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? 

chart_2-1.jpg

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 

Why Managers Struggle When Holding People Accountable

Now That's AccountabilityCreating a “Culture of Accountability” is the cornerstone of building an over-achieving sales team.  And really it’s fundamental to building over-achieving teams in general.  As a CEO, President, or Business Owner you probably understand this and chances are most of your leadership team understand this concept as well.  And yet, many sales managers (and managers in general) struggle when it comes to holding their people accountable.  Why is that?

Here are five issues and barriers we have observed through our consulting practice over the years.  There are many more we could list, but this will give you a good place to start if a lack of accountability has been a challenge in your organization.  How many of these apply to your managers? 

Unclear Goals

If your managers don’t have a clear line of sight to your company’s goals and a clear understanding of what their team needs to do to help achieve them, how can they possibly hold their team accountable to the daily activities and behaviors that will get you there?

No Coaching Rhythm

We recommend sales managers hold a regularly scheduled “formal” coaching meeting at least every two weeks (weekly is better).  This is in addition to all the “informal” coaching conversations that happen around the office or driving back from a joint sales call.  Without a regular coaching rhythm where your sales manager and each individual sales person review progress toward the goals, activities driving the goals, as well as potential barriers and challenges getting in the way, it’s very difficult to hold people accountable and keep them on track.

Too Much Complaining

There are a couple of ways to look at this issue.  In some cases, your sales manager is the whiner (“we don’t have enough resources….operations is letting us down….the competition is killing us in a price war….” and on and on).  In other cases, they are too sympathetic and tolerant of the whining and excuses they hear from their team.  When someone on their team is complaining about a challenge they have, strong managers ask questions (“What can you do to change the situation?” or “Are you telling me this because you want me to do something or are you just letting off steam so you can focus on solving it yourself?”).  Most managers join in and simply add gasoline to the fire.

Too Friendly

While it’s important that your sales managers build a strong rapport with their team and establish a high level of trust, many managers go too far and become too “buddy-buddy” with the people on their team.  Or worse, they become buddy-buddy with some members of the team but not all.  When that happens they start treating people differently and it breeds tremendous resentment across the team.  The key is to establish clear goals, review them regularly, stop accepting excuses, and manage agreements about what needs to happen each week/month to reach the goals.

Too Aloof

Some managers go too far the other way.  They don’t invest the time in getting to know each team member, what their goals are (both business and personal goals), and they really don’t know them as people.  These managers become unapproachable and come across as inauthentic when they try to be friendly.  When your managers can get to know the personal goals of each member of their team and help them see your company as the means through which they can reach that goal, it becomes much easier to hold team members accountable to the daily/weekly/monthly activities need to reach their goals (both business and personal).

Which of these examples rings true to you?  CEO Coaching Tip:  select one for each of your direct reports and during your next one-on-one discuss your perspective on how it is impacting their ability to hold their people accountable and ask them what would happen if they focused on getting better in that particular area.  Alternatively, if you see something on the list that applies to all (or most) of your managers, discuss it during your next leadership team meeting.  What would happen to your results if you focused on these barriers to creating a culture of accountability?  When will you start?

When Sales People Give Up Too Early or Celebrate Too Soon

The beauty of having an effective sales process is that it creates a level of consistency and discipline often lacking in sales organizations.  It also provides a coaching framework so your sales managers can help reinforce that consistency and discipline.

What would happen if your sales people applied the same rigor and consistency to every deal

Unfortunately, that is not usually the case. When there is not a clear sales process in place, or sales people do not stick to it throughout the process, prospects fall through the cracks. Two common ways that we see this occurring is when sales people either give up too early or celebrate too soon. While these may seem like opposite issues, they are actually two sides of the same coin.

Giving Up Too Early

Giving UpWe have observed a phenomenon in some of our coaching calls recently: Sales people who give up too early.  Selling is hard.  There are lots of ways to screw it up.  Even when you do everything right, you still might not win the business.  So why do we regularly see sales people take their eye off the ball in the late stages of the sales process? 

In some cases sales people take a pessimistic view and just assume that they’ve lost a deal when they really have not. They give up early, simply go through the motions, and fail to stay on top of the opportunity, shifting their focus to other stuff. Sometimes these deals they had written off come through and they are “shocked” to get the business.

