I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
Whenever I meet with sales managers, I ask them to do a quick exercise where they grade each of their reps on two factors: skill and attitude. After talking about the insights this gives the managers into their reps’ development needs, I challenge them this way: “This is a report card on your salespeople, right? …Wrong! It’s actually a report card on your sales leadership.”
I urge you to go through this exercise yourself. As you examine your “self-report-card,” ask yourself a basic question: Is what I see here – the current level of skill and attitude of my sales team – good enough to exceed our 2017 revenue growth goals?
If not, then you need to do three things right now to lead yourself and grow others more effectively.
1. Stop being everybody’s problem solver. You come to the office every day with a great plan for all the things you want to focus on and then BAM – you get an incoming problem. Then another department sends you an “urgent meeting invite”… and another rep has a problem to solve… and before you know it, it’s 5 o’clock and you just spent all day addressing other people’s priorities. Meanwhile you had no time to coach your salespeople for revenue growth which, by the way, is how your job performance will be measured this year!
Remember: Every time you do something that someone else can do, you prevent the accomplishment of something that only you can do – and that “something” is coaching salespeople for revenue growth.
Here are a few techniques for finding more time to coach:
When a rep comes to you with a problem don’t offer to immediately solve it for them. Instead, ask them, “What have you done about it so far? What do you think ought to be done next?” Pretty soon you’ll notice your salespeople will come to you and say, “Boss, I’ve got a problem and here are my best two solutions. I’d like to get your opinion.” They’re learning to think through problems, and be more accountable for developing solutions.
Think about what should be on your “to don’t list” not just your “to do” list! What are the timewasters that you need to stop falling prey to? These could be either situations or people, meaning “repeat offenders.” The people who are the most needy of your time and attention are probably not the salespeople you need to be spending the bulk of your time with.
2. Commit to consistent coaching. When I lived in a dry, hot California town for many years, my next-door neighbor had a good-sized front yard. During the summer, he would wait until the lawn was sickly looking and then put out his portable Rain Bird sprinklerand let it spew water for two hours. Clearly that water was either evaporating or running off because his lawn remained brown. My yard, by contrast, had a built-in sprinkler system that would pop up every day and water my lawn for maybe five minutes. I used less water than my neighbor but had a much greener lawn.
All too often, we sales managers delay a coaching conversation until the sales rep produces a bad result. Then we plant what I’ve come to think of as a portable “rain bird of coaching” next to the rep, crank it on full blast, drench them in “advice” (likely interpreted as criticism), and expect them to flourish. That’s not how people learn or improve.
In contrast, every month, I have 8 to 10 appointments that I am never, ever late for, regardless of what is going on or what is “incoming.” These include airplane flights – because the consequences of not getting to where I need to go are immediate and dramatic. If you can convince yourself that coaching your team is as important a priority as making an airplane flight, you’ll be a more consistent coach, and your team will flourish.
3. Do more early sales cycle coaching. Recently, a sales director asked me, “What can I do to help my team’s closing ratio?” I asked what she had done so far, and she talked about holding more pre-close meetings with sales reps to review all the steps and make sure the rep had done everything required up to that point. But it hadn’t done any good.
The sales director’s approach had a fatal flaw. You can’t improve closing ratios by going in at the end of the sales process. You have to fix what your salespeople are doing in beginning of their sales process, the steps they are taking to understand the customer’s buying process and needs. It’s in the first meetings when a customer decides whether they have a problem that your organization can fix and whether it’s worth their time to fix it. It’s also where, from the customer’s perspective, the size of the purchasing decision is determined. If you don’t get salespeople to probe those issues, no amount of finesse at the end stages is going to secure a deal for you.
Making this switch is harder than it sounds. Sales managers are, by necessity, results-oriented. But that instinct draws them to review deals only when those opportunities approach the close step.
Studies have shown that the most successful sales managers get better results because they spend more time coaching, and have better quality coaching conversations. You can join their ranks by expecting team members to be more accountable for doing their own problems solving, making appointments to coach salespeople – appointments that you think of as being harder to break than an encrypted password, and focusing on coaching reps and their deals that are in the early stages of the sales process. That’s how you create a great sales team, which is the best and only indicator of great sales management.
Kevin F. Davis is a sales management speaker and author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top.” For more information visit www.kevinfdavis.com