Learn How to Validate Your Salespeople in Four Easy Steps

Lee D'Angelo

By Lisa Gschwandtner 

After 25 years of interviewing thousands of people about every topic under the sun, what has billionaire media mogul Oprah Winfrey learned about human nature? Everyone wants to be validated.

In a fireside chat about leadership and career at Stanford University, she revealed that everyone she interviews asks her the same question at the end of the conversation. “Was that okay? How did I do?” This pattern holds true for the very famous and powerful as well as ordinary citizens. “Everybody says that, and now I just wait for it,” she says.

Winfrey says that we all share three basic concerns when we interact with others.

1. Did you see me?
2. Did you hear me?
3. Did what I said mean anything to you?

“That’s what everything’s about,” she says.

If you want to start becoming the kind of leader who validates others, you must first understand that validation is different from praise or positive feedback.

In psychological terms, validation is not about agreeing with others or approving of what they’ve said or done. Rather, it’s about accepting the person – no matter what the person is saying or doing. As Karyn Hall, Ph.D., author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person: Finding Peace When Your Emotions Overwhelm You, puts it, “Validation is a way of communicating that the relationship is important and solid even when you disagree on issues.”

Here are four ways you can lead salespeople by validating them.

1. Give the person your undivided attention.

The first rule of validation is to listen wholeheartedly to whoever is talking. In other words, show the salesperson that you’re not simply waiting for your turn to speak or keeping one eye on your email while he or she talks.

This can be a tough practice for leaders who are used to multitasking and juggling many priorities at once. If it helps, think of how disheartening it is when you talk with someone – whether a client or your own boss – who’s constantly texting or interrupting your discussion to take phone calls. Doesn’t feel great, does it? When a rep comes to you to discuss something, set aside all distractions and really tune in to what he or she is saying.

2. Pause to restate and reflect.

Sometimes sales leaders assume that reps want them to provide immediate answers and solutions. While it’s true that your role is to help and give direction, be aware that sometimes salespeople just need someone to listen to them so they can get some perspective on their issues.

A simple pause to restate what you’ve heard shows that you’ve been listening actively and helps the salesperson hear what he’s said. For example, you could say, “So what I’m hearing is that you’ve sent three emails to the prospect this week and received only one reply in return, which you found vague and confusing.” This simple restatement makes the salesperson feel validated.

3. Notice and remark on the person’s emotional state.

Sometimes people are unaware of the way they’re feeling. This can prolong their distress and make problems more complicated as they’re unable to separate facts from emotions. If you say something like, “What I’m hearing right now is that you’re feeling frustrated and anxious,” you help the person start to identify his or her emotions and gain clarity.

Notice that you are not necessarily saying it is right or wrong to feel frustrated and anxious; you are simply making an observation. This creates greater openness and trust. Because you’ve validated the salesperson, he or she now feels safe in communicating with you in an authentic fashion.

4. Commit to what you have in common.

Again, validation is about underscoring the importance of the person and of your relationship with the person. It is entirely possible for a leader to disagree with someone and still validate him or her.

For example, it might annoy you when a salesperson complains that entering information into CRM is a waste of time. You might be tempted to explode and say something like, “Quit being so lazy! This is something I told you to do, so you’d better start doing it!” However, this is not going to leave the salesperson feeling validated (and probably won’t get the behavior you want, either).

Instead, validate the person by focusing on a commitment the two of you share. In this case, your shared commitment is to the success of the salesperson and to the sales organization as a whole. Accordingly, you might choose to say something like, “I know how frustrating it can be to feel like you’re being asked to do something that wastes your time. Here are three ways you and I both benefit when you enter data into CRM, and here are three ways your actions then benefit the entire company.”

If the salesperson continues to repeat unacceptable behaviors, then you might eventually have to end the relationship. However, if it comes to that point, you’ll be able to do so with compassion – knowing you’ve always practiced the principles of validation.

For more insight about life and leadership from Oprah Winfrey, order her book, What I Know For Sure.

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Lisa GschwandtnerLisa Gschwandtner is Editorial Director at Selling Power and Media Manager of the Sales 2.0 Conference. Find her on Twitter @SellingPower20.

