In sales we often do not focus on our state of mind and even forget sometimes to make time to relax. In my last podcast episode I mentioned how I learned a technique called Autogenic Training. It could be described as a very powerful form of self-hypnosis. I learned it many years ago through attending a course over a few weeks. You can realistically learn the basic script in a few weeks but it works immediately and you will feel first results very soon!
I just recorded a guided session for learning the basic script similar to a guided meditation. There is no music because you need to learn this without fancy music so you are able to recall this even on the noisy London tube or anywhere else with a lot of background noise!
In today’s podcast episode (S1E4) I run you through a guided session covering a basic Autogenic Training script that deepens relaxation. This is a great way to learn Autogenic Training quickly as you will be able to continue to do this on your own. It is a very useful technique for busy sales people and people in general to help relax quickly within seconds or minutes!
We have all done it. Asking the customer questions that are answered with a yes or no.
Do you protect your network from malicious attacks?Do you get any rewards for making business purchases?
These are examples for closed questions that force the customer to answer with a simple yes or no. And if your customer isn’t very chatty in the first place you will have a hard time to keep the conversation going and, if you do, it sounds more like an interrogation rather than a conversation!
What you really want to do is listening, learn about customer’s business challenges and build rapport.
Tip #1: Ask open questions It’s ok to ask a closed question occasionally and especially if you want to confirm something or need to make a point. The majority of your discovery questions can be asked as open questions. There are a few ways to transform your closed question into an open one.
You can start the question with:
Tell me …
The two examples above would transform into:
How do you protect your network from malicious attacks?Describe to me the way you pay for business purchases?
Open questions allow for a natural flow of information and help you discover additional details that will be very relevant to the customer specific value proposition that you are trying to establish.
Tip #2: Research the customer’s industry and competitors to design relevant discovery questions This is very important because you need to understand their economic environment and business drivers in order to select the best discovery questions. Relevancy is the key.
E.g. let’s say you are selling a financial product that improves cash flow and provides some form of rewards for business spend but your customer is cash-rich. Your customer won’t see much value in cash flow benefits. Your discovery needs to look at payment rewards and discounts instead.
Tip #3: Provide insight by asking two-sided questions Your discovery questions should lead to learning something new about the customer as well as the customer learning something through the questions asked. This is the whole point of a consultative approach to selling.
Let’s look at the IT security example. The customer describes how they currently protect their network. Then you follow up with a statement and question:
“Many security breaches start with a malicious email. How do you deal with malicious emails in particular?”
Here you are providing some insight into attack vectors. You can even substantiate this by using specific data from the Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report:
A while ago, there was an interesting discussion in the Sales Enablement Society forum about the main orientation of the sales enablement function.
Is sales enablement strategic or tactical? How do you recognise its mode?
It’s almost a bit like asking if light is a particle or a wave?
The scientists among you surely know that the answer is: it depends!
In order for sales enablement to be a successful, in my humble opinion, the answer must be: it’s both!
I do not care much about how you define what sales enablement is. I do care about how sales enablement helps customers and salespeople with value creation. Sales is all about creating value for the customer so is sales enablement about creating value for salespeople, sales teams and organisations.
There are many ways that sales enablement creates value. Here are three examples:
It helps to reduce ramp up time of sales new hires through a well designed sales onboarding programme.
It assists in improving revenue, increasing average deal size and closing more opportunities through sales methodology and sales leader coaching.
It drives consistency across sales and marketing messaging.
Sales enablement is always both, tactical and strategic.
Sales enablement happens in any organisation whether there is a formal sales enablement role or function or not!
Of course, if there is no sales enablement role or function someone else has to provide salespeople with the tools and the training needed in order to be successful. Typically, this leads to sales managers and top reps having to jump in to run onboarding, ongoing training and more taking valuable time away from their core role which is selling!
Action: Explore how your sales enablement strategy is aligned with the priorities of sales and marketing. Do you have a strategic sales enablement plan that aligns clearly with sales and marketing plans and goals?
There is a lot of value in measuring the success of any sales training. You can measure the reaction, knowledge, application, business impact and even ROI. It’s an important way of evaluating your training and its effectiveness. Does it move the needle?
Many training programmes, however, end with the completion of a short survey. Some folks call it a “happy sheet”. In recent years, I have seen the use of NPS (Net Promoter Score) becoming more and more popular. It’s a happy sheet in disguise!
The only thing these type of evaluation surveys measure is the reaction to the programme! Choose an amazing location, have great catering will help to drive a posited reaction. The problem is it doesn’t tell you anything about how or if participants have learned anything or will apply what they have learned let alone measure any business impact. I believe, that this is still the most used form of training measurement beside the number of training hours!
