Every month, we interview sales leaders from a variety of industries looking for insights into what salespeople and Sales Managers are doing to impact and improve performance. Recently, we spoke with Jody Garcia-VP of Sales & Service at AT&T and Karen Sepulveda Buls-Head of New Business Development, Global Sales with American Airlines.
One theme we’ve been hearing more and more frequently is that Sales Managers must focus more time on coaching and developing the skills of their salespeople and less time on metrics, goals and pipeline analysis.
The best Sales Managers…
Spend more energy breaking bad selling habits and helping their people sell the way top performers do. Jody Garcia emphasized…
The best manager is one who is very involved in understanding how to meet each employee where they are within their own given learning curve. -Jody Garcia-VP of Sales & Service at AT&T Click To Tweet
“The best manager is one who is very involved in understanding how to meet each employee where they are within their own given learning curve. They take a moment to celebrate the successes along the way and insert themselves to provide coaching and follow-up to make each of their team members a success. They build relationships based on trust and respect and those are the teams that thrive.”
Jody absolutely nailed it in terms of what the best Sales Managers are doing. Goals and metrics are important, to be sure, but what most sales people need is to learn how to be more effective in sales interactions and more pressure on metrics and expectations is not going to magically increase their effectiveness level. In fact, salespeople that are overly stressed about hitting a sales goal instead of really listening to prospects to find out the biggest opportunity, are typically not the top performers.
Good questions open the door…
Good, relevant questions and effective listening is the key to identifying more selling opportunities. 90% of the sales executives we interview tell us that talking too much on sales calls is the most common mistake salespeople make. Strong Sales Managers teach their people how to avoid this mistake. Karen Buls sums it up well…
“One big mistake is sales reps often fail to actively listen to understand prospects’ needs or their pain points before they make a proposal. They’re so eager to start the sale and to start talking about what a great program they have, and how they can help, they’re not always taking the time to understand all of their prospect’s pain points and then drive the right recommendation based on that.”
It’s important for sales leaders to understand how deep seated this habit is and how important it is to work with team members repeatedly, over time, to improve their ability to ask better, more relevant questions and listen. It is staggering to consider how much sales revenue is left behind simply because salespeople are not properly trained to listen and communicate in a more concise way. More pressure on the metrics does nothing to address this fundamental problem.
Train the way athletes do…
At the SalesGym, we study carefully the way sales teams are typically trained in contrast to how elite sports teams are coached and trained. The difference is significant. Sports teams work hard every week on core abilities and skills like speed, agility, flexibility and coordination BEFORE they work on the actual skills of their sport. Sales managers often do little or none of this basic skill building and instead, concentrate on giving advice, pointers, pipeline analysis and, at times, coming in and selling for their people as the hero that saves the deal. This is simply not the way to build a constantly improving, top performing team. The obvious mistakes that need constant training and practice on to overcome include:
- Too much talking on sales calls
- Not starting sales interactions off with an effective, customer focused agenda
- Poor questioning … either too obvious, not relevant or not challenging enough
- Inability to communicate compelling value and competitive advantages on what matters most to the prospect or customer and clearly defines what differentiates your company from your competitors
- Be curious, take notes and display a genuine desire to understand the core issues
- Inability to control the sales conversation and lead it to a desirable conclusion
All of these limiting habits…
Can be changed! Executives tell us at least 70% of all salespeople talk too much on sales calls! This is because they aren’t getting the kind of practice that breaks this bad habit.
Sometimes, salespeople resist change and practice. Karen Buls points out…
One of the things that holds some of the more experienced reps back from practicing is that they feel that practice is not as good as live scenarios. -Karen Sepulveda Buls-Head of New Business Development, Global Sales with American Airlines Click To Tweet
“One of the things that holds some of the more experienced reps back from practicing is that they feel that practice is not as good as live scenarios. They don’t believe they are going to get the curveballs as they would in a real call, so their preference is to actually learn in a real-life environment rather than a made up scenario.”
And Karen is absolutely right. Just as it takes persistence to keep selling when we hear our first no, it takes persistence to keep coaching on the fundamentals the same way sports coaches do. And, the more we practice, the better we get as coaches in terms of making it more relevant and realistic.
Practice and repetition…
Elite athletes improve because of practice and never ending repetition, yet very few salespeople that we meet, and we’ve met thousands, get this kind of practice. The absolute best Sales Managers, however, find a way to create a practice system and steady, skills improving challenges for their people.
