We had an opportunity to interview a sales executive, Mark Muckerman, VP of Sales at Bloomberg Government, that manages a team that sells a unique service that helps other sales organizations find and close more government contracts. As such, they sell to other sales organizations which makes his insight into selling all that more potent. Mark shared a variety of thoughts about what separates top performers from the rest and how to make sales coaching more effective:
- Top Performers Communicate More Creatively
- The Connection Between Listening and High Value Solutions
- Insights into Effective Sales Coaching
- What Sales Teams Can Learn from Athletes
Early in the interview, Mark said something that really framed the rest of our conversation,
“Communication is key to becoming a top performer. Top performers have an aspect of intelligence and creativity in their communication with clients. 80% of everything we do successfully or unsuccessfully comes down to effective or ineffective communication. In the end, selling is simple, it’s about helping customers make good decisions about products and services that can improve their lives. Sales leadership is about creating the demonstrations, practice, and repetition that build the skills to make that happen.”
Top Performers Communicate More Creatively
What we find when we observe salespeople that we practice within the SalesGym is that often, they communicate in a way that is too product-oriented, meaning they tend to push out features, benefits and differentiating factors in a way hoping the decision-maker will react with … “hey, yeah, that sounds great … I want some of that!” That’s a strategy that works, but not very often, unfortunately. What Mark is talking about is the kind of communication that causes decision-makers to rethink their decision-making criteria and can cause them to look at competing services from a different perspective. This kind of communication positions the salesperson as an expert, as Mark explains,
“In today’s sales environment, customers no longer want a salesperson. Instead, they want an expert who can advise them based on what is happening in the industry. An effective salesperson should be able to provide them with a relationship that is built on expertise, insight, wisdom, trust, and experience.”
Sales Managers need to find ways to challenge their sales teams to communicate more creatively by bringing new drills into their sales meetings the same way elite sports coaches create specialized drills to prepare for upcoming games. Even a simple drill like asking every salesperson in the meeting to identify the most important upcoming meeting they have and then to give a realistic demonstration of the agenda they plan on using to start that call so they can get feedback can make a difference. We find, in coaching sales teams in the SalesGym, that only about 30% of all salespeople know how to start a meeting with a collaborative, customer-focused agenda and this skill deficiency occurs because sales managers aren’t providing the kind of drills and practice that steadily improve skills.
The Connection Between Listening and High-Value Solutions
Every sales leader in the world knows that listening is important. Listening, however, is a skill that involves layers of effectiveness, as Mark explains,
“Top performers are those that are listening aggressively. Those that are, not only hear what is being said but also are dissecting what is behind it. They are the salespeople looking to treat the cause of the problems and not just the symptoms.”
This aggressive listening, as Mark puts it, allows the salesperson to move beyond products and services and into the formation and communication of relevant solutions that have higher perceived value, as Mark explains,
“The top salespeople think in terms of solutions, not products. When you view your product as a solution, you lay a much more intellectual and collaborative foundation with the customer.”
Mark has an insight into why so many salespeople are guilty of the most common mistake in selling,
“One of the reasons that salespeople talk too much is because of how they are trained when they are hired. The training process typically revolves around equipping salespeople with the fundamental sales skills and they are taught in a very structured way. Over time, the salesperson needs to learn to break away from the structured methods and utilize the fundamentals in a creative way.”
Insights into Effective Sales Coaching
Mark shared five interesting insights into the art and science of sales coaching:
- Every single engagement in sales should be a learning and teaching moment for everybody in the room. Sales leaders should strive to create an open environment where both leaders and salespeople are allowed to make and learn from mistakes.
- Good practice requires a coach. You can practice all you want by yourself,, but you won’t be able to receive the feedback you need to get to the next level without a coach.
- Sales leaders should dismantle the culture of fear that many sales reps tend to fall into. Sales reps should get used to feeling uncomfortable and learning from their mistakes because that is how they get better. They need to understand that it’s ok to learn things the hard way because that’s how lessons stick.
- The number one priority for sales leaders is talent development. We should do everything we can to create an environment to help our people to become the best that they can be. If we do that, we will make numbers and win markets. If we don’t do that then everything is at risk.
- Coaching is a daily job. It is not a task, but a lifelong commitment. It is both active and passive.
What Sales Teams can Learn from Athletes
What we’ve found from interviewing and working with thousands of top-performing salespeople is that many of them developed a thirst for coaching and continuous improvement from playing on sports teams when they were younger. Mark believes that coaching kids can give the sales coach an insight into coaching that will really pay off over time. He explains,
“One of the pieces of advice that I give sales leaders is that you should do at least two years coaching a youth sport because it really changes your perspective on communication and development if you do it well. The experiences that I had coaching little kids helped me professionally reframe coaching in general.”
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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