Suzanne Paling: Women in Sales Talk Productivity

In this series, we delve into the personal and professional dimension of female thought leaders from the world of high tech sales to explore their views on productivity and sales effectiveness.

Cien connected with Suzanne Paling, a recognized leader in sales management, consulting and coaching. Suzanne is the author of two award-winning books “The Sales Leader’s Problem Solver” (Career Press 2016) and “The Accidental Sales Manager”(Entrepreneur Press 2010). She has interviewed thousands of salespeople and sales leaders and helped more than 55 companies improve their sales performance and processes.


Suzanne, where are you from, where do you live and what do you enjoying doing outside work?

Growing up, my family moved around a lot, so I’m not from any one state.  I live in Boston, MA. Outside of work, I enjoy reading, playing tennis, biking and hiking.


What is it that you like about sales? Why did you choose sales as a career path? 

I was attracted to the earning potential and meeting people. I also enjoy that exhilarating feeling that comes from closing a deal.


What was your first sales job?

I was a telemarketer, selling advertising.


What factors contributed to your success?

I’ve always been a curious person who enjoys asking questions and listening. I ask a lot of open-ended questions and allow people to respond in their own way. On the other hand, I like to bring things to a logical conclusion as well: closing the sale. I never liked standing still.


In your opinion, has sales changed in the last 5 years? If so, how?

Salespeople used to be able to provide current customers and prospects with information they could not get anywhere else. Nowadays, much of that information, as well as the competitor’s information, is available online. Customers can now make “pre-sale” decisions before they speak with salespeople.


What are the advantages or disadvantages of being a woman in sales, if any?

In my opinion, the advantage has always been the gender-blind, prejudice-free benefit of numbers. If you sell enough product and services to meet or exceed your quota, you are a successful sales rep – male or female. I don’t believe that the professional disadvantages are any different in sales than in other professions.


How can sales teams increase their productivity and effectiveness?

Sales teams can begin by hiring people with the skills and motivation to sell. Post-hire, leaders need to focus on engaging in continuous effective training, coaching, role playing, and professional development.


Where do you see sales leaders often falling short?

Sales leaders work through other people to achieve revenue goals, not do the work for themselves. I think they also have to hold reps accountable – which means sitting in judgement and potentially terminating someone’s employment. When leaders avoid this they keep under-performers on staff, which creates a culture of under-performance.


Which key performance indicators (KPIs) do you recommend sales leaders should track to ensure a highly productive sales team?

Ratios – Know the salesperson’s ratios (example: 48-10-5-3-1) – the number of cold calls they need to make to have a conversation, the number of conversations needed to give a demo, the number of demos needed to generate proposals and the number of proposals to close a sale.

Dropout rate – If a salesperson has 10 conversations, 5 result in the prospect scheduling a demo. The salesperson loses 5 prospects in that process. Why? What can be done to improve that number?


How do you see artificial intelligence (AI) impacting the way sales teams work?

AI and machine learning will amplify the trend I mentioned earlier. Prospects will be guided to content and products customized to their specific inquiries, which will then bring more knowledge under the belt of a salesperson. It’ll be necessary for the salesperson to know what transpired before they were engaged. However, the guidance offered by AI may not always be a good thing. Buyer’s needs often change during the buying process as they learn, and if AI has guided them in a purchase direction based on an incomplete understanding of the buyer’s needs, the salesperson may have to fight uphill to undo some of the initial “legwork” done by the AI.

But more positively, wouldn’t it be great if you, as a salesperson, could get an automated email from your AI assistant that said “I thought you’d like to know that customer A ordered 20% more widgets last year as of this date. My newsfeed indicates that their business is up overall 25% year over year. I have sent them an email asking them if they need to reorder, but suggest you follow up with a phone call.” 


What advice would you offer to other women to be successful in B2B sales?

I would tell her to put a lot of effort into learning to be an effective listener. Sure, software and training programs come and go in popularity – strong listening skills never go out of style. Read books, download white papers, listen to webinars and podcasts on the subject. Also, join a professional sales organization.


What does your sales stack look like?

I am experimenting with Nimble for CRM and use LinkedIn, Twitter, Constant Contact, SquareSpace and especially the phone, Skype, and Zoom – there’s no replacement for talking to people. As a consultant, I often use the tools my clients use. I recently started using a great tool for applicant tracking called Recruiterbox.


Is there a particular female sales leader or influencer you admire? And why?

When I first began managing salespeople, I read Linda Richardson’s Stop Telling Start Selling. I thought it was so sensible, concise and well written. It gave me confidence to know a woman had the experience and talent to write a book like that. Also, Jill Konrath has had such success with SNAP Selling. She is a sought after speaker and very generous with her time and advice to others in the profession.


What publications, sites, podcasts or books about sales do you enjoy?

I am a devoted reader of Art Sobczak’s newsletter, Sales Management Association webinars, and AAISP webinars. Some of my favorite authors include: Skip Miller, Linda Richardson, Stephan Schiffman, Jill Konrath, Jeb Blount and Mike Weinberg.


If you weren’t in B2B sales, what would you be doing professionally?

The field of mediation and negotiation has always interested me – so perhaps a mediator.


What should the sales community look out for from you in 2018?

My focus will be on the interviewing process. After a sales leader hires a salesperson, often there is disappointment on both sides. Much of that can be avoided with a multi-step, in-depth interview process with both parties better understand each other’s expectations.


About Suzanne Paling

Suzanne Paling, a recognized leader in sales management, has over 25 years of experience in sales management consulting and coaching — and is the author of two award-winning books “The Sales Leader’s Problem Solver” (Career Press 2016) and “The Accidental Sales Manager”(Entrepreneur Press 2010).Her clients comprise of product and service firms in the manufacturing, software, publishing, distribution, medical, and construction industries. Suzanne has been featured on blogs such as Selling Power, Training Industry and CEO World Magazine  and a guest on podcast such as: David Wolf of SmallBizAmerica, Susan Solovic of The One Percent Edge, and John Golden of Sales Chat.


You can connect with Suzanne Paling on LinkedIn or Twitter.


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