Two Great Sales Lessons From the Film Free Solo

A few weeks ago I was flying across the country, and was able to watch the Oscar-winning film Free Solo. Watching it in an IMAX theater would have been a lot cooler than on a four by four screen on a Delta airplane, but I enjoyed the movie nonetheless. There were two awesome sales lessons hidden in the film, and in no particular order, I'll share them here.

The whole movie is centered around Alex Honnold and his desire to “free solo”, or climb without ropes, El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. El Capitan is probably the most famous rock wall in the world, and it had never been free soloed. The thought of free soloing El Cap is truly insane. It's a monumental accomplishment. After he climbed it, somebody on the film crew asked him, "Well, what are you going to go do next?" And he just said, "Well, I'll probably go do some hang boarding." He'd been working toward this goal for years and years, thinking about it, staging it, doing similar climbs, trying to prepare for it mentally, overcoshutterstock_280705463ming all of the fears and doubts that he had, and then after this pinnacle achievement what does he go do? He goes back to fundamentals. The sales lesson here is you can win the big deal, you can close the big sale, you can get the biggest sale in company history and just be humble and go back to the fundamentals. 

The best time to make a cold call is immediately after closing the big deal.  Go make some cold calls. Go practice your next pitch. Go think about other questions you can ask. Let that momentum of a big goal accomplished be a slingshot to carry you toward your next goal rather than an opportunity to rest on your laurels. Don't rest on your laurels!  Accomplish something and then think, what can I do next? Go back to the fundamentals.

As Honnold was going through his prep work to do that ascent of El Cap, he went through and rehearsed key sections. There were four or five critical sections that he wanted to dial in on and really practice every single move he was going to make. He did this with a rope so that when he was without a rope, when it was showtime so to speak, the muscle memory would kick in and he would be able to climb without hesitation. There was one particular stretch called 'the boulder problem' where he had two options: He could either leap from one tenuous ledge and grab onto another more substantial ledge, but he'd be totally out of contact with the wall, or he could do what he calls the karate kick, which is a little bit more complicated, but he would stay in contact with the wall. He went back and forth between these two moves, really thought it through and decided to do the karate kick.

The lesson we can take learn here from a sales perspective is how much time is your sales team using to prepare for a phone call, meeting, sales pitch, etc.? Are they really thinking through every option, looking at it from every angle, and thinking through who's going to be in the room? Who's going to be on that call? What are their primary objectives? What are their concerns about our product or service? You have to go in the sales call, just like Honnold had to go on the climb, prepared and able to react well in the moment.

There's probably no better example of being in the moment than when Honnold is free soloing, but that relentless preparation and rehearsal made it possible for him to just glide through the climb without hesitation. So, a few valuable lessons from Alex Honnold's successful free solo of El Capitan are: Don't rest on your laurels, and relentless preparation will help your team perform well when the moment comes.

As a sales leader, how are you enabling your sales team to 'free solo' on their cold calls or in the field? Are you tracking whether your top performers are resting on their laurels after a big win, or if they're using that momentum to exceed their targets? Next Tuesday, June 25th we're going to have a live Webinar on Sales Enablement Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. To join us in conversation on Sales Enablement best practices, click HERE TO REGISTER. 

Leveraging Sales Enablement Practices that Drive Performance

How much focus do your sales managers put on conversation speed and tonality when they coach their salespeople? At Intelligent Conversations, we use a powerful analytical tool called Refract that looks at conversation speed and tonality, among dozens of other factors which play into your team's sales performance. If you'd like to learn more about sales enablement best practices, please join me on Tuesday, June 25th at 1pm CST for a free live "Sales Enablement Mistakes - And how to Avoid Them!" webinar, sponsored by Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. All registrants will be invited to submit a brief recording of one of their top sales performers in action, and receive a FREE call analysis.

Even without a tool, a good place to start is to have your sales managers listen to live calls or recordings of calls. It's common for salespeople to ask and answer their own questions before the prospect has an opportunity to engage. You can coach them to slow down and to be comfortable with a pause.  Even though your salespeople have had this conversation 500 times before, they should remember it's the first time for the prospect..

