In today’s fast-evolving news media advertising sales departments, finding and developing a strong team of digital marketing experts, business problem-solvers, and business development sellers is crucial.

John Henley, founder and principal of the Center for Sales Strategy, outlined the best practices around finding, selecting, and developing sales talent in an exclusive Webinar for INMA members on Friday.

Finding

The foundation of finding superstar sellers is to know what you are looking for, Henley said. After 20 years of study and collaboration with Talent Plus, Henley and his company have identified five areas that define the foundation of strong team members.

1. Drives and values: This category is broken down into achiever, competition, and responsibility.

“You’ve got the drives and then values. And when you have really good superstar sellers, they have a nice balance between the two,” Henely said. “They’re driven either by one or both of achiever and competition, but they also have high levels of responsibility.”

Knowing these foundational skills can help a manager identify soft spots in an employee’s skill set, he added.

“Sometimes when we hear organisations talk about ‘I see flashes of brilliance from this person but I don’t see a consistent, sustained, strong, effort month-in month-out constantly trying to improve and grow,’ generally it’s where someone’s a little softer in these areas of achiever and competition.”

2. Work style: Henley defines work style as a combination of work ethic and discipline. People who feel energised by work and excel at managing their time are strong in this category: “Typically some amount of strength here is what you’re going to find in superstar sellers,” he said.

3. People acumen: This is divided into positivity, relationship, individualiser.

“We break this down into positivity, but really that contagious enthusiasm and people who see opportunities and challenges constantly kind of thinking about how we are going to get this done, how are we going to meet the challenge,” Henley said.

Someone who takes time to get to know their clients holds the essence of relationship skills needed to fill this category. Going beyond that, Henley said individualisers leverage those relationship skills to deliver results.

“They’re really paying attention to what the person’s trying to get out of this, that they’re dealing with, and how do they tailor their solution to make sure that person wins.”

4. Influencer: Activators and accelerators fit into this category.

“The activator is really that bias to actions and someone who’s really persistent, solution-oriented, and the accelerator is somebody who is really looking to satisfy the client but also getting paid for the sale,” Henley said. “That’s something they think about and is important to them, and really this notion of ‘how do you anticipate and remove barriers along the way?’.”

5. Thought process: This category is filled with learners and problem solvers.

This is an interesting area because, before business disruption, media sales superstars knew the product and did not have to learn on a regular basis, Henley said: “We saw this pop up in our latest study, where we studied superstars versus strugglers, and we saw that people who have this ability crave knowledge and seek mastery, and they analyse mistakes and try to avoid them, and they’re inquisitive about solutions.”

The talent assessment his company uses with clients to find superstar sellers based on the above foundation has been highly successful, Henley said.

“We found 94.7% of our clients that said ‘this person that we hired turned into a superstar was recommended on our assessment,’” he said. “I think what that means for this groups is that those talents that I just ran through, and that we identified, those really are talents in this environment that are helping people become superstars at the job.”

Where managers are finding superstars

Henley ran through the top five places managers are finding talent:

  1. Referrals.
  2. LinkedIn.
  3. Advertising.
  4. Competitors.
  5. Internal recruitment/HR.

Many may be familiar, Henley said, but some have become more popular over time. The use of LinkedIn as a talent-finding tool has dramatically increased, he added, and it can be a smart place to outline what an organisation is looking for in an employee.

“Writing a great headline that describes you, and, especially if you’re a leader, about how you go about growing and developing people and setting a culture of engagement — all those things are the things you want to do to attract candidates,” he said.

Selecting

Putting more effort into seeking out potential candidates could create a good problem for a company as it looks to select the best from the bunch, Henley said. Talent, he added, should be the guiding selection factor.

“What we have seen by and large is that talent is a more important predictor for future success than skills, experiences, or relationships,” Henley said.

Innate talent that meets the previous aspects he listed may not be superstar sellers the moment they are hired if they lack experience, but they hold great potential.

“What turns into strength and superstar performance is when you have all these things working together,” he said.

