Episode #4: "Salespeople vs. the Internet: Who is Winning?" with Jason Jordan

Hosts: Tim Clarke & Lynne Zaledonis

Like other revolutions, the internet has inspired many predictions. One of the biggest was the death of sales. No, the internet didn't do it, but it did change the way we sell. Join the conversation with Jason Jordan, Owner of Vantage Point Performance and author of Cracking the Sales Management Code, as he discusses the impact of the internet on sales.

Read the article that inspired the conversation: “Salespeople vs. the Internet: Who Is Winning?

Tim Clarke: Thank you for joining the "Quotable Podcast." Our guest today is Jason Jordan, partner of Vantage Point Performance and author or "Cracking the Sales Management Code." Along with being a great contributor to Quotable. Now today we're discussing salespeople vs. the Internet. So welcome Jason.

Jason Jordan: Thanks, Tim. Glad to be here.

Tim Clarke: I'm Tim Clarke, Product Marketing Director at Salesforce. I'm joined today by our guest host Lynne Zaledonis, VPProduct Marketing at Salesforce. Welcome, Lynne.

Lynne Zaledonis: Thank you, Tim. I'm excited to be here today.

Tim: So Jason, for anyone who isn't familiar with you or Vantage Point Performance, maybe you could give us a background and a bit of an overview of what you.

Jason Jordan: Vantage Point is one of the few if not the only companies that's really focused on training and developing sales management. At our core where our training firm, our distinction is that we focus just on the management layer of the sales force.

Consequently, we do a lot of research, a lot of writing, and a lot of speaking on issues that affect sales management. As you might expect, those are coaching, pipeline management, forecasting, using CRM and data to better manage a sales force. We work with generally large companies, Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies to try to get more out of their sales team by managing the team more effectively.

Lynne: Jason, I love the piece that you wrote on Quotable called "Sales People vs. The Internet. Who is Winning?" There's been so many predictions over time about what changes the internet will bring to a lot of things, and especially sales. Would you share with everybody listening today what you found the internet's impact to be on sales?

Jason Jordan: The internet has been revolutionary in almost every aspect of our lives, of course. With it came a lot of expectations, most of which, I believe, came true. There was a great prediction that it was going to drive brick and mortar stores out of business. We could say that places like Amazon.com have pretty successfully done that in certain areas -- books, electronics and other places.

We work in sales forces. One of the biggest, boldest predictions that we saw was that the internet would also replace salespeople. Even before the internet, we bashed salespeople, many of them as being walking brochures, talking brochures.

In many ways, it was reasonable to think that when the internet came along, the electronic order form would replace the brochure and the human order form that was the perception of some lower value sales people. Fortunately, that hasn't happened.

As I wrote in the blog post that you mentioned I looked back in 1999 at the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics data. About 10 percent of our US workforce anyway was employed in the sales profession. If you look at 2014, which is the most recent date they had published, about 10 percent of our workforce is [laughs] employed in the sales profession.

The internet has definitely had huge impacts, and we can talk about what it's actually done for the sales force. What it hasn't done is eliminate the need for quality salespeople. Customers really need them and rely on them.

Tim: Jason, do you think this is industry-agnostic? Have you seen the internet impacting industries across the board, or is it very specific industries?

Jason Jordan: It's been across the board. Let me just give you a couple observations, one from the buyer's side, which is very well-known, and one from the seller's side, which is maybe not as well-known. As a buyer we know what the internet did.

It put massive amounts of timely information in our hands about the companies we're proposing to buy from, the products and services that we're trying to purchase. Even the sellers with the advent of social media and a lot of the other things. Obviously it's known that customers have much more information than ever before.

They don't rely on salespeople as far into the front of the sales cycle as they do in the back of the sales cycle. It's almost not worth talking about that. It's so commonly accepted, but for the salespeople it's been a little bit interesting. I think it has put more pressure on them to add more value. Again, this is across industries.

Salespeople have evolved. At least the lower-value ones have evolved to higher-value ones. Salespeople are constantly being pushed by their customers to be more value-added. The internet just took that to the next level. Across industries we've seen this impact on salespeople that their customers are behaving differently.

I was talking to a group of executives just earlier in the week. Someone said, "You know, it feels like the internet's really slanted the table in the favor of the buyer." I said, "You know, I think in the last five years it's been slanted back in the favor of the seller."

If you think about how much information salespeople now have on buyers through LinkedIn and Twitter, you used to literally cold-call as a salesperson. Now you can know where someone resides in the organization, where they've come within the organization. You can find out personal details about their schools they've attended and their friends they have.

