Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

Five Steps to Frictionless Feedback

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Dec 04, 2018 @ 11:12 AM

63645866_s_FrictionlessFeedbackSix years ago, I wrote an article on how to give feedback. It was narrowly focused on how the brain processes criticism. As an executive coach, I'm frequently asked for the best way to give constructive feedback and I'm still stunned at how many people try to insert negative comments into a "sandwich" with two positive-sounding bread slices on either side. Even though we have all been on the receiving end of such a tactic and therefore probably know it doesn't feel good and isn't motivating, many of us still do it and wonder why we get friction and resistance to our generous offers of help.

After reading the research from many world-class business thinkers, extensive personal training in neuro-strategies, and 30 years leading several companies, I'd have to be in a deep sleep not to pick up a few tips on human behavior. If your role includes helping people change their behavior and you want to be more effective and encounter less friction, I hope you find some useful distinctions here.

As I was pulling my notes together for this article, I came across Forbes.com contributor, Dede Henley's warm-off-the-press article on this very topic as it applies to millennials. No matter how old the subject, there is always room for fresh perspective. Millennials' nearly continuous social interaction puts them in a different category than earlier generations. They have developed and evolved certain norms of interaction that are foreign to non-digital natives. As leaders adapt to the unique managerial challenges that many (though certainly not all) in this younger group present, the lessons learned will bring them more success with other generations as well. What works for millennials will work for others, but the reverse is not necessarily true, as any frustrated boomer knows.

I revised the original article to keep up with new research, to add fresh experience, and most importantly to share the topic with a wider audience than my necessarily finite list of clients. I hope you find it useful. Please send me your feedback, which I will graciously accept whether you do so in a manner consistent with the use of the tools presented here or not!

Giving Feedback

What if you ordered a baloney sandwich and just as you were being served, both slices of bread were swiped away leaving only the inside part?  You might feel annoyed and hungry for something better than just a pile of baloney.  When coaching your staff, feedback is an important tool. However, many often use the same idea as the sandwich. They give criticism but sandwich it between two pieces of positive encouragement, thinking that approach will somehow soften the blow of the criticism. It's sometimes referred to as the "criticism sandwich!"

Research has shown that this approach is surprisingly ineffective for several reasons. Nobody remembers anything you said before the criticism and no one believes your positive comments that follow the negative ones. That leaves them with only a stack of baloney and a bad taste in their mouth.

This practice was studied by Clifford Nass and described in his book, The Man Who Lied to His Computer.  The brain goes into full alert when hearing negative criticism and enters a state called “retroactive interference” which results in nearly total memory loss of anything said prior to hearing the criticism. It might take minutes, hours or even a couple days for the memory to disappear, but your brain simply forgets the words of praise that precede criticism. If asked later if there was any positive feedback in the discussion, one simply can’t remember. 

But another interesting phenomenon occurs when giving criticism. In that same heightened alert state, one also experiences a new sense of awareness that Nass calls “proactive enhancement.”  You’ve got their attention, so now they are ready to listen and absorb whatever you say next. This is where managers miss an opportunity.  Most managers provide what they regard as a soft landing by giving positive-sounding generalities when the person they are coaching is open to hearing real and specific reinforcement. In our heightened state of awareness, it's hard not to notice the useless generalities as mere padding. Thus in our effort to be positive, we simply annoy. Haven't we always known that the two pieces of bread are nutritionally deficient? Turns out they don't work in conversation either.

Henley's article talks about feedback in relation to millennials. They don't like the typical workplace feedback because it doesn't align with social media norms. When they post a picture of their lunch, for example, feedback is immediate and positive. "Delish! Salivating for pomegranates! Where are you?," they write.  Compare that with, "I'm not getting the output from you that I was hoping for, Stanley." They will tune you out because in their view, you don't get it and you don't understand them. Managers, of course, are responsible for the output of their teams, so it's important that they "get it" if they want to have an impact. 

Perhaps the millennials are onto something important about the human brain. Reading about the research on criticism above, one can't help but notice that our reactions are more intense than we might have expected. Our brain literally sheds information it only recently processed, and then it goes into a heightened state. Those are big shifts.

