Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Coaching For Success: It's The How, Not The What

Most Sales Managers accept the premise that the majority of salespeople will achieve their sales goals if they follow a focused and disciplined sales process combined with flawlessly executed consultative sales skills. Unfortunately, based on my experience working with hundreds of sales professionals, there isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest that Sales Managers are providing direction and feedback on anything but the sales process (“what to do/not to do” - goals, priorities, reports, etc.), leaving salespeople isolated to figure out “how to” execute the process using their existing, sometimes ineffective, sales strategies and skills.

I’ve often heard the argument that “experienced” salespeople don’t need to be coached on “the how” because they are hired and paid for their existing sales skills. This way of thinking can lead to not only frustrated salespeople, but average results with salespeople stuck in the “comfort zone,” unable to adapt to a dynamic, highly competitive landscape.

A recent conversation I had with a Sales Manager highlights the nature of the problem and his lack of understanding of how salespeople develop, refine their skills and achieve breakthrough sales results:

Me: How are you coaching your salespeople?
Sales Manager: I have weekly meetings.

What happens at the meetings?
I put up the results, you know the pipeline, and everyone gets to see how well they are doing relative to each other.

How do you see this as coaching?
The salesperson who’s at the bottom knows where he stands; can see that his performance is, you know, “light.”

OK, I agree some “peer pressure” can motivate, but what do you think he’ll do differently as a result of his ranking at the bottom?
I’m hoping he’ll fill his pipeline.

How do you think he’ll do that?
He’s got to get better on execution.

What type of execution?
Prospecting. We are unknown in this marketplace and he’s not very good at getting in the door with prospects.

Have you coached him on this?
Yes, I told him he needs to see at least five prospects per week.

In the above example, the Sales Manager tells the salesperson “what to do” (make five prospect calls per week), but fails to address the more likely underlying problem: the salesperson’s struggle with the same old obstacles, using old habits and ineffective strategies and skills. Obviously, the salesperson will try harder because he is under greater pressure to fill the pipeline, but he may not succeed if he doesn’t have the skills to gain meetings with prospects.

I’m flabbergasted during sales training when I hear I’m the ONLY person who provides skills development feedback. After skills coaching, it’s not unusual for me to hear a resounding “thank you” and comments such as:

“I don’t get any coaching, except when my numbers are down, and then my manager sends me an email saying that I need to quickly improve.”
“No one ever tells me what I’m doing right.”
“I wish I had this feedback years ago. It’s nice to know that I can improve, because I’ve been so frustrated.”

If you are a Sales Manager, you need to hear this! The “what to do” is not the “how to do it.” Salespeople are starving for developmental skills coaching! Now I don’t mean that they need feedback on sales goals, results, wins, losses, etc., you probably already provide enough of that. Salespeople are hungry for direct, specific and practical coaching on what they are doing that’s effective, and what they ought to be doing to increase effectiveness. This type of coaching is skills development coaching.

Success in today’s dynamic marketplace requires a greater focus on skills, such as effectively persuading prospects to meet, determining needs and priorities, focused listening, differentiating the organization beyond price, sales planning and negotiation skills. Sales Managers who can help their salespeople develop these skills accept their full responsibility to ensure salespeople have the focus, discipline, and highly refined strategies and skills to thrive.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A New Way of Life in the Call Center: From Service to Sales

We’ve just received another training request to “support a culture shift,” transitioning inbound customer service representatives to proactive, outbound sales professionals. The stated business goal is to deepen client relationships with a large number of targeted clients that may not get enough attention from outside sales people. We’ve also found that many of our clients are in various stages of transforming their Call Centers from cost to revenue centers by adding cross-sales goals to existing service goals. These changes represent a new way of life in the Call Center.

We know that it can be difficult for many Call Center employees to successfully make the transition from skills needed to handle routine customer requests, questions, and problems to proactive sales skills, the ability to quickly identify customer needs and offer differentiated product solutions. While some are adjusting to their new responsibilities, it’s been an unwelcome and frustrating change for many, with some employees unable to meet challenging sales goals.

The problem involves several factors, including recruitment, management, compensation and training, but the biggest pitfall we see is that many service reps have negative impressions of selling and are fearful of it because they don’t know how to do it. We hear comments such as:

“I enjoy helping people who call in, but I wasn’t hired to sell.”
“We’re just pushing products on the customers.”
“They haven’t taught us enough about the products to sell them.”

And then there’s the friend of mine who remarked: “So you teach people to how to be annoying and sell people things they don’t need or want.”

Few people, Call Center service reps and customers alike, are thrilled with the sales experience. In fact, because of negative reactions to the sales process, one of our clients has replaced the word “sales” with “solution” as a way to instill the impression in service reps that sales should be needs-based, not “pushy” and manipulative. On the customer side, I’ve heard customers try to pre-empt the sales process by immediately stating to the service rep: “Now don’t try to sell me anything today!”

We know that when you provide the right sales strategies and skills to increase confidence and comfort with selling, service reps will more likely embrace sales as a way of life in the Call Center. Whether being expected to cross-sell during a service call or make outbound calls to targeted prospects or clients, the right product and sales training can dramatically reduce negativity and frustrations in making a successful transition to selling.

We suggest the following five key sales strategies:

1. Check Confidence

How people feel about selling affects their desire to do it and ultimately their success. Lack of confidence is the most common contributor to problems with motivation and the ability to close business. A sales person’s voice presence including tone, inflection, volume, pace and energy often reveal his or her mindset and confidence level. Customers are tuned into voice presence more than any other element so it is worth a self-assessment.

2. Do Client Preparation

Reviewing available client information and records helps to build confidence and rapport. Clients expect us to have a client-centered context for a recommendation or call purpose; without a context they will most likely view the call as “pushy” or as an intrusion, not needs-based. Transition statements help link a product or service idea to the customer’s immediate situation and should include a brief link to information available or something the customer said.

3. Do Sales Preparation

Like face-to-face-sales people, telephone salespeople are more likely to achieve their sales goals if they establish specific achievable objectives and back-up objectives for the call. “Winging it” is not a sales objective or strategy. While it is critical to maintain a focus on the client, having a clear sales objective and action step be it closing, referring, or sending information, helps create sales momentum.

Preparation also involves the process of ensuring the sales dialogue is client-centered. Many sales people spend too much time preparing for what they want to say to a client versus preparing a strategy for achieving client dialogue and uncovering their needs and priorities. We recommend preparing questions around the central theme, “What do I want to learn from the client?”

4. Learn the Client’s Point of View

Clients have a point of view. Uncovering and selling to the client’s point of view is incredibly persuasive. Now keep in mind that a client’s point of view is often stated as an objection or implied in a question. That’s a good sign! Because objections provide an opportunity to ask deeper questions and listen, they can be the dialogue path to building relationships and increasing the salesperson’s ability to be persuasive.

5. Build Trust

Don’t assume that trust exists because you are speaking with an existing client. Trust is earned during every contact through your ability to demonstrate your needs-based intent. The unintended consequence of a goal-oriented sales focus is that too often it makes customers feel manipulated and used, resulting in shallow relationships and long-term distrust.