Tag Archives: sales

Business Insights: Screening Sales Leads

By Christopher Noon

Originally posted on Turf Magazine, November 2014

As green industry professionals, we operate in one of the most seasonal businesses within the home services industry. To compete at our highest level, it is imperative that we maximize time in the peak demand seasons of spring and fall. Maximizing time starts by creating sales team efficiency to connect with and provide pricing to qualified buyers. Time is money, and if we waste time with the wrong prospects there is less time with qualified buyers. As seasonal demand ends, qualified customers are not supported, and revenue for that year is lost.

If you and your sales team are not properly screening sales leads, you are immediately falling short as a company by not setting the proper expectations for the sales prospect on the other end of the line. This can cause unnecessary frustration for not only you but also for the potential customer that is inquiring about services. A great example of this happened to me when I was on the buying side of the sales process last month when I tried to do some renovations in my home. I find that when I am buying services from other contractors, I compare our company’s sales practices to the vendor’s practices. When I am the consumer, I understand what we do right as a company as well as where we need to improve.

I called the home contracting company to inquire about some interior painting and touch-up work at my home. One of the major weaknesses I encountered while asking for a quote was when I was not greeted by someone who would screen me as a qualified buyer. I should have been asked my name and all necessary contact information such as best phone number to reach the prospect and their email address, have you used this service in the past, what exactly do you need and what are your goals for the project, what is your timing and what is your budget for this project.

These may sound like basic questions but it helps the salesman understand the customer needs. By getting your sales team trained to consistently use these screening questions, it will filter out all sales leads that are not a match for your company. This saves time so that you and your team can focus on qualified leads. For example, if a prospect calls looking to have a walkway or patio installed at a price that is not compatible with company pricing parameters, don’t waste your time but suggest that the client go elsewhere. The screening of leads can be done in just a few minutes, keeping you and your sales team from wasting time on prospects that aren’t good fits for your company.

Quickly screening and eliminating prospects that don’t fit your “best customer profile” will give your team more time to focus on selling to more qualified prospects. Screening sales leads takes discipline and practice, but once you become proficient with it, you will win more quality sales from qualified clients.

Let your competitors waste their time chasing the unqualified buyers while you sell to the qualified ones!


John H. Patterson and the Sales Strategy of the National Cash Register Company, 1884 to 1922

John H. Patterson’s sales management techniques built National Cash Register into the dominant force in its industry and had a major impact on the development of modern selling. This excerpt from Business History Review looks at one aspect of the Patterson method.

Editor’s Note— John H. Patterson created an intricate system of management to monitor and train company salesman. He gave them scripts to memorize and assigned them territory to cover. He held conventions and thematic sales contests, and pressured salesmen to rid their regions of competition. Patterson sought to create a method of sales management that encompassed all aspects of selling, from the calculation of quotas and commission rates to the motivation of discouraged salesmen. This excerpt looks at one aspect of the Patterson method: the N.C.R. Primer.

portrait of J.H.Patterson


To ensure that salesmen communicated all the benefits of the register, Patterson gave them scripts to memorize. The practice of writing out sales arguments was rare, but not as new as some of Patterson’s biographers claim. 25 Booksellers and other canvassers had used scripts prior to the first N.C.R. Primer in 1887. As early as 1859, Henry B. Hyde of the Equitable Life Assurance Society published Hints for Agents, which contained persuasive arguments for company representatives to rehearse. Canvassers for the American Bible Society carried booklets with helpful scripts. 26 In 1879, Bates Harrington published How ‘Tis Done, which reprinted—and thereby according to the author “exposed”—the techniques of book canvassers, atlas salesmen, and lightning-rod peddlers. 27 While it is not clear that Patterson was familiar with any of these scripts, it is likely that his agents, many of whom had worked as salesmen in other fields, knew of them.

The first N.C.R. sales script was the creation of Patterson’s brother-in-law Joseph H. Crane. “How I Sell National Cash Registers,” which became known as the Primer, contained instructions not only on what salesmen should say, but also what they were to do while saying it. 28 In the Primer, an asterisk indicated that the salesman was supposed to point to the item that he was referring to:

I think the ordinary daily transactions with your customers may be arranged in five classes, thus

  1. You sell goods for cash.
  2. You sell goods for credit
  3. You receive cash on account
  4. You pay out cash.
  5. You change a coin or bill.

Am I right?

Now, sir, this register* makes the entries.

