Ray Holley Group, LLC
Career coaching along your own path.


For five years, Ray authored the "Headhunting" column for Computer Reseller News (CRN). Reprinted here, with permission from CMP Publications, are some of Ray's most popular columns along with new ones  . . .

  • Confronting Major Account Meltdown-Part 1

Confronting Major Account Meltdown-Part 1 
Bases Are Loaded, the “Big Hitter” Leaves: Now What?

I get a lot of requests from clients to find “Big Hitters”— major-league salespeople who finesse key accounts and land large orders. When the account manager for a company’s largest customer goes to a direct competitor, senior management panics, worrying that the major account sales program is broken.  Actually, there was no program in place to break down.  The “program” was one rep monopolizing one account.  How did the company allow itself to get into this precarious position?  Easy…

The major-account sales program was structured so that one account manager was the know-all and see-all person assigned to this valuable customer. The numbers were great, and senior management was satisfied with the account manager’s performance. The tragic miscalculation was the lack of monitoring of the account through detailed reporting and communication.

When customer problems arose, the account manager addressed them himself—usually by screaming and kicking at different departments at corporate. Although the customer saw this as being responsive on the part of the rep, this is not the way to run a major account program. This is a recipe for disaster and the loss of high-volume customers.  Let’s look at how companies get into this major account mess.

A lone sales rep is assigned to an account that, many times, is far away from corporate geographically. The successful major-account rep is self-managing, and sometimes a renegade or loner who works well on their own, driven by money and achievement.  On the plus side, the rep is in their element in front of the customer’s major decision makers and develops a trusting, profitable and interdependent relationship. On the downside, the rep typically is not good about things like paper work and communication with management back at corporate.

This does not become an issue, since senior management only sees the big numbers being generated. Eventually, sales volume levels off when the account manager reaches their “comfort level” in earnings. At this point, the account manager believes that if they go to another company, they could make more money.  Now the unexpected happens:

The account manager resigns and joins a direct competitor. The customer, feeling comfortable with the relationship previously established, follows the sales rep and now is evaluating product from your competitor.

A headhunter is called in to fill the position right away with “somebody just like John or Mary.”  This process, however, is time-consuming and can take several months.  Meanwhile, client communication suffers during this period. And nothing has been done to correct the real problems of the major-account sales program.

In my next column, I will offer a headhunter’s view of how this scenario can be avoided and how to never again worry about a major-account salesperson leaving.  Until then, good selling!

Confronting Major Account Meltdown…Part 2 

In my last column, I outlined key problems that arise when a major account manager joins a competitor. Management panics, thinking the major account program is broken and wants to hire a replacement quickly to save the account.  Hiring a replacement quickly is not the solution to the problem.  There probably was not a major accounts program in place to break, but rather, an “account isolation” situation.  Sure, you can hire someone “just like Joe or Mary,” but do you really want to perpetuate the problem of all communication going into the account and little coming back out?  A replacement may be able to sell products, but major account sales are not about products.  They’re about relationships.

Prospecting, closing, and growing major accounts require a defined process to manage the relationship. You might say that the account already was a huge portion of your business, so the previous rep must have been doing a great job. Maybe so, but how much larger could it be if a team handled the account? The concept I’m referring to is what I call “In/Out Relationship Management.”
In this concept, the account manager handles all the communication going into the account while another person is responsible for the communication coming out of the account. While the account manager provides the communication that the account needs to make informed buying decisions, the account support person is the pipeline from the account back to the right people at the company.  Although the account manager picks up the order, the support person addresses all of the issues needed to maintain an open, two-way communication.
Post-sales issues such as shipping, lost paperwork, service, new collateral, and training information—not to mention the “Who can help me with this?”-type questions—are all within the realm of the support person’s job description.  Granted, some companies have people like this sitting in the main office already, but this is not where they belong. Being just a voice on the phone has disadvantages when the major account manager leaves.

The support person needs to be at or near the customer site. The customer needs to physically see this person on a regular basis and to rely on this person to handle any sales, marketing, accounting, and logistics or support issues.

If the account manager resigns, the support person may be able to step in and perform the communication functions until a replacement is found.  A support person may also have enough experience to step into the vacant position and train his or her own replacement. If they are thousands of miles away this transition can be rough and lead to account exposure.  Structuring your program around two-way communication provides increased dialogue with the account and protection from lost business if the account manager walks unexpectedly.  

