Because B2B purchasing decisions are increasingly made by committee, B2B selling organizations respond by deploying groups for high-stakes meetings. These groups can include leaders, salespeople, subject matter experts and co-selling partners. This many-to-many dynamic adds pressure and complexity to the sales interaction. This post provides a baseline to help sales and client-facing professionals better understand and adapt to these changes.
Imagine you are an 18 year-old college basketball player and, despite limited playing time during the regular season, you are pulled off the bench and put into the national championship game, with 13 minutes left on the clock and your team down by nine points.
If you’re Duke University’s Grayson Allen during the final game of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, you steal the ball from your opponent (who happens to be the national player of the year), sink a three point shot, and get fouled, hitting both of your free throws. All in the space of 70 seconds. And in the process, you change the game’s momentum and turn a sure loss into a national championship.
In B2B selling, subject matter experts (SMEs) come off the bench to play an increasingly important role in high-stakes sales meetings. Because, however, selling is probably not SMEs’ strong suit, the salesperson faces a similar question Duke’s coach confronted as he eyed Grayson Allen: Will my SME be ready when I need him?
Let’s address how to leverage a subject matter expert (SME) for maximum impact in an effective sales meeting.
SMEs span a wide range of roles in various sectors. Examples include: in technology, a systems engineer, solutions architect, or applications specialist; in professional services, a practice leader or specialist; in wealth management, a tax, estates, or fiduciary specialist; in investment management, a quantitative portfolio manager, operations, or compliance officer. Just as Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s call was calculated and informed, so should yours in calling on even the most receptive and articulate SME. Their presence and contributions — no different from any other member of your selling team — could prove to be an asset or liability.
Here are common mistakes salespeople make when including an SME in a sales pitch or client meeting:
- Believing that the SME’s mere presence can magically transform a poorly qualified opportunity or an unprepared team
- Treating the SME as untouchable, beyond coaching or preparation
- Banking on the fact that they know “what to do”
- Assuming that your deal carries the same importance to them as it does to you
- Not preparing them properly for pivotal meetings
- Not bringing your own A-game
Without guidance, experts are likely to do what they do — demonstrate their subject matter expertise. They may take control of the discussion, go deep on an issue that takes you away from an otherwise winning game plan, and hurt your credibility with the client.
An SME playing a minor role can be equally hurtful. What does that convey about your SME? Your organization? The profit margin in your proposal? You?
Subject matter experts, coached skillfully, can be a game-changer in your efforts to create a winning sales meeting. Here are five tips for leveraging an SME in an effective sales call, pitch, or client meeting.
1) Choose carefully.
Technical expertise is a given. How will your SME’s delivery style mesh with those of your client stakeholders? What will they be like as a collaborator in your preparation and presentation? Prepare for the ask so that it results in an enthusiastic “yes” from the person most likely to help you win. Decide and convey to the SME why participating in this effort aligns with her goals, how it will help the client, and what is the expected impact on the sales effort.
2) Define and communicate your expectations.
This should include:
- Her role in the meeting
- Who is the team’s leader
- Your expectations for her participation in preparing for and de-briefing the meeting with you
3) Prepare together.
Include your SME in prep sessions, being sure to:
- Transfer essential knowledge (client organization, stakeholder roles, current situation, opportunity, status, etc.) given her role in the sales meeting
- Run through the opening, including her introduction
- Preview whatever additional topics she will be expected to address in the meeting
- Clearly define team roles, from open to close
Preparing together reduces the chance of a negative surprise.
4) Set intra-meeting ground rules.
Make sure your SME takes a seat that appropriately conveys her role in your organization, and aligns with her likely counterpart representing the client organization. Once the meeting gets started, she should take her cues from you, keeping improvisation to a minimum. It can be tough for a SME (especially those with no direct sales experience) to pivot from internal meetings where she is the expert and center of attention to external meetings where the authority, pace, and scope is set by others.
5) De-brief together.
She can also play an important role in reviewing the team’s high and low points during the meeting. Receiving feedback from you can strengthen future meetings and pitches. Be sure to acknowledge her time in preparing for and taking the meeting, her contributions, and ask how she would like to stay apprised of future developments.
Including an subject matter expert in a sales meeting can be at the same time an exciting and intimidating move in your broader sales or client retention strategy. Their presence alone is rarely the “magic bullet” expected and needed. Given the right opportunity, setting, and timing, however, they can play a significant role in winning a new client or retaining an existing one.