If you start to really think about what social media has given the sales force, I'd say it's at least leveled the playing field.

Lynne: You talked a lot about the evolution of sales and really the resilience of sales rep. Can you talk a little bit about what you mean by resilience of sales and how does this help with sales survival?

Jason Jordan: Let met go back in time a little bit in my own career. I started out in sales. Then I, after business school, went into management consulting. I did spend a fair amount of time working on the business process side of technology and not exclusively in the sales force. I spent a lot of time working with ERP systems and operations. I spent a fair amount of time even with some financial systems.

That's just to say that I've worked in all the functions, all the major functions inside companies and across industries. There's no question in my mind that if you compare the sales force to other parts of the organization, it's by far the most dynamic and most changeable of any function.

I know that since we all work in the sales force, it doesn't seem that way because anytime we try to deploy salesforce.com, or we try to deploy a new sales process, or we try to deploy a new coaching model, it feels like a lot of resistance.

There is because change is hard no matter who or where you are, but if you compare it to other parts of the organization, sales is extremely dynamic. Trust me, you'd rather be the person trying to implement new CRM tools than implement new ERP tools across a manufacturing facility.

The sales force is built that way. Part of it is the motivation that sales people have to succeed. I think a lot of the, for both good and bad, is the short term nature of sales. A quarter is an eternity in sales.

People are motivated to succeed. They are looking for best practices. They are looking to evolve. The internet's just fed that. I think that it didn't take sales people for too long to log in to the internet or log in to the CRM tool and think, "Wow, this is really useful, This can be a powerful tool for me."

As much as the world throws at the sales force with smarter buyers and if you go even farther back in time, you're back to when they started purchasing groups in place in the middle of the 20th century. If you go back even farther than that, as far you go back, the sales force has been challenged by an evolving workplace, and evolving society, and evolving technology.

It's a changeable place where people are doing their best and they're working hard and fast. When something new comes along, they pretty well grasp onto the value of it and what it can do for them.

If the sales force was 10 percent of our economy this year and 10 percent of our economy 15 years ago, I think the sales force be 10 percent of our economy going forward if not more because we'll adapt.

If the next iteration of technology goes beyond the internet and beyond social media, and become something even more transformational for the way that people interact with the world and make purchases, the sales force will be right there with them.

Tim: When we talk about how the internet is ultimately not a foe of the sales force and that's absolutely an enabler, we'll just dive a little bit more into some of the technologies that have come out of this.

We're seeing clearly, internet-enabled CRM, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. How are you seeing as some of these technologies which are ultimately supported by the internet or running fully on the internet really helping sales people become more powerful than ever?

Jason Jordan: I don't think the function of sales has changed that much. We still try to create value in the buying process for our prospects. I view technology as an enabler. To your point, the internet has made it more ubiquitous. It's given us faster access to it.

In the back end, the data that's in computer systems has become remarkably more reliable, and consistent, and timely than ever before. I think what all the technology's really done is just accelerated what was already happening.

There is some things you can do, like I said, we have greater visibility into buyers. Buyers have greater visibility into sellers, and products, and services. We're using Skype right now. It's a great technology. It replaced the telephone for this purpose, which replaced an in-person meeting for that purpose.

I like to think this conversation would have been just as rich 40 years ago, but it would have been much less efficient. The output of it would have been much more difficult to share with your audience.

Technologies come along and they seem transformational, and they are, in that they allow people greater, faster, better, more reliable access to what they want to do. But I don't honestly know that technology has changed the sales force fundamentally. The service sales provides to society and to buyers is very similar to what we did 100 years ago. It's just all better in every way.

Lynne:  You've been a great contributor to the Quotable site and building that article, and then in your popular book. For those of you who don't know, you have a very popular book out there, "Cracking the Sales Management Code."

In both of these cases, you talk a lot about sales management and you talk about how it hasn't evolved to where it needs to be. Little near and dear to my heart, since I've been in sales management myself in the past.

I'd love to talk about the impact of this, to the ability for sales to actually survive and thrive in this internet-enabled CRM era. Can you talk about sales management's role in this?

Jason Jordan: Sure. I've spoken at Dreamforce the last several years, and I've made this point pretty strongly.

As an example, I like to go back to the late 19th century, the 1880s and '90s, a gentleman named John Henry Patterson, from National Cash Register, which is now NCR, basically put in place all the tools that sales management still uses today. He created territories and quotas and incentive plans. In 1893, he opened a school for sales people, the reporting.

