30-60-90 Days to New Hire Success

How long does it take for a new hire (salesperson) to “ramp-up” in your business until they effectively producing results and paying for their seats?

This is a question that I ask regularly throughout sessions to business leaders and sales managers throughout North America.  Overall, the answers vary dependent upon a lot of factors such as type of hire (veteran or new-to-sales), type of product/service, length of sales cycle, dollar amount of the product/service, retail or wholesale, incoming or outgoing calls, salesperson’s role (account manager vs. new biz development), and current training program.  The range tends to fall anywhere between 90 days and 2 years with variations occasionally on either end of the range.

My follow-up question tends to be tougher to hear—even tougher to answer: “How long does it take you to get a feeling as to whether or not someone “gets it” and will make it on your team?”  The answer to this question reflects a timeframe much shorter than the original answer.  In fact, most CEOs/Sales Managers answer that they can get a “pretty good read” within 60-90 days!  Most, however, don’t DO anything about it when that read is not positive!  Instead, they ignore that nagging feeling and HOPE for a good turnout!  And 3 years later, the gut feeling is still proving to be correct—Barnacle Bill is still “stuck to the hull” of the company!  WHY??

We find that most companies are not really clear on what it is that they expect from the people who represent them in the field.  Too often, the lack of sales results is the only indicator of a salesperson’s worth (or lack thereof) —and by then, they have been in the marketplace calling on those precious prospects and customers for far too long!

We suggest that you build plan (a series of testing) to check on their progress EARLY in the game.  Think about this idea for a moment; for the first 20+ years of your life, you regularly were tested throughout your school years to check in on your retention of the curriculum being taught.  Those who fell behind either got extra attention (tutoring) or got held back.  The goal, of course was to ensure that before an individual was able to progress to the next level, that they understood and were able to “stand up to testing” on the material they just learned so that actual application of the material may one day be the result!

In business, we need to follow suit!  As stated above, most company leaders/sales managers agree that they can tell (usually a “gut” call) within 90 days if someone gets it.  So why not make that time period into your Level ONE training period (with quizzes and testing) for your salespeople?  We believe in creating a simple series of tests (augmented with regular quizzes) that “check-in” on the training at 30, 60, and 90 days.  One of the main problems is that this testing must follow the training program content and timeframe—and too often there is no SET training program scheduled.  If you have any plan on hiring new salespeople for your organization now or in the future, here is a simple (not necessarily easy) step by step thought process to help you get started on setting them up for success early:

The First 30 Day Period

Begin to think about what it is that you need for new hires to know within the first 30 days on your team.  The first 30 days can be absolutely crucial to a new hire’s success!  Every new hire, within the first 30 days, wonders if they have made a mistake joining your company.  Your focus and attention on their immediate integration into your training plans will definitely help put peace of mind to those concerns for them and will also help you better understand what you just hired.  So here are a few thoughts (QUESTIONS) about areas of introductory training within the first 30 days:

-What do they need to know about your company’s structure?

-What do they need to know about basic HR processes?

-What do they need to know about your phone systems?  Voicemail?

-What do they need to know about your web/email philosophy?

-What do they need to know about your technology (databases, etc.)?

-What do they need to know about their fellow salespeople?

-What do they need to know about management?

-What do they need to know about sales team structure (territories, accounts, etc.)?

-What do they need to know about internal systems/processes?

-What do they need to know about what you sell (product knowledge)?

-What do they need to know about your proposals/bids (creation, content, delivery)?

-What do they need to know about your competitors?

-What do they need to know about your “go-to market” strategy?

-What do they need to know about your sales/customer service philosophy/policies?

-What do they need to know about your pricing and your competitor’s pricing?

-What do they need to know about your overall marketing strategy?

-What do they need to know about your lead generation process?

-What do they need to know about your web strategy?

-What do they need to know about your prospects, customers, and clients?

-What do they need to know about minimum performance standards and expectations?

As you can see, there should never be a shortage of conversation and curriculum (or training manual content) for new salespeople on your team.  There are very likely many things specific to your company that are NOT on the above list that your new hires need exposure to in the first 30 days. We are literally just getting started!

Now, the trick is to prioritize, schedule, and introduce the necessary things listed above (in the right doses) over the first 30 days.  You can see that a fair degree of thought and preparation needs to go into this.  (That’s why so few companies actually do it!)  I suggest that you come up with a quiz consisting of 30 Questions (30 days—30 questions—easy to remember) that is based upon the training content that has been covered.  Your goal is to see if your new hire is retaining the training!  Soon, they will be on the phone with or in front of your cherished prospects and customers.  You need to see if they are getting it! 

Poor scores on the 30 day test will force you to take a hard look at both the training and the individual being tested.  Assuming that the training has been well-thought out and delivered thoroughly and effectively (this is a BIG assumption—inspect this regularly) then turn your attention to the new hire?  Are they able to grasp this training?  At the very least, it should determine a much closer look (and possibly some additional attention-tutoring) in the next 30 day period.  Remember, this is only the first MONTH that they are with you.  They should be on their BEST behavior and still in the “gotta prove myself” mode!  It rarely gets better!

The 2nd 30 Day Period (60 Days IN)

It is my assumption that you now should have a fairly decent working knowledge of your new hire’s strengths and ability to learn.  You have most likely, by this point, covered a substantial amount of the foundational knowledge that is necessary to “get on the playing field” and begin to “run a few drills” with the team.  You have exposed the new sales superstar to your company background, internal workings, competitive environment, team environment, performance expectations, and more!  They are ready for some real coaching now!  Here are a few thoughts (QUESTIONS) for the next 30 days with your company?

-How will you continue their product knowledge training on a consistent basis and how can this occur on their time as well (home study—backed by quizzes)?

-How can you best communicate and help them understand, from your customer’s point of view, the true benefit/value that your product or service delivers?

-What Success Stories/Case Studies will you share (in writing) with your newer hires to help them understand what we deliver for our valued customers?  How can these stories become part of their “toolbox” to be shared in the marketplace?

-How will you share with them the questions that need to be commonly asked in the marketplace to build rapport (connect) with customers and understand their motivations to buy?  What questions do they need to learn to ask to better position them (and your company) as partners, advisors, and experts rather than vendors?

-What is it that you can share with them about the customer’s mindset and business situations that will allow them to LISTEN and WATCH for key buying messages from the customer?

-What resources (scripts) will you create and teach them (practice) to use to get through voicemail?  What will be the purpose of each of their outbound calls and what should they offer/say at each level?

-How will you teach them to set appropriate qualified appointments and to understand what qualified means?

-What will their Business Acquisition Plan (BAP) look like?  What will the profile of a prospect look like and do you/they have it in writing?  What does a key prospect look like and how is it that you will show them how, and provide resources to get visible to those key prospects?

-In what way will you illustrate and teach the specific stages of your typical sales cycle?  How will you communicate the need for and particular examples of clear “Purpose of the Call” and “Calls to Action” for each one of these stages?

-What sort of pre-call preparation initiatives will the salesperson be expected to go through for each and every sales call?  Where do you want them to start and what do you NEED them to understand before they make that call?

-What are the main benefits of the ownership of your product or service and how will you ensure that your newer hires understand to center their presentations on these things rather than features?

-How will you teach the Presentation to your new hires?  How will they deliver it to your prospective new customers?  What depth of training/understanding does a proper demonstration of value of your product/service take?  How much importance in your training program will this (the Presentation/Demo) play.  Hint: Don’t make the presentation be the entire focus of the training.

Again, you can see that there is no shortage whatsoever of thoughts that need to go into the creation of your training program and the curriculum to which your new sales hires need to be exposed.  This vital period within the second 30 days is when your people will most likely start to have contact with your prospects and customers.  The questions above should help you put some framework around what they need exposure to.  Does your training program begin to go into this type of detail?  Is there an unwritten expectation/assumption that your new hires will know all of this “stuff” intuitively?  Do you want to build your organization based upon expectations and assumptions or do you want to define the approach and design the approach?