Our brains treat feedback as a threat. Threats put us into a state of fight or flight, or what Daniel Goleman calls an "amygdala hijack" in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. The amygdala is that small part of the brain just above the spinal cord, often called the "lizard brain," that takes over in stressful situations, pushing aside the involvement of your conscious mind. "Back off, I've got this," it says, adding, "You're too slow for this, and we're in trouble here."

Yes, the conscious mind is too slow, which would take a whole book to explain and thankfully, Daniel Kahneman already wrote it, Thinking Fast and Slow. When you ask the hero why she dove into shark-infested waters to save the drowning man, she says, "I don't know. I didn't have time to think. I just did it." Exactly. If we are meeting with a person whom we are trying to help, knowing what we now know, who would invite that person's amygdala to the conversation? How do we keep the conversation thoughtful and genuinely helpful, without inspiring an attack of mental re-wiring and selective amnesia.

Clearly, we need to improve on the sandwich-lizard-brain-retroactive-interference-help-me-skipper model we've been using for years, right?  When coaching your sales force, the goal is improving sales effectiveness with honest, useful feedback. Criticism is important if you want to improve a specific behavior, but effectiveness is a function of intent and delivery.

Positive comments are still an important way to encourage the behaviors that are already working. Let's talk about how to express what you need to change in a way that will be heard, and not just by millennials, but by anyone. When you want to see positive behavior changes, master the following five steps and instead of charging into a wall of resistance, you'll be basking in the glory of frictionless feedback:

The Five Steps to Frictionless Feedback

1. Provide Coaching, Not Feedback

The problem with feedback lies in its context. Hey, can I give you some feedback? See how that feels? For some, it brings pangs to the stomach, even when they are just words on this page that couldn't possibly pertain to you. Feedback has a corrective connotation and is often associated with the dreaded annual review. Reviews seldom improve results and usually only serve to provide cover for postponed drama. 

Coaching, on the other hand, is more of a process that by it's nature is collaborative, mutual, and centered on continuous improvement. And for all of millennials dread of feedback, they love the idea of always improving. Coaching, done well, is set up as a process; it's a regular and expected part of the relationship. The purpose is understood. There's always a lesson or takeaway. It gives one a sense that the manager is investing in their success. One of the most informative articles on coaching salespeople that I have read comes from my colleague and world-leading sales master and Hall-of-Famer, Dave Kurlan. Sales managers who want to get this right could become absorbed for days in the information and corresponding links found in his article.

When changing a behavior is important, shifting away from providing feedback and moving toward an environment of coaching will get better results, especially if the intent is a positive and nurturing environment rather than just getting results. Consider adding these components to your coaching when you notice a behavior that needs to change:

2. Set the Tone

Your tone provides the signal for how you feel about someone. In Dede Henley's article mentioned earlier, she writes that it's helpful to ask permission. I learned from neuro-strategist, Steve Linder, several years ago to say, "Do I have permission to coach?" Henley suggests saying, "I have a perspective I would like to share. Would you be willing to hear it?" I like that, too. What's important is that you are priming them to listen and making them a collaborator in the process.

My colleague and leading sales expert, Chris Mott, in this article, provides excellent advice on how to frame the discussion for minimal pushback. He makes the excellent point that setting up the relationship at the outset to include regular feedback minimizes resistance later. When it's time to provide feedback, first ask permission, then tell a story. He writes: “I was hoping we could take advantage of our agreement to openly discuss areas for improvement. Do you mind if I share something with you?” Then tell a story they can relate to without making them the protagonist: “I know we have been under a lot of pressure lately. My experience is when I react to the pressure, I lose sight of the big picture. This can make me less aware of how others perceive me even when I’m trying to do the right thing.”

3. Clear Intention

It's critical that they understand your intent. Have you noticed that it often doesn't matter if the evidence you shared with someone is irrefutable, or that what someone said made tons of sense, because your conversational "adversary" seems only to care about the source. "Who said we all want to feel good about ourselves? Oh that guy from the TV show? I don't trust anything he says!" Knowing the source of the information becomes a shortcut to understanding the intent, and the intent determines whether the information will be absorbed and used to change our thinking or our behavior. Intent makes it easier to attach meaning to what you are saying; we don't know how to feel about something until we assign a meaning to it.

