Website - Ep11 Dave Kurlan Creating Salesstar Podcast

Ep11. Dave Kurlan. The Power of Listening and Practice

Join Pete Evans as he speaks to Objective Management Group founder and CEO Dave Kurlan.

In a very insightful episode, the pair talk about the origins of sales candidate assessments and the launch of OMG in the early nineties. Looking back at almost 50 years of experience in the sales industry, Dave talks about the development of listening, the importance of practicing and looks at the comparisons between baseball and sales in relation to mindset and coaching.

 

About our Guest

Dave Kurlan is a top-rated speaker, best selling author, radio show host, successful entrepreneur and sales development industry pioneer. He was inducted into the Sales & Marketing Hall of Fame in 2012. Dave is the founder and CEO of Objective Management Group, Inc. Dave is also the CEO of Kurlan & Associates, Inc., an international consulting firm specialising in sales force development. He possesses 49 plus years of experience in all facets of sales development, including consulting, training, coaching, recruiting, systems, processes, and metrics.

Dave has been a top-rated speaker at Inc. Magazine’s Conference on Growing the Company, the Sales & Marketing Management Conference, the Sales 2.0 Conference, Inbound, and the Gazelles/Fortune Sales & Marketing Summit.

He has been featured on radio, television and in print, including World Business Review, Inc. Magazine, Selling Power Magazine, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine and Incentive Magazine. Dave is a columnist at Top Sales Magazine.

About our Host

Pete Evans has over 20 years sales experience with a successful corporate sales career. If you’re involved in B2B selling, cold calling, sales recruitment, sales training, sales coaching, sales transformation or have a desire to grow your business then this podcast is for you.

Pete is currently MD and Practice Partner of SalesStar UK. SalesStar combines sales training with sales coaching to deliver long term results in line with your sales strategy so you can smash your targets and grow top line revenue. SalesStar works with growth minded CEOs and sales leaders who are frustrated with their sales results and are looking for a proven system to grow sales.

Episode Transcript

Oliver Eaton | Pete Evans | Dave Kurlan

Welcome to the Creating SalesStars Podcast. Each week, our host, Pete Evans, will be joined by some of the big and upcoming names within the sales industry. This is brought to you by SalesStar UK.

[MUSIC]

Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to this week’s edition of the creating sales stars podcast. This week we’ve got a very special guest. Dave Kurlan, the CEO and founder of Objective Management Group OMG as we refer to it, who probably undertaken the biggest piece of research into what makes salespeople successful. Having evaluated and assessed over 2.2 million salespeople over the last 30 years. So, Dave, welcome to this week’s podcast and for the benefit of our listeners, could you just start off by telling us why you got started and why you set up Objective Management Group?

Well, sure, Pete, first, Thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it. Thanks for thinking of me. I got started almost by accident. I had my own sales training company from 1985 to 1990. And during that time, probably like your company. I was working with presidents and CEOs of companies, and I remember this. Turning point, this one moment where we were in a conversation to train a company sales organisation and the president said, you know, before we do any training, would you be willing to interview all my salespeople? And I said, why? He said, well, you’re a sales expert, I’m a manufacturing guy. You probably know better than me. Whether I’ve got people who shouldn’t be trained, can’t be trained, won’t respond, shouldn’t be in sales and the ones who should be in sales and will respond to the training. What kind of help are they going to need? I said that makes sense to me. So we did that evaluation, and at that time, that was just me interviewing each salesperson and asking questions to sort of diagnose where I felt they were. So it turned out to be very accurate. The president generally agreed with what I told them that these three people shouldn’t be in sales and these four, we’re not going to respond to anything we did, but there were 15 there. That we could work with and we worked with them and they did great. And I found that the training I provided at that time was more tailored. We didn’t have those seven people in the room who are going to fight it because they weren’t part of the training. So we went faster, we went wider, we went deeper, we had more fun and we got results more quickly. So the next time I found myself in a scenario with a president and he wanted me to start training his team, I said, you know, before we start training, are you OK if I interview everybody? And he said, why would you want to do that? I said, well, based on my experience, I might be able to share. If you have some people who shouldn’t be in sales, some people who won’t respond to training, and of the folks who should be here and will respond. Figure out what specifically they’re going to need in terms of help in order to make the training more effective. So basically repeated the entire process and have the same result. So I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I’m not totally stupid. So I figured we were on to something, so I continued that process. And then there there’s just too much of it to keep doing with interviews. So it moved to a paper and pencil survey and then other sales trainers learned about what I was doing and wanted to know if they could do it. So I started a separate company, Objective Management Group, and we made it a more formal assessment. And that was 1990. And from those primitive roots, we’ve developed that into the foremost Gold Star Award winning unique sales team evaluation tool and sales candidate assessment tool on the planet.

