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Proactive Vs. Reactive

The sales professional in today’s marketplace has more expectations thrust upon him by his customers than ever before.  In fact, most salespeople don’t understand this simple fact!  Instead of rising to the occasion and providing the value that their prospects, customers, and clients seek, they instead choose to do nothingdifferently and opt to lower price to get the business.  As my son Cooper often says, “What are you thinking?  Hellooooo?”

There is a major difference between the Reactive salesperson and the Proactive sales professional. Each person gets up each day with the same opportunity, the same challenge:  to enter the marketplace as a value-add component to the customer and to help that customer choose to buy (or to continue to buy) from them!  In today’s uncertain economic environment with rapid change and consistent inconsistencies in the buyer’s world, it is absolutely necessary to avoid the trapthat the Reactive approach will too often set for you!  Simply showing up to do your job no longer is enough!  Taking the order and delivering as promised is simply not enough anymore.  In fact, low pricing and quality products alone don’t even guarantee you the order anymore.

In speaking with a current Foodservice client of mine recently, I found myself addressing an issue that several of his team members were facing—a severe increase in the price sensitivity and focus on the part of the customer.

Some background info: The salespeople on his team are selling into the restaurant environment as “route salespeople” taking grocery orders weekly from owners and managers. Regularly these customers take calls from salespeople from competing companies that carry the same lines and often the same brands of products.  Left to their own thoughts, the customer will feel that many of the products (and thus those who sell them) are commodities!

The reason for the increase in price sensitivity (even nominal price fluctuations) is quite simple. The restaurant owner in today’s market is in the middle of a perfect storm.  They are seeing higher food prices than ever before.  They are facing additional fuel surcharges from the Foodservice Distributor due to out-of-control oil pricing.  They are seeing customer counts shrinking due to a lack of consumer confidence based upon current economic uncertainty in the financial markets, real estate markets, fuel prices, food prices, etc.  So, in a nutshell, they pay more, sell less, and see no end in sight.  The natural thing for them to do is to analyze where they need to cut back and guess who is naturally first in line?  The vendor that they pay the most—the grocery guy!

As an exercise, I suggested that we analyze the feedback from a sample customer—ABC Café.  This particular restaurant owner has stated that their business is “a bit off” with 3-4 fewer tables being served at lunch and 3-4 fewer tables being served at dinner on average each day.  With an average table at lunch producing $30 in revenue and an average table at dinner producing $50, a rough estimate over a month shows a decrease in about $8,500 in revenues.  That translates to about $100,000 per year in revenues!  That is often then entire take-home pay of the restaurant owner!

This needs to be addressed—PROACTIVELY—by the sales rep if they choose to keep the account and develop the relationship!

Think about this for a moment.  What the customer is saying to you is not as important as what they are saying when you are not around that can and will affect you!  Put on the customer’s “hat” for a moment.  What do you think the topics of conversations might be for him/her with their spouse at home at night?  What decisions do you think they might be weighing?

  • “Do we pay the rent on the restaurant OR the mortgage on our home this month?”
  • “How do we tell our son/daughter that we cannot pay to send them to college this year?”
  • “How much longer can we stay open?”
  • “Will our car get repossessed?”
  • “Maybe one of us needs to get another job to help support the family?”
  • “Who do we need to let goto cut back costs?”
  • “Where else can we cut?”

Every one of these questions is a point of considerable pain that started with just a few less customers per day.  Although it looks small, as you can see, it is not!

It has been my experience that the overwhelming majority of salespeople that have customers facing tight economic times simply choose to de-emphasize it and try to focus on what’s next.  In other words, “I know times are slow for you now but I still need to sell you something so listen up!”

Understand this, very few customers wake up in the morning and get excited about buying what it is that you are selling!  This falls true especially for business customers versus actual consumers.  For example, the restaurant owner didn’t open his doors today to buy groceries!  However, he did open his doors with the intention to make a profit sellingmeals!  He does this by creating a quality product, with over-the-top service, at a price that includes a solid profit margin—and he has to do that many times over each day!  Do you think that most salespeople are having conversations with the restaurant owner about buying more or selling better?   

