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 It doesn’t matter whether the examples are outdated.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.

 

[Image via Flickr / Peter Hayes]

Sales Leaders, Ditch Your Outdated Ideas about Hiring

Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.netA lot of sales leaders let old myths about hiring get in the way of finding superstar candidates.

The myths I’m talking about are based on the idea that certain characteristics or qualities can magically help you identify your next top performer among a pool of potential hires. For example, how many times have you heard people endorse job candidates by saying things like:

“He’s a hunter.”
“She’s a great networker.”
“He’s an ‘activity’ guy.”
“She’s a road warrior.”
“She used to be an athlete.”
“He’s a cold calling animal.”

These things are all well and good, but something about the language reminds me of the book Moneyball, in which baseball scouts would make decisions about players based on assessments like, “He passes the eye candy test. He’s got the looks, he’s great at playing the part.” Again, I’m not saying these things are negative. But can you really tell how good a player someone will be from the fact that he somehow looks the part?

As a sales leader, do you really want to make a hiring decision based on the fact that someone has been described as an “activity guy” or has a background in sports? It’s awesome if a candidate used to be an athlete (I used to be one, myself). He or she is probably very competitive and has thick skin. These are two traits that help a lot in sales – but those aren’t the only traits you need to be successful in a sales position, and they’re no guarantee that a former athlete will succeed in your particular selling environment.

Sales managers tend to get hung up on these myths because they have no real idea about what makes their top performers tick. As Moneyball showed, however, a methodology can help you assess new hires more accurately and change the game. In my organization, for example, we identified the Top Performer personality traits of our most successful reps as:

  • Listens well, but can also engage in two-way dialogue.
  • Offers a unique perspective and is intellectually curious.
  • Is comfortable discussing money and can push the customer.
  • Understands the customer’s business and can identify economic drivers.

I put this to the test by giving the Top Performer personality survey to my entire organization. No surprise that our top reps matched the personality traits of the Top Performer. Now I have a real way to identify and measure top reps – and I can hire an army of them.

As a sales leader, you have to watch out for descriptions of potential hires that are just empty words. Hunter. Networker. What do these words really mean? Dig a little deeper so you can identify whether or not a candidate has the specific traits that track to success in your organization. When you use methodology instead of myth, you’ll be able to spot the true gems.

Mike Nelson
Mike Nelson is Vice President of Sales at ON24, a cloud-based Virtual Communication software provider. He has more than 15 years of sales and business development experience in the SaaS, Cloud Software industry, with a focus on Enterprise as well as Channel. He was recently a featured expert during a Webinar on sales enablement strategies.

Transitioning from Sales to Management

The Harvard Business Review article, “Selling is Not About Relationships,” (the title is misleading) categorizes sales people into 5 buckets:

  • Relationship Builders focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customer organization. They are generous with their time, strive to meet customers’ every need, and work hard to resolve tensions in the commercial relationship.
  • Hard Workers show up early, stay late, and always go the extra mile. They’ll make more calls in an hour and conduct more visits in a week than just about anyone else on the team.
  • Lone Wolves are the deeply self-confident, the rule-breaking cowboys of the sales force who do things their way or not at all.
  • Reactive Problem Solvers are, from the customers’ standpoint, highly reliable and detail-oriented. They focus on post-sales follow-up, ensuring that service issues related to implementation and execution are addressed quickly and thoroughly.
  • Challengers use their deep understanding of their customers’ business to push their thinking and take control of the sales conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive — with both their customers and bosses.

In their analysis, they state that Challengers far outperform others, with Relationship Builders coming in dead last. Not that relationships are unimportant, their point is that the type of relationship is what is important. Challengers push the relationship, to make it better while Relationship Builders focus only on reducing tension.