Executive Charm School 101 

Some people call it charm, while others label it magnetism. It has many names and characteristics, but overall, it’s the sense of commanding presence that charismatic people possess that makes them leaders.  What exactly are the components that make up charisma? Charisma is a personal quality that approaches the level of a spiritual power; allowing a person to have great influence over others. However spiritual the effects of this power are, there are some very human traits that go into the makeup of a charismatic person.  Let’s look at two opposing examples—two senior executives at the same company who have “made it” according to accepted standards.
Both executives have about the same number of years of experience and similar education. Their résumés show they have moved up through the ranks at previous employers, doing well for themselves as their careers progressed. But at their new company, one is making allies of everyone he comes into contact with, while the other is struggling to get people to cooperate with him. Let’s look at some of their differences.

If you had to state a first impression of Executive A, it would be, “What a nice guy!” He’s cordial, polite, friendly and genuine. When he speaks to you, it’s as an equal. His words convey that he considers you an important part of a team where he plays a coaching or mentoring role. He wants you to be successful in what you do and receive credit and recognition for your efforts.  Executive B, on the other hand, is aloof, condescending and patronizing. When he calls you into his office, it’s usually to remind you how important he is at the company and to deliver some “do betters” that you had better get to work on so he can look good to the board of directors. After all, as senior VP of All-important Things, he has an image to live up to and nobody is going to tarnish it.

Executive A spends as much time as he can with customers and suppliers. He lets them know that he not only wants to do business with them, but he cares about their business. People trust him and recommend him and the company to their professional contacts. Executive A is a relation ship-builder whom people will stick with through the tough times when they occur.  When suppliers or customers hear that Executive B is coming for a visit (which is a rare occurrence, indeed), they cringe. They feel that they must kowtow to this individual to get his business. Many times they feel that if they could afford it, they would tell him to take his business elsewhere.  Rather than negotiating the best win-win situation for both parties, Executive B squeezes every ounce of profit, blood and respect from his professional contacts and moves on. Executive B is a relationship-sacker whom suppliers and customers alike will make “walk the plank” the first chance they get.

You might say that one executive is building a reputation on inspiration and the other on consternation.

When the charismatic executive leaves an organization, people feel a great loss but are grateful for what they’ve learned. When Executive B leaves, people feel they have learned a lot and are grateful for their loss.  I know.  I worked for both of these guys.

What You See is What You May NOT Get… 

Keeping hiring expectations in touch with reality.
Expectations can alter your perception of reality. This is true in relationships, business matters and when you are hiring for an important position.  The person you “expect,” based upon qualifications and experience presented on their resume, is not always who you “see” during an interview. Elevated expectations, combined with the limited time a busy hiring manager spends on the interview process, can cloud judgment and lead to hiring the wrong person.

Resumes are designed to present a person in the best light possible. Language and style are often used to mask shortcomings.  As a result, getting past the resume’s verity construction during an interview requires that the interviewer ferret out the real strengths and weaknesses of the applicant for the job.  Most vagueness on resumes occurs in the area of job performance.  Here are some performance-related questions to help you determine if the person you are interviewing is indeed a motivated top performer or a fiction writer.
In what areas do you feel your job performance excels?  It’s easy to say on a resume that you are a top performer.  Getting a candidate to identify exactly where they feel they’ve excelled in past positions allows you to match these areas against your key job requirements.  A large part of a successful hire requires you to match his or her specific areas of performance with your exact areas of need.
What are the key traits, characteristics, and behaviors you possess that make it possible for you to excel at your job?  This question is a double-edged sword.  If the candidate has been truthful about the areas where he or she excels, they will be able to list those characteristics.  If they have exaggerated performance or expected that their resume statements wouldn’t be questioned, they probably did not anticipate a question like this.  As a result, they will have difficulty linking specific behaviors to nonexistent accomplishments.
Tell me about your past three performance reviews.  How did they support your answers to questions 1 and 2?  The candidate who has exaggerated accomplishments or talents is now busted.  Excellence in job performance is the key element all managers look for and should focus on during an interview.  This is where you let the candidate know that a reference check with a former supervisor will either support the candidate’s claims or not.  If the candidate starts to stammer or turns a different skin color other than the one they came in with, there is a disconnect between statements on the resume and reality.
If that happens, it’s your signal to move on to the next one.  Because as good as this candidate may have looked on paper, it’s obvious that they don’t possess the skills or character to join your organization.
Sometimes the only thing that resumes have in common with reality is that they both start with “R.”

Interview Questions To Identify Good Managers… 
In my last column, I talked about how asking the right interview questions can

help you determine top performers. Here are some questions to help you identify good management candidates, especially middle-managers with growth potential.

