Digging In with Brooks Schaener | PipelineDeals

Grow University Digging In with Brooks Schaener


JP Werlin: Hi, and welcome to Digging In. My name is JP Werlin. I’m the CEO of PipelineDeals. Here, at PipelineDeals, we love salespeople and know that they have a lot to share and a strong desire to keep learning. We invented this video interview series, where we dig in with sales experts out there in the field who are doing the real work every day.

Today, we are fortunate to be joined by Brooks Schaener from Redwood Plastics in Woodland, Washington. Brooks talks about himself as just a sales guy running outside sales there at Redwood Plastics. Brooks, thanks for joining us today.

Brooks Schaener: Thanks, JP.

JP: Now, tell us a little bit about - elevator pitch - what is Redwood Plastics. What do you do?

Brooks: Redwood Plastics is a plastic distribution operation with machining and fabrication capabilities. We handle UHMW, nylon, and urethane and we sell to a variety of industries.

JP: Right. I think I remember. What was that sound? Aerospace.

Brooks: We touch a little bit of aerospace, but we’re what I call heavy industry, so that’s the food processing, saw mills, pump mills. That’s probably our niche.

JP: All right, great. And how long have you been there at Redwood Plastics?

Brooks: Been here for five and a half years.

JP: Awesome, and talk to us a little bit about your journey at Redwood Plastics. Where did you start out and what's your role today?

Brooks: So I started out as an outside salesperson with a territory up in Washington, and I currently hold a slightly different territory, but I'm still just an outside sales guy.

JP: Got it. So, I've learned over the years that some organizations are familiar with the term outside sales and inside sales. Other people call it direct or indirect. So, how do you guys define inside sales and outside sales at your company?

Brooks: So, our inside sales team is basically our phone sales team and they’re the ones that process all the orders.

JP: Okay.

Brooks: Deal with the order management once the PO is placed.

JP: Got it.

Brooks: From an outside standpoint, we’re actually the boots on the ground, getting dirty, meeting the customers and finding new prospects.

JP: Got it. So, are you getting warm leads or are you building your own pipeline so to speak every day?

Brooks: We do a combination of both because we have an excellent marketing company partner that takes care of a lot of warm leads for us and generates interest, and then, on top of that, we can walk in the door and just find out about somebody. So, we do a combination of both.

JP: Awesome. So, I didn't know about those earlier. Your marketing is out of house or in-house?

Brooks: It’s in-house. Sorry about that.

JP: Okay, so let’s circle back and we'll dig into, no pun intended, the relationship between marketing and sales. That's always a fun one to talk about. So, your marketing team gets you some warm leads, and you're also responsible for cold leads.

Brooks: Yes.

JP: Got it. And rough numbers, like how do you break out warm leads and cold leads? When you look at your day and down your call down list and you’re looking at where this lead was initiated or generated from, what percentage is warm versus cold?

Brooks: I would lean more heavily towards warm leads in our particular case, just because of the ability of our marketing department to find those for us.

JP: Got it. And let’s talk about cold leads, and then we’ll come back to warm leads and marketing. So, cold leads are hard for some salespeople. It gets them out of their comfort zone. When you're thinking about hey, I’ve got to build my pipeline, I need to ensure future revenue for Redwood Plastics, how do you think about building or even who to pick up the phone and call for a cold lead?

Brooks: In those cases, we try to target industries that were adept at, and so we will go and do some research. Try to understand the company before we step on their doorstep or call them, and we look for a certain style of customer. And as we’ve matured, we understand who we work well with and who works well with us.

JP: Got it. And so, are you just on Google or are you driving down the road and you see another saw mill? How do you know who to start researching who might be worthy of getting a call from Brooks Schaener?

Brooks: We use a variety of things. I have a couple tools that I learn towards. I’m a huge proponent of Lipton. It’s a great resource for networking with people that are obviously looking to network.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: I discovered that Google Maps has a great way of seeing what’s around you. Sometimes you’re in an area and you just need to know what else is there, so sometimes it’s just the old fashioned looking around the corners and driving through the industrial parts and finding the right names and sizes of business.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: It’s a combination of research.