Keep the five tips above in mind for your upcoming sales meetings. Your SME, properly positioned, can be a game-changer in your sales efforts, and can jump off the bench to give you the extra boost needed to convert your opportunity into a win.
Turbocharger. Hear the word and you probably think “robust power source.” Competitive drivers and car manufacturers have used turbochargers for decades to boost engine power and race performance. In the hands of a skilled driver, this extra power can offer a competitive advantage. Putting that power, however, in the hands of someone less skilled or at the wrong time, can be fatal.
In the competitive world of selling, it is natural to seek a turbocharger equivalent to boost your performance in a sales meeting. At times this means asking a C-level executive — i.e., CEO, CFO, CIO, etc. — to join a sales meeting or presentation. And why not? A C-level executive may be able to help advance a sale or retain a relationship, and in the process build your credibility with a client and even your colleagues.
However, it would be a mistake to take this step lightly or impulsively, even with the most receptive and charismatic C-level executive. Their presence and contributions — no different from any other member of your selling team — may prove to be an asset or liability. Here are some of the more common mistakes I have made or seen during my time at Richardson Sales Training and Effectiveness Solutions as it relates to including a senior-level executive in a sales pitch or client meeting:
- Believing that a C-level executive’s title, presence, and personality can magically transform a poorly qualified opportunity or a poorly prepared team.
- Treating him or her as untouchable, beyond coaching or preparation.
- Banking on the fact that they know “what to do.”
- Assuming that your deal carries the same importance to them as it does to you.
- Not bringing your own A-game.
Without guidance, a leader is likely to do what they do: lead. They may grab control of the meeting, taking you away from an otherwise winning game plan and hurting your credibility with the client. A senior leader playing a minor role can be equally hurtful. What does that convey about your C-level executive? Your organization? The profit margin in your proposal? You?
C-level executives, when coached skillfully, can be a great asset and turbocharge a sales meeting. Here are five tips for leveraging a C-level executive in an effective sales call, pitch, or client meeting.
1) Ask them.
Obvious, yes? Less obvious is what it takes to prepare for that ask so that it results in an enthusiastic “yes.” Convey to the executive why participating in this effort aligns with her goals, how it will help the client, and what is the expected impact on the sales effort.
2) Define and communicate your expectations.
This should include:
- His role in the meeting
- Who is the team leader
- Your expectations for his participation in preparing for and de-briefing the meeting with you
- Letting him define how, when, and where he would like to give and get feedback
3) Prepare together.
Invite your C-level executive to your prep sessions, understanding the realities of her schedule. When she is able to be there, be sure to:
- Transfer essential knowledge given her role in the sales meeting
- Run through the opening, including her welcome message and introduction
- Preview whatever additional topics, such as a company overview, she will address in the meeting
- Be clear on your role as team leader, including who will close and how that will be done
Have you ever heard a senior-level executive introduce themselves and refer to their role as “overhead?” What can be funny in an internal meeting can be disastrous in a sales meeting. Preparing together reduces the chance of a negative surprise.
4) Set ground rules.
Make sure your C-level executive takes a seat that appropriately conveys her role in your organization, and aligns with the senior-most decision maker(s) representing the client organization. Once the meeting gets started, she should take her cues from you, keeping improvisation to a minimum. Pivoting from internal meetings where she is in charge, to external meetings where the authority, pace, and scope is being set by others can be tough for a C-level executive, especially those with no direct sales experience.
5) De-brief together.
Consider drafting for your C-level executive’s signature a thank you note on the team’s behalf. He can also play an important role in reviewing the team’s high and low points during the meeting. Individual feedback should be handled carefully. His feedback to you and team members take on extra gravity. Receiving feedback from you, done well, can strengthen future meetings and pitches. C-level executives tend to get very little objective feedback, which is a shame since they play such an important role in high-stakes meetings. Consider collecting and distilling the team’s feedback — both pluses and minuses — and deliver the key points in a one-on-one. Also, be sure to acknowledge his time in preparing for and taking the meeting, his contributions, and ask how he would like to stay apprised of future developments.
Including a C-level executive in a sales meeting can be at the same time an exciting and intimidating move in your broader sales or client retention strategy. Their presence alone is rarely the “magic bullet” expected and needed. In the right opportunity, setting, and timing, however, they can play a significant role in winning a new client or retaining an existing one.
Keep the five tips above in mind for your upcoming sales meetings. Your C-level executive, properly positioned, can turbocharge your sales efforts and give you the extra boost needed to push you into the winner’s circle.