There are, of course, more sophisticated ways of measuring training impact, e.g. the Kirkpatrick model or the Phillips ROI methodology.
But, if you are just doing a “level 1” survey which only looks at the reaction you should at least include the following two questions in your survey.
What will help you in applying what you have learned? This question will allow you to identify any potential drivers that help to change behaviour.
For example, when rolling out a new sales methodology you expect that the salespeople actually start using the methodology once they have attended the training. Asking this question gets the participants to think about what helps with adoption of the methodology. And you can use this information in order to help with adoption.
In the example mentioned above, the sales methodology training programme, deal coaching came up as top response to this question. This highlighted the importance of any deal coaching to be based on that methodology. This can be a challenge if you have sales managers that have learned other sales methodologies as well!
Therefore, one of the key drivers to help embed this new sales methodology was that the sales managers actually coach based on the new methodology during deal reviews. I conducted a specific manager training session covering deal coaching using the sales methodology process and terminology.
The other questions that is very important to include is about barriers.
What will stop you from applying what you learned? This question aims to identify any barriers to using and applying what participants learned during the training.
In the example above we participants identified that one barrier to using the new sales methodology was the CRM system.
While the sales methodology terminology was implemented in the CRM system (which was a great plus!) it was too complicated, required too many fields to be filled out and the consequence was that the sales reps did not use it consistently.
The negative consequence was that sales managers when reviewing opportunities in the CRM were not able to tell if the sales methodology was fully used and how well opportunities were qualified by the sales reps.
We worked with the CRM vendor to update and simplify the CRM system fields in order to make it a lot easier for the sales reps to use the CRM in relation to the new sales methodology. The CRM then started to act as reinforcement tool while reducing the amount of admin work the sales reps had to do. And this also helped the sales managers during deal coaching because they could now find the information needed in the CRM. Well, in most cases!
Action: In your next sales training survey include these two questions and watch out for any surprises in terms of drivers and barriers to application of the new gained knowledge, skills or process change.
Now, these two questions about drivers and barriers are even more powerful if you include these in a 90-day survey that focuses on application and business impact. This is when the sales reps had a chance to apply what the learned for three months!
GROW is a very popular coaching model. I first learned about it when I was moving into a technical sales engineering people leader role. My manager was the VP of sales for international markets. As part of my onboarding into this new role I attended a training course for new people managers hosted by the Irish Management Institute.
The course was excellent, with high quality content and exceptional delivery as well as a lot of participant engagement. The GROW model stuck in my mind until today! It’s such a great acronym. It always reminds me of business GROWth through people. The other thing I like about it is it’s simplicity!
Let me briefly explain the four simple steps of the model and provide an example on how you can use it in sales coaching.
G for Goal: The first step of a coaching conversation is to establish what the goal is. This may look easy at first but as a sales leader you may be facing a situation where the goal is not clear at all or is formulated as a problem or you may be tempted to be the one defining the goal.
Coaching is similar to discovery. Your role as sales leader is to guide the conversation with questions and help clarifying and possibly reframing the goal.
Let me share a real world example. A sales rep told me that he was struggling to cross-sell an additional software solution to three specific customers. These customers said that they were not interested in this additional service. A challenge, if you are a customer development rep!
When I asked why this was an issue the rep revealed that he wanted to achieve its overall target. Not a surprise being in sales! It became clear, however, that selling a specific additional service to these three customers was not the actual goal. The real goal was hitting target overall regardless which solution was sold to which customer.
R for Reality: This phase of the conversation is about discovering what the current situation is. A question I asked was: Tell me more about why these customers are not interested in the additional software solution.
It turned out that for these three specific customers due to the industry there were operating in there was no business pain to justify the additional solution!
O for Options: This is the part of the conversation where you ask your sales rep to think about different options to achieve the goal.
In this example the challenge was potentially not being able to achieve overall target due to three customers not interested in purchasing an additional specific solution.
What options do you have?
The rep realised that in order to achieve target he needed to look at some alternatives:
do some additional discovery with those three customers in order to provide insight into additional business pain and identify different up-sell opportunities,
or focus other customers where this additional software solution would provide value. This would open up new opportunities for cross-selling.
W for Way Forward: Now it is time to commit to action. This is where you would ask the sales rep what their next step is.
In the example used here the sales rep chose to focus on a different set of customers. His next step was to review his existing customer list and select three customers from a different industry. While these were smaller customers and required more cross-selling, ultimately, he exceeded his yearly target.
Action: Next time you have a one to one with your sales reps try to structure the conversation into those 4 phases. Think GROWth! Do not forget to ask the rep in the following one to one meeting how they are getting on with the first step agreed under W and continue to support your sales rep through further coaching conversations.
