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Breaking the Doom Loop of Sales Hiring

By Doug Hutton

Sales hiring decisions often lead to classic buyer’s remorse. Sales managers wonder whether a new hire can thrive in a unique selling environment, particularly if they weren’t involved in the interview process. Nagging doubts remain about whether the candidate had the right knowledge, skills, or abilities to succeed in role. We’ve written before about why members don’t always hire the right candidate, a single mistake that isn’t hyperbole to suggest could cost an organization $1M or more.

CEB Recruiting research points out why buyer’s remorse remains so prevalent in sales hiring decisions. The annual cost differential between organizations that select the right hires compared to those that do not is $28.5 million. That doesn’t even touch on the foregone revenue from hiring a poor seller—it’s simply the bottom line overhead associated with attempting to keep up with higher employee turnover and lower performance. Consider the following data:

  • Hiring managers who make the wrong hiring decision have new hires that perform up to 24% worse than their correctly selected peers.
  • New hires that are not confident that they made the right decision to join an organization are up to 22% less engaged, and 46% more likely to leave the company—buyer’s remorse happens to them, too.
  • These trends are exacerbated by today’s high complexity selling environments, in which high performers are nearly 3x more productive than average performers. Replacing an outgoing high performer with a core performer not only opens that productivity gap but then heightens the risk of turnover, beginning a spiral that is difficult to correct without more accurate candidate insight during the hiring process.

In response to this bad-news barrage, and the continuing member chorus to increase the number of Challengers in their organizations, CEB is launching a new service for our members. Challenger Selection and Assessment can help determine the specific Challenger competencies correlated to high performance for particular roles, and leverage this knowledge to enable the selection of the best candidates during the hiring process. Read More »

Does Challenger Undermine Questioning Skills?

By Nick Toman and Matt Dixon

As a research team, we’re both humbled and glad to see the huge amount of discourse about the Challenger research and what it says about the changing recipe for sales effectiveness.  While not all of the commenters out there agree with our findings or our take on them, you know you’re doing something right when your work sparks debate among some of the biggest names in sales.  This debate makes us all better and is ultimately necessary for moving the profession forward.

In the spirit of continuing this conversation, we wanted to flag a few of the misconceptions about Challenger that we’ve seen arise in various blog posts recently. This is the first in a short series of posts designed to address some of these.

The first misconception that we’ll focus on is that Challenger obviates the need for more “traditional” selling techniques.  Such techniques include customer questioning, building relationships, and engaging in constructive dialogue with customers. For those who argue such techniques are still necessary, we are in complete agreement.

The idea of leading with insight—the core of a Challenger sales approach–is additive to these sales fundamentals. To be clear, leading with insights and challenging the customer perspective gains you access to the sales conversation – it doesn’t guarantee conversion.  A lot of things still need to happen in a complex sale. But challenging the customer’s thinking positions a salesperson far more favorably, credibly, and with greater access than leading with questions alone. Read More »

And The Best Company for Service Is…

This is a guest post by Pete Slease of the Customer Contact Council, our sister program for call center and customer service functions. We’ve modified it a bit for a sales audience. Visit the original here!

This year, CCC asked nearly 1,000 customers the question, “What is the best company for customer service?” and the most popular response was:


If you’re having trouble reading that response, it’s “Can’t think of one”.

CCC decided to take the verbatim responses from a recent customer survey and enter them into a program to create a word cloud. If you’ve never seen a word cloud before, it’s a pretty cool program that shows the frequency of the use of words by the size of the font of those words. So, the more frequently a word or words are used, the bigger the font is in the word cloud. And when CCC entered the responses into the word cloud program, the largest response was “Can’t think of one”. Not Amazon or Zappos or Nordstrom. It was, “You know, I can’t think of one”.

Think about that for a minute…when we asked nearly 1,000 customers to tell us who is the best company for providing customer service, the #1 answer on the board by far was “Can’t Think of One”.

Now this was really surprising to us…we expected to see a bunch of the companies that often get publicized for providing superior customer service. Read More »

Getting Challenger Skills to Stick

Posted on  11 September 12  by 


Over the last few years, we’ve worked with countless members on their journey to become a Challenger sales organization. Through these interactions, we’ve learned that to develop a sustainable Challenger sales force companies need to first ensure reps understand, accept, and are comfortable with Challenger behaviors—and most importantly—appreciate just how different Challenger skills are from current practice.

Why? Because Challenger skills (i.e., the ability to teach for differentiation, tailor for resonance, and take control of the sale) are tacit in nature, and therefore require a different-in-kind approach to be taught effectively.

Often, companies approach Challenger skills as if it were any other change management initiative they’ve rolled out in the past; develop one or two robust training sessions and assume it will be enough to get the job done. But, not only can Challengers not be built in a day (it requires dedication, planning, and skill certification to ensure success), traditional training engagements often fail to account for the key principles of building tacit skills:

  • Ensure reps are open to change
  • Make tacit skills tangible
  • Engineer a safe environment for practice

We’ve found that the best organizations use an approach akin to a boot camp to develop tacit skills in their sales people. They systematically: Read More »

Are Your Reps’ Personal Brands Visible Online?

