All posts by Jim Nelson

Practice, Practice, Practice!

If you are a Company President, CEO or Business Owner, looking for a quantum improvement in your sales team’s performance, here are two questions that may be of interest.

Question 1:  What is the best tool for a sales coach to use to quickly raise their sales team’s performance?

Question 2:  What is the most neglected tool available to a sales coach when coaching their sales team?

Would you be surprised to learn that the answer to both of these questions is the same?

The answer is role-playing.

A great mentor of mine once told me, “Everyone wants to play in the big game but nobody wants to practice!” 

Too many salespeople don’t want to practice for the big game. In sales, practicing means role-playing various sales situations salespeople have encountered or will likely encounter. Situations where they may need to employ a specific sales strategy, achieve a defined milestone in the sales process, dealing with difficult personalities or lower the prospect’s resistance to name a few examples. All of these situations require a salesperson who is prepared for them. A salesperson who ‘wings it’ in these types of sales calls, thinking they will be able to come up with the right response on the spot is a salesperson who is bound to fail more times than they win. 

Unfortunately, sales managers are contributing to this problem of lack of practicing by not making role-playing a regular part of their sales meetings and neglecting to give their salespeople the tools they need to be successful.

Role-playing done right gives a sales manager an opportunity to learn about their team:

  • How do the salespeople sound in a sales call?
  • Are they asking enough questions?
  • Are they asking the right questions?
  • Are they using active listening to sell consultatively?
  • Is the salesperson capable of lowering resistance by the prospect?

In order for role-playing practice to provide value for participants and increase their learning, sales managers should follow these guidelines and communicate the following to their team:

  1. The role-playing session is an opportunity to get better at what they do.
  2. The session is low risk–they can’t lose a sale in a practice situation.
  3. That initially, they will feel uncomfortable and the more they practice the more comfortable they’ll feel.
  4. They will be more prepared to deal with anything that happens in a sales call.

An additional benefit of using role-playing is that sales manager can then begin to accumulate the sales strategies and tactics used in the sessions and put together a ‘best practices’ toolkit that the team can then put to use in the future with the message:  “Here are the thought processes, sales strategies and tactics we want the team to use because we know they work!” 

Once you have these guidelines in place, it’s practice, practice practice!

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Let’s Do a Debrief

With the turmoil of the last 18 months due to the pandemic and the resulting impact on the economy and business conditions, selling organizations should be examining their sales practices to ensure they are using the right tools that will enable their sales teams to close more profitable sales. One of the first areas they should focus on is their process for debriefing their sales team’s sales calls. Nothing can have a bigger impact on sales growth than getting ‘debriefing’ right.

What are the effects of ineffective sales debriefing taking place, or worse, no debriefing at all?

-Sales pipelines with rosy forecasts that never seem to translate into closed business.

-Too many proposals for unqualified prospects.

No accountability for salespeople to execute their sales calls according to the standard set by the company–asking the right questions, getting to decision-makers and using desired sales strategies, etc.

-Lack of debriefing leading to lack of knowledge by management that informs them where salespeople need improvement and what kind of help they need to get stronger in the sales process.

Consistent, strong debriefing of salespeople helps a sales organization:

-Forecast revenue more accurately

-Predict with greater certainty a salesperson’s success or failure with a potential sales opportunity

-Understand what help will be needed by their salespeople to achieve better results

There are many ‘must do’s’ on the part of the debriefing manager to be effective. Here are just a few of the most useful guidelines:

  1. Have a set agenda – When you use the same format, week in and week out, salespeople know what to expect and prepare for.
  2. Salespeople must be prepared to discuss ‘what happened, obstacles that came up, etc.
  3. The manager’s two favorite questions will be:  “How do you know that?” and “Why?”
  4. The manager must always ask, “What’s the next step with the prospect?”   
  5. Always end with ‘lessons learned’ and a commitment from the salesperson on how they will apply the lesson.
  6. The debriefing manager must emphasize that their role is to serve as a resource to the salesperson for solving sales problems, offer coaching and insights into the buyer’s psychology and suggest alternative tactics and strategies that align with the company’s desired sales process.
  7. To make sure the salesperson does not take any coaching personally, stay away from any criticism of their sales actions or thinking. Be sure to stroke them for everything they did right. 

