Sales Team Under Construction!

Building a home is a complex and daunting project.  There is so much to consider and so many moving pieces.  Most of us would prefer to buy a house “move-in ready”.  Having built a house from conception to close, I understand why most people would rather buy than build.  Building takes time.  It takes planning, focus and discipline.  Building a successful sales team is similar to building a quality home – one that will stand the test of the elements…and time. 

The first step to building any home is the blueprint.  It is the plan that provides the myriad of contractors the information necessary to do their jobs in a manner that creates a cohesive structure.  The front page of the blueprint usually depicts what the project will look like when complete.  The interior pages are full of schematics and diagrams that tell the contractors what their part of the process requires.  When we built our house, we chose the plan and the lot, but the general contractor was in charge of making sure that all the elements required to build the structure came together.

As a sales leader, you are the general contractor for your sales team.  Likely, the CEO/CFO provides you a sales target and it is your job to execute strategies and tactics to meet that objective.

What does your sales blueprint look like?  Do you have a plan to bring all of the pieces of the puzzle together to build a high performance sales team? Do all of your contractors (members of your sales team) know and understand their roles and how to perform them at effective levels?

Without a blueprint, a plan, it will be difficult to know if the building process will yield the desired results.  In previous posts, we established that training lays the foundation of your sales team.  It outlines the ground floor by teaching product and basic sales approaches.  Most sales organizations have effective training programs.

The challenge?  For many, that is where the blueprint ends.

Development is the process that builds the house upward It is the framing, electrical, plumbing and other structural elements that will be the living spaces.  If the contractors (again, your sales team) are left to their own devices, each will make adjustments to the blueprint and the project will get off track.  It only takes a few inches (a few sales here and there) to keep you from the desired result.  Without an in-depth plan, and a general contractor who is monitoring, measuring and managing the process, it will be nearly impossible to achieve the desired results.  

What should you do if some of your sales team have gotten off track?  As a lead-in to more detailed approaches to coaching, in upcoming posts, here are 5 progressive steps to get the development process started:

  1. Review their skills.  When you select a new member for the team, there is a mutual excitement and optimistic anticipation about their contribution and performance.  Something in the hiring process made you believe they would excel – no one hires a candidate that they think won’t deliver.  Go back and review what made you hire them in the first place.  If you need more analysis on their talents, you can have them take a StrengthsFinders assessment.  This profile will help you get a better understanding of who they are, how they think, and will provide a foundation for the next step.
  2. Safety first.  In order to make development effective, in the least amount of time, you have to make the coaching environment safe.  Someone who is under performing will not readily want to share their challenges.  What they may be trying to hide, in an effort to save their job, is the exact information required to get them on track.  Starting a conversation that focuses on their strengths (as determined by a tool such as StrengthsFinders or attributes identified in the selection process) helps put their “best foot forward”.  It accentuates the positives and gives an avenue of safety to pursue areas of weaknesses and challenges.  They have to feel they are being given a genuine opportunity to improve their performance and not just being managed off the team.
  3. Numbers might lie.  While empirical data is crucial to determining areas of weakness, it may not tell the whole story.  The information outlined by a dashboard is a snapshot, a moment in time.  It is static.  Getting involved with your team, hands-on and as individuals, gives you a more dynamic outlook of their future performance.  What does their entire opportunity picture look like?  Is their pipeline drying up?  Are there sales opportunities not accounted for?  Even with highly effective sales tools, such as Salesforce, the information is only as good as the input from the team.  If they know you are more actively involved, with a focus on development, you will get closer to the “truth” of performance.   That information will help you with the next step.
  4. Major, then minor.  After doing the first 3 steps, you will likely have identified areas of challenge.  It could be call reluctance, inability to handle objections effectively, unable to get referred/repeat business or some combination thereof.  The conventional approach to development might be to attack all areas of deficiency at once.  The training and embedding of any new skill requires the learner to go through the Four Stages of Competence.  Attempting to add more than one new skill compounds this effect.  That only leads to awkwardness, whether it be in developmental role-playing, or worse, in live sales environments.  The more effective way to handle identified weakness is to develop the one skill that can yield the best short-term results.  For example, if prospecting and objection handling are a challenge, choose one to develop.  The sales person should understand which is the priority and that this is the area that will be measured, in order to determine improved performance.  Once that skill is properly embedded, move to the next area of weakness and work on it.  As you work in this area, engage step #5.
  5. Ask them, rather than tell them.  When you coach members of your team, you should engage a questioning model similar to that used with clients.  You don’t interrogate clients, but lead them on a path to discovery through questions.  As effective questions are asked, active listening skills then help you get to the heart of the buying decision.  That is what you are trying to get from your team…a “buy in” decision.  You want them to come to their own conclusion that the prescribed approach to performance improvement is the best course of action.  A question approach eliminates objections to the defined process, mitigates buyers remorse, and ensures the blueprint and plan are adhered to…even in your absence.

The beginning is the most important part of the work.  Plato

This 5 step process is just the beginning of what is required to get your sales team’s performance unified to create something great.  It is the key to achieving your sales goal and building a high-performance sales culture in the process.  As with our home analogy, building a sales team is not easy, but ensures quality and enduring performance.

So put on your hardhat and get ready for the reward of putting up the sign, “Sales Team Under Construction”.

Until next week, continued success.

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