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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 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? 

As humans, we tend to want to swoop in and fix things, often starting with the things that are most broken and most in need of repair. As sales managers, we pride ourselves on being fixers and judge ourselves on our ability to effectively coach our teams and give them the resources they need to be successful.  

But, just as not all salespeople are created equal (see Bottom Third Sales Coaching) nor are the opportunities they put in the pipeline. In both cases, though our tendency may be to start with the team members and opportunities that are most in need, this impulse is often detrimental to our overall success. Just as with the bottom third of our sales reps, the bottom third of our opportunities will rarely move the needle regardless of how much time or energy we put into them. Often these are opportunities that have not been well qualified and are not well suited to our product or service capabilities. Additionally, despite equal or greater time investment, they may not have the revenue potential that some of the other opportunities have. 

So, what’s the answer? As difficult as it can be, the answer is to put less time into your bottom third. Instead, focus your time on B and C opportunities. Why not your A opportunities? Because your top 10% of opportunities are so well qualified and such a good fit, that they’ll likely close with little to no involvement from you. So, spend your time on the B and C opportunities, helping your reps understand how your product or service will help their prospects increase revenue, decrease costs or mitigate risks. Spend time thoroughly qualifying these ones up front so they have a higher likelihood to close.  

Neglecting the bottom third of your opportunities is not shirking your sales managerial responsibilities; in fact, reallocating your time to focus on the 60% of your core B and C opportunities will be the best way to support your sales reps going forward by helping them move the needle. 

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.   

Virtually all the experts would agree that the following mistakes are commonplace when salespeople start to negotiate.  Awareness of these challenges may improve your ability to negotiate considerably.

  • Getting emotionally involved.  This one tops the list because, above all, your attitude toward something determines your success.  If you appear needy, conveying the message to your prospect that you’ll do almost anything to get the business, your prospect will sense this weakness and exploit it.  Avoid statements like, “We’d really like to get this done,” “I need this to make my quota this month,” and “What do we need to do to get you to buy from us?”
  • Making unilateral concessions.  A unilateral concession is agreeing to a prospect’s request too quickly, and without asking for something of equal or greater value in return.  For example, your prospect asks you to lower your price by 5%. Your response is, “Sure, we can do that.”  Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes and reflect on what message your response sent. First, he or she is undoubtedly thinking that since you agreed so easily, he or she should have asked for more. Second, he or she knows that since you dropped your prices so easily, you’ve probably overpriced the product or service. This creates doubt about the overall quality of what you’re selling. Finally, you’ve demonstrated your inexperience as a negotiator, opening yourself for more abuse as the negotiation goes on.
  • Not understanding the prospect’s pain and alternatives.  This is your “ace in the hole” and without it, you are defenseless. As we’ve previously mentioned in this book, most salespeople qualify poorly, betting on their powers of persuasion, features, and benefits, and charming personalities to get the job done. That doesn’t work. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to stand your ground if you don’t know what the prospect’s business objectives are, and the downside if the problem is not fixed. Therefore, you must uncover how severe their pain is, how it impacts both the company and the individual you’re negotiating with, and what happens if the problem doesn’t get resolved through negotiations. 
  • Talking too much.  When you are monopolizing the conversation it’s impossible to “read” your customer or learn what their specific needs are. You’re giving information, not receiving it. Falling into this trap is a sure way to lose. 
  • Not understanding your objectives and value items.  Failure to have worked out, in advance, your list of primary (best case) and secondary (fall back) objectives will create confusion and indecision for you. If you don’t, you’ll just end up winging it, which is a surefire road to disaster.

Want to read more about negotiating? Try our earlier blog posts 5 Ways to Turn the Tide When Negotiating and The Art of Making Concessions.

Your sales team is one of the greatest assets your company has. A late businessman, William Clement Stone, once said, “Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman, not the attitude of the prospect.”  But how do you maintain your company’s strong standing and keep the company moving forward? One way is to turn simple habits into effective sales strategies.

