Monday, September 26, 2011

How to Give New Hires a Great Start

Some small businesses go beyond the standard orientation, raising retention and productivity.
BY Marcus Erb

A number of small businesses focus on providing new hires with only the basic information and skills needed to perform their job. However, going beyond the standard orientation process can enable new hires to become successful in the workplace more quickly, and help ensure that the new partnership will be long and advantageous. The key is offering employees a chance to learn the organization's customs and jargon and connect personally with new colleagues.

A new hire's attitude about your business generally takes shape quickly, and can affect their long-term outlook and commitment to the company. Many employees typically make their decision to stay or quit within their first six months on the job.

So, how can your small business turn employees' first impressions into a lasting and prosperous relationship? Here are examples of how three small businesses are going beyond the basic employee orientation.

1. Connect with them early and personally.

When candidates accept an offer to work at, an hourly job site based in Glen Valley, Va., chief executive Shawn Boyer mails them a handwritten congratulatory note and a $100 American Express gift card as a token of thanks to celebrate their new job.

On their first day, new hires are assigned a department "buddy" who gives them a tour of the office, introduces them to their colleagues and serves as a mentor during the first few weeks. New "Snaggers," as employees there are called, also complete an office scavenger hunt and a "Confessions of a New Snagger" questionnaire. This Q&A covers personal trivia about the new hire, such as pets, children, hobbies, and other interests. Once completed, the answers are emailed to all employees and also posted on the company's intranet, along with the employee's photo. Snaggers are then quizzed on the bits of personal information shared in these questionnaires during weekly staff meetings. Correct answers are rewarded with candy.

While fun, these activities make an impression on new hires. "I never felt like the 'new person,'" says one new Snagger. "I didn't have to go out of my way to prove myself to anyone. There was the implicit assumption that since I was hired I must be good enough to handle the job. That level of trust is refreshing and made my transition to easier."

2. Make the introduction about more than just the handbook.

Some employee orientations include a strong dose of organizational culture and history, as well as participation from senior leaders. At RadioFlyer, the Chicago-based maker of children's toys, new Flyers join "chief wagon officer" Robert Pasin for breakfast. Pasin shares the history of the company as well as his personal stories of mistakes, successes and lessons learned. He answers questions and covers his expectations for team members to help RadioFlyer continue its success.

New employees also hear more about the company's values over lunch with members of the company's Vision, Mission and Values Committee, Its members are people who have been recognized by peers for living the company values every day.

New Flyers also get a first-hand look at the company's products. New hires complete an audit of customers' retail experiences and assemble RadioFlyer products. These practices help new employees learn about the products as well as their customers. Employees even get to keep a few of the products they assemble.

3. Treat new hires like equals.

At some companies, new employees wait through a probationary period before gaining full benefits and status. Pinnacol Assurance, a Denver-based provider of workers compensation insurance with about 630 employees, treats new hires as equals immediately, speeding their assimilation into the business. For instance, new hires are eligible to begin using their paid days off as early as their first day. Employees get up to 20 days off during their first full year.

A great welcome can make a lasting impact. Efforts to bring new hires into the culture, and not just the job, can reap benefits of shorter learning curves, stronger employee commitment, and reduced turnover. Leaders who take the opportunity to make new hires feel welcome can make a lasting impression that turns into a long-term advantage.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How not to write an email

I sign up for industry emails and it appears they sell the lists so I get the odd call and or email from sales people. This is an unsolicited email and a prime example of how not to send an email.

I feel for the rep. Likely I wasn't the only potential lead he burned with this poorly cut and paste form letter.

The lesson here? Test your form emails before you send them or set your send receive to delay by a few minutes so you can catch emails before they actually get sent.

I hope this isn't an example of how Sugar CRM works!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The High Cost of Sales Team Turnover

BY Katherine Graham-Leviss

Even during a time of high unemployment, top salespeople are always in demand, and their skills are easily portable from one sales environment to the next. Losing them to a higher bidder or a more lucrative sales opportunity is too easy to be taken lightly.

The cost of hiring a new employee for any position is significant, whether an employee is fired or laid off or leaves voluntarily. The many formulas that calculate such costs vary widely, but can range upward of 200 percent of an employee's annual salary. That includes not only the obvious tangible costs of severance pay, vacation accrual, and job advertising and recruiting fees, but also indirect costs such as the staff time needed for paperwork, recruiting, resume reviews and interviews, and then new-hire orientation and training. Other hard to quantify costs can include customer dissatisfaction, poor employee morale and loss of revenue during transitions.

Let's assume the average salary in a given company is $50,000 per year. If the cost of turnover is 150 percent of salary, then the cost would be $75,000 per departing employee. For a company of 100 employees with a 10 percent annual rate of turnover, the annual cost of turnover would be an estimated $750,000.

