All posts in Your Sales Culture

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 ‘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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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.

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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?

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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!

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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?

Remember:

Clear.

Concise.

Concrete.

 

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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.

Listen.

 

 

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