Category: Sales management

Supporting struggling salespeople through a dry patch

Most salespeople will go through a dry patch at some point in their career. Often this is only temporary, caused by focusing on the wrong things the previous month. But sometimes, these dry patch can cause confidence to drop, which then leads to a longer period of poor results.

This lack of confidence encourages people to work contrary to best practice…

How to be a great salespersonWhat strugglers do
Make enough callsMore emails, fewer calls
Open calls with impactTentative openings
Be assertive in meetingsBe led by the prospect
Actively look for objectionsAvoid objections
Overcome objections confidentlyGet defensive
Close the dealWait for the prospect to close

So you see, a dry patch can quickly become a longer-term drop in performance if the salesperson isn’t adequately supported.

As a sales manager, there are a number of techniques at your disposal to help the salesperson to recover their form.

Sales micro-planning

Note this is micro-planning, not micro-managing! It’s about coaching salespeople at a granular level of detail, to help them improve their skills. You shouldn’t need to tell the salesperson what to do – they have this knowledge inside them somewhere – it’s about questioning them in very small steps to help them come up with the actions they need to take in order to lead the sale to a positive conclusion.

Using targeted feedback

Feedback is about sharing your perspective on the salesperson’s actions, and the impact those actions have on the progress of the sale. It may be followed by suggested actions, or you might just “shine the light” on what the salesperson is currently doing, then let them come up with their own solutions.

Removing excuses

Salespeople often have excuses for why they’re struggling. The problem with excuses is that they disempower the salesperson from doing anything to improve. As long as there’s something external to blame, they’ll just keep working in the same way until things change – which they often won’t!

A typical excuse could be “I don’t have enough leads”. You know, as their manager, that regardless of the number of leads the salesperson is getting, there are things they could be doing to increase their sales. These are things like:

  • Plugging some holes in their pipelines
  • Finding their own leads
  • Asking for referrals from existing clients

Your goal is to get them to realise this. If they fail to realise that they have things in their power to do, then you might need to tell them.

You can ask questions to encourage action. For example:

  • “What would you do if you had zero leads?”

The salesperson will probably then come up with some actions they could take, such as cold calling. Follow up with:

  • “Well you don’t have zero leads, but could you take these actions anyway to improve your sales?”

Once you’ve removed the excuses, what’s left is actions which can be taken. This empowers the salesperson to make changes to the way they work and brings them out of their dry patch.

Driving salesperson performance using pipelines

Sales pipelines have been used for many years to increase salespeople’s likelihood of hitting their targets. The concept is simple yet effective:

– Leads go in at the top
– Sales come out at the bottom
– There are holes in the pipe on the way down which potential sales leak out of

There are then 2 ways to ensure that more sales come out of the bottom of the pipe:

1: Put more leads in at the top
2: Plug the holes

Pipelines have “stages” and at each pipeline stage, there’s the possibility to lose sales, or for the sale to continue through the pipe.

Pipeline stages are often created to be company- or role-specific. Around this, there are two approaches you can use:

1: Salesperson actions
2: Customer responses to salesperson actions

There’s no right or wrong, but in terms of benefits:

1: This approach is more tangible and practical, particularly for junior sellers
2: This approach is more closely aligned with the probability of buying

At Navanter, we use simple options for each:

Salesperson actions
– Qualify
– Probe
– Match
– Close

Customer responses to salesperson actions
– Attention
– Interest
– Desire
– Action

You now need to think about what needs to happen for sales to move through the pipeline.

Each stage has inputs and outputs. Inputs are what has to feed into that stage, and outputs are what goes out of that stage and into the next.

Within each stage, you have tasks. These are the actions the salesperson needs to take to get from the input to the output on each stage.

For example, look at probe from the first model. Here’s how that might break down:

A qualified lead.

Enough information to provide a proposal.

Task (to coach the salesperson to carry out)

Ask a wide range of questions to fully understand the opportunity in order to put a proposal together.

As you get used to working with pipelines with your team, you’ll begin to realise that salespeople have diverse strengths and weaknesses, and you can begin to share knowledge between them to upskill them on the tasks required to get from one stage to the next of the pipeline.

