Wednesday, February 29, 2012

5 Traits of Highly Successful Salesmen

By Geoffrey James  of INC Magazine

Are you cut out to make the sale? Make sure you've got these characteristics--or else learn to develop them.

Selling and buying are not purely intellectual exercises. Buyers and sellers are emotional human beings, which is why great salespeople are always masters at managing their own emotions. Based upon my observation (and some pretty hefty research in emotional intelligence), highly successful salespeople cultivate the following five emotional traits:

1. Assertiveness

This allows you to move a sales situation forward without offending or frustrating the customer. Think of it as being located halfway between passivity and aggressiveness. For example, suppose a customer is delaying a decision. There are at least three basic responses:

Passive: "Could you give me a call when you've made a decision?"

Aggressive: "If you don't buy right now, the offer is off the table."

Assertive: "Can you give me a specific time and date when you'll make your final decision?"

The passive response puts the sale on hold indefinitely (or give your competitor the opening to outsell you). The aggressive response creates pressure and resentment: Even if it works, you'll be seen as a typical pushy salesman. The assertive approach sets up the specific conditions for the close, without forcing the customer's pace.

2. Self-Awareness

You need to be able to identify your own emotions, understand how they work, and then use them to help you build stronger customer relationships. This is a four-step process:

Identify the emotions that you're feeling,

Based on experience, predict how those emotions will affect your sales effort.

Compensate for negative emotions that might hinder the sale.

Expand your positive emotions that might help you make the sale.

For example, suppose you feel furious that an important customer stood you up. You might take a break before your next meeting in order to remind yourself of all the times you've succeeded in the face of challenges. Or you might, as an ice-breaker, tell your second customer that you're having a tough day and why.

3. Empathy

This entails adapting your behavior to the customer's moods and emotions. It begins with listening and observing, but simply knowing what the customer might be feeling is not enough. You must be able to feel what the customer is likely to be feeling.

Suppose, during a sales call, you discover that the customer's firm just announced major layoffs. You could ignore the news and proceed with the sales call as if nothing had changed, or you could focus on your own desire to make the sale and ask your contact who will have buying authority after the layoffs are over.

Both responses to the event make business sense–but if you want to build a better relationship, you'll be empathetic and imagine your contact's sense of fear and confusion. Then, depending on your emotional reading of the customer, decide whether the customer would prefer to commiserate, complain or (alternatively) be distracted from the situation.

4. Problem Solving

The desire to solve a problem helps you create new ways to satisfy the customer's needs, both financial (the ROI of your offering) and emotional–such as the customer's need to be convinced that your and your firm are reputable and reliable. Problem solving is a four step process:

See the customer situation as it really is. (Never try to solve a problem before you fully understand it.)

Help the customer visualize a more desirable situation.

Devise a way to move the customer from the ways things are today to the way the customer would like them to be.

Communicate that solution in a way that makes it easy for the customer to make a decision.

While those steps might seem obvious, they're the exact opposite of old-school salesmanship, where selling entails "giving a great sales pitch."

5. Optimism

Optimism helps you maintain a sense of balance when things go awry. It proceeds directly from the (often unspoken) rules that you use to interpret daily events. For example, if the first sales call of the day goes poorly, your performance for the rest of the day will be different if you have this rule...

A bad first call means that I'm off my game this will be a bad day.
... rather than this rule:

Every sales call is different, so the next will probably be better.
Note that both rules are arbitrary responses to the same event, and neither is more "realistic" than the other. Even so, if you automatically jump to the first rule, rather than the second, it will be difficult for you to remain happy.

This principle works on bigger events, too. I've run into about a dozen top salespeople who saw the weak economy as an opportunity to sell even more,and did so, while their colleagues were busy hand-wringing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The 5 Hardest Jobs to Fill in 2012

By Keith Cline  INC Magazine

While you're planning your expansion, you're going to find that talent is in short supply, especially in these five areas.