This made me stop and think: How does this apply to management/leadership? I have often debated the merits of sales people transitioning from sales to management – where they can leverage their relationship skills. What this made me realize is that it is more than that, the ability to build relationships is important but success will hinge on what type of a person they are. Consider the same definitions applied to management/leadership with a few key words edited (i.e. customer changed to organization):

  • Relationship Builders focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the organization. They are generous with their time, strive to meet everyone’s needs, and work hard to resolve tensions in the internal relationships. (Add: Infrequently progress from manager to leader as they are the keeper of the status quo).
  • Hard Workers show up early, stay late, and always go the extra mile. They’ll make more calls in an hour and conduct more visits in a week than just about anyone else on the team. (Add: It is naïve to think that you do not have to work hard to be successful. You do. But the person who thinks that hard work is enough stay managers. They are great ‘do-ers’.)
  • Lone Wolves are the deeply self-confident, the rule-breaking cowboys of the organization who do things their way or not at all. (Add: Often burn bridges and have difficulty moving from manager to leader as they are not a team player. After all, people follow those they trust)
  • Reactive Problem Solvers are, from the organization’s standpoint, highly reliable and detail-oriented. They focus on follow-up, ensuring that issues related to implementation and execution are addressed quickly and thoroughly. (Add: Great reporting to a leader)
  • Challengers use their deep understanding of the business to push their thinking and take control of the conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive — within the organization. (Add: Can build, communicate and execute a vision … in other words, can lead).

As with the sales profiles, I would suggest that the Challenger will outpace the others as they are willing to paint a vision of the future, push boundaries, take risks, face big issues and execute – with relationships, problem solving and hard working contributing to that success.

Ken Powell
Michael Weening is VP Business Wireless, Radio & Paging at Bell Mobility. This post appeared originally on his blog. Weening will be a speaker at the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco on April 2-3, 2012. 

How to Succeed as a Sales Manager

As a sales manager and leader, are you measuring the right metrics for sales success?

At Vantage Point Performance, we recently wrote a book based on a groundbreaking research study we conducted about the metrics that leading sales forces are using to measure and manage their sellers. Interestingly, we discovered that thousands of sales metrics fall into one of three categories:

  1. Business results (such as revenue and market share).
  2. Sales objectives (such as acquiring new customers and selling certain products).
  3. Sales activities (day-to-day tasks like planning and conducting sales calls).

A key insight from the research is that only sales activities can truly be managed. Numbers related to sales objectives and business results are important to everyone, but these numbers cannot be directly controlled by sales management.

In fact, sales objectives and business results are trailing indicators of a sales force’s performance – they only show what you’ve accomplished in the past. Measuring sales activities, on the other hand, (which provide insights into current behaviors) are leading indicators that foretell whether those objectives and results will be attained in the future.

Amazingly, only 17% of the metrics in our study were focused on sales activities. Or, stated differently: more than 80% of the things sales forces are measuring are things that they cannot actually control.

You can’t control revenue – you can only control the things that your sellers are doing day-to-day. For example,

  • which types of prospects your reps are calling this week; 
  • what types of conversations they’ll have;
  • whether they’re completing their call plans; and
  • whether they’re proactively managing their opportunities.

Clearly, many sales managers are only looking at metrics that tell them how successful they’ve been in the past. But as our research shows, a far more effective approach is to start measuring and managing sales activities instead. These are the critical inputs to success.

It’s important to remember that CRM is just a tool, and it only does what we tell it to do. Information goes in, and information comes out. Which information we request and what we do with that data is up to us as sales managers. Once we start using CRM to measure the right metrics, we’ll begin to predictably influence the future and manage sales teams that fulfill their highest potential.

To discover the best practices and frameworks you can use to influence the future, register to download a free chapter from Cracking the Sales Management Code, including a forward by Neil Rackham, best-selling author of SPIN Selling.

 

Jason Jordan
Jason Jordan is a partner of Vantage Point Performance and coauthor of Cracking the Sales Management Code.

Why Sales Success Starts with Credibility

There are four very basic sales management questions that a great front line or senior sales leader should be able to answer “yes” to:

1) Do your people trust you?

