Mari Glass-Clarke – Senior Director, Global Commercial Effectiveness & Global Sales Excellence – QIAGEN
Recently, we had an opportunity to connect again with Mari Glass-Clarke, a Senior Sales Leader at QIAGEN. and listen to her thinking on team selling, coaching and training salespeople to develop their talent to the highest possible level. Our first interview with Mari was fascinating and that article is a great read. In this interview we touched on topics including:
- Build the Fundamentals First
- Practice The Way Sports Teams Do
- Manage From The Field
- Preparation Is Key To Success
- “Platinum Rule” And High Awareness Selling “Platinum Rule” And High Awareness Selling>
Early in the interview, Mari said something that really framed the rest of our conversation,
“No matter what sales process or approach you’re using, whether it’s Consultative Selling or Solutions Selling or even Spin Selling, it all boils down to the basics: Opening the call, active listening, asking good questions, summarizing next steps, and an effective close. These are the foundational skills all sales reps must be able to deliver; much like the physical talent an athlete needs to deliver to make a sports team.”
It’s these foundational skills that training and coaching must focus on to prepare a higher percentage of the sales team to succeed. Too often, salespeople head into sales meetings without the confidence and skill to ask the right questions, so they make the most common mistake, talking too much. Then, instead of skillfully summarizing at the right time to set up closing steps, they get nervous, ask a few low risk closed-ended questions that get a lukewarm response and end the meeting offering to send more information and “get back to you in a couple of weeks.” This is not the way top performers close and sales teams need to learn to practice in a way that eliminates these rookie mistakes that 70% of all salespeople make.
Practice the Way Sports Teams Do
Nearly anyone watching the Olympics is amazed at the level of athletic performance teams get to and how consistently records are broken, year after year. This is all possible because of an approach to training that is quite different from how most sales teams practice and train. Mari explanis:
“Sales teams need to learn to practice the way sports teams do through ‘role play practices’ that allow the sales team to play off each other’s strengths. This is how universities have evolved over the past 20 years. Most of them have ‘Cohorts’ or team-oriented learning and that kind of learning teaches not only ‘what you do, but how you do it.’ I think sales teams need to do a lot more of team selling through a ‘team practice” approach. Sales managers need to be actively involved – like a team’s quarterback, for example, and have the willingness to practice with their sales teams and not be the ‘Head Coach’ watching from the sidelines. Sales managers should be ambassadors of sales skill techniques and practice with their teams. Being able to practice and learn together is a big advantage if sales managers are willing to do that.”
What we observe, is that too often sales training is presented as an event that salespeople attend, immerse themselves into and then try to apply after the event is over, hopefully with coaching from their sales manager. Often, this coaching is inconsistent and without the level of frequency that’s needed to turn new ideas into skillful execution. This is what sports teams do differently. They train and rehearse the basics over and over until mastery occurs … not intellectual mastery, but the ability to perform at a high level, under pressure, when it matters most. The best sales managers give their sales teams this kind of rehearsal based practice that drives results much faster than the “head coach from the sidelines” approach Mari outlined.
Manage From the Field
Sales data from CRMs and other reporting tools give sales leaders more visibility into sales activity than ever before. This kind of data, however, is never going to show sales leaders what salespeople are doing or not doing on sales calls the way direct observation will. Mari explains:
“An easy and effective way to improve the performance of your sales reps is for sales leaders to regularly field travel with their reps. A strong call planning process allows the sales leader during field travel to review the goals of the customer visit with their sales rep and to talk through what the sales rep wants to accomplish. A “mini role play” in the car can help reinforce the skills the manager needs to see for a successful sales call. This kind of skill preparation creates a much richer coaching interaction around performance because the sales manager can see and experience the reps strengths to leverage and gaps to improve.”
Imagine a sports coach spending 90% of his time watching film from previous games and slicing-dicing data analysis in a thousand different ways. This may give the coach all kinds of fabulous insight into why his team is not winning, but it doesn’t change anything until he gets out on the practice field and starts practicing and rehearsing to turn repeated mistakes into new skills. It’s this kind of rehearsal that builds team confidence in a way that impacts future performance. Analysis of numbers doesn’t change performance.
