Recently, we had a very interesting interview with Craig Greenseid, Senior Vice President at Blackboard. He shared some interesting perspectives on top performing salespeople, the challenge that sales leaders face and how to make sales training that generates more impact. Craig’s common sense approach would serve a lot of sales teams well because it’s based on time tested experience.
- Selling and the Thrill of the Hunt
- Better Questions and Better Listening
- Sales Leaders - Getting the Balance Right
- The Key to Great Sales Training
Early in the interview, Craig said something that really framed the rest of our conversation,
“The best salespeople are never satisfied with the here and now, they’re always pushing for more. The best days as a sales leader is not the day you actually close the deal but all of the days leading up to the close. It was the thrill of the kill that kept me going and as soon as that kill was done and I actually had success, my next thought was “What am I going to do next? How am I going to do this again and again and again to get my name at the top of the board?””
We’ve found, in working with thousands of sales people over the years, that many top performers think exactly how Craig described it. Just as sports teams celebrate their most recent victory and quickly focus on the next game, top performers thrive on the actual chase of the deal. It’s the challenge of overcoming all the obstacles and competition that must be overcome.
Some people love this dynamic challenge and others don’t. More often than not, when you can identify salespeople that thrive on the chase for business and don’t get frustrated by obstacles but are motivated by them, you’ve got people that have the potential to become top performers. Top performers get quickly into the mindset of “what am I going to do about it” when they face an obstacle and that’s a big part of what makes them different from others.
Better Questions, Better Listening
Thousands and thousands of pages have been written about the importance of asking questions and literally, billions have been spent training salespeople to ask better questions. When we interviewed over 300 sales leaders over the last couple of years, over 90% of them told us poor listening and simply talking too much is the one mistake that causes more failure in sales than any others. Craig explains …
Not listening is the biggest mistake a salesperson can make. Salespeople go in with an intention and an understanding of what they're looking to achieve, but they need to be flexible and really know their audience... -Craig Greenseid, SVP at Blackboard Click To Tweet
“Not listening is the biggest mistake a salesperson can make. Salespeople go in with an intention and an understanding of what they’re looking to achieve, but they need to be flexible and really know their audience. They need to keep that goal in their mind but understand the path of how they’re going to get there might not be the way they originally saw it. They need to be flexible enough to recognize changes that need to be made and how to execute on them.”
With all the attention given to better listening, it’s fascinating to us that so many salespeople are hired that have medium to poor listening skills. This should be a top priority when hiring and listening. Although everyone can improve their ability to listen, it’s much easier if you hire people that have this ability on day one. Here are some good questions to ask right up front before you hire any salesperson:
Good Interviewing Questions to Ask
- Do you consider yourself a good listener and how do you know this to be true?
- Do you find that most people you speak with are good or poor listeners and please explain how you’ve come to this conclusion?
- When meeting someone for the first time, what do you think are the keys to building rapport quickly and getting a good conversation going?
- If you were to give advice to a poor listener on how to improve, what would it be?
Steven Covey famously wrote that listening to understand is one of the real keys to success and listening to respond is a low performer bad habit. When we are thinking about our response while another person is talking, we are not really connecting with them. That connection is key to why many top performers develop that higher level of trust that leads to more closed deals.
Craig explains another key benefit of good listening,
“To ask the right questions, you have to understand the clients’ situation in its entirety. If I’m going to be a little bit forceful in my line of questioning, first I have to try to uncover what are the compelling reasons to act. If we listen more up front and ask some of those open-ended questions, we might just get the answers we were looking for before going to a more direct line of questioning”
Getting the Balance Right
There’s a difficult balance to reach, when managing salespeople, between spending enough time in the field, on sales calls with them and doing enough analysis and reporting to stay on top of the forecasts. Craig explains,
“There are, without a doubt, a lot of sales leaders that I’ve seen that are only operationally focused, looking only at the metrics. I am a true believer that you need to go figure out how you’re going to go change this, but they’re not out in the field with their teams executing. So I agree that there’s not enough coaching happening from these leaders.”
Coaching is typically more effective when we can observe our team members in actual selling situations as this gives our observational feedback more credibility. Some managers get in the habit of giving most of their coaching and advice about what they’re seeing in the numbers which is important, but it’s what’s happening or not happening on actual sales calls that drives those numbers.
The four most common mistakes on sales calls:
- Talking too much
- Not asking the right questions at the right time
- Inability to communicate tailored, compelling competitive advantage
- Not being able to control the conversation and lead it to a close
These four mistakes are not going to be solved with metrics analysis. Craig explains how important it is to get that balance right …
“There’s a balance of getting out in the field and then there’s a balance of sitting in your office. In one of my past roles, I moved one of my top sales reps to a management job. The problem was his forecast accuracy was off, his pipeline was not where it needed to be. He was missing some of our forecast calls and thinks because he’s spending 72 hours a week in the field that he’s doing all the right things. I tried to explain to him, the difference between working hard and working smart. There is a distinct difference between the two. On the other hand, I had someone in that same company that literally sat in their office every single day and their numbers were tight, they knew exactly where they’re going to be but they were not being a difference maker for their team. Additionally, they were never getting out in front of clients. I almost need to take two of those and mold them together to get the right person.”
The Key to Great Sales Training
Most sales leaders agree that sales training is a critical piece of the strategy when it comes to building a steadily improving sales force. Often, sales leaders are disappointed that so many salespeople leave expensive sales training events and go right back to the same selling habits before the training. Craig suggests that more time needs to be spent listening to what the sales team says their challenges are in order to plan effective training for them,
“Sales training works when you survey an appropriate number of your salespeople regarding what the biggest challenges they are facing in the field. The ability to build both the training and content around those challenges, makes all the difference in the world and will drive the commitment from the field. I’m always a believer in asking people for their opinions and then using that to better enable them.”
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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