By not closely monitoring and reviewing your sales team’s pipeline during weekly meetings, they are no longer held accountable for taking each step of the sales path and can give up too early in the sales process.  As you and your sales team become more efficient at following a well laid out sales process, their attention to detail and following through will become a natural habit.  Take the time to have these coaching meetings, and ask them to lay out each step they have taken.  Quite often you will see that there are several more opportunities for follow up, which may in fact save the deal.

Celebrating Too Soon

Sometimes, the problem is just the opposite.  What happens when your sales people are celebrating too early?

In some cases it’s a matter of sales people getting complacent.  Everything seems to be on track and they assume everything will just flow according to plan and then are surprised when they get the news that the prospective client has changed plans, eliminated the budget, or chosen a different supplier.  The reality is, you cannot take anything for granted.  You need to follow the process and stay on top of it all the way through the close – and frankly beyond the close and through client on-boarding and ramp up.

I was reminded of an infamous play from Superbowl XXVII. Take 15 seconds to watch the video below. The ironic thing is that everyone else can see what is happening except for Leon Lett, the guy with the ball. This is why coaching is so critical, bringing in some outside perspective and tangible accountability.

The best time to really hold these teams accountable is during your weekly sales team meetings.  Ask them to start ranking each prospect on how close they are to closing.  We often find in our Must Win Deal workshops that sales people are ranking these prospects at 75-85% closed, when in fact they haven’t done a good portion of the needed qualifying.  Take the time to ask some of these questions at your next sales meeting:

  • Do you know their budget and timeline?
  • Are you actually talking to the decision maker?
  • Are they already working with another vendor?  If yes, how loyal are they to this vendor?
  • Do we meet 100% of their needs?

Many of your sales team will have never even thought of these questions, and this is not even scratching the surface of what needs to be answered to ensure your prospects are 100% qualified.

Take some time this week in your sales meeting to ask your sales team about each step they have taken with a few prospects in their timeline. Are they following every step of the sales process, or are they skipping a few?  Is there a consistent sales process, or does each sales person have a different process in mind?  Are they, in fact, giving up too soon on great opportunities or celebrating too soon on luke warm leads?

High Performing Sales People - How to Identify And Keep Them

High Performer

High performing sales people are customer centric and have the ability to execute and produce positive results, in turn increasing revenue and profitability.  While the definition seems simple, when interviewing and reviewing potential candidates, it can be hard to narrow down exactly what you should be looking for to identify high performers.

Here are some characteristics which will aide in identifying high performers:

Autonomy

High performers have the ability to manage themselves, their projects, and their priorities. They are independent and can work well, even without a lot of oversight. Ask them about a project or accomplishment they completed on their own, without a lot of outside accountability.

Input and Feedback

High performers are able to communicate clearly and effectively with supervisors and peers, at every level of the organization. They openly accept feedback, seeing it as a way to continue their growth. They are also willing to give feedback to others.

Taking Initiative

They know what they need in order to succeed.  In other words, high performing sales people are resourceful executers! Period.

Networking skills

High performers are able to develop relationships inside and outside the work environment. Building and maintaining relationships is part of how they live and work.This broadens the knowledge and contribution offered to the organization.

Open Mind

High performers enjoy introducing and managing change; keeping the organization up to date with technology, new concepts and solutions, and leading edge products and services. If something offers the opporutnity to improve the company or sales results, they do not think twice about changing the status quo to move forward.

While these may not come as a surprise, why do your hiring managers continue to settle for subpar performers? High performers are scarce in today’s volatile work environment.  By implementing a boundary spanning talent acquisition strategy you will be able to place high performers across the entire organization!  While they seem simplistic, take the time to discuss them with your sales management team. 

Often when we assess the existing sales organization of one of our clients, we discover the need to replace or add new members to the sales team. One of our many valuable services is assisting our clients with their hiring initiative. 

Whether you are in the process of hiring a new position or not, you can take the time to review your existing team to identify if you have any high performers.

Please contact us for more information on how to achieve a high performing culture.

 

Planning For 2014: 5 Things CEOs Must Focus On To Improve Sales

Sales Team

It’s the time of year when we take stock of where we are, and make plans for where we want to go. What went well in your business in 2013? What didn’t go so well (or “needs improvement” as some people like to say)?

