All posts in Your Sales Culture

Shortening Your Sales Cycle

When I meet with company presidents, CEO’s and business owners, the most common frustrations I hear from them is “Our sales opportunities never seem to close ‘on time’ if they close at all!” or “Our sales pipeline is full but nothing seems to be closing!”

There are many reasons as to why sales organizations are experiencing these problems and among the biggest is that often they’re not using a defined, optimized sales process. Would you be surprised to learn that 91% of all companies don’t use a common sales process?

There’s more bad news–if you’re looking to shorten your team’s sales cycle, it’s not enough to have a defined sales process . You also need to have salespeople with the correct blend of skills and sales DNA to execute your sales process effectively.

Now for some good news–there is a method to determine whether your team has what it takes to bring sales through the door in a timely, cost-effective manner and it doesn’t involve guess work or using a crystal ball. By using the science behind the 26 questions we can answer for clients, it’s now possible know the strengths and weaknesses of any sales organization and whether they’re capable of shortening their sales cycle.

For a look at the ‘science’ and some great examples of why sales cycles are so long, go here and read the article by Dave Kurlan, CEO of Objective Management Group, at his award winning blog.


Asking Great Sales Coaching Questions

From working with companies and sales organizations over the years, I've encountered and observed many sales managers and CEO's or Presidents who served in a sales leader role. I've learned many great things from them. However, some were not so good.

Many of them were and are strong, competent, knowledgeable business professionals. However, many were less than stellar sales coaches.

The reasons for this shortcoming were varied of course–lack of time, lack of desire, too much ego, not enough ego or simply not knowing how to go about it.

If there is one area of sales coaching that sales leaders could look to, to immediately increase their effectiveness and see a positive impact on their team's performance and results, it would be the competency of asking better questions of their people.

As an example, let's take a sales coaching conversation with a salesperson to review their sales pipeline. As a sales leader we're primarily interested in the following:

1)  The quantity of deals they have in their pipeline
2)  the quality of deals they have in their pipeline
3)  The velocity of the deals in their pipeline
4)  The forecasted revenue from closed business in the next 30-45 days
5)  The action items being worked on to move specific deals forward to either a yes or no

There are lot's of questions to be asked about items 1-4. Let's say we want to focus on #5. What's a good question with which to begin the conversation?

When it comes to sales coaching questions, remember that vague, ambiguous, wishy-washy language will result in vague, ambiguous, wishy-washy questions that will yield zero information and waste everyone's time. If you want to ask effective, impactful questions, remember the 3 C's:  Clear, Concise, Concrete.

Alright, so if we want to start the conversation re #5–what strategies, tactics is the salesperson working on to move a deal forward, what's the question? Try this–Instead of asking "What do you have going on?", ask this "Looking at your pipeline, when it comes to moving a deal forward or unsticking a deal that's been stuck, what opportunities can I help you move forward?" Much better.

Clear, concise, concrete. This question will get you to a 'data point' from which you can ask more great questions.

Actually, there are 4 C's to great coaching questions. The fourth "C" is Consistency. When you ask the same questions from meeting to meeting you are training your salesperson to be prepared to answer those questions and knowing what to expect in the session.

This was just one example of a great sales coaching question. Can you think of others?


Knowing vs. Doing

How is your sales team doing with the 'knowing vs. doing' challenge? You know what I'm talking about.

The 'knowing' part of professional sales is a salesperson's knowledge of selling as a process. The elements of this process are qualifying for problems, money and decision process, positioning value, etc.

Along with these process steps salespeople will also need to know the selling skills necessary for executing the process. These are the communication skills–asking questions, active listening, getting commitments, building relationships and dealing with resistance.

As a sales leader you should be working on developing your team's selling skills based on evaluating your team and what you are observing on joint sales calls in the field. This can also be accomplished by consistently conducting role-playing in your sales meetings. You should monitor this role playing and listen/look for gaps in your salepeople's skills. Based on your evaluations and observations you can then provide the 'knowledge' to fill in the gaps. This is the knowing part of the equation.

However, as noted sales guru Dave Kurlan is fond of saying, a salesperson's "knowledge of selling as a process is not enough to help them execute effectively on a daily basis."

Execution is the 'doing' part of selling. Rationally, we all know what we should be doing in the sales process. But taking what you know and turning it into what you do is one of life's biggest challenges. Those of us that have ever taken a golf lesson know what I'm talking about.