You may recall that oh-so-70’s TV series called The Six Million Dollar Man, in which a secret government agency rebuilds former astronaut Steve Austin after an accident into a spy with bionic speed, strength, and vision that make him unstoppable.
Leaders and sales managers, when faced with a steep goal or taking on a new business, will naturally look at their sales team and think, “How am I going to hit this new goal with the same team?” First, you come to terms with the goal and that, reluctantly, surgery and bionic implants are out — budget, OSHA, HR issues, etc. So, you turn your attention to less extreme methods, such as strategy, recruiting, sales training, and coaching. And then, you begin to focus on the question what are the “8 attributes of a highly successful salesperson?”
Consider the following sets of personality qualities:
|Quick on their feet||Thoughtful|
Question #1: From which column of qualities would you choose if you were: Throwing a party? Hiring people most like you? Seeking people to do a lot of outbound calling, meetings, and presentations?
Question #2: What if we turn around the question to instead ask: If you were a buyer, responsible for making a significant and complex purchase for your organization, under great pressure and visibility, which column of qualities would you choose for your sales contact or account manager?
Successful Salespeople can be Extroverts OR Introverts
In 2012, Susan Cain authored a best-selling non-fiction book titled, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. She described qualities like those listed in Column A as the “the extrovert ideal” — those we tend to see as representing success. And yet, while these qualities are common among many salespeople, are they the ones embodied by your most effective, client-facing professionals?
Many sales leaders graduate into their position after gaining success as a salesperson. So, it is tempting for them to assume that people similar to them will perform as they did. This was illustrated well by Vivek Gupta, CEO of Zensar Technologies, in a New York Times interview on March 8, 2015. He shared: “There was a young girl, straight out of college, who walked into my office and said, ‘…I want to be in sales.’ I was quite nervous that she couldn’t handle the job. I had spent a rough five years doing sales, traveling all over the country. How would she be able to do that? … I gave the job to her, and she turned out to be the best salesperson in the company.” Consider those gems on your team who, though quite different from you, share your ability to consistently retain important clients or generate new business.
While society values Susan Cain’s “extrovert ideal,” consider how Column B qualities — those traditionally attached to an introvert — might be differentiators and highly valued by buyers. The truth is that the continuum between extrovert and introvert is a wide one, and effective salespeople are found between the extremes.
8 Qualities of a Successful Salesperson
In my 30 years working among and coaching salespeople, here are the 8 traits of successful salespeople that I see consistently. They are:
- Client-loyal: They are driven to understand what success means for their clients and to actively contribute to that success.
- Win-driven: They have a self-derived motivation to win (or not lose) that transcends compensation plans, campaigns, and coaching efforts.
- Team builders: They cultivate and leverage people and resources — inside and outside of their organizations — that allow them to help clients reach their goals and to win.
- Efficient: They are master qualifiers, willing to walk from opportunities that they feel they can’t or don’t want to win. And, they are willing to invest outsized amounts of time and energy in developing what they consider to be the really great opportunities — and, in building teams that prepare and practice to win.
- Impatiently patient: Though professionally driven, they exude patience when they are with a client, prospect, partner, or referral source.
- Passionately sincere: This goes beyond basic honesty. They are sincere in finding the solution that will best accomplish the client’s goal, even if that runs counter to their organizations’ latest campaign. They display high conviction in making their case to a client about why their solution is the right one.
- Attentive listeners: They talk far less than they listen, bringing a high degree of humility and curiosity to their client interactions.
- Dedicated: They see sales as their craft and, as such, seek knowledge, coaching, and resources that will allow them to do it more efficiently and effectively, seeking and incorporating feedback to continuously sharpen their approach.
Recruiting and Training the Best Salespeople
To stay focused on these attributes, managers — as you recruit, restructure, and coach — you will be well served by the following reminders:
- Avoid looking for you in them. He will always be him, not you. Seek the attributes that made you effective, even if the personality couldn’t be more different from yours.
- Don’t try to turn them into you. Be willing to coach them to become the best version of themselves.
- Seek the attributes above as must-haves, while the packages in which they come may vary.