 

[Image via Flickr / Lee D’Angelo]
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How to Tell If Inside Sales is Right for Your Organization

inside sales call center

By Alison Brattle

The structure of most sales organizations hasn’t changed much in the past few decades. The average organization is made up of a number of sales reps working in the field, who meet face-to-face with current and prospective clients. Those field reps are supported by additional staff members and “inside reps” who complete the internal work associated with completing the transaction.

However, that’s slowly changing. Organizations are transitioning their sales staff members from working as external reps in the field, to internal office-based reps who work primarily via phone and email. The inside reps are no longer support staff who do the “back end” work – they’re now the people who are actually closing deals.

One study by Steve W. Martin surveyed over 100 vice presidents of sales at leading service providers and tech companies and found that 46 percent of sales teams had shifted from the external to the internal model. However, 21 percent had done the opposite, moving from an internal sales model to an external field model. So, while there is some shift either way, there was more than twice as much movement from external to internal – a clear indication of a trend.

The Advantages of an Internal Sales Team

There are some big advantages to be gained from shifting to an internal sales model. One of the biggest is that sales rep training becomes much more effective with an inside model. Under the external model, sales reps don’t necessarily come into contact with one another on a regular basis; but, with reps working internally in the same office space, it’s much easier to provide sales training for new reps, share “best practice” sales tips, and disseminate new information.

According to Steve W. Martin’s survey, 84 percent of respondents who shifted from an external to an internal sales model cited these and similar benefits, as well as this:

  • 79 percent said the internal model provided for more rapid growth of the organization
  • 76 percent said the internal model was more effective for reaching mid-markets and small businesses
  • 78 percent reported increased call activity and volume of sales

Is the Internal Sales Model Universally Superior?

These are some exciting statistics, which definitely point to the value of internal sales, but it’s important to note that this isn’t the best solution for all organizations.

For example, for a newly-established organization, it’s often more prudent to adopt an external model to more effectively build the personal relationships sales reps rely on. As the organization expands, switching to an internal model may become more fruitful, since it provides the ability to integrate new staff more effectively and allows for more rapid growth.

Another highly influential factor is the complexity of the organization’s sales cycle – how many individuals are involved, purchase size and value, and the complexity of the product itself. An enterprise sale cycle, for example, is a long cycle based on high-value purchases involving multiple individuals at various levels of the organization. In these cases, external sales are necessary – again, because selling extremely high-value products over a long period of time is something that relies on the development of more personal business relationships and networking.

On the other hand, a short and simple sales cycle is where the internal model really shines: high volumes of low-value sales, where the customer’s purchasing decisions are made by a single department or individual.

Choosing the right model is key to any business’s growth and future profits objectives. However, in many cases, a mixture of both models is needed at various periods of time in the organization’s cycle. The most important element to consider is timing – when to implement the model (or models) that fit with the company’s current goals and capacity.

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Alison BrattleAlison Brattle is a marketing manager at AchieveGlobal UK, a global sales training and leadership development firm based in London. It specializes in providing exceptional sales coaching and helps organizations develop business strategies to achieve sales success. Find her on LinkedIn.

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5 Things Sales Leaders Should Never Say

Sir Richard Branson

by Lisa Gschwandtner 

If there’s one thing Sir Richard Branson understands, it’s the pressure of conveying a clear message (either in meetings, public statements, or speeches) without sounding negative. According to his book, The Virgin Way: Everything I Know about Leadership, here are five words and phrases he tries to avoid in team meetings and speeches.

1) “That’s not a bad idea.”

If this is your response to an idea, your team won’t be clear on whether you love the idea or hate it. “Not bad” could mean you actually kind of like the idea. On the other hand, you didn’t specifically say you love the idea. Don’t leave your audience confused.

“Be definitive,” writes Branson. “If you approve or disapprove of something, be assertive and make your position absolutely clear, making sure you explain why.”

2) “You’re not going to like this, but …”

This phrase sets up your listeners to hear something negative. As a leader, it’s your job to inspire people and instill them with positive feelings – even if what you’re about to share might upset or frighten them. Branson suggests instead saying something like, “This may be a tough nut to crack, but I’m sure we’ll get it done.”

3) “We’ve had better years.”

Sales leaders are often asked to provide some kind of public commentary on results for the month, quarter, or year, but Branson views the above phrase as a cop out. “People want the truth, not some sugarcoated version of it,” he writes. Admit the reality of your situation and follow up with an honest assessment of how you plan to achieve better results in the future.

