(If you would like to read the discussion between Kimberly and Alan, the video transcription is at the bottom of the page.)
If you are a veteran sales manager in the home building industry, have you ever wondered how you stack up? Maybe you are a General Sales Manager and aspire to take it to the next level or perhaps you are in sales with aspirations of becoming a sales leader. If so, this is the conversation for you. Kimberly Mackey is joined by veteran sales leader, Alan Beulah, Vice-president of Sales and Marketing for M/I Homes in Charlotte, NC to talk about what it takes to separate a leader from a manager. We invite you to join us LIVE for the next Head-to-Head so that you can take part in the conversation. Head-to-Head is not a podcast or a webinar, it is a conversation and you are always invited. To learn more and register for upcoming events, visit https://NewHomesSolutions.com/head-to-head. If you want to learn more about the Lead from the Side Leadership Development Academy, please email info@NewHomesSolutions.com.
Kimberly: All right. We have so much to do, and it’s already a minute after. This is going to be a good one. I see Bill Panebianco on here too. Hey, Bill. Go Vols in Chattanooga! Let’s go ahead and get this party started if you’re ready, Alan. We’ll get our business out of the way as they say. Let me share my screen so we can get those slides going. Today is all about becoming a rock-star sales leader, and I am so excited to have Alan Beulah who is a rockstar sales leader join us. You’ve been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, right?
Kimberly: A few times maybe. Let’s go ahead and get our introductions out of the way. For those of you who don’t know me, and I’d say most of you probably do, I am Kimberly Mackey. My company is New Homes Solutions Consulting, and I am a sales and marketing management consultant with an emphasis on management which differentiates me. A lot of people think of me as a sales trainer, and I am because I love sales training. I do get into it, but in my day-to-day world I work with builders, and I help them to build their business to make sure that they have their systems and everything in place to support that sales process, so sales is the engine that that drives the train rather than running it off the tracks. If you need any help in with anything like that, this is how you can contact me. Enough about me. Alan, these people joined because they want to hear about you, so tell them a little bit about your story.
Alan: Fair enough, Kimberly. Thank you very much for having me. I started my real estate career in general brokerage. I’m going to date myself – that’s why I cut off my beard – in the late 80s and stumbled into new home sales. I have been in new home sales for a little bit over three decades. I enjoy it. It’s my passion. Your topic as far as being a sales leader is something that I just strive to do on a day-to-day basis. This is a great industry, and it’s open to a lot of people, but I don’t think a lot of people think about growing up and being into new home sales. Let’s see if we can encourage some people to get into sales leadership.
Kimberly: That’s the point. That’s what we’re trying to do today. It’s not as scary as people think it is, but it does involve juggling a lot of balls sometimes. I would be remiss if I did not talk about my new program that I have coming up. I’m super excited to talk to you about the Lead from the Side Academy. The website is not even up on this thing yet, but I’ve already got a list going of people who are excited to join. The Lead from the Side Academy is going to be a mastermind group unlike any other mastermind group – small groups of five or six. I’ve almost two groups filled up, but if you want information about this, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s talk about sales leadership and certain styles that we tend to see when it comes to sales managers. The first one is “I don’t always fly but when I do it’s by the seat of my pants.” We’ve all known sales managers that are constantly in reaction mode, right Alan?
Alan: We do indeed.
Kimberly: It’s like you’ll never get ahead if you are. While this type of industry and this type of position does require a bit of ebb and flow, you still must have a plan. If you don’t have one, then you need to get one. Then we have the other type of sales manager who’s like you get a plan, and you get a plan, and everybody has their plan, and we’re planning and planning, and planning and maybe not quite getting things done. Somewhere there’s got to be some happy medium. My favorite thing about being in sales management is if you are too busy you are too busy because it’s so easy to just get sucked into the administrivia and get sucked into having to fix. Sales managers are typically fixers, so they want to fix everything. We don’t want to fix everything all the time. That is not going to help you out a whole lot. So, no more slides. Without further ado, it’s the two of us and our group. I’m going to start with a tough question. Alan, what do you think is the difference between a sales leader and a sales manager?
Alan: I’ll take the sales manager first. To me, sales manager is just a title. That’s it. I think people fall into the sales manager title, but you want to strive to be a sales leader. I liken it to being a coach. You’re looking for talent. You’re looking for how you can take these individuals that are on your team and get the most out of them while understanding that they’re all different personalities, and they all have different hot buttons. Understanding what drives somebody to want to get to that next level. If you say something, is it going to make them revert and go backward? You always want to be growing your team. The other thing is you can’t want more for them than they want for themselves.
