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The Ruby Group | Akron and Columbus, OH

Management Tactics

Either the sales manager defines and proceeds to implement a common approach to selling for her sales staff, or the sales staff is left to their own devices.

Sales managers don’t manage salespeople. They manage winners, losers, and “at leasters.”

Some prospects hear their world, and if you don’t make music to their ears, not only will they turn the volume down, they’ll even shut you off.

A good sales manager will see when a salesperson is heading toward the rocks, and the natural instinct is to quickly paddle over, shout a warning, and perhaps even toss a line to pull the sale to safety. After all, the sales manager’s job is to see to it that sales are made, correct? Or is that the salesperson’s job? Whose job is it?

To understand the message you are daily delivering to your salespeople, you need to step outside yourself and look back. What you find staring at you might not be pleasant. It is, however, an important step to take should you wish to become more effective at communicating.

Part of dealing with failure is truly seeing it as an opportunity to grow. If you see failure as some sort of blemish on your abilities, you will then seek to avoid failure situations. Thus, if you never fail, how can you possibly grow stronger? You cannot. By establishing goals that make failure a learning experience, you can become a stronger salesperson.

Just as a salesperson ought to create a buying environment for a prospect, the same should occur with a sales manager and a salesperson. How you assist a salesperson in changing their behavior is by allowing them to see, hear, or feel what their behavior is like. If the goal is to “sell” them a behavioral change, what steps do you have to take to “close” them? It’s just like selling.

Consider for the moment where you meet your prospects or existing clients. If you meet them anywhere outside of your business base, you are meeting them on their turf. You must communicate to them that you respect their place of business.

By asking facilitating questions, you can help the salesperson discover her own problem and potential solution. While you may think you know exactly what the need is, you can never know for sure until you dig down and see what’s going on. And you dig by asking facilitating questions.

Many salespeople get into a mental rut with a prospect. “I’ve done everything I can do, yet the prospect won’t close.” It’s not unusual for this type of prospect to make up a majority of the prospect list for some salespeople. Once a salesperson gets into this “I’ve done everything” rut with a prospect, the prospect will shortly be scratched off the list as dead. No one enjoys “beating a dead horse.”

It’s very easy for a sales manager to commiserate with salespeople. Everyone loves to swap war stories or retell that special story that happened back when. One problem with commiserating is that it does not accomplish anything. So you swap stories. Other than maybe having a new story to tell someone else, what did you gain for the time spent?

Your involvement in solving a problem may be nothing more than finding the right person to solve it. Once you find the right person, you may need to assist him in seeing it as his problem. Make sure that the problem you need to solve is your problem and not a problem someone else needs to solve.

How rare is a salesperson who can comfortably approach an initial meeting with a prospect, knowing that there may be no business? Doesn’t this go against what every salesperson is supposed to believe, that every prospect can be a close if you are good enough to beat down the objections?

Nobody likes starting over again, which is precisely how many salespeople feel when their contact moves on to somewhere else. The first thought that flashes in their mind is that “just when I get her on-track, just when I can depend on steady purchases, zap. Gone. Why did she have to disappear?”

When do most salespeople ask for a referral? Well, if they even remember to ask for a referral, it usually is right after the prospect has bought. And what is the usual new-customer response? After a moment or two of a vacant stare, nothing. And what is the usual salesperson response? “Well, if you think of anyone, I’d appreciate your mentioning my name.”

Would it not make more sense for a sales manager to ask a salesperson where do you want to be in three years? Use this as a starting point from which the salesperson works backwards to today. Instead of asking did you meet your sales goals this month, ask what did you do this month to reach your three-year goal? By taking this approach, you are bringing the future into focus relative to her actions today.

All conversations, including sales presentations, have naturally occurring lulls. During these lulls, many different things occur. Some lulls are used to figure out how to phrase what comes next; others are used to review what has been said; still others are used to make decisions and carry them out. A lull in the conversation is not a sign to a salesperson that something must be said. It is a sign to wait until it is appropriate to start talking again.

Unless the salesperson is totally oblivious to their behavior, they know how they're acting. What is gained by a sales manager recounting the incidents? Nothing. In fact, a recounting only encourages the salesperson to provide their side of the incidents as a defense. Are you interested in their defense or rather in changing their behavior?

Salespeople, if their performance as a group is not meeting a predefined level, will band together to find a common rationale to explain away their lack of performance. While the rationale may or may not make sense, the banding together happens almost 100 percent of the time.

When you hear “verbal shorthand,” always ask for clarification. If the salesperson cannot explain what the shorthand means, without resorting to more shorthand, then you most likely have a salesperson who is also not communicating to prospects and customers.

What’s an absolute? Words and phrases like: always, never, everyone, at no time, and so on. Why do prospects and even salespeople use them? Simple. To avoid the messy problems associated with being specific.

The answers to “what” questions are steps that can be taken. The answers to “why” questions are rationalizations. Which one moves you toward managing salespeople?

Answer this question—from the customer’s “time to buy again” cycle, are you selling the same product today as the company sold 10 years ago? Twenty years ago? You may be tempted to answer “Definitely.” Reconsider. Car dealers are still selling cars, but twenty years ago, if a car lasted 50,000 miles with proper service, it was a miracle. Now cars routinely go more than 100,000 miles. Does this affect the “time to buy again” cycle?

Prospects, unless they have been hiding under a rock for the past 15 years, have so much more information available to read, see, and hear than ever before. This information has been showing up in their offices long before the salesperson ever shows up. Then, when the salesperson does show up, what is the prospect’s point-of-view?

Learn what the “pain” is that is preventing the salesperson from doing what is expected. Just as with a salesperson and a prospect, you can only learn what the pain is by asking questions.

Something was done in the past that did not work. As a result, ever doing that same thing again is seen as a waste of time. The list of things that “do not work” is added to over the years and handed down from sales manager to sales manager. The handing down to the newest sales manager usually happens pretty early in the new manager’s tenure.

Goals must be set individually. While one salesperson might be able to get 10 referrals from 10 current customers, another in the office might only get 5 referrals from 10 customers. If the first salesperson’s goal was 10 referrals and the second’s was 5 referrals, they both achieved a 100 percent.

The old saying that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions” might apply here. I could pick up the phone and call all my customers and get referrals, but I need to read this product literature. I could teach my salespeople how to make referral calls anytime I want, but at the moment they already have a lot to do.

How you stay in touch with your customers depends largely on how many you have and where they are in relation to you. However you stay in touch, do so in a personal fashion.

At 7am on Monday, Paul strode into the conference room and found, as he expected to find, all of his salespeople seated around the table. For the past six months, there had been a steady downslide in monthly sales figures. Worse, the margins were slipping even more. Most disturbing was the performance of his three top salespeople; while their monthly totals had remained the same, the margins were even worse than his poorest performing salesperson. As he reached the head of the table, his only thought was that “It’s time to kick some butt.”