Then along, later in the 20th century, actually, someone that he fired along the way, Thomas Watson, started IBM. Used to be his head of sales at National Cash Register. Started IBM and took with him that sales culture that kind of grew and blossomed through the development of the corporation, and all the stuff that happened in the 20th century.

But if you look at what sales management does today, to my earlier point that the functions haven't really changed, it's what we still do. We still assign territories and we try to find fair quotas and we motivate the sales people with incentives and we have training courses and we try to manage and try to coach them.

I feel empty inside for sales management, because there really aren't any revolutions in sales management in the last 130 years, except technology has ideally enabled us to do it better.

The point that I make at Dreamforce, and I'll kind of rehash it here, is that it is our observation that the ability of the sales force to produce data has outstripped sales management's ability to use it more effectively.

In the last 25-30 years, since CRM really burst onto the scene, the ability for people to put their hands on data has truly been a gift to sales management.

Unfortunately, what's happened is we just create more and more reports. The sadness in it, from my perspective, is that sales enablement groups within their companies, and we work with them all the time from a training perspective and obviously has a huge parallel track to the technology, the training piece.

We get it wrong from a sales enablement perspective. We think that the more data we give sales managers in the field, the better service we're providing for them. Because the more data they have, the better they'll manage. In reality, what we find is that sales managers haven't really been given the tools and frameworks and methodologies to use the data more effectively.

One of the concepts from the book is, there are different types of metrics, different types of data. There are some things, like revenue, that you just can't manage. You literally cannot manage revenue, as much as we talk about managing revenue.

There are other things that you can manage, like how many sales calls your reps make and who they call on and what types of conversations they have when they make those calls.

The biggest insight from our research that went into that book was that sales management is extremely focused on the outcomes they want. Right? We tell people to make their quota. We get up on Monday morning and stare at the report to see if we're tracking toward our quota and our budget and our target.

It's kind of wasted time. What we really need to be doing is focusing on what our salespeople are doing, and affecting their behaviors and coaching and training them to think differently and do differently, because that's what ultimately affects the outcome.

When I think about technology and the evolution of it and the internet in that path, it's given us access to all this data in real time that's more believable and credible and trustworthy than ever before and it comes from different perspectives and it's integrated. We have great dashboards.

Then we see sales managers still doing the same dumb stuff, which is telling people to make their quota and getting up in the morning and rubbing their hands together. Putting their heads in their hands and questioning themselves, "Where is this revenue going to come from?"

I do think the business side of it needs to catch up with the technology side. From a management perspective, that really means understanding the important stuff and understanding management's role in getting salespeople to higher performance by directing their activities and their thinking.

Tim: Clearly, you have so many times when a sales rep and a sales manager are having this conversation and the manager may just be saying, "Well, why are you not hitting your quota?" or, "Great job on hitting your quota." But to your point, with all this technology and the internet, there's so much information available, even internally, with dashboards and reporting.

Are there any particular measures that you would advise any sales managers listening to this podcast to really focus on in order to help their sales teams really evolve?

Jason Jordan: Every sales force is different. Every company has a slightly different go to market strategy.

The counsel that we give is there needs to be a balance of metrics that you're looking at every day. You obviously have to look at how your salespeople are tracking toward quota. You can't fly blind.

By looking at those numbers, you can identify which reps you need to spend your time with and maybe which reps aren't going to make it. You can look at the capacity of your sales force.

Looking at how you're tracking in your forecast, I mean that is important, it's imperative. The problem is that's just the departure point.

The next metrics that we talk about, we call sales objectives. They're things like which types of customers are you acquiring and your customer attention and what types of products are you selling. Are you selling the new product line or the old product line and what are the profit margins, or the prices of the stuff that you're selling. Those are the things that are kind of intermediary steps toward revenue and profitability.

Then you need to be measuring the activities of your sales team. A lot of sales managers recoil when you say you have to manage the activity. But you can't ignore it. Managing activity isn't the same as micromanaging people. I think that's the association that we have to break, we work with sales teams to break.

In answer to your question, there's no single metric that's the most important. It needs to be a blend.

From our perspective, you need to look at the outcomes and make sure you're tracking where you need to be, but you need to be able to kind of reverse engineer that ultimate outcome and get to the activities of things that you can manage today so that, in 30 days or 90 days or 120 days, you do start to see an impact of the activities of your sales force today.

Lynne: That's great. Jason, awesome tips. I think those are wonderful. It'd be great if you could kind of summarize that. Can you tell us...for all these sales listeners who are leaders who are listening in today, talk to them about a lot of different things. What should we be doing better?

