Coaching Ruts and How to Get Out of Them

Every sales manager we talk to says, "I coach my team all the time."  But their idea of coaching often means quick hallway conversations or phone calls, pipeline reviews focused on opportunities that can close right away, or ride along coaching calls where the manager dominates the conversation and the salesperson just watches.  Rarely do sales managers have structured, focused, consistent coaching conversations focused on development rather than production.  That’s where we step in to teach them a better coaching methodology.  And the sales managers who implement our coaching methodology can make tremendous progress almost immediately.  They get better at asking coaching questions and the whole sales team starts gain momentum as a better coaching rhythm is established.  And then - usually around three or four months into establishing that rhythm - they hit a wall.  Usually we hear something like, "I think we're losing momentum. It's not working as well. "

Almost always, it turns out coaching ruts photothat the manager has fallen into a rut. They've become predictable. They're going through the motions and their sales team knows it. What happens is, they start to ask the same handful of questions and use the same format week after week. They start every coaching conversation the exact same way, the salespeople know what they're going to ask before they ask it, and they're absolutely sure which direction the manager is going to go. Your sales team can just go through the motions and think, "Okay, he's going to ask about this, this, and that. I'll have those answers. We can be efficient." When that happens, the manager will say to us, "We're losing momentum. The coaching calls are getting shorter."

The way to avoid falling into a coaching rut is to make sure your sales managers mix it up. Change up what they're asking. They've obviously got to cover similar topics week to week. For example, in a weekly, structured coaching conversation, they know you should take a look back and say, "Tell me about the week that just passed. Tell me what's going on with your sales pipeline. Tell me about your calendar. Tell me about any challenges you have." A lot of sales managers will ask the same backward-looking questions instead of mixing it up, so coach your sales managers to be more intentional and change the question focus. Have them try asking more specific questions such as:

  • Tell me about the call that you were most excited about that didn't turn out like you expected.
  • How about a call that you had no hopes or expectations for that actually turned into gold?
  • Which meeting are you most excited about from last week?  And why?
  • Tell me about a call where you met another key decision maker or influencer.
  • Tell me about the call that was an absolute disaster.  What did you learn that you can apply going forward?

In these examples the sales manager is still looking back at the week that just past. They're asking the salesperson, "Hey, tell me about your week," but instead of being generically predictable they're keeping the salesperson on edge by asking very specific questions about their week and what they learned.  And when your sales managers do that consistently, slightly changing the focus of their questions from week to week, the coaching conversations stay fresh and the team keeps making progress.

If your sales leaders ask generic "how did your week go?" questions they'll get generic (and unhelpful) answers like "pretty good."  Instead, the coaching conversation should explore potential areas where a salesperson may struggle and make mistakes.  And speaking of mistakes, if you have salespeople who aren't making mistakes fairly regularly, they're probably staying in their comfort zone. They're probably not trying new questions or new techniques. They're just going through the motions. When your sales managers have regular, consistent coaching conversations that discuss mistakes salespeople make (and lessons learned), disastrous sales calls (and lessons learned), calls that the salesperson thought would be easy that turned out to be quite hard (and lessons learned) as well as calls they expected to be difficult that turned out great (and lessons learned) they create an environment where making mistakes (and learning from them) is not only acceptable but regularly encouraged. 

The second part of that conversation - the "lessons learned" part - is crucial.  It has to be, "Tell me what you learned from it. Tell me what you're going to do differently next time. Tell me how that made you better as a salesperson." Then, if it’s a good example and your salesperson is comfortable with it, "Hey, would you mind sharing that at the next sales meeting?" is the next step.

A great way for your sales managers to reinforce the "lessons learned" in their coaching conversations is to ask about future goals as well.  It sounds like "Tell me about the week or the last two weeks, and then let's look forward a week. Looking at your calendar, what call are you most nervous about, and how can I help you?" Or, "Looking at your calendar, what are you most excited about next week, or what deals absolutely have to move forward next week?" Mixing up your conversations in this way does a couple of things. First, it makes it more interesting for the sales manager. You're going to explore different areas and find different weak points in what that salesperson is doing or not doing. Second, it's also going to keep it fresh for the sales person. If they come into a meeting and they're not exactly sure what direction the sales manager is going to go, it's not predictable for them. They have to stay on their toes a little bit, and they have to be ready to go whichever direction the sales leader takes them.

If your sales managers are getting in the habit of establishing a consistent, structured, coaching conversation – which every sales manager absolutely should do – ask them how they're mixing up their questions and what they focus on from call to call.  Make sure that they're not just following the same agenda week after week after week, because you will absolutely find them in a sales coaching rut and they'll be less effective as a sales leader.