JP: Yeah. So, talk to me about the last time you used Google Maps to prospect. That's a new guerrilla tactics. I’m scooting in here like what do you do. So, you’re in an area. Yesterday I was down in Tacoma and Fife. Pretty industrial part of Washington. If you were down there in Tacoma, how would you use Google Maps? Maybe you had two or three hours before you had to head home. Your morning meeting was done. Talk to me about what you would do.

Brooks: So, I've actually used it as an example in Portland. I had a similar industrial area.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: And we had a desire to find out what the customer base looked like in that particular spot that we had no traction in. And so, one of the ideas was to pull up a Google maps in like a satellite view and identify what the operation was and if it applied to us. So, when you start hovering around industrial areas, you see search styles of equipment outside, smoke stacks, truck traffic capabilities, and you can identify the difference between a warehouse distribution operation, which really isn’t going to buy anything from us, compared to a manufacturing operation next door.

JP: Interesting. So, you were using Google satellite to identify manufacturing operations.

Brooks: Yes.

JP: Interesting. And telltale signs for you, and this might be different for any business, but telltale signs for you are truck traffic, smokestacks. Looks like they’re building something, right?

Brooks: Looks like there's something going on besides a warehouse or an office operation that we wouldn’t be dealing with.

JP: And did you identify any prospects via that global surveying?

Brooks: Yes, we actually did. We identified a few locations and through that we concentrated our efforts on those sports, and that’s the stuff you don’t see from the outside or without some sort of visual.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: You can call into Frito-Lay and you may have a number for a Frito-Lay operation in Tacoma, but you can’t tell if it’s a sales office, a distribution point, or the manufacturing point unless you put eyes on it.

JP: Right. That’s awesome. So, maybe the thought would be if I knew I was going to Portland tomorrow and I had a few extra hours, maybe the night before do a little satellite reconnaissance before going down to Portland.

Brooks: Yes, especially close to the customer you already have.

JP: Yeah, right, in the same neighborhood.

Brooks: Yeah.

JP: Save you some times. Save you some gas.

Brooks: Save you some phone calls into something that you don’t need to.

JP: Right.

Brooks: And a lot of times, just depending on here it’s at, you may drive by it, but you’re two blocks over and you don’t see it from where you happen to be.

JP: Awesome. So, you closed that deal yet or is it still in your pipeline?

Brooks: No, we actually have some business from one of the operations already and we have a couple that we’re talking to still.

JP: Deal done using satellite reconnaissance.

Brooks: Yes.

JP: Brook, I think you're inventing a new way to do sales, so everyone watching digging in, you hear it here first. Satellite imagery leads to more deals in your pipeline.

Brooks: Yeah.

JP: Cool. What other tips or tactics? So, let's say you've identified a cold lead, a prospect. Let's say you think they're going to be a good fit. They’re a manufacturing operation. What's your next step? Are you going after a certain role? How do you know who to email or call on LinkedIn say and you're looking for the right point of entry?

Brooks: So, in our case, there’s two potential points of entry. I have a high amount of respect from the purchasing group of an organization, just because not knowing what the rules are of the company, it’s nice to touch that group just to understand what their rules are of X amount of suppliers, rules of engagement as far as brining on a new supplier, and then I coordinate that with a maintenance leader, a maintenance position because that's usually who we deal with once we're in the operation.

JP: Got it.

Brooks: And it may coincide and one may outweigh the other, just depending on the response level.

JP: Got it. And so, it sounds like it's kind of a two-headed dragon of a sale potentially.

Brooks: Yes.

JP: So, you need to sell both.

Brooks: We do sometimes need to sell both. There’s nothing worse than getting all the way to maintenance and everybody loves you and find out that there's rules or contracts that don't allow you to sell to them.

JP: Got it. Got it. So, it sounds like you’ve learned that lesson over the years.

Brooks: Yes, we have.

JP: Yeah, awesome. And so, if I’m in any deal, any business and I have multiple stakeholders who have to sign off on a deal, how do you go about coordinating between the two? What's your approach to facilitate that internal dialogue in a prospect?