Kimberly: Make that point again. That one’s strong.
Alan: You can’t. I think we fall into that category sometimes of seeing the ability in somebody and wanting it for them but knowing quite candidly they don’t want it for themselves. Josh Allen, who’s my director of sales, and when we interview somebody, we talk about work ethic. That’s one thing we can’t teach anybody. We can teach them our systems, and we can teach them sales training, but not work ethic. This is a very simple business. It’s not easy, but it’s a very simple business, and I think sometimes people get into this business with the false realization that, “I’m going go to a model, and sit behind a desk, and I’ll make a lot of money.” Those that are successful have that ability without having to have an advanced degree or anything, but they put the time and effort into it. They commit themselves to excellence and taking care of the customers. This is one thing I think I learned during my general brokerage days if you build a business, you’ll always have business. You’ll always have people that you’re going to be able to help in new home sales. I think sometimes we lose track of that because it’s more transactional. We’re doing this customer and we’re with them for four to six months – well these days seven to nine months, a year, whatever the case might be – and we’re not developing those relationships. This is a people business and that’s at the root of what we’re looking for in our sales team. The sales leaders must understand that as well. That it’s a people business and your team are people, and they have their things going on that you’ve got to understand. Try to foster positives and then understand what challenges each individual might have.
Kimberly: I had a salesperson who was one of my top producers and we sent her to training. We went out to Texas and had a big rah-rah with the whole company. It was a big publicly traded builder. It was great training. She came back and tried to implement everything all at once. I had a habit of just showing up at sales offices and we had them set up for two, so I would sit in the chair of the person whose day off it was. I would sit and do my work. They were so used to me doing this, that nobody cared that I was there and they would just be themselves. I had seen that her numbers were starting to slip since we got back from this training, and it was very odd, and I could see she was getting frustrated with it. With me sitting there and listening and not interrupting, I realized what was happening. She was trying to implement everything all at once. She wanted it and I wanted it for her. I called her aside after I heard her do this a couple of times and I said, “Let me give you permission to be you.” Her name was Donna. “That’s the secret sauce right there. You’re the secret sauce. Layer these things in and improve, but you must be you.” If you don’t know your sales team that well if you don’t have that kind of rapport with them, it’s going be awfully hard to lead them and help them when something’s wrong. because it may not be readily apparent to just anybody who had walked in what was going on, but I saw the difference because I’d seen her in action before the training and then after the training. Immediately apparent was the difference in style and how nervous she was at trying to remember everything and get it just right.
Alan: You’ve got to be engaged with the team. You’ve got to be available. One of my pet peeves is when one of my sales team calls me on the weekend. Yes, I’m talking to you all. You say, “Sorry to bother you.” That’s why I’m here. Sales leadership is – I’ve always said it to myself and others if they ask – it’s more of a lifestyle. It’s not a job. I don’t come into the office at nine o’clock and clock out at five o’clock. Whatever it is – 24/7 – obviously to my wife’s chagrin. The late calls in the evening, the calls when you’re at a movie theater and you get up to take a deal and see what you need to do. It’s being accessible. I’ve heard from other sales professionals sometimes getting in touch with their sales manager – because that’s not a leader – it’s kind of like pulling teeth. You can’t get them. I’ve even heard one time when a manager said, “Don’t call me on the weekend.” That was not the role for him. You’ve got to be accessible to your team. Think about it from this standpoint; it’s a reverse hierarchy. The most important person or people on your sales team, your construction team, or your customer care team. Those individuals that interact with the customers face to face. That’s your company, those are the people your customer interacts with. We get involved as support. We must be there. We must be able to answer the questions and provide them with all the information so that they can share that information. I know that my team’s not calling me to say, “Alan how’s your day? Are you having a good day?” If they’re trying to get in contact with me, they have a specific question that they need answers to because they may have a customer right there. As this market has been normalizing over the last several months, you better be there, otherwise, your customer may not be. They may go someplace else. The pandemic spoiled a lot of people during that period because it was as close to, I’ll just say order-taking as you could get. In the markets that I’ve worked in, and I’ve worked in the DC market, the Charlotte market, Fort Myers, Tampa, Atlanta, and now back in Charlotte. Charlotte is a very competitive market as are the other markets out there, and I think we’re just getting back to some semblance of normalcy. We need to get our teams to understand the crucial role they play in developing the value proposition for our brand, community, homes, et cetera.
