4 key areas that sales managers need to focus on
14 Sep 2006

Joe had a full day with 9 appointments. He comes back to the office with his head hung. The boss asks, “Did you sell something today?”

“Not one dang thing”, retorts Joe, “The competition is killing us!”

I just wonder how many salespeople and sales mangers have similar days?

A recent list of stats on salespeople from www.JustSell.com is as follows:

62% fail to earn the right to ask for a commitment!

86% ask the wrong questions and miss opportunities!

82% fail to differentiate themselves from competitors!

99% do not set the right objectives for the sales call!

95% talk too much and listen to little!

Now they did not supply the source of these stats, yet I would say they may be reasonably accurate. I talk to customers and business owners where similar concerns are expressed.

So let’s assume the numbers are fairly accurate and take each one and examine cause and cure.

62% fail to earn the right to ask for a commitment!
What does a salesperson needed to do to earn the right to ask? How about fully understanding the customer, understanding the value of their product to the customer and being a resource instead of a salesperson.

Yet the new salesperson comes on board and is bombarded with product knowledge and no selling skills. Another source indicates 80% of first year salespeople fail from lack of selling skills. So their only choice is to overwhelm their prospects with product because they have no other methodologies. Even more experienced people simple puke their product without regard for the needs and desires of the customer because that’s all they know. By the way, who might be responsible for a salesperson performing this way?

First they must earn the trust of the customer. This can be accomplished in several ways such as genuinely listening and understanding the customer and their situation. This creates trust, understanding and creates the basis for a business relationship. Now that there is some level of understanding and trust the salesperson has the basis for asking.

Doing pre-approach research can also help and yet even with the internet most sales calls have no preparation. In preparing for a recent call on an executive a salesperson invested one hour on the web. He found the executives home address, wife and children’s names and ages, the marathons he had recently ran, the colleges he attended, where he was born, his high school, several recent news articles that quoted him along with other information. This actually bothered the sales person that he could find that much information, but there it was! How did this change the sales call?

2. 86% ask the wrong questions and miss opportunities!

This I see in our training programs every time. Toss sales people into a mock sales interview and it becomes product puke or 20 simple questions. For what ever reason our society, education and culture doesn’t seem to develop the art of questioning. Yet the very basis of effective communications is understanding the other party. What is the most efficient and effective way to gain understanding? Questioning!

If we look at other professions such as Doctors, Attorneys, Accountants and Service People, they all have to ask questions to determine the proper actions. Yet the majorities of salespeople ask a few simple, and many times, obvious questions and figure they’ve done the job.

Effective questioning requires preparation, thinking of how to engage the customer, can we get them thinking about something in a different way and have them react to the question with actual thought. When this happens the customer is engaged in new thinking and the opportunities roll out for both the customer and salesperson to see.

3. 82% fail to differentiate themselves from competitors!

As a consumer that is purchasing a wash machine for your home, if all the machines seem to be the same, what is your main decision factor? Most likely it will be the price. If any of your customers see your company and product the same as your competition, they too make a choice only by price.

In working with sales organizations that sell products that are very similar and even the same brand, we still come up with ways to differentiate from the competition! This does take thinking and discussion time, which could be some of the most valuable time invested. This is why we introduced the concept of Reverse Engineering the Product. It causes sales people to view their products in a very different way and from the customers prospective.

4. 99% do not set the right objectives for the sales call!

“If you don’t have a plan any road will get you there!” The same could be said of having the wrong plan. Far too many times the only objective is to sell something. What happened to discovering if the customer is right for our company? What about new or different opportunities we haven’t uncovered? Are we talking to the right people? Could we discover a need and create a new product or service?

The key here is to understand there is a sales process and flow the customer goes through. The task of the sales person is to take the customer through the process to a conclusion. This can create multiple purposes for each call, not just selling a product.

But if all the salesperson hears is “Go out and sell something today!” their focus is on product, not on developing customers. What should be asked is, “What can you do today that will create and sustain a long term profitable customer?” Now you have a game plan and a reason for your actions.

5. 95% talk too much and listen to little!

This is the biggy! If this is addressed the previous 4 would change dramatically. In our training I run a test which even the most experienced sales people do not pass the first time. (Pete was the first in almost 5 years) It’s a simple test that requires one to carry on a conversation about anything by asking only open type questions. Most only make 4-6 questions and we ask for 20. The challenge seems to be the listening ability. Instead of listening to the other party, they are thinking about the next question. The secret is simple, listen and the other person will give you the next question!

Most sales people we work with find the questioning the most challenging aspect of the training. Yet when they understand the importance and the results of effective questioning, it stops being work. As we invest 25 hours of our 40 hour program on questioning, the Socratic Method of Questioning, the 5 Levels of Questioning and Reframing Questions are introduced. All are import skills for not only sales people but managers, executives and anyone that works with people.

A very smart sales manger said to me the other day, “I can give them the product and business knowledge, but I’m not equipped to give them the questioning and relationship skills.” An effective skills program that emphasize questioning, listening and relationships can counteract the 5 areas above.

For more on Reverse Engineering the Sale, The Socratic Method and the 5 Levels of Questioning, check out the web sites at www.BusArc.com or www.Hgoergerassoc.com.

Author's Bio: 

Harlan Goerger is the National Director of Training for Business Architects. With ove 25 years training companies of all sizes and types in Sales, Management and personal development. His recent book, The Buying Gap, includes new strategies he developed in his training programs to get you "yes" faster!
Harlan@BusArc.com http://www.BusArcOnLine.com