At the SalesGym, we interview hundreds of 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 Ronald Thomas, Sr. Trainer – Sales Enablement with Sage Software he shared some unique insights into top performing salespeople that keyed in on some excellent focus areas for sales teams that want to take performance to the next level.
Over 90% of the sales leaders we interview tell us that the most results-limiting bad habits salespeople get into are talking too much, not asking the right questions, not having verbal mastery of a powerful and concise set of relevant differentiating factors and not being able to communicate the value generating insights that separate you from your competitors.
Ronald shared with us some timeless ideas on what salespeople can do to uncover selling opportunities and communicate the value that causes decision makers to take positive action.
Top performers talk less and listen more
Like many of the sales leaders we speak with, Ronald emphasized how critical listening is to top performers’ success…
Top performers don't talk as much. They know to be successful it's eyes open, ears open and mouth shut. -Ronald Thomas, Sr. Trainer - Sales Enablement with Sage Software Click To Tweet
“Top performers don’t talk as much. They know to be successful it’s eyes open, ears open and mouth shut. Top performers are more adept to listen and then they are quick and able to respond in a manner that can help steer the conversation to what the customer finds important, but they’re not so quick to steer the conversation and try to take it over from the customer.”
Talking too much on sales calls is one of the most stubborn bad habits of all and one that typically takes a lot of practice to change. Keep in mind, everyone can get better at listening, but most salespeople don’t listen well. The best sales managers spend dedicated time practicing with their teams or use practice coaches to model better questioning and listening and then do role play simulations to give their sales teams the practice they need.
Keys to less talking and more listening
- Start sales calls with a more listening-oriented agenda. The agenda drives the conversation, so make the first agenda item a listening-oriented focus area
- Get in the habit of taking notes
- Summarizing occasionally, while asking questions and listening, is a habit that can help keep the focus on questions
- Use more insight driven questions. Questions that are obvious or could have been avoided with pre call research will reduce results
- Think of questions and the discovery process as fishing with a net and not a single line. Don’t overreact to the first piece of bait that hits the water. Instead, use a big net to find out all the needs before focusing in on a solution
Top performers build value
Value is the absolute most important thing. If you can't get to value you're not going to be as successful. -Ronald Thomas, Sr. Trainer - Sales Enablement with Sage Software Click To Tweet
“Value is the absolute most important thing. If you can’t get to value you’re not going to be as successful.”
Products and services do not have a fixed amount of value. Value is determined by the buyer based on the problem that product solves. The best salespeople put a lot of attention into building the value perception. Ronald points out how confident salespeople need to be with the value they are offering…
“Salespeople often talk too much when they’re scared, when they are unsure of the value that they bring to a conversation. An inexperienced salesperson who isn’t confident in the value of what they’re offering and what they can offer, they look at dead air as the worst thing in the world. So they’ll try to fill it up.”
Buyers look at the same product differently in terms of value. A young couple may look at a new home completely differently because the wife needs a quiet room she can use for her home office, as she works from home and the husband, who loves to cook is far more interested in the kitchen and plenty of yard space for their golden retriever to run around in.
When selling software that has a wide variety of features, the need to find out, up front what the decision maker values is critically important…
“Your goal as a salesperson is to try to find out what is valuable to the person that you’re speaking to and once you can talk to value and have the conversation based on value, it opens up avenues to talk that you wouldn’t get otherwise.”
Questions that uncover value
Multiple choice questions can be very effective. For example…
- Bill, the three priorities we’re hearing from our customers when it comes to their financial strategy is retirement planning, reducing taxes and making sure they don’t outlive their money. Do those same three priorities apply to you and if so, which is most important to you for us to address now and why?
- What caused you in the first place to determine you needed to upgrade the systems you use to communicate as a team?
- If I could help you solve the most important problem you’re having with your inventory tracking, what would that be?
- The biggest issue we’re hearing from our customers right now in terms of utilizing their current software to reduce wasted expense are (list 2-3 areas) … Are those concerns for you as well and what would you add to that list in terms of your highest priorities?