Kimberly: You made a good point about your sales team and being accessible to them, and I know you give your team the tools so that they have most of the answers. When they’re calling you, it’s that one-off. It’s that exception where they need you because if they have to call you to sneeze, then you’re not empowering your sales team. You must empower your sales team. You must give them the parameters and the information so they can take that information. You must trust them with that information. If you can’t trust them, you probably have the wrong team.
Alan: That’s true. When I started off selling, I did relatively well for myself. I used to tell my then VP of Sales, “You can come and visit me, but if I need you, I’m going call you. Otherwise, just leave me alone. If you want to come to shoot the breeze, fine.” I understand from our sales team they’re doing this for themselves and their family to develop that lifestyle, and the company is the beneficiary of what they do. Obviously, there’s got to be a lot of give and take from that perspective, but if they’re driven, they’re going to do it despite what you do, or the hammer that you wield, or the atta boys that you give. They’re going to do that because that’s who they are. I’m not here to motivate anybody and quite candidly I’ll say it this way; I’m not here to be everybody’s friend. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of performance. I’m here to help you perform at the highest level that you possibly can, or more importantly, that you want to perform. I’m not here to give you a kick in the butt but I’m going to give you coaching. I’m going to give you feedback and it’s up to you whether you want to take it or not. It’s just like sales training. We can give you sales training, but it’s up to you to implement it. That’s where the coaching comes in as far as don’t try to implement it all at once as you were saying. What got you to this place is your innate abilities. What we want to do is sharpen the saw. We want you to become that much better one step at a time and be able to impact families. I got into this business because I enjoyed talking to people, meeting people, and helping them with the largest single investment that everybody makes at any given time. I don’t care if it’s a $99,000 home or townhome or a million-dollar home. It’s all relative based on where they are. I think sometimes we lose sight of that and how important this decision is. Quite candidly, the trust that they give to a member of your team allows us to help guide them through this process.
Kimberly: It’s so cool what we do. Nowhere else do you get to do that. I know this sounds cheesy but it’s very important. I always say, “Hire rock stars and then them to shine.” Have the right people. We have a question in the Q and A, and it’s a good question because I’ve had people who were motivated to perhaps come up from the sales ranks into sales management. They say, “Wait a minute. I’m going take a cut and pay to do this?” If you’re a great rock star on that sales team, you probably are going to take a cut in pay. What would motivate anybody to do this crazy thing and go into leadership?
Alan: I think you’ve got to look long-term. If you desire to get into sales leadership and not become the position of sales manager but aspire to become a vice president of sales and or marketing, you can’t think, “I’m making X now, and I’m going to take Y cut.” If you look at the larger picture in the longer term, picture that you’ll be able to get back there, but more importantly you’ll be able to impact decisions that are made that are going to help the sales team perform at a higher level. At a VP position, you’re going to be more strategic, and you’re going to be more operational, and you’re going to be able to give them the tools from that standpoint. As a salesperson I used to think, “I’m on my island, leave me alone. Let me do my thing. Everything’s good.” As a sales leader, you’ve got a variety of islands out there and you’ve got individuals that are out there on their own island. You want to make sure that they don’t feel that they’re out there on their own island stranded by themselves being Gilligan and the Professor and asking for it. I probably dated myself, but that’s okay. You’re there to support them but it can be a tough transition going from a high-powered sales professional to the sales manager. One, because you’re on the psyche. You’re taking a pay cut. I guarantee you’re taking a pay cut, but also, you’re dealing with one day these individuals who are your peers, and then you’re the boss and holding them accountable. The key thing is accountability. Everybody’s got to perform. That’s the way I look at it. It’s a performance-oriented business. It’s not personal. We’re going to give you goals and we expect you to achieve those goals. They’re not going to be crazy lofty goals. They’re going to be reachable goals based on the business plan that the division put together and you’ve got to hold your team accountable to be able to reach those goals. That can sometimes be difficult for some people making that transition. Sometimes it’s easier to go to a different company and get your foot in the door, but sometimes it’s hard to get your foot in the door to become a sales manager when they don’t know that you were a good salesperson at your existing company. It’s a double-edged sword from that standpoint. You’ve got to make that decision whether you’re willing to take a step back and grow your career.
