In the ever-evolving landscape of sales, one thing remains constant: the importance of a robust sales pipeline. It’s the lifeline of any successful sales professional, a conduit through which potential clients become valued customers. But how do you create and nurture a pipeline that consistently delivers results? The answer lies in skill development.
Establishing the right environment for coaching is as important as the actual coaching exercise. In my early sales career, some of the best information I received from my sales managers came after hours in ad hoc conversations on how to best position an opportunity or attack the competition, which helped me establish winning behaviors and habits.
Sales Manager Responsibilities
Sales managers have many responsibilities. Although the buyer/seller engagement gets most of the attention, the second most important relationship is between the seller and his or her manager. Do the sales management behaviors you have in place put you in the back or front position in line? Are you proactively leading from the front of the line, or trying to push your team from the back? Which position would be the most advantageous for you and your team?
In many organizations, sales managers take pride in the fact that they are “behind” their team. They take pride in being available whenever they are needed to come in and close a deal, discuss what went wrong after a loss, and check-in on progress throughout the sales cycle. These are examples of pushing from the back of the line. However, being at the front of the line is much more beneficial to both managers and their direct reports. How do you ensure you’re leading from the front of the line? Consider these four must-dos:
1. Manage Expectations – This concept is the polar opposite of figuring out what went wrong after losing a sale. Clearly defined sales process expectations are valuable in winning a sale. Ken Blanchard, author of the “One Minute Manager” makes the following statement: “As a manager, I’ve found that people are amazingly good at meeting my expectations, but only when they understand exactly what those expectations are.” If you set clear expectations for your team at every stage of the sales cycle, they are more likely to plan ahead to achieve a more productive sales engagement, increasing the probability of a win.
2. Review and Plan – This is where accountability comes in. A verbal summary of a conversation between a sales representative and a prospect is only subjective without customer validation. Require a consistent follow up to each sales call which includes a brief written summary of the conversations and clear agreed upon “next steps.” Schedule weekly performance assessments with each member of your team to encourage skill attainment and to address skill deficits.
3. Coach and Confirm – Once skill deficits are uncovered, use the following tips for leading a coaching session:
- Be honest, open, respectful
- Give feedback in private (praise in public)
- Review expectations
- Be specific about deficit components
- Ask for their perspective on deficit and possible causes
- Ask for their ideas for skill fulfillment
- Be prepared with some suggestions
- Determine clear next steps and follow-up
4. Reinforce – Make sure your selling behavior is something worth emulating for all of those in line behind you. Remember the child’s game of “Follow-the-Leader”? Management behavior will reinforce habits that are good or bad. As you lead, they will follow.
Get behind your sales team by doing an “about-face” and leading from the front of the line. Manage expectations, review and plan, coach and confirm, and then reinforce.
Sales Success Requires Continual Skill Development
Do you play a musical instrument, speak a foreign language or play a sport? How did you learn, and continually improve? Doctors must take continuing medical education classes to hone their craft, and Sales should require the same. Put your comments below on how you, or how your Manager helps to build skill competency into Sales success.
Is there a “right” way to sell? Perhaps. But, if the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the world can change in a flash and the “right” way may no longer work.
In my role as a sales trainer and consultant these past 16 years, I’ve seen a constantly changing new twist and turn on the “right” way to sell in light of current economic conditions. Personally, I have worked through four popular sales methodologies in my career: SPIN Selling, Miller Heiman, Solution Selling, and Customer Centric Selling.
Admittedly, each of those methodologies provides an excellent framework for helping enterprise sales organizations understand how to organize themselves and face the market. However, the one aspect that has regularly challenged my clients is that these programs often have components that are too complex to use in a practical format.
During many of the conversations I have with sales and executive leaders, I’m regularly told that they have “tried” two, three, or sometimes even four different methodologies but none of them worked. They just didn’t stick. What I hear loud and clear is that they want something that’s their own, a sales process that reflects how their customers buy, aligned with the tools and skills that their sales people can use to excel.
