The Voice in the Seller’s Head.

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The Voices in Your Seller's HeadEarlier this week at The Seller Forum in New York, I shared some themes I’d gathered from the 200-plus individual sales rep phone calls I take each year in preparation for Upstream sales workshops.  I’ll end up talking with 4-5 sales reps and line managers prior to each training program, and often these calls move quickly from the nuts and bolts of the sale into the hopes and fears of the seller.  If you’re looking at midyear reviews with your sellers, or if you’re considering how best to motivate and engage them for the balance of 2014 and beyond, here are four of the topics we discussed:

Your sellers aren’t just missing a full understanding of the agency business; they don’t even know they need one.  Very consistent issue.  An entire generation of digital sellers have only seen the transactional, planning end of digital agencies.  The web of other agencies, or even other disciplines and power centers in the shops they call on, are largely invisible to them.

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Amid all the technical minutiae and process details, selling has gotten lost.  This theme may seem surprising, but it’s been hiding in plain sight for most of us.  Digital sales is so “sophisticated” that many reps come to believe that the job is about relaying complex information between management and customer.  Persuasion, closing, challenging and changing the outcome are a second language they haven’t studied yet.

Your comp plan isn’t motivating anybody.  Most compensation plans are at once too simplistic and too complex.  Other than generally feeling like they want to make more money (who doesn’t?) reps have a hard time really connecting behaviors – things they can control — with the mechanics of the comp plan.  So your company too often ends up giving windfall jackpots to sellers who end up with a situationally great account, while your best fundamental performers are being taught they should probably think about leaving you after a great year, before they’re penalized for it in next year’s plan.

If you’re not talking to them, the voices in their heads take over.  Given the pace we all manage, many digital sales leaders and managers only connect with their sellers in group environments and/or to discuss specific deals and numbers.  What’s been lost – or perhaps never even took root in our business – is the subjective, open conversation.  They may not be inclined to tell you how they’re feeling about their jobs or the path of their careers, but that just might be because you never ask.  And when you’re not talking to them about the state of the company or the future of the space, they imagine all kinds of dark, scary things.

There are, of course, no universal truths, and there are many sales groups and reps for whom none of these themes may apply.  But the very best sales leaders and managers are those whose empathy for their team members is seasoned with just a little paranoia.  If you think you know how they see the world, you owe it to yourself to think again.

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