November 2011 | Click links (>>) below to read articles
  • Supervising An Inside Sales Rep by Suzanne Paling >>
  • Firing Mistakes To Avoid by Bill Lee >>
  • The Three-Legged Sales Hiring Stool by Brian Jeffrey >>


Supervising An Inside Sales Rep
by Suzanne Paling

I have some experience managing field salespeople. I decided to hire an inside salesperson and want this new candidate to succeed, but have never supervised a telesales rep before. Do you have any thoughts on working with them effectively?

Both field and phone reps speak with customers, make presentations and close sales. Just as you would for an outside sales staff, set minimum standards, provide coaching, sponsor sales contests and review the rep's performances on a regular basis.

The jobs do vary in certain respects, though. You're smart to realize you may need a different set of management skills at certain points.

Consider the following.

Duties and Responsibilities

Write a job description. Does this new rep call on existing accounts only or will some cold calling be involved? What percentage of their quota is new vs. renewal business?

Do they have a geographic or vertical territory? Are their accounts below a certain dollar amount? Do they assist the field reps in any way?

The more specific the job description, the more focused the new rep will be right from the beginning.

Conflicts with the Field Staff

Field salespeople will express concern about potentially losing accounts, territory, or income. Share the inside rep's job description with them. If losses will occur, explain why. Modify quotas if necessary.

Inside sales reps often call on customers in remote geographic areas or those with lower sales volume. Remind outside reps that telesales reps may free them up to cover their territory more effectively and spend increased time with their larger accounts.

Dealing with potential clashes before their first day on the job eases the inside rep's relationship with their new co-workers.

Drop by to Chat

Making phone call after phone call, even though it involves interaction with customers, can be intense and isolating - especially if they're the only person at the company doing a particular job.

Drop by and chat with them throughout the day. Make the conversation casual. Avoid any coaching or criticism of their performance. Just check in and break up their day a little bit. They will appreciate the support.

Set up a Schedule

To avoid a fragmented day, work with the new rep to devise a schedule. For instance, if they have cold call responsibilities you might agree that they will make those particular calls between 8:30am and 10:00am and 4:00pm and 5:00pm. Pick an appropriate period of time for other types of activities like follow-up calls and presentations.

Yes, interruptions and emergencies will interfere with their schedule from time to time. Establishing a routine will minimize distractions and increase their productivity.

Off the Phone -- Out of the Office

Telesales reps need variety to avoid burn-out. Arrange for them to visit their accounts in person or accompany the outside or service reps on customer visits every so often.

Sign them up for off-site training several times a year. Being introduced to new ideas and talking with reps at other companies boosts their morale and improves their sales skills.

After any outside activity you'll see an increase in their energy level and productivity for weeks.

Respect their Time

Barring an emergency, you wouldn't ask your outside reps to "come back to headquarters immediately" or demand that they call you in the middle of a client meeting. The same goes for the inside salesperson.

Just because they might sit just a few feet from your office doesn't mean you should interrupt them for frequent impromptu meetings. These actions encourage them to abandon the call schedule the two of you worked out in the beginning of their tenure. Where possible, arrange a time to speak where they might have a natural break in the day.

Most companies find the inside sales rep allows an economical expansion of their sales force with a corresponding increase in sales revenue. Many talented sales reps prefer selling over the phone to the hassle of traveling a territory. Simple, common sense adjustments to your management style make for a happy and productive inside sales representative.

About The Author:

Suzanne Paling is the principal and founder of Sales Management Services. She has over twenty years of experience in sales consulting, sales management, and sales for both field and inside sales organizations. Ms. Paling founded Sales Management Services in 1998 to provide practical advice to business executives, owners, and entrepreneurs seeking to increase their revenue and improve their sales organization’s performance.

Sales Management Services’ roster of clients includes companies in the software, construction, medical, telecommunications, manufacturing, delivery, pest control, and the recruiting industries.

Previously, at Thomson Corporation’s Warren, Gorham & Lamont and RIA Group business units, Suzanne managed high-performance teams selling information services to banking, real estate, and law professionals. Her accomplishments included reorganizing and turning around several underperforming sales groups.

For more details visit her website at:


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Firing Mistakes To Avoid
by Bill Lee

Few acts in business are avoided longer and dreaded more than having to fire an employee. In my work, I see managers spending anywhere from several weeks to several months mustering the courage to go ahead and do what they know needs to be done -- terminate the employee.