I suggest that a variety of homework, quizzes, role practices (no PLAY here-PRACTICE) take place during this time-frame.  Confidence on the part of the salesperson comes from rehearsal!  Don’t just practice the presentation—practice the questions.  Practice the listening.  Practice the voicemails?  Work all of the elements of the sale and the salesperson is likely to be stronger in every area.  It shouldn’t matter to you that a salesperson can do a good PowerPoint presentation if he/she cannot even get an appointment to do so!   On the 60 day anniversary of their hire date, I suggest a 60 Question Test that reviews and checks in on their retention of what has been taught to them over the previous 2 months!  I suggest that the test has a variety of questions covering ALL things learned.  Perhaps you might have essay questions running through some “what-if” scenarios of product application or customer questions.  Maybe you weigh 10% of their grade based upon a half day observation of their telephone prospecting abilities—not just results!  You might count a substantial portion of their grade on their pre call preparation format or their business acquisition plan visibility efforts.  Whatever you do, make sure that you understand IF they are retaining AND beginning to apply the things that you teach.  Inspect what you expect!

If the new hire (not so new anymore) is showing that they are not adapting well to the training at this point, you may need to actually do something about it!  Do not “turn the other way” if you see that your training program is NOT making a substantial impact on one of your newer salespeople. You have designed and defined the approach that you need your people to take into the marketplace!  If you are to build a truly World Class Sales Organization, you can only put “Grade A” product (salespeople) in front of your prospects, customers, and clients.  The fact that someone does not “make the cut” in your training program does NOT mean that you are a failure.  Instead, it means that you are serious about the value of a customer and NOT willing to put that value at risk by fielding a lees-than-adequate team!  It’s not the people that you fire that hurt you—it’s the people that you DON’T fire that can hurt you!

The 3rd 30 Day Period (90 Days)

During this timeframe, your salespeople should now be in a much more proactive role of approaching and engaging prospects, customers and even possibly clients (if you assign accounts!)  What are the things on which they need continued training and deeper knowledge during this timeframe?  On what particular areas does their early selling success depend?  Here are just a few more questions that you may wish to consider when preparing training content for this period:

-How is it that you can get your newer hires integrated into the marketplace through networking events?  How will you lay out a training plan for how to “work a room” at a mixer or “walk the floor” at a tradeshow?

-How will you facilitate regular communication among the sales and service teams to ensure learning through cross training initiatives?

-How can you get the newer sales hires to engage and share their experiences with the team in your training environment? (One of the best ways to learn is to teach?)

-How can you build, with your team, some tools and resources to increase confidence, credibility, and conversion rates?  (Question Guides, Objection Guides, Success Story Guides)

-When and how often can you get out on a sales call (or day of sales calls) with your new hires and what will that experience be like?  What is it that you want to show them?  More importantly, what is it that you need to observe about them and their use of the training?

-If you have to grade them (and you do) on their skill sets on the phone, how is it that you can “ride silent shotgun” while they prospect and work over the phone?

-How is it that you can measure the amount and effectiveness of their organization and pre call prep work?

-How will you expect them to capture vital prospect, customer, and client information in your Contact Management software or CRM program?  What reports/tracking MUST be created for you each week and how will you use these to help?

-How will you differentiate your company through the immediate and professional levels of follow-up of the sales team?  How do you define and teach these follow up initiatives (written, electronic, telephone, value-add) to your salespeople and measure them?

-What is the level of importance that you and your organization put on generation of referrals?  Do you have a specific plan that you have trained (and that your people follow) to ask for, attain, and follow up on these referrals?  How will you measure this?

At the end of the first 90 days in a salesperson’s life, a FINAL exam MUST be administered to everyone!  For those who are doing well, the final exam is a validation of what they learned and the importance of these things to the organization that provides them the opportunity to earn a living.  Make sure that your Training Program “sets people up to WIN” by discussing the things that they will be tested and measured on throughout the first 90 days.  Don’t be secretive or aloof with the material and the expectations!  Build winners through strong communication and teamwork!

If, however, your gut and the TESTING show you that your new salesperson is having substantial difficulty with the retention and application of the training content, you may need to consider, as I stated above, freeing up their future.  It must now be clear to you (and to the trainee as well) that they do not have one with you!

With a clear beginning curriculum and training program broken into a 30-60-90 day time frame, you will not only lay out a clear path for the growth of your new salespeople, you will also set out a clear path for your growth as a coach!  Every team learns,  practices,  and prepares BEFORE game day.  Every team runs drills regularly and integrates training and repetition into their day-to-day regimen to ensure better results with the game (the sale/the relationship) on the line.  Integrate regular quizzing and testing of your team to help them continually understand that their FOCUS is imperative to their success.

One more thing:  Don’t limit the testing to only new hires.  Once you have created your 30-60-90 day tests, give them to your seasoned veteran salespeople to take.  You might be surprised what you will discover that they do NOT know or that they ASSUME!  Be careful though….this will necessitate ongoing coaching from you.  Actually, THAT is the entire purpose of this article!  Today’s marketplace demands better performance and immediate adaptation to ever-changing customer needs.  Are you prepared to run up against that defense or not?

How to Drive More Actions, Behaviors, and Results!

Every day, as a sales professional, each of us enters a competitive marketplace to face a variety of challenges to our success.  These challenges come in many forms and the thoughts that go through our mind before we enter the marketplace DEFINE our actions and behaviors.  Too often, salespeople enter the day’s activities in much the same way that many people enter the workforce; they just show up!  The actions in which they involve themselves each day are not a direct result of conscious thought, but rather repetitious activity.  They mindlessly go through the motions of making calls, leaving messages, visiting accounts, taking orders, and filling out reports.  When the dust all settles from the day, the results are very similar to yesterday, the day before, and the day before that.  As Earl Nightingale stated in his award-winning audio The Strangest Secret, “the enemy to success is conformity.”  In other words, we simply conform to the natural tendency to simply show up and do our jobs.  The first thing it takes to get out of this RUT is to think!!

In a 4-hour leadership session that I delivered recently, one of the attendees asked me a question: “What is it, Gerry that you believe that you sell?”  After pondering the question for a moment (thought) I answered that when I am speaking from the stage, I am really selling new ways of looking at things or new ways of thought!  Before anyone can or will take different ACTION towards something, they must first think about it in a different way.  Otherwise, there would be no motivation for the change in behavior or action!  Think about it for a moment.  Every bit of information that enters your head comes with it the seeds of new thought and possibly newly directed behavior or action.  When you read something that is new to you, you think about that topic differently.  When you view a documentary that provides a considerable amount of new information or data about a topic that interests you, your mind goes into a thought process that could potentially make you take action that you previously had not.  (At the time of this publication, ex-Vice President of the US, Al Gore has just received the Nobel Peace Prize for his documentary on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth” which has led millions of people to think about their actions and thus behave differently based upon new thought!)

So, as a sales professional, what is it that you think about each day?  Pre-call preparation is an area that an overwhelming amount of salespeople could improve in.  Do you want to know the easiest place to get started preparing better for every sales call?  It’s in your thoughts.  Those of you that have spent any time in my training know that ONE QUESTION can begin this process.  That question?  “What is the PURPOSE of this call?” By simply starting with that question, it will force you to think about what it is that you wish to accomplish on the sales call that you are about to make.  Stephen Covey says that we need to “begin with the end in mind.”

Now, you need to go beyond the typical answer of the sales force: “We want to sell this guy something.”  That is the reward for achieving the result that you seek.  THINK!  THINK!  What is it that you need to accomplish?  What is it that you need to get the customer thinking about?  What is it that needs to occur for the circumstances (no decision to buy) to change in your favor (a decision to buy.)  Below, I have listed a few thoughts that you may want to take into consideration before making your next round of sales calls.  Turn off the TV (TIVO your favorites) for one week and spend your time with your thoughts.  Instead of simply showing up for next week’s sales calls and “spraying and praying,” try giving some thought to the ideas below in advance so that when you open your mouth, every sound brings you closer to your desired outcome.  Remember:  Talking too much usually follows thinking too little. 