All good managers have a preferred business style or philosophy. This style may be traditional, ladened with basic management structure and ideals, or a more renegade, yet equally effective approach. The following questions will help you determine whether or not you’re talking to a good manager, and what defines a candidate’s management style:

“Who was the best boss you ever had and why?”   The answer tells you a lot about how this person likes to be managed and the qualities they aspire to as a manager.  What traits did this best manager exhibit, and what effects did those traits have on your own style and effectiveness in managing people?

“Who was your worst boss ever and why?”   This question identifies what the candidate considers to be objectionable management traits.  What was it about this manager’s style or philosophy that was detrimental to you and the company?  What was said behind this manager’s back by subordinates and peers?  What is it that bad bosses have in common?  Why don’t you personally relate to this management style?

“What are 10 words that describe your management style?”   This question forces the candidate to concisely and precisely describe their management philosophy.  Ask the candidate to give some real-life examples of each of these management qualities they claim to possess.

“What standards do you use to measure the effectiveness of your management style?” These standards should include a mixture of tangible and intangible results. Tangible results are easily confirmed.  Intangible results, however elusive they may seem, may actually be more important in positioning this candidate as a leader and not just a manager.

“What would your subordinates say you did well and where would they say you need to improve?”   This question uses the veil of another party—subordinates—to actually give a self-diagnosis of the candidate’s management style.  While circumventing some bragging, the answer to this question reveals a fairly clear picture of how the candidate actually believes they perform and where they desire to improve.

“What have past performance reviews stated about your management abilities?”   What you are looking for here is a match to the last question’s answers.  Bosses and subordinates should both recognize a good manager’s universal qualities.

“What are you doing currently to become a better manager?”   Great managers are rarely satisfied. They thrive on constantly improving both techniques and results. Through this unselfish obsession with their own personal growth, they attract and retain people who want to follow in their footsteps.
Managing people is an art. Recognizing a good manager is an acquired skill.

Product Management: The Ultimate Marketing Job... 

Allow me to go out on a limb and say that product managers are the vortex of company life.  It is the goal of product managers to strengthen company brands. Their job is to manage the marketing of a product from early conception through final customer distribution.  Their decisions directly affect the success of any business.
A good product manager must be both strategic and tactical. The positioning of a new product, assessment of the competition, and planning for the future is the strategic part of the job. The tactical aspects are working with the appropriate inside and outside people to develop promotional campaigns, meeting with reps and customers, and results-tracking.
Top product managers are experts at positioning, product development, promotion and market analysis. Some have grown into their roles after spending time in the sales ranks. It is here where many gain their customer and channel insight. In addition to good communication and sales skills, a product manager needs strong analytical and problem- solving skills. These are important because to understand where a market is going and what will be a success transcends basic street-level sales abilities no matter how many customers you meet.

A product must be positioned relative not only to the competition, but also to customer interests. This positioning greatly influences a product’s development. Too many or not enough features and you end up with a pricey product or one nobody wants. It is a product manager’s job to analyze and understand market subtleties, take into account trends and new ideas, and produce a product that customers understand.  By “understand,” I mean the product’s benefits and value can be easily communicated through promotional activities.
In consumer-packaged goods, product managers tend to have a traditional marketing background and an MBA from a noted school. In the high tech industry, many product managers have technical degrees and an MBA.  In addition to the product manager, who can have responsibility for several brands within a product line, some larger companies have brand managers who develop marketing strategies for a particular product segment. An assistant product manager role is a good way to get into product management and move up the marketing organization.  Some times, product category managers have several product managers reporting to them and manage multiple product lines.
If you like the excitement of product marketing and don’t want the responsibility of being a product manager, working in a support role such as market analyst or market researcher can be rewarding. A top market research director can command compensation levels equal to or exceeding a senior product manager. Plus, skills developed in analysis and research areas are not necessarily technology-based and are industry transferable.
Both competition and compensation levels for good product management candidates are high. With product managers being the connection between innovative products and the market, they are critical to a company’s success. With product marketing becoming an increasing global challenge, you can be sure that product managers have a bright future.