The ultimate goal of a sales process in any organization is to help drive more revenue. Is there a right way to sell? I’d say yes. But it needs to be what’s right for your organization and sales team. And a popular sales methodology might not be the answer—especially when the economy takes a turn for the better or worse. On the other hand, a customized sales process might be a perfect fit.
Many sales executives are laser focused on filling their pipelines for the year. Successful sales leaders know that a pipeline filled with qualified opportunities is essential to building sustained and repeatable revenue results, which is ultimately the fuel that drives organizational success.
But the path to get to a healthy pipeline is not necessarily well understood and includes a number of variables, including the talent of the sales reps, market shifts, government regulations, and the competitive landscape. Despite these factors, there is one element that remains constant – selling skills. In order to have sales reps who successfully fill the pipeline with qualified opportunities, they must know how to identify, qualify, develop opportunities.
Most sales managers are well versed in deal coaching. This means they know how to help their reps assemble the right mix of product and pricing to meet a customer’s requirements. While this is important, it does not address the fundamental need to understand how well the rep has qualified the opportunity, identified key players, and aligned your product/service offerings to meet the prospect’s business objectives. Each of these three steps requires specific skills, and managers who help their reps improve these skills are ones that will see the biggest impact to their overall sales pipelines and year-end results.
We have a lot of exciting things to look forward to in 2020. One of my personal favorites is the Summer Olympics, which are coming to Tokyo this July. The event I’m most looking forward to is the 4×100-meter relay race. This is consistently one of the most popular events in the Olympics for both spectators and tv audiences alike. It’s an athletic endeavor which combines both speed and endurance, great individual performances as well as cohesive teamwork.
I was recently thinking that the 4×100 relay can be compared to a great sales process. How? Keep reading:
- Leg 1 – REFINE: The opening leg of a relay is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important stages of the race. It’s critical for runners to get out of the blocks quickly to establish their team’s position. Similarly, the “Refine” stage of a sales process is where sales teams hone the steps they will take to build a steady, repeatable revenue stream. This includes how leads are generated and moved through the sales funnel.
- Leg 2 – BUILD: The second leg of the relay is where runners build a steady, consistent pace in order to hold onto their positions. The runners are taking inventory of their positions, maintaining steady speed and lining things up for a clean handoff.
- Leg 3 – DELIVER: In the third leg, runners rely on stamina in order to set their teams up for the best chance to win in the final leg. Getting ready for that transition to win is critical to delivering the best case possible for success in the end.
- Leg 4 – REINFORCE: The final leg is where relays are won and lost. The first three legs may go well, but if runners in the anchor position don’t finish strong, their teams won’t come out on top. In the same way, your sales team may have a solid sales process, but without ongoing reinforcement of sales skills, your overall performance will fall short. Sales managers must be equipped to provide timely, personalized rep coaching to reinforce the skills needed to consistently meet and exceed sales targets.
Like the talented athletes that will make up Team USA’s 4×100-meter relay teams this summer, your sales teams will rely on certain strategies to ensure success. One of the most critical is a well-defined sales process that will help sales teams get off the blocks quickly and maintain their stamina all the way to the finish line.
For more on ways sales process drives revenue, click here.
Last week, we published The Art of Referrals (Part 1). If you haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet, click here.
Now, we’re going to delve even further into this important selling skill.
How to Ask for a Referral
Knowing what to say is half the battle. First, qualify for their interest in referring people to you. Here are some ways to do that.
- “How do you feel about helping me grow my business?”
- “How do you feel about helping me tell my story to people who might have an interest in what I do?”
- “I want to build my business through referrals. I have a goal for the quarter to secure ten new clients through referrals. If I can help you so it takes very little time and you are confident that I will represent you well, would you be willing to help me?”
Asking “who do you know…?” (an open-ended question) as opposed to “do you know anyone …” (closed-end question) is a far more effective way to get referrals.
Here are a few options.
- “Who do you know who would benefit from my product or service?”
- “Who do you know that has plans for the future that require what I do?”
- “Who do you know that is facing the same kinds of challenges that you are?”