The retail shop that opened his doors this morning didn’t do so to buy advertising!  He opened his doors to make a profit sellinghis product.  In order to so consistently, he needs customers and for that he needs visibility and differentiation.

The manufacturer doesn’t want to buy your machine parts!  They want to ensure (peace of mind) that their machines stay operational and running at capacity to stay productive and profitable!

When times are tough, each of these buyers looks to the vendors calling upon them. The conversations often come out as price objections and “nickel and dime” conversations.  Now is NOT the time for negotiation tactics or closing tricks!  Now is the time for strong, prepared PARTNER conversations.  Now is the time for YOU to proactively address the main financial concerns of the customer and really DIG/DIAGNOSE where it is that you and your company can help them to do a better job.

The natural human tendency is to assume that “If I spend less, I get to make more!”  Sellers face this very thought process every day and most tend to address it with mundane feature sellingby stating things like Quality-Service-Reliability, blah, blah, blah. It is obvious that higher quality should translate into a better product, but if you cannot connect the dotsfrom your higher quality, better products to their main goal (for example: PROFIT), then your product’s quality is not a desire!

So, here is a great drill for you and your team to get into over the next few weeks:

  • Have some internal conversations within your sales organization with the customer’s business the main topic. Engage the entire sales and service team to bring to the tablethe customer’s point of view.  What are you seeing?  What are you hearing?  What are they saying?  What might they be feeling?  What’s the word on the street?  Is business up?  Down? Why?  How can we help?
  • Set a specific meeting with your Top 10 customers with the specific intention to do a review of their business-with you and otherwise.
  • Steer the conversation during this meeting specifically to the current state of affairs financially.
  • Ask specifically how the current markets (fuel, interest rates, housing markets, etc.) are affecting their sales and their profits.
  • As them what, if any, tough decisions might be on the immediate horizon for them or their company. (Layoffs, cutbacks, closures, product line cancellations, etc.)
  • Ask them how their competitive marketplace looks.  What is their competition doing that they are not or cannot?  What are they doing about this?
  • Ask them what it is that they value most from the current relationship that they have with you as a preferred vendor/partner?
  • Ask them what you could do better to assist them in the profitable growth of their business?

***This is important:  Listen to what they say—with the intent to Understand! Listen to what they say with intent to Add Value!

In advance:

Make sure that you carefully prepare your questions.  Your questions should help you uncover pains and fears that you and your company may be able to assist them with. (Many of these may have absolutely nothing to do with your products but will have everything to do with your value!) Make sure that you are prepared for any and allthings to come up. Don’t get caught off guard!  If negative things so come up—and, done properly, they probably will, do not get defensive! (Remember, you asked for it!) Make sure that you are prepared to take notes.  Make sure that you come to some solid action steps as a result of the conversation—and DON’T DROP THE BALL!!

The very fact that you are willing to address what is going on in their business should differentiate you and your firm.  The very fact that you are willing to sit down and analyze their current business status should elevate you from “one of” the many vendors to “the” value-add partner.  Zig Ziglar said years ago, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!”  Show them that you care more than the competition by having the GUTS to bring up their issues.

It doesn’t matter what business you are in.  Your customer is faced with challenges and choices every day.  Whether YOU bring it up or not, the issues and challenges brought upon by the current economic marketplace are still there!  Would you rather bring it up on yourtermsor have them bring it up on their terms? One may position you as a partner/advisor/expert and the other could very well position you as a victim.  Your choice—Proactive or Reactive?

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?

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.

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!

864240e0-51c8-4dcd-b123-e3ff9907db6a

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.

