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EPISODE 210: International Sales Strategist Andy Miller Gives Pertinent Advice on Hiring, Motivating and Retaining Top Tier Sales Talent
ANDY’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Get curious about everything, get curious about your customer, get curious about their industry, get curious about their business model. I find curiosity to be a really great habit for a salesperson.”
Andy Miller is president of Big Swift Kick, a top sales consultancy and training company.
On today’s show, we talked about acquiring, motivating and retaining top tier sales talent.
Andy gives some tips on how you can acquire and retain your top tier talent and how you as a sales professional can take your career to the next level.
Andy can be found on LinkedIn here.
Andy Miller: Thanks, Fred. In a nutshell, my first sales job was when I was 13, I had a paper route. A lot of entrepreneurial skills are learned there, collections, customer service, if you want to expand your paper route you’ve got to knock on doors and you’ve got to sell. That was really my entry into sales and then when I was 27 I jumped into entrepreneurship, I started a software company in Holland. I’d been in software sales for a couple years before then, but that was my journey.
It was open up an office in Amsterdam and then expand throughout the world and the challenge there was hiring salespeople who worked the way that I wanted them to work but in different cultures and different languages. At that start, I made a fatal mistake, hired somebody I should have not hired and in Holland you cannot fire somebody at will, you have to get government permission so I had to keep her for 8 months while she didn’t show up. That started me on the, “How do we identify top talent, how do we attract them, how do we motivate them, retain them and how do we get rid of them [Laughs] if we thought they were going to be top but they’re not proving out that way?”
Fred Diamond: You’re also an expert on sales professional assessment and that’ll come up over the course of the podcast. You and I have had many conversations about what it takes to be a great sales professional in the right situation and we’ll get to that over the course but do you agree? What do you think are the biggest challenges that sales leaders face today?
Andy Miller: The biggest one at least that I hear about hiring is people don’t even know where to find talent. We want to interview some people, they’re going, “We can’t even find people to interview.” That’s a big one, another one that I hear once they’re hired is, “How do we motivate them?” We’ll get into that in a little bit but, “I know somebody has some talent, I’m just not seeing them give their all” that’s another one. I think a third one would be shifting, the shift that’s happening from baby boomers to millennials, it’s a different mindset even though I don’t think it’s as different as people make it out to be, but there are differences. Then how to retain your top talent when there are so many openings and people are trying to get them to switch and come join their company? How do you make sure that you keep them? That, to me, I see as the biggest challenges.
Fred Diamond: You just used the M word – mindset – what is a sales mindset? What does that mean to you?
Andy Miller: There’s mindsets that support you in sales and there’s mindsets that sabotage you in sales. To me, the mindset predetermines the outcome before you even begin so if you think that picking up the phone and doing cold calling – and yes, people still cold call and yes, cold calling still works. You have to do a lot of smiling and dialing but if you think nobody wants to talk to you then you’re going to act that way, your words are going to come across that way. If you think people do want to talk to you then that matters, too.
Today, we’re right before a holiday and a lot of people are taking off. My experience is today is a great day for cold calling because the folks who are in working are relaxed and have time to talk. That to me is a mindset, the mindset is, “Nobody wants to talk to me” or, “Everybody’s on vacation” or, “There aren’t that many in, but the ones that are in are going to want to talk.” Those are two different mindsets and really the question becomes I can’t tell you which mindset is right or wrong but which mindset serves me better.
Fred Diamond: We’re doing today’s podcast interview about 15 miles outside of Washington DC in Alexandria, it’s the nation’s capital. We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe. Andy, what are some of the challenges with attracting A players? The top performers, if you will.
Andy Miller: Everybody I talk to says they want A players but the question I ask them is, “Are you a company that an A player wants to be?” What people don’t realize is I just saw an article a week ago that said 50% of candidates or potential candidates when they hear there’s an opening, first thing they do is they go to Glass Door to see what your ratings are. My question for you is, whether it’s Glass Door or an equivalent, what’s your rating on Glass Door? Because if you have poor ratings you’re not even going to get a chance to talk to somebody.