4) “That said…”

Branson considers this to be “possibly one of the most destructive phrases in the English language.” When people hear these words, you invalidate anything you said just a minute ago. This can create great resentment among your listeners. “As a verbal bridge from the pros to the cons, try using something like, ‘Of course, we shouldn’t overlook…’” writes Branson.

5) “No comment.”

Branson understands that sometimes leaders aren’t at liberty to discuss sensitive information, but he dislikes this classic approach to discretion. “A stark ‘no comment’ tends to come across like, ‘We’re guilty as hell and don’t want to talk about it until our lawyers have come up with a plausible alibi,’” writes Branson.

Instead, he suggests saying something like, ‘I’m really sorry, but until we gather all the facts, we are not in a position to issue a statement.’

What are some of the key phrases and words you’ve learned to avoid during speeches, meetings, and presentations? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

For more leadership insight from Richard Branson check out his book, The Virgin Way: Everything I Know about Leadership.

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Lisa GschwandtnerLisa Gschwandtner is Editorial Director at Selling Power and Media Manager of the Sales 2.0 Conference. Find her on Twitter @SellingPower20.

[Top image via Flickr / Jarle Naustvik]
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Three Things That Will Boost Your Brainstorming Meeting with Reps

brainstorming meetings

By Lisa Gschwandtner

As a sales leader, you want to welcome new ideas and innovation. Unfortunately, during meetings, many leaders can’t see past what Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, coauthors of  Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, call “behavioral blind spots.”

In their book, Stone and Heen discuss the case of “Zoe,” who prided herself on the way she nurtured her team’s creativity during weekly brainstorming meetings. She didn’t realize, however, that people called her Annie Oakley behind her back. “As in, ‘she shoots down every idea,’” write Stone and Heen.

Zoe might never have become aware of the problem had she not decided to have a team member record a few of their meetings using a smartphone. “Zoe was stunned when she listened to the recording,” they write. Here are some of the phrases she heard herself utter:

“Here’s why I doubt that can work.”

“Here’s what I’m worried about.”

During brainstorming meetings, you might think you’re setting high standards or providing constructive feedback when, in fact, others see you as hypercritical. Try these three tips for leading a terrific brainstorming session.

Tip #1: Don’t worry about controlling the meeting.

Zoe truly believed in the benefit of new ideas. The problem was that she was afraid of wasting time during the meetings. Remember, creative energy needs room to breathe. Allow the ideas to flow, and stop worrying that you need to keep the meeting on track.

Tip #2: Stay open, positive, and curious.

Negativity quickly stifles creativity. Even if you can tell that an idea is not going to work, avoid saying so right away. Instead, see if you can pick one aspect of the idea that you immediately like, and focus on that.

For example, if someone suggests a customer-loyalty initiative but you can tell the plan is going to be prohibitively expensive, you might respond by saying, “What I like about this idea so far is that it addresses our key accounts. Let’s see if we can build on that.”

Brainstorming sessions are not the time to challenge ideas. There will be plenty of time to apply critical thinking after you develop ideas more and decide if you want to pursue them.

Tip #3: Plan ahead to capture ideas.

Although it’s ideal to let ideas flow freely, the lack of structure can sometimes mean that ideas become lost once everyone goes back to their desks. If this happens more than once, your team members are likely to be left feeling as though you’ve wasted their time. As a result, they might invest less effort in volunteering ideas.

Ask a good note-taker who’s not a core part of the team to attend the meeting and devote his or her full attention to capturing the ideas. Before the meeting ends, review the notes aloud to make sure they’re accurate and reflect the spirit of the discussion.

If you’re a sales leader, remember that your tone, attitude, and behavior sets the tone for the rest of your team. Also bear in mind that the way you perceive yourself is not necessarily the way others perceive you. Even if you don’t have doubts about how you’re coming across, try recording a meeting or two the way Zoe did. That way, you’ll hear the evidence for yourself.

How do you encourage the free flow of ideas when brainstorming with your sales team? 

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Lisa Gschwandtner

Lisa Gschwandtner is Editorial Director at Selling Power and Media Manager of the Sales 2.0 Conference. Find her on Twitter @SellingPower20.