The wow experience: First impression counts! You hired new sales reps, managers and leaders and now they are looking forward to their first day at your firm. Make that first day an amazing experience!
You want new hires to think:
Wow, I have joined an amazing company and team!
On their first day, the new hires probably have to go through HR activities, filling out forms, setting up IT equipment and other admin tasks.
Make sure all their equipment is ready on day one.
It also means making new hires feel comfortable, introduce them to the team, have a special lunch. Provide them with a goodie bag that they can take home on their first day.
Day in the life of …: One of the most enjoyable and important sessions during on-boarding is to learn from existing salespeople. What does it take to be successful? You can have multiple sessions delivered by different peers. These stories and tips are told by existing folks.
Storytelling is the name of the game and not slide shows unless they are really needed to tell the stories.
Treats: Do not underestimate the importance of croissants, fruit, coffee, tea or lunch! If you are running a rather intense on-boarding programme over a few days make sure this is taken care off. You want your new hires to feel good and special!
Fun competition: Selling is a competitive art. Sales people love competitions! This is a great opportunity to implement some gamification in your training. This can be designed into the content or you can break up the day by using little quizzes, e.g. Kahoot https://kahoot.com/b/.
Peer-to-peer learning: Make sure you have provide enough opportunities for participants to share their thoughts and experience with each other. This is particularly useful when you have participants from different backgrounds, regions and seniority level.
I have used map and table exercises very successfully in the past. A great side effect is that participants get to know each other and it increases team bonding as well.
Role specific breakouts: It’s important to ensure that all topics and sessions covered are all relevant to participants. This can easily be accomplished by having role specific breakout sessions to accommodate different learning needs.
Multimedia: Make sure that all sessions or presentations are engaging and utilise multimedia where possible. E.g. a great welcome video by a senior leader can work really well. If you are running a session on how to create a telesales call track utilise call recordings. Design powerful activities and make them central to all sessions.
Award ceremony: The onboarding needs to continue after the first week with milestones each month but make sure to celebrate the first accomplishment!
Finish the first week with high energy and formally provide a certificate and a framed group photo of the cohort. Also cover next steps and ongoing support during the rest of the on-boarding.
Think content: No matter how much catering and fun you provide in the first week getting the content right is super important. Build high level topics by asking yourself:
What do your sales new hires need to know and do in the first few weeks?
Include role-plays and presentations that simulate customer engagements and make this a focus at the end of the first week of your new hire training right before the awards are presented.
Think networking: Bringing all new hires together is a great opportunity for networking among each other but also for building relationships with key stakeholders in the organisation. When designing the overall onboarding programme keep the network aspects in mind.
Action: Review your current sales new hire training and identify top areas that you can improve based on the above suggestions.
Let’s be honest. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a magic PowerPoint deck template from marketing or sales enablement where you just had to insert the customer’s name and logo and you could take it to your first meeting and present your amazing solution and tell your prospect how great your company is and then the customer would sign the order?
I have never come across a value proposition slide deck template that would not require a total re-write to make it customer specific. But why spend so much time on crafting a slide deck to tell the customer something?
The first meeting isn’t about you it’s about the customer!
The real reason for not using PowerPoint in your first meeting with a customer is that its use confirms the seller deficit disorder and this puts you into a weak position.
What is the seller deficit disorder?
Buyers have a few preconceptions about sellers. Here are the main ones:
The first one is that buyers believe that the seller does not understand their business and the second one is that sellers do not listen.
If you are interested to learn more about this you can, for example, have a look here:
Replace the PowerPoint slides with a well prepared verbal introduction followed by discovery. I mean honest and detailed discovery. Not asking a few generic questions, listen for a keyword and then present a solution quickly.
Your first meeting needs to be all about building rapport, discovery and understanding the customers pain and needs. It’s about a consultative approach using well crafted discovery questions and being situationally fluent.
Using a prepared PowerPoint deck in your first meeting is risky. You have not yet listened and do not fully understand their pain. Even if you have done your homework and researched the customer and believe you understand their business pain, your knowledge is going to be superficial and it may not represent how your customer perceives the situation.
I am not saying do not prepare the meeting. But instead of spending time creating beautiful slides spend time on real preparation. In fact, you should do all the research that you can and try to understand the customer’s business challenges, strategy and industry. You should also look out for personal goals and think about how you can help.
Do customer and industry research and have a discovery conversation. This shows that your are interested in the person and their business. It addresses your buyers’ biggest concerns, the seller deficit disorder, and proofs that you listen and aim to understand their business challenges.