Some thoughts to drive new actions, new behaviors, and hopefully new results:

“What is the purpose of this call?”

“What might this prospect/customer be thinking about me/my product today?”

“What are my prospect/customer’s highest value needs or most wanted outcomes?”

“What previous experience has this prospect/customer had with us in the past?”

“Where/who do they buy from now?”

“What is the benefit of ownership my product that they desire most?”

“How much time does this person have to meet with me?”

“Who else is courting this prospect/customer today?”

“How long has it been since my last visit and what have I done since to add-value?”

“What did we talk about last visit and did I take appropriate action on it?”

“What can I bring to the table that the prospect/customer will value?”

“How can I position myself as a resource versus a vendor?”

“How can I communicate my expertise without bragging?”

“How can I get the customer to want to know more about my product/service?”

“How can I create a need where there may not be a perception of one?”

“What do I need to get this prospect/customer talking about?”

“What do I need to know that they haven’t shared with the competition?”

“How can I avoid talking about price until I establish value?”

“How can I position myself as an EXPERT?”

“What stories can I share to communicate value?”

“What names can I drop to add credibility?”

“What does the customer value ahead of price?”

“How does the competition approach the customer and how can I differ?”

“How can I OPEN the conversation in a more impactful way?”

“How am I prepared to address the most common of prospect/customer concerns?”

“What will I say if they DRAG me to price early?”

“What 10 questions do I seek answers to and how do I best ask those questions?”

“How can I ask for the business once I have earned the right to do so?”

“Have I practiced the time condensed visit just in case we run out of time?”

“What information do I need to get from the customer to build a better case of value?”

“What OPTIONS have I prepared for the customer by which to say yes?”

“Have I made it easy to do business with me?”

“Am I thinking from my point of view or the prospect/customer’s point of view?”

Can you imagine having the answers to at least half of these questions before you made each of your sales calls next week?  Can you imagine the change in the level of confidence that you would bring to the market?  Can you imagine the change in your level of credibility?  Better yet, can you imagine the stronger you will be and the better experience that your prospect/customer will have because of it?  All this takes initially is thought!  Turn off the TV and turn on your brain!  Start developing a HABIT of running scenarios and thoughts through your head before showing up?  Start THINKING like a customer and you will start increasing your effectiveness in the conversations with them.  Dialogues will start becoming more meaningful and less about price.  They will begin asking advice of you because they will start becoming more aware of the fact that they are in the presence of a professional.

Always remember that a man is not rewarded for having brains, he is rewarded for USING them.   Understand and remember that thoughts lead to action!  Thinks better, act better, produce better, and earn better!

Or………you could make more cold calls!

The Cost of an Undertrained Sales Person

Consider for a moment the cost to your organization that an untrained (or undertrained) sales force can create.  Right now, as you read this, there are thousands of salespeople calling on prospects, customers, and clients with little-to-no idea as to what they can (and need to) do to identify opportunity, qualify buyers, manage common objections, identify buyer’s motivations, position themselves and the company as value-add resources, or ask the right questions to discover needs and to earn the business.  Instead, they have been taught how to pitch, present, and price!

I have the opportunity to work with several salespeople in a coaching capacity each year.  One particular day I was working with a salesperson in the industrial power battery industry.  A customer had set up a meeting with him to come in and explore options on the replacement of batteries on approximately 30 of their 50 fork-lifts.  This was the first visit by the salesman and the meeting was a result of dozens of cold-calls each day to set such an appointment.  The gentleman that we were meeting with was the operations manager and he had expressed a desire to get a quote.  After the obligatory “passing of the cards” and brief introduction of my salesman and his company, the “march towards commoditization” began.

The salesman that I was working with then proceeded to ask to see the equipment.  After a brief tour of the warehouse, we came upon a fleet of fork-lifts.  There were several makes and models as well as many varying sizes.  From a tactical standpoint, the salesperson asked which ones in particular would be in need of new batteries.  Once a thorough inventory (and subsequent notes) had been taken of existing equipment, the salesman proceeded to thank the operations manager for his time and said that he would get back to him with comprehensive quote within the next 48 hours.  At that point, the ops manager replied (pay attention here) with, “No hurry.”   This statement certainly struck me as important but seemed to make no impact on the salesman.

When we got back into the car, I turned to the salesman and proceeded (as I am know to do) with a series of questions that seemed to temper the “price quote” enthusiasm of the salesman.  I am sure that you have thought of some of these as my story unfolded above:

-Qualification of the “buyer”

  • How long have you been in this role of operations manager?
  • Do you make all of the equipment purchasing decisions for this operation?
  • Do you make these decisions for any other company operations?
  • When it comes down to deciding who to award the business to, in addition to yourself, who else might be involved in that process?
  • I see that you currently use ___________ batteries, why are you entertaining a change?
  • In addition to a competitive price, what other elements of value do you consider when purchasing new batteries for your equipment?

-Qualification of the opportunity

  • How many of these fork-lifts have you played a role in acquiring?
  • Why do you have so many different makes and models?
  • Will you be replacing/upgrading any of these in the near future?
  • How often do you typically replace these batteries?
  • What are your expectations of battery life for these units?
  • How are the forklifts currently used?
  • What is your current recharge protocol for your forklifts?
  • How are the forklifts currently maintained?  Who does that?
  • What is the timeframe that you desire to get these batteries replaced?
  • If I were to get you a quote today, when would we need to make sure that we have these batteries in stock for you?

Would you be open to look into a quote not only on the batteries themselves, but on a comprehensive maintenance program designed to extend battery life by up to 30%?

(By the way, here is a valuable exercise for you and your sales team.  Take each of the questions above and see if you can come up valuable reasons why I would ask each question.  If you or your people cannot come up with real-world valid reasons why I would ask these questions—regardless of YOUR industry—you need to pay some attention!)

I can think of dozens more questions depending on how some of the above are answered.  The problem here, however, is that NONE of these questions were asked.

Instead, feeling as if he were doing his job, the salesman simply went about gathering basic information about the “supposed order” and then proceeded to move on to the “proposal of price stage.”  The unfortunate part is that this type of thing is happening every day in every industry.  Our salespeople have been severely undertrained when it comes to uncovering and discovering where, why, who, how, and WHEN!  It seems that they are simply focused on the WHAT!

What do you want to buy and what it will cost you!

In the story above, the operations manager stated that there was “no hurry” to get him a proposal or quote.  At the very least, don’t you think that this should raise a question in the mind of the salesman?  It certainly raised a few for me?

–How was this appointment set and who set it?

–Could urgency and timelines have been established before the proposal stage?

–Did the salesman help to create any additional urgency in the customer?

–Is the operations manager the final decision maker?

–Does he need the quote or is he acquiring it for someone else?

–Is the salesman being measured on quotes or sales?

–Did the salesman provoke thoughts in the ops manager that he was not aware of?

It seems to me that there are an overwhelming amount of salespeople out there that don’t have a strategic bone in their body.  The only thought that seems to enter their mind is based upon making a sale.  Although that is the obvious goal for most situations, the approach that most salespeople take works counterintuitive to that goal!  AND that is costing companies sales, revenues, profits, and relationships every day!

Think about our example story above; The salesperson, left to his own, would have gone back to his office and spent several hours researching and preparing a proposal for an opportunity that was not urgent or pending and quite possibly may have not even been real!  The hours spent on this activity cost you money!   Now, let’s take into account that while he is back at the office working on this quote (that most likely will not produce any near-term revenue) he is not generating new opportunities for the company. I don’t necessarily blame him.  In his mind, he IS pursuing a real sale of 100-200 new batteries.  He has not been trained to qualify or quantify opportunity!  This kind of thing is costing the company money every day but management typically does not see it.  What they see is a quote opportunity instead of a mishandled opportunity and a potential client that will most likely not be earned!