Blog Photo1The next time you meet with a sales leader, ask them to pay attention to this when they coach their team.  Whether they're making cold calls, following up on an inbound lead, or even in a face-to-face meeting, a good mindset to teach salespeople is go “low and slow.” As salespeople get nervous or grow uncomfortable, they tend to speak faster and at a higher pitch. When they slow down and talk with a lower pitch, they sound more authoritative and confident.

The pace of their speech should depend on your market and where they are calling.  For example, if you're in New York City, and calling on prospects in the Northeast, a faster pace is appropriate.  If your New York sales rep calls a prospect in Birmingham, Alabama they should slow down.  In other words, let the market dictate the pace of your conversation. The ideal pace - across any region - should be somewhere between 100 and 150 words per minute. Speaking slower than that may indicate a lack of confidence and any faster than that may come across as nervous or difficult to understand. 

Where they are in the sales cycle can also affect speed and tone. As your salespeople hit crucial moments in the conversation, coach them to allow a little space before asking, "Would you like our help?" or "Would you like to move forward?" A simple pause before a question like that can make the prospect more comfortable and facilitate a smoother communication. Be comfortable with the pause, and don’t say anything until they've had an opportunity to consider and respond.

Even early on in a cold call situation, give your prospect time to absorb the fact that they're receiving a phone call. Too many salespeople introduce their name and company, and immediately launch into their pitch. It's better to just say their first and last name, then let the prospect respond. 

We hope you'll join us on Tuesday, June 25th at 1pm CST to do a deeper dive into all things 'Sales Enablement'! Register for free, HERE!

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How to Retain High Performing Sales People

Top Performing Sales People, sales coaching, sales management, high performer, Intelligent Conversations, Mike CarrollOver the years you may have noticed a difficulty in keeping your highest performing sales people on your team. You may have asked yourself, "What do I need to do to make sure I can keep my top performers engaged?" The most important thing you can do as a sales manager is take the time to understand what's important to each person on your team. What are their personal goals? How can you help them see your company as the vehicle through which they can achieve their personal goals?

It is important to take the time to understand what's important to each sales person on a personal level, not just their business goals. Business goals will happen along the way but understanding what's important to them first is key. Do they want to spend more time with their family? Do they want to save for retirement? When you as a manager take time to understand each individual employee’s personal goals, you can then go the extra step of translating that to, "Here's what you need to do as a sales person to achieve that goal."

For example, years ago we had a high performing sales client who was a young, single mother and frustrated that she couldn't save enough money to buy a house. Even though she was making a lot of money as a high performing sales person, she couldn't organize a budget to purchase a home. Her sales manager sat down with her and said, "What neighborhoods are you interested in? Here is what you need for a down payment. Here's what the mortgage would look like." Once they had mapped it out, they found that she could have a down payment in six months if she increased her sales by 10 to 15 percent. Because of connecting that personal goal to business performance, her sales manager was able to hold her accountable and she ended up having the down payment ready in three months.

The single most important thing you can do to retain your employees is to take the extra time and understand what's important to them. Understand their personal goals, and then map their personal goals back to their business activities. When employees see your company as the means through which they can achieve their personal goals, they're not only going to be more motivated and loyal, it also becomes easier for your managers to hold them accountable. In terms of keeping your high performing sales people, that’s the number one thing you can do for them and your company.

Building a Culture of Sales Accountability

shutterstock_401612041.jpgWhen we talk with CEOs about sales accountability at their companies, we usually hear stories about sales quotas, activities monitored, and how the sales team is either performing or falling short.  We rarely hear about how their sales managers actually use the data they track during coaching conversations with individual team members.  And we almost never hear about how those conversations change when a salesperson struggles week after week, month after month, and quarter after quarter.  Or in some cases, year after year.

Here are some questions for you to think about as you consider whether or not you have a culture of sales accountability at your company:

  • How do conversations change when your sales managers are working with a low performer?
  • Do your sales managers increase or decrease the coaching frequency with a low performer?
  • Do they drill down beyond the numbers to the root cause? Are they capable of coaching to that cause?  For example, does the conversation shift from “you’re not getting enough appointments….” to “let’s look at who you’re targeting and practice how to engage them more effectively.”
  • How are you, as CEO, monitoring the time your sales managers spend with high performers versus low performers? Do high performers get more attention than sales people who struggle?
  • How are you, as CEO, monitoring the quality of their coaching conversations and reviewing what they are discussing?