Brooks: Well, we usually try to keep it right at the front of the table.

JP: Okay.

Brooks: If the first connection is the maintenance person, it’s to keep that dialogue going of are you allowed to buy from other vendors and do you have restrictions before we get to a point where the buyer is a linchpin and there’s a set of rules that we don’t know about.

JP: Right.

Brooks: So, we try to keep that dialogue just as a very open. We like to do business with people that can do business with us and there’s no sense in me wasting your time.

JP: Interesting. And so, when you're talking about time, what do you find? As you're running outside sales and you're thinking about use of your time as effectively as possible and sort of time to wins sort of ratio, how do you think about organizing your day? How do you think about optimizing your time for maximum results?

Brooks: That's probably a struggle point for a lot of people, and I’ll admit it’s one for me also because you just never know what the day is going to bring on top of it. But in a perfect world, I try to lay out a week and I try to lay out X amount of touches I plan on.

JP: Okay.

Brooks: And I can keep a little bit of wiggle room for those unexpected.

JP: Got it.

Brooks: It’s complicated.

JP: It is complicated and I think a lot of sales people are looking for I don't think that's necessarily a magic formula because, as you said, week-to-week is variable. You never know what you're going to get, kind of like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates. But I think a lot of sales folks are looking for a formula they can deploy against themselves or to their sales team if they're in a leadership role such that I know I need to do this every week. So, it sounds like for you there's something about prioritization and number of touches. What else would you recommend if you were coaching me on how to organize my week that you’ve found works? What kind of touches? How many do you think about? What’s your goal on any given week? Could you talk to me a little about those ideas?

Brooks: So, in my particular case, I have a variety of styles of customer, so I have a hard time saying that the optimum is five touches per day and four days per week and do prospecting on the last day and schedule everything out the following, because I have some cases where it's difficult when I walk on to a saw mill and there's twenty people I should see and five of them are available, and so then I spend 30 minutes there. The following week, I’ll walk on to the same saw mill and spend four hours there.

So, I think it’s understanding what your real customer base is and honestly putting time to it, but having the ability to set a day that looks good, but have a backup plan when everything goes funny.

JP: Right.

Brooks: And knowing that you need to be able to turn on a hey, these are the other guys in the area that I want to touch today and I'm here instead of just calling it a day.

JP: Right.

Brooks: I don't think there really is a formula, like you say. It’s a tough one. It just is. Every company is different.

JP: Yeah. So, what is a touch? Is a touch for you in your industry a visit? Is it a phone call? Is it an email? How do you define touch?

Brooks: In our case, it’s a visit in most cases. We are very hands on and with people.

JP: Is that what you’re measured on?

Brooks: No, we’re all measured on sales performance.

JP: Yeah, right, but what’s the relation? What’s the relationship between touches and sales one?

Brooks: Yes, it is. It’s touches and sales one. How you judge that is tricky also, and I think that’s one of the struggles that everybody has.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: From a management viewpoint, down is okay, he touched X amount of people and X amount of sales are generated, but what can I calculate, and I don’t know that’s ever a simple calculation. I think there’s some depth to it that has to be understood from a management level and a sales level.

JP: Right.

Brooks: We struggle with it in some cases of is somebody doing a job well enough. Numbers show it, but are they coasting or are they struggling to get to that number, and sometimes you can’t tell that. So, with us implementing a CRM and chasing some reporting, we’re starting to see some things that are enlightening.

JP: Right. What are some of those things? What are some enlightening? Without revealing names, but what are some interesting dynamics you might be running across.

Brooks: Well, some of the dynamics we’re hoping to see here shortly is the close ratio and the dollar value of the close ratio, because you could have a stellar salesperson closing a few big jobs or you could have another great salesperson, but if his dollar quantity to orders is different, then how to judge the two equally.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: So, if I have a 150-dollar job and Bob next door has one job for 50 thousand dollars, who has worked the hardest and how does that all play? It's a complex mystery.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: It really is.