If you do not already have a coaching channel established that's an expected part of your relationship (see Chris Mott's article), make sure they know why you are asking to coach. "I'd like to help because I want to see you become wildly successful." This works because it presupposes two things: A) they can become wildly successful, and B) you believe they can, so your criticism can be seen in that context. In sales management, coaching is where today's top managers spend half of their time. If this channel of communication isn't well established with all of your people, it's much more challenging to get the results you seek.

4. Stick to Behaviors

Is the person the problem or is it just their behaviors? If we stick to the behaviors, then it's not about who they are anymore. We also have to be careful not to generalize or distort. "You always do that," appears to address a behavior but it is dispiriting because if gives them no credit for the times that they haven't "done that," and doesn't acknowledge that you are even aware of those times.

When we stick to specific instances of specific behaviors in which they have control, it helps us put the problem in the proper context not only for them, but for ourselves. We can still be grateful for this person and for who they are, while remaining firm that the behavior needs to change as it relates to the task. Be very specific. "I noticed you didn't push back when your prospect said he wanted to think it over. Understanding why they want to think it over might tell us what we missed in our discussion." This counts for positive comments as well. "I love how you asked her questions based on what she just said instead of from some pre-determined list. That really made her feel heard." 

5. Make It Actionable

Coaching works better when it includes the recipe for improvement. Always provide actionable steps alongside the coaching so that they understand how to do it even better the next time. An ideal coaching session always ends with their lesson learned or top takeaway.

One of the most useful coaching tools is role playing. In a sales environment, one of the action steps usually includes having a conversation that covers a specific topic, or readdresses an area that might have been missed the first time around. Describing the topic is helpful to a point. Role playing it embeds it in our heads. One can hear what it will sound like coming from them and give them practice so that the real conversation isn't the first time they are saying.

Not role playing is like getting a piano lesson where the teacher hands you the music and describes the score to you without letting you play it for them. Imagine a rock band performance where the first time you played the piece was at the concert. What might the band leader say afterward, "I don't get it. We went over what this piece should sound like many times. Remember when I said to play softer in the eighth measure. Jeez you guys!" Role playing isn't always comfortable at first, but managers who lead the way into their own discomfort set an example for their people who are committed to improving.

What's important is that the person you are helping has a clear idea of what to do differently. Your action plan should include steps they can perform applying behaviors in which they have control. 

Eliminating feedback friction and resistance starts with a mindset and it takes practice. Set up the relationship from the outset to move toward a coaching culture. If the relationship is several years old, frame it as a reset and ask for their help so you can move toward increasing their skills and your own, and eliminate weaknesses, non-supportive beliefs and other head trash so they can achieve their goals more quickly.

I hope you found these tools helpful in the context of your leadership role and especially helpful for anyone with direct reports. Unless you have perfect self-winding people who exceed quota every quarter without any input from you, then you have faced the challenges described above, whether they were millennials or any other category you care to describe. Have you made coaching a part of your culture? Do your people regularly come to you for help?  Do you personally seek advice and feedback in your own organization? When it’s time to serve feedback to your staff, are you a critic or a coach? What steps do you take to make sure your people are served with a balanced and useful diet of advice and coaching or are they often left with a pile of baloney? (No offense to baloney lovers.)

 

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Dennis Connelly is Senior Sales Strategist at Kurlan & Associates and 30-year owner and co-founder of multiple businesses in manufacturing, chemical technology, building materials, importing, and contracting. He now helps executives in dozens of industries from media to technology, from manufacturing to professional services, to remove obstacles to growth and unleash massive hidden sales potential.

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Photo Credit: Copyright Denis Ismagilov (123RF)

Topics: sales and sales management tips, frictionless feedback, coaching culture, coaching salespeople, growth mindset, Feedback, intention

How an Evaluation Avoids Sales Training Failure

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Oct 08, 2018 @ 18:10 PM

69481636_s_Pre-Evaluating-MakeRightChoiceSix months ago, a large agency asked me to deliver a sales training program for their business development team. After listening, I recommended a detour that led to something rather unexpected. The business development/sales team at this company was a dedicated sales group with the goal of setting up new business that would supplement the business that was generated by repeat clients, by agent networks, and by inbound marketing programs. The company didn't believe the sales team was gaining much traction, resulting in wasted resources, particularly their marketing spend. So what was going on?

Why weren't they making enough connections with their leads? And when they did make a connection, why weren't they converting the lead into a conversation? Why weren't they gaining traction? What was wrong and how did it happen?

