By Harrell Kerkhoff,
Maintenance Sales News Magazine Editor
It’s important that business owners and/or sales managers accurately identify key factors that can lead to a consistently high level of success for their company sales representatives. That process, however, is often easier said than done.
Understanding the important role that greater sales leadership can play for improved sales effectiveness was a main topic during an ISSA seminar, presented by Jeff Gardner, of Maximum Performance Group, LLC (www.maximumperformancegroup.com).
Gardner, who has extensive experience in sales leadership training, is a big proponent of business owners and/or sales managers taking a more one-on-one approach with their sales representatives. That includes working, on occasion, in the field together to make sales calls, while also observing how sales representatives converse on the phone with customers.
“I’m a sales guy at heart,” he said. “I want to discuss how you, as a sales leader, can help your people sell just a little bit more.”
Gardner explained that in life, there is often only a slight measurable difference between a top performer and an average performer. To prove his point, he gave a golf analogy, involving the first and fourth place finishers of The Masters Tournament, in 2017.
“Sergio Garcia earned $1,980,000 for winning that tournament. His average score for the entire tournament as 69.75. Matt Kuchar finished fourth, and earned noticeably less, at $484,000, with an average tournament score of 70.75. What was the difference between their average scores? There was just a one stroke separation,” Gardner said. “We often believe that a top performer is twice as good as somebody else. If you really think about it, that can’t possibly be true. One human being can’t be that much better. What is true about golf is also true about sales.
“I find that motivational. It’s much easier to improve by 1 to 2 percent, than to become twice as good as somebody else. Therefore, it’s important to help salespeople make incremental improvements. The end result can be large. The salesperson who is just 2 percent better than his/her competitor will likely ‘win the deal.’”
The question then arises: How can a salesperson incrementally improve? According to Gardner, the answer is: With a lot of help from the sales leader.
THE SALES LEADERSHIP EFFECT
To what extent should a business owner and/or sales manager go on, and/or listen to, sales calls in association with his/her sales representatives? How often should the same sales leader meet with his/her sales representatives to discuss goals and objectives?
According to Gardner, the answer to both questions is, “More often than what currently takes place at many businesses.”
“Sales people are often the most undersupervised employees in a company,” he said. “There is often a certain philosophy, directed at sales, which is, ‘Just go out and sell. Here is your training, here is your car, here are your business cards, here are your product catalogs, there is the door. Good luck.’”
There is research, however, that dismisses that philosophy, Gardner added. It indicates that the most successful sales leaders are in the field, with their salespeople and customers, 66 percent of the time. That translates to three days a week. At the highest level, the percentage goes to 75 percent.
Gardner acknowledged that not every business owner and/or sales manager has that much time to spend with each sales representative.
“I would recommend that sales leaders spend 12 to 24 days per year with each salesperson. That translates to once or twice a month,” he said. “You should probably spend more time with new salespeople as well as underperformers. Also, don’t forget to spend quality time with top performing salespeople. If you can improve a top performer by 2 percent, that is a lot more sales revenue than improving a lower performing salesperson by 2 percent.”
It’s also important that sales leaders stay in continual communication with their sales representatives — beyond the time spent working together in the field — with either face-to-face or over-the-phone communication, Gardner added.
“According to a 10-year workplace study, the single most important factor determining employee productivity, morale and retention is day-to-day communication between that employee and his/her manager,” he said. “The No. 1 factor to sales success is sales leadership. The best sales leaders have the best salespeople.”
Previous research, Gardner said, has also shown that salespeople who have experienced a high to moderate level of engagement with their sales leaders have:
■ Spent 25 percent more time making calls to prospects;
■ Used the internet for pre-call prospect research 26 percent more often;
■ Added 23 percent more first-time customers per month; and,
■ Experienced an 18 percent higher conversion ratio between first appointments and new customers.
Also discussed by Gardner are two forms of sales supervision best practices. They are:
■ Strategic — Involving sales leaders spending one-on-one time with their salespeople, such as helping them plan and strategize territories, prospects and customers ... actions that go beyond just making customer calls; and,
■ Tactical/Supervision — The act of actually getting out “in-the-field” or “on-the-phone” with salespeople, while they sell to current and potential customers.
Gardner also recommended sales leaders work closely with inside sales representatives.
“That includes sitting with them while they are making calls, listening to what they are saying to customers, and how they are responding to questions,” he added.
BENEFITS TO PRE-CALL
OBJECTIVES AND A
Proper planning is critical in the fine art of making a successful sales call. Such planning especially helps when the actual sales process becomes sidetracked. Sales people are often asked by customers to do many things outside of selling, such as helping with equipment setup and providing education on the proper use of products.
“Sometimes, salespeople have to be asked by sales leaders, ‘Are you also going to try to sell something today?’” Gardner said. “People involved with sales should always have two objectives for every call or visit, with one of those objectives being revenue directed. That objective should seek out a sale to be made either today, tomorrow or in the future.”
While working with salespeople on the street, Gardner said levity can go a long way in lessening the pressure that is felt by many, just prior to a customer visit. To introduce some humor, Gardner often borrows the famous line from the movie, All That Jazz — “It’s show time, folks!”
“Do you know what happens to a salesperson after he/she says that line, right before a sales call? He/she starts laughing. Both of us start laughing, and we walk into the call smiling and having fun,” Gardner said. “I want the salesperson to realize his/her purpose is to generate sales, and that can be done in a friendly, professional and low-pressure way.”
Just as important as pre-call objectives is the post-call debrief. That is when the sales leader discusses the recently concluded sales call with the salesperson.
“The sales leader should ask the salesperson three questions at the debrief: What went well? What would you do differently? What is the next step?” Gardner said. “The goal is the get the salesperson to ask himself/herself those same three questions after every call.”
He added that it’s important salespeople understand that every sales call can be improved.
“After all of my years in this business, I will admit that I have never made a perfect sales call. I don’t always close the deal. Sales is an inexact science,” Gardner said. “The goal is to get a little bit better each time. As stated earlier, incremential growth is what salespeople should be striving for each day.”
He outlined several benefits that sales leaders often experience when working alongside salespeople on a more continual basis, such as:
■ It allows a stronger relationship to develop between the sales leader and the salesperson.
“There is a lot of camaraderie that develops when going ‘into the trenches’ together, and making sales calls,” Gardner said. “Working with your salespeople should be a positive and motivational experience.”
■ It allows a stronger relationship to also develop between the sales leader and the company’s customer base.
“As a business owner and/or sales manager, it’s important to get out in the field to meet and build stronger relationships with customers. If your salesperson ever leaves, you don’t want to lose valuable information and relationships with those customers,” he explained. “While making sales calls with your salespeople, it’s also good to search for higher-level customer decision makers. You want to reach your customers’ bosses. That can help your company sell a wider range of products found within its inventory.
“It’s been said that the average product penetration rate involving a company’s best customers is only about 40 percent. If that is true, there remains a 60 percent rate of opportunity.”
■ It allows for the sales leader to properly evaluate the skills and abilities of each salesperson.
“I believe observing salespeople in the field, and on the phone, is the only way to accurately evaluate their skills,” he said. “Sure, you can measure sales dollars and margins, but how do you really know if a salesperson can properly answer questions from customers? How do you know if he/she can negotiate? The only way is to observe that person.”
■ It allows the sales leader to gain a clearer and more accurate understanding of the marketplace, as a whole.
“As a sales leader, how can you truly make key decisions about your business if you never ‘walk the street’ with your salespeople, and talk with your customers? How do you really find out what is going on in the marketplace?” Gardner asked. “It’s hard to know those things by just being inside an office.” ■