Goals-Based Coaching

GJAvXzIwDo your sales leaders keep it simple when it comes to setting goals for their team?  One of the common mistakes we see sales leaders make is burdening their team with too many goals or setting overly complex goals. Like many things, the manager's ability to simplify and help the team focus on two to three meaningful goals, rather than 10 or 15 goals, will have a major impact. These significant goals should be above and beyond what is expected of each salesperson in the normal course of business. Obviously, each sales team will have expectations in terms of pipeline volume (number of opportunities), pipeline movement (opportunities moving from stage to stage) to reach sales goals.  

On every sales team there are going to be expectations in terms of moving opportunities through the pipeline, documenting in the CRM, and certain activity levels that need to be hit. In this case, we’re focusing on goals above and beyond the regular order of business, without making them too complicated.

An example of a way to approach setting a goal may be mentioning to your team, "Hey, I noticed that the last couple of quarters you've been really focused on deals of this size. One of the things I'd like you to do is balance your pipeline by introducing opportunities of varying sizes." For example, some salespeople have nothing in their pipeline but small opportunities. That can be great, but you need to work quite hard to reach a big sales goal. That team member might benefit from their sales leader saying, "Hey, I'd like you to look at a few bigger targets as well. Keep doing what you're doing with the small deals, but let's get some medium and large deals in there as well." What you'll find is that your salesperson will have a better-balanced pipeline.

A good way to keep track of and measure your team’s goals is to meet once a week for coaching sessions and make adjustments or course corrections along the way. Lets say your sales person’s goal is five new opportunities per week, and since there’s 13 weeks in one quarter they’re really adding 65 opportunities over the course of the quarter if they stay on track. The reason you want to meet with them every week is because if in week one of 13 they only booked two new opportunities, that means they’re three in the hole right now. Their goal at the end of the quarter is still 65, so they're going to have to have a couple of weeks where they have to book six or seven to make up for that deficit.

A good formula to stick to is three business goals to one personal goal. It’s important to include one goal that's significant to the individual sales person such as a fitness goal, family goal, community service goal, diet goal, and the list goes on. When you include a personal goal, you’re investing in your team as people, not just coworkers. Your sales team will also be able to see your company as part of their path to completing personal goals on top of their business goals.

As you're doing your regular check in weekly, make sure you're asking them about their progress toward those personal goals. You'll find that over time everyone on your sales team will be a little more focused, execute a little more crisply, and good things will happen in and for your company.  

If you're looking for ways to raise your sales team's performance and drive remarkable revenue growth, please reach us at Intelligent Conversations!  Please take a moment to complete the form below and we will be in contact.  Thank you!

What Makes Your Sales Team Likable, Knowledgeable, and Memorable

Salespeople and sales leaders often ask us: "What can  I do to stand out?" This is particularly important when selling in a highly competitive market or facing strong resistance and fierce competition. There are a handful of things that salespeople can do to stand out from the competition to be a little bit more likable, demonstrate their knowledge and expertise, and most importantly, be memorable.

One of the things you can do to be a more likable salesperson is learn to be agreeable. Something as simple as smiling and nodding, even if you're disagreeing with the client, will make it hard for the client to wLa7SDhxgant to argue with you. Just listen to them as they're questioning your product or challenging you in some way. They're going to find it difficult to stay angry if you're open and seemingly agreeable.

Another thing you can do is simply ask questions. Find ways to genuinely appreciate them as a person, find things to compliment, give them strokes, and smile even in the face of challenging questions. 

Think about the energy you're bringing into the meeting or conversation with your client. Leave any negative calls, rejection, anything going on in your life that's going to hold you back at the door. Put that aside, and be enthusiastic. Your energy will influence your client’s feelings towards you and your company. Remember, sales is a transference of emotion, and you've got to get the prospect as excited and as passionate about your product or service as you are.

You need to understand how your product or service may impact your customer. The best way to appear knowledgeable isn't by showing up with stats and figures you've memorized from the technical manual of your product. It's about asking good, thought-provoking questions. If you can lead the prospect through a conversation they haven't had before,  shining a light into areas of their business where you can create value or efficiencies, you're going to come across as much more knowledgeable than the competitor. 

Don't be the salesperson who just shows up and starts talking. Make it about the prospect, and ask questions that make them say, "I'm not sure. I'd have to look into that. I've never really considered that." These are the things that make you memorable. You'll stand out from the competition, who just shows up and shows them a brochure, or walks through a PowerPoint deck.

If you're a sales leader looking to coach your sales team to differentiate themselves and sell more effectively in the field, or are a salesperson wondering what might give you an edge on the competition with your customers, please reach us at Intelligent Conversations!  We have several approaches to personal and professional development in these areas!