You can have two salespeople who have the same number of leads going in at the top of the pipeline, and the same number of sales coming out the bottom. But on the way down, they might be losing sales in different places. This is a great opportunity for you as their leader to share skills and best practice across the team.

Making individual sales measurable (part 2)

Now that you understand SPACECHAMPS and the importance of information in a sale, you can work with your salespeople to take a more strategic view of their sales on an individual basis.

As you’ve already learnt, strategy is all about knowing where you are, where you need to be, and how you’ll get there.

First, you need to assess the current situation to accurately understand your As-Is. And you need to know that for every letter of SPACECHAMPS.

Next, you need to map out the steps required to get from where you are, to where you want to be. This could be knowing who to speak to, what to say, or anything else that gets you the information from SPACECHAMPS that you need.

Now you’ve got the plan, you need to encourage (or coach) your salesperson to carry out the plan.

Finally, you need to review how you and the team performed against the plan to help you to perform as well, or even better, next time.

So, you know the As-Is and you know the final goal, but what makes a reasonable To-Be for a sales person? This needs to be something that can be achieved in the next 2-4 weeks.

A useful exercise to do internally, is to put RAG descriptors in place for each letter of SPACECHAMPS. Here’s an example which you might use for Competition 1.

Competition 1
R: I don’t know who I’m competing against.
A: I have identified the competition and have a strategy on how to eliminate it.
G: I have eliminated all the competition, and am the only option this prospect is still considering, confirmed by my Sponsor.

Now, you can help your salespeople to take a strategic view of their major sales in order to maximise their chance of winning the business.

Making individual sales measurable (part 1)

As a sales leader, a common problem you’ll come across is how to measure the effectiveness of your salespeople. You’ll sit down in a one-to-one to go through a sale with them and the rep will give you the gold-plated version of how things are going. It’s very hard then to establish what went well, what could be improved, and what needs to be done to maximise the chance of winning the deal.

Even if you attend the meeting with the sales rep, their relationship with the customer and the way they speak can create a misleading perspective on what’s needed to close the sale.

For these reasons, you need to be able to accurately measure the success of your salespeople so that you can coach them through improvement.

Using SPACECHAMPS™ to measure sales call performance

SPACECHAMPS is an acronym which can help you and your salespeople to identify all the information that needs to be gathered to progress a sale, and for you to coach your salespeople in what steps to take next to close the deal.

SPACECHAMPS stands for:

Who on the client side will help you to win the business?

Who makes the decision and how does the decision get made?

Aware of needs:
Are you aware of all the client’s needs in the context of their business?

Competition 1:
How will you differentiate yourself from the competition?

What impact are problems causing for the client?

Competition 2:
Who does the client compete against and how can you help them differentiate themselves?

What hoops do you need to jump through to make the work happen?

What makes you attractive as they choose a supplier?

How much budget is there and how do you get it?

Is this one-off work or is there greater potential for the future?

When does the client want to see results and what is the timeline to achieve that goal?

If you know all the information, you maximise your chance of closing the deal. Unfortunately, many salespeople spend more time telling the customer why they’re great than really understanding how to close a sale.

Let’s look at one of these as an illustration: Power.

Power is all about knowing who has a role in making the decision. And in a complex sale, it’s rarely one individual, but a web of interconnected stakeholders, all of whom have different priorities, desires and drivers in a purchasing decision. If I take the simple view, I could say “I’m in touch with the CEO so I just need to convince this single person that this is the right solution.”

But in a complex sale to a large organisation, the CEO often isn’t close enough to the problem, and doesn’t understand it enough to make an informed decision. The CEO doesn’t make a decision alone – s/he will take advice from people they respect lower down the organisation, which will inform the purchasing decision. And although a salesperson might feel the CEO is bought in, if other stakeholders haven’t been considered, they could be sending negative messages up to the CEO as they might personally prefer an alternative option.

By knowing which stakeholders we’re in touch with, which stakeholders are decision makers and influencers, and what their individual drivers and business perspectives are, then we can ensure we’re selling the dream to influencers across the organisation. Then, when the CEO asks for opinions from others, we can do our best to ensure they’re positive.

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