Here are some great practices to help maximize your sales performance:

  1. Analyze Your Success – Don’t wait for the metrics and stats given to you by your manager to track your progress. Analyze each sale and failure to see how you can improve for the next time. Not only will this help you for future sales, but will also show your manager how on top of your work you are. It’s a win-win.
  • Encourage Your Prospects to Engage Before the end of a Meeting – Many sales people wait until the end of a meeting to allot time for questions and comments. Why wait until the end? Tell your prospect at the beginning of the meeting to ask questions or explain their concerns when one arises. This small change can increase your closing ratios significantly.
  • Never Skip a Follow-up Opportunity – Most sales don’t close on the first contact, maybe not even on the second. It can take multiple touches to get your potential clients to trust you and your product. Do not hesitate to follow up. These opportunities just may be your actual sale.
  • Know What You Want – Have a purpose before starting your sales. What goal do you want to achieve? The best sales people know what they want before starting so they know how to manage their buyers and every action they make gets them closer to success.
  • Celebrate – Celebrate after each sale. This is a habit that can be done with the rest of your team. Hang up a bell that you can ring each time you close a deal or find something else to let others know you’ve helped the company get one step closer to your goal. Celebrating is a great way to boost morale.

As a sales rep, you are a key player in your business. Focus on building simple habits that reinforce key selling behaviors and, when implemented, help create effective sales strategies. Are there other habits your sales team uses to maximize performance? We’d love to hear them!

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: 

  1. 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.

By one definition, process is “a series of steps with input and output.” Whether you are aware of it or not, process impacts our lives from the moment we are born. My kids go through a process to get out the door to school every morning. The orange juice they drank also went through a process to get to the table. Their teachers go through the process to advance their learning over a year’s time. All these processes are designed to get a predictable outcome.

In business, a well-defined sales process can lead to year in, year out predictable revenue. Wall Street rewards public companies based on their ability to annually predict their earnings. Some miss wildly and some are spot on. How can this be achieved? Look to the sales process, the organizational engine that generates the revenue. Here are few ways that sales process can help to generate revenue more effectively:

1. Use objective criteria – once defined, a sales process provides objective criteria and the framework to make decisions. Say a sales group is underperforming. What numbers or facts are available through sales process to pinpoint the problem? From the pipeline or opportunity review standpoint, there are specific data points you can rely on for analysis. Is it in the types of clients you are calling on? Are your sellers getting stuck in prolonged evaluations that never yield a decision? Or is it in the close ratio? It may not matter where the problem is, what really matters is that you are able to look at each problem objectively with certain criteria and then correct the course.

2. Allocate human and technological resources – How much should we spend to hire and train people? Or how much should be invested in CRM or other sophisticated software tailored to my business? As you pinpoint where bottlenecks exist, the lens you look through will help to determine if people or technology is needed to help improve. On the front end of the process, many solid lead generation services exist to help identify qualified opportunities. It’s my experience that the challenges towards the end of the selling process come in the form of the skills of the seller, or ability to effectively negotiate and close.

3. Increase visibility into new areas for growth – This may be viewed as an ethereal, strategic choice based on gut feel and economic trends, but hard data is needed for this process as well. Sales process delivers the hard data on what types of customers are attracted to your product, and why they are attracted. If this data not captured in a consistent way, then the top management loses connectivity and an ability to analyze trends with proper perspective.

Agree or not, process is King. I have this discussion with sales professionals from all industries . We learn how each person implements process in their industry, what’s working and what’s not. Broaden your understanding, challenge your thinking and, hopefully, define or refine your sales process. Tonight at home, however, I’ll be taking my queues from the process Queen. When the process Queen is happy we are all happy. It’s also my home recipe for predictable success.

Flannery Sales Systems (www.drive-revenue.com) helps organizations define or refine and implement a repeatable sales process. Increasing revenue through sales process is the ultimate goal. Flannery Sales Systems works with a broad cross section of industries and we are confident we can enhance your results.

Many sales managers think they are good at managing sales people because they excel at selling. Because they are good at it (or so the logic goes), they can just manage their reps by example. They go on sales calls with them and show them how…. “Just do what I do.   

After all, Einstein says, “Example isn’t another way to teach, it’s the only way to teach.”    

Sorry Einstein.  According to a recent study, nearly 90% of organizations train their sales managers to improve their coaching skills.  Progressive organizations recognize that teaching frontline managers how to deliver personalized training targeted specifically at sales rep skill deficiencies has a greater impact on overall sales performance than an investment in training the sales reps alone. 