Here’s the hard truth.  It's easy to coach when salespeople are performing. It becomes much harder when salespeople are struggling.

  • Why? Because sales managers are prone to give second chances (and 3rd, 4th, and 5th chances) for a struggling salesperson to improve.
  • Why? There are several reasons but the biggest issue – and the issue that gets the least attention in my opinion – is because most sales managers aren't very good at hiring new salespeople.  In fact, they really suck at it. 

Frankly, it’s easier to keep giving struggling salespeople another chance than to go through the hassle of finding, interviewing, and onboarding a new salesperson.  So instead of working through the tough coaching conversations required to improve performance, it’s easier to just tolerate mediocre results and offer encouragement. Sales managers rationalize this with phrases like, "Well, they'll get better as soon as they get past this trade show" or "If they can just close this large deal, their pipeline's right back on track." It's more of a hope than an actual reality.

What can you do if your salespeople aren’t performing? We recommend implementing a system for coaching and accountability.  But that is only part of the picture.  We also recommend implementing an effective sales hiring system that allows sales managers to build a virtual bench of high performing salespeople.

Do your sales managers have a system that allows them to maintain a constant search for high performing salespeople while investing minimal time and effort in the process?  What would they do differently if they had a constant flow of high performing sales candidates coming to them that they can screen efficiently?  How would this change the dynamic of their coaching conversations with lower performing sales people? Would it give them the freedom to comfortably move on from a struggling salesperson who's not accepting coaching and is not committed to improving their performance?  What would your revenue look like next year if you had these types of systems in place?

10 Activities Sales Managers Should Focus On

When I talk with CEOs, I often hear them complaining about how their sales managers are always busy, but not productive. When I dig a little deeper, I usually find this is an issue around how sales managers define their priorities and where they focus their time. Often times, sales managers miscalculate which activities need the most attention, and waste their valuable time doing nonproductive things.

In this article I will concentrate on a list of 10 activities that sales managers should focus on. In your company you may have more than 10, but let’s use this as a starting point:  

  1. Coaching Salespeople: This should account for about 50% of sales managers time. They should focus on 3 types of coaching conversations – administrative, strategic and situational. In a 40-hour work week, about 20 hours of their time should be spent directly coaching their salespeople in a structured, organized fashion. This almost never happens in companies before we start working with them and helping managers learn how to coach.
  2. Motivating Salespeople: Motivating sales people should be around 10% of their time. Your sales managers need to learn what motivates each individual salesperson. It seems obvious, but few managers understand that not everyone is motivated the same way. For example, do your sales mangers know who on their team is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated? Do they understand that an intrinsically motivated person is going to get more motivation from a quiet, “atta-boy” in the hallway after the sales meeting? On the other hand, an extrinsically motivated person is going to thrive on public praise and wants attention during the sales meeting.
  3. Measuring Performance/ Accountability: This should be about 15% of their time. Holding people accountable is really about setting clear, key performance indicators. What are your sales managers measuring, and how are they holding their team to these standards? Best practices for this are to have a handful of leading indicators - number of appointments, quality of appointments, activity, how many calls are they making per week. Also, be sure to have lagging indicators - Are we closing business when we say we will? Are we holding our margin? Are we tracking to our revenue plan? And most importantly, how do the conversations between managers and salespeople change when they are falling behind?   
  4. Recruiting: Recruiting should be about 5% of their time. We believe sales managers should be recruiting all the time, but that doesn’t mean it needs to take up a lot of their time. Part of creating a culture of accountability is being ready to let go of low performers, and the only way you can do that effectively is if you're constantly recruiting and building your virtual bench. We believe a busy, productive sales manager should spend about 5% of their time maintaining your virtual bench and doing some sort of recruiting activity. Obviously, that might spike up in certain periods if you're opening more positions.
  5. Crisis Management: About 5% of their time should be budgeted for this. This really refers to handling client crises and other situations that may come up. The key here is to make sure it doesn’t consume all of a sales manager’s time. If that’s the case, there may be a bigger problem in your sales process.
  6. Internal Company Issues: About 5% of sales manager’s time should be used for internal company issues. When dealing company issues such as new policies or sitting on a marketing committee, really guard your sales manager's time. Ask yourself before you invite them, do we really need their input or can we move the ball forward without it and then review it with them later?
  7. Planning/Managing Compensation: This should really be 1% of their time. It shouldn't be a big issue. It's something you're typically looking at annually. Again, that goes back to understanding how your team's motivated, are they more intrinsic or extrinsic? Most sales people are going to get more motivation from a higher-based salary and the opportunity for unlimited upside potential. Make sure your comp plan aligns with that.
  8. Organization/Reorganization: Organizing and reorganizing, again is more of a periodic activity, and should maybe be 1% of their time. Again, make sure you guard your sales manager’s time. We’ve seen situations where managers are consumed by a constant shuffling of territories, people, and strategies.
  9. Business/Product Strategy: Limit business and product strategy to maybe 3% of their time. One of the advantages that sales people bring to product managers is their real time feedback from the market. As this is helpful information, sales managers often get sucked in too deep with this that it consumes their time.
  10. Direct Selling: We think 5% of manager’s time should be allocated to directly selling to the market. We believe every sales manager should have a book of business. That's the only way they're going to stay sharp. That's the only way they're going to stay current. They still need to have some clients and directly sell.

