How to Amplify Your Connections with Customers

By Jim Cathcart

Garth Brooks is the number two best-selling music artist of all time. By number of albums sold, he’s outsold Elvis, Michael Jackson, and even Neil Diamond! What does this have to do with sales leadership? He has incredible selling power. He’s sold hundreds of millions of albums and performed at more than 350 concerts, which have grossed hundreds of millions more.

But, you say, “I’m not a singer or celebrity! I can’t do what Garth Brooks does.” Okay, granted – there’s a big gap between building a winning sales organization and being a celebrity. But let’s learn from Garth. He’s one of the most accessible successful singers in the world. So, how does he do it?  

  1. Garth is on social media regularly communicating on a personal basis with his customers (aka: fans).

  2. He is willing to be human, to listen to those who have no power, to show respect to others, and to openly express gratitude for the blessings of being able to do a job he loves. As a result, people can’t wait to pay to come see him. His fans aren’t just reflections of his musical talent (and the ability to do the job he is paid for) but, rather, he is followed because people really like and trust him.

  3. He looks out for fans and does nice, unexpected things for them too. At a recent Garth concert, a woman held up a sign with “Chemo [cancer treatment] this morning, Garth tonight!” written on it. In the middle of his signature song, “The Dance” (“I could have missed the pain but I’d have had to miss the dance”), he walked to the edge of the stage, sat down in front of her, held her face in his hands and gently kissed her. Then he took off his guitar and gave it to her! That is the strength of connecting with your customers! Everyone in the audience, and me watching on video, burst into tears at the power of that tender moment.

Do you care as much for your customers as he does for his? They don’t “know” each other; they simply share the experience of his product. How could you get to know the feelings and cares of your customers like he seems to understand his? Once you truly get it as to why people buy from you, you acquire a connecting power that could be immense. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What life or business problem do you help people solve?
  • What feelings – and maybe hopes or fears – are connected to that?
  • If you sell cars, how can you make the delivery of the new vehicle a powerful emotional triumph for the buyer?
  • If you’re a banker, could you find creative ways to thank people for investing their trust in your bank?
  • If you provide a software service, could you make people part of a “club” of insiders whom you protect and empower through your service?

Tommy Emmanuel is arguably the best popular guitarist alive today. Not the best known, flashiest, nor even the top selling, but clearly one of the best skilled you’ll ever see. (Christopher Parkening holds the best classical guitarist title.) Chet Atkins dubbed Tommy a “Certified Guitar Player,” a title he wears proudly. Watch Tommy’s YouTube performance of “Classical Gas.” You’ll be speechless.

Last week I met Tommy before his show in Santa Barbara and I presented a silver acorn to him to thank him for his art and to encourage him to keep on giving. His performance was one of the most joyful I’ve ever seen. He was having a great time – and so were we! Tommy loves playing guitar and people love to see him do it. How can you cultivate your love of what you do? How can you make it joyful to work with others and to provide the value you bring?  

Finally, let’s look at the SBAIC, the Santa Barbara Acoustic Instrument Celebration, organized by Kevin Gillies. This amazing gathering of instrumental artists takes place annually in California and brings the finest guitar makers (luthiers) from around the world. They hold three days of clinics – all day, each day. Customers and fans are encouraged to touch or play the instruments, talk with the artisans who made them, and learn techniques for inlays, wood choices, playing, and more. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of instruments are sold and the art and craft of luthiers is advanced. I conduct a seminar there for the guitar makers titled “The Art of Marketing and The Marketing of Art.”

How could you create an event or a special experience around your product or service so customers can learn the inner workings, get a hands-on experience, and get to know the people who provide the value you offer?

You may not be another Garth Brooks in your own field (or you might) but, even if all you do is learn from his example, you can still add tremendous value to your career and customers. You might not love what you do as much as Tommy Emmanuel does, but you could learn to enjoy and savor it more if you tried. Your “experience” event might not have the same qualities as SBAIC, but I’ll bet there are dozens of ways you can make your work more fun for your team and more enjoyable to your customers.

Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE is the original author of Relationship Selling and one of the world’s leading professional speakers. Jim is a regular contributor to Selling Power and a certified Mindset Trainer. Contact Jim at Cathcart.com.

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Is Your Sales Presentation Suffering from Information Overload?

By Terri L. Sjodin

In today’s competitive marketplace, a sales professional’s success often depends upon his or her ability to deliver a polished and persuasive presentation. Although salespeople spend a significant amount of their time verbally communicating, many suffer from common shortcomings in their sales presentations that adversely affect their results.

One of the most common mistakes is delivering overly informative presentations. Of course, every solid presentation requires a certain amount of “data,” but many professionals spend too much time informing rather than persuading.

It’s very easy to deliver an informative rather than persuasive presentation. The reason? A prospect typically won’t say “no” when you’re only disseminating information. The problem is they don’t say “yes” either!

A young woman I recently worked with reluctantly confessed that she suffered from the data-dump syndrome. Like many of us, she felt more comfortable in the information zone. Her strategy was simply to provide more information than her competitor. She was hoping that her prospect would like her more, or at least feel obligated to buy from her because she had been so thorough. She came to realize that she had been spending a great deal of time sharing and consulting with her sales prospects without completing any transactions. (Ouch!)

After stepping back and evaluating her presentations, she realized she needed to move beyond merely relaying information; she needed to build her case. By focusing more on brevity and tailoring her strongest points to her prospects’ needs, this young professional eventually became a consistent producer in her organization.

What Makes a Persuasive Case with Prospects?

Prepare like a debater or an attorney. Debaters and attorneys win cases based on persuasive arguments and supporting evidence. Focus on your most compelling arguments with each client or prospect.

Do you deliver a presentation that creates a true need for your product or service that your prospect may not even be aware of? (Ask yourself: why you, why your company, why now?) Don’t just deliver a standard list of features and benefits. (Remember, a feature is what something is. A benefit is what that something does. These two concepts alone are inherently informative.) Think proactive versus reactive. Design a presentation that anticipates common objections and overcomes them within the body of the presentation before they become reasons not to buy.

If you have been meeting with a substantial number of prospects, but haven’t been completing a significant number of transactions, maybe the big question you need to ask yourself is… “Is my presentation overly informative or is it persuasive?”

After recognizing the danger of data dumping, you are poised to tackle any topic that comes along. Your goal is to be both informative and persuasive, pairing rock-solid information with compelling arguments. Your presentation should be a blend or a combination of the two. I have seen it play out time and again. If you are too informative, nothing happens. If you are too aggressive, nothing happens. Find a balance, and you’ll see results.

Terri L. Sjodin is the author of the national best-selling book, Small Message, Big Impact. Her new book, Scrappy: A Little Book About Choosing to Play Big, was just released by Penguin Random House. She is the principal and founder of Sjodin Communications, a public speaking, sales training, and consulting firm. For more than 20 years Terri has served as a speaker and consultant for Fortune 500 companies, industry associations, academic conferences, CEOs, and members of Congress. She lives in Newport Beach, CA. For more information visit: www.sjodincommunications.com.

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How to Create More Accurate Sales Forecasts

By Rowan Tonkin

All business leaders live in the future to some extent. They make forward-looking decisions based on market share projections, educated guesses about competitor strategies, and analysis of customer trends. Sales forecasts are a huge factor in decisions about pricing ranges, account focus, and much more, so it’s critical to work with accurate information. But too many business leaders are still operating in the dark.

It’s not that business leaders don’t understand the importance of forecast accuracy. Market research demonstrates that effective sales forecasting methodologies can improve performance. One study found that best practices in sales forecasting can improve accuracy 20 percent, which leads to measurable increases in deal size as well as shorter sales cycles.

