If you’ve got sales reps working for you (really, if you’ve got anyone working for you), and you’re getting all the accurate information from them that you need, then read no further. If you need any more accurate information than you’re getting, read on.
A SALES TEAM PROBLEM
Engaged and high-performing sales VPs and sales managers are telling me about a problem they’re having with their reps. “My reps aren’t communicating well with me. And sales cycles are too long.” Sound familiar?
Maybe broken communication and too-long sales cycles sound like two problems, not one. I’m combining them because solving internal communication problems can shorten sales cycles. And the same fears that prevent communication also interfere in sales relationships and prohibit rapport building.
You ask your rep, “Rep, how’s it going with the Smith & Co. account?” Your rep smiles and replies, “It’s going great.”
Best case scenario, you and Rep are on the same page about what “great” means. Progress is happening swiftly. Prospect is eagerly moving through the buying process. Commitment leads to commitment, and a signed contract is on the way. And Prospect is as good a fit for you as you are for them.
But what if “great” means something different to the rep than it means to you? To you, “great” means the deal is making distinct and swift progress down the pipeline. To Rep, maybe “great” means that this difficult and demanding prospect hasn’t been making demands this week. That’s easier on Rep, but could actually be a sign of a stall.
Worst case scenario, but a very common one, “great” is not actually in any way related to the deal. It’s a default response. Like, “How are you doing?” and “fine.” It’s just an effective way Rep has found to end the conversation with you, the supervisor, “so I can get back to work.” It’s a method reps use to avoiding looking bad in front of supervisors. Rep doesn’t have to face your disappointment or their own if everybody accepts “great” as an acceptable response.
You ask your rep when the Acme Ltd deal is going to close. Rep replies, “By month end.” But the deal doesn’t close by month end. Was Rep simply mistaken? Did something unexpected and unpredictable come up, or was the roadblock expected and predictable? Or, did Rep knowingly promise a pipe-dream in order to delay delivering bad news they knew was coming?
Well meaning reps, even high-performing ones, often dodge, delay, defer effective internal communication. “If I report green, and then bust my butt, I’ll get this account to green before it hits the fan. Everything will be cool. I’ll make sure it becomes cool. No one will have to know that there was ever a problem.”
You ask Rep about the pending Anonymous & Associates deal, and Rep says, “They asked me to check back next fiscal year.”
You say, “I thought the contract was a done deal, all but signed.”
“Yeah.” Rep says, “I thought so too. They changed their mind.” You ask what happened. Rep bows her head. She tells you about a blunder she made on a sales call last month, putting her foot in her mouth. The whole tenor of the relationship changed. And she just couldn’t pull the deal out of the resulting nose dive. If Rep had only come to you immediately, you know you could have helped mend the damage done, and come out ahead. If only Rep had told you at the time.
A SALES TEAM SITUATION
Your job as a sales team leader is to increase revenues, to improve systems and strategies, and the get ever greater results from the resources at hand. It’s a sales-team leader’s job to get more this year out of well-meaning reps who are doing good work than we got last year.
Many people in your role, however, struggle to get the granular, specific information they need to assess and project. Sales Directors say they’re learning about problems in the pipeline later than they wish. If I’d known earlier,” they mourn, “I could have helped. And my projections would have been more accurate.”
And when sales reps project a front that, “It’s all good,” it can be difficult to assess where they need coaching, and to support them in advancing their skill and to improve their results.
Does this sound like your life? Do the well-meaning (even high-performing) reps on your team keep information to themselves when it would serve the company (and themselves) better if they’d share it?
You need a collaboration boost.
A SALES IMPROVISER’S PERSPECTIVE
That’s why I want improvisers on my sales team. It’s not just that they create great relationships with prospects that convert them to clients, keep them coming back, increase referral business, and generate gratitude (as described in an earlier blog post). They’re a part of an open system of information that allows the whole organization to thrive, improve, and succeed.
Teams trained to improvise have more fluid and open information flow — and thus they’re more adaptive, more responsive, and more effective collaborators. Improvisers share information — even information that shows their vulnerabilities — like it’s breathing. Sharing information is how they get ahead.
So, maybe you and your people aren’t trained in the tools and techniques of improvisation (yet). Even so, you can start to practice its principles today. At your next sales-team meeting, coach your team to put this one into practice. We call this principle “Be Obvious.”
Ask your team to “Be Obvious” with you. Tell them, “Nothing goes without saying.”
People who practice “Be Obvious” say more about more. You can ask for more information — and get it — by saying, “Nothing’s too obvious to tell me.” And you, as a supervisor, can be obvious right back. When Rep tells you, “Everything’s great with Smith & Company,” you can say, “I don’t know what ‘great’ means in this circumstance. Tell me more.”
This only works if you tell them as well, “When you come to me early with a problem, I will have your back.” Provide them with the coaching, the support, and the resources they need to excel. Sales reps thrive with support, and faith, and freedom. Most of us in sales are relational types. We may have lone-wolf tendencies, but we get a lot from the relationships that nurture us.
Make a game of it. You might say, “I know this might be obvious, but…” and then say what you think no-one should miss. “I know this might be obvious, but…” and then ask the question whose answer may be obvious.
“Captain Obvious” ridicule is a common thing in the culture at large, and in many company cultures as well.
“Be Obvious” culture, however, is far more effective. And with a little practice, feedback, and having fun with it, “Be Obvious” can easily be installed within a few weeks.
You’ll never go back.
When your reps are “obvious” with you, you’ll suddenly have three times the opportunities to provide coaching inside the sales process. With more information flow, you can close more business and fine-tune your sales process to truly respond to the particulars of your business, your product and your clients.
BONUS IMPROVISER’S TOOL
Ask your team to give you more specifics, greater detail — as a rule. This principle walks hand-in-hand with “Be Obvious.”
The tough part for you… Have the patience to keep asking. Dig into the details, and don’t take “fine” for an answer. Be kind. Be patient. Keep at it. The folks on your team will become fonts of specific information you can use to shepherd deals, notice skill gaps, give an assist, and coach effectively.
Your team will thrive. You will exceed objectives.
TRAINING VS. INSTRUCTION
I make a distinction between training and instruction. Consider yourself instructed — albeit briefly. Instruction provides information. It takes considerable work to implement. You’ve got to bring considerable, deliberate attention to bear.
Training is experiential and creates habit. Once trained, people behave as trained by default.
If this sounds useful, get in touch. We’ll help make it easier to keep the information flowing on your team.