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Tony Cole

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How to Improve Sales:  5 Keys to Coaching Sales Improvement

Posted by Tony Cole on Thu, Jun 27, 2019

If you are not in the acquisition business, then you must develop your talent.  One of the keys to doing that is to understand how to drive sales improvement. 

You must determine what is really happening with your salespeople when they fail to acquire a new piece of business. 

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Companies are constantly trying to figure out how to drive organic growth by:

  • Acquiring a revenue stream by buying a business or lifting out talent from a competitor
  • Developing current talent

If you are not in the acquisition business, then you must develop your talent.  One of the keys to doing that is to understand how to drive sales improvement.  You must determine what is really happening with your salespeople when they fail to acquire a new piece of business.  (See LinkedIn Article: What You Don't Know Can Kill Sales Growth

Are your people just making excuses for failure or do they have deficits in the required sales competencies or will to sell?

To be successful in determining the real issues with your salespeople, you must have a system.

I read a blog the other day by Dave Kurlan.  We’ve had a strong business partnership with Dave and his company OMG (Objective Management Group) for most of our 24 years in business.  With OMG, we have the ability to determine the answer to the question – is it excuses or is it a talent issue?

Dave’s post  - 12 Reasons They Didn’t Like You Enough To Buy From You – helps address some of the issues associated with “not getting the business”.  It primarily focuses on the area of matching styles.

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This got me thinking about the issue of “style” as it relates to talent, which relates to sales competencies and excuse making.  The challenge for the sales manager is determining if the reason a salesperson did not get the sale was really a talent issue, or if they are just making excuses for failing to execute the skills or sales process of the organization.

To determine the root cause of the results, a sales manager must work more closely with the relationship managers and implement a process that Bill Eckstom calls “intentional coaching”.  This process of working closing with your RMs is addressed in our Sales Management Certification Program in the Coaching for Success Module.

Here are the 5 steps you must take to help you determine if your people have skill issues or an excuse-making issue:

  1. You must gain insight. You gain insight by using various data points. The data points you MUST use are: 
    1. Observational joint sales calls – You do not run the sales call; you observe your RM
    2. Data from your CRM or SAT program (SAT – Sales Activity Tracking)
    3. Sales meetings – In all your sales meetings, you need to include a segment on skill development where you drill for skill, role play and conduct strategy development discussions
    4. 1-on-1 coaching – Each week, you should have time set aside for 1-on-1 coaching with those people that are NOT in the 1st quadrant of the “Where’s Walter?” matrix
  2. Provide feedback. In advance of the discussion about lost opportunities, you want to provide your RM with the data you have – no ambushing.
    1. You discuss – ask the RM questions about what they see in the data
    2. You provide them feedback based on what you see and where the problems might be
    3. You discuss what the future might look like if the current trends continue
    4. You agree that there is a problem
  3. Demonstrate – Once you identify the problem as either an excuse or a skill issue, you demonstrate to the RM what you expect them to execute.
    1. If they are making excuses – ‘They didn’t understand the value of our offering” – You ask, “If I didn’t let you use that as an excuse what would you have done differently?”
    2. If it’s a skill problem – “I asked them if they had a budget and they said yes.” “When you asked them what it was, what did they say?”  “They said they didn’t want to tell me.”  “When you asked, ‘why not?’, what did they say?”  “I didn’t ask that question.”
  4. Role play – The scenario above allows you to now role play with you playing the prospect. You need to start with Drill for Skill and then graduate to the full role play.  Getting them to practice what you expect them to do takes patience and repetition.  Do not believe for a second that one role play will be enough.  You need to start your RM on a weekly coaching session repeating the required skills over and over again. 
  5. Action steps – each coaching session must end with action
    1. Bill, so what I want you to do is call Mary and have this conversation we just role played.
    2. I want you to report back to me by end of business today what happened as a result of that conversation.

Implementing a process of gaining insight, providing feedback, demonstrating, role playing and establishing action items will go a long way in helping your team discern the difference between making excuses for failure and the need for skill development.

 

Topics: sales skill improvement, consultative selling, 5 keys to coaching sales improvement, how to improve sales, grow sales, develop talent

The Whack-A-Mole Approach to Sales Management

Posted by Tony Cole on Mon, Jun 24, 2019

Putting forth the effort to coach and motivate people, as well as hold them accountable to performance, requires no skill.  Therein lies part of the problem with growing your sales team.  Any sales manager can attempt to do this with their salespeople, but what systems and measured techniques do they have in place to ensure that it is working?  