 

The Importance of Simplicity

 

 

As a CEO, one of the things you can coach your sales managers on is to really inspect the language choices their salespeople are making. Are they sounding like a brochure? Do they speak in terms of features and benefits? Do they spew facts and jargon without even realizing that they're doing it? One of the most impactful things your sales managers can do when coaching their salespeople to higher performancJwrVASdQe is being mindful of their language. There's a huge difference from a customer's point of view between knowing and understanding. Salespeople are naturally inclined to flex their knowledge and expertise. They throw three letter acronyms around to appear to have more authority, but in actuality, it undermines the opportunities they may have to build relationships and ultimately, sell.

It's much better to keep things simple when  you speak to a customer about your product or services to fit the customer's point of view. Putting it in simple terms requires a deeper understanding and a deeper level of expertise than just spewing out three letter acronyms and jargon terms. Asking your sales managers to really listen to the phrases used on sales calls, information shared in emails and proposals, and really challenging their salespeople to simplify and clarify rather than throw around formal language will have a huge impact on the quality of the sales conversations your company has and ultimately the revenue your salespeople generate.

Part of the simplification of language is dependent on the context of the sales interaction. There are times where your salespeople may be talking to a high-level executive who really doesn't want to get into the weeds of your product or service; they just want to know about the impact you can have on their company. There are other times where your salespeople might be talking to somebody who has a more technical perspective. Maybe they're in operations, or they're the person who will actually work with your product or service. They’ll most likely have a different set of questions, so being able to adapt is critical. Simplifying isn’t a one size fits all situation. Your salespeople have to be able to interpret who they're talking to, understand what's important to them, and make their language fit accordingly.

As an example, we have a client that sells financial performance management software to the CFO and that whole department. It was easy for these guys to start talking about technical finance terms, and how the workflows could improve with their solution when we first started working with them. It was always a very technical conversation about improving KPIs and driving better outcomes, but they didn't really cover the ultimate benefits of their product! The ultimate benefit was "Hey, we're going to free up your team from running these mundane reports so they can begin to work on the things that really matter."

Naturally, they would run into resistance because if you come in with a solution that's going to automate something that a mid-level manager spends 35/50 hour workweek doing their immediate reaction is "Why would I ever bring this in here? I'm going to lose my job." It wasn't until they were able to put it in terms that were simpler and convey the benefits of "Imagine what you would do with your time if you didn't have to run these manual reports every month or do a data query in this arcane fashion. You could program that in and it would happen automatically. You could actually invest your time in higher impact activities that drive more value for your customers or your company."

When they made that change and adjusted their messaging to start talking about the benefits that would appeal to middle-level managers or CFO’s depending on the audience, they started having much more productive conversations. Don't over-complicate things. Your sales team's job is to simplify and make your offering easy for your prospects to understand. If you can coach your managers to inspect the language that your sales team is using and make sure that they're keeping it simple from the customer's point of view, you'll see a dramatic change in your sales results.

At Intelligent Conversations, we implement leadership training and development programs to coach leaders on how to coach their sales teams to do this effectively. We also leverage Software which helps us closely inspect specific language choices which may be the key to unpacking why they're facing the challenges their facing with their clients! We're happy to help, simply reach out to us at Intelligent Conversations!

Creating a Healthy Coaching Environment in Sales

One of the barriers sales leaders encounter when trying to establish a consistent coaching rhythm with each salesperson on their team is they have not established a healthy coaching environment.  What does that mean? There are several components that go into creating an atmosphere that is conducive to coaching. 

1. Mutual Respect.  First, there has to be a certain level of mutual respect. The salespeople have to respect the sales leader, or they won't listen to the advice or coaching they get. The sC4o8SJsgales leader needs to feel like their advice is being followed and that they're respected, so there's a healthy coaching relationship. The manager needs to earn it, and the salespeople need to give it, but if in its absence, the coaching experience is going to be negatively impacted. If the sales leader doesn't feel like he or she has that respect, their coaching will be more tentative and less effective.

2.  Trust.  What's the level of trust across your sales team? Do your sales people feel like they can share everything with the sales leader and really come to them when they need help? Does the sales leader feel like he or she is trusted by the sales people? Part of a sales leader's job is creating a culture of accountability, managing agreements, and making sure that they hit their numbers, but when a sales person is struggling, do they really feel safe? Do they feel they can go to their manager when they're behind on their plan or not moving deals forward (or do they hide and hope nobody notices)?