Huddle Up for Greater Sales and Customer Service

Businesspeople in huddle

Communication is the main element in combining knowledge and experience on a sales and/or customer service team.  As organizations get bigger, walls tend to come up between departments and the “solo” mentality can be the result.  The true victim in all of this is the customer.

Although I highly suggest that your local or regional sales team meets on a regular (at least bi-weekly) basis for a solid sales meeting to enhance skills and permeate the right attitude, I have another suggestion for your daily interaction with your internal teams.  We have seen great results with many companies due to “The Daily Huddle.”  The Daily Huddle is a quick 5-minute meeting that goes over the results from the previous day as well as the game plan for the current day.

The Daily Huddle is an opportunity for everyone to “check-in” with their plan for the day.  It is an opportunity to point your team in the right direction and get a flavor for the day ahead.  It is a chance to see who is prepared and who is not.  (Incidentally, by having a Daily Huddle-every day-you will get higher levels of accountability and preparation from your people–nobody wants to be caught unprepared on a team!)

 

Here are a few rules for the Daily Huddle:

-No longer than 5 minutes.

-No chairs—huddles are done standing up

-Be on high receive—Listening is imperative!

-Engage—Be prepared to report what happened yesterday and what will happen today

-Be prepared to offer assistance or answers to others

-No interruptions (cell phones, emails, calls, etc.) allowed

-All positives-no negativity in the Huddle!

 

What can be covered in the Daily Huddle:

-Yesterday’s appointment results

-What’s new in the pipeline or in the SOLD column?

-Any client issues that need addressing with customer service?

-A Success Story from sales

-A Success Story from customer service

-What sales calls are scheduled for today?

-What assistance/knowledge is needed to ensure sales call success today?

-Who is going with whom?

-Recognition

-Tip of the Day

 

The Daily Huddle (on the phone or in person) can be a vital part of a healthy sales and service organization.  The Daily Huddle, done correctly, runs strong defense against small problems getting blown out of proportion.  The Daily Huddle lets the entire team “in” on what is going on with the company’s success.  The Daily Huddle puts the manager front and center with his/her people to remove all obstacles to their success and to set the pace for the successful attitude necessary for the day!

Identify the team that gets results for your customers and see about getting a Daily Huddle with them.  In today’s busy work environment, the major thing that is getting lost is our communication internally with our teams that translates into poor communication externally with our customers!  Stop the insanity and huddle up for success!

LISTEN UP!!

Girl listening with her hand on an ear

I have written many articles on the importance of preparation, planning, presentation, attitude, prospecting, objection avoidance, leadership, and more in this newsletter.  But there is one thing that runs as a common denominator for all of these topics.  There is one area I need to cover that actually fuels the success of all of the above initiatives.  This is an area that we all take for granted and yet, most of us literally STINK at it.  As salespeople, there is perhaps no more impactful of a skill to have than the skill of effective listening.

We all initially got into sales because we are good talkers, good negotiators, good persuaders, and because we are comfortable when doing all of these things with strangers.  We take courses on, attend seminars regarding, and read books about how to be better at “Getting our Point Across,” “Giving Professional Presentations,” “Overcoming Objections,” and “Power Phrases that Sell.”  We constantly work on better ways to say what we want to say.  We record ourselves on the phones talking and even video ourselves talking/pitching in role-play situations.  Although all of this is important, what I notice getting lost on most salespeople of today is the tried and true art of listening.

I have yet to ever run into a truly top shelf successful salesperson that is not a great listener.  Great salespeople realize that they MUST listen to the prospect/customer because:

  • When they are listening, they are learning about the prospect/customer
  • With more info on the prospect/customer needs, they have a better shot in recommending the proper solutions.
  • What they are listening to are typically the answers to questions that are designed to control the process and lead the prospect/customer toward the benefits or solutions that the salesperson has to offer.
  • When they are listening, they are building trust.
  • When they are listening, the customer is buying into them—They are showing that they care.
  • When they truly listen, the customer will tell them what to say (or ask) next.

