At SalesGym, we’re always on the lookout for sales executives and leaders that have fresh thinking about sales teams, top performers, and how the best sales organizations are executing to get an edge on their competitors. In a recent interview with David J. Voorhees, Director of Learning and Development with Waste Management, he shared some great insights into how to build better sales teams. What makes David so unique is not just his ability to key in on the problems that sales organizations face, but his ability to articulate a clear strategy and system to fix those problems.
- Connecting with Customers Comes First
- Rehearse for Success
- Harvest and Share Best Practices
- Take Training to the Field
Early in the interview, David said something that really framed the rest of our conversation,
“The people I see that are the most successful, understand that they must be able to connect with our customers and understand their business before developing meaningful value propositions. The most successful sales reps, at all levels, are those that understand and use the customer’s business speak and help them to achieve their objectives. That doesn’t sound like selling, but it the basis for success.”
Based on the research we’ve done, David absolutely nailed it there. To reach higher levels of success, salespeople must connect with their customers and speak to them in terms that are meaningful to them. It sounds so obvious, but based on the dozens of sales teams we’ve tested over the last year across many industries, it’s actually quite rare.
Connecting with Customers Comes First
What we hear from a lot of sales managers is the extreme focus on sales process, buying cycles, decision maker personalities and the challenge of getting to all the buying influencers and, no doubt, these factors are important. David reminds us that what comes first is a connection with the prospect or customer that opens the door to the bigger opportunity …
“For successful salespeople, it’s all about connecting, understanding how to communicate, comprehend, and connect with our customers. Building rapport is so much more than seeing a picture sitting on somebody’s desk and being able to talk about it. Sales is a dual path but, many organizations drill into their teams a sales cycle, from prospecting to leads to discovery to proposal to closing the sale. The challenge is that there are salespeople that go through the sales cycle, check the boxes and say, ‘I’m so good, I did all these things.’ Then they get to proposal and that’s when they start to see the pushback. If you figuratively look back through the sales cycle, they’ve left the customer in the first part of the cycle and haven’t engaged or found the need or have any gauge of desire. The sales process must be a dual path with gateways that you must go through together, not just the sales rep. Gauging a customer’s desire and checking for acceptance and engagement throughout the sales process is important regardless of the sales stage. We must understand value from the very beginning. The best sales reps connect, communicate, comprehend and demonstrate value at all stages.”
The All Important Value Proposition
The key to a truly effective value proposition is how we tailor and connect it to the customer’s business. We need to have the basic ingredients that can come from training and we also need to have that ability to translate our differentiating factors into terms that mean something to the people we’re asking to to give us their business. David explains,
“I’ve seen newer reps get caught up in the sales cycle where they’re more concerned about the mechanics of the sale then connecting. What I see frequently is they get to proposal stage and they freeze because they don’t have the skill to present an effective value proposition. It is the hardest thing for new salespeople, at any level. They don’t have the expertise to build and communicate a value proposition that connects with a customer’s objectives. Salespeople, that have not been developed, freeze when they get to that critical closing point where they haven’t connected the value and don’t know how to differentiate. To be successful in sales, you must differentiate yourself. When it comes to connecting, you must be able to paint the picture and tell the story so that the value of your proposal is so compelling – the price is secondary.”
Rehearse for Success
When we realized that the retention level of salespeople coming out of traditional 1-2 day sales training programs (even the good ones) is so low, we looked carefully at what elite sports teams do to generate increased retention from week to week. They don’t experience a drop-off, they create a steady increase in ability to apply the fundamentals under pressure. What they do to accomplish this is constant practice and rehearsal and this is often missing in the way sales teams are managed.
David explains what he sees in sales organizations in terms of in the field coaching,
“Most organizations are very lean at the leadership level which pretty much cuts out what you want to see happening … a sales manager in a car, in the seat saying, ‘Where’s our schedule for today?’ On that schedule we know where we’re going, who we’re seeing, what the call objective is and what success looks like. It’s role-playing before you go in the door, debriefing after you leave the customer, action plans at the end of the day focused on what they heard, and what they saw, and planning what they’re going to cover the next time they are together. Without that constant role-play and coaching, organizations won’t be as successful as they could be.”
Many sales managers and salespeople resist practice and role playing, because they find it feels awkward and uncomfortable. This is true for most of us when we are in the early stages of learning how to practice. We need to understand that practice is a learned skill. Just as actors need to get good at rehearsing and athletes need to maximize their practice, salespeople need the same mentality in order to improve to the point they can perform effectively, under pressure, regardless of the situation. David explains,
“If you have problems in a role-play, with your peers, in a safe environment, then we have little confidence a sales rep can take it to the street. Part of a salesperson’s certification should be demonstrating, through live role-play and scenarios that they can speak and use storytelling while applying industry expertise. And by the way, sales managers must also be able to model the skill and behavior they wish to see in a sales professional.”
Harvest and Share Best Practices
One of the most important tasks of sales leadership is to make excellence unavoidably visible. To highlight and showcase what excellence looks and sounds like, it is key to find and share best practices of transferable top performer habits, skills and behaviors. There’s no easy way to do this, as it requires constant looking, sharing and organizing of ideas.
David explains how his organization has automated this extremely important piece of the puzzle,
“We have an automated system that captures best practices. We also have a monthly call with the area sales trainers where they share best practices. We also conduct a monthly networking call for all sales managers and every month a different topic is chosen, a best practice is shared, and it’s led by sales managers. We have an archive of these best practices and just-in-time training options available for people who need refreshers or need help.”
Take Training to the Field
Sales is largely a communication art. It’s mastering the influence process. There’s certainly a lot of science to it as well in terms of the numbers game and simply seeing enough of the right people to increase your odds of success. Ultimately, however, sales requires some very sophisticated communication and interpersonal skills and it’s impossible to develop them only in the classroom, as David explains,
“You’re going to remember about 20% of what you learned in a class without talking about being able to apply the skill. Traditionally, very little sales training is designed around skill application. The number one reason training fails is lack of the manager being involved. Number two is the lack of immediate application. By doing so much training and role-play in the field, in real time with boots on the ground, that is no longer an issue for us.”
It’s important to keep in mind the critical role that coaching plays. Elite athletes achieve their success because they have good coaches as David points out,
All your sales activities need to be purposeful, looking at the end game - what success looks like and then developing a specific plan to get there. - David Voorhees, Director of Learning and Development with Waste Management Click To Tweet
“Tiger Woods has a coach. He doesn’t just show up because he’s good and try to win the Phoenix Open. He invests a lot of time practicing. I believe sales professionals should do the same.”
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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