Kimberly: It’s two different skill sets. Often we get builders who want to promote their best salesperson into the sales manager’s role without taking into consideration the skills. If you’ve got a salesperson who succeeds despite themselves because of price/product/position and where you are, but they’re in reaction mode all the time, you’ve got to be very proactive and strategic in leadership. You also have to do paperwork, guys. Numbers don’t lie. This is a metric-driven business, and if you’re not tracking the right metrics, you guys have heard me say it repeatedly, you will not know how you’re doing because it’s easy to justify that this month we didn’t make our number. You don’t have just one bad month in sales. One bad month in sales, as Myers Barnes put it to me a long time ago, was that aha moment is another bad month and starts a really bad month in closing. You just lost three months of productivity when you have one bad month in sales, so you can’t afford to do that. You must have a plan to keep people on track so that the sales pace is meeting the company goals. Inspect what you expect. We often talk about that, and as a new sales manager, if you’re being promoted into that role suddenly, that one is where it can get a little uncomfortable.
Alan: The other thing too is you must walk the walk and talk to talk. Inspect what you expect. You also must be willing to roll up your sleeves and do what you ask of your team. It doesn’t matter what it is, whether that’s being out there on the weekend talking to a customer. It’s sales leadership. You must lead by example period. If you’re not going to be willing to do something, then you can’t hold your team accountable to do something.
Kimberly: You mean I need to understand my CRM?
Alan: You need to understand all the above, yes You can’t become a successful sales leader if you don’t know your respective CRM inside and outside. That’s the one thing that I’ve always prided myself on and spent some extra time with our corporate IT people. I have the time to understand. You give me some one-on-one training so that I understand so that if I need to train somebody on my team on it, I could do that. I’ve got to have the resident expert, and for me, that means it’s me. The buck stops here. If I can’t hold myself accountable, I can’t hold them accountable from that point.
Kimberly: If it’s not in the CRM it didn’t happen. There’s a whole lot that goes along with that including compensation and whose lead is it? I’ve got to have a carrot and stick to go with that.
Alan: That is the bible to whatever it is. Everything sits there because that’s the only consistent way everybody can be held on the same accord. I’ll go there too. I mean you have whatever the number of team members you have on your sales team, everybody’s on the same playing field, although you may have different performing levels. You treat everybody the same. The worst thing you could do for a sales team is to pick favorites.
Kimberly: Or make exceptions because somebody’s hitting their sales numbers.
Alan: That’s the quickest way to demolish an effective team.
Kimberly: You set the rules just like the numbers are the numbers. You set the rules. Since we jumped ahead into that, I want to address one. I was an outsourced sales manager for a large, national private builder. We had a team person who was consistently late. The paperwork was a train wreck. Customer follow-up, the CRM, whatever you asked, but this person sold homes. She sold homes, and then she dropped them like she was dropping a bomb, and everybody else scrambled and picked up the pieces afterward. I said you know multiple times, “We’ve got to take corrective action here. There’s got to be some discipline. Now everybody else thinks it’s okay to show up late because this person was showing up late.” You do manage to that lowest common denominator.” I kept hearing from the division president, “I can’t let this person go. They’re my top producer.” I said, “You watch if you do, the rest of your team will rise to the occasion because right now they have been managing themselves to that lowest common denominator. They weren’t ready. They couldn’t do that. Plus, you shouldn’t allow this.” We did, and we produced two more top producers out of the same team in both locations. We brought those communities that we’d been struggling with for a while up to where those expectations were in less desirable areas just because we let that bad apple go. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.
Alan: Very true. In teams there is that chatter maybe right after a sales meeting or once an announcement’s made. The phone. They’re picking up. The phone chain so-to-speak and you want to make sure that it’s consistent across the board.
Kimberly: Yes, and when you hold people to that level, you think your salespeople are not going to like it, but motivational accountability is quite possible because people like to know what to expect. When they know that, and they know what the rules are, it frees them up to do what they do. It’s pretty cool. Let’s talk about some of the positives. We talked about a little bit of the negatives. I love to celebrate and reward right behavior. How do you do that with your team? How do you celebrate and reward that right behavior?
Alan: There are several things. During the pandemic, we were throttling sales. Capping them so there wasn’t per se a top producer during that period, but there were activities and things that they were doing. Survey results that were coming in where they were being mentioned, so you look at those highlights and those marks that you can emphasize. Even feedback from within their team. If the construction team says something or not only the customer, but customer care team. You look for those positives in the experience and how they’ve impacted your customer base and you share that information or something that they’re doing well. It’s something that they put together. You share that with the team, and you raise that level, and then they share some of the work that they’ve been doing as far as systems they put in place to help them manage their business better. You get more of that collaboration going on within the synergy within the team. When you don’t have the quote-unquote “top producer”, there are other ways to keep people engaged and keep them motivated from that perspective.