This example only illustrates the need for more training in the areas of opportunity identification and qualification.  Although I center most of our training in this area on questions that need to be asked, the exercise is also based upon knowledge of what each answer could mean in the strategic approach to the sale.  Taking just that one area (discovery) in the sales process, imagine how many times per day, per week, per month, per salesperson that this type of thing occurs (or does not occur.)  The costs to your business could be much more staggering that you might imagine.

Now, think about how many other areas of sales dysfunction exist in your sales team’s day-to-day efforts.  What’s going on in their prospecting efforts, their presentation approach, their objection management efforts, their negotiation steps, and in their attempts to close?  In addition, what are they doing at those trade shows?  What does their pre-call preparation process look like?  How do their follow-up efforts stack up?  How much training has gone into any of these areas for your people?

It is abundantly clear that an uneducated or under-trained sales force is considerably expensive to your organization.  In this economy where many companies are seeing fewer sales opportunities and much greater hesitance and fear in the marketplace into which they sell, any mediocrity in the sales force becomes extremely costly!

In this example, the worst part was that the salesman just didn’t know any better. Why?  Nobody taught him how to do his job as a professional.  Instead they simply said to get out and sell something!  At this point, he is left to learn on his own how to do a better job and uncover true opportunity.

The investment you make in training your people will bare substantial returns if it is consistent, strategic, up-to-date, and actionable!  On the other hand, the cost of not consistently training your salespeople can be invisible but nonetheless, extreme!

Un-education is EXPENSIVE!

Consider for a moment the cost to your organization that an untrained (or undertrained) sales force can create.  Right now, as you read this, there are thousands of salespeople calling on prospects, customer, and clients with little-to-no idea as to what they can (and need to) do to identify opportunity, qualify buyers, manage common objections, identify buyer’s motivations, position themselves and the company as value add resources, or ask the right questions to earn the business.  Instead, they have been taught how to pitch, present, and price!

I have the opportunity to work with numerous salespeople in a coaching capacity each year.  One particular day, I was working with a salesperson in the industrial power battery industry.  A customer had set up a meeting with him to come in and explore options on the replacement of batteries on approximately 30 of their 50 fork-lifts.  This was the first visit by the salesman and the meeting was a result of dozens of cold-calls each day to set such an appointment.  The gentleman that we were meeting with was the operations manager and he had expressed a desire to get a quote.  After the obligatory “passing of the cards” and brief introduction of my salesman and his company, the “march towards commoditization” began.

The salesman that I was working with then proceeded to ask to see the equipment.  After a brief tour of the warehouse, we came upon a fleet of fork-lifts.  There were several makes and models as well as many varying sizes.  From a tactical standpoint, the salesperson asked which ones in particular would be in need of new batteries.  Once a thorough inventory (and subsequent notes) had been taken of existing equipment, the salesman proceeded to thank the operations manager for his time and said that he would get back to him with comprehensive quote within the next 48 hours.  At that point, the ops manager replied (pay attention here) with, “No hurry.”   This statement certainly struck me as important but seemed to make no impact on the salesman.

When we got back into the car, I turned to the salesman and proceeded (as I am known to do) with a series of questions that seemed to temper the “price quote” enthusiasm of the salesman.  I am sure that you have thought of some of these as my story unfolded above:

-Qualification of the “buyer”

  • How long have you been in this role of operations manager?
  • Do you make all of the equipment purchasing decisions for this operation?
  • Do you make these decisions for any other company operations?
  • When it comes down to deciding who to award the business to, in addition to yourself, who else might be involved in that process?
  • I see that you currently use ___________ batteries, why are you entertaining a change?
  • In addition to a competitive price, what other elements of value do you consider when purchasing new batteries for your equipment?

-Qualification of the opportunity

  • How many of these fork-lifts have you played a role in acquiring?
  • Why do you have so many different makes and models?
  • Will you be replacing/upgrading any of these in the near future?
  • How often do you typically replace these batteries?
  • What are your expectations of battery life for these units?
  • How are the forklifts currently used?
  • What is your current recharge protocol for your forklifts?
  • How are the forklifts currently maintained?  Who does that?
  • What is the timeframe that you desire to get these batteries replaced?
  • If I were to get you a quote today, when would we need to make sure that we have these batteries in stock for you?
  • Would you be open to look into a quote not only on the batteries themselves, but on a comprehensive maintenance program designed to extend battery life by up to 30%?

(By the way, here is a valuable exercise for you and your sales team.  Take each of the questions above and see if you can come up valuable reasons why I would ask each question.  If you or your people cannot come up with real-world valid reasons why I would ask these questions—regardless of YOUR industry—you need to pay more attention!)

I can think of dozens more questions depending on how some of the above are answered.  The problem here, however, is that NONE of these questions were asked.

Instead, feeling as if he were doing his job, the salesman simply went about gathering basic information about the “supposed order” and then proceeded to move on to the “proposal of price stage.”  The unfortunate part is that this type of thing is happening every day in every industry.  Our salespeople have been severely undertrained when it comes to uncovering and discovering where, why, who, how, and WHEN!  It seems that they are simply focused on the WHAT!

What do you want to buy and what it will cost you!

In the story above, the operations manager stated that there was “no hurry” to get him a proposal or quote.  At the very least, don’t you think that this should raise a question in the mind of the salesman?  It certainly raised a few for me?

  • How was this appointment set and who set it?
  • Could urgency and timelines have been established before the proposal stage?
  • Did the salesman help to create any additional urgency in the customer?
  • Is the operations manager the final decision maker?
  • Does he need the quote or is he acquiring it for someone else?
  • Is the salesman being measured on quotes or sales?
  • Did the salesman provoke thoughts in the ops manager that he was not aware of?

It seems to me that there are an overwhelming amount of salespeople out there that don’t have a strategic bone in their body.  The only thought that seems to enter their mind is based upon making a sale.  Although that is the obvious goal for most situations, the approach that most salespeople take works counterintuitive to that goal!  AND that is costing companies sales, revenues, profits, and relationships every day!

Think about our example story above; The salesperson, left to his own, would have gone back to his office and spent several hours researching and preparing a proposal for an opportunity that was not urgent or pending and quite possibly may have not even been real!  The hours spent on this activity costs you money!   Now, let’s take into account that while he is back at the office working on this quote (that most likely will not produce any near-term revenue) he is not generating new opportunities for the company. I don’t necessarily blame him.  In his mind, he IS pursuing a real sale of 30 new batteries.  He has not been trained to qualify or quantify opportunity!  This kind of thing is costing the company money every day but management typically does not see it.  What they see is a quote opportunity instead of a mishandled opportunity and a potential client that will most likely not be earned!

This example only illustrates the need for more training in the areas of opportunity identification and qualification.  Although I center most of that training on questions that need to be asked, it is also based upon knowledge of what each answer could mean in the strategic approach to the sale.  Taking just that one area (discovery) in the sales process, imagine how many times per day, per week, per month, per salesperson that this type of thing occurs (or does not occur.)  The costs to your business could be much more staggering that you might imagine.

Now, think about how many other areas of sales dysfunction exist in your sales team’s day-to-day efforts.  What’s going on in their prospecting efforts, their presentation approach, their objection management efforts, their negotiation steps, and in their attempts to close?  In addition, what are they doing at those trade shows?  What does their pre-call preparation process look like?  How do their follow-up efforts stack up?  How much training has gone into any of these areas for your people?

It is abundantly clear that an uneducated or under-trained sales force is considerably expensive to your organization.  In this economy where many companies are seeing fewer sales opportunities and much greater hesitance and fear in the marketplace into which they sell, any mediocrity in the sales force becomes extremely costly!

In this example, the worst part was that the salesman just didn’t know any better. Why?  Nobody taught him how to do his job as a professional.  Instead they simply said to get out and sell something!  At this point, he is left to learn on his own how to do a better job and uncover true opportunity.

The investment you make in training your people will bare substantial returns if it is consistent, strategic, up-to-date, and actionable!  On the other hand, the cost of not consistently training your salespeople can be invisible but nonetheless, extreme!