Jason Jordan: The answer is clear in my mind. We need to pay attention to the important stuff. The internet, the dynamics of the sales force, the urgency with which we run the sales force, and the demands that the customers in the marketplace put on us, there's a whole long list of things that insert urgency into the sales force.

With all the data and the demand, it's overwhelming. What we observe is that sales managers and sales people do a really poor job of identifying where they should focus their energy and where they should focus their time.

A couple of examples. If you look at where sales managers spend their time, it's probably not where they should. They'll spend a lot of their time on reporting, which has to happen to some measure. They'll spend a lot of their time firefighting. They'll spend a lot of time doing a lot of internal wrestling on the behalves of their salespeople.

In reality, the most impactful thing they can do, and there's study after study that shows this, is to coach their salespeople. Furthermore, they need to identify which salespeople really need the coaching and where that impact will have the biggest, ultimate effect on the sales results.

For salespeople, if you followed around your salespeople, all of them, not even just some of them, if you could follow any of your salespeople for a day, you could see they're spending their time on dumb stuff. They're not calling on the customers where there's the most opportunity. They're not pursuing the deals that have the highest likelihood of being won. They're not spending the time prioritizing their effort both inside and outside of the company.

For me, the answer to what we should be doing, generally as a sales force, or specifically as salespeople or sales managers is obvious. We need to be better prioritizing our time. The one thing no one has more of and is not getting any more of is time.

Every salesperson has the same amount of time. Every sales manager has the same amount of time. The only way you're going to win against the competition and beat your prior performance is if you start using the time more intelligently.

The technology that we have should make things more efficient. The data and the reporting we have should help us identify things to make us more effective. We just need to stop, pause, take time to do the analysis, and identify really what are the important things where we should be spending our time.

Tim: Building on that point, obviously time is so precious, particularly in sales. What would be some of the recommendations in terms of where people should go to develop? Clearly there's a responsibility on the individual to self-develop. Managers obviously need to develop as well. Is it courses? Events? Webinars? Any great sites? Any top tips for some great sites there?

Jason Jordan: You're asking someone who runs a training company, so my answer's going to be a little self-serving.

Tim: Good plug there.


Jason Jordan: It's a combination of things. Sadly, we don't do a good job of educating people as they enter the sales profession. I mentioned this in the article that you discussed earlier, but I'm on the board of a foundation called the Sales Education Foundation. We're really trying to plug holes in people's education.

The hole is 10 percent of our workforce is in sales. About a hundred universities in the United States of America have degrees in sales. The first thing we need to do is just do a better job of educating people coming into the profession.

Once you're in the profession, what do you do? This is where most people find themselves. You're not going to go back to school. It's a combination. There are some great books that have been written in the last 10 years. There are some foundational books that have been written 20 or 30 years ago that still are very relevant.

There is training that you can get, both publicly-offered training and then companies like ours that do training on more focused issues. If there is one thing I'd like to see more of, it is coaching and on-the-job training, so to speak.

Coaching's a funny thing. If you senior leaders and organizations and you say, "What do you like your sales managers to really be doing?" they'll say some form of coaching. "I'd like them to spend more time of the field with my reps. I'd like them to really focus on performance. I'd like them to keep the salespeople pointed in the right direction." However they say it.

If you ask salespeople what they'd like their sales managers to do, they'll often respond with some form of coaching. They'll want them to help them win more deals. If you ask sales managers what they would do if they had an extra five hours in the week, they'll say some form of coaching.

They'll say, "I'd like to spend more time in the field. I'd like to spend more time with my reps and less time in the office in front of the computer." Coaching is one of the things that everybody wants, but the research shows it doesn't really happen sufficiently. When it does, it doesn't happen effectively.

There's a combination of things that I would recommend for professional development. The internet's a huge resource. Unfortunately, there's no filter on who puts content on the internet. That's one of the things that I love about what Salesforce is doing with Quotable, it's really trying to bring best of breed thinking and trying to filter the conversation so that anyone that comes to a website like that sees "Wow. This is really valuable, thought-provoking content. It's not just content."

I don't think there's any one source, but I think access to the information and the ability to filter through the information and find something that's relevant by way of reading, educational training, or hopefully for sales management, the motive and the desire to actually get their hands dirty doing some coaching, has never been better.

Lynne: How often should these sales managers be sitting down with their reps and coaching them? Talk a little bit about whether there's a cadence you need to get into, a regular meet, or is it more about the efficiency and effectiveness of that coaching engagement?