 

There is another part of debriefing that is important that I haven’t covered and that is the use of role-playing in developing salespeople. And that will be the subject of my next post–stay tuned!

 

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Recommended Reading for Sales and Selling Organizations

Here’s a short list of books on sales and business that I recommend to clients who want to reach the level of sales they desire and deserve. These are tools that every high-performing salesperson should have in their sales toolkit.

 

Baseline Selling by Dave Kurlan – Systematic approach to selling  that gives salespeople more results and control over the sales process.

Hope is Not a Strategy: The 6 Keys to Winning the Complex Sale by Rick Page – Use the strategies to navigate the complex sale and land your next whale account.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz – Learn how to use the psychology behind negotiation and the correct use of ‘no’.

The Platinum Rule for Sales Mastery: How to Adapt Your Selling Style to Match Every Prospect’s Buying Style by Tony Alessandro, Scott Zimmerman – Achieve quicker bonding and rapport with others and improve communication in any and all other situations.

Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide for Modern Marketing by Harry Beckwith – A collection of short, practical strategies with insights on how markets work and prospects think.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini – Still the foundational book for understanding the principles of persuasion and the psychology behind why people say “yes”.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey – Filled with practical wisdom for people who are looking to take control of their lives and careers.

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Writing a Sales Hiring Ad? Don’t Make This Mistake!

The only reason to hire a salesperson is for one reason and one reason only–to satisfy a business need. 

For hiring companies, that business need arises from different situations. Sometimes, they’ve lost a salesperson and need to replace them, a salesperson has been terminated for non-performance or business is rebounding from recent pandemic conditions and it makes sense to add on to the sales team.

Once the decision is made to hire, the hiring manager (or HR department) encounters the next hurdle–writing the recruiting ad. It’s at this point, a sales organization most often makes a crucial mistake. The ad they put together describes the ‘job’ rather than the successful candidate. They make this error for a variety of reasons:

  1. The hiring company lacks a clear picture of the successful sales candidate so they don’t know who they’re looking for. Because they don’t know who they’re looking for, they won’t be able to distinguish an unqualified candidate from a qualified one. They won’t be able to spot an ‘ok’ candidate who interviews well but won’t execute. Very often an exceptional candidate will get overlooked in a sea of mediocre candidates in the recruiting funnel.
  2. Lacking a clear profile of a successful hire, they take the easy way out and write an ad that describes the job and their company. It’s easy to spot these ads:  “An established, growing company has a position for an outside salesperson selling (insert product or service) in the greater (insert city) area.” They then proceed to list the responsibilities and requirements of the position just like 80%-90% of other ads.

Writing this type of ad fails to differentiate the opportunity and the company in a way that will engage and attract the attention of a high performing salesperson who may be looking for a new sales position.

The result of a bad ad? The biggest consequence is the quality of talent that goes into the recruiting funnel will be unlikely to reach the level that most companies require for a successful hire. Frustrated by a lack of qualified candidates, the hiring company will make a hire either out of desperation because they need someone to take over the sales territory or they get worn out from a seemingly endless process and settle for a hire who is ‘good enough’. At that point, the odds are they will find themselves back in the search mode twelve months down the road when they come to the realization that their new hire has failed.

I’ll save the topic of an effective sales hiring ad for a future post but here’s a preview. If the ad does not contain these words (among others): “The successful candidate must have prior success…” the hiring company may be on a path to making a very expensive hiring mistake.

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Five ‘Don’ts’ of Effective Sales Coaching

In my last post I discussed the ‘DO’S’ for effective coaching of salespeople. Here I want to share five short ‘DONTS’ for sales leaders or sales managers. There are more than these five but these are a good place to start.

1.  DON’T accept excuses from salespeople. Excuse-making allows a salesperson to avoid responsibility for their results that don’t meet your expectations. Performance and results will not improve until excuse-making stops.

2.  DON’T end a coaching session focused on specific customer opportunities without a commitment from the salesperson to execute the next necessary sales step properly and promptly.

3.  DON’T begin a sales debriefing by asking the salesperson “What happened with your sales call on ABC Company?” Rather, ask how the call ended and work backward from there to determine how the salesperson arrived at the outcome they did. Doing this saves time and will get the real sales issues on the table quicker.

4.  DON’T accuse or point fingers. This causes defensiveness by the salesperson. Instead, begin a questioning process to help the salesperson discover their errors that prevented them from getting a better result. 

