Recently we had an opportunity to interview Peter A. Braverman, Senior Vice President at Intralinks, to get his perspective on top-performing sales teams and how sales coaches can have more impact. He shared some timeless insights into how sales managers and coaches can focus their efforts to get better results.
- Attract the Right Talent
- Selling vs. Providing Credible Value
- The Talking Too Much Problem
- Peter’s Thinking on Sales Coaching
Attract the Right Talent
Just after we started the interview, Peter said something that helped set the stage for the rest of our conversation,
“Three basic qualities that top individuals possess are the right attitude, the right effort, and the ability to be coached. The right attitude means that they want to win and they want to win the right way. These people are team players. The right effort is having a natural work ethic. “A” players don’t need a manager to motivate them because they have their own engine. Finally, the most important thing is being coachable. The ability to receive feedback with a good attitude and adjust performance based on that feedback is absolutely essential in sales. People who are willing to be coached can exceed expectations.”
We have found, in coaching thousands of salespeople for our SalesGym clients, that not all salespeople are what we’d describe as easily coachable. Nearly every salesperson, when interviewing for a new sales position, will say they are coachable and like getting coaching, but this is often not the case. It’s helpful, in an interview situation, to ask several questions to try and determine just how coachable the interviewee truly is:
- Describe the best coach you’ve ever had? What made them that way?
- Describe the worst coach you’ve ever had and why their style didn’t work with you?
- What selling skills of yours do you think right now you need the most coaching on?
- Who was the coach that had the most positive impact on you and how and why did that happen?
- Of the four classic mistakes in selling, talking too much, asking the wrong questions, poor sales messaging and inability to control the sales process, where do you think you need the most coaching right now and why?
- When you get advice or coaching you find difficult to take, how do you typically react?
These kinds of questions will at least give you an indication as to whether the interviewee is truly coachable or not. Hiring team members that are hard to coach will eventually create misery for the sales coach.
Peter explains the positive side effect of attracting the right people to the sales team,
“Many times, we think that it is sales leaders who are driving things forward and raising the bar when more often than not, it is actually the front-line sales rep who accomplishes that. When that occurs in an office setting, it can create a positive office culture where everyone wants to succeed as much as that person.”
Selling vs. Providing Credible Value
More and more sales leaders agree that top sellers have the ability to position themselves as credible experts in the mind of the buyer. They’re not just working a sales process, they’re bringing ideas, insights, and recommendations to the decision-makers that have real value beyond the product or service they are selling. When a seller establishes this kind of credibility, it lowers buying resistance significantly and enables the seller to impact the buyer’s decision making criteria. This gets to the heart of insight-led selling, as Peter explains,
“The best players are not actively selling, they are consulting by asking questions and listening the right way. These people already have the fundamentals nailed before they even walk through the door. By the time they have the meeting, they are perceived as experts and have credibility. They participate in the meeting by asking thought-provoking questions that create the perception in the client’s mind that they are talking to someone who has a lot to offer. The goal is to be seen, not as a salesperson, but as someone who can help them solve an issue in their business.”
The Talking Too Much Problem
Managing sales teams, like managing an elite sports team, has certain challenges that never go away. For instance, a coach of an NFL Football team is always going to face the challenge of improving the strength and speed of his players. This challenge will never be fully solved and needs to be focused on every week of the season.
The same is true for sales managers and coaches. Over 70% of all salespeople make the same mistakes on most of their sales calls, which is talking too much, not asking the right questions and not listening. These are the basic strength, speed and flexibility skills of the sales team that must always be practiced and coached on.
We asked Peter why he thinks talking too much on sales calls is such a persistent problem with salespeople and he explained,
“One reason that salespeople talk too much is that they didn’t go to school to learn how to be a salesperson. A lot of people enter the world of sales without the fundamental knowledge of how to actually sell. So, a lot of people show up and start rattling off information about their company and products because it is just easier. Another reason for this behavior is a lack of managers who are effectively coaching and training them to be better.”
What we’ve found when we test sales teams on basic skills is that salespeople are far more likely to have the talking too much problem if the company has not done a good job of identifying their core sales messaging, which includes their value proposition elements and differentiating factors along with those core insights that can be brought into the sales conversation. Too many companies don’t organize that information well so sales teams can learn and practice it. When salespeople have to figure it out on their own and can’t practice it with coaching, you can be 100% certain they’ll develop the habit of taking too long to get to the point.
Peter’s Thinking on Sales Coaching
Throughout the interview, Peter shared some powerful insights into sales coaching we can all learn from:
- The most important coaching happens on the way back from the meeting when you are sitting in the car.
- Having a sales culture of one-on-one improvement and practice has completely changed the way that our sales team operates. When sales reps know that their leaders spend time talking with each of them individually, it has a positive effect on their performance.
- A lot of times the most difficult adjustment to make when you become a sales leader is that, instead of sitting in front of clients, you are now sitting in front of spreadsheets and handling the more administrative items of the business. The challenge for the best sales leaders is breaking themselves free from their desk and actually getting out in the field and working with the reps in a real-world environment. The level of trust and respect for a sales leader goes through the roof when the reps see the leader helping them execute in the field.
- If there is no follow-up to the large sales events where training happens, then there will be no improvements. There need to be actionable items that come on the heels of that event, or else things will revert back to the way that they were prior to kickoff. The event has to be more than just a three or four-day exercise. It has to be an ongoing initiative that becomes part of our everyday culture of constant improvement.
- Developing a culture of practice needs to be done the right way. We can’t create a culture where every day is another stress-inducing roleplay with your manager. It needs to be layered into the day-to-day job of actually selling in a relevant way, where the reps can actually see the positive results over time.
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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