The year flew by mostly because it was a very, very busy one.
Although the economy continues to face many challenges, the startup and tech industries are very much alive. The IPO window slightly opened up for companies like LinkedIn, Pandora, Groupon, Zynga, and Carbonite. We saw monster rounds of funding for companies like Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox. The appetite for seed and angel investing was extremely active. Tech incubators and accelerator programs kept popping up.
It was also a very busy year for hiring at startup companies, as you know, and it doesn't look like that will slow down in 2012. We've certainly seen opinions on both sides of the fence as to whether or not there is a tech bubble or 2012 will be another active year of investing. I'm an optimist and I believe the pace of investing will remain consistent. Yes, some companies will fail, of course, but others will scale and grow their teams at a steady clip.

Hiring the best of the best is an absolute must if you are going to build a successful company. You will need to be prepared to compete against big companies with deep pockets and other up-and-coming startups that also have blue chip investors and a game-changing idea.

So, what are the most competitive areas for talent these days? Here's a look:

Software Engineers and Web Developers

The demand for top-tier engineering talent sharply outweighs the supply in almost every market especially in San Francisco, New York, and Boston. This is a major, major pain point and problem that almost every company is facing, regardless of the technology "stack" their engineers are working on.

Creative Design and User Experience

After engineers, the biggest challenge for companies is finding high-quality creative design and user-experience talent. Since almost every company is trying to create a highly compelling user experience that keeps people engaged with their product, it is tough to find people who have this type of experience (especially with mobile devices including tablets) and a demonstrated track record of success.

Product Management

It is always helpful for an early-stage company to hire someone who has very relevant and specific experience in your industry. This is especially true for product management, since the person in this role will interface with customers and define the product strategy and use cases. However, be prepared, as it will be a challenge to find people with experience in these high-growth industries: consumer web, e-commerce, mobile, software as a service, and cloud computing.


I'm not talking about old-school marketing communications. Companies are looking for expert online marketers who know how to create a buzz of inbound marketing or viral traffic through the web, social media, and content discovery. Writing a good press release just doesn't cut it anymore, as everyone is looking for the savvy online marketing professional who understands how the current state of the web operates and knows how to make it work to their benefit.


Since data is becoming more and more accessible, smart companies are increasingly making decisions driven by metrics. Analytics is becoming a central hub across companies where everything (web, marketing, sales, operations) is being measured and each decision is supported by data. Thus, we are seeing a high level of demand for analytics and business intelligence professionals who almost act like internal consultants; they help determine what should be measured and then build out the capability for a company.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

9 Things That Motivate Employees More Than Money

By Ilya Pozin INC Magazine

Don't show 'em the money (even if you have it). Here are nine better ways to boost morale.

The ability to motivate employees is one of the greatest skills an entrepreneur can possess. Two years ago, I realized I didn’t have this skill. So I hired a CEO who did.

Josh had 12 years in the corporate world, which included running a major department at Comcast. I knew he was seasoned, but I was still skeptical at first. We were going through some tough growing pains, and I thought that a lack of cash would make it extremely difficult to improve the company morale.

I was wrong.

With his help and the help of the great team leaders he put in place, Josh not only rebuilt the culture, but also created a passionate, hard-working team that is as committed to growing and improving the company as I am.
Here are nine things I learned from him:
Be generous with praise. Everyone wants it and it’s one of the easiest things to give. Plus, praise from the CEO goes a lot farther than you might think. Praise every improvement that you see your team members make. Once you’re comfortable delivering praise one-on-one to an employee, try praising them in front of others.

Get rid of the managers. Projects without project managers? That doesn’t seem right! Try it. Removing the project lead or supervisor and empowering your staff to work together as a team rather then everyone reporting to one individual can do wonders. Think about it. What’s worse than letting your supervisor down? Letting your team down! Allowing people to work together as a team, on an equal level with their co-workers, will often produce better projects faster. People will come in early, stay late, and devote more of their energy to solving problems.

Make your ideas theirs. People hate being told what to do. Instead of telling people what you want done; ask them in a way that will make them feel like they came up with the idea. “I’d like you to do it this way” turns into “Do you think it’s a good idea if we do it this way?”

Never criticize or correct. No one, and I mean no one, wants to hear that they did something wrong. If you’re looking for a de-motivator, this is it. Try an indirect approach to get people to improve, learn from their mistakes, and fix them. Ask, “Was that the best way to approach the problem? Why not? Have any ideas on what you could have done differently?” Then you’re having a conversation and talking through solutions, not pointing a finger.