You may have other activities that you want your sales managers to focus on, but this list provides a good starting point. When is the last time you focused on where your sales managers are investing their time? How confident are you that they are spending their time in the right areas? Are they getting a good return on their time and if not, what needs to change?

Also, if you don’t have sales managers, and you’re the sales manager by default, which of these activities are you not getting to? My guess would be; you're probably not spending as much time coaching your sales people as you need to. If that's the case, we need to talk, so contact me and we can tell you more about our accountability coaching program.

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What Should CEOs Worry About When Hiring a New Sales Manager?


In last week’s post we talked about growing your company to the point where it makes sense to hire a sales manager and we discussed some of the common pitfalls  that companies experience when they promote one of their sales people to become a sales manager. Today we want to focus on some of the pros and cons of bringing in an experienced sales manager from the outside.

Whichever approach you take to recruiting this new sales manager, we strongly recommend using a predictive pre-employment assessment to really measure what their strengths and weaknesses as a sales leader might be and whether or not they match your environment. These assessments also help you interview better, so you really know whether a sales management candidate will be a good fit and how to approach the interview. Assuming you find a good candidate pool after these assessments, as a CEO you need to explore and focus on their experiences when it comes to the following:

  1. Growing the Team: How strong are they at growing a sales organization? Ask them for examples of past experiences where they took an organization from X sales people to Y sales people (whatever is relevant to your situation). Not only did they grow the team in terms of number of sales people, but how did theyshutterstock_105224906-1.jpg grow each sales person individually to make them more effective and productive?

  2. Coaching Style: How much time do they spend coaching their sales people? What does coaching mean to them? Many sales manager spend all their time having coaching conversations where all they do is review the pipeline. To me, it's about situational coaching  and the ability to model the correct behavior through effective role play. Really press them on their coaching experience because that's going to lead to growing the team (see above).

  3. Motivation: What's their approach to motivation? How important is it to them to understand the individual goals of each sales person? How do they get to know what makes each sales person on their team tick? How do they adjust their management style and communication methods to match each salesperson?

  4. Accountability: How do they hold people accountable? What does accountability mean to them? What are some of the key performance indicators that they monitor to hold people accountable? Ask them for examples of leading and lagging indicators. Ask them for examples of forecast accuracy and date integrity (i.e. things close when they project they will close).

  5. Systems and Processes: Ask them about their experience building systems and process. If you're a scaling company and you're at the point now where you need to invest in a sales management function, how much better is it to bring in someone who's done it before? What CRM tools have they used in the past? What inbound marketing and lead generation tools do they recommend? Have they developed and implemented a sales playbook? Look for examples of success.

  6. Recruiting: Lastly, as you continue to scale, one of the core competencies that your manager is going to need is the ability to effectively recruit and onboard new salespeople. This ties back to accountability. Part of accountability is not holding onto mediocre salespeople. We can't really hold them accountable unless we have a strong pipeline of sales candidates, so what's their recruiting philosophy? Are they always recruiting? Do they only recruit in a reactive, as-needed basis? How are they recruiting and what's their approach?