Your Ideal Client Profile
Salespeople will experience more success if they can be specific when asking people for referrals. After all, it’s easier for the referring source if you can take the guesswork out of referrals. If you can clearly describe the title of the Key Player or company you are looking for, your referring source will find it easier to focus on someone that fits your ideal profile. This will result in better quality referrals, and more of them.
Finally, Give More to Get More
Referring should not be a one-sided activity. The more referrals you give, the more you will get. There should always be something in it for your referring source.
Try to provide them with referrals in return. Make a point of asking your clients whom they would like to be introduced to and see if you can help them.
You might provide a reward such as lunch or small token of appreciation.
Mastering the art of the referral is a proven way to effectively build your sales pipeline without having to rely on cold calls. Do you have referral techniques that have helped you build your business? If so, we’d love to hear about them. Send emails to email@example.com.
Referrals are the best way to increase your sales. When you begin to build your business through referrals, you lessen your dependence on having to make cold calls and other less productive (and frustrating) prospecting activities. Yet getting qualified referrals is not automatic by any stretch of the imagination. There is a prerequisite.
The most important concept to understand about referrals is that you must provide outstanding service, superior products and be professional in every way in order for anyone to consider providing you with referrals. No one will want to refer friends and business associates to you if they are concerned that their referral might have a bad experience with you or your products.
The vast majority of professional salespeople who do provide outstanding service and quality products still do not get nearly the number or quality of referrals that they should, missing out on the easiest way to build their business. As a result, they work too hard, have to resort to other, less productive, forms of prospecting and their business and income suffers.
Why Don’t Salespeople Get Referrals?
If referrals are the easiest way to build business, why don’t salespeople get more referrals? It’s not always due to the lack of quality or professional standards, but rather other factors, and this chapter will address them all.
- They don’t ask for them
- They don’t know how to ask for them
- They don’t tell the referring source what they’re looking for
Our experience is that most salespeople don’t know how to ask for referrals and as a result, when they do, they hear things from the potential referring source like, “I can’t think of anybody right now, but if I do, I’ll call you.”
When someone asks you for a referral, what is your typical response? If you normally say, “I can’t think of anybody right now, but if I do…,” then you are very susceptible to having what might be called “referral avoidance empathy” – a belief that your client feels the same way you do. Then your subconscious thought process goes something like this: I normally don’t give referrals myself and suspect that he doesn’t either, so why bother asking? If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re done; it’s over. No referrals for you.
There’s a lot we could say about referrals, but simply understanding the following will help you improve your referral business.
When to Ask
The best time to ask for referrals certainly depends on a lot of factors. But here are a few ideas.
- Set the stage early in the relationship. (“At some point when you’re totally satisfied with us as a supplier, I’d like to ask you for referrals. How do you feel about that?”)
- After you’ve just completed delivery of your solution and your customer is satisfied. (“Who do you know…?”)
Dos and Don’ts
- Ask them about their willingness to give you referrals. Don’t assume they will.
- Begin the question with “Who do you know that…………….?” Don’t ask, “Do you know anyone ….?” It’s too easy for them to say, “I can’t think of anyone right now, but if I do……”
- Ask to be introduced to their friends and associates. Don’t ask to be recommended – it puts too much pressure on the prospect and is presumptive.
- Focus your question on the end result to the client – a benefit or problem you can solve.
- Phrase the question as though the referring source will be doing the friend a favor.
- Tell your referring source exactly what you will be doing with the referral. Don’t forget to keep the referring source informed of your progress.
Click here to read Part 2: including how to ask for a referral, what your ideal client profiles are, how to “upgrade” your referrals, and finally how to give more to get more.
We live in a cynical world. Americans trust government and politicians less and less, but it’s not just Washington D.C. that has shaken our confidence. American trust in the media has declined, and even our trust in each other. A study done in 2013 found that almost two-thirds of Americans trusted each other, and we can safely assume our trust levels have declined since then given the political climate of recent years.
The reasons behind that decreasing level of trust in institutions and each other are complicated and sometimes unclear. But the result is the same: People trust less and that makes your job harder, because you need trust to sell.
Sales Requires Trust
Although you didn’t do anything to make the prospect not trust you, it’s still your job to earn that trust. Yes, it seems unfair, but consider this: If you take the time to earn that prospect’s trust and your competitor doesn’t, who will get the sale when that prospect is ready to buy? The person they trust. So be that person.