Make everyone a leader. Highlight your top performers’ strengths and let them know that because of their excellence, you want them to be the example for others. You’ll set the bar high and they’ll be motivated to live up to their reputation as a leader.

Take an employee to lunch once a week. Surprise them. Don’t make an announcement that you’re establishing a new policy. Literally walk up to one of your employees, and invite them to lunch with you. It’s an easy way to remind them that you notice and appreciate their work.

Give recognition and small rewards. These two things come in many forms: Give a shout out to someone in a company meeting for what she has accomplished. Run contests or internal games and keep track of the results on a whiteboard that everyone can see. Tangible awards that don’t break the bank can work too. Try things like dinner, trophies, spa services, and plaques.

Throw company parties. Doing things as a group can go a long way. Have a company picnic. Organize birthday parties. Hold a happy hour. Don’t just wait until the holidays to do a company activity; organize events throughout the year to remind your staff that you’re all in it together.

Share the rewards—and the pain. When your company does well, celebrate. This is the best time to let everyone know that you’re thankful for their hard work. Go out of your way to show how far you will go when people help your company succeed. If there are disappointments, share those too. If you expect high performance, your team deserves to know where the company stands. Be honest and transparent.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Talent for Tech: Hiring A-Players, at a minimal salary

Provided all goes well, you may reach that point in your venture when you receive funding. In order to grow, the next step is to expand the team by hiring “A-players.” These are people who can wear multiple hats, fit with the company culture and communicate well. While they are not part of the founding team, they are crucial to advancing your startup to that next level.
Chris De Sousa, of headhunting firm Hireglyphics, has a high volume of clients seeking A-players. “It’s a challenge finding these high-quality candidates because they know they are good. As a result, they are just as picky as the companies.” De Sousa believes we are seeing a “candidate market” right now, since many companies are looking for the same type of talent.
Where to look

Wondering how to find an A-player? Start with the obvious: tap into your own networks and those of your fellow founders. Make use of local innovation centres and see if any advisors can provide referrals. And don’t hesitate to pursue candidates not formally in the job market, because they may be willing to take on a new challenge.
Your next option is the tried-and-true tactic of posting your job on as many websites as you can. Alex Norman, co-founder of HomeSav, said he found LinkedIn to be the best channel through which to hire for sales, marketing and HR positions. “It was not especially good for seeking out developers.”

Another option is to engage a recruiting agency―one that specializes in technology companies would be ideal. These agencies know the trends in the market, they can help you with HR activities such as writing job descriptions, and they can promote your company and its positions on your behalf. But the agency route does not work for everyone. In Norman’s experience, “the recruiting agencies had a solid candidate pool, but were only able to pull people that wanted high salaries. This is not as effective when you’re looking to bring a $40K/year developer on board. Plus, agencies often take a 20% commission so it ends up being quite expensive if you’re at an early stage.”

To find developers who were willing to take a lower salary, Norman had the best luck with classified websites Kijiji and Craigslist.

How to entice them
Think about location

If you still haven’t picked a location for your company’s headquarters, give it some thought based on the type of people you wish to hire. For example, where is your talent located now? De Sousa says, “office space may be cheaper in suburbia, but does your talent want to commute there?”
Derek Webb, a recent computer science graduate now working with Xtreme Labs, says “location wasn’t a huge concern to me when I was looking for a job. I didn’t want to base my job around where I wanted to live.” However, with Xtreme Labs based in downtown Toronto, Webb adds “being in the heart of Toronto is definitely a nice perk!”
Build a compelling website

Phil Noelting, founder of hiring platform Qwalify, has spent a lot of time speaking with job seekers in Ontario. Through his research, he’s found that a Gen Y job seeker tends to look first at a company’s website in order to learn more about them, and then will continue to search for job postings there. “This is different from Gen X, who tend to search for jobs locally.” Noelting sees a website as being a company’s main identity, and advises startups to keep their sites fresh, relevant and interesting in order to entice talent. In his own experience with recruiting, Noelting found “there was a lot of traction around our website―people were visiting it and sending us emails saying they were interested in working for us.”
Compete like a startup, not a tech giant

Let’s face it. Tech startups do not have the means to compete with giant tech companies on salary, nor on benefits or reputation. Says Webb, “many of the Valley firms come up to Waterloo to hire―including Facebook, Apple and Google. A lot of students apply to these!” What makes the situation for startups even harder is that companies like Google have created an entrepreneurial environment, where engineers and product managers get to own entire products. So what can startups offer a candidate?