Thanks for that introduction, It’s interesting you talk about sales assessment, and there were a lot of our clients in the UK who used the sales candidate assessment and recruitment seems to be becoming more of a challenge over companies wanting to hire great salespeople. In your opinion, why do you think that is?

I, if it’s anything like the conditions that we have in the United states, then there are just very few salespeople who are looking to move right now. Business has been booming since we came out of COVID lockdowns, salespeople haven’t had to work, especially hard to make sales. They’ve been able to basically take orders. There’s been pent up demand. So there aren’t a lot of candidates and of the candidates that are out there, they’re largely crappy candidates. So that’s made recruiting good salespeople very challenging right now.

And what advice would you give to, you know, to companies that are looking to hire in terms of how they can increase the effectiveness in terms of even attracting great candidates?

Well, there are a number of factors right now. First, in general, they need to be patient. They can’t just take the first available body because they’ll find themselves starting over again in six to eight months. Second, they must use the OMG sales candidate assessment so that they’ll know whether they’re dealing with an imposter or the real thing, because most salespeople are pretty good at interviewing and pretty good at those phone screens. And if they’ve got a good personality, they can pretty easily convince a hiring manager that they’re the right one. But as we all know, the best sales they ever make is the one where they get the job. So patience, selection, and number three, you’ve got to get the right candidates into the candidate pool, so that requires a very specific kind of job posting where you’re able to describe the candidate and the capabilities they have, rather than describing the company and the benefits that you’re offering. And number four, if you need a good formal process that starts with the creation of the job specs and ends with some really comprehensive onboarding that isn’t for a day or a week or a month, but onboarding that lasts for a year.

So just mentioned personality, and we often hear companies say, you know Pete, we need somebody who’s really extroverted, do you, in your opinion? Obviously, based on the research and data the OMG has got? Do you think being an extrovert is really important in selling?

Well, first, let’s talk about the difference between an extrovert and an introvert, because most people don’t understand. Most people think extroverts. They’re outgoing introverts. They keep to themselves. And while there’s some truth to that, the real differentiator is that extroverts get energy from being with people. And introverts use energy to be with people. It’s just harder if you’re an introvert. However, introverts as a rule have much better listening skills. And I’m much more likely to ask better questions where extroverts just love to talk. So based on that definition, introverts make better salespeople. Extroverts may be a little better at getting conversation started. So I wouldn’t sit here and say, go out, find yourself an extrovert. Just like I wouldn’t say, go out and find yourself an introvert, find yourself a great salesperson that fits the role you need to fill.

So what Dave, one of the competencies that in terms of sales DNA that OMG measures is staying in the moment, which is obviously to do with, you know, great listening skills and then being able to follow up with the right question. A great question. Why do you think the salespeople struggle with staying, you know, staying in the moment when they’re in a meeting with a prospect or client?

That’s a good question, Pete. Most salespeople are more concerned with themselves and making the sale than they are with the prospect and listening to their issues. So they’re typically treating a sales call or a sales meeting like a chess game, and they’re thinking two three four five moves ahead. They’re thinking about the next things they’re going to say and the next things they want to ask and the next things they want to do instead of being right here right now instead of being present actively listening to what the prospect is saying so that they can formulate the next question that goes wider and deeper than where they are right at this moment. So they’re not even aware that they need to do anything differently. And when they do develop that awareness that they need to listen instead of talk, they don’t really know how nobody has ever shown them or demonstrated to them what that looks like or sounds like.

In your opinion, do you think listening is a skill that can really be developed through practice, i.e. true listening?