As you create a sales plan for 2014, and map out where you would like your business to go, consider some specific things you can do to improve sales productivity. Here are five (5) objectives we suggest you consider.  Whether you select one of these or come up with a sales improvement plan of your own, pick at least one area to focus on in 2014 and stick with it for the next four quarters.

1.  Face the brutal truth

In Good to Great and the many subsequent books resulting from his research on what makes companies great, Jim Collins notes that the first step to being a great company is to face the brutal truth. 

In our opinion, the single most impactful investment a CEO or business owner can make in their sales organization is to conduct a comprehensive Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis from Objective Management Group.If you are serious 

Sales Effectiveness Analysisabout making significant progress this year in terms of growing revenue, improving margins, building a predictable sales process, shortening your sales cycle, closing more business, and developing your people, investing in a detailed analysis of your people, systems, and strategies should be your first step (link to sample SEIA report landing page).

2. Focus on your sales pipeline

Your sales pipeline is the single most accurate forecast of incoming revenue in your company.  Your management team should review it regularly and make adjustments accordingly.  Your operations manager must use your sales pipeline as a guide to adjusting capacity requirements.  Your Chief Financial Officer should use your sales pipeline as a guide for making strategic investments and managing cash flow more effectively. 

In fact, everyone on your management team should look at your sales pipeline and gain confidence.  Most companies don’t use their sales pipeline this way because it is usually a joke your sales manager tries to defend and justify at management meetings.  What would happen if you had a reliable sales pipeline your leaders could count on?

3. Commit to coaching

Your sales managers should spend about 50% of their time directly coaching your sales people.  It is the only way your sales people will make consistent improvements so that every week, every month, and every quarter you will be able to look at the behaviors and activities across your sales organization and say “Yes, we’re clearly getting better.  We’re having better conversations.  We’re getting into better opportunities.  We are winning business more consistently because our proposals are better qualified.  We are selling better work at higher margins.  We are improving customer satisfaction.  We have better communications from our sales team to the rest of the organization.”  To be able to say these things you need to commit to a consistent and rigorous coaching routine.

4. Hire stronger sales talent

Upgrading your sales talent can be a growth strategy.  How many people on your sales team would you enthusiastically rehire?  Who are the mediocre performers on your team that you tolerate because you don’t want to make a change?  What is your plan for these B and C-players?  Can you develop them?  Coach them?  Put them in a position better suited for their skills?  What would happen if you committed to an A-Player-only hiring strategy?  Perhaps this is the year to make that happen.

5. Narrow your market focus

Sometimes we just take the work our sales people can sell instead of being focused and disciplined around selling to accounts that best fit our model. 

Who are your best accounts?  The idea of “best” could mean most profitable, easiest to work with, most strategic potential, deepest relationship, or many other factors.  What would happen to your business if your entire account base was comprised of customers who really fit what you do?  Who are the customers that take up disproportionate resources?  Can you adjust your pricing to encourage them to leave (freeing up valuable resources for customers who are a better fit)?  Looking at your sales pipeline, are your sales people targeting the right types of accounts and are they having conversations at the right level?  Or are they just taking whatever they can get?  What would your company look like 12 months from now if you narrowed your market focus and aligned your sales organization around the accounts that best fit your operation?

Make it a priority to clearly define what your ideal account looks like, and include it in your entire sales process.

Where does your sales team “need improvement” this year? Let us know which one you picked and we’ll check in with you in 90 days to make sure you are sticking with it!

6 Questions Your Sales Managers Hope You Won't Ask...


...About Their Sales Forecasts and Pipeline Reports

Sales Pipeline, CEO Sales Guide, Sales Management Accountability, Sales Forecast, Accuracy, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Sales Force Development Expert, Sales Consultant, Objective Management Group, Baseline Selling

Many CEOs we work with either don't pay close attention to the sales pipeline reports they get from their sales managers (because it's rarely accurate) or ignore pipeline reports and sales forecasts completely (because they've lost faith in the accuracy of the reports, the sales manager who put them together, or both).

 

We work with middle market and large corporate clients in a wide variety of industries - selling different products and services, to different target markets, with different sales cycles, at different price points, with varying levels of complexity and competition, and several other important differences. And yet, nearly every CEO we work with has similar issues and challenges when it comes to the accuracy and rigor applied to the data tracked in the sales forecasts and pipeline reports they get from their sales managers.


With just a little bit of attention, these same CEOs could have a significant impact on increasing revenue, improving profit margins, accelerating sales cycles, improving accountability, and increasing forecasting accuracy.