I was actually talking to a young kid a couple weeks ago and he said, “I heard of a company, they had an opening, I went and saw the ad, went to Glass Door, their ratings were terrible and I didn’t even try to apply.” I think that’s very true for where things are today, we know Glass Door is a little bit jaded because people who get on and write reviews are typically folks who are disgruntled so it’s a little bit skewed but let me give you some comparative data. Google has a rating of 4.5 out of 5, Slack has a rating of 4.7 out of 5, Amazon has a rating of 3.8 out of 5 and do you think they have problems attracting top talent? No, they don’t. People are lined up and they don’t have the space for all the folks that want to work there.
That’s what you’re competing with, if your Glass Door ratings aren’t up among that range then either A, you’ve got to find a way to improve your ratings or B, you need to lower your expectations and think about how do we get B players or C players or how do we hire diamonds in the rough that we can develop?
Fred Diamond: Interestingly, you also said in the very beginning of today’s interview that companies are struggling with even knowing how to find these people. Let’s say a company decides to advertise to get some top people to come to their company in sales. How should they go about that? What’s the best way to do an advertisement?
Andy Miller: Before we get into advertisement, the strongest thing they can do is pay for referrals, pay their employees for referrals. If you say, “We sent a program, we pay them 200 bucks.” Your best new hires will come from your employees, so increase the referral fee. It’s not uncommon to say they’ve got to be there for 3 or 6 months before the referral fee is paid out, but take it up to 500 or 750 or a thousand because that’s where your best referrals are going to come from. If that’s not working or you’re not getting enough, then you need to run some ads.
Typically they’re on Job Boards nowadays, Indeed, things like that but we like the Ernest Shackleton ad and we can talk about that. Shackleton was a British explorer in a race to Antarctica and there’s some debate about whether he actually wrote the ad or not, but let’s not get into the historic of it, let’s get into the psychology of it. Here’s what the ad basically said. The ad said, “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in event of success.” That was the whole ad, they claimed they got 5,000 respondents, who knows? But if you look at the psychology of it, it talks about the hardest part, the scariest part of the journey and then it talks about the vision or the dream. That’s the power of it, and when you look at most ads that people run it’s kind of vanilla, it’s kind of boring, they don’t talk about the dream and they certainly don’t talk about the heavy lifting that has to occur.
Fred Diamond: What do you want to talk about when you do your ads? Do you want to be honest? Do you want to say it’s going to be tough or, “We’re in a tough marketplace”? How honest do you want to be when you create these ads?
Andy Miller: You need to be honest. What scares some people off inspires and motivates others, some folks are like, “Goodie, sounds like a challenge, I love a good challenge” and that’s what you want. You want people who are inspired by your situation or your scenario so tell them upfront the ugliest, hardest part and then also sell the dream because they still want to know, “What’s in it for me? Why should I take the job? I just don’t want to be a pack animal or a beast of burden.”
I’ll give an example, two years ago I was a interim sales VP for a software company out in the Midwest. They had a brand new product that they were getting ready to release but the product wasn’t finished, they needed to hire some additional top talent so we wrote a Shackleton ad and we went out there and we got a number of applicants. Basically the ad said, “Our product isn’t released yet, we have an idea of who the target market is but we haven’t tested it yet, we haven’t priced the product, we don’t have a commission plan.
Basically it’s a startup with a company that’s been around for a very long time but if we’re successful, you get stock in the company and you have a chance to make a lot of money and it’s not just talk because this CEO has done it twice before.” That’s what we did, we tried to scare them off.
Fred Diamond: Andy, I have a slightly different question here. You’ve worked with hundreds if not thousands of companies over your career, you’ve been doing sales performance improvement for over 25 years, you’ve written great articles, you have some great publications coming out on assessment. We have a lot of Sales Game Changers who are at the earlier part of their career, I’m just curious, I’m going to ask you a couple scenarios and I’m interested in your thoughts on the advantages of working for this situation. Let’s say someone’s in the early part of their career, you mentioned some large, successful companies before. What would be the advantages of working for a Microsoft or an Oracle or a huge technology company that’s already been around for 30, 40, 50 years and is already established?
