In conversations I’ve been having lately with prospects and clients, I’ll ask how well their sales professionals are performing on the job. Their answers focus on the more tangible areas of sales performance. They might refer to lagging indicators, such as where the sales person is in relation to quota goal, revenue attainment, number of closed deals, and growth vs. the prior year. On the other hand, they might reference leading indicators, such as the number of opportunities created, value in the pipeline, or number of calls or meetings with prospects.
Even with all of these proof points, what they’re not able to evaluate very well is this simple question: How good are they? How well does each sales professional perform during those crucial moments when they’re interacting with the buyer? This kind of assessment is important because it’s really where the rubber meets the road — in those human moments of interaction.
Part of what differentiates a seller in the buyer’s mind is being able to trust the seller and knowing that the seller understands the buyer’s business and the issues that the buyer face. It is the quality of interaction, more than technical knowledge, marketing materials, or the value proposition, that creates a connection and convinces the buyer that the seller has his/her best interests in mind.
So, when I probe to find out how sellers’ sales professionals are really performing when interacting with prospects, they often don’t know. They have no idea because, for the most part, sales professionals perform alone. They don’t have managers or colleagues who witness them in action very often. Every now and then, there might be a ride along or a final presentation that high-level executives from their companies attend. However, for the day-in and day-out interactions that they have, during which the prospect decides whether or not to trust the sales professional with his/her business, they’re on their own. No one really knows how they’re doing.
As a proxy, I’ll ask prospects about the sales training that they provide to sales professionals. How do they develop their sales skills? Often, they will respond by talking about the message platform that they provide, a set of insights, a value proposition model, or technical capabilities. Training tends to focus on products, marketing strategy, or knowledge about new offerings. What it doesn’t focus on is developing the actual skills to help sales people perform in those key moments of human interaction.
To me, they’re missing the boat, and the solution seems basic. Sales leaders need to understand the set of critical selling skills that come into play during times of human interaction. What are the consultative selling skills necessary to prove to prospects that you truly understand them? What are the ways to build credibility and trust? Is active listening practiced? Are questioning skills honed? They need to continually develop their people and reinforce the importance of these intangibles, which ultimately lead to achieving tangible results.
From an organizational standpoint, instead of just measuring leading and lagging indicators, sales managers can more effectively coach their people to improve in those areas of interpersonal skills that matter. Through scenario-based training and role modeling, they can reinforce the knowledge, skills, resources, and motivations that encourage people to take ownership of changing their behaviors.
Whether or not sales leaders directly observe their sales professionals in interactions with prospects or coach in a way that asks the right questions of the sales professionals in order to understand what is happening, they should commit to collaborating with their people so that they can continually improve their craft of selling in interpersonal situations.
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