In July, I published a blog article that addressed the 7 Sales Training Success Factors and how to avoid sales training failure. If you missed it, read it here. By reader demand, I am doing a deeper dive into each of the seven factors. Tackling them in no particular order, I addressed Factor 3 in this article regarding the Trainability of Salespeople and the important role of Commitment. Factor 6 was explored in this article on Salesperson Training with Sufficient Time Scale which focused on the Learning Journey of salespeople and included some interesting research about memory. Today, we'll talk about Factor 1, and how and why pre-evaluating avoids sales training failure.

Getting back to our agency example, why was the dedicated sales team unable to reach prospects and set up the necessary conversations with their experts? Could it be an on-boarding problem? Could it be a training problem? Could it be a problem with recruiting and selection? Could it be messaging? Could it be sales process? Could it be coaching? Could it be accountability? Could it be motivation? Could it be their sales DNA or the presence of hidden weaknesses or what you might call, "head trash?" Could it be that this particular group just didn't have the selling skills? Or perhaps, could the company's expectations be unrealistic?

Looking at this another way, what if they had the right people, with the right skills, and the right DNA, but weren't on-boarding, coaching, nor motivating them adequately? What would standard sales training accomplish? How should the solution be designed to target the existing problems and build on their strengths? Might we focus more on management training in this case? 

What if they were on-boarding right, aligned in their messaging, had a motivated team, coached them properly and held them accountable, but were doing all this with sales people who weren't in the right role? In other words, management gets it, but they're spinning their wheels with the wrong people. Might we focus on structure, human resources (HR), and recruiting training?

What if management was doing all the right things, and HR was doing the right things, and the right candidates were selected, but they were failing anyway? Might we look at systems and processes, skills training, and overcoming hidden weaknesses?

So the problem in this agency could be summarized as stemming from one or more of these three major categories:

  1. Management
  2. Recruiting/HR
  3. Salespeople

And we could dig considerable deeper into each of these. For example, if we're talking about salespeople, in which of the 21 sales core competencies are they deficient? For an even deeper dive into understanding salespeople and the 21 sales core competencies, read Dave Kurlan's excellent article on that here. When we understand why they aren't getting the desired results, a training program can be designed and executed that will have sufficient impact. Without that foreknowledge, a sales training program that's broad enough might help, but it might not work, and we might not know why.

What was the problem with the agency I mentioned? We took a valuable stutter-step and evaluated the business development team first, and what we found surprised all of us. The team members, across the board, were missing enough crucial elements among the 21 sales core competencies that sales training would have been a waste of resources. They didn't desire enough success in selling or they lacked commitment to making the improvements to achieve whatever success they desired, or they weren't motivated enough, or their outlook was poor. In short, they were missing too many of the crucial elements that compose what many might simply call "grit." 

So I recommended against training the salespeople. Usually a pre-evaluation tells me what to train. In this case, it told me not to train. Instead, we worked on putting people in the "right seats," as Jim Collins put it in his oft-quoted book, Good to Great. Training was refocused to help HR and sales management. The sales team wasn't ready. 

What's the takeaway? One of the reasons sales training fails is because it either isn't appropriate for the team or wasn't designed to address the specific issues, competencies, and reasons related to the lack of results. Interestingly, this isn't the most important factor of the 7 Sales Training Success Factors as revealed in this article, but you can probably see why it's the most important first step.

 

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Watch Dave Kurlan speak about the value of a Sales Force Evaluation:

evals

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Topics: sales training, recruiting salespeople, coaching salespeople, sales training failure, sales force evaluation, sales management, Jim Collins

7 Sales Beliefs that Cut Through Internal Politics

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Feb 04, 2018 @ 12:02 PM

Don’t you hate when you have a great prospect and you’re about to close, and your offering makes a ton of sense and you know you can really help, and then poof, the deal is scuttled by internal politics? Or am I the only one? From the salesperson’s vantage point, outside the company, isn’t it interesting how clear it is to tell who the people are that care about the company and who are just thinking about themselves? It can drive you crazy: “Don’t you see what this person is doing!?” And yet, within the company, there doesn’t seem to be enough will or even understanding to do anything about it. In the interest of delegating, so it goes, oversight gets neglected.