How? By putting some focus on these common sales pipeline challenges companies face. 

 

With that in mind, here are six (6) questions your sales managers hope you won't ask about their pipeline:

  1. How long has each opportunity we are tracking been in our sales pipeline?
  2. What would the total value of our pipeline be if we eliminated each opportunity that is older than X months?
  3. Under ideal circumstances, how much time should it take for an opportunity to move through each stage of our sales cycle?
  4. Have we defined the committments we need from the prospective customer at each stage of the sales process so we can confidently move an opportunity to the next step?
  5. When an opportunity gets stuck at a particular point in the sales process, what coaching feedback are you providing the sales person who is responsible for that opportunity?
  6. How many opportunities should each salesperson on the team either move forward in the sales process or eliminate from the sales pipeline every week.

In our experience working with middle market and larger corporate clients, too many CEOs ignore the pipeline reports they receive from their sales managers. Not enough CEOs ask these types of challenging questions to hold sales managers accountable. Worse yet, some CEOs we know ignore pipeline reports and sales forecasts all together and instead rely on backward looking reports such as orders shipped. It's easy to understand the frustration that leads to this approach - a shipping report is a lot more accurate than a sales forecast - but what does it accomplish?

Your sales pipeline report should be the single most accurate predictor of future revenue in your company - and it almost never is!

What can you do about it? Three things:
1) map your sales process;
2) implement an easy tool to track each opportunity every step of the way; and,
3) hold your sales managers accountable.


You may think you're already doing these three things. Chances are you are not. And it's easy to find out - just ask your sales managers the six (6) questions we shared above.
If you're not satisified with the answers you need to make the decision to do something about it.
If you'd like some help, we would be happy to have a cup of coffee to find out if our systematic approach to mapping your sales process could have an impact on your sales results.

sales effectiveness and improvement analyses, sales success

What would happen to your planning process and decision frameworks if you actually believed the sales forecasts and pipeline reports your sales managers shared with you?
 
or










Coaching Drives Greater "Sales-Awareness" and Stronger Results

"What would happen to your revenue and profit margin if your sales organization became a coaching-centric group that got better and better every month?"


If you are a regular reader of our blog or if we have had the pleasure of working with your sales team, you know that we believe sales managers should invest significant time (ideal target is 50%) coaching their sales people. 

Sales Awareness, coaching, sales management, sales force development, sales call planning, post call debrief, sales reflection, sales coaching, sales leader, growth, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, Baseline Selling, Milwaukee sales coach, Objective Management Group, CEO Sales Blog, Sales Leadership, Wisconsin, consultant

And this sales coaching should take place on a regular basis, both in a structured formal coaching session (regularly scheduled, ideally every week) and in more informal ways during joint calls, during morning huddles, during pre-call planning sessions, and during post-call debriefs. 

 

"What is the main goal of these frequent coaching sessions and how will you know if your sales manager is making progress?" 

 

Of course the best way to answer that question is in the context of each individual on the sales team.  

Not everyone needs the same coaching and the type of coaching your sales managers provide will depend on several factors, including: 

  • The experience level of the sales person and where they are in the progression through their sales career (by the way, years in sales doesn’t always mean progress – a 20-year veteran could need more coaching than a relatively new sales person if they’ve had the same year of experience 20 times versus having 20 years of steady, continuous development and improvement).
  • The sales person’s familiarity with your products, service, markets, customers, competitors, and other company and market factors.
  • The sales person’s strengths and “hidden weaknesses” that may get in the way when they are on a call or in front of a prospective customer.
  • A sales person’s openness to coaching and acceptance of their manager’s feedback.
  • A sales person’s commitment to doing whatever it takes to get better, even if that means pushing past their comfort zone and failing at a new approach or tactic until they get it right. 


With all of these factors considered, your sales manager’s focus for every coaching interaction with their sales people should focus on answering two simple questions: 

  • What did you just do on that call (or in that meeting) that went really well and that you should repeat on future calls?
  • What did you just do on that call (or in that meeting) that didn’t go as you expected and that you should avoid on future calls?

 

That’s it.  If after every single sales interaction your sales people had a conversation with their manager where they could discuss these two questions, what would happen over time?  Would the quality of the conversations your sales people have improve?  Would they get better at asking questions, creating urgency, identifying compelling reasons for prospects to move forward, disqualifying non-prospects or prospects that don’t fit your business model?  Would the quality of your proposals improve?  Would you win more proposals?  At higher profit margins?  With better customers? 