The irony in this is when a salesperson's pipeline is stalled that's when they need coaching the most, yet it's also when they're least likely to ask for help if they don't trust their manager.  One of the ways a sales manager can establish trust is to take the time to get to know each individual on their team at a personal level.  The sales coach/salesperson relationship should go beyond a conversation about metrics and pipeline movement.  Your sales managers don't have to know everything about a salesperson’s personal life, but should have a general understanding of where each salesperson on their team is in their career, what their career goals are, and what their personal goals are, what's important to them, etc.  When sales managers take the time to show they care about and take an interest in each individual (beyond the numbers) salespeople are more likely to ask for help when they need it.

3.  Coachability.  Another element is how "coachable" are your sales people? If you hire salespeople who feel like they have nothing to learn because they already know everything, their willingness to implement whatever suggestions your sales manager makes will be pretty limited. Of course, that's going to be frustrating for the sales leader when they have good ideas and they're ignored. Having a team that's open to input and willing to try a suggestion even if they disagree with it is an important aspect to the coaching environment as well.  Ask questions about growth goals, what they're working on, and where they want to improve during your interview process to make sure you're hiring "coachable" salespeople.

4.  Time Coaching.  One of the biggest factors that a manager absolutely can control is the amount of time spent on coaching. We recommend about 50% of a manager's time should be spent coaching their sales people. Some of that will be in formal, structured, weekly conversations where you go through their pipeline, review their calendar, look at upcoming calls, and debrief on calls that have recently occurred. The focus should be on making incremental progress each week with each sales person, giving them that coaching. The other part of that comes from informal coaching conversations that happen throughout the week.  When a manager spends about half of their time coaching their team and being there for them, they create a really strong coaching environment.  Most sales managers say they coach all the time, but in reality they are pulled in other directions and when they do finally sit down with a salesperson the meeting agenda defaults to a pipeline review conversation focusing on what can close right now instead instead of on mid-to-long-term development objectives.

5. It's Not All About the Sales Manager.  Finally, it's not all about the sales manager. Being a sales manager is really about having a servant mindset.  They are their to help each salesperson on the team succeed. It's a bit hard if your sales manager used to be the "alpha” sales person who loves getting the win and celebrating their victories. It's difficult for that type of person to take a backseat role.  What often happens is that type of sales manager simply functions as a more productive salesperson by using their team to extend their reach and set up closing conversations.  The salespeople line up closable deals and the sales manager swoops in and mows them down.  This can be productive in the short term but ultimately limits growth as high-potential salespeople get frustrated and leave, and the ones who stay never learn how to close.

Make sure your sales manager has the right mindset and remembers it's NOT about them, it's all about helping the team win. When they do that, they'll create a strong, healthy coaching environment rooted in trust.

As a reflection, think about your sales managers and the relationships they have with their salespeople.  How strong is your coaching environment?  In which of these five areas do they need to improve?  In your next conversation with a sales leader, ask them, "When you ask a sales person to come into your office, is their reaction, 'Oh boy, what have I done? I'm in trouble,' or is it, 'Oh great, he's going to help me.'"  The answer to that question will tell you all you need to know about your coaching environment.  

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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Coaching Rhythm and Texting While Driving

My last post talked about the challenges of teaching my middle daughter, who recently got her learners permit, to drive safely.  We compared teaching safe driving to the importance of consistent sales coaching and the types of conversations that should happen with regularity and consistency between your sales leaders and sales team.  For this post I want to continue in the theme of safe driving and sales coaching.  My oldest daughter has been driving for a few years now and we recently had a conversation about texting while driving.  The data is overwhelming.  Here’s an infographic I found on this topic:

Texting and Driving

When you think about how little time it takes to travel the length of a football field while looking at your phone – and all the bad things that can happen while you’re distracted – it’s hardly surprising that so many accidents happen as a result of texting and driving.

So what is the connection to sales coaching?  In our sales consulting practice we recommend sales leaders establish a regular rhythm of coaching conversations with everyone on their team.  Ideally these should happen weekly and biweekly at an absolute minimum.  I can already hear sales managers groaning as they read that last sentence and thinking “when am I supposed to fit that into my already full schedule?”  Well, think of scheduling regular, structured, formal weekly coaching sessions with everyone on the sales team as the same as looking forward and paying close attention while driving down the highway.

Would you like your team to avoid big, spectacular sales crashes?  Ask your sales leaders to look forward on a regular basis.  Challenge them to ask questions on a regular basis.  Ask them to observe (and share) patterns and trends in the market on a regular basis.  Ask them to observe (and share) patterns, trends, bad habits, and self-limiting beliefs from your sales team on a regular basis.  Challenge them to engage in role play on a regular basis (most sales managers will resist this at first because most are really bad at it).  In short, make sure your sales leaders coach your sales people on a regular basis so they can stay ahead of all the subtle nuances and changes in your sales pipeline, allowing them to make minor smooth corrections rather than sudden shifts and dramatic changes.

