At the SalesGym, we interview hundreds of sales executives every year to find out new thinking and trends on top performers, coaching, and building better sales teams. In a recent interview with William Bangert, Vertical President of Convergys, he shared some unique insights into top performing salespeople and sales managers. Convergys has over 125,000 employees with 150 contact centers in 31 countries supporting 47 languages and help many of the Fortune 500 sell and service their best customers. Very few executives oversee a larger sales force than William.
The trend toward insight-led selling
One of the most significant trends in the last 10 years we’ve noticed, is the urgency in many sales organizations to integrate the more assertive, insight-driven selling methods that top performing salespeople use into the core sales process the entire sales team uses. After the 2008/2009 economic crisis, researchers found that the consultative, relationship building selling style, that had been taught for decades, was not generating the best results. Salespeople using a more assertive approach that challenged the thinking of decision makers and reframed their buying criteria generated a lot more sales. This research changed the thinking of sales executives around the world. The difficulty was how do you train sales teams to be more assertive without turning them into pushy jerks that alienate prospects and customers?
William offers an insight into this paradox… “There is an aspect of selling which is confrontational. Even if it’s very subliminal and low-key you still have to do the basics. You’ve got to ask for the sale, suggest the product, and handle the initial objection. You can’t be overly aggressive because that irritates people and they back off, but if you don’t have the basic raw material to make the suggestion in the first place then you never make the sale either.”You've got to ask for the sale, suggest the product, and handle the initial objection. -William Bangert, Vertical President of Convergys Click To Tweet
SalesGym research into this changing trend…
What we found, in working with thousands of salespeople on consulting and training projects over the last 20 years, is that what was not reported in the initial books about these more assertive sellers is that it isn’t just their more assertive approach that generates superior results. They’re able to be more assertive, in a helpful way because they do five things better than most salespeople:
Salespeople simply cannot be more effective by just asking more assertive questions and pointing out where prospects and customers are wrong or misguided in their thinking. It has to be done in conjunction with strong consultative, relationship building skills and fantastic sales messaging. Decision makers do not do business with people they don’t like. We wrote an entire book on the topic called Compete Selling but the reality is, salespeople need a lot of training and continued coaching to master this more effective approach.There has been a decline in sales training and sales mentoring at the junior level across all Industries. -William Bangert, Vertical President of Convergys Click To Tweet
Interestingly, many sales organizations are doing less real sales training and coaching than what was done by leading organizations in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s as William points out… “There has been a decline in sales training and sales mentoring at the junior level across all Industries. It used to be that you could buy a book on selling in a bookstore in an airport and you wouldn’t have to read very far before there were references to how IBM, Xerox, or GE train their salespeople. We just don’t have those same examples today, of companies that do a great job training people in sales skills at an early stage. For whatever reason there is not as much of an investment in this area anymore.”
What we hear from salespeople & sales managers
We survey salespeople and their managers extensively before we start new training projects and what we hear repeatedly, regardless of the industry or size of the organization is:
From sales managers
- I wish I could coach my salespeople more, but I don’t have the time
- Our sales training is mostly focused on new hires and is very product oriented
- Our sales process is complex and most of the training is analytic in nature without a lot of opportunity for practice
- Most of my salespeople talk too much on sales calls, don’t ask enough of the right questions and that doesn’t seem to be changing much
- The demands on me from upper management, in terms of reporting and data driven requests, is never ending
- I rarely get a chance to practice my selling skills but spend most of my one-on-one time with my manager going over pipeline, goals, metrics and quota updates
- I have no idea what top performers are actually saying on sales calls because we don’t have a system to share best practices
- A lot of the training we get is not really all that practical … it’s good from a 30,000 foot view in terms of understanding selling, but in terms of what to actually say and do on sales calls, we pretty much learn that from trial and error
We’ve found that the best sales organizations approach training and coaching the way elite sports teams do with more attention on practice, rehearsal and how to perform under pressure. There’s a time and place for going over game film and reading the playbooks, but it’s the time spent on the practice field rehearsing the plays and practicing with real pressure that improves performance. This is what sales teams need more of. William makes an interesting observation related to this… “Selling has become too theoretical. There has been a march of books for over 20 years, starting from the 80’s and 90’s, stuff like Miller Heiman and Strategic Selling, which have attempted to go from the original sales theory; open-ended questioning techniques, uncovering hidden wants and needs, pivoting and close ended question techniques leading to different types of closing techniques. these books say there is structure to these large Enterprise Organizations that you’re trying to sell to and you’ve got to understand that structure and where the money flows and who has the influence and so on in order to make this happen. Eventually we get to the point where selling has become this sort of theoretical pursuit where people read about it in a book, but no one sticks them behind the wheel and makes them spin around the parking lot to see if they can control the vehicle.”Selling has become this sort of theoretical pursuit where people read about it, but no one sticks them behind the wheel and makes them spin around the parking lot to see if they can control the vehicle. -William Bangert, Vertical President of Convergys Click To Tweet
The four critical questions…
Certainly, the buying process in many organizations has gotten more complex with a wide variety of decision influencers that have to be brought into the process in order to win the sale. We need to ask a lot of questions, do research, bring insights to the table and all of that, but at some point, the key decision makers need answers to some very basic questions:
- What makes you and your company different from the company I’m currently buying from?