Before reading this article, please download our free e-book "Why is Selling so #%&@ Hard" to better understand the effort required to guide and lead your sales team to extraordinary results.

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It’s been a few years since I’ve visited a Dave & Buster's establishment. There was a time when I would go at least once a year. When I was younger, my source of entertainment was hanging out at sports bars with pool tables, shuffleboards and basketball games. About 25 years ago, that entertainment became watching my kids enjoy the arcade games Dave & Buster's offered.

It was there that I learned about Whack–A–Mole and sales management. I really didn’t tie the game to sales management immediately. That is a more recent realization I have come to understand over the last 10 years as I’ve visited with executives who are trying to figure out sales growth (SGO) within their companies. 

What I learned about Whack–A–Mole is that it did not require any specific talent. It did require effort – which requires no skill. And, it did require a couple of strands of specific athletic DNA:

  1. Hand/eye coordination
  2. Fast twitch muscle fibers

The same holds true for managing salespeople relative to effort. Putting forth the effort to coach and motivate people, as well as hold them accountable to performance, requires no skill. Let me repeat – THE EFFORT requires no skill. Therein lies part of the problem with growing your sales team.

With Whack-A-Mole, I never got a sense there was a systematic way to approach the game. The moles did not appear to be popping their little heads up in a particular sequence. They appeared randomly much like they used to in my back yard when I lived in Blue Ash, Ohio.

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This is exactly what I observe and hear when talking to executives about identifying the sales growth opportunity within their sales team. Specifically:

  • What is the ideal model being used to eliminate hiring mistakes?
  • What is the coaching routine and methodology?
  • What is the culture that helps foster motivation?
  • When performance management discussions take place, are they consistent, punitive, additive and predictable based on exact metrics and standards?

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The answers to these questions are what reminds me of Whack-A-Mole. There isn’t a consistency within the organization, let alone consistency between one organization and another. To be clear, we do NOT work with broken companies. We work with companies that recognize that there is greater potential within the organization and they realize that they need to figure out:

  • What is our sales growth opportunity?
  • What would it take go from where we are now to where we could be?
  • How does our current team, systems and processes help or hurt our ability to close the gap?
  • How long will/would it take?
  • What would need to be invested to close our  sales growth opportunity gap?

The problem with not realizing full sales growth potential exists for many reasons. Too many to cover in one article so I will go about the process by writing a series specifically dedicated to help you identify what it would take to close the sales growth opportunity gap.

If you haven't already done so, please download our free e-book "Why is Selling so #%&@ Hard" to better understand the effort required to guide and lead your sales team to extraordinary results.

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How Do I Hire a Sales All-Star?

Posted by Tony Cole on Mon, Jun 17, 2019

Hiring an elite salesperson is tough work.  It's not easy to find a sales all-star and it's even harder to keep them on board if you do hire them.  

In this article, we provide 8 reasons why hiring elite salespeople is difficult and the exact steps needed to hire them in your organization.

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8 Reasons Why Hiring Elite Salespeople is Difficult:

  1. It's hard to find qualified candidates - only 7% of salespeople fall into the “elite” category (What elite sales people do differently)
  2. You have other responsibilities
  3. If things are “okay”, you don’t look for someone… until you have an opening and then you feel desperate to fill the seat
  4. Elite sales professionals – those with excellent sales skills – often are not actively looking for new jobs
  5. The resumes all look the same
  6. Personality and behavioral tests tell you how they like to be managed but don’t have any predictive validity for sales success
  7. Your HR (talent-acquisition partners) really don’t understand why hiring salespeople is different than hiring anyone else for a company
  8. It’s not your go-to skill set.

how to hire top salespeople

Step 1: Make sure you know and identify exactly what sales skills make your elite salespeople ELITE salespeople. 

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We just completed a Sales Effectiveness and Improvement Analysis (SEIA) for the private banking segment of a regional bank.  This is what we know separates the top performers from the bottom performers:

Distinguishing skills and sales traits of top performers

  • Hunter
  • Possess over 50% of required sales skills
  • Strong at getting introductions
  • Get past gate keepers
  • Maintain a full pipeline (convert activity – prospecting – into opportunities)
  • Reach decision makers
  • Develop trust and confidence early in the relationship
  • Present product proposal at the appropriate time
  • Keep prospects from buying too early in the process
  • Not reliant on ‘”educating” the prospect or presenting to get the business
  • Love competing against others

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We evaluate over 125 different data points when using a pre-hire sales skills inventory assessment and what we have found over the years is that there are usually between 20 and 30 variables that separate the best from the rest. THIS is the first step in making sure you are interviewing candidates with sales skills needed to succeed in your organization.