JP: But that’s why we're here, right? We're here and our brethren in the sales arena are here to help solve that mystery and be the detectives and do the dirty work to figure out where that time to dollars ratio is optimized.

Brooks: Correct.

JP: Yeah. So, it sounds like your KPIs that you’ll be tracking folks on are close ratio and dollars. Dollars per close?

Brooks: Dollars in the deal stages.

JP: Okay.

Brooks: Just so that we know that we're chasing the right business. It’s tough to have an outside person, like myself. If I look back over a week and I realize I spent X amount of time in a certain industry, but dollar value per order is low, then why am I in that industry? And so, kind of identifying some of that information deeper than we’ve probably looked at in the past, and it ties with the schedule.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: Is the four hours I spend at a certain mill actually cost productive compared to the orders that are generated from it?

JP: Right.

Brooks: It’s complicated.

JP: Yeah, I like it. So, you’re thinking of other slices of the pie, right? You mentioned industry.

Brooks: Yeah.

JP: What other buckets would you guys have in your business that would help you fulfill that role of a detective of figuring out where is the max value? Industry. Geography.

Brooks: Geography plays into it, especially with Redwood.

JP: Why is that?

Brooks: I’m fortunate to have a nice, compact territory, but we have three locations across the U.S. and three locations in Canada, and so the woodland branches are nice, metropolitan. We basically cover Northern California to the top of Washington, but my Spokane branch covers all the way across to the Great Lakes.

JP: From Eastern Washington to the Great Lakes.

Brooks: Yes.

JP: What is that - five states?

Brooks: So, if you consider the sheer size, yeah, so then all of a sudden geography places into some of this conversation.

JP: Let’s put a bookmark there really quick. Talk to me about the overall architecture of your sales organization real quick. Give me a lay of the land.

Brooks: Six locations. Branch managers at each location. Outside salespeople and inside salespeople at each location. Basically I don't like the term, but there are silos. They’re individual operations.

JP: Okay.

Brooks: A CRM and some other things that we’re implementing are changing some of that so that we share more information easily, and this is part of it.

JP: Got it.

Brooks: Yeah.

JP: And what’s the total sales team size?

Brooks: Total sales team size. All locations. I’d put a number of about 55 to 60. I’m kind of pulling that number, trying to pull aside operations.

JP: Right, and quota driven?

Brooks: Quota driven such as?

JP: Do the sales reps have a quota they need to hit every month?

Brooks: Yes, we have a budget number that we’d like to hit every month.

JP: By regional office?

Brooks: What was that?

JP: Is it global, or for the total team, the total 50 to 60 folks, or are the sales targets by just regional office?

Brooks: Sales is measured by regional office.

JP: Got it.

Brooks: So, each office has a projected budget for the year, and then each salesperson has a budget based off of that, and in a perfect world we hit it.

JP: Yeah, in a perfect world. And so, you’re doing annual budget, and then I assume you have monthly and quarterly targets.

Brooks: Yes.

JP: So, if I was working for you, how much business per year? Say I'm a fairly good sales rep. How much business would I be expected to close for you?

Brooks: High six figure.

JP: Okay.

Brooks: Low seven.

JP: Okay.

Brooks: In a perfect world.

JP: Yeah, sure. So, if I was interviewing today, that would be your expectation of me, right?

Brooks: Yes.

JP: You'd be doing really well if you close a million dollars of business this year.

Brooks: Yeah.

JP: All right.

Brooks: If we give you the right tools and the right territory.

JP: Yeah, and the right coaching. Yeah. Yeah. Interesting. So, pretty big sales team there.

Brooks: We are a good size sales team.

JP: Got it. Cool. I appreciate that. Gives me some more perspective to your business and the challenges you guys are facing. And so, let’s go back to the factors you might look at when evaluating your time and money. So, you've got geography. Industry. If I'm working at Redwood Plastics, am I solely focused by geography or do you have people for the Pacific Northwest who only focus on sawmills? Do you guys break it down?

Brooks: No, currently we are territory driven, so jack-of-all-trades within the territory.

JP: Got it.