Need help?   Please reach us at Intelligent Conversations by taking a moment to complete the form below.  We'll give you a call to discuss whether or not you're a good fit for our program to raise your sales team's performance and drive remarkable revenue growth.

Living in the Land of Ahs

One of the things that absolutely destroys sales is when the buyer perceives a lack of confidence in the sales person. If the sales person isn't able to effectively transfer emotion and communicate their ideas in clear, crisp, concise language, if they same hesitant, if they appear to lack confidence, it absolutely undermines that sales person's credibility in the buyer’s mind.

One of the areas where sales people are often lacking in the way they communicate, whether it's in a presentation, on an initial phone call, or in a meeting, is when they use filler terms like ahs and ums. Those are just little comfort things that, wsWeCWNlwhile a salesperson is gathering their thoughts, they may not even realize what they're doing. It really muddies the waters and undermines a buyer's confidence in that sales person. They think, "Does this guy really know what he's talking about? He seems to be unsure." They press their advantage. They'll continue to ask tough questions and put your sales people in a corner. That erodes their confidence even more, and then it just spirals down.

The challenge is sales leaders are not always on the sales call with salespeople. We don't always hear or see them present. One of the tools that we've added to our arsenal at Intelligent Conversations is a very powerful platform from a company called Refract. We're deploying this across all of our clients, because it's giving us the ability to actually listen to live sales calls or to issue a video challenge to everyone on the sales team and say, "How would you handle this price objection?", or "Let's hear how you position your product or service." We get all sorts of great insight into pace of speech. We can listen to tonality. We can hear the quality of their content.

It's amazing how when people who sell every day have to get in front of a video camera, and then say what they say in front of customers all day long, seize up a little bit. You hear a lot of these filler “ahs” and “ums” coming out. You hear the hesitancy in their voice. You hear them get nervous as they talk about something they're just learning. The more you can incorporate tools, whether it's observational coaching where you have managers riding along, or whether it's using tools like Refract, you need to get that feedback loop.

Now, a note about observational coaching. One of the things to keep in mind is, when a sales leader is going along on a ride along call, it's not the normal call. The sales person's behavior changes. Frankly, sometimes the prospect's behavior changes knowing there's a manager in the room. You have to be mindful of that and factor it in. It's the Heisenberg Principle. A physicist, Warner Heisenberg, basically summarized that the mere fact that you're observing something changes the outcome. When sales managers are riding along, they're not seeing sales people in their natural state. They may not see the whole picture.

It's amazing, when sales people get to listen to themselves doing a cold call or when they hear themselves back on a recorded scenario challenge. It's a really powerful to go back, listen, and ask, "Am I using filler words? Am I hesitating when I shouldn't be? Is there anything I can do to improve my tonality, tighten up my messaging, or pause a little bit to allow time for the prospect to think?" All of these things factor into the buyer's perception of your sales people. A buyer's more likely to move forward, or at least move to the next step, if they perceive your sales person as highly confident, highly competent, and speaking with authority. Hesitation, ahs, ums, and pauses that are inappropriate can undermine that sales person's authority and will absolutely cost you sales.

If you're looking for ways to raise your sales team's performance and drive remarkable revenue growth, please reach us at Intelligent Conversations!  Whether it's one-on-one coaching with a certified Intelligent Conversations Coach or a full program leveraging platforms like refract, 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.  

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!

For any other inquiries about Intelligent Conversations,please fill out the text boxes below:

Where Should CEOs Invest Their Sales Training Dollars?

shutterstock_244678267.jpgA question that I often hear when speaking with CEOs is where should they invest in training? When I ask what they have done in the past, typically I hear a range of training activities primarily related to product training, service certifications, or other information related to what they sell.

 While obviously it is important for sales people to have a solid understanding of the products and services they offer, is this really the best use of your precious training dollars? In our experience, too often this training dives way deeper than it needs to as far as what a sales person actually needs to know to effectively sell. When companies put too much emphasis on product and service training, it tends to lead sales people to have conversations that focus on the features and benefits of the product, rather than the problems their product solves. 

If it were my money, I would rather invest in establishing good consultative selling skills. What are good consultative selling skills? To me, it's all about asking the right questions. Asking questions that engage the prospect about their current situation. Asking questions about issues and challenges the prospect is experiencing. Asking questions about the problems you solve, rather than how you solve them.