Jason Jordan: I could go on for quite a while about coaching. Let me just give some thoughts on it. I think you're on to something that's very important that a lot of people miss. Even within that, there's some stuff that people miss.

Part of the problem with coaching is the cadence. A lot of coaching programs that people have been taught over the years are really geared at intervention. It's "We're having a performance problem. We need to do some coaching." Or it's "Time for the annual performance review. We need to sit down and do some coaching."

Part of the problem is that the models aren't really specific to activities that sellers actually do and they put people in the mindset that coaching is something that happens intermittently.

The first task for effective coaching, or productive coaching, is to identify exactly what the coaching is intended to achieve. When we work with clients, and we work with big clients, GE, 3M, Schlumberger, Tyco, one of the first things we try to instill into them is that coaching isn't coaching.

What are we trying to do? Are we trying to improve the health of the sales pipeline? Are we trying to improve your sales rep's ability to manage their accounts? Are we trying to improve their ability to make really great sales calls? What specifically are we trying to change by way of behavior or thinking in the sales team?

First of all, just defining coaching is the first hurdle that most companies don't ever even approach. Once you have it defined and you know what coaching looks like and you know what coaching is intended to achieve very tactically, again focusing on the activities, then you start thinking about the cadence.

We call it management rhythm. It's important that it doesn't become something that only happens when there's an intervention required, or it doesn't only happen when there's a quarterly review.

If the coaching is intended to help people pursue deals, that can happen every single day. If the coaching is intended to help salespeople make better sales calls, that can happen every week. Cadence is a little bit dependent on exactly what it is you're trying to coach.

If you're coaching someone to manage their accounts more strategically, that might happen once a month or once a quarter. Again, sales calls happen every day. Strategically pursuing opportunities happens every day.

The thing that people miss within that cadence, there's also this long-held belief that coaching happens in the field. We've worked with companies where we just had to say, "Look, you can get into the field with your sales reps once a month. It's just math. You have a bunch of sales reps and they're all over the district or region. If you physically want to get with them, you're constrained to how much coaching time..."

This is where technology really does help. You can have a great coaching conversation over the phone. You can have a great coaching conversation by Skype. I honestly think you can have great coaching interactions by email if you're committed to taking the time to do it and you trust someone who's going to read it thoughtfully.

First, identifying the activities is a challenge. Then setting the cadence, or the rhythm, is the next challenge. Then doing it as frequently as possible. As I said with technology, you can communicate effortlessly. The problem is having meaningful communication.

Coaching isn't when your sales rep calls you with a problem from the car and you're in your car and you try to solve the problem right then and there. Coaching happens when you set time aside. "Let' s chat every day at 3:00 PM. Let's chat every Monday and Friday at 10:00 AM."

The point you raise about the cadence and the rhythm is absolutely on point. It does vary a little bit about what it's intended to accomplish. It probably can happen more frequently than most managers think. You just have to be creative with what that venue looks like.

Tim: Jason, I know we're nearly up on time here. Any closing thoughts that you want to leave with any of the sales professionals listening to this podcast?

Jason Jordan: The conversation here is around technology. I think the thought I like to leave folks with is that technology is an enabler. It is so far beyond where it ever was. If you look at Sales Force and where you are today with your technology and you look at what we were doing back in the '80s and '90s with contact management, you can't even compare.

Everything is better about it, but it's easy to lose sight that it's really just there to support and enable better selling and better management. I've seen tons and tons of companies that lose sight of that a little bit.

The first thing I would say to anyone who is trying to take something away from this conversation is that you have to focus on what you want your salespeople and your managers to do. Make sure they're doing the important stuff. Make sure they understand that it's important. Make sure there's time for them to do it.

Make sure there's a clear understanding of what it will look like when they do it. You'll find that technology is truly the great enabler. You'll find that once you identify what your people should be doing, you'll find ways to use technology you never, ever imagined.

If you start with the technology and try to wrap the activities of your sales team around the technology, that's when you become a little bit confused. That's when adoption is low and reports don't get used. I think it's just an issue of putting everything in balance.

If there's one thing to take away from a conversation about technology, it's that it plays a critical role, but we need to understand that there's a marriage of the business and the technology that really creates a huge impact.

Tim: Thank you very much, Jason, for sharing your insights here and thanks to Lynne as well for being our co-host. Thank you very much.

Lynne: Thank you very much, Tim, for having us. Jason, it was a pleasure to hear from you today. Thank you for sharing all your tips, best practices, and guidance.

Jason Jordan: Thank you for having me. Anytime.

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