Oh Yeah. For example. I used to be a musician in my past life. I was a trumpet player. And I was as good at reading sheet music on site as anybody put it in front of me. I can read it and play it accurately, but take it away from me. And I couldn’t play, I didn’t have the ear. To take what I was hearing in my head and make that come out of my horn. Whereas a lot of musicians, good ones can play by ear. So fast forward to when I got into this business in the 1980s and I found out I really needed to develop my listening skills because the same thing, my inability to play by ear went along with my inability to listen. You know, most people know the words of all the popular songs I could only hum them. I never knew the words for the same reason wasn’t listening. I knew the melodies, but never knew the words to songs. So I’m an example of someone who worked like hell to develop their listening skills and develop them to such a degree. I think I’ve got among the best listening skills of anybody on the planet. But it was an evolution. It was a journey, and it required constant practice and diligence and consistency and focus and commitment.

Dave, you’ve used that word practice, which is a word that a lot of the people that I’ve interviewed on this podcast have talked about. Why do you think? Why do you think salespeople are reluctant to role play and practice?

I think number one, salespeople are a little overconfident in their own ability and a little over impressed with themselves. Two: They think it’s a waste of time because when they’re practicing, they’re not selling, and three role playing is simply the scariest thing in the world to most salespeople. As you know, when we try to get a sales person to role play, it’s hard enough to get them to role play the prospects part. Never mind. Get them to jump in and play a salesperson part. You were part of the most recent OMG international conference and we had 200 sales experts in attendance at that virtual conference, and I asked for volunteers to role with me, and I only have one volunteer out 200 people and these are among people who teach people to role play. It was scary.

And what do you think could help remove some of the fear for salespeople in terms of getting involved in role players? Because often what I hear from some of our clients salespeople are we don’t want to do role plays because it’s not like real life.

I think it’s very much like real life. I think it’s great practice for real life. And when a salesperson plays a prospect, they’re generally more difficult than real prospects, not less difficult than real prospects. So we role play the very scenarios they have the most difficulty dealing with in real life. And when they hear what good sounds like and they hear it frequently enough, they’re able to repeat those good conversations, not word for word, but they’ll know what to ask. They’ll know what to say, they’ll know what to listen for. And then when we get salespeople playing the sales part and we can tweak their performance as they go along, it makes them aware of what they’re missing. From not listening and from trying to jump ahead all the time.

So you’ve raised another interesting topic, though, which is about feedback, and I’ve heard you say many times the sales managers should be investing at least 50% of the time coaching their salespeople. Yet, the stats from OMG seem to indicate that most organisations are wide of the mark. Why do you think organisations are reluctant to allow their sales managers the time to coach effectively?

I think what you just said holds the key. You asked why I think most organisations are reluctant to give their sales managers the time to role play. I don’t think most organisations are reluctant to give their sales managers the time. I think most sales managers are reluctant to dig into the coaching because they’re not very good at coaching. They’re not very impactful with their coaching. The sales managers think it’s a waste of time to do coaching, and it’s hard work to coach because when you’re coaching the salesperson, you’ve got to be present in the moment listening and you have to know where to take that conversation. Because coaching isn’t just having a salesman, a salesperson, check in with you and tell you what’s going on and get your blessings. It’s to coach them up, to make them better, to give them more tools to develop their awareness as to what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong and how to do it more effectively. So that’s just not what sales managers have been taught to do, and they’re stubborn and their egos are in the way and they don’t like change, so they tend not to do these things.

And what about the concepts- and we refer to this in sports terms of having a player manager, so a sales manager who is responsible for the overall team target but also carries their own personal quota? What do you think of that concept?

Oh, you know, there’s three salespeople in the company. The sales manager definitely has time to carry personal accounts and have a quota. But if a sales manager is managing six, eight, ten salespeople, there is no time for that sales manager to be selling that sales manager needs to be coaching and managing and holding salespeople accountable for everything they do.

And have you come across this scenario of clients where they’ve got, you know, sales managers, you’ve got six to eight salespeople, yet they’re still carrying a target?

Yeah, that’s just. Unproductive you know, why, why make that sales manager a sales manager? Put them back in sales if you want them to sell. But don’t expect them to have any kind of impact managing a team. Whatever the team does is just pure luck, it’s not the sales manager’s doing.

