It seems everywhere you turn these days, you see sales and marketing programs, sales tools, processes, training agendas and “playbooks” based on anticipating any situation the salesperson might come up against. The message is: Do these things, follow these directions, and you will be successful.
Of course this is all well-intentioned, and can be an important part of ramping up new hires. But you can never cover everything or think of all the answers. What’s worse, you may unintentionally build a team of people who depend too heavily on the processes and formulas. When something happens that is unexpected or doesn’t follow the script, they don’t have the ability to think on their feet, and either blow a good sales opportunity or come back to you asking, “What should I do now?”
Here’s an example to illustrate the point: Sales reps can easily rely too much on marketing to provide leads. When they don’t get enough good leads, they don’t make their numbers. And when that happens, they point the finger at marketing — without thinking for themselves that the obvious answer is to prospect and find their own leads.
Another example: Salespeople who have trouble talking with prospects will often turn to a playbook or ask for content rather than take it upon themselves to research the company, find out what the hot-button issues are, and figure out what to talk about on their own.
As a sales leader or manager, ask yourself if you are doing the wrong thing. Are you telling salespeople what to do instead of coaching them to figure it out? Do you say, “Go do this, this and that, and tell me the results”? Or do you go through status reviews, get updated and ask, “What do you think we should do? How should we proceed? What’s next?”
Sales is a thinking person’s profession
Your salespeople can’t excel, differentiate themselves or maximize value unless they have the skills to “figure it out.” That’s what top salespeople do. Yes, they’ll leverage resources that are available to them and keep asking for more. But their success doesn’t depend on those things. Even without resources, they’ll figure things out.
Of course you need to give salespeople all the support you can, so they can become more efficient. But in the process, you need to encourage critical thinking and the “street smarts” that help someone become successful without depending too heavily on the tools, materials or processes you offer. And you need to recruit people who can figure it out, too.
Recently, a B2B company was trying to breathe new life into a struggling product line. They’d spent a ton of money analyzing the market, checking out the competition and looking at data. Nothing gave them the traction required.
An outside consultant asked, “Who has been successful selling this product line?” It turned out there were five sales reps who’d done well with it. The five reps were asked what they had done to achieve success with this product line. It turned out that, on their own, each one had sussed out what they needed to be successful. They’d created their own materials and presentations, and identified the best prospects — which differed from those the marketing gurus had come up with. They figured it out – on their own.
The company took their ideas and retooled everything to mirror what those five reps had done. Within six months they were beating sales targets.
You can’t possibly give your people all the answers no matter how hard you try. And in the long run it’s best not to. You will build a better sales team if you look for individuals with the drive, skills and knowledge to figure things out for themselves — and empower them to do exactly that.
Maybe the next time a salesperson comes to you seeking an answer, the proper response is, “Why don’t you go figure it out – and let me know what you come up with.”
Source: A posting by Dave Brock. To learn more visit www.partnersinexcellenceblog.com
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