I do a lot of training in the area of effective question asking to “open” a customer.  I work on the reasons why we ask the questions that we do and how to best structure and practice those questions beforehand so that they appear very “off the cuff” and centered on the prospect/customer’s specific situation.  However, I do not spend enough time discussing the art of listening to the answers and response strategies.  I can only picture a mindless set of drones out in the marketplace asking a question, checking it off the list, and moving on to the next.  Say it isn’t so!!!!

Enthusiastic Listening

Let’s take a closer look at this term, shall we?  How does one enthusiastically listen?  When you think about that term, what comes to mind for you?  I get a picture in my mind of someone leaning in (edge of their chair), eyes locked on whomever is talking, eyebrows raised, nodding in understanding, hanging on every word, and responding with requests for more.  I see in my minds eye a child listening to an exciting bedtime story for the first time and asking things like “What happened next?” “Who is that?”  “Why did she do that, Mommy?”  “What does he look like, Daddy?” and so on.

In the profession of sales, that same wide-eyed enthusiasm over the words of our prospects/customers may be quite appropriate to a certain degree.  INTERESTED is the word that we are going for here.  I feel that the best way for a prospect/customer to be INTERESTED in you is to be genuinely INTERESTED in them.  The problem is that most of us feel that we have to be INTERESTING!  We feel that we have to speak eloquently, have a solid canned “pitch” that is compelling, and through these tactics, we will win over the hearts and minds of our prospects/customers.  C’mon…. Get over yourself!!  It’s not about you!  It’s about them and their pains, their fears, their desires, and their highest value needs.

By listening enthusiastically, you will show the prospect/customer the greatest respect that you can.  You will show that you care about their needs-not yours.  You will show that you are interested in how to best create a solution for them.  You will show that you are different, that you stand out!  Below are a few tips to help you engage in the art of enthusiastic listening:

  1. Look’em in the eye!  When a prospect/customer is speaking (answering your questions), do your best to look them directly in the eye as much as you can.  It shows that you are focused on their response.  A great tip to help you stay focused intently on them is to pick just one eye and look directly into that.
  2. Use appropriate facial expressions and nods.  Use non-verbal feedback in the form of the occasional nod to show understanding and agreement, a head tilt with brow furrowing to show a lack of understanding (and thus a request for more info), a smile and nod to show clarity and agreement.  Also use winces and other similar facial expressions to show that you feel their pain.  Much can be said without saying a word.  Learn to master this art through practice in front of a mirror.
  3. Lean into the conversation.

There is nothing wrong with leaning into the conversation during particularly intense or emotional points in which pains and fears are being discovered and discussed.  Get on the edge of your chair and show them that you care.

  1. Take notes.

There is a term called “noteworthy” that seems to be appropriate for the purposes of a sales interaction.  By writing down some of the main points of the conversation, you will not only show the prospect/customer that you are listening and that you care, you will also show that what she is saying is worthy of making note of it.  Also, if you write down what they say word-for-word and how they say it (use quotes on these parts) then you will have a tool to use later in the sales process to assist in closing the sale.

  1. Ask follow-up questions with active probing verbs.

An example of some solid follow up questions might be:

  • “Why?”
  • “Can you expand on that?”
  • “Paint me a picture of that.”
  • “Can you give me an example?”
  • “How long has that been the case?”
  • “Have you always felt that way?”
  • “Why do you suppose that is?”

  1. Re-Phrase statements made by the prospect/customer.

When a customer has expressed concerns (another word for pains) regarding a specific issue, show that you truly listened by rephrasing the statement.  Example:

They say: “I am a little worried about how the fluctuating interest rates are going to affect my variable mortgage and also about buying this home in an area which has had several houses sell for under appraised value in the past.”

Salesperson says as a rephrase and a re-cap point: “I understand that your specific concerns are about interest rates and resale value, is that correct?”

