Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull
MANY YEARS AGO, I was a pilot in the Royal Air Force. My basic flight training was exacting to say the least. Some of my instructor pilots were excellent. Others were less than satisfactory, not because they couldn’t fly airplanes well or indeed explain what maneuvers would be flown in a training sortie. It was because they lacked the ability analyze performance and provide feedback so that their students could make the necessary adjustment is the next time they flew the maneuver.
The sales manager who sits in the office all day poring over sales figures and forecasts, holds regular sales meetings to convey these to his team, and tries to determine strategies to improve sales without watching his salesmen perform in the field is only doing half the job. Yet field performance analysis can be tricky to accomplish for a number of reasons. Firstly, how does a manager assess the performance of a salesperson in something as dynamic as a selling situation? It is hardly fair for the manager to attend a sales call and then berate the salesperson for failing to close the sale if the client has no budget for the purchase or indeed a need for the product or service offered!
Secondly, respect or subservience to the sales manager often means that the salesperson will feel conscious during the course of the sales meeting and may defer to the sales manager, allowing him to conduct the proceedings. If this happens, the salesperson will make little or no contribution to the sale and there will be no opportunity for the sales manager to provide feedback and coaching.
If the manager is to conduct field coaching, it is essential that the exercise be structured. It is unfair (and less than productive) for a sales manager to drop in on a sales call being conducted by one of his salesmen. He should take the time to sit with the salesmen prior to the call to plan out what must be achieved during the call. This may be done up to a week ahead of time. Where possible, an established client should be chosen. The sales manager must give consideration to the stage of the sale that the client is in. For example, is it a first call on a new client? How much work has gone into prospecting and qualifying the client? What is known about the client? All of this should be discussed at length with the salesperson. The next determination is what is to be achieved during the course of the sales call. On many occasions I have discussed setting objectives for sales calls. The manager must make sure that a clear objective is set. This might be to secure a further meeting with someone more senior, or to gain agreement to conduct an ocular inspection of existing installed equipment.
The sales manager must also gain the agreement of the salesmen that the objective is realistic and can be achieved. The objective should then be written down. The sales manager must explain clearly that the call is the salesperson’s and that he will not play any major role during the forthcoming meeting other than to observe. It should be stressed that the joint call is being made for positive reasons; so that the sales manager can assess performance and provide feedback and coaching if necessary. The first few times joint calls are made, there will be some degree of trepidation on the part of the salesperson, however, providing he can see the value of this activity, he will quickly learn to accept this as normal and look forward to the opportunity of demonstrating his abilities.
The salesperson should be the one who makes the appointment with the client. In other words, it should be his call. It is not fair for a sales manager to set a sales call with his own client and then ask one of his salesmen to accompany him and conduct the sale. At the start of the sales meeting, it is a good idea for the salesperson to introduce his manager as a “colleague.” To introduce him as the sales manager will inevitably lead to the client asking questions directed to the more senior man. Alternatively the sales manager may take the time to explain to the client that he is only present to observe, although this strategy tends to create an artificial situation.
During the call, the sales manager should listen carefully to the salesperson and the client, noting any points he might want to make after the call is over. He should avoid interrupting and, if possible, defer to his salesperson to answer any questions put by the buyer. After all, the call must be seen as the salesperson’s and not the manager’s.
Immediately after the sales call, the manager should sit down with the salesmen to discuss the call in detail. I do not subscribe to the manager identifying all of the things that the salesmen did wrong during the call. Rather, he should give his salesperson the opportunity to review the call himself. The first question asked during this feedback and coaching session should be whether the objective for the call met. If it was, the manager can ask the salesmen what he felt contributed to the call’s success. If it wasn’t, he should ask the salesperson what might have been done differently to affect the outcome. An effective question that can be used in a session such as this is, “If you had the call to do again, what would you have done differently and why?” This allows the salesperson to review his performance and indicate what that he might improve on the next occasion.
The manager can now provide feedback and, where possible, this should be done in concurrence with the salesperson’s own assessment of the call.
Managers would do well to remember that giving coaching and feedback is not only about identifying mistakes. If the salesperson has done well and performed effectively, it is essential that the manager positively reinforce these behaviors.
This process of attending sales calls has other value as well. It certainly helps the sales team understand the manager’s role in helping them achieve targets and close sales. It also allows managers to identify what is going on in the field and use this as an opportunity to provide general or specific advice to the sales team at weekly meetings.
Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.