But many companies are still using manual, error-prone, data-deficient tools and processes that lead to inaccurate sales forecasts. Here are the problems associated with that approach:

  1. Spreadsheets generate data but not credibility: Business users understand spreadsheets, but, unfortunately, their use results in inaccurate data that colleagues rightly suspect of being manipulated or riddled with errors. Spreadsheets aren’t set up consistently, so functions and territories may drive errors; and, once submitted, spreadsheets are often reworked because users don’t trust the information.
  2. Disconnection inhibits collaboration: An accurate forecast requires cooperation between groups, such as product, sales, and finance teams. When each group uses its own spreadsheet and methods to capture data, the forecast reflects the lack of cohesion. And the process of developing separate spreadsheets underscores the lack of collaboration among team members.
  3. Dependence on subjective judgment instead of predictive analytics: Business leaders who use simple arithmetic pipeline weightings may be missing factors that drive forecast accuracy, such as headcount, pricing decisions, and route-to-market emphasis points. Without sufficient data, business leaders rely on subjective judgment calls rather than data-driven insights.

To avoid these pitfalls, business leaders need stronger organizational coordination. An automated system that captures reliable data and uses analytics-based methods can significantly improve sales forecast accuracy, plus enable companies to produce forecasts quickly and efficiently. A system that allows leaders to visualize data and collaborate across business units can return incredibly valuable insights.

When looking for a way to upgrade sales forecasting abilities, business leaders should find a way to leverage predictive analytics to reduce overreliance on subjective judgment calls. They should ensure that data contributors use a common set of data definitions and agree on baselines so decision making is aligned and processes are efficient.

A forecasting solution that enables real-time data analysis is valuable because it allows leaders to course correct quickly when required and generate new forecasts as business conditions change. It’s also a good idea to choose a solution that provides visibility across levels, including representatives and regions. This provides insight that leaders can use to improve performance and align efforts more broadly.

Companies that use a cloud-based planning solution can continuously improve sales forecasting processes, increasing accuracy and making more informed business decisions. The greater understanding of true business drivers that results from a collaborative approach gives business leaders a more accurate glimpse into the future – and an edge over their competitors.

Rowan Tonkin is head of sales and marketing solutions at Anaplan.

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Five Ways a Sales VP or Chief Revenue Officer Can Get Fired

By Jim Lochry

As most VPs of sales and chief revenue officers know, the mortality rate is quite high for those who take on ownership of meeting an organization’s top-line revenue. The job security of a VP of sales is often determined by whether they made the number for the last quarter.

So, what can a VP of sales/CRO do to avoid becoming just another casualty?

There are some issues beyond a sales leader’s control – like when the product doesn’t work, when there is no market for the product that has been built, or when the product isn’t competitive. These issues are often outside the control of sales. There are, however, several fatal mistakes that are controllable. I have outlined five of the most common below.

  1. Signing up for an unachievable revenue target: This is the classic situation sales finds itself in during the budget setting process. The goal line keeps moving during the revenue negotiation. The VP of sales keeps getting pressured into signing up to an ever-increasing revenue target. Pressure then gets applied to ensure engineering delivers on time and that a sufficient marketing program spend is in place to drive the needed lead generation activities. Pressure pressure pressure! Too much pressure.  

  2. Poor sales talent and inability to develop them: Unfortunately, many in sales leadership roles don’t build a strong sales pipeline of prospective candidates. This often results in hiring new sales reps under time constraints, which can make poor hiring decisions – such as not filling open positions in a timely manner. This will result in missing revenue targets, unpredictable forecasts, high turnover, and inability to scale.

  3. Ineffectiveness in defining and targeting ideal prospect: There are great tools, which integrate with services such as Salesforce, that marketing uses to target macro-level profiles for prospective customers and markets. These definitely provide value, but are often insufficient for optimizing the ideal prospect and profile for an individual sales rep’s territory. Variables such as verticals and account-based selling strategies make account reps’ territories unique. Additionally, for sales to be successful in having more customer interactions, they also need to know when and how to optimally reach a specific prospect.  

  4. Lack of investment in provisioning a sales team with the right technology, such as auto dialers, to make them more effective and productive: A CRM system is a great repository/database for sales reps to access. What salespeople need, in addition, are tools or a platform that allows them to leverage the data that resides in the CRM. They need to use that data to increase the amount of customer engagements. Ideally, salespeople need a multi-channel customer engagement platform that supports customer communication through email, voice, text, direct mail, etc.