 From there really work on listening. Your sales people should be able to ask the right opening questions and then know what to listen for and what questions to use as follow-up. In our experience, salespeople who have had too much product training listen more narrowly (they wait for key trigger words that tie back to a product feature or benefit).

 It's really about having an intelligent conversation, asking good questions, listening carefully, asking more good questions, and repeating. Your salespeople need to keep repeating this process until they get to the real issues. They repeat until they uncover 6-8 compelling reasons to buy. They repeat until they get to a good understanding of the consequences of what the prospect is experiencing. 

When your salespeople can help a business owner or a buyer understand the gap between where they are and where they could be if they partner with your company, that's when they really start to have the right kind of consultative sales conversations. There should be questions that elicit an emotion that the buyer or the business line manager or the owner should be frustrated by if it doesn't get resolved. Your salespeople should be able to answer the question “What happens if this prospect does nothing?” 

Your salespeople should also be able to quantify the impact of these issues. Quantify both in terms of time and money. When you can get your sales team to take a consultative approach when they talk about the problem they solve, rather than the solution they have to sell, that's where you really get into effective, authentic, conversations.  That’s what gets you to the real issues that will drive stronger results through your sales organization. 

 In my opinion that’s where you should invest your training dollars.

 As I’ve written in this space previously, there is a whole set of questions a CEO should be able to answer before investing a single dime in training their salespeople:

  • Which of my salespeople are trainable?

  • Where do they need help?

  • How long will it take?

  • Will it be worth it? In other words, will I get a return on my training investment?

 For information on how to do a comprehensive  Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis to answer these and many more questions, contact me directly.  Do this before you invest in training your salespeople – it will save you a lot of time and money. 

Keeping Your Sales Team Focused through Goals-Based Coaching

As a follow up to our recent post “Is Your Sales Forecast Giving You a False Sense of Security” I think it’s pretty safe to assume that your company has at least a few of the signs we listed that may indicate your CRM installation is failing (or is “sub-optimal” as CRM integrators like to say).  Please don’t feel bad, many companies we work with struggle when it comes to getting their sales people and sales leaders to using the CRM properly and fully leveraging its power.  This isn’t a new issue; however in this post we’d like to suggest a new approach that can help you do something about it. 

Basically you have two options:

1.  You can continue the beatings until morale improves (“Ok team, get your CRM updates in by Friday or else!).  I’m joking, but this is actually quite common.

2..Or you can try something different.  An option we’re helping our clients focus on as they drive remarkable sales growth is to simplify things by using a goals-based coaching methodology. 

We’ve built an entire system around this and if you want the details you can send us anemail.  For purposes of this post let’s keep it simple.  Have everyone on your sales team identify a small number of goals to focus on for the upcoming quarter.  These should be meaningful, achievable, easy-to-measure goals that align with their territory plan and their annual sales goals.  How many goals?  A good target in our opinion is three (3) business goals and one (1) personal goal.

Intelligent Sales Coaching

For example, quarterly goals may include:

  • Sales People –  acquiring a new account in an under-served vertical market or in an under-served geographical market, selling new/additional products or services to existing clients, achieving certain revenue goals (new revenue, profit margin, etc.), or holding a top-of-funnel event to attract new prospects to the sales funnel (e.g. lunch and learns, breakfast events, networking mixers, etc.)

  • Sales Manager – making a key hire, increasing profit margin across the team, improving forecast accuracy, shortening the sales cycle, improving proposal win ratios, creating more consistent LinkedIn profiles across their team, etc.

  • Personal Goals – these goals can be anything from fitness-related goals (losing weight, working out more consistently, eating better), to family-related goals (home by 6, family vacation, coaching your child’s team, etc.), to personal development goals (reading three books, taking a class, learning a language, and so on). 

When sales people create a handful of meaningful goals (both business and personal) and begin to see the company as the means through which to achieve their goals, it is easier to motivate them and hold them accountable.  And when a sales manager supports their team by understanding both the business and personal goals of every team member and discussing these goals during a formal weekly coaching session, it becomes easier to stay focused on the right activities and behaviors that drive success.  And this focus and clarity will absolutely help you cut through the data fog we see too many failed CRM installations create.  You might be surprised how powerful an impact this coaching methodology can have on your organization and sales growth.  If you’d like some help getting started, please contact us.


Looking Back to Look Forward – Six Exercises to Help Develop Your 2015 Sales Plan

This is usually the time of year when I write a “Year End Sales Strategies” blog post outlining some of the things your sales team should be focused on to make sure you finish the year strong and bring all of the truly closable opportunities across the finish line.  Well, this year I don’t need to because Dave Kurlan’s post from Monday sums it up quite nicely.  I agree with Dave's main points:

  • If your sales team has not been following a solid sales process all year, a “big push” at the end of the year probably won’t have much impact and could very well alienate a high number of potential prospects.

