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How To Coach Sales Reps On The Fundamental Structures Of A Sales Call

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The job of a sales manager is to help each and every one of your people achieve more than they would have achieved if just left alone.

How are you helping your people achieve even more by coaching and helping them increase their Operational or fundamental selling skills? How often are you riding along and then offering coaching advice to your reps?

One of the best ways to help strengthen a salesperson’s selling skills is to observe them in front of their customers by riding along on some sales calls. This allows you to observe and evaluate exactly how they handle themselves in front of real customers. How many sales calls a month are you making with your salespeople so you can help them improve their skills and sell more?

Do You Know What To Look For When Riding With A Sales Rep?

Do you what to look for and how to coach an experienced sales rep on a sales call? A major inhibitor to a lot of sales managers riding and coaching their reps is that most sales managers never went through fundamental sales training themselves when they were in a sales position. So now, as a sales manager, they aren’t sure exactly what to look for or how to provide helpful coaching advice.

Learn From Your Golf or Tennis Coach

The only way someone can help you improve your skills is they have to first understand, and be able to analyze the components, segments or steps of what you are doing in more detail than you already know. How effective would your golf lesson be if you asked your coach to improve how far you hit the ball and all they offered was for you to try “whacking it a little harder this time.” A golf or tennis coach is only successful when they can understand and analyze the steps or components of your swing and then offer advice about how to individually improve each of the components of your swing. So how solid an understanding do you have of the steps or components of the foundations of selling?

The Skills And Structures Of Selling

There are three sets of selling skills a salesperson needs to master. The first set of skills are called your Operational of foundational skills of selling. Operational skills include your product knowledge, your ability to utilize the steps of a sales call and some type of personality flexibility information.

The second set of selling skills deal with your Tactical or process and structural skills. Tactical selling skills include your ability to define and follow a multiple stepped process to discover and sell a new customer; the steps and plans over a year to maintain and grow an existing customer; and your ability to get “higher, wider and deeper” within your customer’s political environment.

The third selling skill set involves your Strategic or philosophy and positioning skills. Strategic skills include your ability to communicate your message of competitive uniqueness by being able to briefly answer a customer asking you “Why based on all the competitive alternatives available to me do I want to buy from you?”

Strategic selling skills also include your ability to maintain your “big picture” communications of your overall philosophy or approach while still covering all of your product or service details.

Successfully coaching a sales rep involves working to improve their skills and awareness in all three levels. Strengthening Operational selling skills improves a salesperson’s persuasive consistency. Improving Tactical selling skills helps a salesperson become more efficient and effective in their selling processes. Increasing Strategic selling skills enhances your ability to communicate your uniqueness and brand.

Strengthening A Salesperson’s Operational Selling Skills

In this article we’re going to focus on the three most important Operational ideas or skill areas to look for and then offer coaching advice when making sales calls with any member of your sales team.

#1 - Watch For The Steps of A Sales Call

The first and most fundamental Operational skill is your reps understanding and ability to follow the steps of a sales call. The steps of a sales call are really just the defined steps of effective persuasion. The steps of a sales call are defined as:

  1. Lower a customer’s resistance so they are more open to your selling message by talking about something personal or about their business.
  1. Ask questions to learn, uncover selling opportunities and to qualify your customer.
  1. Present your solutions in an interactive manner (by asking lots of questions as you present).
  1. Close, asking for the order or some type of partial commitment to some part of your selling process.
  1. Agree or set up your next contact or communication so you keep control of your selling process and have a reason identified for the next time you meet with this customer.

Next time you ride with a rep observe if they actually follow these five steps in the proper order. A common mistake made by sales reps is they will lower resistance, and then ask their customer some questions that uncover an opportunity. As soon as they identify their newly uncovered opportunity they immediately present something about their company or products to the customer. After discussing that feature or idea they then go back to asking more questions. This “question, then present, then question, then present” style of selling only tends to increase a customer resistance to the sales rep and their message. It’s important to maintain the flow or energy of persuasion by asking all of your major questions to uncover a customer’s needs and selling opportunities before you then move into presenting your solutions.