The indication* of the transaction shows through this glass.*

The amount* of the last recorded transaction is always visible, and the records are made by pressing the key. 29

The Primer divided a sale into four steps: approach, proposition, demonstration, and close. In the approach, the salesman made no mention of the cash register. Instead, he explained that he wanted to help the businessman find ways to increase profit—that he wanted, in effect, to act as a consultant. In the proposition, the salesman described the register for the first time and explained how it would prevent theft and give an accurate account of the day’s receipts. The goal of this stage was to schedule a demonstration of the machine in a nearby hotel where the salesman had set up a display, or, if convenient, in the local N.C.R. branch office. In the demonstration, the salesmen carefully led the customer up to the point of a purchase. When the moment seemed right, he attempted to close. This was the toughest part of the sale. The Primer offered a number of techniques, including the following:


After you have made your proposition clear and feel sure that the merchant realizes the value of the register, do not ask for an order, take for granted that he will buy. Say to him “Mr. Blank, what color shall I make it?” or “How soon do you want delivery?” … Take out your order blank, fill it out, and handing him your pen say, “Just sign where I have made the cross.”

If he objects, find out why, answer his objections and again prepare him for signature…. Make the merchant feel that he is buying because of his own good judgement … find out the real reason why and your chances are that that is the very reason why he should buy…. Concentrate your whole force on one good strong point, appeal to judgement, get him to acknowledge that what you say is true, then hand the pen to him in a matter-of-fact way and keep on with what you were saying. This makes signing the logical and obvious thing to do. 30

The Primer instructed salesmen to exert pressure in a forceful yet subtle manner. The key was to prevent a prospect from feeling manipulated. “Avoid giving the impression to the merchant that you are trying to force him to buy…. No man likes to feel he is being sold.” 31 At the same time, it was important for the salesman to exude confidence and honesty. Chief among the rules of salesmanship at N.C.R. was the ability to demonstrate “sympathy [toward] … the business and interests of the P.P. [or “Probable Purchaser”] and sincerity in presenting [the] machines to the P.P ” 32 These were skills to be honed. After an agent named John T. Watson had given a demonstration at the 1895 sales convention, one audience member praised Watson’s “sincerity” and another commented, “The best thing I noticed in the demonstration was that Mr. Watson’s manner indicated that he thought he was telling the truth.” 33

Even careful use of the Primer could not, of course, guarantee a smooth sale. The process of selling remained a cat and mouse game. When A. T. Webb, the agent for Portland, Oregon, set out to sell a machine, he began, as the Primer advised, by studying the prospect and gaining his “confidence.” When confronting an objection, he acknowledged the legitimacy of the complaint, and then tried to counter.

My method of taking orders, I presume, does not vary much from that of other managers. If the party calling is a stranger, the first thing is to learn and know my man, his residence, business, etc., and get his confidence then, I settle down, and will sell him the register best adapted to his wants and business; or, if he has made up his mind that he wants one like his neighbor’s, I sell him that one, no matter, if, in my judgement, it is not entirely best suited to his business. After I have his order in black and white, I then, if I think it advisable, undertake to educate him on the different registers, and see that he gets one best adapted to his work.

High prices, of course, is one of the hard things to contend with. On this point I generally say, “to you, no doubt, the price seems high, and I don’t blame you one bit for thinking so, because you lack experience and the knowledge of what our register will do.” … Frequently, in the course of my talk, I will tell the PP. that I don’t want to sell him a register, and will not, if I think he has no use or don’t care to use the register according to our instructions. As a reason for this, I tell him that one register misplaced might possibly spoil the sale of a dozen. 34

Over the years, the Primer underwent frequent revision. Not long after it was introduced, it was supplemented by a Book of Arguments that contained a catalog of answers to frequently asked questions. In January 1894, N.C.R. produced a more formal Sales Manual that combined the two. 35 The Manual reached its maximum size in the edition of 1904, with nearly two hundred pages. After that it was condensed so as to become easier for salesmen to master. The 1910 edition was a booklet of fifty-six pages. 36 Changes to the Primer were regarded like alterations in the register—both were part of an effort to constantly improve and keep up with shifting customer needs. E. St. Elmo Lewis, an N.C.R. employee who later became head of advertising at Burroughs, called the Primer “one of the fruits of the scientific attitude towards the problem of gaining greatest efficiency in selling goods.” 37


How relevant is the story of John H. Patterson and N.C.R. to the modern sales or marketing manager? Not only is study of Patterson’s leadership style informative and interesting, but a review of his foundations of modern sales techniques reveals a long list of familiar terms and methods that illuminates current practice.

