This is a guest post by Desmond Clancy, Director of US Legal Sales Training, Education and Development at Thomson Reuters.
“After all the sales reps go home, those are the things my staff and I struggle to find solutions for,” said Kyle, a high value and clearly frustrated customer of the distribution company I was working with. “Help me with that!” he exclaimed, pointing to a long list of issues he and his peers brainstormed during a customer event. “Prove to me how your products can help me with that!” The room full of sales and sales leadership professionals sat in uncomfortable silence, knowing they don’t discuss “that” with their customers.
This conversation and others like it happen each day between sales professionals and frustrated customers. Worse yet is the apathetic customer who chooses not to have the conversation and simply starts buying elsewhere. As economic, competitive and environmental forces continue to drive change in how consumers—both individuals and entire organizations—make buying decisions and build business relationships, sales as a function and a profession must change.
While much of the responsibility must fall on the sales rep to assume ownership of their personal development and the need to adapt and change, the partnership between sales training and the sales manager is critical to fostering this sense of ownership. Here are a few simple things sales training teams can help sales leaders consider as they work towards transforming how their team sells.
- If you want to change the team, focus on the individuals and the team will follow.
- If coaching and developing your team is not a priority to you, it will not be a priority to them.
- Understand the difference between coaching and joint sales calls.
If you want to change the team, focus on changing the individuals first.
As Black and Gregerson said in their book Leading Strategic Change – Breaking Through the Brain Barrier, “Lasting success lies in changing individuals first; then the organization follows. An organization changes only as far and as fast as the collective individuals change.” When partnering with sales leadership to drive change for the sales teams you support, it is important to remind them of this concept. Not only will the individuals all have different needs related to the change, they will all uniquely experience this change physically and emotionally. As a sales training professional you must help sales leaders understand the need to be connected with each person on an individual level. Too many sales leaders make the mistake of using sales meetings and special events as the pulpit for driving change. While these will serve a specific purpose, the majority of the change will need to happen in front of the customer, in coffee shops between calls or with both of them staring out the same windshield. In other words, the only way to change the team is to change each member of the team, to unique and varying degrees. If you want to drive change, help your sales leaders get out of the office and get in the car!
If developing your team is not a priority to you, it will not be a priority to them.
Forecasting. Meetings. Email. Networking. Budget. Reports. Recruiting. Customer complaints. Selling. Conference calls. This is an abbreviated list of all the responsibilities one may have as a sales leader. It is also, for too many sales leaders, a list of things that come before developing their team. Much of what our sales leaders spend their time on is obviously directed at helping drive profitable sales growth…or at least they convinced themselves of that. However, the activity that is proven to move the needle more than any other is the one that typically is #11 on the Top 10 list…coaching! Most sales leaders have good intentions and are energized by the concept of coaching, but few make the commitment to make it a consistent part of their day, sometimes even at the expense of other activities that historically have been a higher priority (see list above). It is our job as sales training leaders to help them not only understand the concept, but to prove it to them with actions and demonstrating the impact of effective coaching.
“Sales reps who receive just three hours of coaching a month exceed their goals by 7%, boosting revenue by 25% and increasing the average close rate by 70%.” – CEB
The ultimate goal is to inspire sales professionals to take personal responsibility for their own development and to seek feedback from peers, mentors and their manager, in addition to the reflective self-coaching they can provide themselves. This level of commitment will be difficult to attain if they don’t see their sales leader making coaching and development a high priority. If it’s not important to the sales leaders, how can we expect it to be important to the sales reps?
Understand the difference between coaching and joint sales calls.
Yes! There is a difference! While the differences may be subtle, it is important to understand these differences. It really is a matter of asking and answering a very simple question: “What is my objective as the sales leader for the call?”
For the rep, the primary objective of every sales call is to move the sales process forward in some way (get the appointment, get the referral, get the order etc.). The distinction between a coaching call and a joint sales call lies in the primary objective of the sales leader. Is the primary goal to “get the order” or to coach and develop the rep?
In a joint sales call, the responsibility for executing the call is shared and both the sales leader and the rep have “speaking parts” and specific roles you will play on the call, with the shared objective of moving the sales process forward. In a coaching call, the responsibility for executing the call is exclusively on the rep and their objective remains moving the sales process forward. The focus of the sales leader is on being a thoughtful, focused observer, with a limited role in the sales call itself. Because you are focused on the primary objective of coaching your rep, instead of trying to do both, the coaching and feedback you provide will be more specific, more actionable and more impactful to the rep.
Joint sales calls and coaching calls are both important in helping grow your business and your team. The mix of how much of each call you should make is really at the discretion of the manager based on several factors. However, in my experience, most sales leaders should spend less time selling and more time coaching their sellers to sell.
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