  • Minimize the time and attention your sales team dedicates to dropping off gift baskets, bottles of wine, chocolates, nuts, and all the other gifts sales people like to dole out this time of year.  Yes, customer appreciation is important and while these gifts can have an impact, your sales people will spend all of their time glad handing with customers if you let them.  Have them do it, but with ruthless efficiency.

  • Focus on the truly closable opportunities in your pipeline.  That means opportunities where a strong case to make a change has been built, your sales people can articulate the impact using your product or service will have on the prospective customer (in terms of time, money, process improvement, strategic advantage, etc.) and can monetize that impact in clear terms, your sales people understand the budget, decision making process, decision criteria, timeline, competitive context, can meet all of the prospective customer’s requirements, and the prospective customer understands and has agreed to accept what your firm can’t do, and finally there’s a meeting scheduled for a final presentation, proposal review, etc.  If your sales people cannot answer with an emphatic yes to all of these criteria, it’s not a closable opportunity and will likely not happen in December.

  • Focus on booking appointments in January to get off to a strong start.  Not just “how-you-doing” appointments or professional visits.  Make sure your sales people are asking questions on their initial calls that identify a clear reason to meet.  Think quality of appointments not quantity of appointments.  Consider the 17 business days in December an opportunity to get a jump on 2015 rather than a frantic sprint to close a bunch of questionable opportunities that are not yet closable and you’ll be in a better position next quarter.

So, that’s a good game plan for your sales team to focus on as 2014 comes to a close.  What else?  In our consulting practice we encourage our clients to use this time of year as an opportunity for reflection and thoughtful planning. 
Here are six (6) exercises you can have your sales managers facilitate in your next sales meeting or in their one-on-one coaching sessions to help take a look back before looking forward.  All of the information should be available with minimal effort if you have a reasonably clean CRM system.  If not, reviewing your billing reports should help as well.

  • Top 5 Customers – Have each sales person identify their top five customers for the current year in their territory.  Also have them identify the top five customers from the prior year.  What changed?  Who fell off the list and why?  Who was added to the list and how did we win them? Are there any top five customers from the prior year that should be contacted?  Can they book an appointment to see them in January?

  • Top 5 Projects – Same thing as above, but instead of looking at total spend look at your biggest projects across all customers.  In many cases there will be overlap between the first two lists, but probably not 100%.  What were the situations for each of the top five projects?  How do they compare to the top five projects from the prior year?  Are there any learnings to apply to future prospecting efforts?  Can you target specific situations that could be similar?

  • Customer Sourcing – Have each sales person review their top X accounts (depending on your business, it could be their top 20, their top 50, or maybe their top 10).  Where did they come from?  How did they come into your world?  Make sure your sales managers ask tough questions and really press for details.  Typical sources will be client referrals, in-bound leads, trade show leads, prospecting, etc.  What can you learn from this exercise?  Are there any key referral sources or trade shows or other sources that should get more of your attention?  What patterns can you discern across territories or product lines?  Have your sales managers gather this data, discuss it with the sales team, and present it to the leadership team.

  • Top Referral Sources – By sales person or territory, who are the top referral sources?  What is the strategy for 2015 to keep them engaged and build a deeper relationship?

  • Top Compelling Reasons – When looking at top customers or projects, have your sales managers facilitate a discussion with their sales team around why the customers chose to work with your company.  What problems did they have that compelled them to go with you?  What impact has your solution had on their business?  Again, look for trends and patterns from this past year to see if your sales team should shift their focus slightly during sales calls next year.

  • Lessons Learned – What experiments did your sales team run this year?  Which of them worked better than expected?  Which were colossal failures?  What should you build on next year?  What should you try next year?

2015 Sales PlanThe goal of these exercises is to help make sure your sales leaders and their sale people are asking the right questions, learning something from the answers, and making the adjustments needed to drive incremental improvements year after year.  As the year comes to a close and your sales team focuses on closing the closable opportunities and booking themselves solid in January, investing a little time for reflection and strategic thinking about what to do differently next year will pay big dividends. 

Need help?  Contact us and we can help you walk through our territory planning worksheet.  This worksheet serves as a guide to facilitate the type of discussion I outline above.  What will happen to your revenue next year if your sales organization can find one or two nuggets to build on as they start the new year?  What could happen to your revenue if you ignore these exercises and just keep repeating the same year, year after year?

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.