2) Do they have clarity on overall strategy?

3) Do you make yourself available to them?

4) Do you exist to unleash their potential?

These questions might be basic, but the execution is always complicated. In a world where the speed of sales increases year-over-year, it’s easy to forget that when you peel back all the technology & innovation that have helped increase rep productivity, sales is basically about making connections. Connections with partners, with customers, and—most important—with your team.

Connections create credibility, and credibility drives sales success. But how do you become credible as a sales leader? Start with these evaluation questions:

Is it important for a sales leader to have first worked in sales?

Would you get in a plane with a pilot who has never flown? Of course not. Sales is the same. It’s essential that sales leaders and sales managers have a background in sales. Steven Covey says trust is built through competence and character, and both are only achievable after you’ve walked the walk. That’s why I only hire high-potential, top-performing sales leaders as part of our leadership development academy. With a sales force of 6,500 associates at ADP, it’s critical that we train the best with the best.

Do all great salespeople make great leaders?

No way! The question to ask yourself is, “Do you get more excited by closing the big deal, or seeing someone you coached close the big deal?” The traits that put the best salespeople on top are the same traits that make them terrible sales managers. They tend to overachieve because they’re selfish with their time and accountable to themselves. On the other hand, the great sales leader can channel that overachieving spirit and create one collective unit focused on team results. Being able to identify salespeople who have leadership potential is an art and a science. Fortunately, there are a number of selection tools that can help you identify sales leadership traits.

What should you consider as you move into a leadership position?

Your time is not yours. You exist to drive the performance of others. The great sales leaders who build trust, set a vision, and inspire their teams are the first to arrive at the office in the morning and last to leave at the end of the day. They have a servant’s heart and the clock never turns off.

What do you think it takes to succeed during a transition from a sales role to a leadership role?

I refer to this as “relationship reengineering.” Others need to see you in a new light. Focus on redefining sales success, setting time-bound, realistic goals, seeking feedback, gathering insight, and building a new sense of trust. Most important, new sales leaders that try to lead with the idea that “This is how I did it” generally fail. Be humble, observe others’ strengths, and lead each salesperson with an individual style.

Ken Powell
Ken Powell is Vice President of Worldwide Sales Enablement at ADP

3 Sales Management Challenges & How to Solve Them with Science

Are great salespeople born, or made? With today’s advanced scientific sales analytics and measurement tools, sales managers can actually find out.

First, behavioral assessments give sales managers insight into a salesperson’s nature and psychological makeup (“born”), while skills assessments provide concrete data on sales knowledge and skills learned via experience, lessons, observations, etc. (“made”).

This combination of information gives sales leaders new ways to tackle three perennial sales-management challenges:

Sales Management Challenge #1: Hiring
Sales teams are only as good as the salespeople themselves. Sales managers need individuals who can work within the culture of the organization, leverage their unique strengths, and find satisfaction in getting great results. This is simply about job fit.

To find the right people for your team, you have to know what kind of salespeople you’re looking for. Hiring the right salesperson starts by defining the role. Sales managers need to take the time to complete a job analysis that defines the behavioral needs of the position. You can imagine the different needs of various sales positions—including B2B, B2C, outside sales, inside sales, and call centers. By defining the job, you have a “target” to measure candidates against. The next step is to administer a behavioral assessment on solid candidates, review and compare it with other critical data about experience, education, and past successes. You’re now using science and multiple data points to find a good fit.

Sales Management Challenge #2: Motivation
Sales is the one job inside every company where you cannot hide from results. Sales professionals are measured every day; and if one hits a slump, has a bad week or month, not only does that individual feel it, the results are also highly visible. While the visibility can help motivate some people, it can also create a “pressure cooker” environment where morale is difficult to maintain.

In addition to pressure to produce, external factors like these can also impact a rep’s motivation levels:

  • tough economy,
  • increased competition
  • shift in the individual’s role
  • change in the company’s direction or vision.