Highly successful salespeople come in all shapes and sizes and may not always be the life of the party. If, however, they are long on the 8 attributes above — Six Million Dollar Salespeople — they will outrun the competition in retaining and growing clients and finding new ones. Still, budgeting next year for bionic implants is an interesting thought…
Closing: Winning Sales Tips for Closing Effectively
As the year rapidly comes to a close, this is a great transition point to reflect on past, present, and future. Among the things that deserve some focus is closing. Whether the close is a client call, meeting, contract renewal or extension, or a new partnership or business agreement, each is an important transition point from the end of something to the start of something else. Done well, closing positions you for success, reinforces client confidence, and sets you up to execute on client expectations.
In my coaching and classroom work this year, I continued to see confusion and struggles around the topic of closing. To help you or your team close sales meetings more effectively in next year, let’s look at:
- A readiness to close checklist
- Winning practices
- A process for closing any meeting effectively
Closing a meeting or deal often gets fumbled due to several common missteps. See how many of the following questions you can check off with a “Yes.”
– Defined the close or the commitment(s) you will be seeking at this meeting?
– Shared and validated the close with your team?
– Decided who will close?
– Overcome self-limiting obstacles, such as:
- Concerns about coming across as pushy, confrontational, or icky (sure, that’s a word)?
- Believing that clients close themselves?
- Using a presumptive close?
- Rushing to close based more on self-confidence than on client-based facts and feedback?
– A full appreciation for the importance of closing well — for you, your organization, and (often forgotten) for the client?
If we can agree that business relationships are advanced when every client or prospect interaction is ended professionally and completely, here are some reminders on best practices that lay the groundwork for an effective close that you, your team, and your client can feel good about:
- Define the team’s goal for this meeting — i.e., ask for the business, a referral, or a next meeting, etc. Be specific, put timing around it, and don’t keep it to yourself. Winning teams arrive at key sales meetings fully informed and aligned on the mission.
- Assign lead responsibility for this part of the meeting or pitch. Once accepted, be willing as a team to role play this a few times and share feedback. Even if the person making the ask is your CEO? Especially in the case of a senior, many of whom don’t receive the honest feedback they need to accomplish the team’s mission.
- Clients not only expect you to close the meeting you requested, they need it so that your execution meets their expectations.
- Avoid the presumed close. Example: “We are ready to get started. Can we send you an agreement?”
- Client agreed that you could do some (free) work in producing documents that they may or may not choose to sign.
- This skips the close with no commitment conveyed.
- Seeking client feedback throughout the process and conversation ensures that you stay aligned. It also ensures that the client is as confident in your team as you are in asking for an important commitment.
PROCESS: THE NEW “A-B-C”
When prompted to close, many of us immediately remember a young Alec Baldwin in David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” coaxing a group of weathered salesmen to “A=Always, B=Be, C=Closing.” A good close is not heroic or chest-thumping — it is a natural step in a conversation, is polished, and gains clarity on commitments and next steps. The new A-B-C of closing that is fully in line with today’s market dynamics is: A=Ask, B=Be Clear, C=Chronicle:
1) A=Ask about remaining issues, concerns, or needs.
- Asking an open-ended question, such as, “What issues are still on your mind?” can surface both new opportunities and doubts, both of which are best addressed in person.
2) B=Be clear on what commitments are being made.
- Ask a closed-ended question. Modifying one from above: “We are ready to get started. Are you ready to begin working with us?” This enables the team to leave that meeting with a better sense of clarity on what, if any, commitments were made.
- If this feels too direct, consider prefacing the ask. Example: “So that we can properly plan next steps, are you ready to hire us for this work?”
3) C=Chronicle next steps.
- Inventory the follow-up plan, including who is going to do what by when.
- A crisp and complete recap reinforces the client’s commitment to you.
- Open-ended questions here can convey client empowerment. For example, “How would you like the kickoff meeting to be structured with your team?”
In summary, approach your close methodically — with preparation, a positive mindset, and client feedback. And, follow the new A-B-C to close that next dialogue confidently and completely — and with clarity!
Challenger® Selling: “Courageous Questions” Differ from “Grenades”
Many sales leaders are urging their salespeople to adopt CEB’s Challenger Selling™ model to ask “challenging” questions to have effective sales meetings with prospects and clients. The intent is to be more provocative, create differentiation in a crowded market, provide insight, and hopefully add more value to the conversation. This post is designed to share some mistakes I have been seeing with this approach and to offer suggestions for properly asking “courageous questions” in an effective sales meeting.