Once you realize what it's costing, in both dollars and people assets, you'll want to seriously consider how to reduce your turnover rate. A first step for reducing turnover is understanding your turnover numbers and issues. Start by answering these four questions.

What is your year-over-year average turnover rate?

Can you tie significant changes in the rate to the workplace's physical environment?

What is your turnover rate compared to your competition?

Are there times during the year when people leave more frequently?

Answering these questions will help you to begin to understand some aspects of turnover within your sales force and you can start to find ways to reduce turnover in your organization.

Another important knowledge-gathering step is to conduct exit interviews and ask why your salespeople leave. While it can be difficult to get candid answers -- employees often realize there's nothing to be gained by saying anything negative -- asking exiting employees to rate factors on a scale of 1 to 5 can point to the problems in a more objective and equally productive manner. You can ask them, for example, to rate the level of sales support, management support, fairness of sales goals and fairness of compensation. Design your questions to determine whether you are creating an environment that salespeople can thrive in.

If you find those leaving feel that sales quotas are unattainable, that they can't live on their compensation between sales, or that they simply think they can make more money someplace else, you'll have a better understanding of what you can do to change the environment.

A great deal of employee turnover can be attributed to mistakes made during the hiring process. The problem lies in the employee selection process. Simply put, when you hire people for the wrong job, they leave.

Tere are hiring practices you can implement that will help reduce your turnover and increase retention of your best people. Here are a few:

Make attracting high-performers part of your ongoing business practices so you are always "hire ready."

Define your hiring criteria, including the job description, so that you hire the right people for the job.

Learn how to screen resumes for top performers.

Give your hiring managers the skills they need to do the job right.

Gather the right kind of data to ensure your candidates have the requisite skills.

Create a consistent and thorough interview and selection process.

Hire salespeople by looking at three areas: experience, technical skills, and communication skills and problem-solving skills.

Too often hiring managers glean valuable insights into employee preferences, strengths and weaknesses during the hiring process and then fail to use the information as a resource to help develop and retain the employee. So rather than focusing exclusively on hiring, you should also begin to think about how to develop sales staff immediately. All that you learn during hiring can be used to continually improve the job-person fit.

Creating a development plan for your salespeople helps show them what they can do to grow and develop, to advance, to become more valued, and to be more satisfied in their work. Development plans also point out what kind of support and assistance they will need to get where they are going faster.

You and your employee will work on the development plan together, but the more involved the employee is in determining the areas to work on, the more committed that individual will be to accomplishing the goals. The objective is to create an environment that encourages continuing feedback from managers, which will help employees advance more quickly, achieve more, avoid unnecessary problems and setbacks -- and stay with your company.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Should You Add a Blog to Your Site?

By: John Crenshaw

One of the first things small business owners find out about when researching SEO are blogs. One of the most common questions we get is, “should I add a blog to my site?”

Blogs have gained a reputation as having the potential to boost your SEO rankings, but it’s important to understand what a blog does and why it helps, as well as when it wouldn’t help.
What is a blog, exactly?

A blog is nothing more than a collection of articles, generally appearing on a website in reverse chronological order — meaning the newest posts show up first. The key phrase there is “nothing more than a collection of articles.” That’s right, a blog is not some magical thing that will score you all kinds of love from Google; it’s nothing more than a collection of articles.

What that means is, if you really wanted to, you could create your own mock bog just by publishing articles as standard html pages on your website, then publishing another page with links to all those articles. In it’s most basic form, that’s really all a blog is.
So why does everyone say blogging helps SEO?

The simple answer is that SEO is a complicated subject. Because it’s complicated, two things end up happening:
Companies selling SEO services say “Blogs help SEO,” because it’s a thousand times easier than explaining why blogs help SEO, or that some blogging platforms will actually hurt your SEO, or that the same can be accomplished in Dreamweaver or another web publishing platform (albeit not as efficiently). When it comes to selling, keeping it simple helps.

Companies who take the blogging plunge tend to notice their traffic increases. Because SEO is a complicated subject, the easiest explanation is that the blog did it. Then, when you talk to employees in those companies, they tell you how much of an impact blogging made on their business…and the legend grows.

So…Will a Blog Help with SEO or Not?

Yes and no. It’s not the blog itself that will help with SEO. Remember, a blog is nothing more than a collection of articles. What tends to help with SEO are all the secondary things a blog does for you that you might not even be thinking about. A well-designed blog facilitates SEO best practices, by accomplishing the following:
If you have a blog, you should be publishing on it. Anytime you add text-rich pages to your website, you’re giving Google more content to index. More content means your website will show up for more searches. You’re casting a wider net, which tends to catch more prospects.

