Aidan Connolly, CEO, Cainthus
Recently, we had an opportunity to connect with Aidan Connolly, CEO at Cainthus and listen to his thinking on what differentiates top performing salespeople from the rest and how important listening and asking questions are to the overall success of each salesperson. His insights centered around:
- The Talking Too Much Sales Problem
- Pay Attention to What Matters to the Decision Maker(s) as Your #1 Priority
- The Power of Humble Curiosity
- Focusing On What Matters Most
- It Takes Training and Follow Up to Build Top Performers
- Two Pieces of Sage Advice for Salespeople
Early in the interview, Aidan said something that really stood out,
“The number one thing start-ups need is sales. They need to understand the sales process and the professionalism that’s required. So I think that giving those insights from a lot of smart people to the entire team could be very powerful.”
With all the priorities and challenges start-ups face, generating new sales can easily get lost in the shuffle and salespeople tasked with finding new customers can get into bad habits that literally prevent new sales from happening. The better sales organizations are more proactive at preventing the mistakes that prevent sales.
The Talking Too Much Sales Problem
What hundreds of Sales leaders have told us is that the one mistake that has the most limiting impact on results is simply talking too much. Aidan explains;
“Salespeople need to really listen better, ask better questions and engage the customer. Salespeople spend so much time on the history of the company or talking about, ‘I did this and I did that and we did this,’ which is mostly irrelevant.”
It’s easier to listen if we get better at asking questions. When the conversation is more engaging because of better questions, decision makers tend to open up more as Aidan points out;
“Salespeople really need to work on questioning techniques, they have to be open-ended and not closed-ended questions that are simply to show how smart they are as a manager or salesperson. You need to engage the customers through showing you care about them and you’re interested in them. Typically, younger salespeople are better at this than experienced salespeople, which is counter-intuitive. You’d imagine, as you get older and better, that you would avoid bad habits when instead, so often, people slip into very bad habits.”
It seems obvious, but in testing thousands of salespeople, what we find is, it’s easy to get into the habit of asking too many closed-ended questions and this shuts down conversation and causes salespeople to talk too much. This is a great place for Sales Leaders to start if they want to transform the way their teams sell. Top performers ask more open-ended questions and this lowers resistance and is more likely to build trust as well. More practice using open-ended questions will help any salesperson get better results.
Pay Attention to What Matters to the Decision Maker(s) as Your #1 Priority
It’s tempting for all of us to talk about ourselves, our stories and what makes our company unique. There’s definitely a time and place to communicate our differentiating factors, but too many salespeople get caught up in this and spend too much time doing it. This can really shut down the opportunity as Aidan points out:
“The biggest challenge is that we are a fascinating company to ourselves and we love talking about ourselves and we love explaining our history and our background and all the things we’ve done and not surprisingly that’s not particularly entertaining or exciting to the customers.”
We’ve found it’s very helpful for salespeople to write down 3-5 good open-ended questions before they walk into a sales meeting and have them right on their notepad so they can refer to them when they find themselves talking too much. Aidan explains what can happen when you’re not prepared with good questions going in:
“So when you’re in a sales situation, particularly with decision makers that have a lot of potential business in hand, what they want to do is tell you about themselves, and they really don’t want to listen to your stories. If you aren’t listening to them, if you’re not pulling out of them the opportunity for them to tell you why they are successful and what they’re doing that really is working, you will never know how to fit your program or products into what they’re looking for.”
The Power of Humble Curiosity
Sometimes, experience is a huge asset and can help a salesperson avoid rookie mistakes. Sometimes, however, even experienced salespeople can learn from the fresh curiosity of a younger salesperson just getting started, as Aidan explains:
“Younger, inexperienced salespeople are trying to learn so they go in and they’re very humble and good at questioning, ‘Can you tell me about your business? Can you tell me what works for you? Where do you want to go? Why’d you do this? Why’d you do that?’ The older person wants to show that they know it already and sadly they end up driving past and missing huge opportunities to go and do substantial business.”
Genuine curiosity is powerful because it lowers resistance and communicates a sincere desire to understand and that’s one of the keys to relationship building. When the decision maker(s) really feel the salesperson has a sincere desire to understand first, it has a positive impact on the meeting.
Focusing On What Matters Most
One of the biggest challenges that many sales managers face is the competing demands placed on their time by the different stakeholders they interact with on a daily basis. The ability to be proactive and dictate how your time will be spent, as opposed to reacting and spinning your tires all day is an area many sales managers can improve. Aidan explains;
“Frontline managers get very focused on dealing with the weeds, firefighting, and dealing with the bureaucracy of headquarters. How do you get them to say on a Monday morning or even better on the Sunday night, ‘What are the three things I’m going to get done this week, month, or quarter and what the three things that are going to really make my sales leap forward?’ So many people start the week by cleaning off all their emails, which means deleting newsletters and dealing with small, inconsequential customers.”
This skill is often what makes the difference between “feeling busy” and being truly productive. Major time invested in the highest potential activities improves the odds of success considerably.
It Takes Training and Follow-Up to Build Top Performers
We often hear from Sales Leaders that one of the biggest challenges they face when it comes to training and coaching is a lack of follow up. Many sales organizations feel they have to choose between in-person training events, which motivate and inspire their salespeople but lack practical application, or on-going training programs which help to develop skills over long periods over time. Aiden offered his thoughts on this challenge,
“When I’ve been in charge of teams that have achieved the greatest results, we’ve done a combination of live event trainings as an opportunity to create a lot of momentum and excitement linked to what happens afterwards, so that it’s not just a one-off training. The Sales Event has to have all of the elements of the sales training that you’re going to do in the next 12 months within it. But a lot of people see it as one or the other. If I had to choose between one or the other I’d go with ongoing sales training over a sales event, but ideally to achieve the two together.”
As Aidan points out, when combined with effective follow-up that focuses on practical application, a live sales event can have an enormous impact on the energy and skill level of a sales team. In virtually all areas of life that require real skill, like learning an instrument, learning a new language or learning to paint, selling takes practice to master. If you don’t practice, then you learn by making mistakes on live sales calls and that’s an expensive way to learn.
Sports teams get to an extremely high level of preparedness because of constant practice and rehearsal. Most sales teams would make much faster progress if they’d approach practice and training the way elite sports teams do it.
Two Pieces of Sage Advice for Salespeople
As our interview drew to a close Aidan offered the following pieces of advice to salespeople just starting out:
- “If I were to give advice to young salespeople just entering sales I would say, “get yourself a passport and start to travel.” This is a world which is beyond the United States and Ireland or Dublin, Kentucky or D.C. or any place. You have to have some sense of everything that’s out there and go and do it.
- “You can learn so much from older people so find yourself a mentor, particularly a mentor that is past the ego stage. Somebody who’s enough down their career path that they’re ready to teach without having to make you feel that they’re better than you are and actually willing to engage in a conversation. They are usually very positive coaches where you could pick up the phone and call and say I have a problem. Having one or several of those for a young person is immensely valuable.”
Thanks to Aidan for the interview and solid tips on how to generate stronger sales teams!
For videos on how to increase sales utilizing the SalesGym’s “Compete Selling” approaches, check out our SalesGym YouTube Channel!
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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