Recently, we had an opportunity to connect with Greg Davis, VP and Global Head of Specialty Sales & Retention for Dow Jones, and listen to his thinking on top performing salespeople, coaching and building a strong sales team. He shared a number of thoughts with us around:
- In Sales, Curiosity Opens the Door to Opportunity
- Regular Practice, Often the Missing Link
- Sales Managers Must Focus on Sales Coaching
Early in the interview, Greg shared an observation about top performers that succinctly sums up what separates them from the rest of the sales team. He said,
“They’re very passionate about what they do and how they can help their customers.”
Passion to help, opposed to the desire to sell, can make all the difference in the experience the buyer has when interacting with sellers. Obviously, all salespeople have a desire to make sales, exceed goals and achieve results, but they will get better results if the buyer doesn’t feel like they’re being sold and, instead, feels like they’re being helped.
In Sales, Curiosity Opens the Door to Opportunity
Natural curiosity has a way of lowering resistance when our intention, as a seller, is to learn about our customers so we can find ways to help them. At the SalesGym, we’ve worked with thousands of salespeople, many of the top performers and virtually every training project involves working on asking better questions. There’s certainly a lot of science to planning good questions, using open-ended questions vs. closed-ended ones, and bringing in challenger-style insights to position more assertive questions, but one of the things top performers often do, is bring a disarming curiosity to the equation that plays a big role in their success.
Greg explains what he’s observed about curiosity and top performers,
“They’re very curious because they want to know what their customer does. They want to know competitive angles and ways that they can help. They will peek around corners and check the blind spots. They’re always trying to learn and always thinking about what’s next. How can we help our clients three years down the road?”
Curiosity occurs when we take the attention off ourselves and start listening to understand instead of listening to respond. Dr. Stephen Covey wrote extensively about listening and how highly effective people approach it differently. He said, “If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
What we find, when working with salespeople, is they can get much better at listening if they get into the habit of summarizing before responding. This seems to be the key that unlocks the door for sellers that aren’t naturally good listeners. They’ll rapidly improve if they practice asking several questions and then summarizing what they learn, ideally starting with a phrase like … “Bill, to make sure I’m understanding what you’re saying, I’d like to summarize what I’ve learned from you, and please add whatever you think I may be missing to fill in any missing gaps …” When average salespeople start practicing this simple technique and are coached to summarize before they respond, it causes a big change in listening behavior.
Regular Practice, Often the Missing Link
There are a lot of skills and abilities that contribute to selling success including:
- Time, focus and priority management
- Self-motivation and internal drive to succeed
- Interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and ability to quickly connect with others
- Ability to be concise and say more with fewer words
- Interactive selling skills - the process and art of influence
When it comes to the communication and sales process elements of selling, most salespeople need a lot of practice to master the art and unfortunately, they rarely get it. Greg explains,
“How you phrase things can really make a difference. It’s nothing different than having a conversation with a family friend, or your family or anyone else. Sales is a regular human interaction, and I think people forget that. We forget to practice. We don’t coach as much and practice with our sales reps. And I think that’s a big miss. Athletes know how to practice. They know how to take hits and come back from it. They know how to prepare and work with a team.”
We survey and test a lot of salespeople at the SalesGym … thousands of them. We always ask how much practice they get on a weekly basis and roughly 80% of all salespeople tell us they rarely get weekly practice and most of their practice occurs at special training events, held once or twice a year. What they tell us their Sales Manager typically does with them is review numbers, forecasts, go over pending deals and talk about a strategy to improve. That’s not the kind of practice that builds the kind of selling communication skills that salespeople need to succeed.
Salespeople also need to be coachable and receptive to coaching in order to improve, as Greg explains,
“You can be a great salesperson and always do well above your quota without being very coachable. But I think, what you do is, you end up putting a cap on your potential. The best salespeople are very coachable because they always want to get better. They know that it’s a constant process of improvement.”
Sales Managers Must Focus on Sales Coaching
For more practice to happen on sales teams and for a true practice culture to root and take hold, Sales Managers and the executives that manage them, need to really focus on coaching and practicing with their sales teams. When you observe what elite sports coaches do and how they spend their time, much of it is on the practice field, going through drills, practicing and rehearsing. Sure, they look at numbers and film and put together a game plan, but once that is done, they get onto the practice field with the players and start practicing. Greg told us when it comes to sales management,
“50% of your time needs to be spent on coaching.”
Great coaching is about helping each player find their unique skills and abilities and then maximizing those strengths to get better and better results. There are a lot of different ways to succeed in sales. Some superstars are very extroverted and some are more quiet and introverted. Some have fantastic writing skills and learn how to leverage that while others have a real knack for networking and prospecting on the phone.
Greg finished our interview with an observation on what can happen when strong sellers are promoted into sales management,
“I’ve seen plenty of really good individual contributors coming to a sales manager role and really just fail miserably because they expect everyone to think like them, do what they do and act like them and it can’t happen and they’re not coaching.”
Greg’s 100% right here and one of the most important things any sales organization can do is put a process in place to coach the coaches. Practice coaching is not a natural skill most humans are born with or acquire as they mature. Good coaching skills can be learned, but they take work and weekly practice to develop. When an organization commits to coaching the coaches, building an effective practice system and then practicing every week with the players (sellers), then a powerful sales culture will develop.
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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