**A word of caution here. Too much usage of this tool will appear to be practiced and fake.  It will have a tendency to show the customer that you are merely using a sales technique to create a bond and it will become a turn-off.  Use moderately.

So, in the future, think about that young child listening intently to his/her parent reading Peter Pan for the first time to them.  See if you can see the look in their eyes, the curiosity in their entire demeanor.  Create that same level of enthusiastic curiosity in yourself as you head into your next sales call.  Listening is a skill and one that can be learned.  Tap into as many resources as you can to sharpen this skill and tap into the world of sales success!

5 Initiatives to Building a World Class Sales Team

hiring-handshake

I’m sitting here in the Salt Lake City airport for a layover on my way back from Toledo, OH where I just wrapped up our Smart Selling Boot Camp. In this two day course, we do a deep dive on how to build and grow world class, productive sales forces. Every time I finish teaching one of these events, I always enjoy seeing the excitement of the attendees as they go back into their office and implement what they’ve learned. So, I thought I’d do a cliff notes version of some of the highlights from our Boot Camp course.

Regardless of industry, there are only 5 areas that we have to focus on when building a world-class sales organization:

1- Finding Good People

2- Getting Them to Join Our Team

3- Getting Them Trained and Producing

4- Growing Them into Top Producers

5- Keeping Them

In this article, let’s throw the tools in the box to help us out with the first two initiatives mentioned. In doing so, we can take the necessary steps to find good people and to get them to join our teams.

1. Finding Good People

The process of recruiting good talent to your organization is not one that often times happens by chance. Many companies get aggressive about recruiting only when they need somebody to add to their team or when they need to replace somebody who has just left their team. Recruiting is a process, not an event. It must be ongoing and continuous. Can you imagine only going after a new customer when you lose an existing one?

I believe that too many companies out there today are not in a constant hunt for talent, even when they are not happy with the production of some of those currently on their team. When you are dealing with a sales team, YOU ARE NEVER FULLY STAFFED!

For many sales managers and leaders of sales organizations, the recruiting process is treated as a necessary evil and something to “get out of the way as quickly a possible.” Often this is the case because it is the goal of that individual to build sales. We believe that the sales manager’s job is not to grow sales. Rather, it is their job to grow salespeople, both in quality and quantity, on a regular basis. It takes time and effort to build a pipeline of business and it also takes time and effort to build a pipeline of top notch sales candidate prospects that you must actively be courting for your team.

In order to do this, you must first be very clear on what this person looks like. Have you put together a profile for this person? What characteristics does this person have that make them successful? What type of experience does he/she have? What soft selling skills do they possess? What specific selling skills do they have? What computer skills do they have/need? What type of communicator are they? You need to write down, in bullet point format the profile of the type of individual that you would recognize as a hitter for your team. Once that is in writing, get it in as many hands as possible. Let your entire staff know what you are looking for. Let you clients know, your vendors know, your entire network. If you are the only person in your company who knows what your idea of the ideal sales candidate looks like, you seriously limit your chances of finding them. The more that know you are looking, and what you are looking for, the better your chances.

As a salesperson, or with salespeople currently working for you, you realize that you must identify prospective client candidates and then methodically look to get them to do business with you. This is often done through a series of touches such as prospecting calls, e-mails, faxes, lunches, meetings, presentations, etc. Most salespeople continue this courting process for days, weeks, months, and sometimes-even years to get the right prospect to do business with them.

When bringing new talent to our team, we must take the same approach. Once you have identified some prospective sales animals that you would love to have on your team, regardless of where they currently work or what they currently are doing or making, you must begin the same process. Remember, the best prospective new salespeople for you are probably already working in sales, making a good living and are not necessarily looking to change careers. How will you initiate contact with these people? How will you look to set the initial meeting to introduce your company to them? What will you say? How will you overcome their objections? What questions will you ask? How will you maintain contact with them after the first meeting? This makes sense when going after one account doesn’t it? Then why don’t we prepare this way when we are going after a sales professional that could possibly secure the next 20 of those accounts for our company?