Focusing too much on price can be a losing strategy
Too often, salespeople hear something the decision maker says early in the conversation about price and become overly fixated on cost. Often, decision makers throw concerns about cost out simply as a negotiating strategy. Cost is always important, but it’s rarely as important as value. “Once you get to a solution where price is the most important thing, you have pretty much lost,” Ronald shared with us and added…
Once you get to a solution where price is the most important thing, you have pretty much lost ... You don't get brand loyalty with price. -Ronald Thomas, Sr. Trainer - Sales Enablement with Sage Software Click To Tweet
“Even if you get the sale, you’re not getting the most from that sale in terms of maximizing the opportunity. Plus, you will only have that customer as long as they believe you are the least expensive in the market. The minute someone else comes along that is slightly less expensive you lose that customer. You don’t get brand loyalty with price.”
The best salespeople focus on the hidden and not so hidden costs and expenses their product solution will reduce or eliminate. For instance, a new, energy efficient grill for a high end restaurant may cost $8,500, but when it saves $175 per month in fuel costs, that changes the cost into an investment that yields monthly returns. Ronald explains, “Sometimes the difference between value and whether or not something is valuable to a purchase is all a matter of perception. It’s what’s important to them. It’s like having an expense or making an investment. Money is coming out of your pocket both ways, you feel good about an investment, but want to cut down on expenses.”
Stop dumping too much information
Recently, one of our SalesGym clients asked us to work with their sales teams to help them talk less, listen more and reduce the amount of feature dumping on sales calls. They sold mutual fund investments to Financial Advisors that would then recommend their funds to their investors (clients). Financial services salespeople, because of how complex their products are and all the data available about performance, are often guilty of “leading with product” which means they put a product sheet in front of the decision maker and talk endlessly about why their fund is a better performer than the competition. However, when we started the project and watched their top performers on actual sales calls, they didn’t talk much at all about product. Instead, they got the decision maker to talk about their clients and the investments they needed to reach their goals. When they did finally talk about their funds, it was more about solving problems than long explanations about performance data.
We set up a practice coaching schedule that included training and one-on-one practice exercises over a period of 3 months to break the feature dumping habit and sales really took off. It took a lot of practice up front, though, because that habit of leading with product, is a hard one to break.
Ronald sums it up well…
Nobody wants an information dump truck. You don't dump a bunch of information on top of somebody's head and think they are going to find value in it because this simply doesn't work. -Ronald Thomas, Sr. Trainer - Sales Enablement with Sage Software Click To Tweet
“Nobody wants an information dump truck. You don’t dump a bunch of information on top of somebody’s head and think they are going to find value in it because this simply doesn’t work. When you try to dump them with all of that information, all you basically do is make them not want to talk to you anymore.”
Finally, sales managers need to think differently
We’ve found, in working with many clients over the years, that the best sales managers are a combination of being good teachers, listeners and are effective at holding salespeople accountable to using a proven sales process. When we start new sales improvement projects that involve training and coaching sales teams, we typically interview and observe sales managers in terms of how they work with their salespeople. Often, the sales managers spends very little time working on sales skills and a lot of time focusing on goals, metrics, pipeline analysis and reporting and this is a big mistake.
Ronald shared with us a critical area sales managers need to focus on…
“The best sales managers understand that they need to give their knowledge and their insight to their team and help their team to see the proper way, or the most successful way, or the most impactful way to affect sales and then hold them accountable to that. They have to realize their role has changed and they are no longer in the Army, but a force multiplier.”
What top sales managers spend their time on
- Rehearsing can really help. Ask a salesperson to focus on an upcoming call and then run a practice rehearsal for that call playing the decision maker. Work on a good agenda and practice questions and listening leading to a good summary before any product discussion.
- Practice drills in sales meetings are a great way to add energy and motivation to these meetings. Run a contest on who can communicate 3 competitive advantages in 90-seconds in the most compelling way.
- Reinforcing the steps and elements of their sales process is generally a high priority of the best sales managers. They make sure their sales teams know how the sales process works and train them like athletes to get better at it.
- There is no substitute for watching your salespeople on live sales calls. What you learn about how they sell, ask questions, listen and respond is the key to helping them improve.
The 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.