So Dave, you clearly have been in sales slightly longer than me?

Since 1973.

Wow, that’s fantastic.

So we’re a year away from 50.

Yeah so you’ve obviously seen a lot of change. And you know, particularly in the last few years, there have been some great advances in the use of use of technology. We live in it. We live in a digital world where we can be, you know, constantly interrupted. Have you really seen the benefits of technology and support in the sales process? Or do you think that technology has encouraged or made people made salespeople get a bit lazy? Because I remember when I first started in sales where I have to drive around industrial estates to pick up leads and opportunities and pick up compliments? Let us know. We’ve got a plethora of different tools, you know, particularly LinkedIn, to help us prosper. Do you think do you think technology perhaps made salespeople a bit lazy?

I think technology has made sales people very lazy, you know, and I love technology. I’m a gadget guy. I’m a tech guy. I love using the latest tools. But you know, there are only there are only a few tools that are really must haves. And the rest of it, it’s just technology for the sake of technology, and salespeople could do fine with a limited stack. I mean, you do need a stack. You don’t want to go back to the days where all your prospects were on 3 by 5 cards in a file box and you’re making hand notes on by 5 cards. You know, having a single calendar that syncs across all your devices, having a to do list that has a tree function and sorting function that syncs across all your devices. Those are crucial. Having sales person friendly CRM like Membrain that you can access from any device that keeps your sales opportunities right in front of you and shows you where you are in the process and gives you the next play, those are necessary, but. Beyond that, I think every additional tool is overkill, and some companies, you know, just go too crazy. LinkedIn is a good example of LinkedIn, and inbound leads are probably the biggest examples of tools and outcomes that make sales people lazy, sitting around waiting for those inbound leads to come in so that you can follow up on them. Most of those leads just suck, and I think that good salespeople would be more effective to just pick up the phone and make calls than spending time following up on those horrible inbound leads.

Why do you think there’s a reluctance these days for salespeople to pick up the phone? Know, and we see it a lot when talking to both our prospects and clients in the UK. Why do you think there’s a reluctance these days to actually just pick up the phone to get cut-through to a decision maker-

-picking up and making calls is miserable grunt work? You know, if a salesperson can say it’s beneath me and and say, and besides, I’ve got all these inbound leads, and why should they pick up the phone when they can hide behind their monitor and use their keyboard to follow up on leads via email? I mean, it’s horrible. Look at the productivity of salespeople with all the technology we have, productivity is way down and effectiveness is way down and closing rates are way down. So you can’t convince me that inbound leads are the answer. So, you know, left to their own devices, if there’s another way of doing it, if there’s another way of scheduling meeting sales, people will find it and we’d follow up is far more appealing to them, even if it’s less effective than making cold calls.

So, Dave, I want to come back to sales leadership, you know, because people often talk about the culture of an organisation is created by the leaders in the organisation. Do you think that the sales leaders have play a significant role in terms of, you know, creating the success of the sales function or organisation? Or is it easier for them to blame poor sales managers and poor salespeople?

I think sales leaders have the potential to be those kinds of people. But generally, the expectation hasn’t been set that they need to be that person. They haven’t been giving the training, the coaching or the skills to be that person. So it’s just a lot easier to make excuses.

And whose responsibility is it, you know, for the listeners, therefore, for those people who actually receive the right training and coaching and development?

CEO, Chief Revenue Officers, Senior VP of worldwide sales in a small company. The president. But it’s hard to blame the sales managers if the sales managers don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing, that’s different from what they’re doing. It’s not their fault.

And you say, obviously, you’ve dealt with a wide array of businesses over the start that you mentioned of 50 years. Do you?

Well, now I’m feeling really old now Pete. We were going just fine until we got to that 50 year and now I’m just sitting here going, oh, that’s way too long to be doing this.

Yeah you mentioned that before! Do you see any sort of cultural differences between the US, Europe and the Asia-Pacific. Do you see any differences culturally in terms of sales competences amongst salespeople and sales managers?

Yeah, the data shows that the US is ahead of Europe. And Europe is ahead of Asia in just in terms of how long it takes for best practices in the United States to work their way around the world.