That’s the power of consistent, structured coaching.  But of course even when a sales manager spends half of their time (50% or about 20 hours per week) conducting both formal and informal coaching conversations with their sales people, most organizations will have a difficult time having this type of conversation after each and every sales interaction your sales team has.  So then what? 


Ideally over time each sales person on your team should increase their "Sales-Awareness" and should be able to have this conversation on their own.  A few moments of reflection after every call or every meeting can make a huge difference over time if they really focus on these two questions.  In some environments, such as a call center or where inside sales people sit near one another in a bull pen set up, peer-to-peer coaching can also be very powerful.  And when this happens over time and with consistency, the quality of the formal coaching sessions will get better and better because the sales people will come to the meeting prepared with specific ideas of where they need help and what they need to work on to get better. 

 

Consistent coaching should lead to greater sales-awareness and increased self-reflection across your sales organization. Is that happening with your team? Are your managers having the right coaching conversations? Are they asking the right questions? Do they invest enough time with each team member? Do they do it consistently and effectively? If not why not? Lack of skills? Are your sales leaders too busy? Are your sales leaders too lazy?  Are they disengaged?

 

"What would happen to your Mike Carroll sales awarenessrevenue
and profit margin if your s
ales organization
became a coaching-centric group that got better
and better every month?"



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Started! Have a cup of coffee with Mike:

have a cup of coffee with Mike about sales improvement

 

 

 

 

 

Building a Profitable Sales Process - Qualify the Opportunity

Qualification, Sales Process, Close more business, hope is not a strategy, wishful thinking, sales people, sales manager, pipeline, building a profitable sales process, quote and hope, sales effectiveness, sales coaching, Mike Carroll, Intelligent Conversations, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sales consultant, Objective Management GroupHere's a radical idea - let's have your sales team qualify opportunities before you prepare a quote!  Too many sales organizations seem to use a "quote and hope" strategy that rarely drives consistent revenue growth.

Continuing our series on Building a Profitable Sales Process, this post will cover step 8 - qualifying the opportunity.

 

 
  

 

If you asked your sales people and sales managers what's the most important area to explore in the qualification process you'll probably hear "budget".  And that's good, profitable business begins by working with customers who can afford your product or service.  But there is much more to the qualification process than just finding out if they can afford to pay you.

Here are eight (8) questions to have your sales managers ask when coaching your sales people to review opportunities at the "qualification" stage of your sales process:

  1. Have we uncovered all of the issues and do we fully understand the impact our product or service will have on the prospect's situation?
     
  2. Does the prospect agree with all the issues we have identified and do they have urgency to make a change?
     
  3. Have we discussed the investment required to implement our solution or purchase our product and does the prospect understand the value this investment will create?
     
  4. Do we understand the prospect's timeline for when they need our product or solution and do we have the capacity to take on this work within the timeline the prospect requires?
     
  5. Do we understand the prospect's decision process, know all of the stakeholders involved, and have a strategy to leverage our advocates and covert (or at least neautralize) our detractors?
     
  6. Have we asked enough questions about the competitive context in which the prospect is making this decision?  Do we know the advantages our solution provides and how these advantages fit into and align with their buying criteria?
     
  7. Do we have all of the technical information we need to produce an accurate quote?  Has the prospect provided contact information for any technical people on their side (engineers, quality control, etc.) we may need to contact with clarifying questions as we prepare our quote?
     
  8. Have we clearly defined what happens when the prospect receives our quote?  Has the prospect agreed to make a decision?  Have we set up a meeting to review the quote and go over any questions?
And of course there may be more questions your sales manager should add that are specific to your business.  What would happen if your sales managers regularly asked these types of questions of your sales people?
Would the quality of your quotes and estimates go up?  Would the total number of quotes sent out go down?  Would your sales people win more deals?  
  
Free analysis report - download it here
Too many companies use a "quote and hope" strategy where their sales people use the quoting process as a means to have the discovery conversation they should have had earlier in the sales process.
  
Too many sales people waste valuable company resources preparing unqualified quotes. And too many sales people (and sales managers) mistake "being busy" with "being productive."   
What would happen to your sales results if your team consistently took a more disciplined approach to the qualification stage of your sales process? 
 

