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 April Wheeler, Vice President & Officer, Account Management at Travel and Transport, Inc, she shared some thoughts into how sales managers can build better performing sales teams. Her insights included:
- Customer focus as our first priority
- Great questions and better storytelling are keys to top performers results
- Practice is the fuel to taking results to the next level
Early in the interview, April gave us a concise overview into what the best salespeople have in common,
“The best salespeople really take the time to qualify and understand the type of business and who they are selling to. They understand the expectations and pain points, they know who they’re working with and they try to set realistic expectations around what products and services the customer is looking for. They ask a lot of questions and then listen intently for those pain-points to solve. It’s really a matter of honing in on what our differentiating solutions are that will help them. It’s critical to align your sales incentives to make sure that the sales team is comfortable selling the right type of business that will be a good fit for your organization and create a long-term, mutually beneficial partnership.”
Focus first on the customer and what’s important to them
We’ve worked with, learned from and interviewed thousands of top performers over the last 25 years and one thing most of them have in common is intense customer focus, as April explains,
“It’s really easy to go in and talk about what we do and how we do it and how great we are, but that’s not the point. The point is to make sure we’re focused on the customer and what their pain points are and point out how we will solve those problems.”
Sales managers can help their sales teams develop more of this customer focus. The key is getting them to think from the perspective of the decision maker. Here’s a drill you can do with your salespeople that will really help. After an important call or meeting with a high potential prospect, ask your salesperson these questions:
- Explain, as if talking in the prospect’s voice, what their number one concern is, what their biggest doubt is about you/us and what it’s going to take to earn “my” trust so I’ll give you the business? (all in the voice of the prospect)
- Ask your salesperson what questions do you think were on the mind of that decision maker that he/she didn’t ask?
- Ask what were the questions you wish you would have asked if you had another opportunity?
- Ask to hear the exact agenda the salesperson started the meeting with … exactly as he/she communicated it to that prospect.
From these answers, you’ll get new opportunities to coach for better customer focus.
April reminded us that top performers tend to be more realistic and honest with their customers. This leads to the kind of trust that allows true partnerships to develop as she describes,
Those salespeople that ... don't try to sell a dream as opposed to what is right, are the ones that are more successful. -April Wheeler, Vice President & Officer, Account Management at Travel and Transport, Inc Click To Tweet
“Those salespeople that are very transparent about what will and won’t work for a customer and don’t try to sell a dream as opposed to what is right, are the ones that are more successful. That’s a more effective approach, and in the long run, we’re going to have better, longer, more trusting relationships with our customers.”
Great questions + effective storytelling is critically important
For whatever reason, questioning and genuine curiosity-driven listening is not a natural skill for most humans and this is true with salespeople as well. In fact, it’s often harder for salespeople because they often feel the pressure, in the heat of a conversation with a doubting prospect, to spill out all kinds of information hoping to turn that doubt into genuine interest.
April reminds us that sales leaders need to take this challenge of training the sales team to ask better questions seriously,
“Leaders need to ensure salespeople know the right questions to ask, with training, and make sure that they are able to ask good qualifying questions to identify where those problem areas could potentially be. Asking those questions ahead of time and understanding the customers perspective sets everyone up for success.”
Here are two exercises you can do with your team to build better muscle memory when it comes to asking questions:
- In a sales meeting, ask each team member to identify the most important new business development call or meeting they have in the next 10 days. Then ask to hear the agenda they will use (as if speaking to the prospect) to start the meeting and the 5 most important questions they’ll ask in that meeting. This is an excellent sales management practice to get into.
- Schedule some brainstorming time in an upcoming sales meeting to share the best questions each salesperson has, write them down, organize them into logical categories and then send them back out in the form of a questioning job aid. Insist everyone print it out and put it somewhere visible by their desk.
Aristotle once said, “attention is the gateway to influence,” meaning you have to capture favorable attention before influence is likely to happen. Fortunately, stories are a fantastic way to focus the decision maker’s attention, lower resistance and increase receptivity, as April explains,
“Salespeople today need to come in and tell the story of how we have accomplished success for our customers and give prospects real-life examples. They need to tell them how they were able to solve similar pain points. That makes a bigger difference than just going in and saying here’s who we are, here’s what we do by bringing more of a solutions-based storytelling as opposed to the typical way that they sold before. It used to be trying to sell the agency, ‘this is who we are and this is what we do’, as opposed to looking at it a little bit differently and looking at it as what’s in it for the customer.”
Practice is the fuel that builds strong performance
Practice is how we get good at any skill and sales is no different. One way or another, salespeople are going to practice and hopefully, it’s not on live, high opportunity prospects. Practice needs to be integrated into the week in a systematic way the same way sports teams do it. April explains how she incorporated practice early in her career,
“When I started 18 years ago, practice was not comfortable for me. I would have those who were really good at selling get on the phone with me or go to a meeting with me and I would watch and observe and then I would start to learn the most effective and impactful things to say, and I would recognize the types of things that I needed to work on, and understand that these are the questions to ask. I started incorporating that, and then of course, follow that same practice with my team and eventually turned them loose to practice on their own. It’s basically taking the time and intention to practice with each other and talk about how to frame the things you want to focus on, ‘here are the areas you want to be sure you bring up and you know that has worked well and it becomes a mentoring style that includes practice and watching and learning and then stepping out and doing it on your own and finding out what does work and what doesn’t work.”
Often, salespeople are somewhat resistant to practice and April gives some simple advice on how to deal with that,
“Practice is hard, people don’t want to role play, but when we do it in smaller group settings, that works really well.”
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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