Manager Vs. Coach – A HUGE Difference!!

Stop Managing and Start Coaching

The word “coaching” is starting to be used so often these days that it is truly losing its meaning and effectiveness. Too many mangers/leaders are using the word in an attempt to separate themselves. Words and phrases, however, do nothing to separate those who can and do from everyone else. ACTION is the thing that does that! Below are several actions that you as a business leader can do to stop talking it and to start walking it—Become a coach to your people and they will be your people for a long, long time:

Always Look for and Draft Top Talent

As a coach, you want to give your team the right staff of players so that they can consistently win in the marketplace. The best coaches realize that they must always be looking for and recruiting new stars to their teams. New players keep the team fresh and on their toes. New players to the team may replace existing non-productive players or may help to drive those existing players to new levels of productivity.

A coach never grows his team just for the sake of growing it. It doesn’t always take more players to win, but it always takes the right players. A coach is always looking for the key players to add to his team to help bring it to the next level.

Set Expectations Up Front

The coach brings every member onto his team with open eyes. He works very hard to set mutual expectations up front with his new players. He makes sure that his players know that he will expect big things from them-that they will work harder on his team than they ever have anywhere else in the past-that they will be measured and held accountable to always be improving and bettering themselves-that they will be held to the highest standards of professionalism-that they are the most important people in the company and should regard what it is they do as such-that FUN is not a four letter word-and that Attitude + Skills + Activity will be the formula that they will grow by on this team.

The coach also sets the expectations that his players have of him and the company right up front as well. He allows the players to “hold his feet to the fire” on issues such as attitude, communication, measurement, training, field coaching, etc. All new players know very clearly what their plans are and what they can expect upon completion of all assigned tasks. The team knows that the coach will be held accountable to help them reach their goals. The coach will not let down any of his players when it comes to making sure that they do the things necessary to reach their own individual goals

Have a Clear Plan for Every Player

The best coaches always make sure that every player on their team has a very clear and defined game plan to success. They realize that if they can keep their players focused on their key roles in the outcome for the team, that each player would have a much better chance of winning. The teams that consistently win do so because they have a very clear plan that is broken into individual responsibilities.

A coach will make sure that his players know what to do from the time that they come into the office in the morning until the time they leave at night. A good coach goes the extra mile in explaining each individual game plan to his players. A good coach leaves nothing to chance. A good coach works with his people individually on their game plans so that he can improve his players’ skills as well as their need for personal expertise. A good coach realizes that a player without a plan has no way to mark his/her successes as they come.

Always Training, Teaching, Guiding, Coaching

A coach is a teacher, a mentor, a leader. The best coaches are the ones who are on the field with their players every day working with them on their skills. The best coaches schedule time every day for training of their people. The skills necessary for success must be taught and practiced regularly. People do not learn these things intuitively. Coaches realize that most players, given the choice, would rather not practice their skills. This is not to say that they do not want to succeed. They merely will take the past of least resistance most times. (It is human nature.)

It is important for salespeople to do what it is that their coach wants them to do-but even more important that his people WANT to do what he wants them to do. Therefore, it is equally important that, as coaches, we work hard on showing those on our teams that it is part of the entire culture to train, practice and perform every day. The best teams in history did not stop practicing because they started winning.  They did not stop practicing because they got some good players. Solid coaching requires a discipline towards constant improvement.

Constantly Build and Strengthen Relationships

Even the best players do not respond if there is no trust. A good coach realizes that it may take months-even years to build a solid foundation of trust but only moments to destroy it. Coaching sometimes requires tough choices. Good coaches always make sure that the choices they make do not compromise the trust that they have built. Good coaches realize that it isn’t always about being the nice guy-but is about being fair and honest with the entire team.

Solid relationships are built on communication. If there is not a solid culture based upon communication, it is very difficult to even recognize the challenges, and thus, almost impossible to cure the problem.

Taking the time to forge solid relationships with his people is one of the things that a great coach does best. People will walk through fire for a leader they believe in. People tend to trust and believe in those who trust and believe in them. This goes beyond words.

Are You ASKING For It?

ask for the sale

Here is an interesting question:  Why is it that we, as salespeople spend so long, invest so much time, energy, preparation, and effort on the phone with the prospective and existing customer during the sales cycle only to let the sale fade away or go to the competition?  Why is it that we place so much emphasis and commitment on the process of moving the ball down the field but yet design so very few plays to actually take the ball into the end zone?

We need to realize that whenever we do not actually attempt to create some closure–ask for the business–we literally destroy (or at least taint) all that we have worked for throughout the sales process.  We give up the connection and trust that we have built, the relationships that we have developed, the enthusiasm we have created, and the momentum of the process.  We simply let the sale wither away and die or get taken over by another more assertive, focused salesperson that was prepared (AND took the leap of faith) to ASK for the business!

Do you feel that you offer such irrefutable evidence of value throughout your sales presentations that the customer will simply give in?  Do you feel that your features, advantages, and benefits (FAB points) are so compelling that prospects don’t need to be asked to buy them?  Do you feel that you will offend your prospect or customer if you were to actually ask them to buy from you?  If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you need to GET OVER IT! (and possibly consider another career!) Here are a few very key RULES when it comes to closing the sale:

Rule #1—You MUST ask for the business!

Rule #2—You MUST earn the right to ask for the business!

Rule #3—The customer knows why you’re there!

Rule #4—Sometimes the answer is NO! Deal with it!

Rule #5—If you cannot, will not, or do not ask for the business, someone else will!

Ok, so why does it happen?  Why do many salespeople have a hesitance to ask for the business?


It is my belief that most salespeople do not ask for the YES

because they are afraid to hear the NO! 

Here are some other reasons

Little to no belief in their value proposition, their product, or their service.

  •     A lack of confidence or self-worth.
  •     No connection with the customer, thus no trust.
  •     The customer is in control-asking all of the questions.
  •     The salesperson doesn’t feel like they have earned the right yet.
  •     The salesperson has not discovered any motivators to create urgency.
  •     No time-lines have been discussed throughout the process.
  •     There is no defined sales process that the salesperson can follow.
  •     And many others

The good news is that ALL of these are within the control of the salesperson—the right salesperson.

FACT: is that it is not the responsibility of the customers to close themselves.  It is the job of the salesperson to get that done!  You are not paid to be a professional educator, a professional presenter, a hesitant visitor, or a walking-talking brochure-website.  You are paid to move the ball down the field and to score.  That’s it!!

The web site, the brochures, the advertising, and other marketing pieces often have very little to do with the Call to Action…but you do!  Your territory, products, prices, and your competition are what they are and they do not control your success…you do!  The prospective customer knows that you are there for a reason and that reason is to make the sale. Often, the only thing that stands in the way is you!  Are you willing to make the changes necessary to stay in the game?  If so, take a look at a few suggestions:

Learn how to ask better (more focused) questions to pull out true motivations (Pains-Fears-Desires) from the prospect.  Get to the WHY behind their answers!  Ask questions to gauge the prospects level of interest, understanding, and continued engagement in the process such as “So far, so good?”  “Up to this point, what questions do you have?” “Does that make sense?”

Have a clear purpose for each and every call that you make on the prospect.  If you don’t understand what needs to be discovered /uncovered and agreed upon in the sales process, how will the customer?  Going on a call without a clearly defined purpose and a clearly prepared Call to Action wastes both your time and the prospect’s.

Learn to “set the pace” of the sales cycle from the beginning.  Be in control by constantly and relentlessly moving the deal forward by calling the shots.  Get in the habit of thinking—and asking—“So what’s our next step?”

Be Your BEST!

picture of happy business team celebrating victory in office

In today’s competitive market, none of us have time for mediocrity or half heated efforts from our sales and service teams.  We need to be fighting for every inch of ground.  We need our people to be their absolute BEST with no excuses.