[Image via Flickr /nhuisman]
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How to Help Your Reps Stand Out on Sales Calls

sales calls

By Lisa Earle McLeod

Imagine two competing salespeople who are about to call on the same customer. Salesperson A is making his call at 10:00 a.m., and Salesperson B is making her call at 11:00 a.m.

Before they go into the call, they both do the exact same thing: they open their laptops to review the customer’s information. As they scroll past the customer’s contact information, the two salespeople see two different things.

Salesperson A sees the projected revenue for this customer and the anticipated close date that he promised his boss.

Salesperson B sees five boxes labeled

1) customer environment,
2) customer goals,
3) customer challenges,
4) what success looks like for this customer, and
5) what lack of success looks like for this customer.

Each box contains a succinct summary of the information Salesperson B has gathered on her previous sales calls.

Which salesperson is going to make the better sales call, Salesperson A, who goes into the call after being reminded about his quota, or Salesperson B, who was just reminded about the customer’s goals?

Who is better prepared to discuss the customer’s most pertinent business issues? Who is going to do a better job of aligning the solution with the customer’s key goals?

If you were the customer, which screen would you rather your salesperson look at before calling on you? Who would you rather do business with, Salesperson A, who shows up thinking about his quota, or Salesperson B, who is thinking about what matters to you, the customer?

Salesperson B is going to make a better call because she’s going to be more focused on the customer. Salesperson A might not be a bad rep, but his customer relationship management (CRM) system set him up for mediocrity.

Why Most CRM Systems Promote Sales Mediocrity

Sadly, Salesperson A, with his pipeline-oriented CRM system, isn’t the exception; he’s the norm. His system set him up to make a mediocre sales call because it focused him on information that’s important to his company (pipeline, revenue projections, close date, etc.), not what’s important to his customer. Without being prompted to focus on the customer’s goals and challenges, Salesperson A will do what most average-performing salespeople do: provide a generic description of his products and services and hope he closes the deal.

Salesperson B has a big advantage: her CRM system set her up to make a customer-focused sales call. By putting up front all the information about the customer’s environment, goals, challenges, and success factors, her system prepared her to connect the dots between the customer’s high-priority goals and her solution.

If the two salespeople’s products and pricing are about the same, the person with the customer-focused CRM system will win. Additionally, even if Salesperson B is selling a higher-priced product, she’ll still win the business, because while Salesperson A’s company has focused him on his quota, Salesperson B has a more noble purpose: to help the customer.

The Huge Mistake People Notice Only When They Start Losing Business

As a sales-leadership consultant, I’ve seen firsthand just how much CRM affects sales behavior. Several years ago, I was working with a major manufacturing firm that had recently implemented a new CRM system with all the bells and whistles. There was just one problem: the expensive new system hadn’t improved the close rate one bit. Company execs brought me in to figure out why. The answer was obvious to me after I spent a few hours in the field with the reps.

The CRM system captured the information that mattered to the company, but nowhere was there a space to record the information that mattered to the customer. There wasn’t a single screen or even a box to record the critical customer information that should be the centerpiece of every sales call. No wonder the reps were getting a reputation as product pushers. We fixed the problem, and not surprisingly, the close rate went up dramatically.

Here’s the big mistake most companies make: they tell salespeople to focus on the customer, but the CRM system is more focused on internal metrics and pipeline management. The result is mediocre sales behavior.

Look at your own CRM system and ask, where is the information about the customers’ goals? Is it buried, or is it right up front? What do your salespeople see when they open their screens? If the information is more company focused than customer focused, you have a big problem.

A good CRM tool delivers useful analytics and reports, but don’t make the mistake of letting the tail wag the dog. The ultimate purpose of capturing customer information is to drive more sales. The information you require your salespeople to gather about their customers influences their sales behavior. Capturing the right information about your customers and pulling it to the front and center of your CRM gives you a huge competitive advantage.

You can be a me-too sales force that says you want to make a difference to customers, or you can be the rare company that actually does. If you want to be mediocre, keep focusing on your pipeline. If you want to be outstanding, choose a more noble purpose; focus on your customer.

Lisa Earle McLeodLisa Earle McLeod is a sales-leadership consultant and the best-selling author of Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You ProudCompanies like Google, Hootsuite, and Roche hire her to help them create passionate, purpose-driven sales organizations. View her free sales-leadership tips and videos at www.McLeodandMore.com.