First, what is a courageous question? Many questions can take courage, including ones that are:
- Challenging to current thinking
- Seeking commitment
Courageous questions — relevant to the client and well asked — can take a relationship in a new and positive direction as part of an effective sales meeting. Yet, why are some received as “grenades?” The movie equivalent is Bruce Willis walking away from the villains’ hideout, pulling the pin on the grenade, tossing it over his shoulder … BOOM … causing a huge explosion in his wake. Throwing a grenade question on the table is not courageous, it’s a selling mistake.
On this topic, I have been seeing different problems from two categories of sales professionals. The first group of salespeople — long on confidence, armed with industry marketing intelligence, and feeling empowered by their leaders — are more than willing to ask challenging questions in prospect and client meetings. Of course, challenging current thinking is likely to cause resistance. Instead of getting either mild resistance or the “wow” factor that they are expecting, they are met with significant blowback or stunned looks. Rather than marking an inflection point from which the relationship advances in a new and positive way, it now marks the fall-away point.
The second group of sales professionals, not as long on confidence and without a process to challenge thought, avoid asking the courageous questions. And, while competitors start to make inroads in the relationship, these salespeople wonder why the client relationship has stalled.
So, how do you ensure that your courageous question is received well and not as a grenade? Here are eight best practices for integrating courageous questions into an effective sales meeting:
- Know where you stand: If you are at all unsure that the foundation upon which your client relationship is built is solid, seek feedback, and know where you stand. No assumptions, as courageous questions are best delivered from a position of strength.
- Establish trust: Look for signs in your interactions that trust has been established. These can include kudos for positive past dealings, an open exchange of information, responsiveness to calls and meeting requests, and client-initiated calls.
- Establish credibility: This does not require you to be all-knowing on all subjects. It does mean that, because of your background, your work, and the organization behind you, the client sees value in engaging with you on this new topic.
- Prepare and practice: Preparing and then practicing with a colleague tends to ground the over-confident and build conviction in the should-be-more-confident. Both language and delivery matter, so prepare to receive feedback on both prior to the client meeting.
- Choose an appropriate setting: Challenging a client’s thinking can feel awkward to you and threatening to the client, especially in front of others. Choose a meeting location and time that puts folks at ease rather than on edge. And, think carefully about how your question impacts not just the intended recipient but also others who may be present.
- Set the context: Courageous questions are relevant to the recipient. A relevant question reflects your knowledge about the client, as well as his/her organization and the industry/market in which it operates.
- Structure the question skillfully: Combine a good preface, which expressly states why you are asking the question and/or why the customer should reply. Use an open-ended structure to invite discussion.
- Allow silence, and listen: It is not tough to tell when someone is genuinely interested in your thoughts. What is tough for many salespeople is taking a breath, engaging silence and listening, being attentive to language and cues, and being curious enough to continue the dialogue by asking deeper questions based on the client’s reaction. The same guidelines go for colleagues who may join you at this meeting. Inform them about this part of the meeting, and, if they have a tendency to “ease the tension” and fill the silence, practice with them both the delivery and the silence that follows.
Remember the movie “Top Gun,” starring Tom Cruise (“Maverick”), the classic 1980s film that glamorized navy pilots? In a practice drill, Maverick locks onto an enemy fighter, and his flight instructor coaxes him to “take the shot.” Grenade questions ignore the best practices above, and taking the shot may result in a crash-and-burn, eroding trust and credibility. In cases where you’ve earned it, leverage the best practices above in an effective sales meeting, take the shot confidently, and enjoy the new dialogue stream — and opportunities — created by your courageous question.
Cross-selling Effectively into the Crosswinds of Financial Services
It is said that oak trees grow strong in contrary winds. In the crosswinds of deregulation and re-regulation, financial institutions have gotten bigger, more complex, and more attuned to risk. As they turn up the pressure to drive revenue, cross-selling effectively takes on new levels of urgency and complexity. So, how does a client-facing professional stay grounded in these crosswinds while still advocating for his or her clients?
Let’s start with the issues.
As financial institutions continue to grow their fee-based businesses, they have pushed into an increasing number of product lines, and leaders are seeking cross-sell production across these product lines. This makes it more difficult for the client-facing financial professional to stay current on a wider scope of client needs, keep pace with a broader range of capabilities, and to build trust, skill, and alignment with a new and changing group of partners.
What’s changed with clients and internal partners? Attractive clients are exercising their buying power and are increasing demand for customized services and pricing. At the same time, there is growing pressure to standardize as financial institutions seek to reduce risk and increase profit margins. Historically, client-facing professionals felt the advantage in these discussions, always able to invoke “the client” to push through an unusual structure or fee arrangement. However the balance of power has shifted, as influence has grown among risk, legal, compliance, and finance professionals. This has created unusually high tension with what used to be considered “support” groups, and makes it increasingly difficult to deliver on client demands. As a leader, have you noticed the rising intensity of these competing pressures as you get pulled into heated client and internal discussions?