 Article_020518_46637022_s_politics.jpg

The larger the company, it seems, the more likely that is to happen. But it doesn’t have to. Selling to larger companies adds a political dimension that is as important to the sales process as any of the critical stages, milestones, and steps we build into an effective sales process. As if selling isn’t hard enough, without adding a seemingly random roadblock, unconnected to the solution.

I hear frequent stories from my clients describing internal politics that slow progress and halt deals. The details of each story are different, but the themes are the same and the behavioral psychology is often familiar. Humans behave like humans. Failing to understand that and failing to plan for it, as the saying goes, is planning to fail.

The typical story goes like this: Their salesperson, Ethan, might tell us that the company's CEO, Janet makes all the decisions. "But we’re meeting with Dave, who expressed that he wants to move forward with our proposal. Dave’s head of procurement." But then there's Jim in operations, who used to have a bigger position. "Dave likes Jim. He brought him to the firm from a company where they both worked in the past. It doesn’t seem like the company has a lot of confidence in Jim because they moved him from running all of operations over to 'national projects' which was obviously a made-up role, but they let him keep his VP title. And Jim, of course, has an opinion about the deal even though our solution affects him more or less indirectly."

"I think Dave’s protecting Jim," Ethan might say, adding "Jim actually likes us but he has no clout. And Dave wants to move ahead, I think. But Dave is afraid to talk to Janet because he doesn’t want to put his neck on the line." Enter Michele, who is a procurement specialist under Dave. "She thinks we’re a good fit for the company. Actually, I don’t know if she thinks that but she likes me personally and we hit it off because we both had similar theories about what’s going to happen next on Game of Thrones."

"She said Dave and Jim are having trouble getting together on exactly what to do." Jim, of course, needs to demonstrate that he's still relevant. "It’s a rare clash between these two friends." I don’t think I mentioned that Janet is indifferent to us and to our solution, but since Dave isn’t communicating the details of our deal to her, we don’t know what she knows nor why she would care. Oh and one more thing. He's been working on this deal for eight months. "We’ve had lots of 'really great' conversations," continues Ethan, "and a 'no' is just a 'yes' delayed, right? But they haven’t exactly said, no." They’re getting closer to agreement, and to moving forward, and to getting Janet involved, but the progress report at eight months sounds a lot like the progress report at four months.

Sound familiar? Though this is a simple example for illustration purposes, there are clearly politics at work here. Do politics play a role in selling your products and services to your customers or clients? Are you coaching your salespeople through this kind of sales-process-gone-sideways, regularly?

  • What is really happening here?
  • What should be done about it?
  • How do you avoid this from happening again?
  • How much time has been wasted?
  • What is the cost of chasing this deal?

These are the common questions that come up when politics gets in the way of an otherwise compelling solution. In this case, the salesperson, Ethan, was trying to speak with Dave and Jim to understand their relationship and help them get on the same page. The theory was that if they could agree on how to move forward, together they might be able to convince Janet that this is a good idea. They just needed to get aligned and frankly, grow some… er, courage.

But was this the right choice for the salesperson, given the politics of that specific environment? We often get caught up in the value of our solution and then get frustrated that it’s not moving ahead, especially when, duh, “it’s a no-brainer.” If we don’t understand the internal politics, however, we won’t be able to sell in those environments. Instead, we’ll be limited to simpler interactions, selling to an end-user or a decision maker with few other influences. It’s safer and easier, of course. However, mastering politics in sales opens up far more opportunities for expanding your market.

Mastering politics doesn’t mean you’ll close every deal. Selling in a political environment means cutting threw the noisy communication cross-currents, undercurrents, and general kicking under the table in executive meetings, to find the path that will get you an answer. Sometimes it’s trial and error. The value in getting this right is high, regardless of the outcome of the sale itself. Here’s why:

  • If you win the deal, you increase your business.
  • If you lose the deal, you move on so you have time to win other deals and increase your business.

In other words, work to move the deal along, as early as possible, to get a decision either way. The mistake is wasting time chasing woozles around trees. So where do you think it went south in the example above? How did Ethan, after spending so much time on this deal, find himself running in circles around a clump of trees with his friend, Piglet?

 

Article_020518_Politics-WoozleHunting

 

Ethan told his manager that he was frustrated but that he felt that if he could get Dave and Jim to the table again, and hash this out between them, he could get the deal back on track. What would you tell Ethan to do?