Brooks: We’ve looked at some potential industry specific, but we’ve not made that transition.

JP: Right. It’s always that debate inside sales team. It’s kind of like horizontal or vertical, right? Which way do we divide? Do we get a bunch of people who are experts at just sawmills or people who are just really good from Northern California to Washington and that’s where they live and they could drive and shake hands and kiss babies?

Brooks: Exactly. Politics.

JP: Yeah, it is. It’s relationships, right?

Brooks: That’s basically what business is driven off of.

JP: Yeah. So, what’s in your tool bag, Brooks? You have to build a relationship with an existing customer or a new customer. What do you find works for you, relationship building? I imagine sawmills are a little different than some of our digital marketing agencies. These are manufacturing operations. Not for the faint of heart, right? It’s real work. It’s getting dirty. It’s sweaty. It’s dangerous. I haven’t been to a sawmill. I’d like to go sometime, but I have visions of lots of sawdust and big saw blades. How do you start building relationships and rapport with these people who maybe don't want to talk to you?

Brooks: Well, fortunately, I’m in the sawmill world, and since we’re on that, that’s where we grew up, so we pretty much know all the sawmills. If there is one that we don’t know, we can eventually relate it to somebody else that we do.

JP: Got it.

Brooks: But it’s like anything. It's just understanding the customer base, understanding what their needs are, and not going in there and just dropping off a line card. We try to come in with a solution, or this worked over here and this is what we do different than Brand X.

JP: Got it.

Brooks: And again, we always go back to a saying that we use a lot, is we do business with those that want to do business with us. We’re not going to force you to buy from us and we’re not going to be the nagging salesperson that keeps knocking on your door. We know when to walk away and come back some other day.

JP: Yeah. And so, what do you do? When you walk on site, do you try to find a common topic? Do you see if they like, in this part of the world, the Seahawks, or do you try to talk about the weather first? What’s your personal sort of relationship building tactics?

Brooks: So, I have a habit of reading people pretty well, and so sometimes you can tell that that's the direction that the conversation should go and other times it's just straight up business and let’s just move on with what it is and we’ll build the friendship with time.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: Because I don't know that coming onboard as the friend out of the blue and talking about babies and football is always the best way to go.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: Because really the customer in front of you has a job to do and they’re busy, so let’s get to business, and then, if time allows, let’s create the secondary friendship that’s strengthens the business. That’s on the initial. After that, the building is different because you also find which customer wants that relationship and there are still other customers that are just strictly business. That’s just what it is.

JP: Yeah. Got it. And so, what's your opening line? You shake their hand and let’s say they want to get to business. You see this guy. This person, whether the purchasing manager or manufacturing operator, is like okay, I want to get to business. It's like hey, we can save you money. We have better quality. What is your sort of opener?

Brooks: So, our pitch is not the money and we don’t start in with the ‘we’re better than’ style. What we usually do is bring in some sample pieces or components that hopefully relate to the customer. There are cases where we don't or have not worked with that style of customer, and so we’ll just bring in samples of other things that we’ve done for other industries. And at that point, one of our kind of sales pitches that works for us is the simple one of I can show you what we've done. Now what's going to happen is you're going to call me three weeks from now because you run into something that oh, we may be able to change that because of what Brooks said or what Redwood said, and let’s have a conversation about it, because we’re a replacement operation.

We replace parts. We replace OE equipment components. We replace bronze and brass and still with plastic. So, not always do we know where those pieces are.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: We just need to get people thinking about where they can improve a process.

JP: Got it. So, you're a solution, looking for problems.

Brooks: Yes, we are. And sometimes we don’t know what the solution is or the problem is when we walk in the door.

JP: Got it. So, a little bit more of a mind share, right? You want a top of mind discussion.

Brooks: Yes, we do.

JP: Interesting.

Brooks: That’s a good comment. I like that. Mind share.

JP: Yeah. It’s interesting because they don’t have the problem today. It might break next week, right? The gear or coupling or the fitting. Whatever. The pieces. I'm totally talking out of school. I have zero manufacturing experience, but something goes wrong and you want to be the one that Jennifer on the line calls as the purchasing manager to solve that problem for her ops people.

