GuruGanehsa Khalsa is not your typical salesperson. After starting off as a shoe salesman and transitioning to the tech industry, he was introduced to the Sandler Selling System in 1981. The methodology changed his life forever, leading him on a path where he would eventually become the founder and CEO of the Sales Training Institute of Virginia, one of the top high-tech sales training organizations in the world.
In this episode of Labcast, Ganesh calls in to discuss what the Sandler method is all about, his own personal training style, and the tips any salesperson can use when dealing with prospects.
Brendan Cournoyer: Hello, once again everyone, and welcome to this episode of Labcast. Today we are joined by GuruGanesh Khalsa, affectionately known as Ganesh so he tells me, founder and CEO of the Sandler Sales Institute of Virginia, which is known as one of the world’s premiere high tech sales training organizations. Ganesh, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.
GuruGanesha Khalsa: Brendan, it’s a pleasure to be with you today.
Brendan: Before we get started, I’d really like to give you a chance to tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, your background, and some of the work that you do at the Sandler Sales Institute.
Ganesh: Well, I’ve been in sales since I was 23, and in the ’70s I was a manufacturer’s rep for a bunch of different lines of footwear. They called me the “shoe guru.” Then in the ’80s, I hooked up with a company called Microstrategies, which sold computerized retail management systems into the soft goods industry, and primarily guys who owned 8, 10, or 12 shoe stores. That’s when I was first introduced to the Sandler Selling System. A customer company encouraged me to go to a seminar, and it changed my life.
I was really struggling as a sales rep selling these computerized retail management systems that started at about $40K, after selling footwear that was selling at $12 a pair. But the training really turned my head around. I wouldn’t say I was an instant success a few weeks after taking the training, but over a couple of year period of time, I started to implement it and went from being the number 13 rep out 16 in my first year there to in ’84, ’85, and ’86 being the top rep at the company out of about 35 reps.
Ganesh: In ’86, some of the guys were asking me to teach them . . . first off, they had a bet going when I came on board that a guy that looked like me would never make a sale, and here I was four or five years later, the number one rep in the company.
Brendan: Right, and please describe yourself for some of the folks who haven’t seen a picture of you or been to one of your training sessions.
Ganesh: Well, I’m kind of an unconventional guy. I embrace an Indian lifestyle called Sikhism, and I wear a turban and have a long white beard. Well, it wasn’t white back then, but it’s white now. As I said, I’m the most unconventional looking sales trainer in the software industry. But at least if I do a good job, people never forget me. Of course, if I do a bad job, they never forget me either.
In any event, that’s when some of the guys started asking, “What the heck are you doing out there?” I started informally training some of the other reps, and the president of the company heard about it. A few of them started to do a little bit better, and he basically hired me. He didn’t lower my quota, but he hired me part time to go to the different sales offices and train the salespeople. I really enjoyed it. At a certain point, one of the gals that was working for us said, “Ganesh, you seem to have a flair for training. Have you ever considered actually going into the sales training business?”
I hadn’t, but she planted a little bug in my ear and I started doing some due diligence. In ’89, I bought a franchise from the Sandler Sales Institute. So I’ve been doing this now for 22 years.
Brendan: I obviously haven’t been to one of your sales training sessions, but I have spoken to some folks who have, and it’s described as “edu-tainment” on your website, and the folks I’ve talked to have said that’s pretty right on the money. Your philosophy really seems to be to keep things loose and fun during a training seminar, which seems to work pretty well.
Ganesh: Thank you. I think most salespeople have a little bit of ADHD, short attention span. So if you don’t entertain them right out of the gate, you lose them fast.
Brendan: Sure. I’d like to talk to you a little bit about our audience, especially at OpenView Venture Partners we deal primarily with expansion-stage technology companies, and we do a lot of work with our portfolio helping build out their sales teams and improve their sales processes. I think this is a great opportunity for you to fill us more in on the Sandler Selling System that you’ve been working with for so long now and how that methodology that you recommend can be applied for startups and growing companies in the tech sector.
Ganesh: Yeah. Well, I think that the number one reason it’s been so successful is that it gives the sales team a system. What’s interesting about the system and the way we present is it’s not just a system to give the salespeople an edge over the buyer. We truly believe, and the sales folks who attend our seminars come away really feeling this system is designed to be in the best interest of both parties.
It’s very client-centered, so customers feel really good about it. It focuses on that the salesperson should develop a real deep understanding of the customer’s challenges – what’s important to them, what’s not important to them, what they’re trying to accomplish – before presenting a solution. Also, it’s a system that really puts the seller into a leadership position throughout the selling cycle, but the seller does it in such a way that the prospective client feels very comfortable with it. In effect, when a salesperson really internalizes this approach, it’s very consultative, so he quickly becomes a trusted advisor instead of the typical pushy, obnoxious, self-serving, overly aggressive sales rep.
Brendan: I’d love to talk to you a little bit also about some of the things that Sandler Style can help with. What are some of the common mistakes and pitfalls that a lot of salespeople, especially at younger organizations, make and should try and avoid?
Ganesh: The biggest mistake that the sales reps make is they don’t necessarily have a plan, and as a result, I’d say close to 100% of the time, if you were a fly on the wall watching the typical inexperienced sales rep sell, it’s very clear that the buyer is in complete and total control of the process. So when the buyer says jump, the typical sales rep says, “How high?” When the buyer says roll over, the typical sales rep says, “Should I land face up or face down?” The inexperienced sales force is expending so much unnecessary time, energy, and resources. It drives the cost of sales way up. It increases the length of the average selling cycle. It results in a tremendous amount of unnecessary discounting. The average sale is usually quite lower than it could be. The closing ratio in competitive situations is low because the seller is really not in control of the process. They’re not providing leadership.