Remember the opening line. “Janet makes the decisions.” If the solution is right for the company, then Ethan does them a disservice if he fails to close the deal. He’s caught up in a political eddy between Dave and Jim and missing the real issue: Janet is not getting what she needs for the company to progress. Ethan needs to get to Janet. Obvious, right?

And it’s at this moment where our beliefs might get in the way. “No, you can’t just go around Dave!,” you might say. “They’ll never do business with you again.” In addition to this one, there are variety of other beliefs that could prevent us from looking at the problem clearly and doing the right thing in this situation:

7 Non-Supportive Beliefs that Get in the Way

  • I can’t talk to the CEO. Or, I can’t get to the real decision maker.
  • I can only talk to CEOs after talking to purchasing.
  • I don’t want to step on people’s toes.
  • Pushing this deal is being aggressive.
  • I don't want Dave to dislike me.
  • I need to be patient when they can’t decide.
  • People who don’t want my service will eventually buy from me.

What would happen if we re-wrote these beliefs so that they were more supportive? We don’t need to debate whether the belief is right or wrong because the answer, oddly, doesn’t make a difference. It only matters whether it is supportive or not to selling.

7 Supportive Beliefs that Cut Through the Politics

  • CEOs want to talk to me because I help them.
  • I talk to CEOs early and they trust me.
  • I tell the truth and serve my customers.
  • I’m assertive and pushing forward is my job.
  • I don’t need to be liked. My prospects respect me.
  • I bring a sense of urgency to closing that helps people make a decision.
  • I don’t waste time with prospects that don’t do business with me.

Using these new supportive beliefs, how can we clarify the appropriate next steps on this stalled opportunity? Recognizing that every situation is different, politically, in this case we see that Dave and Jim are working out their new relationship with Jim’s “demotion.” Dave expressed that there’s a compelling case for the deal, but isn’t driving it forward. He’s putting off Ethan, the salesperson, with an endless back and forth dialogue with Jim. Waiting for them to work things out might take a long time, and the emotions associated with fixing their problems with our service will dissipate.

The key to this is the CEO. We need to get to Janet and find out if there is urgency to solve the problem. Dave was the right person eight months ago but we have to recognize he has failed to play the role he should be, and has lost sight of the value, or might never have seen it in the first place. It’s been too long.

So instead of waiting another eight months, the simplest solution is to pick up the phone and call the CEO, get an answer and move on. But wait, Janet is likely to put us off or ignore us. Remember that Michele is involved and we hit it off. So call Michele and have her send the CEO an email telling her that she recommended that you call her and to expect a call from you soon. And this is just one approach. I’d love to hear your ideas. What would you do? Write an answer in the comments section below.

In the context of supportive beliefs, notice that the political solution presents itself once we clear the obstacles of our beliefs and get out of our own way. Janet wants to speak to me because I can help her. She trusts me because I tell the truth and I will serve her. Because I’m assertive, I pick up the phone and push ahead in the best way I know how. Dave, Jim, and everyone else will respect me when I help them get rid of their headaches. My sense of urgency to close is more powerful than the excuse of Dave and Jim stalling. And I’m not wasting any more time when I can get a decision either way, right now, and move on.

There is always a constructive path through the political noise. When our beliefs support selling success, it’s easier to find it. For sales managers coaching through this, use your position as an objective observer to find the real problem for the salesperson. In this case, Ethan was caught up in the stories and forgot his purpose. Questioning this deal with Ethan throughout the process, in the context of coaching, usually resulted in a retelling of that week’s tails and tragedies in an endless saga. Queue the sound of the needle scraping across the record. Stop. The stories all mean one thing: the deal isn’t getting done and now you’ve become part of the story, having been sucked into the vortex of the politics.

The more players there are, the more opportunities there are to find or construct a path toward a solution and decision. The more confusion and personal tensions within the company’s political realm, the more you become the provider of clarity and reason to the conversation, so politics don’t scuttle your next deal.

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Note: If you’re a sales manager, sales VP, director, or CEO, and you want to learn how exceptional sales coaches help their team continuously improve, you won’t want to miss our spring Sales Leadership Intensive at Kurlan & Associates Training Center near Boston, Massachusetts on May 22nd and 23rd. You’ll also learn to shape your environment, motivate your team, recruit like the best, and hold everyone accountable. Be prepared to work. It’s a packed two days. Click here for details. As a reader of my blog, this special link will give you a $100 discount.