Twice a year we offer a comprehensive, live interactive 12-week online training program that brings our STAR hiring system alive. This training teaches hiring managers how to effectively attract, select, and onboard strong salespeople and sales leaders. If you’re interested, please respond to me directly.

Are Your Sales Managers Having the Right Coaching Conversations?

Most sales managers believe they’re already having coaching conversations, but when we dig a little deeper it’s easy to learn that what they consider a “coaching conversation” usually is more focused on updates and administrative tasks than development and growth. The conversations we observe from sales managers tend to fall into three categories: 

  • Administrative – reviewing the sales forecast, discussing key performance indicators, checking progress against the plan for the month/quarter/year, updating the forecast, reviewing progress against a specific marketing initiative, discussing the territory plan, making plans for an upcoming trade show, reviewing expense reports or mileage, etc.  Typically, this should be about 10% of a coaching conversation – or six minutes during an hour long meeting.  It should be a quick discussion to review and confirm information that is already available somewhere else (in the CRM, reviewing calendars, etc.).  Too often we see sales managers focusing 95% of their conversation on these types of administrative topics.  Certainly you can fill a 60-minute coaching conversation going over these items, but is that the best use of time for two valuable team members?
  • Strategic – identifying new markets to pursue, updating a “top target” list, sharing market intelligence, reviewing pricing strategies, exploring different ways to solve a problem, planning a negotiating strategy, reviewing market coverage statistics, etc.  Typically, this should be about 10% of the coaching time, but not every week.  These are the types of conversations that should occur once a month or once per quarter where you may devote most of a meeting to a strategic topic.  Most sales managers who are focusing 95% of their time on administrative topics will balance the rest of the call with this type of discussion.  We’ve observed some managers who love “being strategic” and spend an inordinate amount of time developing “new strategies” to take sales to the next level.  But they never stick with anything long enough to execute these strategies and top sales professionals grow tired of the ever-changing directions and simply leave to find a job where they can do what they love to do – sell.
  • Situational Coaching – this is where the rubber hits the road.  In our opinion, 80% of a sales manager’s coaching conversation should be focused on what we call situational coaching.  This is where learning can occur.  What is it?  It is taking the time to review a recent call or make plans for an upcoming call and really diagnosing what happened or what needs to happen. 
    • Looking back at a past call, it’s about reviewing what happened, what could have happened differently, as well as how and why the sales person got to where they ended up.  Did they miss an opportunity to ask a question?  Why?  Were they distracted and not listening?  Why?  Did they gather the information they needed?  Why not?  Did they build a stronger relationship?  How?  What could they have done better?  Why didn’t they?  And so on.  A call review should look at both the underlying issue and the outcome.
    • When looking ahead it’s about talking through all the “what if” scenarios.  If a sales manager has been doing a good job reviewing past calls, they probably know what patterns to look for and can help the sales person think through how to avoid past pitfalls.  The best managers will role play the scenario, first demonstrating the right behavior (here’s how to position it, here’s how to ask this question, here’s how to keep them comfortable with you as you ask tough questions, etc.) then it’s about testing the sales person by having them role play.  Share feedback and observations, offer helpful tips, etc.

Here is a chart of the conversations we often see sales managers having during coaching conversations. How many of your sales managers are in the far right column? 

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For another good article on Sales Management check out Dave Kurlan's post from today, if for no other reason than the great title: Why So Many Sales Managers are So Bad 

Questions Your Sales Leaders Should Ask Halfway Through the Year

Yesterday marked the end of June, which means if your company runs on a calendar year you've hit your mid-year point.  Two quarters down, two quarters to go.  It also means that, based on the results produced thus far, some of your sales people are strutting around with a huge ego and others are slinking about with their shoulders slumped forward and their eyes on the ground.  And the reality is, both may be wrong!  Here are some questions your sales leaders should ask to make sure each sales person on their team has the right focus and attitude midway through the year.