And why do you think the US, you know, in your opinion, is sort of leading ahead of Europe, then do you think that we don’t view sales as much of a profession in Europe as you do in the US?

You know, I think and here’s the technology piece again, technology has connected us. All right. So with virtual platforms, if we’re using zoom, for example, then you in England are just as close to my next door neighbour here in Massachusetts, in the United States that I am right. There’s no difference. Once we’re either on a cell phone or on a video platform, we’re the same. So prior to that, I think best practices were much slower to spread. People in Europe had to literally come to the United States and see what we were doing here and bring it back home. And then the same with Asia. But I think in the last 10 years, as technology has connected us all, that gap is closing. And we’re much closer to having the same capabilities as we have in the United States.

So, Dave, I know that you are a very avid sports fan having visited your office and seeing all the sporting memorabilia you’ve got in your office and I know you’re a keen baseball fan and follow of the Red Sox. So what lessons do you think organisations can learn about sales from sports?

Well I think. That one of the things we see in sports. And we see it a lot are second efforts. We see somebody get beat. You know, whether it’s on a play, whether it’s in a sequence and we see them bounce right back and take advantage of the moment and come Back Better and stronger, either in the next play, the next quarter, the next encounter or the next game. And it’s a resilience that athletes have that I think salespeople could learn from because most salespeople just give up way too early. We see that in prospecting it today. It takes as many as 15 attempts to reach someone in the c-suite, but most salespeople give up after four. You know, that just wouldn’t happen in sports. You mentioned baseball, and I know that’s not a big sport in England, or even in Europe, but in baseball, a batter could strikeout four times today, and they’re not going to give up. They’re not going to quit baseball. They’re not going to. Have a fit over that, they’re going to go to the cage and they’re going to take extra batting practice and figure out what they were doing wrong and fix it and come Back Better and stronger in the next game, and salespeople have way too many of them just give up and. Hide out their tail between their legs. It affects their confidence and they’re even worse in their next sales meeting, so mental toughness is something salespeople can learn from sports. I think the other thing is sports coaching. I think coaches are much tougher on their players than sales managers are on their salespeople. They’re constantly coaching them up and constantly running drills. They’re constantly running practices. They’re constantly holding those players accountable to perform at their highest. And if they don’t perform, they’re benched. And I think sales managers could learn a lot from that, too.

So I mean, the whole transference of what we can learn from sort of sports coaching into business and particularly the sales function. You know, it’s something that fascinates me and that sort of-

-allow me to turn the table. You brought it up. You ask the question, what do you think that we could learn from sports?

Well, I definitely think mindset. You know, I think this whole issue of resilience, but I think what I do note is that knowing, you know, some sports coach in the UK and ex-professional sportspeople, the element, the element of coaching and particularly feedback, I mean, I’m a big, big rugby league fan. And you know what a rugby league player that there are no said, you know, every Monday, what happens after the game on a Saturday or Sunday is we sit down with the coaching team and we do an analysis of what’s happened in the game and says is actually quite brutal feedback about how we’ve let each other down if we’ve lost the game. You know, the plays that didn’t go well, and he said he doesn’t. This individual is retired and he says, but this doesn’t happen in business. He said, he said, is that experience of working with businesses is that they flower up the feedback and they’re not as brutal or soft with it. And he said, I actually think that if businesses were able to take 10% of what happens in the sports coaching environment into business, those businesses would perform better because they would be honest in the feedback about what’s going wrong. And he said, that’s the thing businesses need to apply. So I that’s something that they might expect to work in with sales teams. If we could be more candid with the feedback and perhaps sometimes brutal about what’s going wrong. And I think what’s also interesting is that I think it’s easier for salespeople to hide these days in organisations where if you’re in sport, it’s a lot harder to. And this individual that I interviewed on the podcast recently asked him, why do you think it is? Salespeople don’t like practice? And he said, he said he said if salespeople suddenly have to appear on television in people’s homes every week in front of a million people watching on TV. He said they would practice, he said, because he’d be a professional sports person. You’re appearing on TV every weekend, you know, you’re in people’s homes. And I thought, that’s something that’s really stuck with me because I think salespeople don’t want to practice yet. In professional sports, you have to practice, you have to practice. But the play is the rules you mentioned about the drills as well, Dave, you know, I think practice practice makes you perfect. And I think, you know, some of the questions I’ve asked around, some things I learnt early on in my career, which is about practice, practice together in role plays and then teams. And there so much that I’ve learned in those early days. And I think for me, technology has made people lazy.