Jody shared how critical it is to work those teaching opportunities into our day…
“Trying to find those moments to create teaching opportunities can be perceived as difficult and yet, what we really have to do, is insert those critical pauses to take a moment to build that skill set. It’s not only about building the skill set, but it’s about building the confidence in that agent to execute that skill to be much more effective.”
Repetition is a very difficult habit to get into. Most salespeople avoid it, but it is necessary in order to learn and retain difficult verbal skills. At SalesGym, we call this “verbal fluency” which is the ability to perform effectively, under pressure, when it matters most.
Ask yourself these questions…
Most Sales Managers would immediate improve and generate better results if they would honestly ask themselves these questions …
- How much time each week do I practice with my sales team?
- Have I created a strong and helpful practice culture with my team?
- Are my sales meetings loaded with challenging drills to practice better selling approaches?
- Do I know how my people communicate their value proposition because I’ve heard it recently?
- Do I have a written practice and development game plan I am executing and measuring against?
… and then take action to transform the way they interact with their sales teams.
Suggestions for Sales Managers…
Most Sales Managers will get better results if they start thinking and executing like an elite sports team coach. Spend more time planning great practice and strength building exercises or partner with people that can help you. Consider the insight of Jody Garcia on this…
“When you think about an athlete, you think about the constant training and skill development in all areas of the game (physical, emotional, strategic, tactical). Athletes are disciplined, self- driven and committed to be the best. They are also open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. They are constantly practicing, constantly raising the bar and pushing and pushing. It’s the same in a sales environment and those that really do that with discipline and daily commitment are those that are always #1. They become the people you’re looking to reach out to emulate or looking to lift up to share.”
Five strong focus areas…
These five focus areas can transform the way you manage and open up enormous opportunity for your team.
- Focus less time on metrics, reporting and pipeline analysis and more time on practice, rehearsing and preparing for sales calls with your team
- A great practice exercise is to simply ask one of your salespeople to give you the agenda for the most important call on their calendar as if speaking directly to that prospect
- Ask your salespeople to explain to you what makes them different and what they specialize in doing as if speaking directly to a new prospect
- Ask your salespeople constantly what questions they are going to ask in their next sales call that are really tailored to that particular prospect
- In sales meetings, ask every salesperson to share exactly how their customers would describe the benefits of doing business with your company … teach your people to tell those stories to prospects
Great coaches teach and reinforce. Recently, I was coaching a retired Laker that played for Phil Jackson, the famous NBA coach that won a record 11 NBA Championships. When asked what it was like playing on his team, the reply was primarily about how focused the coaches were on teaching the fundamentals of basketball…the basics…over and over and over until every player on the team could execute.
Skillful execution of basic fundamentals drive better results in sports and in selling. Sales Managers need to know what those basic fundamentals are and teach like crazy.
Basic Sales Fundamentals Include
Just like Phil Jackson taught his team a set of basic fundamentals, if you’re going to teach selling fundamentals and build a solid team that can execute, then you need to really focus on the teachable selling skills. Although there are many sales processes and sales cycles out there, these are the universal selling skills, the sales basic fundamentals, that matter most in terms of interacting with live prospects:
- How to start a sales call with a great, customer focused agenda
- Asking questions, listening and asking relevant and effective follow up questions
- Using effective insights to challenge the limiting thinking of prospects the right way
- Summarizing at the right time to check in and transition
- Using short, effective headlines to organize competitive advantages
- Tailoring the value proposition and differentiating factors to what matters most to that prospect
- Closing for clear action steps
- Maintaining control of the sales call and sales process
These are all skills that can be taught and improved. The key is to get into a steady routine where coaching and practice happens every week, like clockwork. Results will happen the same way going to the gym consistently every week and working out the right way will lead to better conditioning. A good place for many sales managers to start is to observe their salespeople on sales calls or in simulations and rate them in each of these key selling skills to see where they are. Then, of course, apply training, practice and repetition to steadily move the needle.
Managing is about setting goals and measuring and holding people accountable and that stuff matters. Training, coaching and building confidence through practice and repetition matters just as much, if not more! Karen reminds us of what makes top performers different…
“The sales landscape is ever changing, so top salespeople are eager to sharpen the saw and learn new approaches. They keep themselves up-to-date and don’t think that they know everything there is to know about selling. They are the reps that will cross the finish line ahead of the others.”
We can build more of these top performers if we spend more time creating a practice culture that challenges every team member to improve every week.
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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