Kimberly: I had a division leader one time say to me, “You know they get paid when they perform. Isn’t that good enough?” “No, it isn’t because this is a tough job.” You hear no nine times out of ten for most. As the late great Bill Herring said, “You get up, and you get dressed in your Sunday best. You go out there in a world that’s going tell you no nine times out of 10. You’ve got to deliver that quote “bad news”.” I don’t believe in assigning whether something is good or bad, it’s just news, but in their mind, you’re delivering bad news. They are our front line, so certainly celebrate success as the numbers and the metrics. Rewarding that right behavior when you see somebody going the extra mile or even just consistently doing those right things that you know are going to pay off for them eventually. Celebrate that and let them share in those. Have a little moment in the spotlight.
Alan: To your point, it doesn’t have to be anything monumental, but just a small improvement. Maybe it’s a quick phone call, maybe it’s a quick text stating you noticed that this was happening or your paperwork’s getting better. Or your sales administrator said he’s seen a major turn in the quality of their paperwork. Those little things go a long way from that perspective.
Kimberly: Say thank you. Thank you goes a long way. Having an attitude of gratitude with your team can make a world of difference.
Alan: We’re only as good as our team. I don’t care who you are. You don’t have to have superstars throughout your entire team, and typically you won’t.
Kimberly: Sometimes you don’t need them.
Alan: Appreciate who they are, and make sure that you’re always there.
Kimberly: Let’s talk about the job description. I think there’s so much confusion. Sales leadership tends to be fixers. They fix things, so sometimes when we don’t know where to put something, it can fall on the sales leader. Or as a fixer, we take it upon ourselves to fix.
Alan: That’s your nature. That’s our nature.
Kimberly: Yes. What do you think should be in the job description of someone who’s maybe the general sales manager or for the smaller builders, they may be the whole shebang?
Alan: I think first and foremost, stay out of the office. The office is the proverbial black hole. I think from a sales manager standpoint there are certain meetings that you must attend, but I think most divisions try to schedule them maybe one day or one area of time. Sales happens out in the field. You do not want to lose touch with what your sales team is dealing with on a day-to-day basis. They’ve got to be able to confide in you. I don’t want to say cry, but cry to you and say what challenges they’re having so that we can come together and figure out if these challenges are real. Are these just because you’ve had three customers come in and say your price is too high? It is being able to discern what we need to do to be able to get to the next point. Spend quality time, not just a check-in, and not just driving through the community. Have a planned encounter. Have a specific agenda that you want to cover with this sales professional and then action items you can follow up on the next time you get back to them. It must be very productive. I think from a sales manager’s standpoint, the first level of leadership is being out there in the field. Facetime. Letting them talk. Let them get some of the frustrations out. Let them share some of the positive things that they’ve had from that perspective. Also coaching. Things that they need to do to do the fundamentals. I liken it to professional athletes What do they do? They go to basic training every year. Make sure you’ve got the fundamentals in place. Those teams that get to their respective championships, they’re not the razzle-dazzle. They just have the fundamentals down better than everybody else.
Kimberly: Talking and tackling. They’re always talking and tackling.
Alan: Exactly Regardless of what the market is, if you’ve got the fundamentals down, and your team has those fundamentals down, then t they’ll take the arrows that come their way. They’ll bounce off and they’ll be able to go forward and continue to perform from that perspective. The administrative side was one thing that I learned from a salesperson. I didn’t like paperwork, but I learned that it was a necessary part of my job of being able to make sure that every T was crossed every I was dotted too. Quite candidly, it was a bigger attaboy for me to have my sales administrator say, “Paperwork’s great,” rather than my division president, “Nice number of sales for that particular month.” Because you took pride in not slowing down the train. I think sometimes sales managers lose sight of how important this legal document that you had the customer sign that basically is their home on paper. That’s how the rest of your division, your team, your purchasing team, your design team, your construction team, and your closing team are. All that’s predicated upon what you did at the front end, and if it’s messed up, then there are a lot of people that are involved in trying to straighten it out. You’re the one that started this mess so to speak, so let’s make sure that you don’t do that. Training people up, I think from a sales manager role, that’s key. Knowing your metrics, knowing what the goals are, understanding and thinking more from an operational standpoint. With M/I Homes, I look at it from a quarterly standpoint – giving people quarterly goals because of the ebbs and flows of the business. It’d be great to say, “I want three sales from you at the end of the quarter or ending with 90 days.” You said earlier, in 90 days, there are a lot of things that happen if you missed your sales, but with 90 days you can also make up things. I think sometimes if our sales teams have a very good month, then they’re worried about their backlog. I know this is something we’re going to talk about, and they’re not worried about the prospecting that they need to do, and you start getting those peaks and valleys. You don’t want that. You want to make sure that they stay focused on those three aspects of their business. “I’m prospecting. I’m taking care of my customers. My future is taking care of my customers that are my backlog, and I’m keeping this moving and I’m not going to fall short on any given month.”
