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Mark Connelly of Culture Index, Inc., addresses the Synergy Solution Group's Sales Management Forum.

Notes From Synergy Group’s Sales Management Forum

The Forum was a chance for members to get together and share what sales tips, tactics and techniques have been working for them throughout the year.

CHICAGO, IL — The Synergy Solution Group held their annual Sales Management Forum in downtown Chicago at the Thompson Hotel on July 14th-16th. The Forum was a chance for members to get together and share what sales tips, tactics and techniques have been working for them throughout the year, and hopefully help all members find greater success in the year to come.

The Synergy Solution Group is a peer network of more than 40 companies. Most are commercial HVAC professionals with a focus on service and maintenance; a number are full-service mechanicals offering plumbing, electrical and more. The most recent Sales Management Forum saw members attending from as far away as New Hampshire, California and Hawaii. (The group also holds a Service Operations Forum, typically in January.)

Synergy has its origins in a group of sales and service professionals who broke away from a large mechanical contractor during ownership changes. Their goal was to build a network not owned by any one contractor, dedicated to the support of its members. The organization prizes servant-leadership, innovation (with a stress on new technology) and fun.

Behavioral Analytics

The Monday afternoon session on July 15th included a presentation by Mark Connelly, Executive Advisor for the Culture Index, Inc. Culture Index is a strategic advisory firm that uses a number of techniques and proprietary testing systems to help companies optimize their operations. Synergy Solutions partners with Culture Index to offer behavioral analytics to its members.

For that day’s exercise, members had brought in testing results from various team members. Culture Index’s testing examines various personality traits, ranks them, then groups them into easily-recognizable patterns.

The main traits tested for include Autonomy (persons who are driven, aggressive and assertive), Social Skills (those who are emotional, fun, empathic), Patience, Conformity to Rules and some others. Connelly was quick to note that a high or low level in any of these traits was not necessarily good or bad, but that employers needed the right combination to fill the right role. Finding that, he said, can make the difference between an A-list performer and a B-list performer – and that difference can work out to between 1 and 1.5 million in sales over the course of a year.

Take, for example, your “hunters” – sales people dedicated to finding and securing new business for your company. You definitely want those people to be high in Autonomy. At the same time, they need to score high in Social Skills so their aggressiveness doesn’t become alienating. You want them to score low in Patience; while other people are waiting around, your A-list hunter is either making it happen or moving on to the next thing. And lastly, Connelly said, a touch of Conformity to Rules; while it’s important to get the details hammered out, that conformity acts as a brake pedal that can slow your hunter down.

Culture Index has found that a different mix of attributes makes for an A-list Account Manager, someone who has to work with the same set of clients over a long period of time. For Account Managers neither Autonomy nor Social Skills were predictive of success. Instead, they needed low Patience (Account Managers can have a lot of different ongoing tasks and don’t have time to get bogged down) and high Conformity to Rules. And Service Technicians require a different mix again (usually with high Conformity and high Patience).

The key point of behavioral analytics, Connelly said, was in evaluating an individual’s attributes and then using that data to make key decisions. Not just on what role a person is to play in the company, but how best they can be coached and developed. Connelly described himself as a very low Conformity to Rules person. To account for that he makes religious use of his calendar, is always scheduling himself 15-minute reminders, and sets an hour out of his day just for answering e-mails.

Hiring the Best

Because finding A-list sales people can be so determinative of a company’s success, Connelly suggested taking the recruitment process out of HR and moving it to sales and marketing. After all, who better to find new hunters than your hunters?

Having your best people search for more candidates like themselves means developing an internal referral program. It could be offering anywhere from $500 to $1,000 (depending on the position) to an employee who brings in a new hire that lasts 6-8 weeks.

However, “There is all the difference in the world between having an internal referral program and using an internal referral program,” Connelly said. It needs to be kept in front of your people at all times, particularly when they first come on board. Ideally, at least 20 percent of your candidates should be from internal referrals.

When it comes to using social media to reach out to new candidates you need to do more than just post, you need to connect, particularly with the employees of your competitors. Tell your company story. Tell what it is like to work for your company. Millennials and Gen Z are looking for more than just a paycheck; they want to play a meaningful part in a community.

Connelly also recommended maximizing use of job posting sites. Do what it takes to get your posting to the front page and keep it there. For hunters, he recommended a sponsored ad on Indeed or a TrafficBoost on Zip Recruiter. For Account Managers he also recommended Craig’s List, which can get pricy if you need to relist, but is worth it if you have a position you absolutely need to fill.

And don’t neglect leadership development. Always be training, always be promoting people from within the organization, and constantly feed the pipeline.

Onboarding

After Connelly’s presentation and a brief Q&A Kevin Almon, owner of Vital Mechanical Service—an HVAC and plumbing contractor serving Washington state’s Puget Sound region—took the discussion to the next phase. Once you’ve made that quality hire, how do you introduce them to your company’s culture, methodology, strategy and values?

Almon discussed his company’s onboarding process, which typically takes about an hour. It includes a run-down on:

  • Company values
  • Core focus
  • Market niche
  • Company vision
  • Sales goals and current progress

By the end of the orientation, Almon wants his new hire to be able to answer two key questions: how do we, as a company, differentiate ourselves from the competition? And, what do we look for in a customer?

For example, one of Vital Mechanical’s values is “don’t be grumpy.” Grumpy people, Almon said, are awful to work with, a drain on productivity, and life’s just too short to spend it dealing with such people. That value works as both a differentiator, as well as something they look for in potential customers.

Vital uses a spreadsheet that contains the company’s overall sales and marketing program and is also chock-full of training videos and Salesforce links.  Each new hire on the sales gets access to the spreadsheet—which is continually updated—and needs to familiarize themselves with it.

After Almon’s presentation, Scott Fleming, VP of Sales and Marketing at Storer Services, an HVAC and buildings solutions provider based in Shreveport, LA, took the podium to talk a little bit about his company’s onboarding system.

Every hire gets an overview of the company’s history, culture and vision. Every hire gets shown around to every department; not that everyone works directly with everyone else, but Fleming wants everyone aware of how many different facets of the operation have to work together smoothly for the company to be successful.

And lastly, he wants everyone who starts work at Storer to know how much fun they are going to have working there. Yes, he admits, it’s hard work most days, but if you’re not having fun you’re doing it wrong.

Fleming also made the important point of how onboarding flows back into recruiting—being a good place to work, a fun place to work, get around in the industry.

Lessons Learned

Then the floor was opened up to a general discussion. Some of the topics included:

  • Telling the employment journeys of our employees; tech to sales guy to whatever.
  • Tailoring our service agreements to our customers; not having it be all about price, but more about giving options and differentiating ourselves.
  • Getting out of the contractor mind-set and thinking instead like a building owner.
  • Putting the focus on our company’s strengths; taking whatever you company is best at and making it the thing your company is know for, and then charging a premium for your expertise.
  • We need to pick and choose our customers, find the ones that are the best fit for our company; it drives up the “win” rate.
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