While Patterson was not necessarily the first to implement training programs or institute quotas, his comprehensive approach to sales management and his own personal brand of leadership combined to shape an enduring legacy. The story is a fascinating read full of the details of Patterson’s strategies.


25. See Crowther, Patterson; Johnson and Lynch, Sales Strategy.

26. Peter J. Wosh, Spreading the Word The Bible Business in Nineteenth-Century America (Ithaca, N.Y. 1994).

27. Bates Harrington, preface to How `Tis Done A Thorough Ventilation of the Numerous Schemes Conducted by Wandering Canvassers (Chicago, 1879).

28. Crowther, Patterson, 106.

29. N.C.R. Corp., Celebrating the Future, (Dayton, 1988), 17.

30. Johnson and Lynch, Sales Strategy, 178.

31. Johnson and Lynch, Sales Strategy, 175.

32. The N.C.R., 1 Feb. 1899, 72. The term “PP.” was used throughout N.C.R.’s early history to designate “probable purchaser” and was changed by the company in 1897 to designate “possible purchaser” for the “sake of accuracy.” The N.C.R., 15 June 1897, 260.

33. See “Work of the Convention,” The N.C.R., 15 June 1895, 436.

34. The N.C.R, 1 Nov. 1891, 408-409.

35. The N.C.R., 1 Jan. 1894,10.

36. E. D. Gibbs, “How N.C.R. Gets 100 Percent Efficiency Out of its Men,” Printers’ Ink 764 (27 July 1911) 34.

37. Salesmanship The Journal of the World’s Salesmanship Congress (July 1916) 13.

Excerpted from the article “John H. Patterson and the Sales Strategy of the National Cash Register Company, 1884 to 1922” by Walter A. Friedman in the Business History Review, Winter 1998.

original source for article can be found at and is credited here:  http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/1143.html

The Strategic Way To Hire a Sales Team

The equivalent of an entire sales force is replaced at many firms every four years, so it’s critical that go-to-market initiatives remain tied to strategic goals. Frank Cespedes explains how in his book, Aligning Strategy and Sales.

Too often, there’s a huge gap between a company’s overall business strategy and the way its salesforce operates in the field. In fact, says Frank V. Cespedes, articles and books about strategy rarely take sales into consideration at all.

“Everybody talks about the importance of talent management,” says Cespedes, a senior lecturer in the Entrepreneurial Management unit at Harvard Business School. “But far fewer confront a basic fact: Companies typically spend much more money and hire many more people, annually, in their sales function than they do anywhere else in the firm. At Google and Groupon, for instance, a higher percentage of employees work in sales than engineering or data mining. And at Facebook the salesforce’s ability to translate ‘likes’ into advertisers will make or break that company’s valuation and fortunes going forward.”


In his new book, Aligning Strategy and Sales, Cespedes discusses why the gap is so common—and outlines effective steps to bridge it. This excerpt is drawn from the chapter “People,” in which Cespedes explains a strategic process for hiring and managing an effective salesforce:

Putting the right team on the field is crucial. As the saying goes, “You hire your problems.” Recruitment and selection are now more important for various reasons. Due to the data and analytical tasks facing many sales forces, productivity ramp-up times have increased. Each hire then represents a bigger sunk cost for a longer time. As baby boomers retire, they must be replaced. In addition, there were layoffs in sales (and other functions) throughout the recession starting in 2008. As firms seek to grow, putting more “feet on the street” (or in inside sales positions) increases hiring. And the math, as Jim Dickie and Barry Trailer document, is daunting. In surveys, their data has been consistent for years: involuntary turnover in sales organizations has remained at 13 percent, since peaking at 14.6 percent in 2009, and total turnover (involuntary and voluntary—i.e., retirements, moves, etc.) in both good and bad times runs between 25 and 30 percent.9 This means that the equivalent of the entire sales force must be replaced at many firms every four years or so. And the time frame shrinks if and when companies increase revenue targets.

So while strategy should drive search and selection, the exigencies of time and labor markets make this, as Roberge discovered, an ad hoc process at many firms. Most adopt a simple decision rule: look at the best reps, and try to hire more like them. But you’ll never have enough stars for all sales positions and, in fact, don’t want stars in all jobs. In any organization, some activities exhibit high performance variability but have little strategic impact.10 Think, in many selling situations, about the design of PowerPoint presentations: some folks are much better than others in doing this, but how much impact do the slides have versus other sales tasks? Other activities may be important strategically but exhibit relatively little performance variability—because the tasks are standard, because the firm or industry has reduced variability, or because the business model limits the bandwidth of performance variance. Think about the difference between sales personnel at Nordstrom, where personalized service and advice are integral to strategy execution, and Costco, where low price and product availability make selling activities less complex and variable. Or, more generally, think again about transaction versus solution customers in your pipeline, discussed in chapter 6, and how those sales activities vary.

