Help Reps Shift From Intuitive to Structured and Consistent

Do you have professional salespeople on your team?

Of course almost all sales managers would answer yes, even when it’s not really the correct answer.

What’s your definition of a professional?

The best definition I’ve heard of a professional is based on their consistency of performance. Describing someone as a professional is also saying there’s an expectation that they, as a professional, will have a consistency in their ability to perform and produce. Do you want to increase your customer’s perceptions that your team members are professionals? Then we need to increase your sales team’s ability to consistently act and respond, following some type of pre-defined and tested structure or process. Without consistency there is no professionalism!

Structured and Consistent Selling Best Practices

Today’s quality programs call these pre-defined and tested structures or processes “best practices.” The goal of any “best practice” is to have a researched and proven system, process or structure that’ll help your people, when they follow your “best practice” to increase the consistency and ultimately the professionalism of their selling efforts.

Sadly though, most sales organizations have few “best practices” defined and in place for their sales team.

Defined “Best Practices” include identifying the steps of a sales call you and your team have found work best for your selling environment and customers. They also include defining the prospecting steps or “best practices” you follow, from the time you identify a new prospect until the time you close your first significant sale. What about the “best practices” you’ve defined to help maintain and grow your best accounts over a year?

An organized and focused sales team will function more like a police ‘SWAT’ team than as a bunch of independent gun fighters. ‘SWAT’ teams practice and rehearse to insure all understand and can immediately implement the “best practices” for any team action, and all members of a ‘SWAT’ team learn and benefit from any single individual’s mistakes or experiences.

But independent gun fighters, the philosophy of most sales team’s today, believe that each territory; each customer; and each sales rep’s style; are all so unique that it would be impossible to identify, much less follow, any consistent process or stepped structure.

How many “best practices” have you and your team defined, and an even more important question is, how many of your defined “best practices” are your sales team members tracking and following on any type of consistent basis?

The Challenge Of Shifting To A Structured Selling Philosophy

So why do so few sales teams have any organized or defined “best practices” of selling and account management?

Most salespeople are completely intuitive in their selling efforts lacking any kind of defined structure or process. This intuitive approach to selling is usually first caused because the majority of salespeople have never been through any type of formalized sales training where they were taught the basic processes, steps and structures of selling, the foundation “best practices” of selling.

Because of this lack of formal sales training it’s not surprising that most now only approach selling as an intuitive art instead of as a structured science. You can test this out, just ask any member of your sales team to define the steps of a sales call, the most basic structure in selling. Most cannot define the steps and they sure don’t think of them when selling in front of a customer.

An “intuitive” focused sales rep utilizes their feelings or “gut reactions” to decide what to do next at an account. They tend to be constantly re-inventing their selling processes and structures since they rarely apply the same sales steps or structures to multiple accounts. They also don’t tend to think many moves ahead because without any kind of defined steps or structures they constantly keep changing their plans and “next steps” as they progress through an account.

The Job of A Sales Manager

So how can you shift your sales reps from their current random “intuitive” selling approaches present in most teams to more consistent “Best practice” selling processes and structures?

Well, that’s where your job as a manager or leader of your sales team is supposed to come in. The most important goal of a sales manager is to help each and every one of your salespeople to achieve more than they would have achieved if you just left them alone.

Two of the best ways you can help each of your salespeople achieve more in their job is by first driving a shift in their habits and selling efforts, and then second, by working to better define and validate the “best practices” your team needs to follow.

Shifting Behaviors In Experienced Sales Professionals

The best sales professionals all tend to have strong egos and are fiercely independent. This independence is also one of the greatest challenges you now need to overcome if you want to make your team more consistent and focused in their selling efforts.

You can’t define any selling “best practices” if each member of your team believes there’s a different, and better way, to do just about everything in their job.

As you work with your team you’ll need to make sure they feel you’re working to define and clarify their ideas or “best practices.” Due to their strong egos they’ll be more willing to work to define a selling process or structure if they feel it’s being based on what they’ve already proven works.

Start Meeting To Define Your Selling “Best Practices

The best way to begin defining any selling “best practice” with your team will be by picking one of your most important selling structures to work on first. You’re more likely to get the support of your entire team if you start working on a selling process or structure that your team feels is most important to everyone’s selling success.

It will become easier to define additional selling “best practices” when you can get your first “best practice” defined, agreed to, and consistently followed by your entire team.

Start By Defining Your New Business “ID to Close” Selling “Best Practice

Defining your new business “identify to close” selling process is one of the best places to begin your team planning efforts. Most salespeople have never quantified their steps of processes required to sell a new customer, but most sales managers would like to immediately increase the amount of prospecting being done by their sales team.

