If you have worked with as many sales professionals as I have, you’ll find that poor performance typically starts with leadership. There are 3 key areas that separate the bad from the good. Before you stop reading, just remember, this could be you. Ok, I hope you’re ready to put yourself in a position to win bigger than you have before.
First, salespeople will win for you if they buy-in to you.
Second, the sales process should provide autonomy with structure (behavior & process).
And third, don’t abandon the process, rather look internally.
I have spoken with many sales leaders about why they’re performing or underperforming. One of the critical areas that separate the two is buy-in. Buy-in is earned by the leader based on several key elements which include: communication relationship, gaining trust & respect, and achieving milestones with the process.
One of the major pitfalls that leaders have, is that they tend to think that everyone should communicate just like they do. Unfortunately, this is a major problem. Most sales agents are free thinkers and enjoy finding the answer to the “riddle.” A great first step for the leader is to understand the most effective way to communicate with the sales agent. Ask questions and let the agent find the answer(s). Provide scenarios like, “what do you do when…?” As you get responses, slowly start to change the mindset of the agent through behavior and process.
When a leader works to gain trust and respect, there are several factors which are critical. The leader must make time for the agent to get to know them personally and professionally. The leader must “do what they say they will do” and it cannot be overstated enough that the slightest things matter. If you schedule a meeting, make sure you’re on time. You must meet deadlines like providing commissions, approving PTO, etc.…
Many sales leaders tell me that the reward comes when the deal is closed. I would partially agree with this notion as results have to be delivered. When the leader is trying to create buy-in, there must be achievements along the process to show the validity in the process. It can take weeks or months to see the results based on the industry or niche. This is why there has to be a series of “wins” along the way. Break the sales process up in a series such as Step1: Greeting, Step 2: Understanding Needs, etc.… then figure out the “wins” to celebrate.
Secondly, many of the sales leaders that I work with say, “I don’t need a process, my team’s been selling this way for years” or “I can’t figure out what’s going on, we’ve been good for years.” These are just a couple of the hundreds of excuses I hear on an annual basis.
If you have a structure or you are creating one, you must find milestones which was discussed earlier, that show you that your sales agent is learning new skills within the structure. For example, if you take the first step in the sales structure which is usually some form of introduction, engage, greeting, etc.., find a good “say” and “do” that the agent needs to execute. If your goal is to build trust, then you may say something like, We’ve worked with many organizations just like yours, I’m sure you’ve heard of us, right?”
This will get a reaction from the client and then the sales agent may use another “say” or “do” to progress the conversation. The autonomy comes from allowing your agents to create their own “say” and “do” based on the structure. Some agents will need assistance and will need to follow more closely. This is typical, as change is hard, especially in a selling environment when every conversation will be different to a certain extent. The other challenge the leader faces is changing the agent in a small window. The longer it takes the more business is lost.
The more the agent buys into the leader, the easier it will be for change to occur. Many agents will have great ideas and add value to the process. This will add even more clout to the process and make it more potent. Lastly, the leader will need to provide guidelines with the amount of autonomy that will be given to ensure consistency is achieved.
This takes us to the last leadership keys, which focuses on the leader and the process. When sales leaders and agents don’t meet their budgets, blame typically ensues. Some of the typical responses I hear are as follows: I didn’t get enough training, the process is broken, our products aren’t good, our competition is too tough, etc. While some of these things may be true, the leader and sales agents should work together to find the best path.
When these challenges are presented, it cannot be viewed that everything has gone wrong, so let’s start over. The focus and energy of the team must be placed on the details of what happened and what can be slightly altered. This can be an extremely challenging task as many senior leaders will be wondering what happened.
I’ve unfortunately witnessed many leaders that make drastic changes to the process “to show” senior leadership that it was the processes fault versus their own. Here’s how to course correct the situation. First, take responsibility and then, don’t panic. There are usually several glaring culprits for the lack of performance. I’ve seen a lack of discipline within leadership where there is too much autonomy and before the leader realizes, no one is doing what’s expected of them.
There must be an accountability and rewards program focused on behavior and process and not just results. Next, look within yourself as the leader and ask, did I really do what I said I would do? Most of the time, it can be easy to say, “I was so busy” or “There isn’t enough time”, you get the point. The leader needs to look in the mirror and be different.
Lastly, where did you tighten or loosen the screws on the sales process throughout the year? If this didn’t occur, this is one of the major reasons why you lost. Nothing in sales or business stays the same. If you’re not changing you’re losing. Be a change agent for your team and organization. It starts with buy-in, a great process with autonomy, and finishes with trusting the process.