When hiring technical staff, it’s a lot better to try and sell the potential of who that person can become moving forward. For example, emphasize what languages that developer will learn, and who they will learn it from. Says Noelting, “Facebook can’t give developers as much breadth of learning because their technologies are established, so a developer is limited by what languages he/she will code in.”
Suneel Acharya, formerly with startup TalentBin, was attracted to the company based on their promise of responsibility, growth, on-the-job learning, a broad variety of work, and direct involvement in the success of the organization. Helen Robert from TechEdge, a firm that advises technology companies on compensation, feels “this is surprisingly important to people. It’s important that employees feel connected to the organization and that what they do directly helps with the company’s success.”
Lastly, stay flexible. Offer some leeway in time and location so that your employees can work on their own schedule. Says Robert, “flexibility doesn’t cost an organization anything, but it can really set apart a small company from a big one.”
Provide equity

Experts in the tech industry often advise startups to treat their early staff like late founders, by giving them a stake in the company. It comes down to the cash vs. king mentality, where you shouldn’t be afraid of giving up ownership if your end goal is to raise money and continue growing the pie. And providing equity is a great way to get your employees dedicated, and feeling like an integral part of the team.

Webb remembers the lacklustre attitude his classmates had about joining smaller startups. “They weren’t a part of the inception, so it wasn’t really their company. It’s more exciting when you help to create it.”
Of course, many startups fear that employees will take equity and leave a few months later. One way to mitigate this is to bring new hires in on a “trial” basis. Acharya was brought on board his Silicon Valley startup with a six-month contract, with a potential for hire. “Contracting is a big thing in the Valley―it provides a safety net for companies.”
And Acharya recommends advancing new hires slowly vis-à-vis their equity amounts, so that startups remain protected from employee turnover. Acharya shared with us how a common contract in the Valley reads:
No equity for one year

25% of your end-state equity share after the first year

A pro-rated amount of equity every month thereafter

Another common practice that Acharya shared is to align incentives by writing contracts based around milestones. “If you’re targeting a major milestone in three years and need a technical lead for that, structure their contract around the three-year mark. Arrange the contract so that once the milestone has been met or the three-year mark is up, they receive their equity.”
Be honest about salary

Media outlets report that Google is paying new computer science graduates $90,000–$105,0001, a figure that most startups simply cannot match. But do young workers really prioritize salary when seeking a job? Robert from TechEdge feels “they want to be treated fairly in relation to their peers. Salary may not be driving their decision, but it will become an issue if their salary dips below what they perceive to be fair.”
Norman of HomeSav, however, had a different experience. “Although we were offering many of our candidates Options to join us, they were more interested in salary and benefits. We had a hard time convincing them to forgo higher salaries at a firm like Google or Microsoft and to work for us instead.”
What did recent graduate Webb have to say about this? “Salary was always at the back of my mind, whether I said it or not. Then again, if I’m going to get paid a lot but not enjoy the work, then it’s not worth being there. I need to care about the work and be passionate about what I’m doing.”

Robert advises that “it’s better to be upfront with your staff from the onset, and let them know if you can’t pay the market average at the moment. But commit to increasing their salary once the business hits a certain revenue point―a point you will need their help getting to.”
Support their development

A recent article in The New York Times shared the story of Valley-based startups that lure talent by providing weekly lessons on how to start a business and how to find venture capitalists to finance it. Redfin, an online real-estate brokerage, is one of these companies. They set up meetings between recruits and venture capitalists so that new hires can start talking about their own companies. Redfin also runs classes twice a month on entrepreneurship.
As the war for talent in Silicon Valley continues, companies are using these strategies to lure in good candidates―candidates that are eager to start their own ventures, but may not yet have the experience or connections to succeed.

On the whole, remember that championing the development of your employees will yield benefits. While they may not stay with you for the long run, if you create a good rapport they will be more likely to refer other talent to you, or help out later on a part-time basis.