Because managers realize that it's not only the employee who will be affected, but his or her family as well, firing is an even more emotional experience than it would be otherwise.

There are two questions I have always asked myself when forced to make a firing decision:

1. Have I have done everything in my power to bring this employee's performance up to a satisfactory level, and have I now given up? In other words, have I given this employee every opportunity to succeed?

Naturally, I want to answer yes to this question.

2. Will my decision be a surprise to the employee? Have I had the guts to sit down with the employee and give him or her a satisfactory warning?

If the firing is a surprise to the employee, then shame on the manager.

Firing Gut Check

I also ask myself one more question to make sure that I am doing the right thing: "If this employee were to walk into my office and say, ‘I quit,' would I be elated or despondent?" If my answer is something along the lines of: "If he or she quit it would solve about 90% of my problems"…then my decision is even more solid.

When it's time to fire the employee, consider the following mistakes to avoid:

Don't make small talk; don't ask about the family or last weekend. Don't beat around the bush. Get to the point in your first few sentences that his or her employment with your company is ending.

Don't try to fire someone and act like a friend might. Be compassionate, show empathy. But rather keep the meeting on a business-like basis. Show resolve in your voice and in your facial expression.

Don't argue or debate the termination. Speak of it in the most final of terms. Employment here is over. Nothing can be said to change that.

Don't succumb to pressure to get together at a later date and talk about the firing or the circumstances leading up to the firing.

Don't put the employee down in any way. It's not the individual himself or herself that's the problem, it's the person's performance or behavior that is the problem.

Don't say or even imply that you in any way do not agree with the decision to terminate the employee's employment.

Don't allow confusion; be accurate with the facts that you present. Use notes if necessary to keep your comments succinct; that is, to the point.

Don't try to soften the blow by lengthening the discussion. If the employee wants to vent or express opinions regarding working conditions, his or her supervisor, or other company issues, suggest an exit interview with another manager.

Don't fire someone at the end of the day on Friday unless you have serious concerns about proprietary information. Hold the termination interview in the last hour of the day your decision became final. Then immediately arrange for an exit interview.

Don't feel guilty about what you have done. It was the employee who did not live up to the performance or behavioral standards of the job.

Finally, while it is fresh on your mind, make a list of characteristics of this employee that you don't wish to duplicate when hiring a replacement.

There's little advice anyone can offer that makes firing an employee fun or easy, but if you follow these rules, you will accomplish an unpleasant task in the most effective way I have ever found in my years of experience.

About The Author:
Bill Lee is president of Lee Resources, Inc., a consulting and training firm that works with owners and general managers who want to earn optimal bottom line profits and with salespeople who want to increase their sales and improve their gross margin.

Bill’s national clients include: Ace Hardware, Amarok, American Wholesale, Andersen Window Corporation, BMA, BMC-West, BSC Corp., Budget Car Rental, Blue Tarp Financial, Building Suppliers Corp., CALPLY, ENAP, Stock Lumber, Datastream Corporation, Diamond Hill Plywood, Do-It Best Corporation, Drake Group, Home Depot, Equipment Resources, Lanoga Corp., LMC, Lowe’s Companies, Lumberman’s Merchandising Corporation, National Gypsum Company, National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association, Nextel, Owens Corning Fiberglas, True Value Hardware, and Zep Manufacturing.

Bill can be reached at 800-277-7888 or at

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The Three-Legged Sales Hiring Stool
by Brian Jeffrey

If you’re sitting on an office chair at the moment, look down and count the legs (or casters). You’ll most likely see five legs. Ever wonder why? I have. I remember when office chairs had only four casters to roll around with.

I suspect that there must have been a rash of people who fell out of these four-legged office chairs and sued the manufacturers so they stuck on a fifth leg for better stability.

Some of you might actually remember the three-legged milking stools that farmers used when milking their cows. How did they ever keep from falling over? Had cow milking technology and automation not advanced as far as it has, we’d probably have five-legged milking stools today. Overkill for sure.

Is there a point to all this, you ask? Well, sort of.

One of the problems that we have with the three-legged stool is that if you happen to lose a leg, you fall over, something that doesn’t happen with the milking stool’s four and five-legged cousins.