Andy Miller: I think there’s two scenarios worth looking at. One is do they have a training and development program? When I say training and development I’m not just talking about product knowledge or industry knowledge. Do they really train you? Back in the 80s if you wanted to get a job in sales you would go to somebody like HP, IBM, something like that and they would put you through a year, year and a half mentorship programming. You got a lot of classroom training, you got time out in the field behind the windshield ride-alongs, you’d come back, you get more classroom training, you’d have objectives that you had to hit before you could go to the next level but they really developed their people. Those days are gone but there are still companies out there, for example, memoryBlue who’s somebody I think you interviewed recently. They really believe in developing people so that’s one advantage.
The other advantage is when you work for a big company it gives you some cache but if you want to go from big company to big company to big company, the downside is I’ve seen a lot of salespeople who’ve gone from big brand to big brand and they can’t sell. The reason for that is the brand carried them, they were never developed to meet their potential so they rode the brand and there’s nothing wrong with that as a career path if that’s the way you want to go. For me personally as an entrepreneur I’d prefer the smaller companies, that has a lot more challenge, it’s more interesting for me.
Fred Diamond: For a sales professional out there let’s say in the beginning part of their career, 25, 26 if you will and they want a great sales career, a great sales experience, what would be the advantage of working for that smaller company? Maybe there’s up to a hundred salespeople or 20 or 30, what would be the career advantages of going that route?
Andy Miller: Again, maybe they do development but I really think it comes down to knowing who you are and how you’re wired as a person. If you like places like the bigger companies where you can specialize and they have lots of resources, know that you’re going to be a very focused, almost like a subject matter expert and if you like that specialization, you’re going to be better off at a big company. If you like to wear multiple hats knowing that the smaller companies won’t have the resources and you’re going to have to help figure it out but you’re also going to get to participate more in direction, decisions and shaping things then you’re going to be better off at a small company. I really think it comes down to how you’re wired and in which environment will you thrive, not just get by but how and where will you thrive.
Fred Diamond: Before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, again we’re going to move into talking about motivation. Why are people struggling today? Again, you’ve worked with thousands of sales professionals at this point of your career. Why are salespeople struggling today?
Andy Miller: I think there’s two reasons, I think they don’t know their why, what drives them. A lot of people don’t get out of bed with fire in their belly, they just kind of get through life and then the second thing is I don’t think they’ve been mentored or developed. We over time seem to have gotten away from that at a time when it’s actually more and more important, and we can talk about that after the break.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about that for a second, though. You mentioned why, is it important for a sales leader to know his people’s why and what does that mean?
Andy Miller: Absolutely, a lot of sales leaders that I see out there are more managers of data and people and processes, particularly pipeline towards the end of the month and end of the quarter but they don’t know what puts fire in their people’s belly and why they come to work. The goal here is to tie together what does this person want to accomplish personally and how can we help them do that by working with us? I’ll give you an example, sales rep a couple years ago, they had a tiered compensation plan, she was about a thousand dollars away from the next year at which they paid retroactively and we had a week left in the quarter and I said to her, “You’re a thousand dollars short, let’s do the math. Here’s what a thousand dollars does to your commission in your pocket. I know you’re not that money motivated but if you had that money, what could you do with it that you find inspiring?”
She said, “Well, that’s actually a good question and you made me realize I’ve got a leak in our roof that’s leaking into the baby’s room, I’ve had to move the baby in with me so I’m not sleeping that well and that money would pay for a roof repair so I will go out and find the thousand” and she did. You had to connect what was in it for her with why I would like her to produce more and just tie the two together. You need to know their why, what inspires them.
Fred Diamond: I’m going to put you on the spot here before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors. What’s your why? You’ve worked with sales leaders around the world, you’ve worked with thousands, you’ve been in this game for a long time, you’re a studier, you’re a reader, you’ve written some amazing things, you’re easily one of the most thoughtful people that I’ve ever spoken to about sales. I’ve seen you speak on grit and topics like that. Just curiously for the audience here, a lot of people know you probably listening to the show, what gets you up in the morning, what gets you motivated, what is your why?