Kimberly: Time management is key because you do it to fit all those aspects in, and if you can’t time manage and time block, you can’t expect your salespeople to time manage and time block too.
Alan: That was something I had to learn. With me, both from a sales standpoint and then getting into sales leadership, it was 24/7. I learned that I don’t have an S on my chest. I’m not Superman. I’ve got a life too. Some people probably say otherwise, but it is a matter of being able to find balance. You must find where your balance point is. I always tell the team, “Give me 100 percent. I don’t want 101 percent. I don’t want 102 percent. I want 100 percent. When you’re in the role, I want a hundred percent.” You also have the time to step away. With new home sales, it is go, go, go, go, go, go, go. I’ve had to tell a couple of my team members, “Take some time off. You need to take this weekend to restart and recharge.” I think they’re sometimes the last to realize that something is off a little bit. Maybe I can’t put my finger on what is specifically, but they’re not who they normally are. As you indicated earlier with the sales pro, “Be you, okay?” They weren’t being them, and because the environment was impacting them, they needed to kind of step back, recharge, and then step back in and be ready to go full bore.
Kimberly: If you don’t have that connection with your sales team, you may miss those cues. I went from a large national builder to one of the largest national builders. The first one I had a budget to do my office. My office was this big grandiose space, and I had an area for coaching, holding meetings, and doing all this stuff. Then I went to the larger builder, I had a cubicle. It was very crowded where we were, and there was a lot of noise. I thought, “How am I supposed to get any work done here?” They said, “You’re not. Get out and stay out.” Best advice I ever got. I’m dating myself, but they said, “You have a Blackberry.” Remember the Blackberrys? Crackberrys we called them. With Nextel where people could zap you anywhere and just start talking to you randomly. I hated those with the walkie-talkie feature on them. I had my laptop. “What do you need? Get out and stay out.” If you’re spending that time out in the field, you’ll stop doing as much administrivia. You’re not around to be in the line of fire for the administivia which should probably go to somebody more appropriate anyway. I had a senior VP, who at one point after I came back from maternity leave asked, “Can you make copies of all this stuff?” I thought, “What?” I replied, “I am more than happy to stand here and make copies if you want, but do you realize what you pay me? Wouldn’t I be more effective doing this or doing my job?” He had no idea because he came in and I was on maternity leave. He had no idea what I did. Whose job should it be is a question, and who can do it most effectively? The closest person to the job should be the person touching it. Just because you’re the sales leader doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be the one doing it.
Alan: Sometimes you must learn how to delegate and that’s sometimes a tough thing, especially if you’ve been a sales professional where you used to be of the mindset, “If it’s going to happen, it’s on me to get it done.” When you become a sales leader, you hopefully have extensions of you that need to get it done in their respective profit centers and that’s then what the focus needs to be. You must remember that sales is the only part of our business that generates revenue. Everybody else spends it. If we don’t sell, then we’ve got bigger problems.
Kimberly: Exactly. That’s where that ROI is. The return on the investment. You should ask yourself that before you take on any new project. What is the return on the investment? Is it going to generate more sales or more profitable sales? If the answer is no, then it might not need to be done. This will come as a shock, but I run sales teams oftentimes remotely from across the country, and I will do that in 10 to 20 hours a week depending on the size of the team. Yes, I said it. Ten to 20 hours a week. Can I get everything done that Alan does in a week? Absolutely not in 10 to 20 hours. It’s not going to happen, but the stuff that’s going to give them a return on investment requires me to be laser-focused because we can’t lose those results. We either find somebody else to do those things or in some cases, we determine they may not be that important. A lot of it is truly administrivia which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s trivial. It’s not going to make a hill of beans worth of difference at the end of the day. You said a couple of things that you do. You have meetings on Tuesday and then you do your sales meeting on Wednesday.