  5. Don’t speak with your customers, but pummel them with a barrage of marketing automation drip and nurturing campaigns: If you are selling something other than a pure commodity, the ability to build a trusted relationship with your customer is often what determines whether you win or lose the business. This requires a dialogue – not just a series of email monologues. No doubt email is a useful tool, but it should not replace the need for a real conversation between buyer and seller. To understand the buyer’s need and articulate the unique value proposition you’re offering, you need to get to know the customer, establish a relationship with them. You have to talk to them.

Today’s sales leadership will always be in a high-pressure and high-risk position due to revenue being the lifeline of all organizations. Monday morning quarterbacking and second guessing will never go away. But the odds of survival can be dramatically improved – if you remain aware of the above pitfalls.

Jim Lochry is SVP corporate development at ConnectLeader. Jim is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and alliances. He is a results-driven software industry executive who has held domestic and international sales leadership roles with P&L responsibilities for leading enterprise software companies such as Oracle, Extricity, Versant, and Peace Software.

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New Survey Shows How to Develop Excellent Sales Managers

By Norman Behar

When speaking to clients, I often make the point that sales success is highly correlated to the effectiveness of their frontline sales managers – those who have day-to-day responsibility for managing the sales teams. These responsibilities typically include hiring, managing sales performance, coaching, and leading their teams. Obviously, these are not easy tasks.

In our book, The High-Impact Sales Manager, we describe the “Star Athlete Syndrome,” where high-performing sales professionals are promoted into sales management positions with the assumption that their individual sales success will translate into better sales team performance. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, since the skills they developed as sales professionals do not prepare them for the key responsibilities they will assume as sales managers.

To better understand the correlation between sales management skills and sales team performance, we (in partnership with Selling Power) recently conducted a survey that included sales leaders from more than 20 industries. A new report, “2017 Sales Management Research Report: Five Hallmarks of High-Impact Sales Organizations,” based on survey findings, was published this week (and can be downloaded here).

As part of our analysis, we compared high-impact (where over 75% of sales reps achieve quota), average (where 25% to 75% of reps achieve quota), and low-performing organizations (where less than 25% of reps achieve quota).

This list summarizes what we found were the five hallmarks of high-impact sales organizations:

  1. Sales managers spend more time coaching.
  2. They are better at managing sales performance.
  3. They are more proficient at recruiting and hiring.
  4. They earn their teams’ trust and respect.
  5. Their sales organizations invest more to develop sales managers.

It was interesting to note that, while most organizations recognize the leverage sales managers can have in increasing sales team performance, most sales managers are left on their own to learn how to coach their teams. In fact, 45% of the respondents reported that they do not have sufficient resources or budget for the development of their sales managers.

We also learned that the biggest impediment to implementing a sales management training program was (according to 65% of respondents) competing priorities. While I wasn’t totally surprised by this response, I seriously question what other sales initiatives would have a higher impact on sales performance than training frontline sales managers.

I continue to believe that training sales managers has a huge impact on sales team performance – and the responses from our survey seem to validate this point. To download the full report, please click here.

Norman Behar is CEO and managing director of Sales Readiness Group.

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Why You Need Strong Customer Relationships More than Ever

By Sharon Gillenwater

You’re in sales. You’ve got a product to sell. Boom. Done. Then on to the next deal. Your technique? You use the sales enablement tools on which your company has spent millions to help you be more productive. At least that’s what your organization hopes is happening.

Why Is Sales Productivity Down by 36 Percent?

But consulting firm Accenture has studied this approach. What they’ve found is that – instead of being more productive – you’re too distracted by the information free-for-all. Sales productivity, they say, is down from 41 percent to 36 percent over the past five years. And 55 percent of you find using these sales tools more of an obstacle than a help. Even more say they have too many sales tools.

Well, that’s not a surprise to us. According to a May 2016 Gartner survey, worldwide CRM software totaled $26.3 billion in 2015, up 12.3 percent from the previous year.

But, while these tools can be very useful in managing and generating customer data, we’ve found that pricey systems alone can’t drive more sales. Instead of supporting a strategy, they sometimes become the strategy. They are touted as enabling salespeople to make more calls and send more emails – but most of these communications annoy and are ignored by buyers and disappear into the void.