For example, an inside sales team that goes from 95% inbound calls to 95% outbound calls might experience a drop-off in production, which would create a significant challenge for the sales manager to keep the team focused, motivated, and productive. Behavioral assessments provide essential insights to how an individual is motivated. Armed with data on motivation, the sales manager can stay ready to accurately guide his or her team through change of any kind.

Sales Management Challenge #3: Retention
Hiring the right people will always be a concern, but retention will be an even greater challenge over the next decade. Top producers always have and always will have choices of about where to work. As drivers of revenue, they are a huge asset to any company and remain in high demand. In addition, top sales professionals expect great leadership and a high level of job satisfaction. Most organizations find that there are not enough candidates to fill critical roles; this problem is likely to get more serious now and in the future.

How can science help? For one thing, people stay in jobs when they’re engaged, learning, challenged, and believe they can succeed in the environment. Science provides two key aspects to combine nature and nurture and help keep producers actively engaged and reduce sales personnel turnover.

While behavioral assessments provide insight into what makes each rep tick, sales skills assessments provide data on their strengths and areas of growth. With the combined data from a behavioral assessment and a skills assessment, sales managers can take the mystery out of retention and figure out ways to keep their top performers happy and engaged.

Ultimately, leveraging science to drive sales performance enables organizations to increase efficiency, manage effectively, and produce outstanding sales results. The result is predictable, sustainable, and repeatable success.  

Nancy Martini
Today’s post was contributed by Nancy Martini, President and CEO of PI Worldwide, publisher of science-based sales analytics including the Predictive Index (PI) and the Selling Skills Assessment Tool (SSAT). Contact her at nmartini@piworldwide.com.

Where Do Great Front-Line Sales Managers Come From?

Managing a sales team is one of the most important positions in a company. Great sales managers have a profound impact on the productivity of their sales teams and produce better sales results. Managing a sales team is also one of the most challenging positions in a company, and it requires a unique set of skills. Unfortunately, most front-line managers start their sales management careers ill-equipped to effectively manage a team of salespeople. So, where do great front-line sales managers come from?

Star-Athlete Syndrome
I hear about the “Star-Athlete Syndrome” frequently in sales organizations. A star sales person grows tired of the daily grind of being an individual contributor and aspires to something “greater,” such as sales management. Meanwhile, the vice president of sales is under time pressure to fill a vacant sales manager position. The vice president assumes that the star sales rep will know how to produce great sales results from a sales team.

The challenge is that salespeople are frequently unable to make the transition from being an individual contributor — achieving results through individual expertise, effort and determination — to being a manager, achieving results through the performance of others. This problem is not unique to sales. Think of all of the great athletes who never developed into great coaches.

Key Sales-Management Abilities
While a sales manager needs sales experience in order to have credibility with the sales team, the key driver of long-term success as a manager is mastery of specific sales-management skills. In order to produce exceptional sales results from the team, a sales manager must excel in the following critical sales-management abilities:

1) Managing sales performance by focusing on the underlying behaviors that drive sales results.

2) Sales coaching to help salespeople develop their full potential.

3) Building a team of great sales professionals with the requisite competencies to succeed.

4) Leading and motivating the team.

Return on Investment
Often some training is needed to develop these critical sales-management abilities. I find the return on investment training sales managers offers truly exciting. A sales manager can leverage improved management skills over the entire sales team. For example, if a sales manager manages 10 salespeople, improving that manager’s effectiveness represents a 10:1 return on investment opportunity.

Just think about all that untapped potential.

Norm Behar talks about developing highly effective sales managers with Gerhard Gschwandtner, CEO of Selling Power.

Norm Behar, sales management
Norm Behar is CEO of Sales Readiness Group. This post originally appeared here on his blog. Follow Sales Readiness Group on Twitter @SalesReadiness, or email Norm at nbehar@salesreadinessgroup.com.