Improve internal Sales Communication

"Going Great" and Other BS Sales Reps Say Sometimes

Improve internal Sales Communication

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, when you need it, then read no further. If you need any more accurate information than you’re getting, when you need it, 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.

Fear of uncertainty leads to vague, unproductive communication.

BREAKDOWN 1

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 has been qualified 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 avoid 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.

BREAKDOWN 2

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 you 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.”

BREAKDOWN 3

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. She apologized at the time, but 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, project, and support. 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.

 

AN ADEPTABLE SALES PERSPECTIVE

That’s why I want improvisers on my sales team. It’s not just that their presence and focus on others 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 (in programs like Adeptability Training) 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 — freely and frequently. Sharing information is how they get ahead.

Even before Adeptability Training, 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.”


A SOLUTION

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. “I know this might be obvious, but have you asked Prospect this question.”

Ridiculing people for being “Captain Obvious” 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.

As you repeatedly ask for more information, your reps will learn that vagueness won’t fly. They’ll stop saying, “Going great,” and they’ll actually start giving you details before you have to ask for them.

BONUS ADEPTABLE TOOL

Be Specific.

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. 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, book a call. We’ll help make it easier to keep the information flowing on your team.


Case Study - Mean to Team (Part 1 of 2)

The trivial details – names, and the like – in this case study have been changed to preserve our client’s anonymity.

THE TEAM:

12 engineers make up the operations team supporting the IT department of a large school with 25K employees.

“You undercharged me.” — Jack, the Team Leader

 

THE SITUATION:

When Jack, the Operations Team leader, reached out to us, he cited communication and cohesion challenges on his team. We soon learned that he was understating the problem.

Interpersonal tensions were so extreme on Jack’s team that he was frequently physically ill before, during, and after staff meetings. Just imagining being in the same room with all those people at once, with the strife he experienced weekly in that room, caused him to vomit. Jack gave us this example of the tension level:

Mark requires Margaret’s work product to complete his own work. Mark won’t talk to Margaret directly, however. He won’t even look at Margaret. She won’t even say, “Good morning,” to him. Instead, when Mark needs Margaret’s work, he asks Gary to get it. Gary goes to Margaret. Margaret rolls her eyes. Gary rolls his eyes. Mark sits at his desk, drumming his fingers waiting for Mark to return so he can get back to work.

What an unnecessary and destructive waste.

On his wall, Jack had posted an acronym of traits he and his team had committed to embodying. While I’ll keep the acronym to myself, to protect the client’s anonymity, I will say that one of the traits was, “professional.”

I complimented Jack on some commendable ideals and asked out of curiosity, “How do you guys define ‘Professional?’”

He answered, “You know. Everyone knows what ‘Professional’ means.”

“Sure,” I said. “You know what it means, and I know what it means. But the problem is that we each have different definitions. But we assume that our own definition is universal.” I laid out a scenario:

Betty and Dave are standing outside their cubicles, talking about their weekends and their kids, and laughing. After about a minute, Stan gets very irritated. Don’t they see him trying to work in the next cube over? They’re so loud. Why don’t they just get to work? It’s work hours. To Stan, they are clearly unprofessional.

Meanwhile, Betty and Dave both wonder why Stan — who is sitting right there — hasn’t joined the conversation or even said hello. It’s clear to them that a little light conversation on a Monday morning reacquaints them with each other. It lubricates the professional relationship, and gives them insight into each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and what stresses or joys from their personal lives might affect their work today. Stan, however, seems to be giving them snide looks and is muttering something under his breath. To Betty and Dave, Stan is clearly unprofessional.

“Yes,” Jack yelled when I had finished my short story. “That’s my team.”

Beyond helping teams define important terms and values so that everyone’s on the same page, we explained to Jack, we also help to establish a foundation of empathy — as a habit — between people. Each person’s perspective helps to create a rich and well-balanced vision for the team as a whole. There’s a bit of one of my father’s favorite jokes in the training we offer:

Two arguing men in the community come to the Rabbi to ask him to settle their dispute. The first explains his perspective. The Rabbi replies, “You’re right.” The second argues his case. The Rabbi says, “You’re right.”

The Rabbi’s wife, overhearing all this, says, “He’s right? And he’s right? How can they both be right?”

The Rabbi shrugs and says, “You’re right too.”

 

THE TRAINING:

Soon after our first meeting with Jack, we met with his team for the first installment of their training. We were there, ready to begin the training on time. For the first time in our company history, however, we did not start our training on time — even with everyone in the room. The first 5 minutes of the training time were spent in an argument.

Kerry was certain that the training had been scheduled for 3 hours. Sally rolled her eyes and said, “I saw that in the last email, but every other email (and the calendar invitation we all got) said 4 hours. 3 hours was a typo. It’s 4 hours.” Kerry insisted it was three. Sally repeated that it was four. This went on for some time with only little variation. Jack, their boss, sat between them, bemused. We, The Yes Works trainers, sat before them, diagnosing the patient and seeing first hand the disfunction that Jack had described.

Each was so focused on being right (and in Kerry’s case, on going home), that they completely overlooked the authoritative resources in the room that could have settled the argument. We were there, looking at them, and would gladly have shared what our intentions were as the trainers (and what we’d been paid to do). Their boss sat only feet from them — between them — and could easily have defined the expectations. But neither of them asked him, and he didn’t interrupt to resolve either the content of the dispute, or the context of the dispute.

Kerry seemed committed to reading any ambiguous communication to him “in his own favor.” Evidently, he defined “in his own favor” as whatever would have him out of this place and this activity the fastest. Sally seemed committed to using the power of her reasoning to defeat Kerry’s wrong-headedness. Jack seemed disinclined to intervene. He did not assert his authority about a matter that had an authoritative answer. He did not bring his employees back to a focus on in purpose instead of self-interest.

When the dust eventually settled, we began our four hour training.

Some of the team was excited to have us there, and participated from the first moments with gusto. Others, like Kerry, were there because they had been required to be there, and were reluctant. Within minutes, however, we had the entire group on their feet. They laughed. They moved past some fears. They saw new sides of one another. They all went through quite a mental workout, each person going through multiple reps of practicing the principles that define our business-relationship training. Many of them did and said things they would not have anticipated doing. All of them participated equally. Kerry was completely involved.

 

Click here to read the exciting conclusion