The Shift to “Outcome Selling”

And it’s not just you. Customers are more demanding, more impulsive, more disjointed, and less predictable, says Accenture. In response, you try to change. You’ve been told to sell personalized experiences. Okay. But how do you identify that fleeting moment when your customer is ready for advice – ready to be guided? As Accenture notes, “In the land of evergreen customer relationships, the deal is never done.” In other words, there is no longer a single moment to capture.

So what’s the answer? Accenture claims sales zeitgeist is necessarily shifting to outcome selling, which emphasizes post-sales interactions and services to deliver on what had been promised initially. We used to call it “upselling.”

Here’s the bigger lesson: If the deal is never done, the only way to successfully practice outcome selling is to understand your customer, track your customer, and engage your customer.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review acknowledges this, too. The authors, from L.E.K. Consulting, point out that, for an outcome-centric company to carry out marketing’s promise, sales organizations must know the customer well enough to understand the specific outcomes it seeks. It requires a strong partnership between sales organizations and customers. And it requires business intelligence.

And that should be good news for you. After all, salespeople enjoy putting their people skills to work to nurture relationships. The people part of selling has become so forgotten that your buyers will actually find it refreshing to hear from you – but only if you’ve educated yourself about them and their needs.

The Value of Strong Customer Relationships

Give salespeople a good current backgrounder on the decision makers they need to know – in tandem with what their CRM can offer – and turn them into listeners. They can then learn from customers what is driving the decisions and how your business can help. It’s just good old-fashioned sales.

CA Technologies’ CEO Mike Gregoire touted this strategy during the company’s October 2016 earnings call:

“From the earliest point of contact with customers through the many years that follow, we have vastly improved how we are showing up…CA’s brand familiarity and consideration continue to move higher – particularly among business decision makers. Our customers are giving us higher scores on product quality, and customer satisfaction continues to trend positively.”

This, he said, is key to driving long-term sustained growth.

Consistent with what Accenture is saying is the key to winning in sales, successful vendors are keeping an eye on the long game: customer outcomes. Because Fidelity National Information Services emphasizes creating operational efficiencies for clients to run and grow their businesses, president and CEO Gary Norcross told analysts in November 2016 that, “Despite continuing macroeconomic pressures, our sales teams continued converting opportunities to new wins and cross-selling and upselling to existing clients.”

These two vendors get their customers. They aren’t just selling; they’re connecting and learning about what their customers want to achieve now and over time. It’s then up to sales to provide the expertise to recommend what can help them get there – again and again.

It’s like that NBC public service announcement, “The more you know.” The more you know – about the people, their concerns, their goals, what the company strategy is, who is making the decisions, and what their competition is up to – the more you can offer to help them reach their desired outcomes. Instead of getting distracted, focus on that.

SharonGillenwaterSharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market, from Fortune 500 companies to independent non-profits, to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.

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Seven Things All Good Sales Leaders Must Do

By Jim Cathcart

People love to follow leaders who know where they are going and who care about their followers. Even those who consider themselves to be leaders are usually willing to follow others who seem focused and collaborative. What they don’t like is to be led by someone who is neither clear on their destination nor open to input from others.

If you’re a sales leader seeking increased sales, the strange truth is that it won’t be achieved by seeking more sales. At least not in the usual way. When people sell more it is rarely because they are urged to sell more – or threatened if they don’t.

Selling requires positive energy: optimism, hope, eagerness, and open-mindedness. People buy to make things better – either to remove a problem or attain a desired result. If the salesperson doesn’t represent some form of increased happiness then people don’t buy.

So what’s a sales leader to do? Here are seven things you must provide if you want more sales.

  1. Target
  2. Tools
  3. Training
  4. Time
  5. Truth
  6. Touch
  7. Trust

All people like new and exciting destinations. Some say that people resist change. That’s not true. People resist unpleasant change – but try announcing that we’re all going to Disneyland and suddenly everyone’s on board. It is your job as the leader to get people enthused about what you want from and for them. Paint pictures, tell stories, give examples…show them the outcome. Once a desirable Target is clear, action will follow. Remember: motivation is “motive” plus “action.” The Target is the motive – make it appealing.

