At SalesGym, we’ve interviewed a number of sales executives over the last several years looking for timeless insight and advice and one interview that really stood out was with Jared Litwin, Vice President Global Enablement with Salesforce. He shared some great insights into sales teams, sales managers and coaches and how newer salespeople can up their odds of success.
- What Makes Top Performers Different
- The Importance of Asking the Hard Questions
- The Power of Speaking the Customer's Language
- What Prevents Sales Managers from Coaching
- Advice for New Salespeople
Early in the interview, Jared said something that really framed the rest of our conversation,
“Top-performing reps, managers or coaches display genuine or natural curiosity about their customers business and they’re willing to get into their shoes. They ask better questions. They are the ones that are on the customer’s site meeting the most people and learning about what it actually is like inside the four walls of that organization.”
What we’ve found, in working with hundreds of sales teams over the years is that the best salespeople bring both an effective personality and sales process to the game. Decision makers certainly prefer to do business with competent professionals and we can demonstrate that by skillfully executing an effective sales process, but it takes more than that, as Jared explains …
“Oftentimes top sales performers do something unique to themselves…their unique skills, personality and ways they execute their business. They find a way to integrate their personal style into whatever process, methodology, or go to market strategy within their company and make it work for them.”
Ask the Hard Questions
Every sales training program that’s been presented in the last 25 years emphasizes how important asking good questions is. Although different programs present different theories around the right flow or sequence of questions, they all assert that questions identify needs or pain points that create selling opportunities.
Jared reminds us that the strongest sellers go further when it comes to questions …
“The effort and willingness to make hard calls and ask the hard questions get the results. People who avoid or run from that one piece of information they don’t want to know the answer to don’t succeed. The salespeople that ask the hard questions as early as they possibly can in the sales cycle invariably are always more successful. The less you want to know a potentially bad answer the more important it is for you to ask.”
The worst place for objections or concerns to come out is near the end of the sales call or process. In “The Challenger Sale” the authors agreed with Jared that it’s critical to bring those resistance factors up early in the process and, if possible, to address them by helping reshape the decision making criteria entirely.
Salespeople that avoid those important hard questions are often left wondering why the sales process got stalled and why the decision maker starts avoiding their calls and puts off future meetings.
Speak the customer’s language
In over 300 interviews with top sales executives like Jared, what we heard over and over is the #1 mistake salespeople make on sales calls is talking too much about their products. When we observe top performers, we’ve noticed they tend to talk less, listen more and when they do talk about their products, it’s in a way that is more concise and compelling at the same time.
Jared explains what he has noticed,
The best sellers talk about their products the least. The entire sales cycle should focus on the use cases or business problems we're taking off the table for the customer. -Jared Litwin, Vice President Global Enablement with Salesforce Click To Tweet
“The best sellers talk about their products the least. The entire sales cycle should focus on the use cases or business problems we’re taking off the table for the customer. To be effective there, one needs to speak in the customer’s language from day one and then translate your product fit behind the scenes. Nobody cares about my product or what my products are called. People care about how my products help them solve a business problem or a particular use case which moves the needle, and if I’m addressing use cases which move the needle at an executive level. Top sellers have no problem talking about the value of these use cases and I shouldn’t need my products’ names to be able to tell that story.”
As Jared mentions, storytelling is a key to how the best communicators get their points across. To do this well, especially with senior executives, you’ve got to understand their business and the factors that matter to them. What matters to a COO at a hospital, for instance, is quite different from the decision maker down in the diagnostics lab looking for the latest whiz bang technology to speed the process of analysis.
As Jared explains, the story must have value to the listener,
“How well do you understand the business levers of who you’re selling to and are able to convey your business acumen at the executive level? That’s important so you can tell a value story in their terms and in their words to make it land. That is absolutely something which top people do. Unless you understand the rhythm and the levers of the business you’re selling to, you’ll never actually earn your way into the c-suite and stay there.”
Promoting the wrong people
Often, sales organizations, when determining who deserves the promotion into sales management, will reward the top producers and, at first glance, this seems to make sense. The truth is, a pretty high percentage of top producers are not that effective at managing people, as Jared points out …
“Companies have a tendency to promote their best sellers into leadership roles. The trade-off you make with that decision is that often times your best sellers are not process champions. Where that breaks down is that without process rigor you cannot achieve scale. Without process champions in the first line leadership level, important things like behavior, content, mechanics and selling best practices cannot propagate throughout your sales organization.”
Why sales managers don’t coach
The sales executives we interviewed over the last two years also told us one of the most frustrating problems they have is that front line sales managers simply don’t spend enough time coaching and even when they do, it is often ineffective. Jared offers some clear insight into the problem …
“Carving out the time to coach and making coaching part of your sales culture is where a lot of companies don’t invest. I can speak from firsthand experience that the first line managers job at an organization is one of the hardest. The reason first line management is so difficult is there are so many administrative tasks preventing managers from joining calls with reps, preventing managers from doing thoughtful deal reviews, and preventing them from the coaching moments which actually move the needle for the individual. This challenge only exacerbates the challenge of the Lone Wolf closer as a manager. If managers aren’t coaching, but instead doing all the work for their reps, that creates a team where skills don’t improve.”
When you look closely at how elite sports teams coach their athletes, they focus hard on impacting the performance of the next game. Although they do analyze stats and go over game film, what they spend most of their time doing is practicing for the next game. Often, sales managers fall into the trap of just analyzing the past and not coaching in a way that impacts the future.
Jared explains what he’s observed,
“Coaching is a lost art…taking the time before a call, before a meeting, or after a meeting to just ask the simple question. What do you think went well? What do you think didn’t land? What’s your next move? How would you do things differently and just listening and providing subtle coaching. Often it just takes one nugget to improve a deal 2X. One course correction could take a player to 150 percent of quota from 125 percent, but we don’t take the time to do it.”
Advice to salespeople
At the end of our interview, Jared offered two pieces of valuable advice for new salespeople:
- "I think the first one is be open and accepting of coaching … You might be able to evolve techniques which have been proven successful for many years and improve upon it. That ability to think differently is really important. However that comes with the obligation to be accepting of advice from folks who have had a ton of at-bats and will help you improve. Even little things add up to huge dividends over time.”
- "Be curious and use that curiosity to learn different business models and how your potential customers operate. That knowledge will take you so much farther than becoming a product master because products come and go. For every technology giant today. I can show you five more that were giants 30 years ago and no longer exist...technology comes and goes. Business models endure if you can understand the business models and what makes these companies tick, invariably you'll be able to find the leaks in the faucet and be able to plug those leaks in with your solution. But you can only do that if you're generally curious and you understand how all these companies actually work." "Be curious and use that curiosity to learn different business models and how your potential customers operate. That knowledge will take you so much farther than becoming a product master because products come and go. For every technology giant today. I can show you five more that were giants 30 years ago and no longer exist...technology comes and goes. Business models endure if you can understand the business models and what makes these companies tick, invariably you'll be able to find the leaks in the faucet and be able to plug those leaks in with your solution. But you can only do that if you're generally curious and you understand how all these companies actually work.">
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.
Get expert sales knowledge with our FREE newsletter
Sign up for our monthly newsletter to access top sales training techniques.