Asking the right questions during an interview can give a sense of where someone’s skills are strong and where they may be softer. Henley outlined questions that speak to all of the areas a superstar seller should have some skill. (Those questions can be found in Henley’s presentation slides

Developing

Developing top talent can be broken into three key components, Henley said.

1. Clear sales process: Henley’s team believes in a clear sales process, he said. His company’s process, called Sales Accelerator (born from a study over the last several years), is built on observations about what steps superstar sellers are using.

“What you really want to create is task tension, so we talked about it in the sense of how do you move the process as fast as you can, hence the name Sales Accelerator, but doing it from a platform of relationship so that we can quickly get into task tension and really not just build relationship tension.”

Henley focused on one piece of the process, showing a proposal template to outline that speaks to a desired business result and outlines a clear measure of success.

“We’re clearly speaking to that desired result spoken in a way that they are looking for it to get accomplished,” Henley said.

2. Individualised coaching: “Real exponential power is where you add the individualised coaching to it,” Henley said.

He suggested that if a team member is soft on a talent that is lowering their performance, building steps to success into their process can help them improve. For example, building mini-closes into a proposal or rehearsing successful sales if a person is soft on closures could help build skills and boost immediate performance.

The Webinar’s moderator, Andy Lobred, chief revenue officer at Advance Local, pointed out that sometimes managers struggle because they were great sellers and may not have had experience addressing individual team member’s needs.

Henley agreed the job is tough at that level, but said coaching has to be reinforced from the top. Holding coaching clinics could partner managers with senior leaders to bolster those coaching skills.

“If I’m looking at leaders in my organisation that could be future senior leaders, I want to know if they have a track record of attracting great new talent to the organisation that are performing really well,” he said. “Do we have evidence of them growing and developing people that were at this level of performance when they start working with them and then have gone on to this level.” 

3. Culture of engagement: A culture of engagement increases performance and improves retention, Henley said. To do so, a company must use its mission and values as a starting point.

“They also can be great recruiting magnets as well if you really take those and those become known in the organisation,” Henley added.

He also shared two tactical engagement techniques: High Five Fridays and First Friday Culture Call.

High Five Fridays could be centered around mission and values or could allow staff to call attention to each other for positive things they’ve observed during the week. First Friday Culture Call can help remind normally dispersed staff that they part of an organisation, welcome new employees, or celebrate anniversaries.

“This whole culture of engagement has just become increasingly important,” he said.

Q&A

Question: How you build and share results with an external partner? How do you set expectations with a new industry or client?

Henley: I’ll answer that a couple of ways. One of the things I’ve seen in organisations is, I’ll go into an organization, and let’s stick with the home service category, and I’ll hear three or four managers and sellers talking about fantastic success they’ve had with home services and are able to demonstrate very clearly how that’s driving business in a predictable way. I’ll then talk to two or three other people in the organisation and they say, “Oh, yeah, I can’t do that because I didn’t sell that client.” And I’m thinking, you know, that’s crazy. That’s where I would have my team rehearsing a client success that we’ve had so everybody owns that.

The other thing I’ll say is, I’ve suggested to a couple folks who really get that are good at that and if you made a couple proposals that were somewhat generic, you could lead with the prospect in an unfamiliar category and say:

“Here’s how I do business. Here’s what you could expect from me. This is what the recaps going to look like. You’re going have to help me in your business. Maybe I’m less familiar with it. We’re going have to work on this together and it may not go exactly the way the desired result.” You’re going, with these recaps, to get to where we’re trying to get.

Question: What are some of the best employee referral programmes you’ve seen?

Henley: The best examples I’ve seen where that referral process works well is typically with a more direct customer, a large bank or hospital or car dealer that we have a direct relationship with. We know that if somebody sold them something, that it took some work to sell them a solution — going directly to those folks and saying, “I’m curious with these other people that have stood out, that you bought solutions from them, that it’s been a good experience: Who was the seller on the other side of that equation?” When managers have gone and done that with clients that they’ve started to build some relationship with, I’ve heard great stories of people getting referrals from doing that.