ACTG Sales Management Blog

Sales & Sales Management Expertise Blog  

Tony Cole

Recent Posts

Relationship Selling Begins with Asking the Right Questions

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, May 17, 2024

According to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer, “Only 59% percent of the 32,000 global respondents to the firm’s 23rd annual trust and credibility survey trust financial services to do what is right, compared to 75% who trust technology and 71% who trust education and food & beverage companies — the top 3 most trusted industries. In the United States, 57% of consumers trust financial services, an increase of 9 percentage points over 2022 findings. 

These numbers show a huge opportunity for financial institutions and fintechs — who bridge the most trusted industry sector to financial services — to build greater trust.”

This is not new news to those who work within the industry. In fact, most organizations and advisors have been working long term to be more customer-focused. The challenge is for advisors to be focused on relationship selling, asking probing, sometimes assertive questions without coming across to customers as sales-driven.

Assertive (not aggressive) salespeople win more business than others. These people care so much about doing the right thing for their clients that they are willing to risk the relationship and the sale to ensure the prospect or customer makes good decisions. Does this describe you and your people?  

What does assertiveness have to do with effort and execution? If done properly, the early relationship building conversations and meetings will help to qualify or eliminate a suspect. If done well, this will streamline a salesperson’s efforts and pipeline, giving them more time and energy to focus on finding and building relationships with better prospects.

During initial conversations, a financial advisor, banker, or insurance agent is gathering information that leads to a next meeting and eventually to a presentation meeting. It is through the intelligence that is gained and utilized in building superior solutions that your presentation meetings will lead to decisions. This is the focus of relationship selling because any proposal or recommendation is built around the specific client’s identified problems, growth challenges, and revenue goals.

In the process of relationship selling, the skill of asking the right questions, the right way, at the right time is critical. In an effective selling system, for a prospect to qualify they must:

  1. Have compelling reasons to buy, to make a change, or do something different
  2. Have the capability and willingness to invest the necessary time, money, and effort
  3. Be willing and able to make the decision to fix the problem and be able and willing to make the money decision

Uncovering all of these issues requires that a salesperson asks many questions and some of these questions require a salesperson to be somewhat assertive. They could consider and use questions such as:

  • How will you go about telling your current broker / banker / relationship that you are no longer going to do business with them?
  • If you don’t have enough money, how will you solve the problem?
  • The budget you have won’t be enough to get you the outcome you want. What part of the solution do you want to eliminate?
  • What will you tell your partner/executive when they say they don’t want to make the change?

Are your salespeople prepared to ask these types of questions? And think about the relationship building aspect of these gutsy questions:

  • Based on our experience, expertise and knowledge about your business, your best action is this:  ______________.  If that doesn’t work for you, we might not be a good match.
  • If I treated my clients the way you’ve been treated (by your current provider), I would expect to be fired.
  • When we finish our presentation, which will include budget-appropriate solutions to all of the problems you’ve identified and answered all your questions, I’ll ask for you to make a decision on whether we’ll do business together or not.
  • Maybe the most important thing for you to consider is “fit”.  If there isn’t a fit between our two companies, then our products and pricing really don’t matter.

Imagine if salespeople were gutsy enough to have these types of conversations. They might fear that they would lose more business. But suppose that wasn’t the case. Suppose by being more assertive, salespeople eliminated the tire-kickers more quickly. Suppose this led to the elimination of think-it-overs and actually helped prospects to trust them and make decisions more quickly.  Imagine if salespeople stopped making presentations to people who could only say “no” and never had the authority or intention of saying “yes”.  What would happen? Salespeople would sell more, more quickly at higher margins.  They would stop wasting time, stop getting delays, and start building relationships built on trust.

Home Page Banner Sales Tech Webinar-1



Topics: Sales Training, motivating sales people, sales training tips, sales tech

Why Companies Struggle with Hiring Salespeople Who Will Sell

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, Mar 29, 2024

Putting the best people in the right seats is the biggest problem identified by most business execs, especially as it applies to critical sales roles. In today’s high tech, fast-moving economy, finding the right people who can and will sell for your company is a keystone for success. What can your firm do differently to attain better results and attract top talent? After working with hundreds of companies over the last 30 years, here is what we have learned are the 5 most common problems companies struggle with when hiring quality salespeople.

#1: They outsource their recruiting and the responsibility. Recruiting is something that the company has to own. Be cautious of outsourcing the work and the responsibility. That makes it too easy for people internally to throw up their hands and transfer failures associated within the hiring process to the outsourced firm. If company execs need to improve the quality of their hires, they have to own the process.

#2 There is a lack of a consistent process for constantly searching. Most, if not all, firms make the mistake of looking for candidates only when they have an opening. This leads to many problems:

  • They are held hostage by salespeople with “large books”. Managers feel they cannot do anything about them for fear of losing the “books” since there aren’t any replacements.
  • They feel desperate to fill a chair with a warm bottom when there is a vacancy. A body,
    anybody, is better than no one sitting in the chair.
  • The do not replace underperformers because there isn’t a pipeline of candidates to choose from. The underperformers stay around too long; others know it and realize that they don’t have to perform to keep their job, so overall team production continues to decline.