Brooks: Correct.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: Yes. Eliminate downtime. Eliminate the replacement time.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: So, if part X lasts six months, maybe I can make it last eight months or a year, so those cycle times of repair go further out, which is cost savings. It’s not just always my part is two dollars cheaper.

JP: Right.

Brooks: We’re looking for actual value of savings over a life of a relationship.

JP: Yeah, very cool. And how long has Redwood Plastics been in business?

Brooks: Since 1971. Don’t completely quote me on that, but I think I have that right.

JP: Yeah. It’s all right. We can always go back and edit it if you got it wrong. I’ll just call you up and you could say four.

Brooks: Perfect. You can put that in there.

JP: So, we talked at the beginning about you have inside marketing. They generate warm leads. Let’s talk about that handoff, because a lot of friction in our industry. Not at Redwood Plastics necessarily, but generally speaking, I've been in the sales world now for ten years. I've seen a lot of friction between marketing sales throughout organizations around the world. How has the relationship between marketing and sales evolved there, and what are some of the things that you think make the relationship work? You seem pretty happy that you're getting some warm lead volume of quality from your marketing team. Imagine you're talking to me and I'm struggling with that. I'm a sales person in my industry. My market team is just not delivering warm leads or enough warm leads. What would you recommend based on what you've learned?

Brooks: Well, I think it's a dialogue between marketing and sales. It needs to be kind of on the table and a little bit of upper level. We’re fortunate that the marketing group is just really good at what they do. And we also have an outbound salesperson, and we actually allow that person to have the first and/or sometimes the second sale and get paid off of it.

JP: Oh, really.

Brooks: Sometime we actually are handing off a live customer. We’ve already sold to them once, and so in some part of our marketing, it’s slightly morphed where he’s actually salesperson, and so gets a warm lead. Chases it through. The order still gets processed through a branch, but we actually pay him for his efforts, and so it’s a very warm lead in some cases. Other cases it’s hey, he needs to see somebody, so go down there and figure it out, and we just take it over.

JP: So, the marketing person is getting the commission on the sale.

Brooks: On the first sale, yes. In our case, we do that.

JP: I could see that's an interesting tactic that would increase collaboration.

Brooks: It does increase collaboration because it gives the marketing person a drive.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: It gives you a hot customer, but it’s still confusing. There are still glitches with it. It’s not everybody’s favorite thing.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: And then there’s also the struggle. I mean it's with any organization dealing with marketing, is marketing’s viewpoint of a good customer and sales’ viewpoint of a good customer may be two completely different things.

JP: Good point.

Brooks: So, hey, this is a hot lead and they bought something from me, and I drive by at once and go yeah, it’s a mom and pop shop and I don’t have time to babysit this, so I hope the inside does, but they don’t have time either, so sorry marketing. It’s hot to you because it was an easy phone call, but it’s not hot to anybody else. And so, there’s a struggle there also, where marketing may not realize what’s a good customer, so that has to be identified and that has to come from the sales group. Identifying what a good customer is so that marketing knows what to chase.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: So, there’s a lot of dialogue that I don’t think happens between marketing and sales that probably needs to.

JP: Yeah, in every organization.

Brooks: Yes.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: Ours too. We still struggle with it some days.

JP: Yeah, and so interesting. So, having sales define what a good customer is, because a lot of times traditionally that starts with marketing doing personas or optimal buyer profiles. So, driving the customer definition by sales would be an interesting way to do it. Do marketing and sales meet regularly at Redwood Plastics?

Brooks: There is some good interaction between the management of marketing and Redwood.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: Yes, and we’re connected well. We communicate well.

JP: Got it. And so, I know, in our organization, we made sure to define the handoff between marketing and sales, like what constitutes a lead. Have you guys defined? Is it name, phone number, email, or do they already have to have purchased before getting turned over to you? Do you guys have a definitive handoff point of a warm lead from marketing to sales?

Brooks: I would say the sale is probably the most defined handoff.