Andy Miller: I love challenge, I love the impossible. If you tell me it can’t be done, tell me what can’t be done, when you want it done by and then get out of my way. My first job out of college was a special ed teacher, I worked with the toughest of the toughest. When I moved a year up to start a software company everybody told me it couldn’t be done. I had a health issue where I fell six floors down an elevator and was paralyzed for three months, they told me I’d never walk right again and five years later I ran a marathon and same in the sales training business. I like the ugliest, messiest most difficult scenarios because that’s my sport, that’s my why. I love the challenge, give me the impossible.
Fred Diamond: I’m going to throw you off again before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors. I just mentioned grit and you’ve spoken to me about grit many times. Can you just give us a 30 second, 50 second overview on what grit means for sales professionals?
Andy Miller: GRIT to me is an acronym, some people may know the library definition of hard work or gritting up kind of thing but to me, grit’s an acronym and the G stands for growth mindset. Always be learning, always be studying, be curious, learn from your mistakes. The difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset, the growth mindset is always asking, “How do I do this? How do I make this happen? What resources do I need?”
The fixed mindset is always looking at why it won’t work so to me, that growth mindset is critical and that’s something I’ve done my whole life by accident. The R is resilience, it’s your ability to weather the storm, your ability to bounce back. You’ll see that in cold calling and rejection. If you get rejected and you take it personally and it wounds you, you may be paralyzed for half the day or the day or the week but you need to be a duck and let it just roll off your back. I don’t know if you remember the little kid’s toys, the weeble wobbles, I want you to be a weeble wobble, we get knocked over but we don’t fall down. The faster you recover, the more successful you’ll be.
I stands for intuition, it’s really about how well you can navigate situations whether that’s intuitively or you get helped to do that, I think of it more as navigation and then T is tenacity. How badly do you want it? How hard are you willing to work for it? That to me really is GRIT.
Fred Diamond: Andy, what are sales people usually motivated by? Is it money?
Andy Miller: It’s not. It used to be, I have access to data on 1.9 million salespeople and when we look at the trends, somewhere between 2007 and 2011 it actually shifted from money to intrinsic. Intrinsic is basically their own reason, their own internal which goes back to us discussing what’s their why and you’ll see a lot in millennials now, millennials want to work for something that has a social cause or a social justice, that helps them find a why if they don’t have one but they want to work for a cause. There’s something that’s happened in 2011 so that’s been 8-9 years as that shifted so we’ve got to find out what is their reason.
Fred Diamond: How can sales leadership get better? Again, on the Sales Game Changers podcast it comes up that the biggest challenge is acquiring, retaining and motivating top-tier talent. What should sales leaders be doing to get better at motivating their salespeople?
Andy Miller: I think they need to sit down and get to know them. I’m just not seeing that people know their people that much because they’re busy managing the funnel and the forecast – and not doing a very good job at it, by the way. CEO’s #1 complaint is “our forecasts aren’t accurate” so what are we really doing? You need to take time, you need to sit down, you need to get to know your people, you need to get to know what’s going on in their life. There’s that old cliché of people caring, so they need to know that you care.
Once you do that and you can figure out what they’re trying to accomplish in life, they will work for managers that care and you will know how to guide them. We don’t live in a society anymore where people work for a company cradle to grave, they’re going to be with you for a couple years, there’s going to be a point where you outgrow them or they outgrow you and when it’s time for somebody to leave, the employees watch how you handle that. If you’re helping the move out and onto something better, that’s noticed. If you’re brutal and mercenary about it, that’s also noticed and then we’re back to, “Is that an A player culture or not?”
Fred Diamond: Just curiously, you mentioned people aren’t really going to places cradle to grave anymore, it’s very rare to see that for a lot of reasons that our guests know. The younger sales professionals out there, what would be some of the specific things that you might do to retain them, to show them that you really do care?
Andy Miller: I think it comes through in the interview, from the very beginning. There’s a term that’s out there now about the candidate experience, I think that candidate experience starts from the very beginning and it comes from the interview, especially if you’re the interviewing/hiring manager that they’re going to work for, I would want to get to know them. That’s the first thing, as a younger person I’d also want to look for, “Do they develop their people?” and when I say develop it’s not just a three day event on how to enter stuff into our order entry system or our CRM, it’s ongoing repetition, reinforcement, coaching, mentoring, development.