Five Best Practices for Cross-selling Effectiveness
So with all these crosswinds swirling around you and your team, how can you, your team, and your business get stronger? Here are five best practices that we see among leaders of winning teams to hit cross-selling targets in the midst of all the competing pressures mentioned above:
- Team preparation: As your team increasingly works alongside partners from business units with whom they have little or no track record, this increases the importance of sharpening your team’s ability to lead or contribute to an effective pre-call meeting. This can include:
- Modeling, and reinforcing among your team, the importance of creating rapport with new partners;
- Checking in before significant client meetings or pitches to be sure that client knowledge is being effectively transferred among team members, that the team is setting clear and unified meeting objectives, and that roles and responsibilities for the meeting are being clearly carved out; and
- Requiring, and playing a role in, team practice sessions.
- Team execution: Conducting an effective one-on-one sales meeting is challenge enough; adding teammates, especially unfamiliar ones, makes it far tougher. Without effective team preparation, it is extremely tough for a selling or account team to convey or gain alignment during a meeting. Leaders at effective cross-selling organizations ensure their account or pitch teams have sorted and practiced the following:
- How the team’s leader will set the stage
- Sequencing and delivery of introductions
- Key questioning areas and who on the team will take the lead into each
- Flow of capabilities or solution discussion
- Who will close and what it sounds like
- Team follow-up: We find that crisp and thorough follow-up is more the exception than the rule. Team follow-through tends to be more disjointed among teams unfamiliar with one other. There can be such a wide range of perceptions and expectations — on both your team’s side of the table and the client’s. So, it is essential for teams to debrief as soon as possible after the client, prospect, or center of influence meeting to compare notes and agree on accountabilities. Leaders play a key role in insisting on and participating in formal post-mortems.
- Realign with internal partners: There has always been a healthy tension between revenue-producing and non-revenue groups. Today, many would use an adjective other than “healthy” to describe this tension. To facilitate more productive interactions with those whose charge it is to mitigate risk, consider asking your team to apply the same rigor to discussions with internal partners as they do with clients, employing best practices in engagement processes and skills. Helpful reminders include:
- Taking time to create and build authentic rapport with internal partners;
- Approaching significant discussions – such as those where an unusual structure, provision or a client requirement for non-standard reporting is being presented – by setting a clear objective and agenda;
- Practicing with others and testing, for feedback, key parts of the discussion;
- Doing less talking — and more questioning and listening — facilitates partnership, collaboration and agreement;
- Following through on agreements and next steps builds productive relationships among colleagues.
- Sharpen your value prop: Increasingly, there can be a gap between what the client is demanding and what your organization is willing or able to deliver. If this gap is large, well understood, and real, this opportunity may not be qualified. We find that there are many situations in which teams react to what gets voiced by the client as a demand, with less than a full understanding of the client’s interests. In these cases, there is a coaching opportunity for you and a chance for the team to do more discovery. This can result in a win when the team is able to persuasively link capabilities to the client’s needs in such a way that makes the solution feel custom-made for this client.
Use your team meetings, one-on-ones, and down time between joint calls to leverage these five best practices. This will position you and your team to get stronger — like the oak tree in the face of contrary winds — and to boost cross-selling effectiveness with partners and clients.
For Experts that Sell, A Surprising Key to an Effective Sales Meeting
Experts, circa 2014, sell. Are you a portfolio manager, consultant, lawyer, investment banker, engineer, architect, or estate planner? As an expert, you are highly educated and credentialed and have deep industry and subject matter knowledge. Though not in a typical sales role, you may be asked at times to participate on a sales call or pitch. The request may be driven by clients who increasingly want to meet and gain comfort with the person who will be creating their portfolio, solution, deal structure, strategy, or design. Or, the request may be driven by your firm, which has decided that your participation is essential to win the work. Regardless of how you feel about selling, the comments below are designed to help you contribute to a winning sales effort when asked.
Among the highly accomplished experts I coach, one common misconception is that the purpose of a sales meeting is to prove your expertise. There is no question buyers want to confirm what they learned about you from referral partners and their own research. As an authority, it is easy to fall into the trap of doing most of the talking, focusing on yourself rather than the client, missing the opportunity to gain feedback, and — despite your intent or the reality — coming across as arrogant.