If your target is the top of a sheer cliff, you’d better be looking for a ladder. Because, until people see it’s possible, they won’t take action. That is why Tools are necessary in your planning. The Tools might be information, updates, reports, or insider information, or they might be sales tools that make it easier for them to tell your story. The right Tools will make your salespeople more effective.

Imagine having the world’s best software for selling but you don’t know how to use it yet? Tools aren’t enough; there must be Training in how to use the tools with confidence.

That brings us to Time: if there’s not enough Time allowed for the Training to sink in and become a new skill, then the Tools won’t be able to serve you yet.

People thrive in an atmosphere of Truth. When they know what is true and what is not, decision making is easier. It’s the leader’s job to create an atmosphere where the Truth is always welcomed – even when it’s bad news. As Bill Gates said in his book Business at the Speed of Thought, “Bad news must travel fast.” The sooner we know what is so, the sooner we can take the appropriate action. The longer it is delayed, the fewer good options remain.

Touch means the human touch. If all that people get is bad news, they will start avoiding news updates. We need to provide the caring “touch” that shows we believe in their potential and we respect them as human beings. Without the personal assurance that your leader cares about you there is little motivation to exert initiative. As Zig Ziglar said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Which brings us to Trust. It’s foolish to trust untrained people to do highly skilled work, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t to be trusted at all. Trust follows ability and intent. Train your people in the skills that matter. Increase the Trust you give them at each new skill level; then train their thinking to assure that they are seeking to help people with every sale. When you build a team of helpers who are seeking to serve others at a profit, you are building a powerful sales force.

Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE, is the original author of Relationship Selling and one of the world’s leading professional speakers. Jim is a regular contributor to Selling Power and a certified Mindset Trainer. Contact Jim at Cathcart.com.

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How to Raise the Performance of Your Sales Managers

By Kevin F. Davis

First, a disclaimer: I was a sales manager myself for many years, and think it is one of the most critical jobs in any company. It is also one of the most demanding. And having consulted with sales managers, VPs, and directors for the past two decades, I know the job pressures have only gotten worse.

So I can imagine the gasps from sales managers when I say that companies can get even more out of them. The idea is unimaginable to people who routinely get hundreds of emails, texts, and calls every day – to people who are already working long hours, who barely have a minute to themselves on many days.

And still I say it: Companies can get better results from their sales managers.

How? By imposing the same kind of discipline around managing and leading that they do around selling. This is the philosophy behind my new book, The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness.

Think of it this way: I don’t know of a single successful sales organization where sales reps are allowed to sell any way they want. Every good company has some kind of common, consistent sales process to grow sales.

But very few companies have embraced the concept that a consistent sales management methodology is equally important for business success. By that I mean having proven, documented approaches that sales managers are expected to follow for everything from managing priorities, coaching, and handling rep performance problems, to hiring, forecasting, and driving a customer focus. This includes strategic allocation of coaching time and doing monthly or quarterly reviews that contribute to ongoing rep development as well as better results. All of this accompanied by job aids and tools that help them ensure they are using best practices.

The benefits of embracing this approach are manyfold. Here are just three examples.

1) Better accountability: You can’t let employees do whatever they want – then try to hold them accountable after the fact.

When a company wants to hold employees accountable for something, it clearly defines what they are going to be accountable for; effectively communicates those expectations; provides the methods, training support, and tools employees need to stand a reasonable chance of meeting the expectations; and reviews performance against the standards.

Why not use this same mentality for sales managers as for everyone else?

2) Creating a self-correcting framework: A key principle in modern manufacturing is to alert workers to a mistake immediately so the error doesn’t get passed on to the next step in the process. Most sales management teams don’t have anything like that. The only indicators managers have that maybe they did something poorly or wrong is seeing bad sales figures months after the fact.

The same tactic you use to create better accountability also helps managers become self-correcting. If, for example, they understand the “hows” and the “how oftens” around coaching – and the link to better outcomes – they’ll be better able to recognize when they’ve gone off track. Then they can figure out what they need to start doing, stop doing, or do differently to get back on track.

