How to find out what’s really going on with your sales organisation
What are the the 6 questions sales managers should ask about their sales teams?
One of your sales team has a great prospect lined up and they are pretty excited about the opportunity on the table for the company and for their sales targets, especially as they head into the next business quarter. They may be experienced at selling, and have been meeting similar prospects like this for years. Easy and they do it every day. So what’s the challenge here for them, for you and for the company?
There is always the risk of defaulting to tried and tested habits that have won them business in the past. A beginner’s mind is always a great mindset to have in your sales team. Here are 6 questions Sales Managers should ask inside your sales organisation, on a regular basis, to increase awareness of the selling behaviours and get more traction in your sales meetings.
1. How prepared are my salespeople for their sales meetings?
For any meeting, having a plan and a conversation strategy will get your sales people more focused, create a structure and strategy and make better use of their selling time. Why wouldn’t you plan in such a ways as to reduce the number of meetings to get to a close? There’s nothing more rewarding than making progress fast and increasing the chance of winning business.
So some key questions to ask, to find out how prepared the salesperson is for a meeting: Are all the decision makers going to be at the table? Obvious question, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to find this out beforehand. What are the key issues each decision-maker is facing? You might not know, but it’s worth a guess, based on their position in the company. What is the strategy for the sales conversation? What business issues can we focus on? What would trigger value for each of them and how are we going to sell that to the key stakeholders? How are we going to manage and progress the sales conversation? What is our outcome for the buyer at the table?
2. What is the focus for the sales meeting?
At this point, the salesperson should be demonstrating their ability to step into a higher frame to discuss business issues, acting in a business consulting capacity and exploring how these issues can be addressed with your company’s solution. Depending on the stage in the buying cycle, the salesperson may just be exploring what prompted the meeting, or exploring what is motivating the buyer to want to know more. They may have to focus on increasing the buyer’s motivation to move further into negotiation stage of the meeting. A focus on structure over sales pitch, will increase traction in the sales meeting and keep the sales person connected to the outcome and goal of the meeting.
Asking this question leads you to exploring how much thought the sales person has put into the substance of the meeting. What is this meeting actually going to be about for the buyer and decision-makers in the room? What is the theme and focus of the sales conversation? The decision-makers are there for a reason beyond writing a cheque. They have problems to solve and think your company can solve it or they want something better than they have right now.
The focus of the meeting should always be about an implicit promise to the buyer; that if they take the conversation further, there is some real value on the table. We are not talking here about a sales pitch, a demo or a testimonial, but a solution to their business challenges or future aspirations.
3. What range of behaviours are actively going on at the sales meetings?
When we talk about behaviours, we are talking about the communication skills and style of interaction going on. Rapport has been taught in sales training courses for decades. At this point, your sales people should be doing this unconsciously and competently. Rapport ranges from non-verbal, body language to linguistic rapport, to understanding and exploring mutual values. What’s even more important is the balance between literal listening and asking high-quality thought-provoking question.
Asking great questions is the fuel for directing the conversation to where you want the buyer to notice business acumen, understanding, pacing and supporting and a possible match for them. A lot of talk has been given to buying signals and I would invite sales managers to think about the signals the salesperson is giving; are they listening, are the responding from the buyer’s point of view, are they pacing the buying decision rather than rushing the sale? The difference between buying signals and selling signals is huge. The right selling signals motivate the buyer to explore more and accelerate their decision to buy.
4. What key actions are they taking to get the buyer to make decisions?
Actions are what you do linguistically to move the conversation along. It allows the buyers to draw positive conclusions about the salesperson and your company; that they are trustworthy, competent and intelligent, and have a good understanding of the business issues at hand.
We are talking about the ability to track and summarise and ask about what has been said; it’s about using the information given to take the conversation in a direction that convinces the buyer that you are worth talking to. If you do it right, the buyer will be making decisions in their head to continue the interaction, to ask more questions, and begin to emote on the value of having the solution on offer. In other words, they have positive impression of the sales person and want to know more.
The actions I am talking about here are what the person is dong to direct and guide the conversation so that the buyer sees it as time well spent and worth paying for, if they choose to. Ask your salespeople, what are the 3 key things you did that got this buyer interested, where they agreed to the next meeting or shortlisted the company for the final selection round?
5. Can people in my sales team explain the process they use to close the sale?
When I talk about a sales process, I am talking about the steps the salesperson takes, to guide the buyer into the future and imagine doing business with your company.
In summary, what we are talking about here is a conversational process to close the sale. I usually have 8-10 steps, which don’t have to always go in a particular order, but doing it right, will always increase the motivation for the buyer and consider the offering. Ask your salespeople to explain it, so that if it worked, you can replicate it across the team. Track it and write it down. What did they do first, and then what did they do? If you have an exceptional sales person who can repeatedly create this conversational process. Sit down with them, capture it, document it and replicate it across your organisation. It’s called modelling. The best people have a model in their head and when captured, it can be a best practice in your sales organisation.
6. Are my team able to explain how the buyer closed the sale?
I always say the buyer closes the sale, because, they are the ones who say yes. As a salesperson, the skills required centre on observing and tracking your buyers decision-making patterns. How buyers make decisions is where the real value in asking questions lies. Consider focusing weekly and monthly sales meetings around where key prospects are in the decision-making process. It can tell you a lot more and get your team to focus on the buyer’s view of the world, where they can be more effective in closing the sale.
CRM software puts salespeople in the tempting position of using their own biased thinking about how close their are to 100%. Of course it all depends how you measure the close rate. It doesn’t always tell you what’s going on for the buyer, but it does show you the level of optimism your salespeople function from. The buyers always close the sale, when they make a decision to say Yes. If you can get your salespeople to explain how the buyer made the decision, it will train them to view every buyer as unique and tweak their sales approach accordingly.
I talk a lot about buying filters when I work with sales teams and we always do a short profile on buyers and their typical buying patterns. We stick to 10 so as not to overwhelm them! An example of this is, whether a buyer looks at Options or Process, what motivates them, the past pain or the future possibilities, whether they are focused on the big picture or the details. So asking your salespeople, “what do we know about the decision makers in this organisation and how they decided to buy and can we map it?”
If you are a sales director or manager in a competitive industry, test these questions with your team at the next sales meeting and see what you discover. Questions empower and expand your sales team capacity to win more business. What would it take for your team to become more curious about how they create their success and how to have more of it?