Most sales organizations would see immediate improvement if they simply cut the amount of time spent analyzing and reporting numbers in half and increased the live coaching time salespeople get from their sales managers dramatically, the way sports teams do.
Preparation Is A Key To Success
The sales teams Mari’s team supports sell at all levels, including the C-Suite, which presents a lot of new challenges, especially for younger, less confident salespeople. Selling to a technical buyer that’s mostly interested in new features and technical capabilities is quite different from selling to a CEO that’s interested in the big picture of how a long-term relationship can impact the organization’s performance more broadly. Mari explains how anxiety can impact performance:
“Nothing is worse than being forced to speak on a subject we do not know well and so we blather on in a less impactful way that goes nowhere. Sales reps are sometimes guilty of this behavior on a C-Suite sales call where these higher level skills are not practiced often enough or the rep is not well prepared. Instead of listening to the answers of some well-designed questions and coupled with the sales rep’s fear that they may not get another chance for a meeting, they talk too much and ‘active listening’ goes out the window. C-Suite conversations can create anxiety and salespeople often react by talking more. If you let C-Suite customers talk by asking good questions, they’ll be more receptive to another meeting with you.”
When we observe salespeople in action, we find that anxiety and stress can have varying impact on results. In some cases, stress can cause improved performance. This is almost always because that salesperson is thoroughly prepared so the stress and anxiety is channeled in a positive way. Michael Jordan used to comment on the fact that no one can perform at a higher level than they’re able to practice at, which is why he was known for his intensity in practice. Jerry Rice, who many consider to be one of the greatest football players of all time, said exactly the same thing … that intense practice and preparation is what allows him to perform at an even higher level when the pressure is at its peak. Mari explains how preparation and research increases the odds of better results when the pressure is on:
“Sales role play is a scary opportunity. It’s like when we first engaged in public speaking and the anxiety you feel to get it right or just to have the courage to do it. To be successful at public speaking, we first need to understand the subject of the speech very well So, before engaging in a C-Suite conversation, you must first do your research to understand well what might be of interest to a C-Suite customer.”
Most companies we work with would get better results if they’d spend more time working on the more difficult selling skills and addressing the mistakes salespeople are making on an individual basis, as Mari explains:
“I think we, as learning professionals, at most companies, are teaching sales skills at a very basic level and we don’t spend enough time working on more advanced skills. We need to get better at customizing learning and being able to address salespeople where they are and give them an opportunity to practice at that next level for them.”
Platinum Rule Selling
Sometimes, based on sales training or a book the salesperson has read, they walk into their sales interactions with a very fixed and rigid process they intend to use, which isn’t always the right fit for the situation. Sometimes, the customer is reluctant to talk until you’ve given a quick summary of your capabilities first. Other times, they’re not going to listen until you ask some questions and show some curiosity. And in still other situations, we need to be alert to a recent change that is causing the decision maker(s) to rethink their needs completely. Mari explained to us what she sees as the “platinum rule” as it applies to selling:
Top performing sales reps learn to frame the sales conversation about what’s most important to the customer. It’s the Platinum Rule in communication – Treat customers the way THEY want to be treated.
What top performers often have is that higher level of EQ (emotional intelligence) that allows them to understand the way the buyer is reacting and to adjust accordingly. A game plan is essential and, in most selling situations, the game plan needs some flexibility to adjust to how the buyer is reacting. Mari explains how big a role self-awareness plays in the overall success equation:
“If salespeople can reach a higher level of self-awareness and understand how they come across to others, it can make a big impact on their ability to connect with a wide-range of customers. Self-awareness is key; and the more adaptable a person can be, the better they’re going to be at building relationships and selling.”
Ultimately, selling is about building trust, lowering resistance and understanding what matters most to the decision maker so we can react to that. Thanks to Mari for the interview and solid tips on how to generate stronger sales teams!
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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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