- Can I trust you?
- What problems can you help me solve that my current provider isn’t already helping me with?
- Is your product/service priced competitively in relation to the value you’re providing?
When we start a new training project, we find it helpful to do some baseline testing with a cross section of salespeople in that company. What we do is ask these salespeople to identify a prospect they know reasonably well because they’ve done research, had several meetings, asked a lot of questions and understand their concerns. Then we ask them to talk to us as if talking directly to that prospect and we ask them those four questions and record their answers and then play those responses to sales managers and executives for their evaluation.
95% of the time, what we hear is utter frustration and disappointment at how poorly the average salesperson responds to these most basic softball questions. It is at this moment they realize how critical it is to start the training with fundamental sales messaging, as in:
- Competitive advantages and differentiating factors
- Tailoring features and benefits to prospect’s interests
- How to communicate what you specialize in doing
- How to ask better open ended questions to control the sales conversation
- How to use a few effective, buying criteria focused insights
We find these to be the core ingredients of a great sales call. Just as a master chef needs fantastic process in their cooking method, they also need the highest quality ingredients. Sales messaging are the ingredients salespeople must use to win the credibility and differentiation challenge. When they get better at sales messaging, their results immediately improve because their confidence and ability to effectively manage the sales process gets better. All too often, sales training today is focused on how to fly the plane in storm conditions before they’ve learned how to take off and land in perfect weather. “The person who’s got the intellectual thought behind the sales process and is willing to challenge a customer a little bit actually turns out to be the most successful. Selling I think is an art form, it’s a performance, like acting. While there is a theory behind acting and you can go to acting school, you’re not going to learn to act by reading a book and turning in a written assignment. It is a necessary part of being in acting school to go up there on stage and do the part and get critiqued and do it again and again, which is the practice part of it.” — William BangertWhile there is a theory behind acting and you can go to acting school, you're not going to learn to act by reading a book and turning in a written assignment. -William Bangert, Vertical President of Convergys Click To Tweet
Steps to a faster improving sales organization
Sales leaders can quickly transform their sales organizations by focusing first on creating a dynamic practice culture that begins with mastery of sales messaging. Here are 5 keys to rapidly improving your sales teams:
5 keys to rapidly improving your sales teams
- Figure out your sales messaging and put it into easily shareable formats sales teams can learn and master (this is not as easy as it might seem)
- Create a practice system sales managers can use and measure them on using it
- Break through the resistance that sales managers have when it comes to practicing with their salespeople
- Consider the advantage of dedicated sales coaches (internal and outsourced) that are expert at practicing with salespeople
- Create a dynamic practice culture the same way elite sports teams do
And, a final thought on the art of selling by William… “Selling is nevertheless a performance and it is storytelling and a lot of the same skills are applicable to acting. Strong and effective sales leaders do some basic things like insist on having a rehearsal or role play around the client presentation that’s going to happen or create breakout opportunities at sales meetings to actually have people deliver these kinds of practice experiences.”Selling is nevertheless a performance and it is storytelling and a lot of the same skills are applicable to acting. -William Bangert, Vertical President of Convergys Click To Tweet
The 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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