Without a self-correcting framework, sales managers are reliant on their boss recognizing the problem and then being redirected. And, along the way, time, sales personnel, and deals all get lost.

3) Faster ramp-up of new sales managers: What happens to newly promoted sales managers who aren’t taught about the management part of their job and don’t have a sales management process to follow? They keep selling!

In the absence of process, they follow their instincts, which typically lead them to be the “super-salesperson” running around helping close the biggest deals. (While this is not exactly wasted time, the sales team would do better overall if the manager let the best salespeople work with minimal guidance and spent more time helping the up-and-coming reps turn into competition for the team’s star players).

Organizations that have a standard sales management methodology in place can avoid that situation. By having standard methods, they very quickly create sales managers who understand that their biggest contribution to the organization now lies in leading and developing their team – and who know how to perform those methods effectively.

I don’t mean to imply that sales management can or should achieve the same level of rigor that manufacturing processes do. But having standards that are communicated to first-line sales managers is key – no matter whether they are newly-minted managers or old hands.

Experienced sales reps know when and how to deviate from the standard sales process they were taught. But all reps have the same starting point; they know they must master the essential selling skills and processes that increase the odds of getting a good result.

The same should be true for sales managers.  

Kevin F. Davis is the author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top, which describes methods for everything from leading, coaching, and managing priorities, to hiring, forecasting, and driving rep accountability. For more information visit TopLine Leadership, Inc.

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Sales Coaching: A Proven Model for Delivering Feedback to Your Team

By Kevin Higgins

Providing feedback to your team is a critical sales coaching discipline that must be delivered the right way to create an engaged and motivated team. In a recent survey of North American sales leaders, we at DoubleDigit Sales asked, “Do sales managers have a model they use to provide feedback to their people?”

The response was surprising: 56 percent said yes; 44 percent said no. This was an aha moment for us. Almost half of sales managers do not have a reliable coaching approach. We also know from our sales-management training sessions that feedback offered without a clear model ends up as a one-way conversation delivered from the manager to the performer. This leads to critical information not being understood and actioned by the performer.

These ineffective one-way feedback conversations come in one of two types:

  1. The “sandwich”: The manager presents the performer with what he or she did well, “sandwiches” the negative feedback in the middle, and wraps it up with more positive feedback. It’s a habit based on years and years of giving feedback – and it’s a habit we have to break. Sales coaching requires a two-way conversation to be effective.
  2. The “drive-by” approach: The manager doesn’t attempt to engage the salesperson; he or she simply states negative feedback and moves on. You never want to provide drive-by feedback. Remember: If you simply tell the salesperson, the conversation is one way; but, if you ask the salesperson, this facilitates a two-way conversation.

If you constantly praise your team members without suggesting improvements, you will have an extremely confident, unskilled team. If you constantly suggest how they can improve without celebrating their success, you will have a skilled team that is lacking confidence.

Balance in feedback is critical. Our Effective Feedback model makes self-discovery by the performer the first and most critical part of this process. The model is two way, and has four easy-to-follow steps:

  1. Ask performers what they did well.
  2. You add what you feel they did well.
  3. Ask performers what they will do differently next time.
  4. You add what you suggest they do differently next time.

We need confident team members, so steps 1 and 2 build confidence. Steps 3 and 4 build skill. Together, all four steps create a confident, skilled, and engaged team member with clear action items for improvement.

Do we spend an equal amount of time in each of these steps? Definitely not! People have different capacities for feedback and different abilities to assimilate information.

Those who lack confidence need more in steps 1 and 2. Those who are very confident – but lack skill – need more time in steps 3 and 4 (but be careful that it comes after reinforcing confidence in steps 1 and 2).

Although two-way feedback is common sense, it isn’t common practice. Making Effective Feedback common practice will engage your team and support their development. Once this four-step process is in place and well embedded in your culture, you’ll find team members are so well versed in receiving and giving feedback that they can actually provide themselves with clear, actionable, realistic, and balanced feedback on a daily basis.