As a sales leader your responsibility is to lead your sales reps and help them develop their sales skills and career. Not all sales reps manage to achieve their targets. You will have a few reps that achieve and exceed targets, many will be mid-performers and some might really struggle.
You need to coach the top performers for retention and the mid-performers to lift them towards the top.
The impact of first line managers on team performance is huge and coaching is the number one activity that drives overall team results. Brainshark compiled very interesting sales stats which also include some related to sales coaching in particular. You can review these here:
From these stats you can conclude that sales coaching helps to improve win rates and revenue but you can also see that sales coaching is lacking.
There can be many reasons for a low adoption of sales coaching. Sales managers and in particular new to the role managers that have just been promoted from an individual contributor role to managing people may not feel comfortable due to lack of training. Another reason could be that coaching is perceived as corrective action.
Isn’t coaching just a nicer word for performance management?
This is an objection that often isn’t even spoken about! You need to address and change this perception. In sales we love using sports analogies and here is a great opportunity to use an example to change the perception of coaching.
Do you know any great football or rugby players?
Even if you are not a football fan you likely came across names like Ronaldo, Messi, Pele to just name a few.
Did or do the heroes and winners in sport have coaches?
The answer is, of course, yes. In fact they probably spent more time being coached than actually playing any football matches! Yet, in sales we tend not to coach enough, do very little role playing and, even worse, may not prepare well enough for important customer meetings!
Coaching is a privilege. This has been my experience. I have had great sales leaders coach me and this has been a blessing throughout my career. I learnt so much through leader coaching and it helped me to achieve goals and drive results.
It even enabled me to break into new industries that I have not had worked in before. Most of my career has been in technology and software but I always wanted to look beyond at other industries to learn how they do “it” (sales enablement). I worked for Coca Cola (FMCG) as well as American Express (Financial Services). It opened my eyes in many ways and helped me to develop sales enablement strategies using a new, fresh and different perspective and drive innovation.
But even if in your organisation coaching is not perceived as performance management you may find that some sales reps are not open to coaching and when you attempt to coach by asking questions there is an expectation to just being told what to do.
Just tell me what to do!
If your sales reps are not used to coaching they may not expect it and if they are used to just being told what to do then this is what they will be looking for. Start shifting into coaching conversations without labelling it as coaching. Use your natural conversational style to pace and lead. Focus on building trust first. It goes without saying that you need trust in able to effectively coach!
Another approach to shifting perception is to make coaching special through rewards. Offer special coaching sessions, e.g. by an outside sales coach, as a reward for great performance.
Implementing a coaching culture can be a paradigm shift depending on what the most dominant leadership style in your organisation is.
The other barrier to coaching could time management. You may think:
I do not have time for coaching!
As a sales leader you have got a lot of things to do, e.g. forecasting, reports, pipeline reviews, admin work and much more. At first, it may look overwhelming to spend time with your sales reps and coach them but in reality it will save you time in the future. Coaching empowers your reps to come up and implement their solutions with a little guidance through your coaching. Coaching isn’t telling them what to do but to help them to come up with their own ideas and next steps. This is much more useful because they own it rather than you.
Coaching does not need to take up more of your time. Transform the time that you spend in one to ones already. Use your existing one to one meetings for coaching. There is also no need to put a label onto coaching. It’s a conversation between adults! It can happen naturally, even when you are having a coffee or a cup of tea.
If you are an experienced sales leader you very likely have already an established and proven coaching routine. If you do not have an established coaching practice or are new to leading people you wonder how to actually do coaching.
What is the best coaching model?
The best coaching model is the one that you can remember and use! A coaching model is a starting point, a reminder, an approach and provides a structure and guide for a conversation. Once you have used it a few times it becomes second nature and you do not even have to think about the model anymore.
I started my career as a sales rep in retail and after a year I was promoted to assistant sales manager and was leading a small sales team. This was my first people manager role while still selling myself as well. It was a great experience and I very much enjoyed it. However, in retrospect, I wish I had known anything about how to coach people!
Later, I moved into information technology and was delighted when I was able to attend a people manager training at the Irish Management Institute in Dublin. I still remember the four letters of the coaching model that I learned: g, r, o and w.
Coaching helps people grow! This model is so easy to remember and also works so well: the GROW Model for coaching!
This model combined with situational leadership have been the two most useful people management tools that I have come across in my career and that really helped me with the transition from individual contributor to people manager.
If you have new people managers in your sales team that come from an individual contributor role this is a great model they can use. Here is what the letters stand for:
I will cover this model and how to use it in sales coaching in a future blog post.
The secret to establishing a coaching culture is to position coaching as a privilege, build trust and help new and existing people managers with coaching through an easy to remember coaching model that works well and feels like a natural conversion when used.