At SalesGym, we’re always on the lookout for sales executives that have interesting and unique perspectives into selling, top performers, coaching, and building better sales teams. In a recent interview with Thomas L. Fanning, Vice President – Sales and Marketing at Continental Tire, he shared some refreshing ideas on the importance of simplifying the expectations, tools and technology for the sales team to help them execute more effectively. Tom’s ideas are focused around:
- Give the sales team the freedom to use the tools they really need
- Training and preparation is a critical priority
- Stick to a consistent training gameplan
- Never forget how important closing skills are
Early in the interview, Tom made a point that really puts the importance of reducing complexity into clear perspective…
“As sales leaders, we’re talking about salespeople not getting to the crux of the conversation. At the same time, we’re saying, ‘We just bought a subscription to a new CRM program, enter every single thing you’re doing. We have this other system we want you to use and here’s another homegrown system to generate sales proposals, here’s a new lead acquisition company we just hired and we’re going to help you acquire leads and here’s a new market’. We are creating so much static in the brain channel of salespeople. At some point, we have to sit down as the guide and as the azimuth on this compass and say what do we really expect?”
We agree 100% with Tom because the era we’re in is creating a never ending stream of distractions and time wasters and there’s a temptation to think that the big breakthrough will come from yet another system or process or tech upgrade when, in fact, the team hasn’t come close to mastering the tools they already have. It’s the same mistake of switching from diet to diet when the real issue is the ability to commit to, learn and use the diet plan instead of looking for a “better one” that we won’t thoroughly learn or master either.
Give the sales team the freedom to use the tools they really need
Sales team members respond to selling tools in different ways. One salesperson may love the new whiz-bang proposal generator while another got better results with a simpler version introduced 2 years ago. Some salespeople utilize a lot of tech tools when they meet with customers while others prefer a less tech-heavy, relationship focused interaction. Tom points out how critical it is to be flexible,
“As a sales leader, the best thing you can do is give your salespeople every tool you have to help them, then tell them, “Use what you need.” I have this massive toolbox in my garage. I never pulled my entire toolbox over to a car to change a fan belt. I got the wrench and whatever else I needed out of that box and I put a fan belt on the car and I was done. Leaders and salespeople get too caught up in all these internal competing interests.”
It’s also important to realize that some ideas that look and sound great in project planning meetings aren’t met with the same level of excitement by the team they’re rolled out to. This can create friction that gets in the way of results as Tom explains,
“It’s okay to task internal resources to develop something and it never gets used. That’s okay. Quit getting married to ideas. I’ve come up with a lot of really really good ideas over the years but after they saw the light of day they turn out not to be good ideas. Those ideas belong in the trash can, and that’s okay.”
Sometimes, leaders can get so wrapped up in getting systems and new processes adopted that they aren’t focused enough on what it’s going to take to close that next deal and that’s a big mistake. We’ve observed a lot of sales meetings where 90% of the meeting is stacked with new updates on systems, processes, procedures, updates, upgrades and a little time at the end on pipeline reporting. Most of the time, salespeople tell us those meetings do absolutely nothing to help them close more deals.Sometimes we forget that it's not so complicated. You just have to sell something. - Thomas L. Fanning, Vice President - Sales and Marketing at Continental Tire Click To Tweet
Training and preparation is a critical priority
Sales leaders have a variety of tools and resources they can apply to improve performance and it’s important to understand that the way salespeople perform in those minutes when they’re speaking to a high potential decision maker has the most impact of all on results. A somewhat disorganized, non tech savvy salesperson that is masterful in the sales interaction will get consistently better results than the salesperson that is a tech wizard but when speaking with actual prospects or customers, simply cannot connect, build trust or communicate real value. Tom points out the importance of lifelong learning,
“In the military, we spent months and months and months training for one mission and that mission might last an hour or it might last eight hours. With salespeople, most organizations are training people and then send them out there and start grading whether they’re successful or not. My best friend’s a physician and he has to go to continuing education all the time to keep his license. My wife’s an attorney and she has to go to continuing education to keep her bar certification. CPAs do it too. Everyone does it except for sales! It’s one of the few professions that you go out there, there’s no certification for it, there’s no continuing education requirement for it, if you can fog a mirror you can go sell.”