Most bloggers use WordPress. When setup properly, WordPress does a lot of stuff behind the scenes that is good for SEO. Now, don’t think I’m suggesting WordPress will always help your SEO behind the scenes. WordPress can very easily be setup in such a way that it won’t do you much good at all, and that’s entirely up to the author of your theme…or your designer/developer if you had a WordPress theme custom made.

However, even a perfectly setup WordPress theme won’t do you any good if you don’t follow some SEO best practices. Thankfully, WordPress makes it easier for you to follow these best practices. And we know the easier something is, the more likely we are to do it. Some of the tasks WordPress can simplify are:

Adjusting meta tags (title, description, keywords)

Linking to other pages on your site directly

Linking blog posts together using tags, categories, and archives

Proper formatting (heading tags, bold and italicized text, etc)

SEO-friendly URLs (WordPress calls these “Permalinks”)

In addition to these, WordPress has a huge list of plugins that can add functionality to do just about anything else you could want

What to consider before you add a blog to your site

Now it’s time for a reality check. I’ve shown that just adding a blog to your site is not going to magically get you more business. However, undertaken properly, blogging can significantly enhance your visibility online. In addition to showing up for more searches, enhanced visibility means you’ll be seen more as an authority in your industry and it will help you build your contact network with potential clients, business and advertising partners, and even “old media” contacts like newspaper and television reporters.
I’ve seen blogging do amazing things for small and large companies alike. I’ve also seen a lot of businesses fail to reap any benefits from blogging at all. Here are some important things to consider before you decide to start a blog:
Who will be responsible for getting blog posts published? Someone in your organization has to be committed to keeping the blog updated. This same person doesn’t have to be the one writing the blog posts…you could have anyone handle that, or you could even outsource that entirely. But one person in your organization needs to be responsible for getting posts published on time. That person should have the authority to “motivate” people to get the job done. This will be your blog editor and the responsibility for publishing blog posts rests entirely on his or her shoulders.

When will blog posts be published? You should set a posting schedule of once or twice per week and be consistent about it. The more consistent you are, the better off you’ll be. I’d recommend setting a day and time when posts will be published and not missing those publication deadlines. Treat your blog like a newspaper…no matter what it takes, get something published on time.

Who will train your people? Do yourself a favor and get some basic SEO training for your people. If funds are tight, you could just have the blog editor trained on basic SEO. If you’re able, train your writers too. There are plenty of SEO companies out there that can help you with this, including us. Just a couple hours of training will make a world of difference.

Which blogging platform will you use? I can’t think of any reason to use anything besides WordPress. It’s just so much farther along than any other blogging platform and it’s so widely used that if you need to expand it’s functionality in some way, there’s probably already a plugin out there that will do it for you.

Who will design your blog? When I say “design,” I mean design, develop, program…all of the above. If you decide to use one of the thousands of free WordPress themes, make sure it was created with SEO in mind. If you have a custom theme developed, make sure the developer is familiar with maximizing the SEO benefit of WordPress. Don’t skimp on this…if you can’t afford to pay $1500 or more for a custom WordPress theme, use a free one. You can always have a custom theme designed later, but if you skimp on a cheap custom theme, you’ll be stuck with something that may not help your SEO like it should.

How will you come up with post ideas? Most people find it incredibly challenging to come up with something to write about once or twice a week. If you’re one of those people, I’m here to tell you to stop over thinking it. Your blog posts don’t have to be mind-blowing insights into your industry. Sure, if you can throw in some amazing content occasionally, it’ll help tremendously, but on the whole, remember you’re writing a blog, not a New York Times best seller. It’s far more important that you publish consistently. As you continue to blog, you’ll get better at it, you’ll come up with better post ideas, and you’ll see what your readers like to read about and what they don’t like so much. Still need some help? Here’s a quick and dirty step-by-step:

Publish posts on Mondays and Fridays at 7am.

Write those posts a week in advance and use WordPress’ post scheduling feature to have them automatically published on the right day/time

Schedule a brief Wednesday morning brainstorming session with your blogging crew (30 minutes max.)

Tell everyone to have 3 post ideas ready for the Wed. morning meeting each week

In the meeting, everyone shares their post ideas

Pick the top 2 and assign a writer or outsource it




If you’re reading this post, I assume you’re either considering blogging or are already doing it. Good for you! Just remember, that a little bit of preparation and understanding of the process can go a long way to ensure you reap the maximum benefit. Obviously, blogging isn’t a magical cure-all for your SEO woes, but done properly, blogging can have a significant impact on your bottom line. Now get out there and start writing!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Seven Personality Traits of Top Salespeople

By: Steve Martin

If you ask an extremely successful salesperson, "What makes you different from the average sales rep?" you will most likely get a less-than-accurate answer, if any answer at all. Frankly, the person may not even know the real answer because most successful salespeople are simply doing what comes naturally.

