At SalesGym, we’re always on the lookout for sales executives that have interesting and timeless insights into top performers, coaching, and building better sales teams. In a recent interview with Andrea Johnston, Chief Revenue Officer at OpenTable, she shared some great insights into how to build top performing sales teams. Her insights included:
- Consultative Skills First, Then Challenger Skills After
- The Right Way To Practice
- Andrea's Advice For Sales Managers
Early in the interview, Andrea said something that really framed the rest of our conversation,
The best sales reps are hitting the streets and generating activity. They're not the order takers, they are the hunters … They are great at the high velocity high touch and are great at discovery. - Andrea Johnston, Chief Revenue Officer at OpenTable Click To Tweet
“The best sales reps are hitting the streets and generating activity. They’re not the order takers, they are the hunters. They will pull over their car if they pass a strip mall and walk in and talk to somebody at a restaurant. They are great at the high velocity high touch and are great at discovery.”
At SalesGym, we’ve noticed that top performers have a bias for action and doing vs. avoiding and analyzing. Selling is largely about gently nudging your way into conversations with people that are initially resistant and transforming that resistance into rapport, then trust, then business. Unless you’re just sending out emails all day to drive traffic to some self serve product ordering portal, sales is largely about initiating new relationships and quickly building trust. It pays to identify these traits early in the hiring process because they seem to be more personality oriented and harder to develop.
Consultative Skills First, Then Challenger Skills After
We did a lot of research before we wrote our last book, “Compete Selling” as many of our clients were asking us to customize the Challenger approach into their new training programs. When you watch the challenger type sellers in action, what you really notice is the successful ones have exceptional interpersonal skills and they’re very good at consultative selling as well. It takes both skill sets. Andrea explains why it’s best to focus on consultative skills first with new hires,
“When you are training people, as they’re learning the soft touch and the discovery questions, they’re not going to pick up the nuances of Challenger selling. It’s going to take a while for them to become a really good salesperson and you don’t want them to start out of the gate hardcore like that, you want them to ease their way into insight selling.”
We’ve found new hires need to learn their sales messaging and how to communicate their competitive advantages in a concise and persuasive way and to reflexively ask good open ended questions that are relevant to the value statements they make. This helps to break the most common bad habit in selling, as Andrea has observed,
“Newer sales reps feature sell and talk too much. As they get more comfortable with products and discovery, they get a lot better.”
With new team members, it’s essential to get them interacting early and often with more experienced members of the team to accelerate their learning pace.
“I’d advise new salespeople to encourage those peer relationships, whether it’s somebody that’s going through a training class with you or somebody that’s in your district. Partner with a seasoned rep who you can bounce ideas off of and learn from.”
The Right Way To Practice
The old saying, “practice makes perfect,” isn’t really correct. Practice makes permanent. It’s perfect practice that makes perfect and we were very impressed with Andrea’s insights into how to make practice time count:
“We do lots of role-play, lots of feedback, and reinforce discovery-based, insight conversations, and you can really see a big difference. I’ve observed role-playing with salespeople when they kind of choke and stumble on hitting good questions and going through those key silos that we want them to ask questions. Initially they have their list of questions that they want to just get out on the table, but they’re not connecting the dots. It takes practice to follow the conversation with questions that are going to elicit pain points so they are able to tie a solution back to the customer. That’s the connect that is hard for people to get out of the gate.”
We typically advise our SalesGym clients to pay more attention to creating a robust practice culture than they do to the splashy occasional training events that happen once or twice a year. Salespeople need to be trained more the way sports teams are coached and it needs to be built into the way the sales team interacts with one another every week, as Andrea explains,
Not everybody likes to role-play. It takes planned effort to get people out of their comfort zone and to get it going. - Andrea Johnston, Chief Revenue Officer at OpenTable Click To Tweet
“Practice is critical along with feedback on real-time meetings as a salesperson is learning. Not everybody likes to role-play. It takes planned effort to get people out of their comfort zone and to get it going. Leadership needs to recognize the need to carve out a training team to focus on and push that practice. The key is to make it part of the organization’s DNA. Not every manager is the same, and role-play is going to make you uncomfortable, but that’s how you’re going to get better.”
Andrea's Advice For Sales Managers
- Not everybody's going to be exactly like the manager, nor should they be... you need a good balance on your team. You need to adapt your management style and how you coach to that person's personality.
- For a new sales manager, the number one priority is get out there with your team, get out there with our customers and understand what's going on in your district. Understand what's going on with your personalities and only then will you be able to effectively coach. Getting in there and listening and then forming your plan is the first thing.
- The worst thing you can do as a manager is to sit on the sidelines and try to quarterback from there, that is not going to work.
- The most successful managers and some of the most successful meetings are where the manager poses a question and has somebody on the team talk about how they've handled a situation, sharing with other folks and making it really interactive. Those are the most engaging, exciting, and that's when people get psyched and learn and try something new.
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.