Why?  Most companies are facing fewer opportunities to land new business from both new and existing customers this year.  To use a baseball analogy, we are all getting less “at bats” this year.  Here is the brutal fact that we all need to face:  If you do not improve your skills while “in the batter’s box,” you will score far less this year.  That leads to less commission dollars for salespeople and less sales and profits for the companies that employ them.  Now, throw in the desperation that may creep into the entire organization to make sales and you will see that margins start to get compromised as prices are dropped and all sorts of justifications are made to do so.  The company culture starts to get challenged due to inevitable cut-backs and staff reductions.  What a mess!

Here is just one way to begin to right the ship.  Make sure that you raise the bar in all that you so!  Make it impossible for your prospects, customers, and clients to even think about doing business with anyone else.  You need to be (and expect from all around you) only the BEST!  No excuses…no blame.  Just the BEST!

In giving thought to this article, I thought I would offer my thoughts based upon an acronym of that word; BEST!  Read on and relate the following ideas to you and your organization.

B—Belief

It is very common for those in your organization to begin to have thoughts that challenge their basic belief in the company, the products, the pricing, their colleagues, the leadership, the marketplace, the customers and more during tougher economic times.  Yet, it is this belief that drives your organizations success now more than ever.  Belief is the cornerstone of confidence.  Your entire team needs to feel that they are in the right place, at the right time, with the right company, the right products/services and the right prices, selling into the right marketplace to the right people.  When that confidence isn’t BEAMING at every “touch point” in your organization, difficult times are not far behind.

So…eyes open…ears open!  Pay attention or pay the price!  Negativity and pessimism in your sales and service departments today are exponentially more dangerous than ever.

You need 100% buy-in and 100% belief!  Raise the bar on your communication and your visibility.  Engage your team in twice daily huddles.  Spend 15 minutes every morning reinforcing the importance of their efforts for the day ahead of them and 15 minutes every evening validating and recognizing the warriors for the battles they fought today!  Your involvement as a leader will drive out those who are lost and drive IN those who are destined to carry you and your organization to greatness!

Attitude is one of the key fundamentals to all success. And belief drives attitude!  Remember the old adage that states, “Whether you think you can or your think you can’t…you’re right!”  Everywhere a sales professional looks today, he/she is bombarded with the doomsday predictions of the press, the pundits, and (unfortunately) even those closest to him such as colleagues, family, friends, and neighbors.  In that sea of negativity there needs to be a lighthouse that marks their bearings; a beacon of hope that they are on the right track.  Key in on the BELIEF of your people.  Before you do, however, check into your own belief level….it might need a tune-up as well!

E—Everything Matters

Several books have been written over the past few years in the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” collection.  With all due respect to those words of wisdom, you need to understand that those books were written when the sun was shining and the economy was stronger than today!  So, find a spot on the shelf (or in the “round file”) file those books and understand that everything matters today.

We are doing business in a world today where access to information (and your competition) is as easy as firing up a laptop.  Customers are barraged daily with options as to who to do business with.  Our competitors are doing desperate things, chasing all that moves, dropping price, and challenging our customers’ belief in us!  We simply cannot stand by and sing let that happen.  This is war and everything matters!  Every penny of our margins need to be justified today!  Every ounce of customer loyalty needs to be earned at every possible level.  When it comes down to a choice between US or THEM, we need to have not one or two, but 10-20 examples of differentiation and value!  And as small as some of them may seem, all of them add up to more wins and less losses.  So…here are a few examples for your sales efforts today:

Sales: 

Voicemail–Outbound-Only the sharpest, most focused voicemails are to be left.  Remember the main reason that we leave voicemails is to get a call back.  Be clear, be concise, and be prepared to compel them into the action you desire—a return call!

Voicemail-Inbound-Pick up your telephone (cell phone and desk phone) and change that voicemail NOW!  I’ll bet it has not been changed in ages.  You can stand out with freshness in your message.  Just think, your prospect, customer, or client is on the phone

with an opportunity for you.  What do you wish to convey?  Mediocrity, same-ol-same-ol, indifference OR energy, passion, creativity, and excitement.  Your choice!

Email-For those of you who thought email was a fad, bad news!  Email has become a communication tool that has, arguably revolutionized the way that companies (salespeople) and customers do business.  It has, in my opinion, become one of the biggest communication crutches for salespeople today.  While I believe that there is extreme value in e-communication as a tool today, it all too often is overused, misused, and abused by marketers and salespeople.  Pay close attention to the emails that are being sent out to your customers.  Don’t rely on an email to express your emotions, your passion and your value.  Don’t simply “put something out there” via email to judge your customer’s reaction.  It is simply too easy (on both ends) to hide emotions, misconstrue agendas, and convey false genuineness via email today.  Tighten up your email (spelling and grammar) and, whenever possible pick up the phone or get off your butt and CONNECT!!

Process-Are the ways that you go about your sales process today as effective as they need to be for your prospects, customers, and clients in today’s world?  Too often, when I am wearing my coach/consultant hat, I see companies that approaching the marketplace today the same way that they have for the past several years.  Here is another newsflash:  Your prospects and customers today are buying differently and looking for more, for different, and (this hurts) they care less and less about you and your company!  Everyone is in survival mode.  Are you still following the same process as you have for years?  Are you still relying on your presentation or your PowerPoint?  Are the tactics you employ even relevant today?  It’s worthy of an overhaul wouldn’t you think?  Take your process apart and tighten it up NOW because your customer demands it and your competition might beat you to it.  Here is a tip:  Figure out what your buyers today need more than anything (not lower prices) and help them see how you deliver it better than anyone.  Stop selling and HELP THEM BUY!  Remember this; Safe trumps cheap!  Make your offer compelling and safe because your focus is on THEM and not you!

S—Step Up

Now is the time for everyone in your company to truly understand their role in the acquisition and retention of customers.  It is now time to work our butts off and to FIGHT!  That leaves no room for halfhearted effort and losers.  Sound too tough?  Too bad, it’s time to rise to the occasion.  If not now, when?

I was recently in the United Red Carpet Club in Chicago on a layover on a flight and saw an interview of Nick Saban, Head Coach of the Alabama college football team.  Although I was across the room and could not hear the message, it was being close captioned across the screen.  He was talking to the media about the expectations of the upcoming season.  He was discussing work ethic and what it would take to win a national title this year.  During this rant (and, although I could not hear him, it certainly looked like a passionate dissertation by an enthusiastic leader) Saban stated that the hard work and determination needs to “dominate the competition” in this league was extreme and (this was the part that I loved) what the players perception of hard work meant prior to coming to camp this year was irrelevant and non-consequential!  We need to raise it to an entire new level to compete and dominate in this division—and to win a national title.  Wow!

It’s time for all of us to step up.  Very few companies are escaping the grasp of this economic turmoil.  One thing that we all have in common is that we need to be more focused and more disciplined today to do the right things over and over and over today.  Self discipline has been defined as “doing the things that you need to do, when you need to do them, whether you want to or not!”  At what point in the past 10 years has this statement been more relevant than today.

T—Tenacity

Tenacity is defined as holding firmly, persistent, or stubborn.  When I think of a tenacious salesperson, I often get a picture in my mind of a dog firmly latched onto the cuff of the pants of someone, never letting go.  In this day and age, the attitude and ability of your people simply to not give up when the going gets difficult is so important.

Several years ago, I read study by the Harvard Business Review that identified the two main characteristics that stood out in top sales professionals.  Out of all of the possible variables in skill sets these two areas were the most common:  Empathy and Persistence!

In other words, top sellers as a whole had a variety of skills and many different activities that helped them achieve success but it was the willingness and ability to understand and relate to the customer and their needs coupled with their dogged determination (their TENACITY) to see to it that they helped the customer make the purchase that separated them from the pack.

So, when you set your targets, your goals this year, did you do them in pencil?  Did you decide that you would ebb and flow your sales and profits based upon what the marketplace would bare or did you make a DECISION as to what you would accomplish?  Do the salespeople on your team see a sale all the way through or do they tend to lose faith when the going gets tough?  Do they strategize and execute or wring their hands and wait?  If you or your salespeople manage accounts and the ongoing sales in those accounts, do you approach the success of your clientele with tenacity, not letting them give up on themselves (and eventually you) or do you simply wait for the inevitable “apology call” Pay attention!  Everyone that you lose during these times is more potentially devastating—don’t give up…don’t let go…failure is not an option.

