Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Do you need sales training?

I’m not sure what I expected when I left the relative security of a salaried position for a sales job that paid a commission. I had an idea that the life was not really the one Arthur Miller depicted in Death of a Salesman, but I did not know if it would be better, or worse. I was going to sell financial services. I read a few books about sales. Harvey Mackay’s Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive helped, as did the concepts in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. It was a strange new world for me. I wondered about taking some sort of training class, but any doubts that I had were quickly dispelled by my new boss who informed me that he would teach me everything I needed to know.

I set out to make my fortune. Under the tutelage of my boss and a few other sales people that pitied the new recruit, I began a new career in sales. I had no idea what I was doing. I learned great bits of wisdom such as, “If they aren’t saying no, they are saying yes.” I struggled to accept that every “no” got me one step closer to “yes.” I discovered the value of being a persistent, professional pest, and as much as I like to talk, I recognized the power of silence as a negotiating tool. My boss taught me to “up sell” and to direct prospects to products with higher commissions. I picked up the so called secrets of selling fairly easily and quickly. I was on my way to being a salesman. How could I go wrong? My boss would teach me everything I needed to know.

Unfortunately, I was not on my way to being a successful salesman. My boss was a fine man. He was thoughtful and kind. He did a good job of organizing the sales territory. He knew the customer base and the product, and he seemed a “natural” salesman. He was patiently encouraging. He learned his craft over many years, and he had many teachers. Unfortunately, as with many people who do something well, he had no idea why he was successful. (This happens in other fields also. Great athletes do not always make great coaches.) The reason this was unfortunate, is that there was no way that he could teach me everything I needed to know.

Ultimately, I did manage to learn to be a good salesman. I learned how to consult with clients and understand their needs so that I could provide a solution instead of simply pushing a product. I learned how to provide value to the customer. I learned the importance of developing long-term relationships so that I could continue providing solutions and customer value through repeat business. It took me three years, and I ultimately changed jobs. That was when I learned the value of sales training.

My first experience with sales training came about six months into the new job. A major shakeup of senior management resulted in a new CEO and some reorganization. The new CEO decided to hold a company-wide meeting. One day of the meeting was set aside for sales training. This was the first formal sales training experience for much of the sales team, and all of us were skeptical. I had finally become an excellent sales person after three years of on the job training, and I was certain that there was nothing new for me to learn. This sentiment was shared by many of the high performers. Fortunately we kept an open mind. We learned a lot, and as a result of that experience my perspective on sales changed.

No matter your experience or your sales teams’ ability, sales training can help. Like any skill, sales can be taught. The quality of instruction will make a big difference in how well or how quickly sales can learned. Good training and practice can help novice salespeople learn the basics. The same training helps experienced and successful salespeople by confirming that they are doing the right things and helping them make adjustments if necessary. Sales training can help build a common vocabulary for your sales team and it helps standardize processes. Common vocabulary and procedures make it possible for teams to function smoothly. Sales training also helps support the idea that selling is an activity that can be studied and practiced. Training helps reinforce the importance of planning, and it serves as an important reminder to pay attention to detail.

There are many different types of training programs. Whether you are an experienced salesperson or just learning the ropes, training may be able to improve your sales skills. Give it a try.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Does No Job Mean No Taxes?

I’ve heard this question a lot. The answer is, “It depends.” 

One of the surprises waiting for newly unemployed people is that their unemployment compensation is considered taxable income. However, that may not be the only surprise. In this article, I’ll go over a few things that you need to consider if you find yourself unemployed.

What is taxable income?
The general answer is that if you receive income, it is taxable unless it is specifically exempted by law. Among the things considered income are money that someone pays you for working for them, income that you earn in your own business, interest (unless it is exempt), dividends and capital gains. If you owe money and the debt is forgiven, then that is also usually income. (If you want a comprehensive explanation, IRS Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income covers this topic in just over 40 pages.)

How much tax do I have to pay on unemployment compensation?
That is another question with, “It depends,” for an answer. If your only income is unemployment compensation, you may not have to pay any tax depending on the total amount you receive, your filing status, and deductions and credits. In 2010, the personal exemption was $3,650 and the standard deduction for a single filer was $5,700.  If your unemployment compensation totaled $9,350, the standard deduction and the personal exemption would reduce your taxable income to zero. However, additional sources of income or a different filing status could change the answer. If you are married and your spouse works, then that income may also affect the tax you pay. You have the option of having taxes withheld from your unemployment compensation. Read the information that was provided when you filed very carefully.

Previous Employment
Let’s take a look at some of the other sources of income that you might have. One source of income is likely to be your previous job. Unless you became unemployed in the last calendar year, then you probably have income from your job this year.  It is easy to forget this income, especially if it has been some time since your last check. If you worked in an industry that paid you in stock or options or something similar, then you may also have taxable income related to that compensation.

Odd Jobs
Many unemployed people make ends meet while looking for full-time permanent work by working temporary jobs or by working as a contractor. This income is taxable, and it could also create problems at tax time if you are not aware of a few things. Money earned doing temporary work or working as a contractor can add up to a nice sum. However, the amount from each individual job may not be enough for the employer to withhold enough tax to keep you from having to pay a large amount and even penalties for underpayment. Be sure to keep track of your earnings from temporary and part-time jobs, and remember that the income is taxable.

If you work as a contractor, you should also be aware of something called Self-Employment Tax. When you are a contractor, you are essentially self-employed, and you become responsible for both the FICA (Social Security) that would normally be deducted from your check by an employer and the portion that would be paid by the employer.

Savings and Investments
Do you have investment income?  If you had been a regular saver or investor, then you may have accounts that pay you interest, dividends, and capital gains each year. It is easy to forget about this income until you receive the 1099’s from your bank or investment company.

You may be using that savings or investments to pay your living expenses. If your money was in a checking or savings account, the only consequence of your withdrawals is that your balances are getting smaller. However, if your money is in stocks or bonds (including mutual funds) or in special accounts like IRAs you may face some tax consequences.

When you sell mutual funds or stocks and bonds, then you are subject to capital gains tax on the difference between what you paid and what you received when you sold. If you sold for less than you paid, then you have a loss.

If you withdraw money from IRAs or take distributions from a pension or annuity, then you may be required to pay tax on the amount you withdraw. In addition, depending on your age and how you withdraw the money, you may also be subject to additional taxes. You may also find that some annuities have surrender charges.

These are just a few of the issues that might be of interest to people that are unemployed. If you are unsure of your tax liability, be sure to contact a CPA or trained tax professional to discuss your unique situation. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

The first Form 1040 in 1913

Take a look at the first 1040. The form and instructions are only four pages long.
The first Form 1040 was produced in 1913 after the 16th Amendment was ratified. The amendment said,
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
The 1913 Form 1040 was three pages long, and it was accompanied by one page of instructions. The normal tax rate was one percent.
The normal tax of 1 per cent shall be assessed on the total net income less the specific exemption of $3,000 or $4,000 as the case may be. (For the year 1913, the specific exemption allowable is $2,500 or $3,333.33, as the case may be.)
There was also an additional or super tax on taxable income above $20,000 as shown below.

on the
and not