Over the past decade, I have had the privilege of interviewing thousands of top business-to-business salespeople who sell for some of the world's leading companies. I've also administered personality tests to 1,000 of them. My goal was to measure their five main personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and negative emotionality) to better understand the characteristics that separate them their peers.

The personality tests were given to high technology and business services salespeople as part of sales strategy workshops I was conducting. In addition, tests were administered at Presidents Club meetings (the incentive trip that top salespeople are awarded by their company for their outstanding performance). The responses were then categorized by percentage of annual quota attainment and classified into top performers, average performers, and below average performers categories.

The test results from top performers were then compared against average and below average performers. The findings indicate that key personality traits directly influence top performers' selling style and ultimately their success. Below, you will find the main key personality attributes of top salespeople and the impact of the trait on their selling style.

1. Modesty. Contrary to conventional stereotypes that successful salespeople are pushy and egotistical, 91 percent of top salespeople had medium to high scores of modesty and humility. Furthermore, the results suggest that ostentatious salespeople who are full of bravado alienate far more customers than they win over.

Selling Style Impact: Team Orientation. As opposed to establishing themselves as the focal point of the purchase decision, top salespeople position the team (presales technical engineers, consulting, and management) that will help them win the account as the centerpiece.

2. Conscientiousness. Eighty-five percent of top salespeople had high levels of conscientiousness, whereby they could be described as having a strong sense of duty and being responsible and reliable. These salespeople take their jobs very seriously and feel deeply responsible for the results.

Selling Style Impact: Account Control. The worst position for salespeople to be in is to have relinquished account control and to be operating at the direction of the customer, or worse yet, a competitor. Conversely, top salespeople take command of the sales cycle process in order to control their own destiny.

3. Achievement Orientation. Eighty-four percent of the top performers tested scored very high in achievement orientation. They are fixated on achieving goals and continuously measure their performance in comparison to their goals.

Selling Style Impact: Political Orientation. During sales cycles, top sales, performers seek to understand the politics of customer decision-making. Their goal orientation instinctively drives them to meet with key decision-makers. Therefore, they strategize about the people they are selling to and how the products they're selling fit into the organization instead of focusing on the functionality of the products themselves.

4. Curiosity. Curiosity can be described as a person's hunger for knowledge and information. Eighty-two percent of top salespeople scored extremely high curiosity levels. Top salespeople are naturally more curious than their lesser performing counterparts.

Selling Style Impact: Inquisitiveness. A high level of inquisitiveness correlates to an active presence during sales calls. An active presence drives the salesperson to ask customers difficult and uncomfortable questions in order to close gaps in information. Top salespeople want to know if they can win the business, and they want to know the truth as soon as possible.

5. Lack of Gregariousness. One of the most surprising differences between top salespeople and those ranking in the bottom one-third of performance is their level of gregariousness (preference for being with people and friendliness). Overall, top performers averaged 30 percent lower gregariousness than below average performers.

Selling Style Impact: Dominance. Dominance is the ability to gain the willing obedience of customers such that the salesperson's recommendations and advice are followed. The results indicate that overly friendly salespeople are too close to their customers and have difficulty establishing dominance.

6. Lack of Discouragement. Less than 10 percent of top salespeople were classified as having high levels of discouragement and being frequently overwhelmed with sadness. Conversely, 90 percent were categorized as experiencing infrequent or only occasional sadness.

Selling Style Impact: Competitiveness. In casual surveys I have conducted throughout the years, I have found that a very high percentage of top performers played organized sports in high school. There seems to be a correlation between sports and sales success as top performers are able to handle emotional disappointments, bounce back from losses, and mentally prepare themselves for the next opportunity to compete.

7. Lack of Self-Consciousness. Self-consciousness is the measurement of how easily someone is embarrassed. The byproduct of a high level of self-consciousness is bashfulness and inhibition. Less than five percent of top performers had high levels of self-consciousness.

Selling Style Impact: Aggressiveness. Top salespeople are comfortable fighting for their cause and are not afraid of rankling customers in the process. They are action-oriented and unafraid to call high in their accounts or courageously cold call new prospects.

Not all salespeople are successful. Given the same sales tools, level of education, and propensity to work, why do some salespeople succeed where others fail? Is one better suited to sell the product because of his or her background? Is one more charming or just luckier? The evidence suggests that the personalities of these truly great salespeople play a critical role in determining their success.