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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. 

This is an article on helping your sales reps uncover their prospects’ primary business objectives and the challenges preventing their fulfillment. This discovery phase is critical to helping reps align their products or services as solutions to their customers’ key business challenges.

We will focus on qualification, which involves getting customers to quantify their challenges. Without this critical step, it’s impossible for sales reps to show their prospects the cost of doing nothing and motivate them to make a change.

The following are questions that will help your reps quantify the financial gain customers stand to achieve by using your product or service.

Impact Questions. It is important to elicit from the prospect the impact that the overall pain has on the company and the individuals involved. Understanding the consequences motivates the prospect to take action.

  • “What kinds of problems is this causing for you?”
  • “What impact is it having on sales and profitability?”
  • “Seems like this might affect….., does it?  Can you tell me more?”
  • “What happens if it doesn’t get fixed?”
  • “Who else is involved or impacted?”

They’ll say things like:

  • “I’m under a lot of pressure to turn sales around and we’re having to offer discounts to move product. Our margins are down by 20%.”
  • “It’s affecting our ability to meet our customers’ expectations.  We’re starting to lose business.”

Commitment Questions. Commitment questions help determine how important it is to rectify the situation and what action the prospect might take if you were able to provide a solution that they felt would work.  Although they might have a problem, it’s wrong to assume they are committed or have a budget to fix it.

Ask questions like these to see how strong their commitment is:

  • “How important is it to fix this problem?”
  • “What priority is it to fix the problem?”
  • “Is doing nothing an option?”

How will you feel when your prospect starts to say things like this?

  • “We’d want to get started as soon as possible.”
  • “We’d be willing to start switching some of our business over by (date) if we felt you could do the job.”

Budgetary Questions. These questions that will help you uncover what kind of budget your prospect has to fix the problem.

  • “Do you have a budget to take care of the problem?  What would it be, approximately?”
  •  “Assuming we could make the problem go away, how much would you be willing to invest to fix a $_________ problem?”

They’ll say things like:

  • “We have a $200,000 budget for training and development.”
  • “Our server outage is costing us over $1 million annually, so we’re willing to invest quite a bit if we were confident the new solution will decrease downtime by 99%.”

These financial questions will help your sales reps complete a critical final step in the qualification process – getting their prospects to put a dollar value to the challenges they’re facing and discuss what kind of budget they have available to fix them.

Many sales reps lose opportunities not because they have poor presentation or negotiation skills, but more often because they have not done a thorough job understanding their prospects’ primary business objectives and challenges.

In order to maximize their chances of success, the best reps don’t force feed objectives, challenges and budgets to their prospects, but use a series of intelligent questions to encourage their prospects to come up with these on their own. As a sales professional, your credibility comes from the kinds of questions you ask, and your success depends upon your ability to help your customer achieve their objectives.

 

People are most convinced by ideas they themselves originate, so getting your prospects to define their own objectives and challenges is critical to getting their buy in throughout the sales process. 

The following are three types of questions designed to get your prospects talking about their challenges. 

Open Questions.  Your prospect has discussed his primary business objective – now how do you get him talking about why he’s not able to accomplish that objective. These questions are designed to do just that. They uncover the tip of the iceberg, and are the first step in the discovery process. 

  • “What are the main concerns you’re having with respect to…..? 
  •  “Usually people come to us for help in one or more of the following areas (list 2-3 problems you solve for people); are any of these issues for you?” 
  • “Tell me more…” or “Tell me why…” 

When you ask questions like this, look for the prospect to make statements like: 

  • “My sales are not where I want them to be.” 
  • “We’re spending too much on….. 
  • “We’re not happy with….. 

 

Cause Questions.  Now that you have the problem defined, the next step is to look for what’s causing the disparity.  Typically, there are several causes.  Pay close attention as these are the issues you will ultimately try to resolve. This information leads you to your presentation. 

  • “What are the reasons this is going on?” 
  • “Why do you suppose this is happening?” 
  • “Do you know what’s causing these problems?” 

It’s vital for you to understand – even better than the prospect – what’s causing their challenges.  You’ll hear things like: 

  • “Our current supplier is having quality and delivery problems.” 
  • We don’t have the right software and our people need training.” 

 

Keep Them Talking. Learn to direct the conversation and keep your prospects talking.  When they are talking, they are giving you valuable information. When you’re monopolizing the conversation, you’re losing an opportunity to discover what will motivate them to take action.  Add these types of questions to your repertoire and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the issues. 

  • “Tell me more about that.” 
  • “What else is there?” 
  • ”Is there anything else?” 
  • “Could you be a little more specific?” 

With these three types of questions, your sales reps should be able to encourage prospects to fully define their key challenges, which is a critical first step in the qualifying process. 

           

This is a question I often ask Sales Managers. 

Many of them respond that they do on the grounds of fairness. They try to distribute their time evenly between all team members and provide similar opportunities for coaching and development. 

While I appreciate the intent, I disagree with the practice. At the end of the day, being a great sales manager doesn’t lie in giving your reps a similar dose of the same medicine, but rather in tailoring your prescription to each individual, even though it will likely result in a disproportionate amount of your time and energy spent with some reps and not with others. 

Here’s what I recommend: 

First, divide your team into thirds in order of performance – top 10%, middle 60% and bottom 30%. Many managers find this exercise difficult, as they’re reluctant to label certain reps as bottom performers. But it’s a critical first step in optimizing your coaching time

Next, allocate your time with each rep according to his or her grouping. 