Again, as sales leaders, you should be evaluating your team for certain sales weaknesses that prevent them from executing what they know how to do in the many different sales situations in which they find themselves. In other words, they know what to do…but they don't do it.

These sales weaknesses can be one of a number of things–need for approval, non-supportive buy cycle, self-limiting beliefs, a tendency to get emotionally involved (internally), discomfort in talking about money or difficulty in recovering from rejection.

Addressing these weaknesses requires a more concerted effort by sales leaders than when working with salespeople to improve their selling skills. While the fix for each weakness is different and unique, the common denominator is addressing the individual's beliefs about selling that serve as an obstacle and predetermine their effectiveness and outcomes.

As an example, if a salesperson is uncomfortable having an in-depth financial discussion with a prospect about budget, pricing or terms, it's usually because of a limiting belief about money that was passed along to them by a parent or authority figure when they were younger:  "It's not polite to talk about money, son."

Note:  Working on these weaknesses with salespeople should always be done in a one on one coaching setting. Salespeople will be more open to your coaching and you'll get the best results in this type of setting.

Last thought on this subject–when coaching your people to overcome these weaknesses, remember to be patient. It takes time to fix them. At the same time, be firm, hold your people accountable and accept no excuse-making for not making progress!


Great Sales Coaching Question!

What's the difference between these two questions?

"How did your week go?"

"How many new opportunities did you add to your sales pipeline?"

If you answered, "The number of words." you're correct. If you were being serious and answered that the second question drives to a specific piece of data, you're also correct. And more, a specific piece of data that gives more context to a salesperson's sales performance and effectiveness in a week's time than the first question.

Only 15% of sales managers spend as much as 25% of their time on coaching  and the little they do spend coaching is not very effective. These numbers only serve to emphasize how important it is that sales managers be highly competent at asking great sales coaching questions.

If you are a sales manager (or a company president or business owner who serves as their own sales manager) who is looking to improve your sales team's performance, pay more attention to the types of coaching questions you're asking of your salespeople.

When beginning a coaching conversation with your salespeople, use clear, concise and concrete questions. This is not the time for 'warm and fuzzy' questions or inquiring how your salesperson is feeling. Those can come later on in the conversation when action items  are committed to by the salesperson and you want to know their comfort level in executing the strategies so you can offer more coaching to ensure effective performance. Role-playing the sales situations or strategies with your salesperson will help here.

Want to ask great sales coaching questions?







The Hidden Sales Talents of Your Non-Sales Team

I had an interesting experience while conducting a coaching session with a client sales organization that will give you some insight to the untapped power available in non-sales departments of most companies.

We were working on a pre-call preparation for a first time face to face meeting that three member of the management team (one of whom is the president) would be having with a prospective client. An individual who is a center of influence in their network had given them an introduction t a prospect company that could result in a long term profitable relationship.

In the coaching session, there were managers, outside salespeople, inside salespeople, project managers and support people from two divisions, covering the company's four primary markets. Specifically, we were strategizing primarily to answer two questions:

  -What is our objective for this call? 

  -What should our process be for achieving the objective?

The group was asked to share their answers to the first question. The salespeople offered, "Sell our products and services." (I'm paraphrasing.) No surprise there right? Some of the managers said, "Sell our products and services." Somewhat of a surprise. Finally, one of the project managers suggested, "Find out if this will be a fit for us?" Eureka!!

Great question! But who did it come from? Not a manager. Not a salesperson. The best question was asked by a non-sales person….a project manager. How could this be? Well, very often I find that the people who are responsible for managing projects, making sure they are done on time, on budget and profitably, are the people who are most concerned about why the business was pursued and acquired. It's the sales team that tells the customer, "Sure we can do that!" and then when the work is handed off to the operations team, those folks are then left asking each other, "How are we going to do that?"

The lesson here is that the operations team can be a great source of additional sales knowledge, intuition and perspective. It's the project managers, engineers, estimators, etc. who will ask:

  -Why are we talking to ABC Company?

  -Is this a fit for us?

  -If we do _________ for them, what happens next?

The list of other great questions generated by operations people is a long one. Presidents, CEO's, business owners–leverage the hidden talents of these valuable team members in gaining more sales.