 

Step 2:  Interview for fundamental skillsOnce you’ve received an application or some notice of interest in your available career opportunity, you send the candidate a notice letting them know you’ve received their information and that, in order to move forward in the process, two steps will take place:

  1. They will be asked to complete the online sales skills inventory assessment.
  2. If the assessment findings indicate that their sales skills match what you are looking for, then a 10-minute phone interview will take place.

 

Why The Phone Interview

At Hire Better Sales People (White Paper), this is the beginning of Step #2.  In the 23 years of our sales consulting practice, I cannot recall a single client where phone skills were NOT critical to the success of the salespeople being hired.  With that in mind, it stands to reason that the first thing you should look/screen for are their phone skills.  Most of the time, our clients outsource that to us. The reasons for that are:

  • Consistency
  • Lack of a bias towards any candidate

In the phone interview, you want to make sure that this person can conduct themselves on the phone like you would expect them to when talking to prospects.  In order to do that, you must create a similar environment that the candidate will have to react to: 

  • No bonding and rapport done by the interviewer
  • Create time pressure so that they have to react and attempt to take control of the phone call
  • Challenge them on their answers to questions (certainly, prospects will ask them questions on the phone – wouldn’t you want to know how well they react as well as what they say?)
  • Let them know that you will be making a decision about who will go on to the interview step and see if the candidate attempts to “close” for that opportunity. If they fail to close for the next step, they will probably fail to close a prospect for an appointment.

 

Step #3 – Use the data from the resume, the application and the pre-hire skills assessment.

Top salespeople hunt for opportunities, reach decision makers, quickly establish confidence and trust, love to compete against others, have strong desire and commitment to success in selling, take responsibility for outcomes, are highly motivated for success in sales, and have a high figure-it-out factor.  Here’s some ideas for assessing these traits in potential candidates:

  • Make the candidate bring their calendar for the next 30 days and make them count the number of new business appointments they have scheduled
  • Make them establish the bonding and rapport. Tell them to take a seat, tell them that you’ve scheduled 60 minutes, but it may only take 30, and see what they do next.  If bonding, rapport, confidence and trust are important, see what your candidates do to make that happen.
  • Ask about competitions they have won
  • Tell them to describe in detail situations where they did everything possible to succeed at something especially when they had to change, overcome a difficult challenge and they overcame despite terrific odds.
  • Ask them to tell you about a situation when they faced failure at accomplishing something personally or professionally. (Hint – they need to say “I failed…”)
  • Give them a test of any kind and see how long it takes for them to figure it out or…
  • Create a role-play scenario out of thin air, give them a couple of minutes to figure out how they want to go about the role -play and then role play.

There is certainly no guarantee for any new hire.  You still have to consider cultural and team fit.  Is there synergy between the new hire and the hiring manager?  How about their technical and professional credentials? 

We’re just talking about sales skills here, but, to be clear, it’s rare that someone fails to succeed in selling because they lacked the required technical or professional expertise for the field they were in.  Nope… people normally fail because they fail to generate sales!

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Topics: hiring, hiring better, hiring salespeople, find salespeople, hiring top salespeople

Go for the “No” Early in the Sales Process

Posted by Tony Cole on Mon, Jun 10, 2019

 In this article, we discuss the theory that a prospect might want what you are selling, if you (as the salesperson) are willing to walk away from the table first.  It may sound counterintuitive but one of the keys for more effective selling is going for the ‘no’ early in the sales process. 

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I learned this concept years ago especially when I was vulnerable to Think it Overs’ (TIO). I would get ‘think it overs’ at several stages in the sales process and maybe you get them as well:

  • On the initial phone call when you’re trying to get an appointment – “Let me think it over, give me a call next week.
  • At the end of your initial meeting – “This sounds really good and something I should consider. Let me think it over and I’ll get back to you in the next couple of days.”
  • When you finish your presentation and you ask for the sale  “You made a very compelling presentation and we are impressed with your depth of knowledge and your very creative solutions to our problems. Let us meet as a group and go over this one more time and crunch some numbers.  Let’s plan on talking next week.

Sound familiar?