#3: Companies are not getting quality candidates entering the process. The traditional model of recruiting is one where the placement firm tries to convince their client why a candidate should be hired. Companies should, on the other hand, work extremely hard to disqualify candidates because there are specific skills that apply for that sales job and many/most candidates do not have those skills. Bottom line, the company has to assess at least two things: 1) Do they have enough of the right strengths to be successful? 2) Will they sell versus can they sell? Here’s some information on how to find out if your producer candidate will sell.

#4 There is poor communication about the specific role and expectations of this new hire. Too often, everyone is so excited about getting the seat filled that no one takes the time to get into the details of the day-to-day requirements of the job. This leads to early misunderstandings about the role and eventually, failure on the part of the new hire to meet the expectations of the company. Failure to “negotiate on the 1st tee” leads to misunderstanding and failure to execute on the sales goals.

#5 The on-boarding process is inadequate in the area of selling. Most companies are ill-equipped to effectively on-board new salespeople. They spend time introducing them to the “culture” of the operation, the mechanics of the job and how to get things done. They introduce them to HR, their support team, marketing and their partners. And, yes, there is discussion about goals, sales activities and how to enter data into CRM. And then… the new hires are on their own.

Firms think that they have hired their next sales superstar and then, 12 months later, they cannot figure out what went wrong. They look at the numbers and discover that the new hires are producing “just like everyone else in the middle of the pack.” The process many companies have in place currently to recruit and hire salespeople perpetuates this problem. Coaching in the first 6 months is essential for producer success.

If you need help or more information on hiring better salespeople, we have many resources available for you. Click the button below to learn more. 


Click Here for Additional Hiring Tools!



Topics: Sales Training, motivating sales people, achieving sales success, sales training tips, sales team excellence

Achieving Sales Team Excellence – No Micro Managing!

Posted by Tony Cole on Thu, Feb 15, 2024

Most organizations and sales managers think of accountability or performance management as “micro-managing.”  Jim Collins has been quoted as saying “There is no such thing as 'micro-managing.' There is either managing or not managing.” There is a lot that a manager must bring to the table to be effective at setting standards and gaining accountability with their team. And it is a difficult job to gain that fine balance of supporting and guiding your team without crossing over the line, providing your recommended solution. This ultimately does not allow your salespeople to navigate the sales situation and figure it out. Helping them self-discover is how salespeople become more skilled and effective sales leaders can achieve sales team excellence.

What are the competencies and behaviors of those leaders who seem so talented at helping others achieve their very best? We rely on the pioneer and #1 sales management evaluation by Objective Management Group to help understand exactly what it takes to create effective accountability with your sales team. The Accountability Competency measures if a manager holds their salespeople accountable to measurable, forward-looking metrics. By using forward-looking indicators rather than lagging indicators, especially with longer sales cycles, you can make adjustments and mid-course corrections.

Here are the Accountability Competencies below.

  • Manages Behavior
    You can improve your ability to hold your salespeople accountable by measuring their success based on KPI's related to daily behaviors, as opposed to lagging activities such as sales.
  • Doesn't Accept Mediocrity
    You are not willing to accept mediocrity, even if that means salespeople may be unhappy with you.
  • Takes Responsibility
    Your tendency to take responsibility when you don't achieve results helps you hold your salespeople accountable when they don't meet expectations.
  • No Need for Approval from Salespeople
    You are able to hold your salespeople accountable without worrying about how that might affect whether they like you.
  • Beliefs Support Accountability
    Your beliefs related to sales management tend to be strongly aligned with the role and importance of holding salespeople accountable.
  • Asks Enough Questions
    You have good listening skills, which encourages your salespeople to share their concerns, frustrations, expectations, problems, and feelings with you, and in turn helps you hold them more accountable.
  • Manages Pipeline
    Your strengths in the Pipeline Management Competency support your ability to hold your salespeople accountable

Performance management and accountability are all about setting higher standards for success, holding people accountable to the effort and execution to hitting those standards and changing the definition of ‘good’ in an organization. Take a few minutes to evaluate your effectiveness on these accountability competencies listed above.  The path to achieving sales team excellence includes your ability to become better at and ultimately master these skills.

Request Free  Sales Force Performance  Evaluation Samples


Topics: Sales Training, motivating sales people, achieving sales success, sales training tips, Fractional Sales Management, fractional sales manager

Strong Sales Performance Management Begins with Setting Standards

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, Jan 12, 2024

The sales performance management activities that we are performing today are creating the results we are achieving today. Many or few, consistent or irregular, planned or impromptu, the sales performance management activities that we, as sales managers, use to motivate, train and hold our sales team accountable are at least partly responsible for the success or lack of success of those we manage. You must ask yourself, what activities are you, or your sales manager, doing now that are creating your current unsatisfactory results?

The old adage, “If you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you’ve always gotten” comes to mind. It is up to you as sales leader to set higher standards for the behaviors and activities and hold people accountable so that you get better results.

