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. One theme we’ve been hearing 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.
Some interesting thoughts on coaching and building better sales teams came out when we talked to Skipper Irish, Manager of Field Sales Training for Teleflex, Inc. and Mark Winter, Vice President of Sales and Sales Ops in the Staffing Industry.
Buyers are changing…
Buyers are changing largely because of the way technology enables them to learn before they even start the buying process. The way we manage and coach sales teams needs to adapt to this. Mark shared with us a key insight about how buyers are changing…
I think one of the biggest changes in the customer’s buying experience/cycle is that they are more educated. -Mark Winter, Vice President of Sales and Sales Ops in the Staffing Industry Click To Tweet
“I think one of the biggest changes in the customer’s buying experience/cycle is that they are more educated. This is causing them to rarely be surprised about what you can provide for them in the sales interaction.”
Sales Teams need coaching and practice on how to adapt to this new selling reality. Not only do they need to understand the needs of buyers, but they need more fresh insights and ideas to bring to the table to impact the thinking and decision making criteria as early as possible.
Good questions open the door…
We need strong skills at asking the right questions, at the right time to understand what insights we should share. Skipper Irish reminds us how important it is to understand what matters most to the buyer…
“It’s essential to understand the prospect’s perspective. Many sales efforts end simply because the rep doesn’t have the knowledge to proceed. What does the prospect value? What ‘price tags’ do they put on various benefits and issues? When we know their perspective, it is usually easy to know what your next steps and questions should be. Conversely if you don’t know how to proceed with them it is probably because you don’t have the background knowledge required.”
Sales teams will have more success with bigger selling opportunities if they can first uncover needs and build rapport with good, relevant questions and then respond with highly relevant insights and ideas instead of just product, features and benefits. That’s what the top producers are doing consistently and what we need to teach the rest of the sales team to do more skillfully.
What sales habits limit results?
At the SalesGym, we practice and rehearse our clients’ salespeople for sales calls every day. The bad habits they get into are stubborn to break and will hurt results. This is where good coaching comes in. Think in terms of how athletes learn and train. They work on skills like speed, agility, flexibility and coordination often BEFORE they work on the actual skills of their sport. Sales Managers that break these bad habits will open the door for much better results on actual sales calls.
The worst bad habits include:
- Too much talking on sales calls
- 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
- Inability to control the sales conversation and lead it to a desirable conclusion
Mark Winter points out how much opportunity there is in simply helping salespeople get better at communicating their competitive advantages…
“There’s a difference between really knowing what sets you apart and what your competitive advantages are versus what is on your website which is probably pretty similar to your competitors. 80% of salespeople can probably state what is on the website but can’t really differentiate what sets them apart from their competition.”
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.
Skipper Irish shared with us how he developed his skills with practice and repetition…
Excellent presentations are developed through repetition, by actually giving them. -Skipper Irish, Manager of Field Sales Training for Teleflex, Inc. Click To Tweet
“Sales reps don’t get nearly enough practice. For years I used to have a microcassette recorder to hone my skills. Typically I would record my presentation of a product or benefit during windshield time and then play it back while listening critically from the customer’s perspective. After listening, far more often than not, I would say to myself, ‘Wow, that really sucks, I need to change that.’ The presentation would initially get even worse as I tried over and over to improve it. After numerous failures I would develop a consistent quality presentation on that benefit. Candidly, that’s really what’s required. Excellent presentations are developed through repetition, by actually giving them.”
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…
- 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?
Suggestions for Sales Managers…
Most Sales Managers will get better results if they start thinking more like an elite sports team coach. Spend more time planning great practice and strength building exercises or partner with people that can help you. These four 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
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.
Imagine what would happen to a sales team if the sales manager would coach and practice the way elite athletic teams do! Skipper shared with us a powerful insight about training…
“Training is different than teaching. I can teach you all the facts concerning a product, but that does not mean that you can present it well. That requires practice. It’s like learning tennis. You can read numerous books on how to play great tennis, learn how to hold the racquet, hit various shots, optimal strategies etc and literally become an expert in tennis knowledge but that doesn’t mean you can beat anyone at tennis. Every professional athlete trains by practicing their craft. LeBron James still practices free throws. You must train yourself in the various skills that you need to perform well. Product knowledge is needed, but repetitive training on presenting the product, answering concerns etc is essential for sales and any developed skill.”
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.
Coaching needs to be consistent…
You’re going to get better results if you coach consistently every week with a plan and a schedule and not just in a reactive way when your people ask for help or assistance with a specific selling opportunity. Great coaches train their people every week with a well thought through game plan. Mark Winter adds…
“Top performing managers are not just doing what I call Gameday coaching … as in they show up, ride with a rep and then feel as though they’re done with that rep now, and have contributed to their success. The best sales managers have a process of management that’s outside the Gameday coaching mindset. They’re managing, coaching and preparing well before the actual Gameday. The Gameday managers are the ones that go out on ride-alongs and they jump in on calls because they haven’t helped their reps prepare for the game.”
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.