Free analysis report
Does your sales team have the skills and strengths to effectively qualify the opportunities in your sales funnel? What challenges and weaknesses get in their way?  Who on your team is capable of selling at a higher margin?  Who can you save and who should you consider replacing or putting into a different role within your organization?

If you're not sure how to answer these questions, ask us for a free overview of our newest tool - the Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis™ - and we will follow up with you to find out if it makes sense to talk about helping your sales organization become more effective.

Building a Profitable Sales Process - Make Every Appointment Count

All of the work your sales people are doing at the front of the sales process (identifying the right targets and making initial contact to get an appointment) is a waste of time if they blow the appointment.  What needs to happen to make every appointment count?

Here are five (5) key goals every sales person on your team should focus on when they get in front of a prospective buyer:

 

Sales appointment, asking great sales questions, discovery process, make every appointment count, building a profitable sales process, Milwaukee sales consulting, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, Sales Expert, Objective Management Group, coaching

1) Set Clear Expectations

A sales appointment isn't just about having a nice conversation and hoping a next step results.

Your sales people should make it clear - right at the beginning of the appointment - why they are there and what they want to accomplish.  

 

 

Something as simple as "I have a lot to learn about your situation so I'm going to ask you a lot of questions; I'm sure you'll probably have a lot of questions for me; so let's ask all of our questions and by the end of our discussion if it seems like we might be able to help you we can talk about potential next steps.  And if it doesn't make sense, I'll let you know.  Does that sound fair?"  

 

2) Ask Great Questions
Questions are the answer. Too many sales people show up and start talking about all the features and benefits of their product without ever asking the prospective customer what is important to them.

Instead of diving right into a demo or launching into a presentation, what would happen if your sales people asked questions that made the prospect think about their issues and challenges differently?  What would happen to your revenue if your sales people were more memorable?  Do they have the skills they need to drive this type of conversation and help a prospect discover the gap between where they are now and where they could be if they worked with your company?

 

3) Create Urgency
Will a prospect feel compelled to take action by the end of the conversation your sales people typically have during an initial appointment?  Or will they politely say "thank you" and get on with the rest of their day?  The questions your sales people ask...the areas they explore to identify issues and challeges....the way they summarize and recap what the prospect says...all of these things should drive the prospect to want to take action (whether with your company or with someone else).  A run-of-the-mill demonstration or presentation doesn't do this.


4) Ask Questions 3-deep
When your sales people are asking great questions and creating urgency, make sure they don't rush through each issue in a hurry to get to the end of the call. Slow down!

Ask follow up questions. Ask questions about when the issues identified first showed up. What impact is it having on their business? What would they do if they didn't have theses issues? How would that translate to improved revenue or greater efficiency or stronger margins or a faster product launch?  And what would that mean to their business?  Chances are your sales people rush right past these issues and move onto the next area they want to explore. What would happen to your sales pipeline and the quality of your proposals if everyone on your sales team slowed down and asked at least 3 questions for every issue they uncover?


5) Concise Summary and Next Steps
After spending enough time asking questions and exploring each area (at least 3 questions deep), your sales people need to master the skill of summarizing what they've heard into clear, crisp bullet points that get right to the heart of the matter.  At this point they should know whether or not it makes sense to discuss next steps. If the prospect doesn't have the types of problems your company can solve....or if they have these probelems but they are not urgent enough to be a high priority....stop the process and let the prospect know that while you might be able to help them eventually, right now may not be the best time to move forward. They will thank your sales person for being direct and honest. And if they had the right conversation (great questions, strong follow up questions, and a succintct summary of the situation) they will call you back when the timing is right.  

And the other side of that coin is when the prospective buyer has urgent needs and is a great fit for your prodcut or service, the clear next step will be to talk about how you deliver, what the investment requirements and terms might be, and how you might work together. In other words, a qualification discussion.

Free download

Qualifying all of the areas necessary to move an opportunity forwared in a profitable sales process will be the focus of our next article in this series.  

 

Sales Effectiveness & Improvement Analysis
How long is your sales cycle? Could it be shorter? What would your business look like if it were? Are your sales managers capable of coaching your team to set strong agreements at the beginning and end of each sales meeting they go to? 

Need answers? Ask for a free overview of our newest tool - the Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis - and we will follow up with you to find out if it makes sense to talk about helping your sales organization become more effective.