A characteristic of truly successful individuals is that they welcome the opportunity to explore and implement new ideas and practices. Even if some of the territory that we will explore does not seem to apply directly to what is going on in your company, recognize that you cannot achieve different results until you are receptive and welcoming of analysis. You may find some unexpected value in the following information that will positively affect your team’s sales as we focus on the most common issues. We will show you how to build a framework that will help you make a most dramatic difference in your business results.

Step One: Strong Performance Management begins with Setting Standards

Most companies set annual standards for sales teams and salespeople. Certainly goals are established and communicated and are probably tracked and inspected on a somewhat regular basis. Typically the process for setting goals is part of an annual business planning process, usually an arduous ordeal in which the sales team has little say. Thus, it is neither enjoyed nor embraced by those who are actually responsible for the goals and the activities that support the goals. 

However, if this process is approached with the right attitude and the goal of helping the relationship manager make more money, this annual business and goal planning process can be a positive experience that will truly motivate individual salespeople (See The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly) and bring sales teams together. See how this can happen for your company. 

The following exercise will help you develop an effective process for setting standards and upgrade your sales performance management. In this case you will use the table below to analyze and set standards for your entire team’s Annual Gross Sales Number, but you should use this exercise with individual sales people as well.


Step 1: Write your team’s current Annual Gross Sales Number goal in the box next to GOOD. This is what is expected this year. Achieving any number less than this will be considered poor performance. 

Step 2: Now pick the Annual Gross Sales number of an okay year from the past, but choose one when your team did not achieve its assigned goal. Choose a year when your team worked hard and put forth great effort, but did not quite reach the assigned number. Write the actual number achieved in the box next to POOR. Understand that this number is poor because your team did not reach goal. If you frame the year as pretty good, i.e. “we almost made it”, you have communicated that you will accept less than GOOD. You will have accepted mediocrity, thus eroding the new standards you are trying to set.

Step 3: Select a number that would be completely unacceptable for your team and write this in the FAILING box.

Step 4: Select a number that would make an extremely good year, one in which your team exceeded goal. Write this number next to the EXCELLENT box. 

Step 5: Select a number that would make a truly amazing year, a year that would go beyond expectations, far surpassing the current sales goal. Write this number in the box beside EXTRAORDINARY. 

As you can see, you have clearly identified and raised the standards. This newly defined level of standards will become your communication platform for setting extraordinary expectations with your team, one by one. Next step, take each of your salespeople through this exercise to establish their extraordinary sales goal, then have regular accountability meetings to keep them on track.


Download Free eBook:  The Extraordinary Sales Manager



Topics: Sales Training, motivating sales people, achieving sales success, banking sales training, sales training tips, sales coaching best practices

Are Your Salespeople ATMs?

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, Jan 05, 2024

Bank ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) have been around for a while. According to Investopedia, Barclays Bank of London in 1967 was the first to have an ATM in use. I remember using my first ATM – Jeanie Machine – in Cincinnati in 1979. But the ‘ATMs’ I’m referring to have been around, well a long, long, long time.

I’m talking about ‘Automatic Talking Machines’ – also known as salespeople. This bothersome but necessary part of every economy has been in use since trade began over 15,000 years ago. You may remember a cartoon of a general with a sword telling his staff that he doesn’t have time to talk to a “pesky salesperson” (who was selling a gatling gun). He had a battle to fight. And so, that is the story of salespeople and selling. Salespeople are defined as being pesky, and potential buyers are always too busy. But to my point…

So why do I call them ATMs? Well, because they operate in pretty much the same way. When using a banking ATM, you provide a code, and the ATM gives you money. 

A suspect, prospect, or potential buyer provides one of many codes to get salespeople to give them information, and salespeople just start talking. Automatic Talking Machines. Don’t believe me? Give it a try with your sales team in your next one-on-one coaching session or sales meeting. Here are some of the codes that prospects use and you can use them to test your ATMS:

  • Why should I do business with you?
  • What makes your company different?
  • How much does it cost?
  • Your competitor is cheaper, I can get it for less?
  • What happens if I want to exchange for a different…?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • Do you have any references I can call?
  • Tell me about your product and how it could help me?
  • What is the service model? Does it have a guarantee?
  • What is your unfair advantage against your competitors?
  • Why should I change companies?

I promise you most of your sales team will start talking with an answer to the question. You can expect perhaps 10% to 15% of your salespeople to not give up the information. So, with a team of 40 or so about 5 of your people will respond ‘better.’

‘Better’ is anything that is like: “That’s a great question. Before I get into that can I ask you something?” If your salespeople are not taking control of the conversation by asking a question, then you have ATMs.

Give a shot!

Need Help?  Check Out Our Sales Growth  Coaching Program for Managers!



Topics: Sales Training, motivating sales people, achieving sales success, banking sales training, sales training tips, sales coaching best practices


    Subscribe Here

    Most Read

    Follow #ACTG


    About our Blog

    Anthony Cole Training Group has been working with financial firms for close to 30 years helping them become more effective in their markets and closing their sales opportunity gap.  ACTG has mastered the art of using science-based data and finely honed coaching strategies to help build effective sales teams.  Don’t miss our weekly sales management blog insights from our team of expert contributors.


    Recent Blogs