Brendan: It just speaks more to the fact of how important it is for companies, as they look to expand, they are usually going to have somewhat of a young sales force, an inexperienced sales force, how important it is to really have a sound, quality, not just a VP of sales, but a sales manager managing that team and really guiding those reps through the process and helping them improve.
Ganesh: Good point, and as a training organization, the best time for us to get a hold of a sales teams is when they’re young, because it’s much easier to train young salespeople than it is to train old dogs who have 30 years of bad habits.
Brendan: Right, I bet. Let’s talk a little bit about metrics as well. What are some of the key performance indicators or metrics for salespeople to really focus on, especially for younger companies, smaller companies really looking at that growth stage?
Ganesh: Well, there are a lot of metrics. Obviously, you want to look very closely at what the length of the average selling cycle is. In other words, from the initial point of contact to where you’ve got an outcome, an outcome being either a signed contract or a clear no for the time being, i.e. there’s nothing in either party’s in basket left. In the typically inexperienced sales organization the length of the average selling cycle is way longer than it ought to be, which results in just a huge amount of unnecessary expenditure of time, energy, and resources. That’s one of the key things to look at.
Another one of the things you want to look at is, okay, what is the size of an average deal is? Also, you’re looking very closely at what is the average profit margin per sale? It’s interesting, in a sales organization, oftentimes you’ll find your more experienced salespeople who have been trained, the average profit margin on one of their deals is dramatically higher than an inexperienced sales rep that hasn’t been trained. We could go on and on.
You want to take a look at what is your closing ratio in competitive situations. It’s often nice, if you have one key competitor or two or three key competitors, you break it down by competitor. Also, in high tech selling, oftentimes, especially if a deal is six figures or more, you have to deliver to the customer evidence or proof that your solution is right. Oftentimes, the delivery of that evidence, in terms of a proof of concept or a pilot or an evaluation, can be extremely expensive. What you want to look at is, typically, from the time you deliver a proof of concept, how soon do you have an outcome, a clear decision? The well trained organizations tend to get a very clear yes or no very soon after that type of important cost intensive activity, whereas the inexperienced training organization is doing it way too early. To use a football analogy, they don’t have the ball down in the red zone before they start expending those kinds of resources, and as a result, it’s quite painful.
Probably, the biggest and most important metric you’re looking at is the margin of error in your forecast. That tends to be very high with inexperienced sales organizations. Everybody has a margin of error, but with a really disciplined, well trained sales organization using a high caliber system like Sandler, the margin of error in the forecast is very small, and the upside being . . . for example, an organization that manufactures goods, if the forecasting is inaccurate, it can wreak havoc in terms of open inventory and so forth and so on.
Brendan: What about companies from certain metrics that are looking whether or not to grow their sales organization and new reps and whether or not they really need to start expanding? Are those some of the same metrics? Do they overlap, or are there some different things that they should be looking at there?
Ganesh: I think that those metrics that I laid out in terms of measuring the length of the average selling cycle, reducing discounting, increasing the size of the average deal, higher closing ratios, lower costs per sale, it’s the same stuff. These are the basics. This is sales management 101.
Brendan: What about metrics that don’t really matter? Obviously, some of metrics are more important than others. But do you see some managers or some organizations that pay too close attention to some metrics that just really aren’t telling them as much as they think they are?
Ganesh: I’d say more often I see very sloppy ways of measuring things. Almost any metrics out there can be useful if they’re accurate. But regrettably, when you look at the way people capture information, oftentimes the information that they’re using is so skewed as to be almost a hindrance rather than a help.
Brendan: Ganesh, that’s pretty much all of the questions we have for today. I really want to thank you again for taking the time to talk with us, and I’d also like to give you the chance to tell our listeners where they can go to hear more from you.
Ganesh: Well, they can give me a call at 703-517-2233.
Brendan: Wow, a phone number in a podcast. There you go. Wasting no time.
Ganesh: Well, I’ll tell you, still an actual human-to-human conversation is the most effective way to do business, whether it’s face to face or on the telephone, even though a lot of younger folks would rather do it through emails and text messages. I think people still like doing business with people they like and trust. They want to feel you. As a human being, they want to hear your voice. They want to see you. So I encourage anybody out there who is interested to give me a call.
Brendan: Sure. I’ve heard a lot of trainers actually raise that point how a lot of younger reps especially prefer just sending out a bunch of emails. People almost seem to be afraid to pick up the phone these days, but a lot of the sales trainers raise the exact same point that you did. You just don’t get that same sense of engagement and communication with people that you do face-to-face or on the phone, as you do via all the different forms of written communication that have become more common today, I guess.
Ganesh: You’re absolutely right, Bren. Your personal presence is the most important thing in sales. In other words, what’s the emotional impact you have on your fellow human beings? Do they like you or do they not like you? People do business with people they like and trust. In a face-to-face meeting, you’ve got your physiology, you’ve got your tonality, and the words you use. In a phone conversation, at least you’ve got your tonality, which has a much greater impact on another person than the actual words you use. In an email or text message, if you don’t have a prior relationship to refer to, all you’ve got are words, and words are very one dimensional and can be misinterpreted very easily without the context of the tonality of your voice. In a face-to-face meeting, your physiology, your eyes, your facial expressions, and so forth and so on. There’s no substitute for that.
Brendan: Well, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us over the phone today once again. Like you said, people can call you if they’d like to get some more information. They can also find some more information at www.sandler.com. Is that correct?
Ganesh: That’s correct. We have a rather large organization, so if they want to talk to me, they should dial up the phone number. If they want to get just a broad sense of what we do internationally, they can go to Sandler.com.
Brendan: Excellent. Well, thanks very much again. Hopefully, we’ll get to do this again sometime soon.
Ganesh: Brendan, it’s been a pleasure.