Contrary to popular opinion, the bulk of your time should not be spent with the top performers (because they’re the most valuable), nor should it be spent with the bottom performers (because they have the most room for improvement). It should actually be spent with the middle 60%. The middle performers are the group that has the most to gain from focused skills coaching, and statistically speaking it’s with this group that you will see the biggest performance lift. 

Of course, you should still allocate time for your top performers. But your time with this group should be spent focused on retention rather than skills coaching – are they happy in their current positions? Is there anything you can do to make their jobs better? Where do they see themselves three years from now? 

Very little time should be spent with bottom performers. These sales reps can be an extreme “time suck” with very little payoff, and allocating the bulk of your time to coach the bottom tier very seldom translates into sales results. 

So, is this a fair management strategy? Maybe not. But it is effective. It allows you to align your time and talents with the sales reps that stand to make the biggest gains, thus improving your ability to impact overall team performance and revenue generation. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what you were hired to do? 

From the location of his first sales training meeting in 1987, and the Olympics in ’96 to today, John is in Atlanta, Georgia.

Altitude helps in physical, spiritual and mental ways. Take a look and a listen. Watch video above.

Flannery Sales Systems is grateful to have completed a successful virtual sales process and sales skills training workshop with Pathtech Pty Ltd. And surprise guest, Australian Gold Medalist Kerri Pottharst showed up! Thank you Ashley Goodman.

Last week, the new owner of our office building (so glad to NOT be working from home) put our logo on the glass door out front (see the photo attached). It looks great, although they changed the logo color for the name “Flannery” from blue to purple. I like it. A lot.

It reminds me that many things are simply not the same right now. It’s strange, and I am grateful for the opportunity for perspective in this environment.

We just conducted another virtual Sales Process Workshop through Zoom for a new customer in Australia , and it went very well by their account. Their participants were engaged, the exercises were given full attention, and they will get results from their efforts. It’s not the same as face-to-face, but it works. I’m grateful for the technology.

In the absence of being able to travel, we welcomed the new customer in cyberspace and built rapport as best we could. I miss travel badly, as it is part of the grand adventure of creating relationships in customer organizations and helping people improve. And for my personal growth, travel allowed me to be readily seeing new places, people and things. For now, it will have to be virtual, across the screen in various global time zones; I’m grateful for our customers’ willingness to embrace the experience.

Sitting atop the door in the picture is the prominent COVID 19 warning sign, the ones you are seeing all over the place to remind us to take all precautions we can to stay safe. And most of us do take those precautions—remarkably, some still do not. Selfish. We live and work in a beautiful part of the country where much of life happens outdoors, providing opportunities for gratitude all around us.

If I get stuck in the trap of comparing the ways things were “before” to the way they are now, my learning stops and my ability to grow is limited. By embracing the shift, and seeing what’s possible with the human spirit, gratitude floats.

*Article title inspired by John Lennon’s song “Nobody Told Me”. Have a listen here.

This guest article was written by Chris Bullick. Chris is a Principal Consultant who is the Creator of the Sales Diagnostic Questionnaire (“SDQ”), he provides analysis and strategy for go to market strategies, corporate messaging, pipeline metrics, relationship building and winning presentations.

I was speaking with a wildly successful colleague recently and she relayed the story of her latest accomplishment.  The company she was selling to was not necessarily in buying mode.  They reached out to a few vendors to conduct general capabilities presentations.  She had never met the buyer.

My friend’s presentation blew the doors off the buyer.  The buyer immediately put the wheels in motion to contract with my friend’s company to provide services to his and they never talked price until the actual closing. 

When I asked my friend what did the trick, she said her team prepared as if it was biggest and most important finalist presentation they had ever participated in.  

Best Practice: Treat every meeting like a finalist presentation.  Learn how to prepare for the big day.

She brought the team who would service the account, the potential account manager, a regional executive and a video from her company’s CEO imbedded into her PowerPoint that was customized for the prospect.  She noted that her biggest competitor was presenting right after her.  They sent one person and she learned later that their presentation was a generic one-page marketing piece. 

Best Practice:  Bring the team.  It’s great practice for those who are not in front of customers every day.  If you don’t win, you still may be setting the table for the future with that prospect.  Learn how to get your whole team comfortable presenting. 

Imagine that!  Allocating resources full bore on a deal with a low probability of success.  Do other organizations do that?  The answer is not many.   A lot of organizations handicap themselves out of deals.  They look in their CRM and see that they have tried to sell to that buyer in the past without success.  They think the buyer is just kicking tires or leveraging them on price.  Another great excuse is they haven’t met the buyer yet.  They place a low percentage of winning in the CRM. 

The organizations that handicap themselves will not allocate resources on a low percentage deal.   They will tell their sales people not to spend so much time on a deal like that, don’t burden marketing, don’t take anyone important and use generic marketing materials.  In doing so, they take the passion, urgency, energy and enthusiasm out of the deal.   They have set themselves up to fail. 

Best Practice: Don’t skimp on preparation and resources. Learn how to prepare the right way and bring the right resources to every meeting.  

Winning companies tell their sales people to jump in with both feet.  It’s alright to drop everything, muster your resources, and prepare with a mindset that you are winning the business right then and there.  When you present with conviction and purpose it reveals your company’s attention to detail, planning and execution.