JP: Okay.

Brooks: There are some secondary ones, but I would say that is probably our biggest handoff indicator. It’s the sales process. Now take care of the customer from the branch level.

JP: Got it.

Brooks: Yeah.

JP: All right. And so, how long have you been in sales, Brooks?

Brooks: 20 plus years.

JP: Right, and you call yourself just a sales guy, which is what I think is a humble understatement frankly.

Brooks: Thank you.

JP: Yeah. So, as you think about your role in 20 years as “just a sales guy,” what are some things that you see other sales teams or sales organizations biggest mistakes? I speak from the same place. We're not the new kids on the block anymore, but we've seen a lot of things done right in sales over a 20-year tenure and we've seen a lot of things done wrong. What are the things you've seen even today after all the literature and all the books and all the coaching in the sales landscape? What are the biggest mistakes you’ve seen still being made by salespeople?

Brooks: Organizationally, I think there’s still a disconnect from the management to the salesperson. I’ve not seen in my past the right combination of a sales manager to salesperson relationship. I see a magic number that a sales manager can handle X amount of people and I don't know that that even exists anywhere, and that’s just an economic thing.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: And so, I think that's a struggle. I think the other struggle is a lot of times it’s just the dynamics of a company and not quite understanding what’s all going on from different sections. You can have a sales group that’s trying their best to do something, but a management group that has a number in mind. And if they don’t correlate, who’s right and who’s wrong?

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: Or you could have a sales organization that’s struggling, but everybody is meeting a number and everybody is happy, so we don’t change anything in the sales organization. So, I think it’s just a lot of communication. I think any company should take a gut check from all departments.

JP: Right.

Brooks: And that’s the trick, is if anybody could watch this and go oh, that's awesome, and take it back to the other three people that make the decision, everybody has to think it’s awesome.

JP: Interesting. What do you think? Let’s take about the first topic for a couple minutes. Sales manager or sales leader to salesperson ratio. There are a few different camps I've learned over the years. People are like oh, the sales manager needs to be a quota-caring closer. Other folks are looking for more of a player coach to use a baseball term. Other people are like no, the sales leader just needs to be a coach. What do you think is the right approach for a sales leader in today's world?

Brooks: I would lean towards the player and coach, where there’d still be interaction and honing the skills, but also teaching and coaching and touching and helping and uplifting and building, but you also still have to be active at it so that you have an understanding of the customer base. And that may vary just depending on how the organization is setup. That may not be logistically possible. So, I don't know that there's a right answer. We’re a little unique because in some cases our managers have sales territory. It’s just a logistics thing currently.

As growth generates, then we can change that up or not. In some cases, it’s a good thing that the manager has a territory.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: In our case, our sales manager doesn't have a territory. In this particular case though, he covers six locations across the U.S. and Canada, so having a territory on top of babysitting six locations is logistically not a wise idea. He’s got his hands full.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: Yeah, so I don’t know that there’s a right answer. I see, in a perfect world, to me, and again my opinion, I like player coach kind of combination.

JP: Okay.

Brooks: Still has their fingers in it.

JP: And I know you hit on earlier the span of control. How many direct reports can a person have effectively to be contributing to the greater good, but also effectively helping and supporting those folks who are reporting to them. Span of control. The military. The Marine Corps has done a lot of research on this. It kind of maxes out at eight. Does that sound too high, too low, or about right? What do you think?

Brooks: I had a number in my head of about ten to 12, so probably about right. I would assume it would depend on the size of the sales group to begin with, and then also the quality and the tenure of the sales group.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: If you’re all rookies, then that’s a whole different ballgame than a seasoned core group that’s maybe hitting all the numbers and maybe doing everything right. So, do they need somebody holding their hand all the time? It’s going to vary from operation to operation. There’s no magic number I don’t believe.

JP: No, there isn’t, but do you think, on the whole, sales organizations are trying to cut corners? Is that what you’re saying and the ratio is too high generally? Not within your domain, but just when you talk to other salespeople just generally around, are ratios of sales leaders to line-level sales folks too high, too low, or about right?