Telephone Interviews - A Partial First Impression 

Telephone interviews are the first step in what could be a major change in your career.  What makes telephone interviews particularly tricky is that there is no visual contact with your interviewer.  The confidence in your voice is therefore critical.  Your ability to convince the interviewer that you can do the job needs to come across clearly.
The interviewer is looking for two things in the candidates he or she interviews...level of QUALIFICATIONS and level of INTEREST.  Your qualifications need to be explained and expanded on.  Your level of interest needs to be clearly conveyed to the interviewer if the job is something you desire.  Although neither of you can make a hiring decision based on the initial telephone interview, it is the "ice breaker" that sets the tone for the rest of the interview process if it happens.
To make the most of your telephone time and to make sure you focus on the critical points, ask the interviewer to describe the three or four key Performance Objectives of the position.  You should have already discussed these with your recruiter, but it's important to see if they have changed in the eyes of the interviewing manager.  Sometimes, these objectives are broken down into short-term issues - ones that need to be addressed within the first 12 months after the person is hired; and longer-term objectives (18 - 24 months out) that need to be achieved to measure success in the position.
Once you understand clearly the performance objectives, relate your background and experience to the interviewer in terms of these objectives.  That is, give examples of where you have encountered similar challenges and have been successful.  For example, if one of the objectives of the position requires good project management skills, show where your project management skills have been effective in the past in your current position or others.  Give results, explain why you were successful, and show the impact it had on the company overall.  Address each of the performance objectives in a similar manner.
At the conclusion of the telephone interview, don't be afraid to show your level of excitement.  Let the interviewer know that you believe your skills and background could address the performance objectives well and ask what the next step in the interviewing process will be.  Let the interviewer know you are qualified and interested enough to take it to the next level.  If you are not interested in the position, or feel that it is not a good fit for your background or your future goals, let the interviewer know that too.  You don't want to waste anyone’s time.  Politely take yourself out of consideration for the position and offer a reason or reasons why you don't think it would meet your current career goals.  Being as professional as you can at this point will often keep the doors open for you at the interviewer's company for other positions as they arise.
Remember, the telephone interview is the first step for both you and your prospective next employer.  It's a time to make a good first impression on each other and learn enough about each other and the job to make intelligent decisions on the next interview steps.
Good luck and good interviewing!

Author, DR. JOHN SULLIVAN (JohnS@sfsu.edu) is a well-known international speaker, author, and advisor to Fortune 500 and Silicon Valley firms.


How much is that open position costing you?

There are numerous costs associated with an unfilled position in any company. Many of these costs are difficult

to quantify, but nonetheless are very real, and can be very costly.

Consider the following:



By Dr. John Sullivan

If an airline bought a new 747, and then let it sit for two months on the runway because they didn't have a pilot, what would the cost be to the airline? In other words what is the cost of a vacant position?

Many firms calculate the cost of a hire, and some go so far as to calculate the cost of a bad hire (which have been estimated to be as much as three (3) times the persons annual salary), but few have taken the time to calculate the cost of a vacant position. These costs can be significant: anywhere from $7,000 dollars per day to $50,000 per day for an engineering position. Key leadership positions may cost as much as a million dollars per week. Couple these amounts with the fact that the length of many vacancies often exceeds 100 days, and you are talking about some serious financial impacts ($7,000 X 100 days = $700k).


* Delaying product development and time to market in a fast changing industry means:

1. Lower margins, (as much as 10%)

2. A loss of first entry dominance

3. A loss of PR

4. Potential loss of market share (up to 30%)

* Great ideas and products come from people, not from equipment, buildings or capital. If you don't have great people . . . you won't have great products. And without great products you won't have a great company.

* If the vacancies are a result of slow recruiting process, it is important to also realize that a failure to fill vacancies rapidly will probably also mean that all of the top candidates will be gone by the time you make a hiring decision. So you will likely re-fill your vacancies with lower quality hires (especially because the best are usually the first to quit)

* Vacancies in a single team can have an impact on many other teams (because of interdependencies), which can cascade throughout the entire company.



When you have a vacant position, one or more of the following things may happen. Guesstimate the dollar costs of each bullet point that fits your situation:


* Time To Market (TTM) is dramatically impacted by the entire production chain. Because departmental

schedules and plans are closely interwoven, any disruption in one department may adversely affect all others.

* In industries that are seasonal (i.e. toys) this disruption may be even more costly. Vacancies in key skill positions may mean that products and projects may need to be dropped altogether.


* Team product development may be dramatically impacted by the disruption caused by the lost productivity, lost experience, leadership, idea generation and skills of the "vacated" person.

* If a team environment exists, a disruption in team cohesiveness may occur. This can result in a longer TTM (Time To Market) and a loss of focus that can also impact TTM.

* Vacancies may affect the idea generation of others because co-workers are frustrated or overworked.

* Vacancies may cause overworked employees (because they have to fill in) to tire, which may cause increased accidents.

* Vacancies may cause overworked employees to tire, which may adversely affect product quality through increased error rates.

* Excessive vacancies may lead to increase "whining," grievances and even union activity.

* If the team leader is the "vacancy" then "time to productivity" is likely to be even more negatively impacted.