It’s easier than it sounds because trust is not to be taken lightly. In order for someone to trust you, they must take a risk. And once trust is violated, it’s that much harder to re-establish the trust you’ve lost. You no doubt recognize this to be true in your personal relationships where trust is vital, but it is true in your professional relationships too—especially when you’re in sales.
7 Ways to Earn Trust in a Cynical World
So what are you to do when you’re the victim of a societal drop in trust that’s affecting your ability to sell? Takes steps to be a trustworthy person in the eyes of your prospects. Below are seven ways you can easily do so:
- Be genuine. Our days are full of fakes, from the staged images on Instagram to the phony posts on Facebook. Although we’re immersed in social media which in theory means we’re connected to all kinds of people, most of what we see is misleading because people are rarely authentic in such a public arena. The last thing your prospect wants to deal with is yet another poser. So be yourself. Authenticity can’t be faked.
- Be a person of integrity. Follow the rules. Be polite to strangers. Say please and thank you. Respect your prospect’s time. Don’t bad mouth other people or companies. Be someone above reproach.
- Keep your word and do what you say you’ll do…even if it’s a little thing. If you schedule a phone call for 10:00 a.m., don’t call in at 10:03. If you say you’ll email a document by the end of the day, get it sent, even if you have to stay late to keep your promise.
- Ask questions. Ask what you can do for the other person. Ask about their jobs and what they struggle with and wish they could do better or differently. Show a genuine interest in the other person as a person, not a potential sale.
- Keep people informed. Let’s say they have placed an order and there is some kind of delay. Let them know about the delay, even if you think it won’t really matter in the long run or the delay seems like a minor issue. It will mean a lot to the customer that you kept them in the loop.
- Be kind. This world is sadly short on kindness these days. Be kind even if you get nothing in return for it.
- Trust first. Trust requires risk and vulnerability. If you trust first and open yourself up in that way, it will be easier for your prospect to trust you in return.
None of these is an overnight solution to your (and our) trust problem. Rather these are seven “ways of being,” if you will, that you must make daily habits so you’re seen as a trustworthy salesperson all the time, not just when it matters most because money is at stake.
But it’s worth the time and effort, because people buy from people they trust. So be that person…and help to make the world a better, less cynical, place at the same time.
Every spring, I get calls from friends with children who are graduating from college. It’s an exciting time for the parents and the graduates. During these calls, after we complete the small talk of catching up, the parent will usually tell me that their son or daughter is “good at working with people” and therefore would be a good fit for a career in sales. While being good with people may be one characteristic that can help in sales, a solid sales career requires much more than being an interested extrovert.
There are three key pieces required to success in sales. These concepts were important when I started my career cold calling for Pitney Bowes in 1987, but the collective notion was solidified by my colleague, mentor and friend Gerhard Gschwandtner at a conference he conducted in 2015 in San Francisco. The three are skills set, tool set and mindset.
A leader in the sales industry and the CEO of Selling Power, Gschwandtner says, “It’s all about creating the right mindset, building the right skills set and selecting the right tool set.”
Two of these are easily attained. For the skills set, a fledgling salesperson can get training to learn the skills needed. Sales skills might include negotiating, communication, active listening or closing skills. For the tool set, sales tools can be bought or acquired. Sales tools can include a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, marketing automation, or video conferencing.
But the mindset cannot be learned or purchased. And the mindset has to come first. As the saying goes, your attitude determines your altitude.
You need the right mindset to achieve peak performance. In an article published on LinkedIn, Gschwandtner says happy salespeople sell 38% more, and that people with a positive mindset live on average 7.5 years longer. The right mindset can boost your confidence, change your negative thinking into positive thoughts, increase your energy level, and reduce your stress. With the right mindset, you have a much better chance of achieving your sales goals and you can make better use of your learned skills and purchased tools.
If you want to succeed in sales, get the right mindset. You can learn the skills. You can get the tools. But without the right mindset, neither the skills nor the tools will do you much good.