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Of course it does and these ‘think it overs’ are what is keeping you from being more effective in your sales process. That’s nice to know or consider but the question becomes, “What do I do about it?” (click here to listen to a 3-minute audio clip on eliminating TIO)

What is important to understand about getting ‘think it overs’ is the mindset of your potential buyer. Your potential buyer will tell you that they need to think it over because:

  • They really don’t intend on making any changes but you impressed them with some information that they want to take to their current provider and see if they can do what you can do.
  • They have a need for approval and instead of telling you they are not interested they want to let you down easy. Telling you they want to think it over gives you hope and get’s them off of the hook until the next time you talk.

To fix the problem, eliminate ‘think it over’ as an option. Let your prospect know that when you finish the next meeting, next conversation, the final presentation, they will have everything they need to make a decision. You can tell them that you will be prepared to answer all of their questions and when you are finished, they will be in a position to make a decision- yes or no. Then simply ask what objections they have to that process.

This one key will help you close more business, more quickly at higher margins.

For more tips on how to uncover a prospects real reason for wanting to 'TIO' watch our Sales Guy Unplugged video on the "Question Behind the Question".

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Topics: sales techniques, effective sales process, sales champion, think it overs, go for the no

How to Find and Cultivate Prospects That Fit Your Business

Posted by Tony Cole on Mon, Jun 03, 2019

Today, our customers are bombarded with sales, marketing, and advertising pitches from companies all hoping to win their business. They’re overwhelmed, or, in most cases, they simply tune us out.

So, we try to reach as many potential customers as we can, but our salespeople spin their wheels and end up stuck in the same place, week after week, month after month, or year after year.

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The problem? We’re not sure who we’re trying to reach. Many of our potential customers view their time as their greatest, most valuable asset, and so should we. We can protect that asset by having a clear understanding of who our target customer is.

Identify What a Zebra is:

In order to hone that understanding, we have to begin with first identifying our “Zebra,” or our ideal prospect persona.

 We can do that in three easy steps:

  1. Begin by segmenting our business’s book into thirds. For most companies, that top third brings in 90% of the company’s revenue. They are generally the best clients.
  2. Look for common traits and demographics in that top third. Ask questions like:

·      What do these customers have in common?

·      What industry are they in?

·      Who is our main point of contact?

·      How do we contact them?

·      What is the size of their organization?

Having the answers to questions like these helps identify other potential customers in the market.

3. Once we know what traits we’re looking for in that top third, we should commit 2/3 of our time to looking for, or attracting, customers from this group.

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Identify What a Zebra Isn't:

Of equal importance is to know, and clearly articulate, what isn’t a Zebra for us. If we know who doesn’t fit our ideal customer persona, we’ll bring clarity to our network and prospecting efforts, and again, continue to value time as our greatest asset. Here’s why it’s important to know what a Zebra isn’t:

1.    We eliminate ambiguity

Introductions have been proven to be the No. 1 way that top producers grow their business. But if we aren’t specific about who we serve best, it’s hard to get those introductions. We need to be specific and clear about what type of zebra we serve best.

2.    We reduce frustration with our Centers of Influence (COI)

We want to capitalize on our COI’s relationships, but if we’re not crystal clear with who we’re looking for, our COI may make an introduction to someone we can’t help. When working with our COI, it’s helpful to articulate the type of business or individual we’re looking for, along with what we’re not looking for and why.

3.    We reduce our opportunity cost

Our opportunity cost is what we’re not working on that might have been more viable for our organization. If we’re calling on Company ABC, we’re not working on Company XYZ. Are we losing out on better business, because we’re not calling on the right prospects?

If we know what we don’t want and the reasons why, it might reduce the quantity of opportunities in our pipeline, but the quality will increase dramatically. 

 Cultivating Zebras

Once we’ve determined which customers are and aren’t Zebras, we need to understand the best ways get in front of them and build relationships.

Start by doing some research.

Should we call or email them?

What is their preferred social media platform – LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter?

Knowing how and where to reach our target persona will positively impact our ability to hunt, qualify and discover potential new business. Undoubtedly, our most effective approach is to utilize the relationships we have with our top third by asking them to introduce us to others they know, who will most likely fall into that ideal customer profile.

It takes work to find these prospects and then contact them, but it’s well worth the effort. Our chances of success are now much higher because we know we’re reaching the right audience, the Zebras who become our best clients.

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Topics: Questions for Prospects, qualifying prospects, sales prospects, consultative selling, how to prospect

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    About our Blog

    Founder and CLO Tony Cole has been working with financial firms for more than 25 years to help them close their sales opportunity gap.  He is a master at using science based data and finely honed coaching strategies to help build effective sales teams.  Don’t miss his weekly sales management blog insights.

     

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