* A vacancy may make a manager reluctant to terminate poor performing employees. Vacancies coupled with poor performers can cripple the team.


* A vacancy means that a current employee must do the work of the vacant position. This can cause a cascade effect causing others to have to fill in for their position, resulting in many "rusty" people doing unfamiliar jobs and decreasing productivity.

* Vacancies may frustrate other employees, causing them to lower their productivity.

* Vacancies may frustrate other employees, causing them to quit at higher rate than they normally would.

* Vacancies may cause the team to miss its goals, thereby reducing the possibility of individual and team incentives, which may further reduce productivity.

* Increased stress on overworked current employees (caused by having to fill in) may cause increased absenteeism and tardiness.

* Vacancies may hold up vacation time for current employees which may lead to increased stress or frustration.

* Understaffed departments will not be able to send current employees to training and conferences, which may

lead to increased stress, decreased worker knowledge or frustration.

* If temps or "fill-ins" must be hired, they usually have a higher error rate that the average employee and they are unlikely to generate many new ideas.

* Superstar employees often resent being asked to fill in when lesser employees positions are vacant, which may cause them to quit also.


* Teams with vacancies require "high maintenance" and more management attention and worry.

* Managers often have to skip their normal management planning and responsibilities in order to fill in for the vacant employee.

* When managers fill in for "vacant" employees that time can't be spent on the best employees.

* Vacancies in management and team leader positions have a multiplier effect on productivity and the recruitment of others.

* There are opportunity costs for things a manager and co-workers could have done if they didn't have to carry the extra load of filling in for a vacancy.

* If the vacancies are caused by top management decisions (hiring or budget freezes) it can cause managers to lose hope. This can impact morale and it may lead to a high management turnover rate.


* Excessive vacancies may send a message to customers and suppliers that we are getting weak or we don't care about them. It may cause a period of confusion for suppliers and customers regarding whom they can contact and the stability of the relationship. Errors caused by "vacant" employees may lose sales volume and
occasionally customers.

* Any "fill in" as a sales/account rep may provide them an opportunity or excuse to look for other suppliers.


* Excessive vacancies may cause management to panic and to "quickly" hire some poor performers. Once the team is saddled with a large number of poor performers, you may never be able to hire any new top performers.

* Vacancies at the CEO, CFO, CTO, and other top manager positions can adversely impact our financing and the willingness of others to partner/merge with us.

* Vacancies in key positions may send a message to analysts and the stock market that you are getting weak.

* Vacancies may send a message to competitors that you are vulnerable, which can lead to increased competitive pressures.

* A large number of vacancies means we are losing employees, which means weakening our culture. New employees with new values may change or dilute our values and "corrupt" current employees.


* Excessive vacancies sends a message to your competitors you are getting weak. This might encourage them and improve their own confidence so that they become bolder in the product and employee poaching market.

* Vacancies may impact new recruiting because vacancies send a message to future recruits that we are not easily able to recruit replacements.

* Large numbers of vacancies may also send a message to our current employees we are headed down hill.

* High vacancy rates may over-stress our recruiters and recruitment process.

* Vacancies may send a message to outside recruiters that we are vulnerable, which can lead to increased "headhunter" activity.


* Having to hire high-cost consultants as "fill in help" could mean higher costs. If hourly employees are involved it probably means additional overtime costs.

* Vacancies can mean the underutilization of plant and equipment.


* The new hire may be a lower quality (low performance) candidate.

* New hires are unlikely to be immediately productive, thus resulting in increased costs.

* Some "vacating employees" take others with them soon after they leave. A "break in the dike" of one leaving may cause the whole intact team to leave.

* Many new hires don't work out and must be replaced within 6 months, essentially stretching the length of the vacancy.

* In a tight labor market vacancies in hard to hire jobs may not be replaceable, at any cost.

* In start-ups and small departments, where there is little cross training, the cost may be more dramatic. If you only have ten employees and you lose two, you have a 20% vacancy rate (big deal!).

* Spending the time to avoid vacancies may have a huge ROI especially if your former employees go to a competitor with "your" ideas, causing their revenues to increase as yours go down.

DR. JOHN SULLIVAN (JohnS@sfsu.edu) is a well-known international speaker, author, and advisor to Fortune 500 and Silicon Valley firms. He was called the "Michael Jordan of Hiring" by Fast Company Magazine. Dr. Sullivan is also head of the Human Resources Management Program at San Francisco State

University. We thank Dr. Sullivan for allowing us to share it with our readers.

This is an authorized reprint from The Fordyce Letter, P. O. Box 31011, St. Louis

Ray Holley Group, LLC
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