I find that a lot of hiring processes fail for a similar reason. One part of the hiring process either fails or, more usually is ignored, and the company ends up hiring a square peg that they then try to pound into a round hole.

Why Are We So Bad?

As sales managers or business owners, we have lots and lots of things to occupy our days and hiring is usually way down the list. We may go months, or even years, before we need to exercise whatever hiring skills we might have.

Consequently, those skills, which are marginal at best, become rusty and less effective. The situation is amplified because we have no proven hiring process in place that we can bring into play when needed.

A Good Hiring Process

I’ve hired more than my share of sales duds over the years and watched while some of my sales management consulting clients did the same. In my article titled Luck is Not a Hiring Tool, I talk about how I might as well have flipped a coin and saved myself a lot of wasted interviewing time.

Here’s a simple, three-part sales hiring process that is easy to implement when needed. Remember, this is a three-legged hiring process and if one of the legs isn’t done, or isn’t done properly, you’ll fall off the stool.

Part 1: Have a structured interview format.
This should consist of a series of three, maybe four, sets of interview questions, each intended for a specific purpose:

  • a screening interview to get first impressions,
  • a general interview that delves more into the individual,
  • a third interview that has sales-related questions to help determine if the person knows how to sell,
  • And a last interview with questions around the company and your industry to see how good the fit is.

Part 2: Check references.
Most companies don’t check references and candidates know that. In fact, some count on it. You may dislike doing them, but you leave yourself wide open to problems if you don’t do them. When doing reference checks, don’t only listen to what people say, but be sensitive to what they don’t say as well. One technique I recommend is to call the reference after hours when you know the person won’t be there. Then leave a voice mail message asking them to only call you back if they want to give a reference. The non-call tells you a lot.

Part 3: Use a sales assessment.
There are a lot of good assessments out there and, of course, I’d like you to use our Sales Temperament Assessment. A sales assessment gives you an independent, third-party, unbiased look at the candidate. Are assessments always accurate? No. But they’ll provide more accurate insights into the individual than just reading their resume.

Putting the Pieces Together

Here’s an example of how one of my consulting clients puts this process to work to formalize and replicate hiring success. They are an IT consulting company so they’re looking for salespeople who are knowledgeable of the industry as well as have skills in sales. Here’s what they put in place:

Step 1: Resume Review
Resumes are reviewed for appropriateness for the position as defined in the Position Description. Candidates with the appropriate level of experience move to step two.

Step 2: Initial Screening Interview
Candidates are interviewed by telephone to ascertain first impressions, confirm resume details, income expectations, etc. Successful candidates will be invited to take a sales assessment.

Step 3: Sales Temperament Assessment (STA)
The candidate is asked to complete the STA. Minimum rating is 5 out of10 for Temperament to Succeed and 5 out of10 for Suitability for the Position. The exception is where the candidate’s Temperament to Succeed is 7 or greater, in which case the Suitability for the Position may be disregarded with the understanding that the lower that rating is, the less satisfied the person is likely to be in the position.

Step 4: Sales Interview
Candidates are interviewed by the Sales Manager who conducts a thorough sales-based interview to evaluate the candidate’s sales knowledge and abilities.

Step 5: Technical Interview
Candidates are interviewed by the Company President, or assigned technical resource, to evaluate the candidate’s industry and product/service knowledge.

Step 6: Reference Checks
At least three reference checks are completed with the purpose of confirming information, or to resolve any red flags that have been uncovered during the interviews.

The Bottom Line

There you have it — my three-legged milking stool process for hiring salespeople and how one company implemented it. If getting consistent results when hiring salespeople is one of your challenges, put your stool in place and don’t fall off!

About The Author:

Brian Jeffrey has over 40 years experience in sales, sales management, sales training, and business consulting. He is the co-founder and past president of SalesForce Training & Consulting Inc, as well as Salesforce Assessments Ltd. Having sold both those companies, his focus is now on sharing his over 40 years of sales and sales management experience with companies and individuals who want help managing their sales.

In addition to running his own sales management consulting businesses, Brian is the author of 18 ebooks and over 100 articles on sales and sales management. He is also the author of the “5-Minute Sales Trainer” and “The SalesWizard’s Secrets of Sales Management” (now out of print).

Visit his website at:







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