So, how do you avoid this? To transform the discussion into an effective sales meeting, I have found that making one small adjustment in your mindset can lead to a significant impact on the meeting’s outcome. That adjustment is humility.
That does not mean that clients expect you to be humble about your accomplishments or to dumb things down. Humility, in the context of an effective sales meeting, is about recognizing not just what you know as a subject matter expert but also what you might not know about the client. There is growing appreciation for humility as a leadership quality. Look no further than Pope Francis — someone we could confidently call an expert —- and how quickly he has gained influence not just within the Catholic Church but as a world leader.
Consider how humility might change the way you prepare for and conduct an effective sales meeting:
So, for that next sales meeting, consider sidestepping the common mistake experts make when selling, focusing only on your qualifications, your approach, and your ideas. If you want to stand apart from the other experts waiting in the hallway, surprise the client with some humility to create an effective sales meeting. How will you incorporate humility into your preparation and comments in order to walk away with the win?
Leadership Do’s and Don’ts for Maximizing Sales Training ROI: Where do you Stand?
In the movie “Father of the Bride,” there is a memorable scene in which the father (George Banks), unsure where to stand during the bouquet throw, misses important moments at his daughter’s wedding.
Similarly, many sales leaders confidently invest in sales training (the wedding) yet are uncertain about the role they should play (or where they should stand). The purpose of this post is to share my perspective, as a facilitator and former sales leader, on three common mistakes to avoid and five best practices to leverage as a sales manager in supporting a successful workshop that will drive sales training ROI.
THE DON’TS: THREE COMMON MISTAKES
Leaders who maximize sales training ROI don’t:
I. Hand off early: once the training is scheduled, don’t move on to the next project, and don’t pass the ball to your colleagues in Learning & Development (L&D) to implement and to participants to learn and apply in the field.
II. Limit your participation to opening comments: After your opening comments, don’t leave the group for the day and assume your team will feel more comfortable without “the boss” looking over their shoulders.
III. Attend the workshop distracted: Don’t attend the workshop without a defined role or you will be quickly consumed by other responsibilities, including calls and e-mails.
While there is logic to each of the don’ts, they represent George Banks-like missed moments. Even limiting our view to perceptions, consider the contrast between you, if absent or distracted, and your team — having committed time away from their markets and personal life and being asked to focus and move outside their comfort zone. How does this contrast align with your intent and the importance of this training?
THE DO’S: FIVE BEST PRACTICES
Beyond perceptions, what are the substantive ways that you can contribute to and maximize your impact on the sales training ROI — before, during, and after a class? Here are five best practices that I see as a facilitator; I encourage you to consider how to employ some or all of them to drive excellent outcomes. Do:
- Stay connected to the program design process: Even the most capable and earnest L&D people have, at best, a second-hand understanding of the marketplace challenges your team faces daily. Do check in throughout the development process. You will ensure that the program and materials nail your business objectives and must-haves for your team to hit the goals you envision.
- Attend the workshop as an (active) observer: Do take advantage of the opportunity to assess skill levels across your team, to emphasize or address key points that are raised in classroom discussions, and to share feedback. In the process, you will also be able to model behaviors, such as staying present and avoiding distractions.
- Attend the program as a participant: Yes, with your team! This might sound frightening, even risky, but do consider going through this experience with them. After the workshop, this will give you both the credibility and ability to model and coach to the principles covered in the workshop. Besides, who among us has no room to sharpen his or her skills?
- Schedule and participate in a managers-only session (alternative to #3): Do take the time to enable you and your peers or first-line managers to understand, model, and coach to the things your team will be learning in the program. This will reduce any concerns you or your managers may have about going through the program side-by-side with your team.
- Plan for reinforcement: Your people will come out of the workshop fired up to apply their new or refined skills. Research shows that a habit takes an average of 66 days to form. Do lock in workshop outcomes through planned and steady reinforcement in the weeks and months that follow. Among your options, do consider some of the ways that Richardson supports teams after a workshop:
- Adoption and Sustainment (http://www.richardson.com/What-We-Do/Enablement-Adoption/)
- Continuous Learning (http://www.richardson.com/What-We-Do/Continuous-Learning/)
So, the next time you decide to schedule training for your team, skillfully sidestep the three common mistakes, and leverage the five best practices above. Be clear in your intent about the role you will play before, during, and after the workshop to maximize sales training ROI. The actions you choose to take as a leader will send a powerful message and create a classroom culture that extends far beyond the dates and walls of a workshop.