For Sales People on Plan or Ahead of Plan

  1. Are they bringing in the right kind of revenue?  With the right customers?  Consistent with your corporate strategy?
  2. Are their wins producing solid margins?  No discounting? 
  3. Were there any deals that should have closed Q414 that slipped into Q115?  Were there any unusual (i.e. once-in-a-lifetime, difficult to repeat, not likely to happen again soon) deals that are boosting their year-to-date numbers?
  4. Are they maintaining their activity levels?  Booking net new appointments every week?  Maintaining an active sales pipeline?  Moving opportunities from stage to state in a timely fashion?  Consistently asking for referrals?
  5. Do they remain open to coaching and feedback?  Are they still hungry to learn and get better?  Remember, small incremental improvements can make a huge impact with your top producing sales people.
  6. Will they keep their foot on the gas through the end of the year or are they likely to coast?  What will motivate them to keep driving at their current pace?

For Sales People Behind Plan

  1. How strong are their weekly activity levels?  How many net new appointments are they going on every week?  What problems are they finding to get invited into a new appointment?  What can they do to increase activity at the top of their sales funnel for the second half of the year?  What do they plan to do differently?
  2. Are they creating enough urgency for prospects to take action toward the next step in the sales process?  Are they slowing down during the discovery process to really understand the issues and situation (or are they rushing to get to the proposal/close too quickly)?
  3. What is in their pipeline that is closable?  What will it take to get the win and put some points on the board?  Is there anything they need from the company to support their efforts?
  4. Do they remain open to coaching and feedback?  Are they still confident?  How can they focus on their tonality and improving their questioning skills until they get back on track?
  5. Is there too much on their plate?  What non-sales activities can be removed or postponed so they can focus during prime selling hours?  Can you narrow their focus (temporarily reduce their territory, emphasize only one or two product lines, etc.)?
  6. Can they turn it around and save their year or have they already given up?  What will motivate them to pick up their efforts and finish strong?

 

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Whether you have sales people who are ahead of plan, behind plan or somewhere in the middle, remember that part of building an over-achieving sales team is having sales leaders ask the right questions so they know why their sales people are ahead (or behind).  Sometimes it’s possible to do everything right and lose the deal.  Other times you can do nearly everything wrong and win the business.  It is your sales leaders’ responsibility to make sure everyone on their team knows the difference and takes away right lessons from every opportunity (win or lose).

Consistent coaching (ideally weekly), weekly planning by every sales team member focusing on outcomes, defining 3-4 clear quarterly goals and staying focused on them, and continuing to learn and grow are a few of the keys to building an over-achieving sales team.  One more factor for building an over-achieving sales team?  Effective recruiting!  We’re halfway through 2015 and we are in a candidate-centric market, which means it can take 90-120 days to find a great sales person.  If your sales leaders have team members who may not make it to the end of the year, NOW is the time to begin recruiting.  Remember, a decision to recruit is not a decision to hire – why wait?  Want an unfair advantage?  Learn more here.

Are Your Sales Managers Acting Like Tony Soprano?

Paulie:  “Here you go Tony.  I know my envelope has been a little light these

past few weeks, so this one’s nice and thick.  I’ll keep doing better.”

Tony:  “Nice work, you’ve always been one of my best earners.”

Are your sales managers too focused on the numbers?  Do they feel pressure to deliver sales growth week after week, month after month, every quarter?  What impact is that having over the mid-to-long term?  How does this focus on the numbers impact coaching and development?  Do your sales managers give their team members room to fail/grow/learn?  Or is it all about how thick their envelope is?  

Of course you want your team focused on delivering sales results – but that’s only part of the picture.  That’s an outcome with all kinds of decisions and actions leading up to it.  Along the way your sales people need to: 

  • Decide if the customer is the right fit for your firm
  • Ask questions to discover the problems and challenges they have
  • Monetize the impact of those problems and challenges (both time and money)
  • Find out how long they have had these problems and challenges
  • Find out what else they’ve tried to address these problems and challenges
  • Get the prospective customer to agree that they have these problems and challenges and that they are significant enough to continue the conversation
  • Discover who else at the prospect’s company cares about these problems and challenges
  • Find out how they make decisions and bring on new vendors
  • Ask questions to understand the decision timeline
  • Ask questions to understand the competitive context (not just other potential proviaccountability2ders, but also other priorities in their organization, or worse, the decision to do nothing)
  • Find out if they have the money to invest in a potential solution
  • Find out if they are willing to make the case to get money if it’s not in the budget
  • Get the prospect to agree to make a timely decision upon receiving a proposal
  • Draft the proposal, considering all of the information previously discovered
  • Present the proposal
  • Ask for the business
  • Finalize the terms and conditions
  • On-board the client for a successful engagement or project
  • And then start all over on the next problem, issue or challenge