 

Image copyrightAndriy Popov

 

 

Topics: sales and politics, internal politics, great sales management training, coaching salespeople, self-limiting sales beliefs

The Emperor's New Sales Brochure

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Oct 27, 2015 @ 14:10 PM

In a coaching call early this week, my client asked me a marketing question that I hear quite often but never wrote about until now. To answer their question, I am going to divulge research results from a study we did here at Kurlan & Associates that up to this point, has not been widely shared by Dave Kurlan, who conducted the study.

We get a lot of marketing questions but it should be noted that our primary area of expertise is sales and not marketing. We are concerned with the “top of funnel” hand-off from marketing to sales, however. And we are also concerned with the role that marketing can play to position products and services in alignment with sales messaging so salespeople will have better conversations. That's why we tend to get questions related to this crucial hand-off period.

So what was the question? It was this: “Would it help our cold-calling efforts to send out a brochure to prospects prior to calling them?” Have you ever asked that question? Have you tried it? Did it work? I bet it did. But I bet you’ll be surprised by the results of our study.

Here’s how the study worked. We divided prospects randomly into three groups. Let’s call them Group A, Group B, and Group C. To each group, we either sent a brochure ahead of the cold call or we didn’t, according to this schedule:

Group A
To Group A, we instructed our client to make a normal cold call. We did not send a brochure prior to this call. This was our “Control” group.

Group B
To Group B, we sent out a brochure to prospects. We then followed up with a call that started with, “Hi, this is so-and-so from such-and-such. Did you receive the brochure I sent you last week?”

Group C
To Group C, similar to Group A, we did not send a brochure, but we made a cold call and instructed our client to start the conversation with, “Hi, this is so-and-so from such-and-such. Did you receive the brochure I sent you last week?” If you noticed that Group B and Group C said the same thing, then you are one very astute reader.

So Here’s the Summary
Group A: No brochure sent. Cold-called the prospect.
Group B: Brochure sent. Followed up with a call asking if they got the brochure.
Group C: No brochure sent. Followed up with a call asking if they got the brochure.


Photo Credit: ©blotty/123RF.COM and Dennis Connelly

And Here’s the Results
Group A, the cold-callers, were able to convert the call into a meeting one out of 10 times. 1 in 10.

Group B, the folks who sent the brochure out first and then followed up with a call, did much better, converting twice as many calls into meetings. 2 in 10. So now you know the answer to at least one question. It’s better to send out a brochure first and then call. You will have a much better conversation rate than simply cold calling by itself.

Putting ethics aside for a moment, there are two reasons why you might want to try what Group C did – either you are pressed for time and don’t want to wait for a mailing, or you are short on stamps and don’t want all that return mail clogging your actual brick and mortar (or aluminum) mailbox. There’s a third reason I should mention that you might want to try what Group C did, which is that their conversion rate was three out of 10 calls. 3 in 10. This is 50% more than group B and 200% more than Group A. This result surprised us. We were expecting it to be the same as Group A and certainly no better than Group B.

How can this be? There are a few explanations that appear to be at work in Group C and not in the other two. 

  • Group C knew in advance that the prospect hadn’t seen the brochure so there was no worry about their opinion of it
  • They had a useful conversation starter
  • The prospect, feeling a little guilty for not seeing it, might have given them a little extra consideration
  • Knowing the prospect’s answer ahead of time gave the salesperson more confidence

So now let’s get back to ethics. Do you really want to start off your relationship with your prospect with a lie, acting as if you did something you didn’t do? Keep in mind that with Group C, there was no brochure sent at all. What made the difference was the mindset of the salesperson.

So how can we learn to bring the more successful, Group C mindset to the call every time without dishing all the bullcrap? Which skills and what hidden weaknesses might be holding us back?

  • Do your salespeople develop early rapport?
  • Are they confident and credible?
  • Do they ask questions easily, and listen carefully?
  • Are their positioning statements aligned with prospects real issues?
  • Can they create urgency?
  • Do they recover from rejection quickly?
  • Do they have excellent sales posturing?