Coaching for Sales Teams: Less Superman, More Clark Kent
You know the picture … mild-mannered sales manager has one-on-one meeting with ordinary sales citizen, they discuss an issue, and WHAM, the sales manager makes a beeline to the phone booth (yes, they still exist) and out comes Superman or Wonder Woman, complete with red cape. Faster than a speeding sales cycle, more powerful than a strong quarter, and able to leap tall pipelines in a single bound. In their rush to rescue Metropolis, however, they may not realize that this method of coaching for sales teams is the kryptonite to their team’s performance.
- Salespeople come to us with a wide range of skills and talent. They know at least one thing far better than we do: themselves.
- Sales managers often come to the position based on their success as salespeople. They take pride in how they used to help clients. Now, in a management role, they want to help their team by bringing their experience and insights.
- How managers “help” salespeople often creates unintended consequences:
– Being the superhero problem solver is not scalable and leads to burnout.
– Solving the problem, while expedient, makes your team dependent (rather than independent), stunts their results and professional growth, and slows down the sales process.
– Asking rather than telling takes patience and restraint — not natural strengths for most sales leaders.
Effective sales managers realize that coaching for sales teams requires processes and skills that may be a departure from those they used in a selling role. While we work through this in great detail during Richardson Coaching workshops, here are some key reminders.
The Three Most Powerful Words in Coaching For Sales Teams
The words “what,” “why,” and “how” — in that order — are far more powerful tools in coaching sales teams than are speed, strength, and leaping ability. Let’s look at how each prompts an important question in an effective sales coaching dialogue:
- What: What happened on that sales call? What’s happening with this opportunity? What’s going on with this client? The “what” question leads, or forces in some cases, self-reflection by the salesperson. For the coach, it provides a data point on the salesperson’s level of awareness.
- Why: Why did that meeting end abruptly? Why is this opportunity advancing so quickly? Why has the client gone radio silent? The “why” question guides the salesperson to identify the trigger that is causing the current state. As above, asking rather than telling provokes self-discovery and makes the salesperson accountable for discovery.
- How: How would you change that next time? How could you replicate this with other opportunities? How can you change the client’s lack of response? The “how” question puts the salesperson in the driver’s seat with regard to his or her own development. And working with the ideas they generate increases ownership and commitment to follow through. The sales manager monitors and watches how the plan plays out and is able to move on to other things.
Two New Qualities to Harness in Coaching For Sales Teams
Patience and restraint are not qualities we seek in our sales leaders; in fact, we want the opposite. A sense of urgency and willingness to jump in quickly can be invaluable when, for example, setting strategy for a struggling business unit and when providing leadership to a team going through industry or organizational change. When coaching sales teams, however, we need to be able to find and draw on these qualities: patience, to allow for the self-discovery of issues, causes, and solutions, and restraint, to hold ourselves back from putting on the superhero cape and solving the problem, missing the opportunity to build the salesperson’s independence and investment in change.
Even the least super of superheroes among us have been able to find within them and tap these qualities using eight simple tips:
- Set a clear objective for each sales coaching session, focusing on outcomes that will gain the change you need to accomplish your goals.
- Prepare for sales coaching sessions, especially those “what,” “why,” and “how” questions that will guide the salesperson through a self-discovery process.
- Provide a safe environment, encouraging honesty and reflection without judging or looking for “right” answers.
- Listen more, talk less. One of the executives I coach writes two simple words on his notepad as a sales coaching reminder: “Shut up!”
- Be more curious about each salesperson on your team, and have the courage to ask “why?” in response to their comment.
- Acknowledge that moving a salesperson out of a comfortable performance pattern will be, by definition, uncomfortable. Expect him or her to struggle. Use silence when needed, and provide support, when appropriate.
- See how sales coaching benefits your team, including greater empowerment, independence, excitement, and vision to get to a higher performance level.
- See what you gain by coaching your sales team, including increased skill level and performance from your team and more time for you to focus on higher-value activities.
Coaching for sales teams is one of the key performance drivers you control as a manager. Leveraging it requires a process and some qualities you may not have needed to succeed in the past. So, the next time you hear the cry for help from somewhere in Metropolis, hold off putting on the red cape and remind yourself that the ordinary citizen may just be smart enough to save him or herself — and, in the process, free up Superman or Wonder Woman to tackle more important issues facing the great city.