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How to Build a Great Relationship with a New Boss

new boss leader

Working with a new boss can be a tense experience. In his book, The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Michael D. Watkins outlines a comprehensive program for executives taking on a new role under a new boss. One of his tips is to negotiate terms of success with the new supervisor.

“It’s well worth investing time in this critical relationship up front, because your new boss sets your benchmarks, interprets your actions for other key players, and controls access to resources you need,” writes Watkins. “He will have more impact than any other individual on how quickly you reach the break-even point, and on your eventual success or failure.”

Watkins offers the following tips for establishing a productive relationship with your boss in the first 90 days of your tenure.

  1. Reach out proactively.

Your boss might be the type who sits behind a closed door and doesn’t make an effort to circulate with his or her direct reports. Sometimes executives take this as a good sign or breathe a sigh of relief that their new boss isn’t a micromanager. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right?

On the contrary, Watkins warns that very little communication from your boss can lull you into a false sense of security. If you receive no overtures from your boss, Watkins recommends reaching out proactively.

“Otherwise, you risk potentially crippling communication gaps,” he writes. “Get on your boss’s calendar regularly. Be sure your boss is aware of the issues you face and that you are aware of her expectations, especially whether and how they’re shifting.”

  1. Bring solutions, not problems, to the table.

Although you want to make sure you give your boss plenty of warning if you see problems developing, you don’t want to become known for being the constant bearer of bad news. Whenever you need to discuss a problem, take time to see the issue from your boss’s perspective and think up some potential solutions. This way, you’ll be associated with positive rather than negative messaging.

Watkins also cautions, however, that you should not develop full-blown solutions to problems before discussing them with your boss.

“The outlay of time and effort to generate solutions can easily lure you down the rocky road to surprising your boss,” he writes. “The key here is to give some thought to how to address the problem – even if it is only gathering more information – and to your role and the help you will need.”

  1. Let your boss’s priorities, goals, and ideas guide your actions.

Caring about what your boss cares about can be an ideal way to establish a collaborative environment. If you’re working on developing a relationship with a new boss, Watkins advocates targeting some of your boss’s preferences and devoting your attention to those areas.

“One good way is to focus on three things that are important to your boss and discuss what you’re doing about them every time you interact. In that way, your boss will feel ownership of your success.”

  1. Don’t expect your boss to change.

It’s always nice when we work with people whose styles are similar to our own; however, you can’t rely on a common working style to build a great relationship with your boss. As Watkins points out, people frequently have different approaches to communication, motivation, and management. Remember that your role is to adapt the style your boss prefers and cater to his or her preferences.

In the book, Watkins describes the case of a man whose new boss had an aggressive, hard-driving approach that did not pair well with his own team-building style. Using the comprehensive 90-day method Watkins outlines, the man was able to take a proactive approach with his new boss and deliver strong results in the first 30 days. After a second month of great results, the man had built the credibility and capital to request that he be judged on his results and not on the manner in which he got them.

Your relationship with your boss is critical. A contentious relationship can spell disaster for all concerned. Use these tips to establish a great working relationship, and you’ll increase the chances that you’ll enjoy productive interactions, smoother communication, and mutual success.

Get more insight from Michael D. Watkins in his book The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter.

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3 Things You Need to Be a Predictive Sales Organization

predictive analytics Selling Power

Do you look into your revenue future and see uncertainty?

If so, that might be because you’re still looking at backward-focused data rather than making predictions based on future-focused insight.

Business Intelligence vs. Predictive Analytics

As early as 2013, experts at Gartner were saying that using business intelligence (which looks back at what happened in the past) was no longer enough to be competitive. Instead, they encouraged leaders to look at the potential of predictive capabilities.

This year, the mission of the Sales 2.0 Conference is to educate business-to-business sales leaders about the power of predictive analytics. The reason predictive tools are so powerful is that they help you answer two key questions:

  1. “What could happen?”
  2. “What should we do?”

What Questions Can Predictive Analytics Answer?

Predictive capabilities improve your ability to make informed, intelligent decisions about how to manage your team and generate revenue. In their book, The Power of Sales Analytics, experts at global sales and marketing consulting firm ZS Associates write that data and technology can be used to address the following common questions for sales leaders.