The process of continually looking for and recruiting top talent to our teams is imperative when building a world-class sales organization. In order to have the best people constantly surrounding you in your company, start looking now and do not ever stop!

2. Getting Them to Join Our Team

Now that we have spent countless hours, days, and months hunting our prey, we finally have him/her in our sights. They have agreed to sit down with us and have a formal interview. Let’s go back over to our “big-customer prospect” analogy for a moment. Once our salespeople have identified a new prospective BIG client and set an initial sales presentation meeting with them, we fully expect our salesperson to do their homework thoroughly. We want them to know as much as they possibly can about this company and this prospect before they meet with them. We expect them to be fully prepared to ask all the right questions to find out all of the prospects needs, pains, fears, and desires. We fully expect our salesperson to be armed with appropriate responses to all of the potential questions and/or objections that the prospect may have. Additionally, we will have the full expectations that our salesperson has prepared and practiced a very thorough and professional presentation of our company, it’s products/services, features, advantages, and benefits. This is only natural when we think about it in our sales process.

However, when we attract the potential big-dog sales professional to our company to come in and take a look at what we are about, we often times wing it. My mind plays back for me the hundreds of sales interviews that I have witnessed where the sales manager grabs the candidate’s resume, gives it the once over, and then proceeds to find out a little about the candidate while he prepares to vomit all of the reasons why the candidate should come to work for him.

Sitting in front of the sales manager is a person who could potentially create the next 20 big clients for the company and the sales manager decides to fly by the seat of his/her pants. Very little preparation was done prior to meeting with this candidate. Questions were not prepared to discover the true person; their needs, pains, fears, and desires in regards to a career change. Answers to potential questions/objections from the candidate were not prepared and practiced. A very thorough presentation of the features, advantages, and benefits of employment with your firm was not put together in advance and practiced for a flawless delivery. No communication was prepared to show this candidate how we are different, better, stronger, and more beneficial to work for than the candidate’s current employer.

It is our belief that the interview and hiring process is the most important SALE that you, as a company leader or sales manager can make for your company. This process must be prepared well in advance if you are to have a shot at the top talent. Even more so, this must be a system that flows throughout your entire organization. Your entire company must present an air of success and enthusiasm about the workplace-especially when you are bringing in the top candidates for the initial interview. Ask yourself these questions: “Would I be impressed with my company if I was recruited? Would I be excited to come to work here? Would I pull up stakes in my current successful career to come work here?” If the answer to any of these questions is yes, ask WHY, and then work to build on that. If the answer to any of these question is NO or I’M NOT SURE, get to work.

Many sales managers think that money is the only thing that will lure a top hitter away from his/her current career. With lack of preparation, this could very well be true. If that is the case, it’s time for a DIFFERENT APPROACH!! If you take the time to thoroughly find out what a potential candidate is looking for out of his/her perfect sales opportunity and then take the time to truly find out what they are missing from their current employer or opportunity, only then can you design a proper plan for them with you. Assume nothing! You can earn the right to build their dream opportunity for them only when you shut up and LISTEN…. just like in a sale. If all parties at the table want the same thing, a deal can be made. Don’t worry about price until you have established value in a sale likewise, don’t worry about compensation until you have established value in the interview.

Finally, just one more thing to remember about the recruiting and hiring process.

Regardless of your planning and preparation, you will make a bad hire from time to time. Do not become hesitant to take action and make a decision! You do not have a crystal ball. You cannot predict the future. There is no guarantee that every choice that you make will be the right one. There is however a guarantee that if you do not do the things mentioned in the paragraphs above, you will a have much harder time getting your sales team to where you want it. Use the same planning, preparation, and tenacity to identify, hunt, and land top sales professionals for your team that you expect your people to do to identify, hunt, and land big clients. GET BUSY!