Brooks: Too high.

JP: Okay.

Brooks: I think the ratio is high overall nationally.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: Just in conversations.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: It has to relate to the economic changes, and we can just go back to ’08 and ’09, when things just changed and we didn’t have the staff, and so everybody was doing more jobs. And I don’t think we’ve gotten back to the capacity levels that we were at before, so we're still running shorthanded in some cases.

JP: Yeah. Right. And an outcome of that is a sales leader having more direct reports.

Brooks: Right.

JP: Right. The whole irony of the discussion is that hey, maybe if we did get down to a span of control of ten to 12 or to eight or whatever it is, right? Somewhere. Let’s say eight to 12. Then the irony is maybe we could sell more. Maybe we could increase our growth rate, right?

Brooks: Right. Right.

JP: And so, what would you tell the C suite individual, the C level, let’s say chief revenue officer or a CEO who would say okay, we could make that investment, we can change our ad, split it up and get you down from 20 people reporting to you, down to ten people by hiring another peer. How do I know that would result in more business? What would you tell the CEO who asked you that question in response to wanting to get the ratios more in line?

Brooks: There’s a slight leap of faith in all of that because it has to do with talent and ability. So, in some cases, it's not going to happen, but I think if the sales manager or that person that sees that vision believes it, they should be able to sell it. And we look at it and we’re actually in the process of adding bodies because we know that with more touches comes more sales, and so when we add another body, we’re going to increase by X in a certain amount of time.

When we add a process or a system and it’s successful in one location, then we realize that we need to change some systems across the board eventually.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: I think sometimes we just need to gamble and it’s probably time to start gambling.

JP: Got it.

Brooks: So, roll the dice out there, pick something to go try, and realize that hey, if it’s successful, great. If it’s not, let’s learn from it.

JP: Right.

Brooks: And honestly review why it didn’t work. Was it people? Was it allocation of time and energy? What combination didn’t work or did work?

JP: Right.

Brooks: And duplicate it or not.

JP: Yeah, great point. I think the other place where a lot of sales organizations fall down is process.

Brooks: Right.

JP: Right?

Brooks: Yes.

JP: Yeah, people process technology, and if you only have two out of the three, you’re in trouble.

Brooks: Yeah.

JP: You need all three.

Brooks: Yes, you do need all three.

JP: Yeah, great point. I love it. I love the thought about trying new things. I think many sales organizations and many businesses - I think you're exactly right - start playing it too safe, start getting too comfortable, and aren’t willing to try and push the dial a little bit and get out of their comfort zone. Right?

Brooks: Correct.

JP: You want to get out of you comfort zone, where you're learning, but not into the panic zone, which if you think of them in concentric circles, like the Target logo, the center, red spot would be the comfort zone, that white area would be where you're learning, and then the last red circle would be the panic zone. So, you want to be in that white circle. Right?

Brooks: Yes.

JP: Yeah.

Brooks: Always going into the white and just seeing what works.

JP: Yeah, not into the panic zone.

Brooks: No. No.

JP: Wow, you’re giving me a lot to think about today. So, as you know, the goal with Digging In is to give our watchers, our viewers some take home value. Something they could take and implement into their business tomorrow. I've learned a ton. Satellite selling by Brooks Schaener. I think you should write a book. That's awesome. I'm going to have a lot of fun with that. I don't know how I would do that for software, but in your world and a lot of our customers’ worlds, there are a lot of organizations that are sales organizations I talk to. That’s a cool one.

Learned about span of control. Talked about how to organize your week and how to build relationships. So, Brooks, I got a lot out of this interview. I really thank you for your time. Is there anything else you wanted to add before we sign off?

Brooks: No, this was an awesome conversation. I enjoyed every minute of it.

JP: Likewise, Brooks, and Brooks, Redwood Plastics, thank you so much. Woodland, Washington. We really appreciate you taking this time to spend with us out of your relationship building time, so thank you.

Brooks: Hey, thanks a lot, JP.

JP: All right, Brooks, talk soon. Cheers.

Brooks: Bye.

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