  • How can salespeople identify the right customer opportunities? What sales activities best seize those opportunities?
  • How can sales activities be organized into effective selling roles? How many people do we need in each role?
  • What is the profile of a successful salesperson? Does our recruiting program acquire the best talent? Are we training and developing the right competencies?
  • What information and tools does the sales force need to create value for customers?
  • Are incentive programs, goals, and performance-management processes aligned to motivate high achievement and drive results?

Three Ways Sales Teams Can Become Predictive

If you want to adapt to a predictive future, you need to take the following three steps.

#1: Embrace your organizational data.

Analytics run on data. The good news: you don’t need any extra data to become predictive. Predictive applications use data you already have to make useful predictions about future events.

#2: Don’t play the waiting game.

Many sales organizations are still behind the data curve. In this month’s Selling Power magazine cover story, Jenny Dearborn, senior vice president and chief learning officer at SAP and a past presenter at Sales 2.0 Conference events, said that very few sales leaders know how to leverage data in a comprehensive way that impacts the sales cycle “from start to finish.”

She observes that, by contrast, leaders who are using data and predictive analytics are driving “breakthrough results.”

To hear specific examples of how these tools are helping sales leaders, join Mike Moorman, managing principal of sales solutions at ZS Associates, at the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco in April. His presentation, “Sales Analytics Truths, Myths & Realities: Insight from 30 Years of Sales Analytics Leadership,” will show

  • how leading companies have, are, and will use sales analytics to increase profitable revenue growth;
  • the sales analytics business case;
  • how to achieve world-class sales analytics capabilities.

It can be intimidating to tackle mounds of expanding information about your customers, sales transactions, market potential, competitors, sales activity, and salespeople, but the longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to start turning data into predictive insight.

#3: Use your CRM system diligently.

Most sales organizations today rely to varying degrees on a customer relationship management (CRM) system. Ideally, it holds important, useful data related to prospects, pipeline coverage, sales opportunities, and customers; however, salespeople aren’t always using this tool consistently or diligently. As a result, data is often inaccurate, incomplete, or just plain missing.

Becoming a predictive organization will require a culture change, starting with the consistent use of the CRM system. Once salespeople see the results and what predictive tools can do for them, they’ll be ready and willing to do so.

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Lisa Gschwandtner Lisa Gschwandtner is editorial director at Selling Power and manages the Sales 2.0 Conference media team. Find her on Twitter @SellingPower20.

 

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Six Tips to Enhance Your One-on-One Coaching Meetings with Salespeople

coaching sales business Which of the following statements best describes your opinion, as a sales leader, of one-on-one meetings?

  • They’re the best way to stay connected to salespeople and drive pipeline opportunities forward.
  • They’re a low-value activity and should be skipped when more important priorities pop up.
  • They’re a dreaded but necessary evil.

Your answer probably depends on whether you have a defined coaching process to get the most out of these meetings. According to a sales-culture survey of more than 300 sales organizations across North America, which Fusion Learning conducted in 2013, nearly all sales leaders (97 percent) had one-on-ones with team members, yet 40 percent rated themselves 6 out of 10 or lower at conducting these meetings.

At Fusion, we liken one-on-one meetings that lack a defined process to the old sleight-of-hand “shell game.” In the shell game, the salesperson predicts which opportunities his or her manager will ask about (what shell will be lifted) and comes prepared with excellent examples of what’s been done to advance those particular opportunities. It doesn’t matter whether the examples are outdated. As long as the sales manager is satisfied, the salesperson can carry on with the status quo.

I speak from experience. My first sales manager and I met every Monday morning. These meetings were very friendly; we discussed accounts and I provided updates. I shared what I thought I was supposed to share. In retrospect, I realize we were playing the shell game. We would move the shells around looking for the pebble that wasn’t there. There was little coaching value in these meetings for either one of us.

Two years later, a new sales manager was assigned to our team. These meetings were similar but with one difference: he took notes and put them in a file folder labeled with my name. The next week, when he inquired about an account, I told a story similar to the previous week’s. He referenced his notes and I started to squirm a little.

