Very few sales executives around the country have more experience managing large sales teams filled with millenials and Gen X’ers than Kelley Kurtzman, VP Consumer Sales & Service Centers, Verizon. With thousands of Verizon salespeople under her responsibility, she is constantly on the move and working with managers and sales teams to get better at focusing on one of her biggest priorities, which is having helpful conversations with customers about products and services that can improve their lives. In our interview, she touched on the following topics:
- Great selling boils down to some fundamental skills
- Build a quick connection with every customer interaction
- Demonstrations accelerate the learning process and create better training
- Practice is what improves sales performance
Early in the interview, Kelley said something that really framed the rest of our conversation,
“Good sales people just have some very fundamental skills. They actively listen to the customer. They ask open-ended questions to learn more about their customers. They’re interested and confident. They position their product or services by matching them to what the customer told them. It’s really not that hard. It shouldn’t be. Selling is about what’s important to that customer and what you’re trying to solve to improve in their lives.”
What Kelley’s talking about here is the core of relationship building, consultative selling. We build a relationship by listening and learning about what’s important to the customer. Then we tailor our explanation of how our product can help that customer by using the customer’s words and phrases. It’s so simple and yet so many salespeople end up talking too much, asking too few questions and missing sales opportunities.
Over the last several years, we’ve interviewed over 300 sales executives and over 90% of them told us the most common two mistakes salespeople make is poor questions and listening and simply talking too much about things that don’t really impact the customer’s value perception in a positive way. What makes Kelley unique, is she has a simple but effective strategy to help sales teams improve quickly and it boils down to these fundamentals:
- Make a connection with the customer quickly
- Demonstrate what great selling looks and sounds like
- Training must focus on practice and repetition
- Keep training interesting and relevant
Develop a connection early in the sales interaction …
Kelley’s salespeople interact with a lot of customers and need to be able to approach each interaction with fresh enthusiasm. She explains,
“I think the connection you develop with the customer is the most important thing, whether you’re selling a car, standing face-to-face, or selling a mobile device over the phone – that connection shapes the outcome! Every conversation you have with a customer is a new conversation and a new opportunity to really get to know your customer. I think reps assume because they’ve taken x calls today, they already know exactly what the customers are going to say. They assume they know their pain points, so they just offer a solution based on their assumptions versus listening to that customers unique needs.”
Often times, a salesperson’s experience can get in the way of establishing that connection because they can quickly predict what they think the customer’s issues are and in an effort to save time or simply avoid the effort of listening, they’ll quickly start selling to those perceived problems before the customer has voiced them. This violates one of the most important elements of influence. Customers will always be more receptive to new ideas and recommendations if they can first explain their problems and needs. More importantly, salespeople cannot tailor their suggestions with the customer’s words and phrases if they don’t hear them first.
Share demonstrations of excellence repeatedly!
Kelley explains that training is how you create strong sales teams and good training starts with good demonstrations of selling excellence …
“Let them hear what a great call sounds like or what a great sales interaction sounds like, then they can go and replicate that. If you don’t show them what “right” sounds like or what “good” sounds like, then they don’t know what to strive for. Too often, we want to go tell people all the things they’re doing wrong, when what we should do is try to catch people doing things right and then help them replicate and duplicate.”
Every sales leader on the planet will say that training is important, but it’s amazing how much money is spent day after day on sales training that doesn’t provide the kind of examples of excellence that Kelley emphasizes. We find, when working with our clients’ sales teams, that nothing accelerates learning faster than great demonstrations of selling skills.
Kelley emphasizes how important it is for sales managers to be able to demonstrate excellence …
“Your leaders better be able to stand up and do a better sales pitch than their team. Once reps see their managers know how to do it and their supervisors know how to do it, I think reps feel like they need to step up their game.”
After salespeople have seen plenty of good demonstrations of excellence, then the role plays and practice will be more effective as Kelley explains,
“It goes back to that role play with a call that sounds great. So now they’ve heard calls that sound great, and they know what their gaps are, so we do role plays so they can demonstrate that they understand how to deliver a great call, a great interaction. Doing it time and time again will reinforce this positive behavior.”
Commit to constant practice and repetition with training
Kelley has described exactly what we call athlete-centered training. Many sales teams train and practice in condensed 1-2 day seminars at yearly sales conferences or at special training events. Athletes, however, train and practice every week and that is exactly how sales teams should train, but rarely do. Kelley emphasizes how important that constant practice and repetition is if you’re going to build high performing sales teams that capture more opportunities.
“We’ve got to give our people solid training. If you’re going to be obsessed over customers, you must first be obsessed over employees. After all, they are the ones who are going to delight the customers and deliver those effortless experiences. We need to give them time to role play and to practice.”
What we’ve found about practice, is sales trainers and managers need to constantly work at keeping training and practice fresh and interesting if you want the sales team to keep learning and improving. Kelley explains,
“If you don’t keep things relevant and real and exciting, employees are just going to get bored. I can teach you a bunch of things, but until you practice it and make it your own and internalize it, you’re never going to be successful.”
Finally, we asked Kelley about her thoughts on keeping salespeople engaged and excited day after day when the repetitive nature of the job can get somewhat routine. She responded with,
“If they don’t care enough, or if they’re just showing up for the paycheck or the great benefits, they’re not going to be customer obsessed. So invest in your employees, make sure they feel really good about showing up every day, and then teach them how to do it the right way.”
Kelley finished the interview with a thought we’ve heard from a lot of top performers over the years,
“I don’t feel like I’m a salesperson. I’ve been in sales my whole life, but I don’t feel like I sell anything. I have value-added conversations with customers who want to learn more about the products and services we offer to improve their life.”
In the end, selling is simple, it’s about helping customers make good decisions about products and services that can improve their lives. Sales leadership is about creating the demonstrations, practice and repetition that build the skills to make that happen.
SalesGym is a research, consulting, and training company that works with and learns from sales teams all over the world and has refined a coaching and training process that trains sales teams the way elite athletes are trained. More insights and articles from us can be found on our RESOURCES PAGE.
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