How many of your salespeople can be developed to hunt and close new business effectively? How well does management coach them and hold them accountable? How motivated are they and what actually motivates them? Are you training the right people? How many cannot be trained? If these are top of mind questions for you, a sales force evaluation will answer them. Click here if you would like to learn more about that.

By getting salesperson selection right, training and coaching existing salespeople, and ensuring alignment with leadership and corporate goals, you will improve the quality of your sales organization. You will improve sales efficiency, preserve margins, and create more success for you and your people.

 

Photo Credit (Top): ©MarinaGallud/123RF.COM

Topics: sales force evaluation, sales training, sales recruiting, sales candidate selection, Sales Coaching, coaching salespeople, hiring sales candidates, coaching sales managers,

The True Meaning of Sales Coaching

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Sep 23, 2014 @ 09:09 AM

14563945_s-weights-CoachingThere is sales coaching and there is sales coaching. Let’s talk about the latter. The most important skill to master for sales leadership and effective sales managment is this one. As a sales coach for sales managers, sales VPs, and CEOs, I see what works and what doesn't work when working with salespeople. I have watched sales managers push through to a find a new, more effective way of coaching their people to greater success, even when coaching a seasoned veteran who is already successful.

The best analogy I can use for this skill set is exercise. Practice, as you may already know, does not make perfect; it makes permanent. So to achieve more effective sales coaching, we have to know what better is, and then take it one incremental step further with every session.

To do this well, one must spend at least three times per week for 30 minutes coaching salespeople. Help them push through a problem to gain better understanding. A formal, structured, planned coaching session every day is even better. The session must go deep enough to tax the brain a little. And the result is growth.

Are you ready to hear two surprising truths about coaching? Okay.

Surprising Truth #1: The best managers spend 50% of their time coaching.

The company grows through improvements from the their team. That could mean adding territories, adding sales people, and/or making the existing people better. It is the sales manager’s job to grow the company through sales. Read my earlier article on how sales management is the most important job in the company.

Companies suffer without creating a sense of urgency among their team. Therefore, regardless of other growth strategies, managers must be working on improving the existing team. Executives must help clear a path for managers to spend their time coaching, motivating, and holding people accountable. Coaching is the number one priority, however.

Surprising Truth #2: Ongoing daily interactions with salespeople about their opportunities is not coaching.

Many managers believe that because they are frequently interacting with their team about all of the different opportunities and deals that they are working on, that they are coaching. But this is like saying that because I walk around all day and walk up the stairs occasionally, I’m exercising. Rather, this ad hoc interaction maintains current abilities, and does not lead to improvement.

So let’s get back to our analogy.

  1. Three times per week minimum: Exercising twice per week maintains current levels of fitness; exercising three times per week or more creates growth. Properly coaching three times per week leads to improvements and mastery.
  2. High Intensity: Exercising with intensity leads to growth; exercising at low levels maintains current fitness. The equivalent to "intensity" in coaching is to dive in more deeply, digging in to find the root issues, and finding the sometimes hidden diversions from sales process resulting in more “aha” moments, even for veterans and top sales people. I’ve witnessed this over and over. Our best people benefit from coaching.
  3. Variations: Mixing it up leads to better all around fitness and less injuries. Working the whole body is critical to long-term health. In sales coaching, work on the pre-call strategy one day, a post-call debrief the next day, sales process another day, and identifying and working on hidden weaknesses yet another day. The consummate sales person is a whole person who is able to listen, respond, show curiosity, and bring all of his or her character to the conversation.

Can your people coach effectively? Can they help all of your people to be even just one increment better every day? Do they tolerate non-performers too long? Will they take a discussion deep enough to find a lesson? Do they have the trust of their people? Are they seen as a master? Do they create a sales environment conducive to growth, energy, and enthusiasm? Are they in the right role? (Read Chris Mott's article on this subject here.) Are they building a culture of constant improvement?

What’s working well in your sales organization? What could make it better? Click here if you'd like to find out if your managers can achieve the level of skill required to meet your corporate objectives. And here is a link to a case study of a real sales force evaluation. A sales force evaluation will give you the action steps required to achieve your vision of success. If you are selling into a sales channel, you might be interested in reading Part 1 of my ongoing series on channel sales management. 

Evaluation Checklist

 

Photo Copyright: mindof / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: coaching salespeople, sales leadership effectiveness, coaching sales managers,, constant sales improvements, evaluate the sales force



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