Unfortunately, training and coaching are activities that can get pushed aside as managers revert to where they’re most comfortable: the selling expertise that got them promoted to their leadership position in the first place. They’re good at solving problems and closing deals for reps, but in successful organizations, there is a clear link between effective sales coaching and sales performance.  Being a sales skills development coach may not be in a sales manager’s job description, but it certainly come with the title. 

Recently, we worked with an organization whose new sales rep team was being managed by their superstar-salesman-first-line-sales-manager we’ll call Ken.   With his compensation tied to his team’s revenue numbers, it was understandable that Ken wanted to “make it happen.”  He was involved in every account, micromanaging the reps, asking for updates every other day, solving problems, and often eventually stepping in to “save the sale” as the quarter end approached.    

It was exhausting yet rewarding for Ken, and although the compensation was good for all of them, the reps on his team felt unappreciated, unmotivated, unfulfilled and ultimately, unable to continue working under such conditions. The turnover was high and the organization was not producing skilled reps who could achieve their revenue growth through their own efforts. 

This organization hired us. Our first priority was to teach their first line managers how to coach their direct reports on sales skills.  We helped them link their sales process to practical, teachable, selling skills, setting up a structure for skills coaching based on individual sales reps’ needs.  

The change came slowly but steadily. Because the managers were trained around conversations on current account strategies and within the parameters of their busy schedules, they developed the “muscle memory” of new coaching skills through practice with their teams. And the results followed, with an 11% increase in revenue from existing customersa noticeable increase in the new opportunity pipeline, and a happier, more productive team. Now that’s what we call a win-win…..win! 

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Over the past few years, the majority of the work that we have done with customers is on defining (or refining) their sales process. This was necessitated by the dramatic changes exhibited in buying behavior during the economic downturn. And indeed, the most important aspect of our customer’s sales processes is that it mirrors how their customers buy from them.  During conversations in both a formal and informal settings, we are asked “how many steps should there be in the sales process?”  If we knew that exact answer for each of our customers, we would be retired and they would have Instagram-like success!

So instead of trying to pinpoint the exact number of steps in a sales process, here are the must have, Top Three milestones that each team/seller must have in place to assure success. Please note that very few of our B to B customers have only 3 milestones (or stages), but when pushed to the wall, here are the 3 you can’t live (or sell) without:

1-     Access to the Key Players (Decision Maker): there is nothing new to the notion that you must get access to all of the key players, but the budget scrutiny that many organizations have placed on all expenditures since 2008 has made this step even more difficult. A clear articulation on how all important titles would benefit from the usage of your product/service is a mandatory requirement for completing this stage.

2-     Clear Understanding of Value: once you have the access as described in #1, can the individuals understand the value that your offering provides. Without this, you will be dancing in the dark when it comes time to go into the evaluation phase.

3-     An Approved Implementation Plan: approved as you co-develop the opportunity with your customer/prospect, not after the deal is signed. This sole step can help you to determine your “pole position” deep into opportunity development, and the seriousness of the participant’s gauges how “sticky” your solution will be thereafter.

One of our customers in the Medical Device industry was struggling to get into conversations with the key players in their existing customer base on a new offering they had obtained through an acquisition. The offering was an existing diagnostic test with a new enhanced feature.  The challenge was that the enhanced feature  provided a benefit that had never been completely commercialized. We sat down with a cross functional team from their organization and built a pro-forma model of what impact the solution had on the existing practices in the testing environment, and who would benefit from this.  They went searching for data to substantiate their assertions of what value this add-on widget could provide.  They found a reputable research company that had done a study that provided the information they were looking for.  We were able to help build a dollar value and a testing value into a pro-forma model (Benefit Summary). The Benefit Summary provided all involved with a complete understanding of the value of their new enhanced feature.

Next, we helped them to create a prototype of an Implementation Plan that correlated with how they could roll this out to their customers. Once completed, the sales process plan was delivered and executed with their main customers.  As a result, they have successfully sold an additional 12% in total revenue on this product alone in an $80 million dollar division.

What are you or your organization waiting for to drive more revenue? Let us help you to define (or refine) these steps and start picking up incremental revenue now!