At SalesGym, we did a thorough analysis of how elite sports teams train their athletes because they have taken performance under pressure to a much higher level than more traditional companies. What really sets them apart is the intensity, consistency and repetition of practice. It’s often a culture of practice that is the all important missing ingredient that holds sales teams back as Tom explains,
“You have guys that have been with a company for 15 years that become stagnant because they quit thinking about practice. When you walk into a buyer in New York City and you say, ‘Can I have 15 minutes of your time? and they pull out a wind up egg timer and set it to 15 and slam it on the table and say, Go,’ you need to be able to get from A to Z in 15 minutes. Unless you have that muscle memory through practice, have assessed the situation, understand the variables and the force multiplier, know what you can bring to bear and don’t forget to ask for something at the end of that conversation then you won’t be successful. You have to practice those types of high-pressure situations.”
It’s up to the sales leaders to create the high pressure practice situations that allow sales team members to make mistakes, learn and eventually achieve mastery in practice sessions so they don’t learn by trial and error in actual selling opportunities.
Stick to a consistent training gameplan
Every month, at SalesGym, when we start a new project, we test a cross section of the sales team first on the most basic selling skills of all, like answering the question, “what makes your company different or better than your competitors.” Before we determine the focus or topics of the training program with our clients, we play the random responses we get so everyone can accurate assess where we should start. In nearly every case, even with senior, “advanced” salespeople, when management hears these responses, they conclude that the training and coaching should focus on the basics instead of more esoteric, analytic sales training topics that are so popular today. Tom explains it this way,
“Sales leaders so often say, ‘We’re going to bring in a consultant this month. We are going to work on spin selling or we want to be consultative salespeople or we want to be technical salespeople’, and it just creates this environment within your sales team of an identity crisis. These organizations, and the bigger they are the worse it is, they start to conglomerate all of these different resources, and then the salesperson at the end of the day does not understand their pitch. They can’t answer that 30-second elevator speech of, ‘Why should you buy from me?’
90% of all sales organizations will get better results if they focus training and coaching, even with more tenured sales team members, on the following:
- Sales messaging - communicating core competitive advantages and differentiating factors in a concise and persuasive way … repetition based practice until team members achieve observable verbal fluency
- Breaking the habit of using too many closed ended questions. This is a terrible habit a shockingly high number of salespeople, even experienced ones, get into that limits opportunity
- Learning how to communicate an effective summary of what matters most to the decision maker at critical points in the selling interaction. Once again, from testing, we’ve found a surprising number of salespeople never use summaries in the actual sales conversation
- How to end any sales interaction with natural, relevant recommended next steps to move the process forward as quickly as possible. These are closing skills applied to both long and short cycle selling
If we start here and train the team the way athletes train with challenging repetition until the demonstrate the verbal skills they need, then we’ll see our training investments really pay off.
Never forget how important closing skills are
Tom made a comment at the end of our interview that is a great way to end this article because it’s so important,
“Hiring philosophy used to be, hire the 3.0 student, they were maybe an athlete or president of their fraternity or sorority. Hiring for that social skill. That was the old classical salesperson type of environment, but they just can’t boil it down because they’re used to chaos. We see hundreds and hundreds of sales presentations from people coming in trying to get a job and at the end of a presentation, that simple question, ‘How many would you like to order? Can I get a purchase order number? What date do you want delivery,’ those classic asking for the order questions, the number of them that ask for the sale at the end of a 10-minute presentation is less than 10%.”
If a salesperson is nervous or reluctant to ask closing questions, they are not going to be successful. There’s no getting around this timeless truth.
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.