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 Kevin Maddock, SVP Global Sales and Field Operations, Technology Industry, he shared a variety of key insights into how to take the performance of sales teams to the next level.
Early in the interview, Kevin summed up something we’ve noticed from our research into and observation of top performers …
“There is so much information available today and customers want salespeople to come to them bearing gifts and telling them what they should know. They want to learn from the salesperson and know what’s going on in the industry. Sellers today have to continually be adding value.”
Decision makers and influencers are drawn to salespeople that provide them with useful insights and information and are increasingly repelled by sellers that are just pressing hard for the sale with obvious and generic features, benefits and competitive advantages. More and more, the meetings that get accepted by decision makers are the meetings where they see personal value in it for them. It’s so easy in today’s world to cancel and push meetings off that sellers need to find ways to make their sales calls important, relevant and valued to the decision makers.There is so much information available today and customers want salespeople to come to them bearing gifts and telling them what they should know. -Kevin Maddock, SVP Global Sales and Field Operations, Technology Industry Click To Tweet
In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at what Kevin has found are keys to building a stronger sales team:
- Get the sales call or meeting off to a good start
- Build relationships with a variety of advocates, champions and decision influencers
- Work on the sales approaches that work in today’s more competitive world
- Practice – the key to rapid improvement
Get the sales call or meeting off to a good start
There’s no escaping the fact that critical impressions and judgements are made in the first few minutes of the sales call or meeting. It is critical to project competence, credibility and value immediately with a good, customer focused agenda and an understanding of the company that lowers resistance and increases receptivity, as Kevin explains …
“Top performers spend the time to set themselves apart and show the customer that they really have spent some time at least researching the company so they know the issues or what’s going on with the company and they’re not just doing a standard call. To sell today, the salesperson has to come to the prospect or customer with what’s happening in the industry and come bearing gifts about how we and our solution will help that company. Not as much what the solution is because people know that now – they just go on your website and they can get it, which they couldn’t do 15 years ago.”
Here are some pre-call planning tips we’ve picked up from working with top performers over the last 20 years:
- Build an agenda from the perspective of what’s important to the prospects or customers you’re meeting with. Think in terms of what they want and not what you want
- Make a list of relevant and useful insights you’ve learned from similar customers you can share that would be helpful. Many sellers are in a position to share valuable intel that can set them apart from the competition. As Kevin pointed out, do your research!
- Think more about competitive advantages and less about features and benefits. What is it you and your company is able to do that your competition can’t? Practice explaining this in less than 90-seconds
- Build your meeting game plan around 5-10 insightful and relevant questions you can ask that will be interesting for the prospect to respond to.
- Make a list of 3-5 questions that are likely on the mind of that same prospect and be prepared to answer them, even if they aren’t asked
- Know exactly what next steps outcome you’re going after and a fallback outcome if needed.
Build a wide network of internal advocates and influencers
Big buying decisions are usually made by consensus and although this can be frustrating, it is reality and we have to not only accept it, but learn to capitalize on it. This means more phone calls and meetings to build relationships and internal momentum to do business with you. Relationships and trust happen when we meet, interact and show interest in others and you’re simply not going to build those kind of relationships with email and texts alone as Kevin explains …
“A common bad habit I have seen with salespeople is when they tend to focus most of their time with one customer or contact and they don’t work themselves around enough. This leaves them at risk if their contact leaves the company, who will champion for them then? My top performers know how to network. When an executive in the company comes to town, the top salespeople put together a list of prospects and a list of current customers and they’ll put together dinner or lunch and get everyone together, networking. The best will even ask one of their customers to come and speak. They are there with 15 other people that they can network with and learn about the business from.”
It’s also critical to make sure you know who the key decision makers are. Often, decision influencers do the legwork up front to make a recommendation but they have to present their opinions up the chain …
“Salespeople often don’t get to the top of the decision making tree. They will assume they are speaking with the person who can say ‘yes’ only to find out when they go to sign the contract that there is a CIO or someone higher who has to sign. Or, the salesperson’s contact does not realize they need another level of approval for different contract amounts. They have communicated to the salesperson that they are the signatory, and as such, the salesperson relies on the fact that their contact told them they were the decision maker.”
The key to this is to ask who is involved in the decision, what their area of expertise is and then find creative ways to put meetings and phone calls on their calendars. The best way to do this is by offering insights and perspectives that are of value to them so you earn the right to ask them questions, learn and get the relationship process moving. A great way to do this is simply sharing what you’ve learned from other customers as Kevin explains …
“Customers and prospects want to know what their neighbors are doing and they want to know what their competitors are doing. I can’t tell you how many times I walk into a meeting, and the rep is asked that question and they don’t know the answer. It sounds so simple, it seems like sales 101 to me, spend an hour and research these things before your meeting.”
Selling approaches sales teams need to learn
Successful people, in general, including salespeople, are able to see situations clearly without too much optimism or pessimism. Too much of either can become an obstacle as Kevin points out…
“Salespeople by nature, are very optimistic people and being overly optimistic can be a bad habit. A manager could go on a sales call with them and look at the same meeting in a totally different way. Overly optimistic sales reps only hear the good parts without really listening to the challenges or the questions or where the ‘gotchas’ could be.”
Our ability to identify possible obstacles or resistance is what helps us ask better questions that uncover that resistance. When we ask questions about sensitive topics, we need a softer approach that doesn’t come off as aggressive. This is one of the keys to the popular insight led selling approach described in “The Challenger Sale” as Kevin explains …
The people that tend to be the best at challenging the status quo of their prospects are able to ask questions in a non-confrontational way. -Kevin Maddock, SVP Global Sales and Field Operations, Technology Industry Click To Tweet
“The people that tend to be the best at challenging the status quo of their prospects are able to ask questions in a non-confrontational way. The better ones ask with a smile without getting in the person’s face. They are asking these questions, but they’re saying, ‘Have you ever thought about something like this?’ They are asking a little more open-ended instead of just saying everyone is doing this and so should you.”
Stories are, by far, the most important form of communication we have because they have the power to engage, reduce resistance and enable a much higher level of receptivity. Stories, well told, are a powerful and memorable experience for the listener. The best sellers learn to incorporate stories into their communication about their company and differentiating factors as Kevin explains …
Customers don't remember bullet points, they remember stories. -Kevin Maddock, SVP Global Sales and Field Operations, Technology Industry Click To Tweet
“What makes some salespeople better at communicating competitive advantages is the ability to tell stories. Stories sell. The people that just read off the datasheet, checking the boxes of here’s what you get with us, here’s what you get with our competition … it’s death by PowerPoint. Customers don’t remember bullet points, they remember stories. The best salespeople remember these customer stories, and so much the better if they tell them how one of their competitors is doing it and can relay how others have benefited from working with them.”
Practice is the key to rapid improvement
Kevin shared 5 valuable insights into one of our core beliefs, which is that most salespeople need more practice if they are going to break bad habits and learn, then master, the skills of top performers.
Kevin Maddock’s 5 Keys to Training and Practice
- The best sales meetings have people present and share lessons learned and best practices about the things that people did right. They will have someone present a win and what they did right and how they took one deal from start to finish. It's also important to share some of the losses (In a positive format) because people learn from those mistakes.
- The best way to train new salespeople is to practice. Have them do a mock call, have them go on a call with a top performer or manager, then have them practice and pass a mock scenario.
- There is only so much information people can actually absorb and use. If you study training theory, people start losing attention after 20 minutes. Let alone 8 hours of constant information! That is why role-play and practice is paramount.
- What gets measured, gets done.
- Training and sales enablement is one of the most underinvested areas in business and every sales leader should invest in it.
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.