As CEO what can you do?  How often are you coaching your sales leaders?  When you talk with them, are you simply going through a tactical review of the pipeline?  Are you asking the right questions?  Are you leveraging the market feedback your sales team can provide in real time?  Do you see patterns in where your sales leaders are focused?  Are they focused on the right things?  The right activities?  The right people on their team?  What would happen to your sales culture if you lead by example and coached your sales leaders as you expect them to coach your sales people?

Not sure where to start?  We can help.  We start by helping you understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of your sales leaders.  How do they measure up in terms of their coaching skill set?  How about the skills required to create a culture of accountability?  Motivating the team?  Attracting and retaining A-player sales talent (A-players won’t work for B-managers)?  Growing the team?  How about your sales people?  Are they capable of growth?  How much?  Where do they need help?  What self-limiting beliefs get in their way?  Are they coachable?  If you invested in their professional development would it be worth it?  How long would it take you to realize a return on your training investment? 

We can help you understand these and many other important questions with our Sales Effectiveness & Improvement Analysis.  We’ll be glad to send you a sample and discuss whether or not this would be a good next step for growing your revenue.  Or you could just keep your eyes down and hope you don’t crash.  It’s up to you.

For more information on how we can help Optimize Your Sales Team - click Here.

 

Why Your Sales People Fail to Listen Effectively

Blog Listening Cartoon

I love this cartoon because it is so true.  The more you listen the more you sell.  How effective are your sales people at listening?  At truly listening…not just to what is said, but what is not said.  Not just for the words used, but also the intent behind those words.  If there is one thing you can get your sales people to do more effectively this year that will dramatically improve sales, drive revenue growth, get into new accounts, expand existing accounts, increase profit margins, and improve customer satisfaction -- I can make a strong case for improving listening skills.

First, let’s look at what gets in the way.  Here are the top barriers to effective listening we’ve observed in our sales consulting practice.  How many do you recognize on your sales team?  Sales people fail to listen effectively because they…

1.     Lack confidence

When sales people really know their stuff, they have no problem listening effectively and asking open questions.  When they are unsure of themselves and lack confidence, they tend to talk about what they know rather than ask about something they might not know.

2.     Rush their calls

Instead of slowing down and investing quality time in quality prospects, many sales people buzz from call to unqualified call.  They sure look busy!  But being busy is not the same as being productive.

3.     Lack empathy for their prospects

For too many sales people, it’s all about them.  No, it’s all about the customer and prospective customers.  It is impossible to listen effectively if your sales people feel it’s all about them.

4.     Never learned how to listen

Yes, your sales people can get better at listening.  Just like they can get better at asking questions or making prospecting calls.  Listening is a learned skill and like every skill worth having, it takes practice and consistent maintenance to stay sharp.

5.     Ask lousy questions

If your sales people sound like they are reading from a script, they are probably waiting for the prospect to finish talking so they can get to the next question on their list.  Great listeners stay in the moment, giving all of their attention to the person speaking and responding with great follow up questions because they are fully engaged.

6.     Cannot quickly synthesize information

Great listeners can absorb everything being said, pull it all together succinctly, and summarize the key points back to the prospect.  As a sales person improves their ability to quickly synthesize what is being said and provide a concise summary that is accurate and on point, they will learn what to listen for and how to listen better.  When they can make connections that the prospect has not considered, they will do even better in terms of moving the conversation forward and being memorable.

7.     Talk too much

Some sales people just like to hear themselves talk.  It may be because they lack confidence (see #1 above), but it can also just be that they like to talk.  We have two ears and one mouth for a reason – we should listen twice as much as we talk.  So in a one-hour sales meeting your sales people should talk for about 19 minutes and listen for about 41 minutes.

8.     Don’t practice enough

How full are your sales people’s calendars?  Listening takes practice and if your sales people are not regularly engaging in qualified sales meetings to keep their listening skills sharp, they fall apart when they finally do get in front of a prospective buyer (or worse, they think they do great but when your sales manager debriefs them it becomes clear that they didn’t truly listen).

9.     Are too focused

While it is helpful for your sales people to know what they should be listening for, they also need to be flexible enough so they can catch all the information being shared.  Sometimes sales people are simply so focused on listening for the one or two specific issues they know they can solve, they miss great information that could also move the conversation forward.

10.  Get inconsistent coaching

Listening is a skill that needs constant reinforcement and development.  Are your sales managers doing everything they can to coach and reinforce effective listening skills across your sales team?  Do your sales leaders know how to coach for improved listening skills?  What would happen to your revenue and profit margins if they did?

If some of these issues ring true for you, tell us the top three listening challenges your sales team experiences. I also recommend reading Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone by Mark Goulston. And never underestimate the power of a good listener.