You want your stars in activities that exhibit both high impact and high variability. That may be prospecting or account management; it may be transaction selling or solution selling; it may be call frequency or managing key channel partners. In activities with low impact or little variability, you don’t need stars and should not overpay, either in money or in time. In other words, effective hiring and selection in sales is about building the right portfolio of talent. This has actionable implications.

Focus on how the salesperson makes a difference. Continually ask, “Where are we spending too much—and too little—time, money, and talent across our sales tasks?” The strategic choices discussed in chapter 5 cascade to selection criteria. Also, the key activities will be affected by sales structure (see following) and the necessity—or not—of team selling (see chapter 10) and will change as your markets change. In subscription-based businesses like software and many consumer web services, sales activities with high variance and impact early on are about customer acquisition. But as the market matures, key activities tend to shift toward account management, reducing churn, working with engineering on custom applications, and up-selling or cross-selling additional services. Allocation of sales talent should change.

Focus on behaviors in selection. In many firms, this means upgrading assessment skills. Managers are excessively confident about their ability to evaluate candidates via one or two interviews. But studies across job categories indicate there is only about a 14 percent correlation between interview predictions and job success. This is especially true in sales. A job where individual performance can make a big difference inevitably leads to a cloning bias—many sales managers hire in their own image because how each manager achieved that performance is what got him or her promoted and in a position to hire. But the best results, by far, occur when recruiters can observe the relevant job behaviors.

There are many ways to observe potential hires’ behaviors, including simulations, the kinds of tests used at HubSpot, or interviewing techniques. Many sales organizations could emulate the practice used by investment banks and consulting firms when hiring MBAs: the summer job is, in effect, an extended observation—by multiple people at the firm—of the candidate’s task behaviors before a full-time offer is extended. After immersion in the job’s requirements, the firm and candidate are in a better position to select. Procter & Gamble and Met-Life provide sales candidates, days before an interview, with a case study of fifteen to thirty pages. It describes a selling situation, and the assignment is to plan a day, select target customers, and develop a sales pitch. The required work helps to check for motivation and preparation skills. At the interview, the candidate must explain his or her plan and then role-play the situation with a sales manager or trainer. Technology is increasing these possibilities via game-like simulations, virtual video environments, and online media that allow more behavioral assessments by more people with less travel and time. The real constraint in many firms, however, is the lack of assessment skills by sales managers. This underscores a point discussed in chapter 10: the importance of links between sales and HR. Sales managers know (or should know) the key sales tasks. But HR managers typically know a lot more about the tools, techniques, and options for assessing behaviors relevant to those tasks.

Be clear about what you mean by relevant “experience,” which is the most frequently used criterion by sales managers. In one survey, over 50 percent cited “selling experience within the industry” as their key selection criterion, and another 33 percent cited “selling experience in [an]other industry.” Driving this view is a belief that there’s a trade-off between hiring for experience and the amount of time and money that you don’tneed to spend on training and development. But these are very different things, and experience at another company—within or outside the same industry—is not easily portable. In a sales context, “experience” is an inherently multidimensional attribute. It may refer to experience with any (or any combination) of the following elements:

    • A customer group (e.g., a banker, a broker, or another financial-services manager hired by a software firm to call on financial-services prospects; or, in health-care businesses, different companies sell very different products, but many sell to hospitals)
    • A technology (e.g., an engineer or field-service tech hired to sell a category of equipment)
    • A company or division of the selling organization (e.g., a customer service rep moved to a sales position because internal cross-functional coordination is an important sales task and the rep “knows the people and how to get things done here”)
    • A geography or territory or culture (e.g., a member of a given nationality or ethnic group who knows, and has credibility within, the norms of the relevant customer’s culture)
  • Selling (e.g., an insurance agent or a retail associate with experience in another sales context)

The relevance of each type of experience varies with your sales tasks. In appraising talent, some sales managers “know it when they see it,” and many don’t. So consider what kind(s) of prior experience is truly relevant, and then require the people doing the selection to clarify what they mean when they see it.

Original link to post can be found and is credited here:  http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7433.html