On a white board or flip chart draw a horizontal line with an arrow drawn on the end of the right side of your line. On the left side of your line write “Identify” and on the right side just before your arrow write “close.” The arrow pointing to the right after the close signifies your selling process will continue after your initial close or first significant order.

Now you have a visual showing the path or “best practice” you want to follow from the time you identify a new prospect opportunity until the time you have closed your first significant sale to this new account.

Now you want to start brainstorming with your team to identify all of the major steps or efforts that, when consistently followed, will have the greatest probability of you winning the business and closing the sale.

Of course there’ll always be unique situations or challenges with each account. But the “best practices” of selling are based on the philosophy that it’s better to have a defined process that works 90% of the time, but still requires minor tweaking or adjusting, than it is to have no defined process and to assume you need to invest the time and effort to redefine the steps you want to follow with each new account.

Try these steps to work your team through developing your new business “ID to Close” selling process.

First ask each team member to write down the new business steps they believe work best today. You want each person to write down their own answers first so you can see where each of your people are today. If you start off with everyone shouting out their opinions your meeting will be dominated by your most senior players with your junior reps just nodding their head in agreement.

Now start to build a common starting list of your new business steps by adding each reps answers or opinions to your list.

Now that you have at least some structure identified it’s time to start challenging your list to see what else needs to be added. Ask each of these questions one at a time to help fuel your reps thought processes and creativity:

  1. How many of the steps you’ve identified are just the reactive steps of selling that do nothing to increase your selling or competitive advantage? “Submitting your proposal to the customer,” though important, is still a reactive step that does nothing to increase your selling uniqueness or advantage. How many proactive steps can you insert into your process? Proactive steps are efforts or activities that you initiate and that, when implemented, help promote your uniqueness and value. What can you and your team do to add more proactive steps to your list?
  2. Do our defined steps include anyone besides the sales rep doing anything at the account? Most initial stepped lists from reps only include the things the sales rep needs to do and tends to ignore defining how anyone else can contribute to winning this new business. What about adding any steps or actions that involve you and the rest of your management team? What about technical or installation preparation and support?
  3. Do any of your defined steps include efforts to get “higher, wider and deeper” within the prospect? Most sales reps sell to too few contacts within an account. Just talking to a financial buyer like a purchasing agent; and a technical buyer like a plant supervisor; might be what your competitors are doing, but we’ll increase your selling advantage and odds of winning the business if we can get you to go “higher, wider, and deeper” into the prospect’s account than your competitors. Are there steps you can add that’ll get you higher, wider and deeper?
  4. Do we have any steps aimed at communicating and proving our overall selling philosophy and market uniqueness? Do we have anything defined that’ll help us prove and validate our claims of better value and support?

Once Defined You Now Need To Test And Validate

Once you feel your new business prospecting “best practice” steps are defined and agreed to by your team it’s now time to validate your new stepped process.  And the only way to really test out your newly defined process is to start using it to see if it really works. You want all members of your team to agree to utilize and follow your newly defined steps. You, as their manager, also need to constantly be referring back to your defined steps any time you’re talking about a new account with one of your team members.

Initially you want to debrief with the entire team every time a new prospect process is completed, whether you won or lost the sale. You want to go back and review what your rep did and how closely it followed your newly defined steps. Are there additional steps we need to add? Does our order need to be rearranged or improved? Only by debriefing and discussing your process will you be able to identify if it does indeed work. By constantly talking about it you’ll also help drive your team to be using it on a more consistent basis.

Best Practices” Only Stay Alive When Led By A Manager

Selling process or structure “best practices” will only stay in place and be utilized by your team as long as you keep these processes alive. You as the sales manager need to be constantly talking up these processes and reminding your team members of their importance.

Any time a rep asks for help on a new account you want to start off the conversation by asking “So what step are you on now?” and also asking “And briefly tell me how you followed our new business steps to get you to where you are today with this account?”

Turning Experienced Independent Gunfighters into A Selling ‘SWAT’ Team Takes Work

So how do you feel about these selling “best practices?” Does it make sense to work to shift your salespeople from their current intuitive selling steps where they keep making it up as they go along? This type of shift in selling habits and efforts has to be led by a manager and will only stay alive within your team as long as you maintain a dialogue and attention on your team’s defined structural “best practices.”

Success in selling today is based on being able to have a sales team who can consistently sell as professionals. And that consistency begins with the definition, and ongoing implementation of, the “best practice” systems and processes that’ll help your team increase both the efficiency and effectiveness of their selling efforts.

As the manager of your sales team we know you’re good, now the question is, are you ready to get even better and committed to lead your team as they shift to a ‘SWAT’ Team selling philosophy and follow your defined selling “best practices?”

Jim Pancero

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