At SalesGym, we interview dozens of leading sales executives every year to find out new thinking and trends on top performers, coaching and building better sales teams. In a recent interview with Joe Cantafio, Director of Sales Training & Development, Estes Express Lines, he shared some solid advice into some fundamentals about how to build better sales teams.
Joe asserts that top performers are better prepared and ask better questions…
The best of the best (sales performers), number one, they research. -Joe Cantafio, Director of Sales Training & Development, Estes Express Lines Click To Tweet
“The best of the best, number one, they research. They find out about companies before they go in and they have a great point of reference. They know a lot about the the industry that they’re going to see and they research a lot about the competition their accounts have. Then they ask great questions and listen.”
At SalesGym, we do a lot of research, sales team testing, and interview a lot of top performers and it’s tempting to write articles about esoteric, strategy-driven topics and utilizing technology to squeeze more out of a territory and multi directional decision influencers driven by different personality traits. All that stuff is interesting and generates a lot of attention at splashy sales team gatherings in exotic locations all over the world. There’s certainly a place for that.
What’s striking to us, though, is when we interview sales leaders, from all industries, and when we test and train sales teams, it’s the more basic, obvious mistakes that hurt results. In this article and interview with Joe, we’re going to focus on three ultra-important basics:
- Break the #1 results limiting bad selling habit
- Establish a culture of practice and rapid improvement
- Transform sales managers into sales coaches
90% of all sales teams around the world would make far more rapid progress if they would relentlessly focus on just these three priorities for 12 months without wavering, without distraction.
Break the too much talking habit….
After interviewing over 200 leading sales executives over the last 2 years, over 90% of them tell us the #1 most results limiting habit they observe is salespeople that simply talk too much on sales calls. Joe has noticed the same thing…
If you're not listening and not asking great questions, you're going to miss (how to solve their problems). -Joe Cantafio, Director of Sales Training & Development, Estes Express Lines Click To Tweet
“The people that struggle are the people who talk. They have no idea what this customer actually needs and sometimes the customer themselves doesn’t know what they need, but sometimes through better questioning, the customer themselves will tell you exactly how to solve their problems. If you’re not listening and not asking great questions, you’re going to miss that point.”
Week after week, month after month, well over half of all salespeople go out on sales calls and talk too much, don’t ask the right questions, don’t listen well and miss the bigger opportunities to sell loyalty-driving solutions. This single mistakes costs companies billions and billions in lost sales but it’s remarkable how many salespeople repeat this mistake year after year. Joe explains what he sees in relation to this stubborn habit…
“A couple of things come to mind that may explain why salespeople talk too much. One, salespeople want to show everybody how smart they are as far as their product knowledge and so they feature dump. Second, they don’t prepare for the call and research that call. So they have to go in there and ask, ‘What do you do?’ and end up being one of millions of people that go in there and spew the same old stuff.”
This habit can be broken with a relatively simple practice technique
- A salesperson identifies a prospect they know relatively well
- They respond as if that prospect just asked them… “Can you please explain to me what makes you and your company different from your competitor?”
- They have only 60 seconds to answer the question with crisp, clear points
- The answer MUST end with a dynamic, open-ended question
- Record, analyze and repeat until the answers are concise, compelling and persuasive
Ideally, the company has some well thought out and organized competitive advantages and differentiating factors the salesperson can use as a starting point. We do a drill similar to this with the salespeople we coach at SalesGym and it’s remarkable how fast the too much talking habit starts to break after just 2-3 30-minute drills-based practice sessions. Joe points out…
When you have bad habits that you practice, those bad habits become permanent. -Joe Cantafio, Director of Sales Training & Development, Estes Express Lines Click To Tweet
“It’s a game of habits. I had the distinct pleasure of coaching under of Hall of Fame basketball coach Morgan Wootten. He was the first high school basketball coach in the Basketball Hall of Fame. He taught me that you have to keep it really simple, but it’s got to become a habit. When you have bad habits that you practice, those bad habits become permanent.”
Develop a culture of practice…
Good practice transforms performance… we know this. For many sales managers and their people, practice feels awkward and uncomfortable and it’s for this reason they avoid it. Great sports teams and first responder units thrive on practice because it’s built into the culture. Team members learn the practice routines and embrace them. The best sales executives create this same kind of practice culture in their sales teams.
Joe points out the impact of continuous practice of the fundamentals…
“If you read about empathy and emotional intelligence, you will find it often outperforms intelligence, by a great deal. If you don’t have that, you’re not going to be able to put freight on that truck. You’re not going to be able to solve people’s problems. They’re not going to let you solve their problems.
“You have to practice your fundamentals and rehearse them. Rehearse opening a call until it becomes a habit. Rehearse asking for that next appointment until it becomes a habit, and the same goes for practicing your diagnostic questioning and situational questions. You have to prepare and practice. I don’t think salespeople do enough practice, anywhere. When we watch the LeBron James and other great athletes of the world, we see the end product. We see these great athletes who make it look so easy, but we don’t ever go behind the closed door to see how hard they work. They still find a way to tune their games through practice.”
A practice culture needs...
- First and foremost, a practice system… Without it, practice will not happen
- Well defined competitive advantages and differentiating factors
- Simulations of different types of prospects and customers to practice
- Practice coaches that can simulate realistic practice situations
- A method to train and hold sales managers accountable to coach
“Practice makes permanent. So it’s essential to have good, solid practice.”
Transform sales managers into coaches
Every sales executive we’ve ever met has told us they wish their sales managers would do more coaching. Joe explains why this often doesn’t happen…
“We used to hire some very good salespeople to lead and then we found out that we lose because they really didn’t have leadership qualities. They were really good salespeople who couldn’t manage or coach.”
It’s critical to promote people into sales management that have a burning desire to help others learn and grow. Coaching is about teaching, practicing and reinforcing and it’s a form of servant leadership. Often, the best salespeople have strong egos and crave recognition and find it difficult to step into the role of the servant leader as Joe explains…
“Even with great, great athletes, just because they can play does not mean they can coach. Larry Bird comes to mind. I read that when he went into coaching, he was so frustrated because he couldn’t understand why people couldn’t do what he did. It’s like sales, we have taken a lot of really good salespeople and made them really crappy leaders.”
To transform sales managers into sales coaches…
- Give them a practice system
- Before promoting, give a promotable candidate a person to mentor and see how they handle it first
- Measure and report how much coaching is actually happening
- Coach the coaches … develop a serious plan to model and teach effective coaching
- Get senior management to pay attention to it
I wish people would stop using the word manager and start using the word Coach. -Joe Cantafio, Director of Sales Training & Development, Estes Express Lines Click To Tweet
“I wish people would stop using the word manager and start using the word Coach. In the end it all gets back to the simplicity of the fundamentals of treating people with tremendous respect, researching, getting interested, but being excited to be here in sales.”
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.