Fred Diamond: You’ve had a really good career, I’m just curious, what would you tell the 25 year old Andy Miller about how to become a better sales professional?
Andy Miller: Two things. We talked about grit already and to me it’s the grit part. Sometimes at 25 you don’t know what you want out of life and there’s people in their 50s and 60s that don’t know what they want out of life [Laughs] so welcome to the club. I think it’s pick a goal even if it’s just going to be a goal for the next couple years, follow the GRIT acronym that we talked about and there’s a book that I read – I was thinking about all the books that I’ve read because I’ve read a lot – the one book that sticks in my mind of really making a difference is a book called The Aladdin Factor like Aladdin and his magic lamp. That was written by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, the guys who did the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, but before that.
The book is focused on salespeople, it was a study on salespeople and the book was about asking. How often do we ask for what we want? Why don’t we ask, why do we ask, how frequently do we do it? It made a profound difference on me because when I read the book I thought, “Is this true?” Let’s experiment, let’s assume what I’m reading in this book is true and I’m going to pretend for one week that I’m an alien that’s beamed down from outer space and I don’t know the culture, I don’t know the language, I don’t know the taboos or the values or the mores so why don’t I just try for one week and ask for everything that I want?
I was dumbfounded on how easy it was, there were famous people I always wanted to meet, I just picked up the phone and tracked them down and got a conversation with all of them. I was shocked at how easily accessible they were. Another one, I was looking for a list of all the computers and I was living in Europe at the time, you could not buy a list of the companies that had the kind of computers we were targeting so I actually called up the manufacturer, sat down with the product manager, asked if I could get access to the list. He said no, we had a great lunch, great time talking and then a week later a list showed up at my office with no name or no return address of all the computers in Europe that I’d been asking for. It’s really amazing how easy it is to get access to what you want if you just ask. What I would tell my younger self: go read The Aladdin Factor and be gritty about what you want.
Fred Diamond: I’m going to check that, that’s pretty powerful. Before I ask you for your final thought to inspire our listeners today, again, I’ve said this many times, you’re a student of sales. As a matter of fact, we actually just spent a little bit of time in your office and you must have had close to a thousand books just on sales and leadership so it’s a pretty enviable bookshelf there that I would like to have at some point. Tell us about one of your selling habits, a selling habit or two that you feel have led to your sales success.
Andy Miller: I’ve got a couple thoughts on that. One is get curious about everything, get curious about your customer, get curious about their industry, get curious about their business model. I find curiosity to be a really great habit for a salesperson. Second thing is always be learning and improving. What I love about sales is you’re either growing or you’re dying, you’ve got to constantly be studying, researching and I don’t care whether it’s about sales or psychology or influence or human relations but always be improving.
Another one, ask for what you want, we already talked about that, asking is a whole lot easier than we make it out to be. The last two thoughts are know your industry better than anybody else, you need to know your industry better than the client knows the industry which now establishes you as a subject matter expert. The last part is outwork everybody. Right now I’ve got an assessment that I sell amongst many different assessments that I sell and I’m ranked in the top 10 out of about 140 and I’m shocked because I’m only doing it part time and they’re all doing it full time. The point I’m trying to make is outwork everybody.
Fred Diamond: We talked today with Andy Miller from Big Swift Kick on the Sales Game Changers podcast, we talked about acquiring, motivating and retaining top tier talent. Andy, I hope I didn’t confuse you and you just gave us your final thought [Laughs] but we’ve got Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, we’re very lucky, we have people all over the world listening to the podcast. Why don’t you give us one final thought? Pick out one, give us one final thought to inspire them today.
Andy Miller: I think professional sales is amazing. Somebody says, “What do you do for a living?” and sometimes I see people shy away from, “I’m in sales” or I look at their business card and it says “business development” or it’s got some fancy term and I go, “Oh, you’re in sales” and they kind of turn red and shy away a little bit. I think professional sales is amazing. The difference you can make for people, the lifestyle that you can have, the learning that you get to make, I think it’s an amazing career. We don’t need to go through all the schooling that a doctor or lawyer has and yet we can live as well, if not better. Yee-haw for professional sales.