Annette Cowans, Branch Manager, Education First Credit Union
Recently, we had an opportunity to connect with Annette Cowans, Branch Manager at Education First Credit Union, and get her perspective on what it takes to generate maximum results in sales. She shared a number of unique ideas focused around:
- When it Gets too Casual You Lose Credibility
- Build Better Relationships by Asking Great Questions
- Create a Culture of Feedback
- The Best Ability is Availability
- Practice Prevents Mistakes on Sales Calls
Early in the interview, Annette said something that really caught our attention and set the tone for the rest of the interview,
“A lot of Sales Managers make the mistake of not recognizing success or progress and leave it up to their peers. My job is to witness success and see how I can build my team. It’s nice to get peer recognition but even better when the boss takes the time and gives it in meetings in a public way. Recognition has to be led by the leader. What gets recognized gets repeated.”
There’s no doubt whatsoever that we get more of what we recognize and publicly praise. Often, leaders feel so busy and are so focused on problem finding and solving, that they forget to notice and appreciate the progress being made. What makes a sports game so appealing is cheering when your team does something well. This same mentality can really help accelerate results when applied to sales teams.
When it Gets too Casual You Lose Credibility
We asked Annette what her thoughts are on some of the worst habits that salespeople get into. Here is her thinking,
“In terms of bad habits salespeople get into, a lot of it comes down to professionalism and it’s tone of voice, the way they act and react. What I find is sometimes it can get too causal … slack … with lots of jargon and it can hurt. We, as managers, need to coach them and when they get too casual they lose credibility. The casual approach is great but you don’t want to take it too far. You need to be prepared and project a lot of professionalism if you want customers to take you seriously.”
There is a close connection between credibility, professionalism and trustworthiness. It’s great to build relationships that allow for fun and some joking around, but it has to be kept in the framework of maintaining your credibility at all times.
Build Better Relationships by Asking Great Questions
Next, we asked Annette about top performers and what sets them apart from average seller. Annette observed,
“Average salespeople don’t ask enough open-ended questions and they get too reactive when they hear something they can sell to. We want to ask questions, diagnose and present with options. Too often they overreact when they should ask more questions so their recommendation is more of a fit and resonates.”
“Top performers build a relationship with customers … they create a way to have a genuine relationship with the customer. They ask questions and allow the customer to do the majority of the talking and they take notes and they confirm what they’re learning. They ask questions outside the box and really get in step with the customer. Scripts don’t work because you have to do it in a way that works for you with your own words so your personality really comes through.”
Most successful sellers we work with follow a process, but not a script. We need good communication frameworks that are concise and effective and allow for us to put our own words and personality into it as well.
Often, Sales Managers Spend Too Much Time in the Numbers
At this point in the interview our conversation moved to the topic of Sales Managers. We asked Annette about some of the common mistakes she sees Sales Managers make. Annette commented,
“Sales Managers spend way too much time in the numbers … you can learn some good stuff, but they tend to get “analysis paralysis”. They can also spend too much time on email and wasting time … Some well intentioned managers just don’t know how to spend their time. They need to plan good sales meetings, one-on-ones, and follow up. The first thing Sales Managers tend to move out when they get busy is one-on-ones and that individual coaching time”
The ability to strategize, prioritize, and maintain an intense pace is something that sets top performing Sales Managers apart from the pack. It’s critical to manage in a way that ensures the coaching and development of their team comes first above all else. If coaching is neglected or put off, it can, unfortunately, send the wrong message to your salespeople as Annette explains,
“We say people are the most important, but sometimes our actions don’t show it because the first thing we let go of is that one-on-one coaching time when we get busy. Too much time is wasted on activities that don’t really matter that much.”
Create a Culture of Coaching and Feedback
Next, we asked Annette how she coaches and develops her sales managers and she explained,
“In terms of coaching the coaches, from executives down, you have to create a culture of being available and the best ability is availability. At the end of the day, if I don’t make time for my managers, my managers won’t make time for their salespeople. Executives have to pay it forward and coach their managers to make Sales Managers that coach their salespeople. That’s how you build a culture of coaching.”
Annette’s point about building a culture of coaching really stood out to us. We asked Annette to tell us more about how she creates that culture of coaching,
“You have to create a culture of feedback. Sales Managers need to ask for feedback because a lot of salespeople aren’t getting much from their coaching and they need to hear that so they can improve and adjust. From the top down, you need a culture of good healthy feedback. That means managers need to listen to what they say after the 3rd or 4th piece of feedback because that’s when the best feedback starts to happen. If they’re not giving the Sales Manager feedback, they need to work harder to develop that relationship.”
Practice Prevents Mistakes on Sales Calls
As our interview drew to a close, we asked Annette what is one thing she would change to make salespeople more effective. Annette replied,
“There needs to be more role play. Why not practice and mess up with one another and not on the customer? At the end of the day, more practice will prevent a lot of mistakes on sales calls, but people don’t want to do it and you have to push through that.”
Practice can feel threatening to people that aren’t used to it. The ideal setup for a good practice session is to approach it in a relaxed way and start with small things first. For example, do a practice session on how to answer the question, “what makes us different or better than our competitors?”. Challenge salespeople to answer that question with powerful headlines and differentiating factors in 90-seconds of less. Then, move on to tougher challenges. It also helps when the coach or Sales Managers practices right there with their team members, as Annette explains:
“As the sales coach, you have to demonstrate and take the hard role first. You have to be willing to play the salesperson, make mistakes and humble yourself and take some risk. When you do that, your salespeople will be more receptive to coaching and you’ll learn more together.”
Sales Managers who are humble and willing to make mistakes in front of their people are often viewed as collaborative partners in the learning process. This approachability and collaboration is vital to building a relationship of trust with you salespeople as Annette explains,
“You need to make yourself vulnerable and be willing to learn and take feedback from your salespeople to create a culture where your salespeople will take good feedback from you”
Annette offered this final piece of advice to sales managers,
“Let the salesperson be the hero … don’t sell for them … prepare them to be successful and help your people do their role so they can be the hero. Too many Sales Managers try to do the salesperson’s role when they should stay in their lanes … help them get better so they can succeed.”
Thanks to Annette for the interview and solid tips on how to generate stronger sales teams!
For videos on how to increase sales utilizing the SalesGym’s “Compete Selling” approaches, check out our SalesGym YouTube Channel!
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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