Talking Sales Leadership with Mike Weinberg

We recently had the opportunity to ask the founder of The New Sales Coach and author of two best-selling books Mike Weinberg a few key sales questions. Check out the interview below to see what Mike had to say about unhealthy sales cultures, rep accountability and being selfishly productive.

Q: You’ve said previously that you didn’t want to write Sales Management, Simplified – why is that and what convinced you to do it?
A:
I wrote the book because I felt compelled to, part out of frustration and anger, and partly because there were some things that someone just needed to say. I very often get called into a company to fix its “sales problem,” to only discover that it has more of a leadership, culture and sales management problem. If there is an anti-sales culture, or a broken comp plan, or a sales manager who never gets to do his job because he is buried in crap – all that stuff is more important than sales coaching. I learned the hard way that you can’t fix an organization for the long-term by coaching people; you have to deal with the leadership first. And that’s why I wrote Sales Management, Simplified.

Q: A good chunk of your book focuses on building a healthy sales culture. What are some signs that your company has an unhealthy sales culture, and what are the characteristics of a healthy one?
A:
An unhealthy sales culture is one where no one is talking about sales and results. The salespeople are often picked on or belittled, and no one appreciates them or gives them credit. For example, I had one client where, when business was good, they would give the credit to other departments, but when it was bad, they would point at the salespeople. I also worked at one company where the owners let the controller take arbitrary commission deductions out of salespeople’s paychecks every month, and made sales fight to get them back. Unfortunately, I see this kind of stuff more often than you will believe, and I always tell salespeople that the only way to get out of that sort of sales culture is to leave.

A healthy sales culture is one where salespeople are respected and appreciated, yet held accountable. While it’s pro-sales, it doesn’t mean it’s soft. It’s kind of like a winning locker room of a championship team: there’s a lot of brother and sisterhood, but there is also a lot of competition, hard practice and a focus on results. A good sales culture has really energizing sales team meetings, and great 1:1 player/coach meetings to hold reps accountable, dig into the pipeline and do coaching.

Q: As a sales leader, how do you balance holding reps accountable without micromanaging?
A:
I had a manager and then partner named Donnie Williams who had a formula for meeting with salespeople 1:1 that was brilliant. In fact, I share his outline in great detail in chapter 20 of Sales Management, Simplified. The key to holding reps accountable without micromanaging is that you start with results, and then you dig into the pipeline. And if the pipe is healthy, full of opportunities and moving along, you never ask about a rep’s activity.

But if the results are no good and the pipeline is weak, then you have nothing left but to ask about activities. That’s when you say, “Pull out your calendar. How many calls did you make this week? Who did you see? How many meetings did you book?” That’s what feels like micromanagement – but you don’t get there until way down the path if the results aren’t good.

And I have advice for managers when a salesperson tries to play the micromanagement card. You tell them, “I hear you, and I don’t like doing it either. Once you improve your results and fill your pipeline, I won’t ask you, but until then, I will keep asking. Only you can change the way this meeting goes by doing your part of the job.”

Q: Sales teams waste so much time in meetings. Do you have any tips for ensuring that sales meetings are productive, meaningful and necessary?
A:
Most sales meetings are awful, and they tend to be awful because they’re not really sales meetings – they’re operations meetings, product delivery planning meetings, strategy meetings, admin meetings, etc. Here is my litmus test for a sales team meeting: are your salespeople leaving more energized and better equipped to do their jobs than when the meeting started? And if the answer is no, then your meeting sucked and you need to stop meeting and rethink the way you go about it.

Sales meetings go wrong because sales managers have one-sided conversations where they just dump crap on sales people. They also try to do group accountability in the sales meeting; that needs to be done 1:1 because it puts reps on the spot in front of their peers and isn’t fair. Instead, we should have meetings where we actually practice selling and do training. Share best practices, read books, discuss difficult opportunities, bring an inspirational guest – the point is to energize your team and equip them to win.

Q: In your book you also mention the art of being selfishly productive. What is this and how is it done?
A:
The most effective executives and highest performing sales folks that I see are selfish in a good way. They are really good at carving out time on their own calendars to work on their highest value activities. They know exactly which activities move the needle, and that’s where they spend their time. They’re not afraid to say no and decline meeting invites and fill up their calendars with blocks of time dedicated to working on stuff they want to work on – stuff that pays them and drives results. And that’s what selfishly productive means: guarding your calendar like it’s your income. Because it is.

Q: Almost every sales team has a CRM in place, but too often they find themselves working for the CRM, rather than the CRM working for them. What is your advice to sales teams to get their CRMs to work for them?
A:
One of the major ways that CRMs fail organizations is that they don’t provide them with the data they need to gain insight and improve performance. At the end of the day, this is ultimately the team’s fault; if you’re going to have a CRM, you have to have 100% CRM adoption, otherwise good data and reporting are impossible. One of the best things that I’ve seen a company do is say, if it’s not in the CRM, it doesn’t exist.

However, I understand why people want to avoid a cumbersome CRM setup. That’s why leadership and management needs to provide their reps with a CRM that actually makes them more productive and makes it easier for them to work the way they want to work. You shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to log calls, take notes or access information. Your CRM should make it so easy to do these things that your reps actually want to use it. And when your team is consistently using your CRM, you will be able to capture great data and get insightful reports as a byproduct.

For more information around how next-generation sales leaders like Mike are managing sales processes, pipelines and performance, check out The 2017 Guide for Next-Generation Sales Leaders.

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