I think you’re right now. I attended a golfing school a long time ago, probably 10, 12, maybe 15 years ago, and I don’t remember the name of the school. I don’t remember the name of the Pro who owned the school. But one thing I learned that stuck with me, he said practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. So if you’re not practicing right? That’s still going to be permanent, however you practice it, that’s what’s going to stick. So practice it right?

Yeah, I love that expression. I’ve just I’ve just thought of that one. So, Dave, if you were coaching a lot of rookie sales manager, what’s the what’s the one piece of advice that you would really give that manager to help them be get on the road to success?

I tell them to go back into sales.

Why is that?

So you’ll make more money selling and he’ll have a lot less aggravation. You’ll be in total control of your destiny. As a sales manager, you lose control. It’s more frustrating and you’ll make less money.

But what about the people who actually just have a passion for developing people?-

-Those are the ones who will say, but I want to be a sales manager, I want to help people grow. I want to help make salespeople successful. And then those are the people who should be in sales management.

So if you’ve got somebody like that who is new to sales management, what is it? Apart from, I advise him to go back into sales. What’s the second piece of advice would say?

Forget everything about what you think of sales manager should be. And wrap your arms around the fact that your job is to coach people up and you need to do whatever it takes in a short period of time as possible to become a master at coaching people up.

And my last question is, what do you think it takes for somebody to get to mastery level in coaching as the sales manager?

And now we’ve gone full circle because the key to that is to become a master at role play. And I believe that effectiveness of conducting and coaching from a role play is in direct proportion to how quickly and how effectively you can coach people to success. Just like just like a sports coach, if it’s baseball, they can a hitting coach can break down a swing and show the hitter their mechanics and find a hole in their swing and then rebuild the swing. They’re not going into the game and hitting for them. They’re showing them how to improve their swing and then working with them to improve their swing. Sales managers think that developing sales people is about going in and doing the close for them. It’s totally backwards. That doesn’t work at all. That might get you the short term deal, but it doesn’t make you salespeople any better. It teaches them to be dependent on you.

Yeah, I remember how to. Sales manager was in corporate sales with an investment company called Vincent, and we had a we had a meeting with a prospect and sales manager was Irish, and so was the prospect. And we went this meeting, which lasted three hours and we got back in the car and the salesman said, let’s do a debrief. How do you think that went? I said, well, I wouldn’t know. And he said, why? I said, well, Vincent, you did 95% of the talking. I said, I just said Hello and goodbye. And it was really it was really, really did I do that much talking? I said, yeah, we could. All the notes I’ve taken from the questions that you asked. And then he said, kind of come to the presentation meeting and I said, no, I said, I’m more than competent to present on my own without you being present. And you said there was a real learn for him, we said, because nobody had ever given him that sort of feedback.

That’s great.

So, so, Dave, thank you so much for being a guest on the Creating Sales Stars Podcast this week. If people want to reach out to you and find out more about Dave Kurlan or Objective Management Group, what is the best place to find you?

Well, I would send them to my blog. There’s 2000 articles that help people understand how I think talks a lot about the data, the statistics, the numbers that make sales people effective and ineffective. So a lot of the writing uses data, and a lot of the writing uses life experiences as a segue into that data. So go to the blog. It’s at OMG.com. And if you want to reach out to me directly, the best way is my email address dkurlan@objectivemanagement.com

OK, that’s great. So thank you. Thank you so much again, Dave.

[MUSIC]

Thanks for listening. This podcast was brought to you by SalesStar and hosted by Pete Evans. For more information about what we can offer you head to our website at salesstar.com/UK. You can also find us on all social media platforms just by searching for SalesStar UK.

Credits

Presenter and Producer: Pete Evans
Special Guest: Dave Kurlan
Producer and Intro/Outro Voiceover: Oliver Eaton
Podcast Editor: Alex Mullen

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