- Research Interviews
Bringing Out the Best in Your Sales Teams: An Interview with Kelly Miller
At SalesGym, we’re always on the lookout for sales executives that have interesting and timeless insights into top performers, coaching, and building better sales teams. In a recent interview with Kelly Miller, Regional Vice President – Sales at DexYP, she shared some thoughts about how sales teams can perform better on sales calls and how sales managers can accelerate improvement faster. Her insights included:
- What’s missing all too often is good listening
- Living in the client’s world
- Stop bulldozing through the sales process!
- There’s no substitute for real, substantive practice
- Leaders must accelerate learning through better coaching
Early in the interview, Kelly summed up how important it is for leaders to set the pace in terms of building a culture that promotes the right approach to selling …
“Culture starts with us as leaders and with the company. If a company and its leaders are solely pushing products, nothing will change. If we’re invested in educating our sales team to be focused on becoming a business advisor you will see change.”
We’ve all heard many times that change starts from the top and it’s especially true with sales teams. If you want your salespeople to go out, meet with customers, listen to what they need and then bring those insights back to the company to create solutions that really resonate, then management must listen, value the input of the sales team and TRAIN the sales team to become skillful at listening-based, consultative selling.
Living in the Client’s World
90% of the sales executives we interview tell us the number one mistake salespeople make on sales calls, whether it’s in person or on the phone, is poor listening. Kelly agrees,
“The number one skill I believe has been missing in sales is listening to the client.”
She recalled the famous line from the movie Pulp Fiction — “Are you someone who listens or waits to talk?”
Most of us become less resistant and more receptive when we have an opportunity to share our opinions and preferences first, before being told what we “should” need. Too often, salespeople feel they get a clear view of what’s best for the customer and then shortcut the process of asking, listening and validating as Kelly points out,
Too often, I've seen salespeople become too enthusiastic, product dump or assume the sale. When this happens, the salesperson is living in their own world versus the client’s. - Kelly Miller, Regional Vice President - Sales at DexYP Click To Tweet
“We can only earn the right to make a recommendation with a client if we can validate they have a need in the first place. Too often, I’ve seen salespeople become too enthusiastic, product dump or assume the sale. When this happens, the salesperson is living in their own world versus the client’s.”
Kelly explains the way to lower that resistance and increase our odds of success,
“The biggest behavior that needs to change is possessing the discipline to live in the client’s world. If you can begin that level of dialogue, a client becomes more comfortable and they are more likely to open up and talk which will become a valuable conversation. Then, later in the conversation, you’re more credible, you have something to back it up, and are afforded the opportunity to be confident in your recommendation.”
It’s that old saying that we first need to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes to really understand where they’re coming from.
Stop Bulldozing through the Sales Conversation
Another mistake Kelly pointed out is how we need to make the customer and their needs our highest priority on sales calls and really demonstrate that in the conversation. When we are overly assertive about pushing the conversation where we want it to go … into the products we want to pitch, then we create an impression that lowers our odds of success as she points out,
“If we try to bulldoze our way through the sales conversation we’re not earning the right to recommend a solution for our client. If the client perceives the call is all about ‘the us’, the salesperson, we will lose every single time. We have failed our client.”
When we are listening to respond instead of listening to understand, it’s easy for us to make the mistake of focusing on areas that aren’t that important to the decision maker but are important to us as Kelly explains,
“I feel one of the worst habits is assumption: when salespeople assume the importance of a product based on the gap they perceive to find in a client’s business. We need to listen, talk and understand a client’s point of pain. It may not be something the client feels is a priority to address. Without validating you run the risk of being perceived poorly and, as a result, will lose the opportunity to help the client.”
Ways to Break the Bulldozing Habit
- Ask more open ended questions and fewer closed ended questions
- Start meetings off by asking the customer what’s the most important thing they’d like to get out of the meeting
- Summarize what you’ve learned before pitching any product and end the summary asking the customer to fill in any details you might have missed
- Ask your prospects and customers, “what’s most important to you in terms of what I need to understand about your situation so I can be most helpful to you?
- Be patient, take notes, listen and validate what you’re learning
We are not the hero.
They’re the hero. – Kelly Miller
Coaching requires strong follow through
Customers pay attention to promises and commitments salespeople make on sales calls. When they don’t follow through or forget about those commitments, their credibility and trust factor goes down. The same thing is true with coaching. We need to follow through, repeatedly, to get the learning cycle going as Kelly explains,
“A common piece of the coaching pie that is missed is learning. As a leader, it’s critical when you go out with your reps to give them a couple days to try what you’ve gone over with them, allow them to fall on their face, and then give them a day or two to go and try it again. Have them identify where it falls apart and tell you what they suggest they should do differently? Discuss it together. Agree together. If it is their plan, they can own the plan and you as a leader can own coaching and support. If you don’t follow through two or three or four weeks later, don’t be shocked or frustrated they didn’t do what you coached them on. If we, as frontline managers and leaders, are committed to that component, we will own the follow up a couple days after the plan as a check-in. We will also validate that they are working on the plan they own and support and adjust then if needed. If we wait a few weeks, we are missing an opportunity as coaches to drive the change needed. If we follow up within a few days and continue to support, we will drive change and we will have successes to celebrate along the way.”
Most companies we work with need their sales teams to learn at a very fast pace because technology, products and customer processes are changing so fast. What worked last year or even last quarter may not work now. It’s the ability to adapt, learn and change quickly that is so important and good coaches understand this and that different salespeople learn in different ways as Kelly explains,
“We operate in a virtual environment. There isn’t one style of learning because everyone learns differently. For example, some salespeople after in-person or virtual training request or need additional resources and it’s our responsibility as leaders to provide it. We are constantly trying to provide follow-up learning opportunities via online courses or video tutorial support to those we train.”
Practice with coaching is the formula
“As leaders, we have to ask ourselves. ‘Have we done our part to support our teams in embracing change?’”
Kelly reminds us and emphasizes that coaching is a lot more than just telling people what to do,
“It’s critical that our frontline management guides success through coaching versus telling.”
Ultimately, great coaching means creating a culture where salespeople practice and improve. Ideally, sales teams learn on the practice field and not just on live calls where mistakes are very costly. Kelly points out,
“A doctor doesn’t get through medical school without studying. A Hall of Famer doesn’t earn a .300+ batting average without practicing. If you want to appear unrehearsed, then you must be well-rehearsed. I’m a 4th-degree black belt and nobody just hands you that belt, you earn it. You have to practice.”
Practice is tough, especially when it’s required on a weekly basis, as Kelly reminds us,
“Practice takes, well, practice and requires a change in behavior. We are not all change agents. Some of us are early adopters, some of us aren’t. There are no shortcuts. One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Tell them and they hear you. Show them and they see. Involve them and they understand.’”
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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