5.  DON’T allow the salesperson go off on tangents during the discussion. Keep them focused and use the allotted time productively. Doing so sets a good template for future sessions.

Companies who are looking to grow sales and profitability will see quicker improvement by implementing on using stronger, more effective sales coaching before investing in any training for their salespeople.

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Five ‘Do’s’ For Effective Sales Coaching

Recent data shows that salespeople aren’t receiving nearly enough coaching from their managers and too often the coaching they are getting isn’t resulting in closing more business. Here’s a list of five ‘Do’s’ for sales leaders and managers who want to create a productive sales coaching environment.

1. DO be consistent in scheduling all one-on-one coaching sessions with salespeople. Being consistent sends the message to salespeople that these sessions are important and intended for their development and improvement. Establishing a rhythm and consistency of coaching is key to communicating that message.

2. DO have an agenda for every coaching session. Using a structured agenda helps salespeople feel more comfortable and less threatened when they know what to expect in a coaching sit down. This leads to more open and straightforward conversations regarding their sales opportunities.

3. DO make sure the salesperson comes away from every coaching session with a lesson learned from the sales calls that are discussed. Lessons reinforce positive sales behaviors and prevent a future repeat of negative, ineffective behaviors.

4. DO make sure, as the salesperson’s coach, to role-play the ‘salesperson’s’ part of the sales call. By doing this, the coach is modeling the expected sales strategies and tactics. (“This is how I want you to do this.”) When this is done, a standard is established,expectations of the salesperson can be set and they can be measured and held accountable for meeting that standard in their sales calls.

5. DO listen for the salesperson’s beliefs that may sabotage their sales calls and prevent them from achieving their desired outcomes (e.g. fear of asking detailed questions about budgets, reluctance to ask about the prospect’s decision-making process) Bring these self-limiting beliefs to the salesperson’s attention and help them discover how they are being held back, not by uncooperative or hostile prospects, but by their own thinking.

These are just a few elements of effective sales coaching. I will be posting a list of ‘Don’ts’ in the near future.

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Does Your Next Sales Hire Need to Be a Consultative Seller?

I was reviewing some of the incredible data and science that Objective Management Group (OMG) has on more than one million salespeople when the following caught my eye.

Today, salespeople possess, on average, only 48% of the attributes of consultative sellers.

You read that right–48%

I found this particularly interesting because selling has changed substantially in the last 8 years and one of the biggest changes has been the need for salespeople to differentiate themselves and their product or service offering from the competition. Without differentiation, salespeople will encounter more resistance, more price sensitivity and much lower win rates.

When a salesperson is a consultative seller—asking great questions, doing great listening and identifying the prospect’s compelling reasons to make an initial purchase or move their existing business to them—they are not only creating value for the prospect, more importantly, they become the value. “I don’t know what it is about Jennifer. She just asks great questions when it comes to helping us with our problems. She gets us!”  And Jennifer’s value provides differentiation for her because no one else interacts with her customer like she uniquely does.

My experience is that when companies think their sales teams are consultative sellers, they’re usually using the old definition of the term–selling solutions to customers and as discussed above, it’s more than that. Much more. Moreover, the changes in selling brought about by the economic downturn in 2008 have made their version of consultative selling obsolete.

 

 

 

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Are You a Scary Judge of Talent?

Many readers have probably seen the movie “The Recruit”, starring Al Pacino and Colin Farrell. The movie deals with the CIA and uncovering a ‘mole’ inside the agency and is memorable for one line spoken by Pacino’s character, a veteran agent. Here’s the clip–if you want you can skip right to the line at the 2:48 mark. After viewing it you’ll know where I pulled the title for this post.

How does this relate to sales selection? From working with sales leaders for the last 24 years, when they rely too many times solely on their judgment alone and have the mindset that they’re “a scary judge of talent”, it can get expensive…fast.

Have you ever hired a salesperson who didn’t work out? Beyond the emotional costs to a sales leader’s psyche (“Heck, I thought he was going to work out. I had such a good feeling about him and he interviewed so well!”) there are also the tangible, hidden costs of a salesperson not succeeding. Here just a few:

  1.  Time spent on first interviews
  2.  Time spent on second interviews
  3.  Time spent on reviewing resumes
  4.  Time spent onboarding a new hire
  5.  Time spent on coaching
  6.  Fees paid to a headhunter/recruiting service
  7.  Cost of job ads
  8.  Cost of training
  9.  Average annual salary of salesperson

Now if you look at these costs over the last five years of your sales force and if you’ve experienced the average turnover, it doesn’t take long for the numbers to add up.