Posted on  10 September 12  by 


Like it or not, social media is here to stay. And I’m not talking about Facebook. The fact is customers go to a number of places online to learn from and interact with peers and industry experts—discussion forums for industry or trade groups, or online communities in LinkedIn, for example.

This reality leads every company to ultimately ask themselves a hard question: just how much should we enable our reps to interact with customers online?  Should we really enable them to build their own personal brand?

The answer, in short, is that you have to. It’s the only way you’ll succeed if you want to win the information battle. Allow me to explain…

Ten years ago, if you wanted to learn something new, you went to a conference or an industry/trade show. Nowadays, if you want to learn something, you turn on your iPad, grab your smart phone, or turn on your computer, and ask your social network or search for relevant blog posts or discussion groups. If you find something interesting and want to know more about an author, you look them up on LinkedIn and find a mutual connection. A couple email exchanges later, and that “expert” whom you’ve never met has now opted in to your personal network.  Read More »

Salesforce Chatter: Bringing Social to Sales

Posted on  29 August 12  by 

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By Miranda Weigler and Erin Frager

(This is the fifth post in our series on sales organizations’ emerging use of social media as a channel for shaping demand.)

Anyone in a company that uses Salesforce is acquainted with ‘Chatter’, the social function enabled by the CRM software. Although the feature has existed for two years, the adoption rate is slow and much of the initial excitement has fizzled to rumors of “just another social media outlet.”

Chatter offers a wealth of possibilities. The software includes a monstrosity of “apps”, real-time updates, and networking capabilities. It has the ability to form communities of internal and external stakeholders, allowing collaboration with privacy and security. Chatter use also reduces reliance on email; good for overloaded inboxes. In theory, it sounds perfect—but how do we get users to feel the same way?

The difficulty is predicated on one thing: buy in. In most cases it is a well communicated commitment from the top. In speaking to our members, we’ve discovered that a stakeholder or multi-disciplinary team that understands the value of Chatter and can communicate this around the organization makes all the difference. Read More »

The Most Annoying Corporate Buzzwords

(This is a guest post by Jeff Schott of the Communications Executive Council, SEC’s sister program for heads of PR and corporate communications. Visit the original here!)

Recently I stumbled across this post from Forbes about the Most Annoying, Pretentious And Useless Business Jargon. It’s a fun read for anyone who has spent time in the corporate world, particularly those of us who work in corporate communications and are bombarded by jargon everyday.

Like it or not, corporate meetings and conference calls have become infested with buzzwords. We’ve all experienced it (probably even today!)—the annoying and detrimental rambles of a speaker who wants to appear to being saying something relevant, but in fact has zero meaning behind his statement, like a hack magician fumbling to pull a rabbit out of a seemingly empty hat. But just as any sensible person knows that there is a false bottom in the “magical” hat, we communicators—and I’d like to think most competent business professionals—can spot a cheap trick a mile away and properly view jargon for what it really is—sloppy, imprecise, and lazy. Read More »

Making Cross-Silo Sales Work

Posted on  27 August 12  by 


Growing sales complexity requires business units and functions to often work together to fulfill customer needs. That said, few companies have an established process for cross-silo deal consideration that prioritizes company interests over those of a single silo. With so many parties involved, it is easy to exhaust resources on deals that lack potential, while letting good deals slip through the cracks.

In many organizations, the challenge stems much deeper—non-Sales silos lack customer focus and de-emphasize customer-need fulfillment, thereby limiting profit growth opportunities.

How then do the best companies drive cross-silo collaboration and commitment on deal requirements?

Our search led us to Alcatel, a global telecommunications company, which uses standardized decision templates to secure enterprise-wide commitment to execute on deal requirements. Using a tiered approach, Alcatel was able to involve all relevant stakeholders in the decision, while ensuring the best interests of the larger enterprise as the deciding factor in approving deals.

Alcatel uses the following three-step process to engage business units: Read More »

Are Your Sales People in the Right Roles?

Posted on  22 August 12  by 


Companies are constantly revisiting their competency models to make better decisions in recruiting, deploying and developing salespeople to over-perform in distinct roles. Recently, we discussed the common problems associated with the construction of competency models (excessively generic models, vaguely defined behaviors, and rigid models) and the detrimental effects of a poor model.

In order to be most productive, sales people need to know what is expected of them in their role and what exactly they are going to be doing. Therefore, a good competency model must include: Read More »

Executing Change: The Shift from Solution Sales

Posted on  21 August 12  by 


There is no escaping the fact that change is a natural part of organizational life. Today’s sales leaders are faced with the challenging task of transforming their organizations into insight selling organizations in order to better position their salespeople to succeed in an increasingly complex selling environment.

If you are contemplating the end of solutions sales, and feeling puzzled about strategies to help your sales force adapt, you are not alone! Executing change is difficult, and here are a few reasons why: Read More »