“No worries,” he said. “Let’s discuss how you are going to move it forward this week.” Silly me – I showed up on week three and tried a similar tack. He was nice about it, but I realized the game had changed, and I needed to follow through on my commitments. My manager helped me and the rest of the team win business by staying focused and accountable. No more shell game.

At Fusion Learning, we know that world class one-on-ones are about dialogues and not two concurrent monologues. The conversation must meet these goals:

  • Focus simultaneously on business priorities and the individual salesperson.
  • Look to the future and not just backward at past performance.
  • Be strategic first and tactical second. Too often, one-on-ones take a tactical and operational approach. There must be a balance with a strategic perspective.
  • Hold the meetings at predictable and consistent intervals. Salespeople thrive on a steady, predictable cadence, helping them stay focused and remain accountable.

Here are six specific steps to help you conduct more productive, collaborative, and successful one-one-one meetings with your salespeople.

  1. Big Picture – Start the meeting by connecting with the salesperson and asking a high-level, strategic question. For example, you could ask him or her to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 his or her stress level or performance. It is not about the number, it is about the dialogue that results from the number.
  2. Green Flags – Ask the salesperson to share two recent accomplishments or actions he or she is proud of (for example, closing a deal or getting great feedback from a customer on a proposal). Then share two things the salesperson did that week that you’re proud of (for example, securing a meeting with an elusive prospect or updating opportunities in the CRM system). Discuss, give praise, and allow the salesperson to celebrate the successes achieved since you two last met.
  3. Red Flags – Next, follow the same process as in the Green Flags step, except this time focus on things the salesperson will improve. The salesperson should begin, “Here’s what I think I need to improve or do differently,” and then you can offer your own perspective. Help your salesperson create an action plan for improvement.
  4. Customers/Pipeline/Activities/Results – The trick here is to remain focused on all aspects of the salesperson’s activity – researching, prospecting, holding meetings, writing proposals, and closing – as opposed to locking in on one specific deal in the pipeline. (By the way, many sales leaders skip the first three steps and start here at the tactical level. Don’t do that.)
  5. Help Needed – Keep track of the commitments you make to help the salesperson, and follow through with them.
  6. Action Plan – During the meeting, note any action to which the salesperson commits. At the end of the meeting, have the salesperson repeat these commitments. Let him or her know you will review the action plan at your next meeting.

To learn more about how you can improve your one-on-one coaching meetings, check out chapter 5 of Fusion Learning’s book, Engage Me: Strategies from the Sales Effectiveness Source. It includes best practices, examples, and a template to use in structuring your meeting.

Alyson Brandt Fusion Learning Alyson Brandt is president of Fusion Learning USA.

 

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How To View Failure and Roadblocks in a Positive Light

sales leadership roadblocks Great leaders don’t fail less than the rest of us. The truth is, they fail frequently, but successful leaders learn to see failure in a positive light.

According to Patti Johnson, author of Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life, setbacks are a signal to stop and take stock. Maybe it’s time to abandon this particular project and move on to the next thing. On the other hand, maybe this is the exact time to double your effort. No matter which route you choose, you first need to address your underlying emotions about whatever setback you’ve encountered.

Learn to Roll with the Punches

First, remind yourself that, from time to time, all leaders struggle with failed initiatives. Disappointment and other negative emotions are natural reactions.

For example, Johnson describes a feeling of disbelief hitting her team after a key sponsor said that the global change initiative the team had been working on needed a whole new outcome. The directive came “after months of work and a widely communicated launch date.” Johnson’s response to her team? Roll with it.

“I told them we had one night to be frustrated and angry,” she writes. “But the next morning all energies were to be spent on how we could adjust our plan.”

Focus on What You Can Control

Once you move past your initial disappointment, Johnson recommends focusing on what you can control. She cites Stephen Covey’s concept of the Circle of Concern (what we care about) and the Circle of Influence (what we can affect).

“The vast majority of people focus too much time and energy outside their Circle of Influence, in their Circle of Concern. Such people typically worry about things they can’t influence, much less control, such as the weather when they go on a beach vacation or who will become the new leader of their group.” The faster you can get to the “What can I do?” phase of dealing with setbacks, the faster you can start learning from the experience.

Learn from Your Leadership Setbacks

Johnson outlines the following self-assessment questions leaders can use to learn from setbacks.

