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Kenneth W. Keller: Tough selling points for bosses

Brain Food for Business People

Posted: March 9, 2010 10:17 p.m.
Updated: March 10, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
It's easy to tell those in sales "be grateful you have a job," but that won't win either hearts or minds. It will only make people angry. No one in sales wants to be unsuccessful.

Something different has to be done. Otherwise, the sales team members will believe they are living the role of Charlton Heston in the movie "Ben-Hur." On board the Roman war galley, having gone from prince to slave, Heston and the other slaves are told to "row well and live."

From a management perspective, one change that can be made is to go from commander in chief to chief cheerleader.
Barked orders and negative reinforcement have lost impact in the past couple of years. Instead of telling sales people how lucky they are to be working, how about following one of Stephen Covey's seven habits, to "seek first to understand than be understood?"

Salespeople don't come to work for your stuff; they come to work each day to earn "their stuff." It's been tough trying to sell much of anything these days that isn't an essential.

And salespeople, those egocentric folks who believe if they didn't perform magic every single day with the clients, the company would vanish, have been hurting.

In this economy many salespeople have lost confidence in their own abilities and in the products and services they are selling. It is role of the person in charge to facilitate turning this around.

According to Greg Winston, a seasoned sales trainer, there are five steps to creating confidence. The first is knowledge of self. This means that the salesperson has to know what his or her strengths and weaknesses are; what works for them in selling and what doesn't; what they know and what they need to learn; and what they need to practice getting better at.

The second step to turning around a lack of confidence is to understand where resources are within the company, so a salesperson can go for information and assistance when it is needed. Being in sales is tough enough without having support.

The third step to strengthen confidence is to know the entire product line, but to learn it one product at a time. Most salespeople settle for selling the one product they feel most comfortable presenting, to the exclusion of the rest. This means the salesperson is essentially one-dimensional and may be leaving opportunities to the competition.

The way to learn the product lines a company sells is to become not a "jack of all trades, master of none" but an expert in each product. Doing this takes time and commitment, but it is worth the investment both short term and long term.

The fourth way to rebuild confidence is to use the "buddy system" to keep motivated, keep learning and to keep doing what people in sales are supposed to do: make sales calls and follow through. Procrastination and lack of accountability are easy traps to fall into; having a buddy to team up with keeps the focus tight and movement going forward.

The fifth step in confidence enhancement is to build a vision. All too often, salespeople work very hard to get the immediate order to gain satisfaction and results. But the better salespeople work toward the end game of a vision, which provides the determination and focus when things don't go well.

One method of increasing the level of engagement of salespeople is to hold three meetings each week. The first meeting is a daily stand-up situation meeting where all the salespeople present their top three objectives for the week. Meeting each day and verbalizing the objectives in public reinforces the need to take care of business by the deadline.

The second meeting is a short one-on-one meeting where the sales manager meets with each direct report to build and then to reinforce the personal vision of the salesperson, coaching those actions as needed, behaviors and habits that must be executed in order for the goal to be reached.

The third meeting is a training meeting. The first part of the training meeting is on product knowledge; the second half of the meeting is devoted to "sharpening the sales saw."

Product knowledge is critical to build confidence individually and to increase sales to clients. This learning is probably best done by each salesperson taking a single product and teaching others.

The second half of the training meeting is on the critical aspects of selling often assumed to be known and already practiced by salespeople. Those skills include listening, manners, note-taking, time management, overcoming objections, asking for referrals, presentation skills and the fine art of asking questions.

Nothing happens in any organization without a sale. It's the responsibility of the person at the top to lead the charge to help those responsible for revenue generation to become the best they can.

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Brain Food for Business People" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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