down what it takes to be successful in the role and what the role is like day to day. Make sure in your job attraction ad you attempt to disqualify those people that are just looking for a new contract because they are failing where they are today. That’s just the first step. You have to have a process that is followed routinely by everyone involved in the recruiting. Make sure you conduct strong phone interviews and have a pre-hire sales assessment versus just a personality or behavior profile – these profiles are nice for the manager and might tell if they can sell, but ultimately won’t tell you if they will sell.

Step 5 – Win the bet on the first tee. Once you find the exact right person (the perfect fit for the role) and you convinced them that your company is exactly the right place for them to finish their professional sales career, and then… try to “discourage” them from taking the job. Tell them in precise detail exactly what is expected, how they will be managed, that the pressure to succeed is going to be high, that they will fill out activity reports, that they must keep their pipeline/CRM up to date, that there will be a huddle every week, that they will not be excused from sales training or sales meetings, that you will meet with them monthly to review the status of their success and lay out their career path for them. Give them plenty of reasons to reconsider. And oh, by the way, make sure that when you make your offer, they are ready to tell you yes or no.

Now, there is a Bonus Step that trumps all five of these steps for hiring better sales people and here it is:

Bonus Step – Implement a system and execute consistently.

Learn more about Tony Cole, President of Anthony Cole Training Group, at his blog and website.


Create a “No Excuses” Sales Environment

By Tony ColeTony Cole

In order to help our sales people be successful reaching goals, we must hold them to the necessary activity by building strong tracking and accountability processes. We call Accountability “a 14-letter dirty word” because in most organizations the process of inputting, collecting, and inspecting sales activity is not well-liked– by sales people or sales management.

Most companies desire accountability in their sales organizations, but fail to track the sales activities that are the most predictive of sales results. Too often, the metric of “closed sales” is the identified and inspected metric. Tracking only this metric is similar to looking in the rear view mirror in that this does not give you necessary, early predictive information. In hindsight, nearly anything is clear.

So, instead of tracking closes, we need to track metrics like number of prospecting dials made, number of appointments made, number of appointments kept, number of second meetings set, etc. Tracking this type of information allows us to ascertain important ratios, like the ratio of prospecting dials to first appointments and the ratio of prospecting dials to closes. With this information, we can intelligently set sales goals.

To be effective sales managers, we must track, inspect and coach each step in the selling process, like initial phone calls, first contacts, opportunities, appointments, proposals, and closed sales. If we hold our sales people accountable to their activities, we should then be able to intelligently predict future sales.

This detailed information will give you the raw data needed to see patterns. This data will help you recognize the correlation between each step: prospecting to qualifying, qualifying to first meeting, first meeting to presentation, presentation to sale. Often sales people and sales managers do not know how many prospecting calls are needed to make a sale (call-to-sale ratio). Yet this detail is vital information to the success of each sales person and organization. For example, if you don’t know Jane typically averages 15 calls to one sale, you can’t hold her accountable to those 15 calls. If she is only making 10 calls, chances are she is failing to reach her sales goal.

This process of accountability is hard work, but if you have taken your sales people through the discussion of setting extraordinary goals explained in the October and November “Setting Standards and Goal Setting” articles, and your sales people have agreed to manage themselves to Excellent or Extraordinary, then you have done the heaviest lifting by setting expectations.

Next, we need to address holding people accountable. Tracking activity is beneficial only if the data will be used to hold people to their promised goals. You must help each sales person understand the ramifications of failing to achieve their promised goals.

Unfortunately, I have found it common for companies to allow sales people to make excuses for lack of success. If your company allows for excuses, it is likely that the other sales systems and processes are going to fail. You must be consistent in holding sales people accountable to their behaviors.

To do this, you will hold the following conversation with each individual sales person. “Bill, what will happen if you don’t reach this goal? If you don’t achieve Extraordinary?” Then you will wait for his answer, allowing him to think through the consequences.

In this way, you are asking him to determine what he will adjust, and what the consequences are if he does not reach goal. Leading each sales person through this discussion will help him take responsibility for his success or failure. It will also allow you to utilize your accountability systems with more receptivity. After all, your sales people agreed to this process and each established his stretch goal.

If Bill shrugs his shoulders and says “Oh well, maybe next month/week/year”, you may have the wrong person in this role. If Bill is the right person for this role, he will be scrambling to figure out how he is going to meet his specified goal and he will verbalize his own personal pain by saying something like, “My wife will have to continue working.” Or “I won’t be able to buy a new car.”

Approximately 66% of the salespeople assessed in OMG’s evaluation process make excuses for lack of performance. This means that they blame the company, the competition or the market, not themselves, for their lack of success. If this excuse-making problem goes unchecked, it will erode the standards for the entire organization.

So, here is an example and a recommended solution to help your organization create a “no-excuses” environment. A salesperson, Jane, has just told her sales manager that she did not reach her activity goal of phone calls this month because she had an unusual amount of operational support issues upon which she had to spend time. In other words, she is blaming the company.

Your response to an excuse like this should always be “Jane, if I did not let you use that as an excuse, what would you have done differently?” Note that this creates a transfer of responsibility because Jane now has to think through the problem herself and figure out what she must do differently to avoid this problem in the future. By asking the question in this manner, you are not allowing her to continue making the excuses which would otherwise lower her own standards and those of the company.

But, be aware, excuses come in all forms, so learn to recognize and utilize the critical question, “If I did not let you use that excuse, what would you have done differently?” See how many times in one week you can use that question and note the results you achieve in a short time.

Learn more about Tony Cole, President of Anthony Cole Training Group, at his blog and website.