This Story is ‘Developing’ at This Hour

Perhaps some of you have seen the movie, “The Blind Side”. It’s a popular film about the true story of a rich, white couple (Leigh Anne and Sean Touhy) who take a poor, black 16 year old (Michael Oher, now a professional football player for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens) off the streets of Memphis, Tennessee and into their home.

While I haven’t seen the movie yet, I’ve just read the book by the same name written by Michael Lewis that the movie is based on. It’s a terrific read and more than just a story about football–it’s really about serendipity, family and love.

As I read the book, several parallels occurred to me between the story and the challenges that companies have in the ongoing development of their sales organizations.

Companies looking to develop high-performing sales organizations must focus on:

-Raising and managing expectations for their salespeople.

Once they got to know a little bit about Michael Oher and realized he had achieved virtually nothing in the Memphis public school system (at the time he had a 0.6 grade point average), the Touhy’s never stopped believing that, given his athletic ability, he had a great future in front of him if he put in the work on his school studies. And they consistently communicated their beliefs by the manner in which they set expectations for Michael–that he would do the necessary work, period. No rationalizing. No excuse-making. Get it done.

Sales leaders need to raise their expecations higher with their salespeople and communicate those expectatons clearly and consistently…and not back down, not give in, not accept excuses, poor economy or not.

-Helping their salespeople overcome their weaknesses.

Michael’s biggest area for improvement was his lack of an adequate education. Sean and Leigh Anne began an intensive tutoring program to accelerate his learning not only to be able to play on the football team but to guide him in day to day living. LeAnne commented, “Everyday I try to make sure he knows something he doesn’t know.”

In order for their salespeople to meet the expectations set for them, companies must identify those selling weaknesses that may prevent them from getting there. Once those obstacles are known, sales leaders should put together a plan to coach and develop their people until those weaknesses no long affect them in the sales process. Note: Work on only one weakness at a time and begin with the one that is the biggest roadblock to effective execution and performance.

-Preparing their salespeople for more responsibility and a higher level role.

In working with Michael, Sean and LeAnne Touhy’s guiding principle was this–football aside, they were willing to do whatever it took to prepare him for a fulfilling and rewarding life on his own. After Michael graduated from high school and entered the University of Mississippi, the Touhy’s purchased a home near the Ole Miss campus and continued to provide guidance and support  because they felt he needed their continued help to be successful in college, in his anticipated NFL career and in life.

To prepare their people for more responsibility and a higher level role, sales leaders should develop their team to become “advisors” in the sales process rather than “salespeople”. This involves strengthening their sales skills, competencies and ‘presence’ to effectively interact with all levels of a prospect organization with an emphasis on C level executives. 

There are many more lessons to be gained from “The Blind Side”. I can’t wait to see the movie.


Is Your Sales Team Receiving Effective Coaching?

From working with many company presidents and business owners over the last seventeen years, I've learned many valuable things. Chief among these is this obvious one: Company presidents and owners are very busy and wear many 'hats' in leading their businesses.

One of these hats is that of being a coach to their sales team. Depending on the size of their sales organization, the amount of coaching a president does can vary widely. With a larger team and a VP of Sales in place, they may only be involved in strategy sessions dealing with larger customer accounts. When the sales team is smaller, a president may be serving as their own sales manager and interacting regularly with their salespeople.

No matter what your level of involvement may be with your sales team, current economic conditions require that you adapt the coaching of your salespeople even more now than when the economy and sales were humming along.

Here are some questions that will help fine tune your coaching sessions:

  1. Has this salesperson experienced these kinds of business conditions before?

  2. How did this salesperson react to those conditions then?

  3. How do they view your industry's selling environment today?

  4. If they haven't experienced this type of business environment in the past, what is their mindset today?

  5. How is their current mindset affecting what you need them to do to find and close business?

  6. What are their sales skills, competencies and selling style? Are they able to execute effectively in this type of selling environment?

  7. Have you (or your VP of Sales) evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of your sales team and examined how those findings relate to previous items 1 – 6

Knowing the answers to these questions is important for several reasons. First, the answers will assist you in adapting the coaching your salespeople receive to help achieve their sales goals in a challenging economy. Second, by effectively customizing your sales coaching now, when business conditions begin to improve, your sales organization will be that much better positioned to close more and better sales.




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