Alan: We do our sales meetings Wednesday mornings. Even through the pandemic. I’ve been a staunch proponent of always having sales meetings whether they were through Zoom or Microsoft Teams. During the pandemic, we certainly weren’t meeting in person, but we’ve been meeting in person for a while now. I think it’s information sharing. It’s recognizing accomplishments. It’s recognizing things like birthdays. Making sure that the team comes together and gels and raises common concerns that may come up that you don’t hear when you’re out there one-on-one in a community. Having the team come together creates that cohesiveness that you’re trying to forge within a team. Understanding that aspect of it.
Kimberly: A sales meeting should be a team meeting, not a planned one-on-one. So often we get that confused. We go around the room, “What did you do this week? Who are you working with? Who are your prospects.” That’s a one-on-one. That is not a sales meeting. Sales meetings are for training, going over policies and procedures, celebrating those successes, and team building. Make them productive or don’t have them.
Alan: Exactly. You don’t want to make them too long because, after a while, the eyes start rolling in the back of people’s heads. You want to make them fun a little bit, but you’ve got to make them informative. There must be a purpose behind the reason that you’re getting together, as opposed to just having a meeting. There’s got to be some purpose to it.
Kimberly: Be transparent about that purpose. Any other advice on that? I know we had some questions here. Somebody asked if companies would rather see a sheet of paper on the wall such as a degree, or would they prefer to see a track record?
Alan: For me, I want to look at work ethic. From a corporate standpoint, I can’t control what the hiring requirements are. Quite candidly, what I look for are drive and determination. Someone once told me, “You’re looking for somebody with PHDs that is poor, hungry, and driven.”
Kimberly: I like it.
Alan: You’re looking for that inner spark that people have. Sometimes just allowing someone to get into this industry that I’ve spent a lot of my life in. I’ve had people in the past who had been knocking on doors, knocking on doors, and we had an opportunity to meet. It was a good fit for our sales team and our company. They went on the floors but had they not been given that opportunity, then they would not have been able to shine, so it’s not about the degree. It’s about the individuals and what they bring to the table and the work ethic that they have.
Kimberly: It’s hard to break into this business. Most builders want to hire somebody with experience. I am not necessarily about that. I’d rather hire for attitude. Do they have those basic skill sets and then train them to do it right rather than passing around the same mediocre behavior? Usually, mediocre people are the ones who are leaving. If they’ve got a backlog as a salesperson and doing well, they’re probably not going to leave the company. In the sales leadership position, it’s kind of tough as we do tend to promote from within. When you see somebody, maybe have them start by training. Give them some opportunities to shine before they take on the role. Can they be a senior salesperson, for instance, and do well at that? Then you see if they have those kinds of abilities.
Alan: Or even if they like it. I think people say, “Yes, I want to be a sales leader. I want to be a sales manager.” Until you allow them to mentor somebody and then they say, “Maybe not.” To your point, take it in small increments. Do you want to lead a team? Is this something that at the end of the day when you spent whatever number of hours with this one person, maybe they did get it, maybe they didn’t get it, but you’ve got to continue to go over it again to make sure it resonates with them? Sometimes that’s enough to say,” You know what? I think I’m going to stay in my lane. I’m going to focus on what I do well.” But, for those that say, “I enjoyed that time.” You must have that inner passion to help somebody grow, and if you’ve got that, then you can have a successful career in sales leadership. If you’re looking at it from a selfish standpoint. It’s just about me, me, me, me then stay on your island. Do me. me on your island and you’ll be successful there.
Kimberly: I want my weekends off is not a reason to become a sales manager.
Alan: I may not be in the office, but my golfing partners look at me every time my phone rings. They’re used to it. “What’d you do? Are you structuring something this time?” They start getting into negotiation. “You must stay in your lane. I’m doing my business over here.”
Kimberly: Let’s talk about team building too. I think that it’s so important as you start to grow your team, that you grow your team in a cohesive unit because our salespeople are often out on an island. They are, and we forget that we’re in the office. We have the back story. We know what’s happening, what the numbers are, and whether the push is coming from corporate, but the salespeople don’t know that and chaos will certainly fill a void. I’ve even had those sales managers who say, “I don’t want them to be a team. I want them to all be competitive and just going at it.” To me, that’s not healthy either. I’ve always been about building up the team because a rising tide does float all boats. It’s good to have other people. What are some things you’ve done to create more of a team and that camaraderie?
