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Sales Manager Interview – William L. Sgro
By James Rothaar
Have you ever wondered how the most accomplished sales managers lead? When we say accomplished, we’re talking about someone that has a track record and earnings in the six-figure range. If you’re going to listen to what someone has to say about sales leadership and management, it should come from a proven expert.
Mr. William L. Sgro is the Director of National Accounts for Eco-Engineering, which is located in Los Angeles, California. The firm sells industrial lighting solutions and energy-conservations systems. Mr. Sgro is a sales and marketing professional with more than 40 years of experience. He is a multimillion-dollar producer who has worked in sales, marketing, and sales management. He also is an assistant professor, teaching marketing and business-oriented classes at Moorpark College in Moorpark, California.
How did you get into sales management?
It was a progression through the ranks. I started as a sales trainee; sales assistant; outside sales. I demonstrated initiative; creativity; resourcefulness, willingness to learn and take on responsibility. I established a track record of success. At the same time, I developed a network of key personnel within the company that provided guidance and assistance.
Describe briefly what your company is selling and your particular responsibilities, please.
We market energy savings lighting retrofits and upgrades, along with lighting controls. I am currently the director of national accounts.
How did you find this position?
Networking with the principal of the company over a period of years, a recruiter reached out and presented the opportunity to me.
What are some of the rewards of management?
Actually, there are several primary rewards – satisfaction of seeing your people grow and achieve success; being part of shaping your company to meet changing market conditions and challenges; achieving your objectives through your people; and recognition.
At times, it can be overwhelming, especially if senior management is unrealistic in their expectations; interdepartmental politics; recognition of more opportunity than able to address successful; the temptation to become overly involved with your subordinates.
What makes a great salesperson and a manager?
Let me try to rank these for you. First and foremost, it is the ability to listen; treating everyone in the organization with respect and as you would like to be treated; understanding your client’s operation and needs, and then offering realistic, honest solutions. Being honest in all your actions and/or activities. Staying current with the respective technologies, the markets, and the competitors. Staying on a continuous learning curve. It is vital to realize that you never stop learning.
How are your territories established?
Primarily, our territories are assigned by market segmentation. We have retail, industrial, and distribution types of accounts. The second step is followed a geographic overlay.
Do you think it could be done more fairly?
No, I believe we have developed an effective sales strategy that addresses the key markets for our specific services efficiently. We just need to continually refine strategies to achieve maximum results.
How are you compensated?
It is a combination of straight salary and commission based on my team achieving sale goals.
What type of sale training do you provide your people and how has it helped?
Our training focuses on sales techniques and skills training. It is ongoing and includes the utilization of new technology, such as tablets; computers, and software programs. We also provide training for new products and product-application training.
Does your staff get involved in finding and selling new prospects or just handling existing accounts?
It is split.
If both, what percentage of each?
It is 60/40—existing to new.
Do you continually look for new salespeople as possible replacements and how?
We are always keeping our eye out for talent. Our primary sources are personal interface; recommendations from vendors; utilization of recruiters.
What types of research do you require your staff to do prior to meeting with a client or a prospect?
Our sales reps are expected to develop as much information on the clients –their primary activity; whom they may be doing business with currently; their expectations; their financial stability; their performance; and who are their main competitors. Do they have a competitive market advantage? Have they undertaken energy conservation programs previously? The intent is to leave no questions unanswered.
Describe for me the typical selling process in front of the customer.
We thank them for their time; introduce self and purpose of call; through a series of questions, we ask for an overview of their operations, expectations, financial requirements for a lighting upgrade project, that is, pay-back period or percentage on IRR; whom else will be in the decision loop; at same time provide an overview of our company and core competencies, what uniquely differentiates us from our competitors. The objective is to listen more than we talk.
Do you ever team sell?
Yes, absolutely. We have experts in this field that at times will be included in a presentation. It generally occurs after a first meeting with the client, once we have clearly established their needs, wants, and concerns.
What are some of the more common concerns you encounter?
Achieving project financial criteria; changing technologies; and potential interference with a client’s existing operations are concerns.
How do you handle those?
We offer alternative solutions—good, better, and best. We share case study experiences working in their specific industry, offer references; demonstrate lost savings through delay or chasing technologies, being honest and straightforward in our responses-builds trust and confidence. We are looking to establish long-term relationships … or to obtain solid referrals. We are not looking for one-time-only opportunities.
Describe your most satisfying management experience, please. Was it also the most difficult?
Building a successful independent manufacturers rep organization into the #1 sales force in our industry over a period of 2-3 years. In many respects, yes, it was my most difficult. Overall, looking at the big picture, no, not really. With more than 40 years at doing this, it is difficult to offer only one scenario. Regardless, it was a challenge that was well worthwhile.
Has the selling and the sales management environment changed for you and how?
Everything moves at quicker pace these days. If you are unable to get back to someone or follow-up immediately, it potentially could ruin the relationship. Honestly, there are no more excuses to buy time. Having a smartphone, a tablet, and the other gadgetry that keeps us connected 24/7 has prompted urgency to respond by sales professionals that cannot be appeased as easily as it was in the past.
Has the selling and the sales management environment changed you and how?
Yes. It has made me a more responsive individual to not only my subordinates and clients but also to my family and friends; given me the confidence to take on new challenges in a disciplined and planned approach.
How has the role of technology changed your job?
It has had a significant impact, particularly with respect to the application of computer technology, specifically, information systems and database analysis. From the product perspective, major changes utilizing LED /Induction light sources would be a good example. Specifically, it would be the application of control systems to these products.
How do you keep yourself updated on the changes in your industry and/or your product line?
Let me list it out for you. Vendor seminars, product presentations, industry seminars, trade associations, and reading.
More importantly, how do you keep yourself and your team motivated?
Here comes another list for you. Treating everyone with respect; establishing realistic, but challenging objectives, upfront communications and transparency; team meetings; recognition of successes on an ongoing basis; base commission payments, as company is paid combined with annual commissions based on meeting annual targets.
What is a sales manager’s most important role?
Hiring the right people is key. Secondly, it is my job to ensure that each of my staffers has what they need to be the best salespeople they can be. That varies from individual to individual. I am their coach, their counselor, their support system, and their leader. My effectiveness is based on their success.
What should I have asked but did not?
You’ve been very through. I can’t think of anything of significance you missed.
Thank you very much for making the time to speak with me. I appreciate it.
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