Other common errors to look for are: your sales rep not asking for some type of closure or commitment or they don’t establish some type of agreement to their follow-up or next call. A selling relationship is dead if a sales call ends with the customer telling you “I’ll call you if I ever need any of this stuff.” It’s critical to maintain control of an account by always being the one responsible for some type of follow-up or next communications. Otherwise the reality is your customer will never contact you again and you have no way or excuse to persuasively re-contact with this customer or prospect.

#2 - Who’s Doing All The Talking During Their Sales Call?

The next most important fundamental Operational skill to watch for involves your rep’s ability to ask questions and to get their customer or prospect engaged and talking.

How many times has this happened during one of your sales calls? Your customer or prospect takes only a few seconds to ask you a question like “Why are you so expensive?” Your sales rep then takes several minutes to answer your customer’s challenge by explaining all of your uniqueness, value and justification. Throughout the call your rep has this interchange: the customer taking a few seconds to ask a question followed by your rep taking several minutes to answer and explain, followed by another short customer question followed by your rep’s multiple minute response. So by the end of the call what percentage of the entire call did your sales rep talk? Though your call was interactive your rep still did as much as 90% of all the talking on the call. How persuasive of a meeting will the customer feel they had with your sales rep if they did less than 10% of the entire calls communications?

There are several reasons a sales rep wants to ask questions on a sales call. The first and main reason is to learn from your customer or prospect. But another reason is to generate energy and involvement in your customer by getting them to talk, lower their resistance and to share their challenges or needs. Another reason to ask questions (especially when you already know the answer) is to help position something important so you can revisit it later in your call.

But most sales reps ask too few questions during their calls and take too long responding without including their customer in the communications. Look at most trade show selling. Because most sales reps have never been trained on either the steps of a sales call of effective trade show selling all they do is talk when working a booth. A customer comes into your booth asking something as simple as “What’s that?” or “How does that work?” and then the sales rep does 100% of the talking for the next five minutes as they blast through their standard presentation. How many times have you visited a trade show booth and were never able to ask another question after your initial inquiry?

Though a 50-50 sales call is best. A good rule of thumb is a sales rep should do no more than 60 to 75% of the talking on a call. You increase your persuasiveness and your connectivity with a customer when they’re an involved participant in your sales call. What can you do the next time you ride with a rep to insure they actually let their customer talk?

#2 - Who’s The Star Of Your Rep’s Sales Calls?

A third important fundamental Operational skill to watch for involves where your sales rep directs all of their attention and comments during a call. Your sales rep has two choices during a call, they can focus their attention and comments so their products or services and what they can do are the stars of their presentation or they can focus on the benefits and value their customer or prospect will receive if they choose to do business with you. This goes back to the comment my Dad always said that I’ve covered in earlier articles; that you don’t go into the hardware store to buy a drill but instead go in because you want to buy the opportunity to make holes.

The majority of sales reps only tend to focus on their products or services explaining why they’re so great and provide such value. So they tell a customer about their high quality products, their strong levels of support they offer, how competitive their pricing is and how the customer will get them and their great assistance if they buy.

But customers really don’t care about you and your stuff, they only care about their challenges and their stuff! How effective will your sales reps be if they only talk about the value and uniqueness of what they can do for their customer when your customer really only wants to hear about what you can do to impact and improve their opportunities or business challenges.

Look for examples to show your reps how they can improve their persuasive communications if they shift their focus from themselves and their “this is why we’re so great” presentation to more of a customer focus of “this is why our stuff will provide you with the most value.”

Can You Increase Your Operational Coaching Efforts To Help Improve Your Sales Rep’s Consistency and Effectiveness?

Helping your sales reps to sell more than they would have if you just left them alone begins with you helping them improve the consistency and persuasiveness of their selling efforts. Take more time this month to ride along with your reps to look for ways to help them identify, and then improve their ability to sell and communicate. And don’t assume it’s only your junior reps who need this type of Operational coaching guidance. I bet your going to discover your experienced and more successful reps are still making as many of these three Operational mistakes as your junior people are making.

As the manager and leader of your sales team we know you’re good, now the question is, are you ready to get better to increase your Operational coaching skills so every member of your sales team can become an even stronger and more consistent selling professional?

Jim Pancero