How does this work in the real world? DoubleDigit Sales has consistent double-digit growth, and one of the most significant factors is feedback. When we hire new team members (all members, not just sales), we provide them with a two-page summary of what it will be like to work at DoubleDigit Sales. Here is what we say about feedback: 

“Growth and development is key in our industry, not only for clients, but for employees as well – you will receive constant feedback here, some you will like and some that is harder to hear – either way there is an expectation that you take it and act on it. 

“We will be open and candid with you. If you are performing well you will know it and if you are not performing well you will receive feedback and coaching.”

Our belief is that our successful growth has a lot to do with feedback being frequent and helpful for our team. Everyone on the team knows that feedback is a four-step process, and they appreciate how it contributes to their growth and development.

If you would like to improve your sales coaching skills and take your team’s performance to the next level, ask about our practical sales management training solution.

Kevin Higgins is the CEO of DoubleDigit Sales, one of North America’s top sales effectiveness firms that focuses on creating practical sales training solutions that unlock individual performance and produce sustainable business results. Kevin is also the author of Engage Me, a book focused on the strategies necessary for sales managers to succeed.

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The Best Way to Help Your Salespeople Learn

By Byron Matthews

One of the most frequent complaints we hear from sales leaders is their teams don’t spend enough time actually selling. This is true – data backs it up. According to the 2016 Sales Performance Optimization Study from CSO Insights (the research division of Miller Heiman Group), sales professionals spent 64 percent of their time at work doing other tasks rather than selling.

I’m sure that’s a fact most C-Suite executives don’t want to hear. The last thing sales leaders should be doing is distracting their teams from selling. Isn’t that their most important job?

Forward-thinking leaders at leading organizations recognize a need to initiate training regimens that keep sellers selling the majority of the time and add value to what they are working on in real time. When training regimens are done correctly, an hour of learning doesn’t necessarily equate to one fewer hour of selling. Effective training enhances everything the sellers are doing in the moment.

One of the best ways to do this is to make sure your training is being led by sales and service professionals, not training professionals. You want your training to be a dialogue, not a monologue, and the best way to ensure this type of learning and communication is to have sales professionals lead your training initiatives.

Here’s what I mean: When professional sellers head up your learning initiatives, they can infuse the learning with real-world deals that are currently in play. After all, they have carried a bag, they’ve held a quota, and they’ve talked with clients – just like your sales team. A recent study from Forbes reveals 70 percent of learning on the job occurs informally, meaning people are naturally learning from their leaders and their peers. Since sales professionals are already learning from sales professionals, doesn’t it make sense for the same people to head up the formal training aspect of your learning initiative?

The best way to engage sales professionals and their peers is to make training a conversation about what they are experiencing in the field. Right now.

The benefit to this type of training is obvious. While it may take sellers out of the field for a brief time, they still continue selling like it’s a regular business day. The payback is obvious as well – sellers work on their existing deals during training and they get immediate feedback and coaching from actual sellers. If the training is done right, each deal is also consistent with the company’s framework and processes, and each seller will also follow the methodology already in place.

So you now think of training as deal-pursuit workshops that allow sales professionals to bring their most challenging and important opportunities forward so they can work on them throughout the training initiative.

Keep in mind the intent of any training program is not focused solely on concepts. Rather, it should encourage salespeople to employ the skills and methodologies learned during the workshops to create winning pursuit strategies and win more business. When salespeople are finished with their training, they should have a well-developed and actionable plan to go win more deals.

In this way, the result doesn’t end with training. In fact, training is only the beginning.

To learn more about how training can impact your organization, download the white paper “Six Ways to Shift Your Sales and Service Training Approach to Ensure Your Learning Investment Pays Off.”

Byron Matthews leads Miller Heiman Group’s commitment to championing customer-management excellence throughout the customer life cycle and across the enterprise. His dedication to placing the customer at the core of everything gives Miller Heiman Group its expanded, holistic approach for developing, managing, and sustaining long-term customer relationships. Before joining the organization, he served as senior vice president of sales at Aflac, where he led more than 30,000 sales professionals across multiple channels. He also spent more than five years at Mercer as global sales performance business practice leader, where he grew revenue more than 40 percent.

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