 

 


Building a Profitable Sales Process - Making Initial Contact

Building a Profitable Sales Process, making initial contact, cold calling, prospecting ideas, how to make effective cold calls, Intelligent Conversations, Mike Carroll, Milwaukee Sales Development Expert, Objective Management Group, sales ideasContinuing our series on 10 Steps to Building a Profitable Sales Process, this post will address steps three and four.

If you are following this series and applying the ideas to your sales organization, by now your sales leaders should have lead the sales team through the process of identifying your most profitable prospects to target and everyone on your sales team should have a focused list of top prospects.  If that's where you are right now congratulations!

 

You're off to a great start.  If not don't worry, you can easily catch up.

Now it's time to get to work by actually contacting these prospective customers. There are a lot of cold calling articles, books and scripts available to you, so our focus for this article will be high-level principles rather than specific tactics.
  

  1. Schedule Prospecting Time
    Everyone on your sales team should specific times scheduled on their calendar for business development activities.  Zig Ziglar wrote about this years ago urging sales professionals to schedule a time by which they will make their first call of the day.  The earlier the better.
     
    I'd say go one step further and have your sales team schedule a block of time to make contact with prospective customers. They should treat this time as a "can't miss appointment" and their should be consequences for missing it.
       
      
  2. Low and Slow
    One of the problems we see when sales people make cold calls - especially if they are out of practice and are just getting started again - is they tend to talk too high and too fast.  Think "low and slow" when making initial contact with a prospective client.
     
    A lower tone conveys confidence and authority. So does slowing down a bit and being comfortable with the inevitable pauses that occur when making first contact. Have your sales leaders listen to some calls and remind their sales people to slow down and lower their tone of voice.
       
      
  3. Point of View
    When making initial contact, your sales people should look at the world from the prospective customer's point of view. What is important to them? What are some common frustrations they might have? Have your sales people position your product or service from their point of view rather than your company's point of view. For more on this highly effective approach read about "positioning statements" in Dave Kurlan's Baseline Selling.
      
      
  4. Sell with Stories
    Instead of describing the features and benefits of your product (which will generate a quick hang up), have your sales people sell with stories. Give examples of issues and challenges people like your prospect are experiencing and ask if that's something that is challenge to them.
     
    A strong story or example followed by an engaging question is much more effective than just describing your product or service. Remember, the goal of the initial contact is to engage them in a conversation that (hopefully) leads to a next step.
      
      
  5. Ask Questions Three Deep
    Once your sales people have engaged the prospect in a conversation it's important to keep the conversation going by asking questions and going at least three questions deep (more if possible).  Questions and phrases such as "when did you first notice this...." or "how long has this been an issue..." or "tell me a little more about how that impacts your operations..." can go a long way toward keeping the conversation going. 
      
      
  6. Ask for the Appointment
    After a few minutes of phone discover, if there's a problem your sales people might be able to solve, ask for the appoinment. That's the goal of making initial contact, so don't let them beat around the bush.  Get right to the point and ask if it makes sense to get together or schedule a follow up call to explore the issue in more detail.
     
    If your sales people are having the right conversation this should be an easy, logical next step.  If they're forcing the conversation this will be difficult to convert and they will continue to struggle.
     
      
  7. Ask for a Name
    If your sales people cannot find an issue worth exploring in an appointment or follow up phone call, have them form the habit of asking for another name to call.  It's as simple as "it doesn't sound like you need us right now, is there someone else in your network who might?"
     
      
  8. End with a clear next step
    Even if there is not an opportunity to get together right now, everyone on your sales team should set expectations by asking permission to re-engage in the future.  I like to use the sports calendar as a reference point because it's more memorable.  So instead of saying "I'll call you next fall" I might say "I'll call you when the Cowboys are 2-0" (if I'm prospecting in Dallas).  Or "I'll call you right after the Masters..."  Or "I'll reach out to you again around the All Star break...."
     
    Make sure your sales people keep good notes in your CRM so they can keep track of these follow up calls. 

     What's holding your sales team back from making initial contact with prospective customers?  Find out by investing in a detailed analysis of the people, systems, and strategies that impact sales at your company. Download a free sample of the new Sales Effectiveness & Improvement Analysis.
 Download the eBook Sales Effectiveness Improvement Analysis for free