Companies have reacted in one of two ways when faced with the costs of hiring salespeople who don’t work out. Some have remained “stuck on stupid”, hoping that their next hiring round will be different and they’ll magically find their next sales superstar. Other companies have turned to sales assessments that leverage science and take the guesswork out of making their sales selection decisions. Of course, these sales organizations have drastically reduced their sales hiring costs, built stronger sales teams and experienced more business being closed.

 

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The Green Bay Packers are Hiring

green-bay-packers-logo Another football season is almost upon us and here in town, the Green Bay    Packers have just started their training camp. “Training camp” is just what the  phrase implies–veterans and rookies alike will be competing to make the final  roster before the season opener against the Chicago Bears.

For the coaching staff, the next several weeks will be their opportunity to do an up  close and comprehensive assessment of their top draft picks in an attempt to  answer these questions–“Who can we count on to help us win games and bring  home the Super Bowl trophy?”

Drafting ‘sure fire, can’t miss, future Hall of Famer’ players is not an exact science. If it was, the biggest busts in Packers history would never have happened.

To avoid the next ‘bust’ the Packers, like many other NFL teams employ as much science as possible. They gather data on each potential draft choice and match  it to their requirements for each position: 40 yard dash times, vertical leap, bench press reps and IQ testing. During training camp the players are put through football drills and game situations to see if their physical skills can translate to performing effectively on the field. Everything is videotaped and that tape is compared to the data for each player.  This process is designed to reveal the ‘real’ player and the results are used by the coaching staff in making decisions when it comes time to cut the team down for the final roster. This systematic approach for evaluating talent changes very little from one year to the next. And the success the Packers have had over the last 8 years speaks to the effectiveness of the system.

The Packers’ approach is in direct contrast to how many companies typically go about hiring salespeople. All too often they don’t use a sales specific, systematic process or almost as bad, they use the same process their human resources department uses to hire non-selling employees. The result? Too many sales busts.

My experience over the last 23 years in helping companies grow revenue is that their ability to attract, identify and employ overachieving salespeople is a critical component in their success. In our work together, the discipline in using a repeatable, best practice, hiring model has helped them avoid costly hiring mistakes (think Tony Mandarich).

Sales candidates come in four flavors:  Can sell but won’t, can’t sell but will, can’t sell and won’t, can sell and will.

Can your hiring process help you tell the difference?

 

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Getting Sales Hiring Selection Right

I seem to be getting more requests for help from clients who are looking to fill a sales position with a current employee who is working in a different function than direct sales–technical customer service or quality assurance, etc. Management wants the employee assessed to ffind out if they qualify for a sales position. Sound familiar?

Now here’s where companies seem to experience collective “brain fade”. If they have a structured, formalized best practices sales selection process (most often they don’t…if they’re not currently working with us), they tend to lose all discipline, rush to make a hiring decision and wind up hiring with their business ‘heart’ (“Brian knows our product and everyone loves him–he’d be great in sales!”) rather than with their business ‘head’.

It’s not until a year later when management looks at Brian’s results–his sales are flat with very few new customers–that they begin to have remorse over whether they made the right decision. Meanwhile, a year has been wasted with almost nothing to show for it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying moving a current non-sales employee into a sales position can’t be successful. It can but it’s a long shot. But would it help to know what you could expect to happen after you did it…before you did it? Of course it would and here’s where ‘science’ can help plus using a systematic selection process that’s contains effective methodologies and tools. The point is that when a company is considering a current employee for one of its sales positions, they should use the same method as when they are looking at outside candidates.

As always, the three biggest steps to get right in the selection process are:

1)  Write  a clear, concise role configuration describing the successful candidate.

2)  Use a sales specific, predictive sales assessment that identifies the candidate’s sales competencies and DNA needed for success

3)  Make sure that the hiring team has mastered the skill of asking great interview questions.

Want to know how your company’s sales recruiting process stacks up? Click here.

Want to talk about a turnkey methodology that will help your company identify, find, attract, interview, hire and retain top sales talent? Email  me at [email protected]

 

 

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