  1. How credible was your vision or idea?

Whether you wanted to write a book, create a new department, or change a long-standing process, take a dispassionate look at how realistic your idea was. These questions will help you:

What gap or need did your idea fill?

What was the actual impact of your idea?

How much research did you do?

What facts guided you to the idea?

What experiments or tests did you perform?

Why did you believe the idea would work?

  1. Who were your stakeholders?

Were you able to generate enthusiasm and support for your idea from colleagues and decision makers? “This question is to determine if the idea was able to gain traction with others who want what you want,” writes Johnson. “Did you find interest in part of the idea but not all? What resonated and what didn’t? This question helps you determine if it is the idea that needs to be reconsidered, the way it was shared with others, or the execution.”

Again, disappointment is normal when you experience problems that get in the way of your vision. Be patient with yourself and remember that all your experiences, good and bad, can be viewed as growth steps.

“I’ve had many situations where my idea/plan/change didn’t quite gain traction at first, but I knew I was building support to benefit the cause for the next time,” writes Johnson. “Recognize your progress and decide how it can work for you in the future.”

What are your tips for leaders on how they can best respond to setbacks? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Three Action Steps to Avoid Lackluster Sales Quarters

lackluster sales quarters

By David Hubbard 

When revenue starts to go off plan, your gut reaction as chief sales officer or vice president of sales is probably to ratchet up the activity level of the sales force. You know the drill: institute aggressive pipeline reviews by field management, requalify all forecasted deals for the quarter, focus field management on must-win deals, try to pull in deals forecasted for next quarter, create a SWAT team for bigger deals, and the list goes on.

These tactics used to work five or 10 years ago but not so much lately, and that’s mainly because business-to-business buyers are doing things differently, by

  • self-educating online and becoming aware of industry problems and potential solutions,
  • getting vendor referrals from trusted industry colleagues through social networking,
  • deciding on a short list of “qualified” vendors after double-checking online reviews, press coverage and analyst reports.

If your sales force can’t influence buyer teams early in their purchasing process, like it could 10 years ago, you’re almost certainly going to suffer lackluster sales quarters. To reverse that trend, here are three action steps you should strive to achieve in 2015.

Action Step 1: Establish a well-defined and understood sales process.

Your sales process should mirror your buyer’s current purchasing process. A recent study by HubSpot and the Sales Management Association shows that organizations with a clear sales process enjoy 18 percent more sales growth than other organizations.

Action Step 2: Leverage social selling in the sales process.

Are your salespeople on LinkedIn? Do they tweet? Are they using those platforms as a way to attract and reach out to prospects? If not, it’s time to get on the social-selling bandwagon. Reps who use social media as part of their sales process are 79 percent more likely to attain their quota than ones who don’t, according to Aberdeen Group’s study on social selling.

Action Step 3: Align with marketing.

If your sales and marketing teams have a strong collaborative relationship, then here are the typical benefits according to multiple research studies by Aberdeen Group:

  • Seventy-five percent of your sales reps are achieving quota (versus the industry average of 50 percent).
  • Sales is achieving its sales budget (versus the industry average of 61 percent).
  • Your corporate revenue is growing at least 13 percent annually (versus an industry average of 4.3 percent).

If you’re poorly aligned with your buyer, you’re going to need a lot of help from others to fix it, particularly from your chief executive officer, chief marketing officer, and maybe an experienced outside consultant. That’s not bad news; your colleagues on the executive team have a vested interest in helping the sales force succeed. They don’t want their budget to shrink as a result of missed revenue and profit goals.

If you are willing to accept help from the C-suite, you need to present an action plan that does these three things:

  1. reframes the solution, not simply as a sales-force execution issue, but as a cross-functional team effort with you as team leader;
  1. presents an executive-team action plan that clearly articulates how each executive can actively help make the company’s quarter;
  1. ensures that your action plan contains key components that start to lay the foundation for a successful next year under your continued leadership.

By demonstrating corporate leadership and showing progress toward a better sales strategy, you buy yourself a little more time to turn the situation around permanently.

Want to learn more? Here’s a detailed discussion of a CSO Action Plan.

Dave Hubbard David Hubbard is a revenue acceleration expert, a pragmatic marketing and sales consultant, a proven business leader, and the CEO of Marketing Outfield. Find him on LinkedIn or contact him for a complimentary consultation

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