Your company, your employees, your customers, your family and you all deserve one thing today.  And that is your BEST!  So, take a moment and ask yourself a question right now.  For every move that you have made today, have you offered your best?  Anything short of that simply will not do!

Sharpen Your (Sales Manager) Axe!

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A major part of my training focuses on the salesperson asking better questions in the interest of “opening” the prospective buyer.  It is my belief that better questions get better answers and that those answers assist the salesperson in “building the case” for their products or services.  This article, however, is not about the salesperson, but rather the sales manager.

A sales manager’s job is NOT to grow sales!  It is the job of the sales manager to grow salespeople.  The attitude and skills sets that they build and develop in their salespeople are the things that will grow the sales for any company.  One of the areas that I find that sales managers can truly move into that COACH role is by preparing and asking solid questions of their salespeople.  Here are a few points to consider:

1-The Pre-Call Huddle

Prior to going on the sales call, every sales manager should engage in a pre-call huddle with their salespeople.  The pre-call huddle should occur well in advance of the sales call.  Depending upon the complexity and size of the potential sale, the pre-call huddle could happen several days or several hours before the actual call.  The purpose of the pre-call huddle (and the questions that are asked in it) is to gauge the preparation and mindset of the salesperson.  The pre-call huddle should include any and all people that could play a role in the acquisition and retention of the customer.  Most efforts are won by teams and it is a major responsibility of the sales manager to create the best team possible for each of the company’s opportunities.

2-The “Coaching” Field Call

Too many managers try to lead from behind a desk.  They gauge the success or failure of their salespeople by the amount of calls they make or the amount of closed business at the end of the day.  Activity management and results management are two weak areas in which a sales manager can find himself/herself making bad decisions.  We need to get off the sidelines and get into the game with our people.  Attending sales calls with our salespeople (whether riding “shotgun” on the telephone or in person) will help identify the areas in which we can make the most impact for our people.  It is on these calls that we can see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears the various approaches that our people take to identify highest value needs (HVNs) our customers and communicate our value to the market.

3-The Post-Call De-brief

We tend to learn from both our wins as well as our losses.  In fact, I would bet that you would offer that you learn more from your losses!  Sales managers need to make a habit to de-brief with their salespeople on a regular basis.  We need to not only get the information of what occurred on the sales call.  We need to understand what happened and why!  Although the information (did it close or not) is important, it is limiting to our growth for the future.  We need to identify what our people learned on the “wins” so that we can ensure we win again.  We also need to discover what our people learned from the “losses” to ensure we do not repeat it in the future.  Understanding what our people know and do not know will help us to design the appropriate strategies by which to assist in their growth on our teams.

Questions are a big part of this.  Here at Sales Coach International, we have recently found ourselves creating many “Question Guides” for our clients.  The process of doing so is more a matter of getting “buy-in” to the importance of using questions in the sales process to open the customer and get the information and understanding that we need to properly navigate the sales process.  Once everyone is on the same page, we identify several areas in which we ask questions and task everyone on the team to send us their top questions in these areas.  After several “takes” and “re-takes” we end up with a solid compilation of questions from those in the field of battle every day.  The list itself serves as a great “cheat sheet” for those salespeople to use on a day to day basis.

The challenge we find is that the sales managers of these teams need to continue to gauge the pre-call mindset and the pre-call preparation of the salesperson in order for the right sales approach to be taken.  Because of this, we subsequently packaged recent versions of the Question Guides to include questions that we want the salespeople to continually ask of themselves before making any call:

1-What’s the Purpose of this Call?

2-What do we Know?

3-What do we Need to Know?

4-What do we Need to “Get Out on the Table?”

These four questions, along with several more industry specific questions are included in the first few pages of the Question Guide.  The interesting result was that what we actually came up with was a “cheat sheet” by which sales managers could continually coach and develop the pre-call mindset and prep work of their salespeople.  The Question Guide becomes a vital part of the Pre-Call Huddle, The Coaching Field Call, and the Post Call De-Brief.

I suggest that you give this a try.  Build a series of relevant questions with your salespeople that they can reference prior to sales calls.  Package that Question Guide with a few of the questions above that will be great reminders for both the salesperson AND the manager as to the things that they need to have prepared for every call.  We like to believe that salespeople constantly need “sharpening of the axes” to keep ahead of the competition.

The Dog Days of Summer Are Here!

Dog Days of Summer

We call them the dog days of summer.  The long, hot days of summer seem to have salespeople and customers alike under a listless spell.  The call of the shoreline, the lake, the golf course, and many other assorted vacations pull the focus away from the necessary tasks at hand. Sales tend to lag, profits tend to decrease, and the fourth quarter is looming on the all to near horizon.

As we head into August this year, let’s take a long hard look at the state of our sales departments.  Fear, uncertainty, and multiple changes have slowed down the typical buying cycles and more is demanded of the salespeople to create results.  Now, add in the dog days of summer where decision-makers have “checked out” on various vacations, and the salespeople really have a challenge on their hands.

In such a diverse set of circumstances in the industries in which we are coaching, there is one thing that remains constant this summer.  That is the need for the salespeople to stay focused on what’s going on in their respective marketplaces and to project themselves and their sales heading into the upcoming quarter.

Have your salespeople met their projected results thus far this year?  If so, how will they continue that trend into the close of the year?  If not, what magical events will occur for them to hit company goals for the close of the year?  As we head into August, we might want to go back and take inventory of our people, our processes, our systems, and our goals.

Remember, the holiday months are less than 120 days away.  During those months, many companies tend to have a similar experience with the results of their sales departments.  People are focused more on the holidays then they are on finishing the year strong.  Why fall victim to this phenomenon this year?  Now is the time to start planning your approach in the marketplace for the end of the year.  What can be done different internally?  How can you look to build a platform on which your people will strive for greater results?

Here is a blueprint plan of ACTION!!

1-Turn up the volume!  HUSTLE!

I often see the management and leadership elements of organizations “taking a hiatus” during the summer months. Now is the time to increase your focus on your team.  Get on the phones with them today!  Get in the field with them today!  Show them the HUSTLE and URGENCY that you need from them.  Re-engage with your teams and model the behavior that you seek!  If you are willing to do it (and do it more than once), then they have no excuse!

2-Follow the LEADER

Do you remember playing that game with your friends when you were young?  Play it with your company now!  In order for the game to be any fun, however, you need a leader!  Are you willing to jump in with both feet and LEAD?  Leaders communicate, recognize, empower, coach, direct, and win with their people!  Managers aren’t always leaders.  Besides….who ever played “follow the Manager?”

  • Start an “intensity” month with daily morning huddles defining the day’s strategy.
  • Measure everything and inspect what you expect!
  • Have an ALL-HANDS meeting and bring in an expert to re-align all the players.
  • Develop a 6-month IDP (Individual Development Plan) with each of your people.
  • Redefine what WINNING means and start driving that bus!

3-Design and Run a New Contest

What do you need more of?  What needs more attention and focus from your team?  What areas need re-energizing?

  • New products need to get into the marketplace?
  • Customer service standards need to dramatically increase?
  • New accounts need to be opened?
  • Need to penetrate, fortify, and grow your top 25 accounts?
  • Relationships need to improve with your best clients?
  • Need to get new “breath” on the team?

4-STOP Recognizing and Rewarding Mediocrity

Is it OK to fail when working for you?  Is it OK to not really try when working for you?  Is it OK to not really be ALL-IN when working for you?  Is it OK to not meet minimum expectations when working for you?  If so……you are letting your people down.  Every time we let it be “OK” to any of the above things, we actually make it OK to be mediocre!  Why, because MOST people are only mediocre.  Most people phone it in, don’t really push themselves, and don’t ever travel the extra mile!

