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.