And of course current market conditions, competitive context, resource constraints within your company, strategic priorities, and any number of other important factors can impact each of these decisions and actions along the way.

If your sales managers are only focused on the bottom of the funnel (show me your envelope!) they’ll miss all the opportunities to coach and offer suggestions along the way.  It’s very difficult to drive change and impact long-term growth if you don’t know the activities leading to those results.  Everyone in your sales organization understands that ultimately they will be measured by the sales results they deliver.  That’s a given, so don’t obsess about it.  Instead, have your managers focus on the activities, decisions, actions, and behaviors that drive long-term success over time.  Your reward?  Consistent, sustainable, predictable growth.  Good selling.

Driving Growth through Goals-Based Coaching

How much do your managers know about the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of every member on their team?  How much do you know about the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the folks you lead?  Too soft?  Who cares?  You should – and here’s why. 

The job market has shifted dramatically in the past 6 months.  We are now in a candidate-centric job market, which means if you’re not engaging your team members and helping them connect the dots between what they do at work and why they’re working in the first place, you may soon find yourself scrambling to replace key team members.  sales_coaching

It doesn’t need to be complicated.  Make the decision to get started and then focus on making incremental progress.  Here are a few ideas to help you get started.

  1. Weekly Coaching Rhythm – our practice has traditionally focused on the coaching rhythm between sales managers and sales people (although that’s changing with the addition of our new partner and rock star Topgrading expert Jenny Rodriguez-Vargas), but establishing a weekly coaching rhythm is a best practice for nearly every department.  Most managers will fight this, saying they “talk with the team when needed” and that “they always have an open door.”  Don’t give them a pass.  They should continue the ad hoc, got-a-minute coaching they’re already doing - and they should also add a brief, 30-45 minute structured coaching conversation with every team member.  Ideally this would be every week, although circumstances may require a bi-weekly rhythm.  It can be face-to-face, on the phone, or Skype.
  2. Weekly Priorities – nearly everyone in your company is keeping some type of weekly “To Do” list.  And more often than not these lists focus on activities rather than results.  And many of the items listed get dragged from week to week with little actually being accomplished.  Change this to instead focus on the 6-8 “Big Accomplishments” a team member will prioritize.  Think outcomes and results, NOT activities.  For example, an outcome would be “have 3 CEO conversations by Friday” and an activity would be “make CEO calls.”
  3. Quarterly Progress Goals – most teams we work with have some high level goals defined.  For sales teams that might include revenue growth targets, account retention targets, net new account targets, additional sales targets to existing customers, etc.  More often than not these targets are established during an annual budget planning session, quickly forgotten, then measured at the end of the year.  What would happen if your managers broke these targets down to quarterly progress goals (i.e. where should we be by the end of March, June, etc.)?  What corrective actions could they take if team members were falling short?
  4. Personal Goals – when managers take time to learn the personal goals of their team members, it becomes much easier to engage and retain them.  When your team members see your company as the means through which they can reach their personal goals (rather than just a job) the conversations between your managers and their team members change dramatically.  People work for their reasons, not ours.  It sounds obvious but it’s easy to forget.  Nobody is going to push harder so you can increase EBITA by 2% year-over-year, but they’ll work their ass off when managers understand what they’re working for (more time with an aging parent, the ability to coach their son or daughter’s team, taking the vacation of their dream, saving for their child’s education, etc.).

While this may seem like a long list to begin with, as you start to utilize these each week it will become second nature.  We’ve recently built a custom platform, Intelligent Coaching System, which makes this easy.  This dashboard allows your sales people to track everything in an accessible format – and allows your sales people to keep their notes in one place (accessible by you).  For more information, send us an e-mail at info@intelligentconversations.com.