Identify those that have either “checked out” on you or on themselves and the team and do something about it!  They may choose to “phone it in” each day ONLY because you make it OK to do so.

We have less than 4 months left in the year to accomplish our goals.  Don’t let the summer Dog Days drag you, your people, and your results down.  DO SOMETHING about it….NOW!!

Earn a Higher Price!

Image result for dollar sign picture

What is it that you bring to the table that your competition cannot or will not?  What is it that you offer that your prospects, customers, and clients would be willing to stand in line and/or pay a premium to have?  What value do you bring to the equation that creates a greater perception of value for your product or service and thus commands a higher price?

Would you buy from you at premium prices?  If the answer is yes….and I hope to high heavens that it is….Why?

We are selling in a marketplace today that demands more from sales professionals.  Communication tools such as cell phones, email, and I/M are creating a level of expectation from our customers that is getting harder and harder to meet.  The internet is leveling the playing field as far as access to information.  (Everyone can Google you and your competition before you walk in the door.)  The result?  Buyers that have a higher degree of sophistication (or at least a higher level of belief of their sophistication) than ever before.  Where there is mystery there is margin and the internet has removed much of the mystery about you, your company, your products & services, and your pricing.

If we keep selling into the marketplace the same way that we have in the past, we will get passed up by SMART competitors and passed over by SMART customers.

What can we do to keep up?  What can we do to get ahead?  What can we do to earn the top margins in our ever changing and competitive marketplace?

Below, please find a list of 15 things that you can start to do today to stand out from the crowd, differentiate yourself (and thus your product/service), and command the respect and attention of prospects, customers, and clients:

1. Start a strict regimen of pre-call preparation.

Do your homework before making that call on any executive or decision maker.  Google them, research their industry, read their industry magazines, learn about them and their company. The things that you learn will help you build a platform from which relevant questions and conversation can begin.  In order to have something relevant to offer, have something relevant to ask and something relevant to say!

2. Decision maker or decision influencer?

Clarity on who it is that you are dealing with will help you build the appropriate value proposition.  If you are developing a “champion” or a “flag-bearer” in an account, make sure that the value of your offer speaks to their needs.  Typically, the decision maker is motivated by, and thus will act upon a much different set of criteria than those you met on the way in—sell accordingly.  Never assume what their motivation is.  Always dig, probe, & listen before you diagnose.

3. Make a few phone calls in advance.

I suggest calling anyone who may know anything about an account before actually attending a meeting to get a flavor for what you are about to face.  Knowledge is power—power can be leverage.  In addition, if there are to be several people in the session, I suggest calling as many of them as possible in advance to discover or uncover any issues or expectations.

4. Speak the customer’s language.

We tend to present our value propositions in a language that is filled with our industry words.  The problem?  The customer doesn’t know your industry like you do so a “disconnect” or confusion can occur.  I suggest that you record your value propositions, presentations, conversations, and questions as often as possible.  Get these recordings in the hands of non-industry people and get their opinion.  You might be surprised that the reason you are not closing enough sales is that the door to understanding has never been opened due to a language barrier.

5. Read, learn, grow!

Commit to reading a book every month on how to be a better sales professional.  You will be amazed at the new moves that you will adopt for your sales success.  In addition, read at least 2-3 business or industry magazines every month.  You will learn things that you did not know.  This can add to your confidence and, if you figure out ways to use this knowledge to differentiate you from the crowd (adding value to your customers) it will add to your commission check!

6. Be the quarterback of your sales efforts.

Someone must call the plays.  Make sure that on every interaction with prospects, customers, and clients you clearly define the purpose of the call and stick to it.  When the call purpose is met, clearly identify next steps as well as who is responsible for what.  You guide the timelines, you run the plays, and you call the shots.  The result will be getting to yes faster. (as well as getting to NO faster…see next item.)

7. Ask for the yes once you’ve earned it-but don’t be afraid of the no.

Get out on occasion to drive your pipeline business further along towards a yes knowing that the result will most likely be a few fresh no’s.  Is this a bad thing?  Absolutely not! Stop wasting time on those who can not or will not buy from you.  A full pipeline of no’s is worse than no pipeline at all.  The time you invest on qualifying OUT the non-buyers will be well spent once it’s re-invested in prospecting for those who can and will say YES!

8. Get a coach or a mentor.

This sales game can be tough.  Having someone to bounce ideas off and to strategize with will give you a leg up on the competition.  Think your good enough to fly solo.  Think again!  Even Steph Curry has a coach or two on his team.

9. Make the CLOSE a natural conclusion to your professional sales process.

Don’t let the “closing” part of your sales cycle be a surprise to your customer.  Don’t shy away from it either.  Your customer should know that you are there to do business.  In order to earn their business, you will have to learn to ask in such a way that it is less painful for both you and the customer.  Right now, sit down and write 5 closing questions that transition you from the presentation and negotiation to the action phase of the sales cycle.  When you have them written, ask them each aloud 100 times until they become less mysterious and thus, natural.

10. Talk Benefits rather than Features.

The customer does not buy quality, service, reliability, innovation, integration, knowledge, experience, teamwork, or the other features that you are tossing out there in an attempt to differentiate your company.  They only buy what those things can do for them and  what it is they want to accomplish.  The sooner you start talking about what they GET rather than what it does, the sooner you begin to earn a greater margin.

11. Ask them what will happen if they don’t…..?

Attempt to attach a cost or a price to in-action.  When you prospect and customers say they are “staying the course with the way they currently do things” you need to help them understand that continuing to do what they are currently doing will only get them more of what they are currently getting.  If (and this is a big if) you have attached a PAIN to their current situation (from their point of view), then you can attach a FEAR of the future.  Your product or service at that point becomes the cure to the PAIN and thus, a peace of mind to the FEAR.  This is called a solution, and it is worth more than what your competitor is selling.

12. Don’t lie—PERIOD!

The word character is not used enough in professional sales.  It needs to be.  This world of Google has opened all of our kimonos so there are very few secrets anymore.  Often your customer will ask a question that they know the answer to just to qualify your character.  You must pass the 1st time because you won’t get a second shot.  (Remember, they are more aware of their options today) Customers pay more for character and trust—count on it!

13. Quid-Pro-Quo

This Latin term that means “something for something” or “this for that” should be paid close attention to in your dealing with customers.  It works both ways.  If you are looking for forward movement in the sales cycle or an introduction to others to help you get it, practice quid pro quo from your end first.  Give to get.  Give a referral, get movement.  Give an introduction to a lead; get an introduction further into the customer’s circle of influence.  Add value first; get things you value in return.  On the flip side we need to understand that when a customer asks us to jump through hoops for them (put together a demo, draw me up an analysis of the benefits, etc.) it is only fair that we now can ask for something in return from them.  Example:  “We will put together a demonstration of the software, customized to your needs as you requested.  If the software performs and meets all of the specifications that we discussed, will you be prepared give us a commitment to move ahead with the purchase that day?”

14. Never make a call without a purpose.

In order to be the most productive with your time and the time of your prospects, customers and clients, have a clear purpose for each of your calls.  Don’t visit the customer without the express purpose of bringing something of value to the table or moving the sales cycle forward.  Don’t make a call to “just check in” some other nonsense.  If you don’t take your call seriously, why should they?  By being able to clearly state the purpose of your call and sticking to it, you will become a professional worthy of investing time and money with.

15. Look sharp!

If your product or service is pretty similar to that of your competitions, the little things will often be the deciding factors when deciding who to go with and how much to pay. Don’t underestimate the fact that people initially form a perception about you and your professionalism based upon appearance before you ever get a chance to open your mouth.  You want a higher price?  Look the part!  (Use an iron…it’s becoming a lost art!)

These 15 points are a good start to get you heading towards higher margins and thus, better commissions.  You can see that there are no tricks and no shortcuts.  Simply applying more in the areas of focus, self discipline, commitment, and a customer focused approach will change the customer’s perception of value regarding you and thus, your company, product or service.