Alan: I think sometimes just having a social event. Going to a ball game together, going to Top Golf together, or perhaps bowling. Make it somewhat competitive. Salespeople by nature are competitive. Make it teams. We’re getting ready to go into a national sales event, and I’ve got a little competition. I’m teasing you guys that are on right now, and I’m not going to say exactly what it is. Here in the market, we introduce cross-selling, it’s competitive, but we’re not going to tolerate cutthroat. At the end of the day. it’s all about taking care of our customers. With the market being as competitive as it is, and the dollars that we spend from a market perspective to drive traffic to respective communities, we want a customer to feel engaged with our sales team. If that sales member strikes up a good relationship, then that person, almost like general brokers, can help them in any of our communities. We rolled that out not too long ago and it’s working out extremely well. There would have probably been some sales transactions that we would not have gotten if we didn’t do something like that, so it’s a balance as far as the competitive nature. It’s not cutthroat. I don’t want people on our team to worry that somebody’s going to stab him in the back because we’re not going to tolerate it. If somebody becomes cutthroat, as I’ve said in the past, they’re going to be able to take their excellence elsewhere. They’re not going to be a member of our team.
Kimberly: They’re going to de-hire themselves.
Alan: I’ve had people concerned about, “Well, did I do a good job?” I said, “Look, you won’t have to ask. You’ll get a lot of warnings if you’re not carrying your load. It won’t sneak up on you like something in the night. It’s going to be over a period of time and you’re going to have opportunities to improve.”
Kimberly: When I run those kinds of contests or those programs. I like to do things where the team has a goal and then individuals have an opportunity to excel beyond that. There’s a team goal, and then if the team meets that and other people get that extra sale, or they go that extra mile or they get that extra customer service number, or they build referrals or whatever behavior I’m trying to reward. One of my favorites is when I was promoted from salesperson to sales manager, and one of the contests that we did was while I was still trying to earn the team’s respect. It was back before the run-up and we were a younger division, so we were trying to do some innovative things. We had a contest to go to Discovery Cove. I’m based out of Florida, and Discovery cove was run by SeaWorld. We had a team goal that if everybody got their sales number for that month, then we all got to go to SeaWorld. We’d take a day, but everybody who exceeded their individual goals by one or by two got the extra spiff of being able to go and swim with the dolphins. It was like an extra thing. Pictures from that day were priceless. I still have them on my wall here. It’s one of those memories. We had such a great time, and a great day together, and it became part of the culture that we would do things like this. The team would meet and then you’d have something above and beyond. You can let individuals shine, but also build up that team. I think that’s really an important thing to do.
Alan: You mentioned something about respect. I think sometimes in sales leadership and or sales management people want to be liked. That’s kind of what drives them. I say for anybody that’s thinking about getting to sales management, you better get some thick skin because there’s going to be conversations where you know it’s not about being liked. it’s about getting the performance and the respect. I’d rather somebody say that “Alan was fair. I didn’t agree with what he did, but it was a fair decision and he treated everybody pretty much the same.” It didn’t matter where they were on the sales team. The minute you try to befriend somebody, and you show some preferential treatment, that’s a killer. Get some thick skin and understand that you’re not going to be Mr. or Mrs. Popular on every occasion.
Kimberly: That’s the tough part about it.
Alan: But you’re going to do the right thing for the company that you work for.
Kimberly: Last thought is sometimes we do have to be the heavy or the bad guy and I think it’s important. I had the opportunity to coach somebody last week, and this person had to deliver some news about performance to one of her people and I said, “We don’t coach people we coach about behaviors. Always talk about the behavior.” It goes back to that inspect what you expect. Be very clear on your expectations. When those expectations aren’t met it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’re not being met and then, of course, let that person know how they can do better. If they don’t want to do better, that’s going to be pretty telling right away. So, focus on those behaviors, not the person. We’re at the top of the hour here, and we could go on about this topic all day long, but let’s wrap it up. Alan, thank you.
Alan: My pleasure.
Kimberly: This was an incredible conversation, and hopefully an eye-opening one for some. I know you had some members of your team on here active in the chat, so hopefully, that helped them too.
Alan: Kimberly, thanks for having me on. For those that are looking into getting into it, sales leadership is a very rewarding aspect of our business, and you can change not only customers; lives but your sales team’s lives as well.
Kimberly: You absolutely can. It’s a wonderful thing. I’ve tried to leave this business, and I get sucked back in. You know, this is where I’m supposed to be, and I get it. I love this aspect of the business and being able to affect the direction of the company and what is possible. To me, that’s what sales leadership is all about. Thanks, everybody. Have a great day, and we will see you in a month or so.
Alan: Have a successful August.