Sales tips, leadership communication skills insight and more from Steve Giglio, sales training professional for more than 25 years.

2023 Sales Training Solutions: Part 1

In my last post Sales Team Leadership Challenges in 2023, we looked at what the “new normal” has brought to bear on sales team leaders and their direct reports. The current generation of salespeople needs to be treated differently as they have new tools and processes at their disposal. The issue is…they need guidance and leadership to use those tools effectively. In this five-part series, we will examine specific issues and I will offer solutions you can implement immediately.

Part 1: Repairing Sales Disconnection

Sales disconnection happens when a business development person tries selling the same solution in the same way to different customers. The result is a scatter-shot approach to selling rather than a tailored, strategically defined program. The latter is mission-critical for short- and long-term success. It takes a systematic approach. Try out these steps and see what results you and your team generate:

Define the Top 10 Sales Accounts

Review your top ten strategically important accounts by revenue and loyalty. Determine precisely where each account is now relative to the sales plan you envisioned in January (if this wasn’t done, now’s the time…it’s nearly mid-year!).

Amend or Create a Sales Plan

Meet with your salesperson responsible for each account and review their strategic plan. You may find that it is either light on metrics, hasn’t been looked at in a while, or worse, doesn’t exist! This is where you can demonstrate your leadership and get them back on track. Develop a plan that is consistent with your customer’s and your company’s goals. Ensure that your direct contributes to and buys in on the plan with a strong sense of ownership. Approach your client with this revised or new plan so that they are confident in the direction your salesperson will be taking. Doing all of this upfront will help to avoid surprises in the future.

Measure for Success

If you haven’t already, it’s time to create benchmarks so that success can be measured. Jointly establish the commercial metrics that will drive the revenue you know each account can generate. It’s important that both your associate and you agree on these achievable goals.

Collaborate Often

Schedule weekly updates with your team. I can’t stress this enough. Bringing people together to discuss and debate a sales strategy is highly effective, cathartic, and fun. It also gives you a clear window into the abilities of the team and who you need to direct and who can help lead the team. It also establishes an important precedent: meeting together, IN PERSON to create winning strategies. While we may be in the texting and Zoom generation, nothing has replaced face-to-face engagement as a way to communicate. Make it happen!

Establish a One-on-One Connection

Group-think is great and creates an atmosphere of teamwork and collective success.  However, it’s just as important that you meet one-on-one with your salespeople. You must share YOUR desire for this account, the impact of lifting sales, and that you believe in their abilities to achieve results. During this time, you will likely find your associates sharing more about their challenges than in the more public team meetings. As you listen, you are demonstrating that you are vested in their success and want to help them overcome the challenges. This will go far towards inspiriting them to excel!

These are the first sales solutions to implement now. Let me know how it goes. And stay tuned for my next post where we tackle another 2023 sales challenge!

Sales Team Leadership Challenges in 2023

People often ask me, “What’s changed the most for your clients since the pandemic?”  My answer: Everything!

Leading a sales team post-Covid has presented a lot of new challenges. Adding to the situation is that the new generation of sales teams hasn’t been given the guidance they need to develop communication skills that would make them stand out.

Understanding the challenges is the first step. In this post, I outline what I believe are factors contributing to a difficult business development atmosphere. Thankfully, there are solutions. Over the next few posts, I will go into detail regarding each challenge and provide steps that can be taken to overcome them.

For now, though, here is the situation as I see it:

Challenges Leading Sales Teams Post-Covid

  • Less team interaction due to the work-from-home virtual lifestyle
  • Lack of debate/discovery between teammates and supervisors due to lack of interaction
  • Value propositions have not been redefined, leaving associates to use stale conversations that commoditized the business offering
  • Significantly decreased opportunities for managers to mentor by illustrating a best-in-class sales maneuver in real-time
  • Less direct, face-to-face engagement with customers, relegating associates to vendors rather than advisors
  • An over-reliance on phone-only communication
  • Disconnection leads to a scatter-shot approach to selling rather than a tailored, defined program

All of these challenges have the potential to undermine a company’s growth. It can result in weakening a client’s loyalty to your company. As noted in a recent article on sales practices, McKinsey states:

More than 70% of businesses say they will happily consider other vendors if their core “must haves” are not met during their buying journey or if their experience is poor.

In my next blog, we’ll begin to address these challenges. Never forget that the sales process is where your company first creates your company’s reputation. Ongoing interactions build upon that reputation. And in today’s age of immediacy, it can all go south quickly if your team isn’t meeting these challenges head on!

Leadership by Example

Lead by example. You’ve heard that before I’m sure. But by what example? Does it mean doing everything your direct reports do, showing them how it’s done? Of course not. You hired them for their skills, not to mimic yours. So, again, what does lead by example mean?

It’s important to recognize that it’s an honor and responsibility to have people reporting to you. Direct reports make your life easier. Their tasks free you up to focus on what you do best. Sure, it’s great that you know how to do what they do. That helps make task-based conversations easier. But what they really need from you is to show them how to lead their own teams someday. That’s how you grow a department/company.

Their success is your responsibility as much as it is theirs. Too often I’ve heard an executive lament that their direct report just isn’t getting it. Job #1 with this syndrome is for the leader to look in the mirror and determine the level of assistance they’ve given to their direct report over time. I recommend asking yourself the following questions to determine what leadership example you have been presenting:

Have I mapped out how my direct report can win?

I’ve written a lot about setting goals for your employees. This is important in two areas: completing tasks and growing careers. Too often, however, I’ve found leaders focusing far too much on the former, figuring the latter will take care of itself. But if you haven’t mapped out the goals that move your direct’s career towards a leadership position, then they will simply focus on the tasks at hand, figuring that is what success looks like. You’ll wind up with a lot of soldiers and very few captains! That’s very limiting for the growth of your department. Be sure that you determine with your directs what you mutually believe leadership success looks like.

Have I adequately responded to my direct report’s questions on their professional direction?

“I don’t have time for this right now.” Ooof! Yes, you are busy, and taking time to discuss an employee’s career goals can sometimes seem intrusive when you are on a deadline. But what example are you setting if you never get back to discussing their aspirations? Not a good one, I assure you. Make the time regularly to check in with them on their projects AND how they are developing as a leader. Doing this demonstrates a level of care that will inspire them to keep moving their career forward.

Do I know my direct’ s needs?

You may know what skills your directs are lacking. But do you know what they need to improve/advance? Just telling them they need to develop Skill A without giving them the tools/instruction to do so will leave them confused…and stressed. This is when your leadership-by-example comes in again. You need to guide them toward sources that will help them develop. And make this skill development a priority when you meet with them to discuss their overall progress.

Have we mutually created a development plan with tactical actions to operationalize this development transformation?

This is so critical! Having a development plan is paramount to keeping both of you focused. Group their tasks into leadership qualities/categories that will give them structure. It will help as you assess each direct’s progress and will be immensely helpful for each of them as they take initiative to develop on their own.

Actioning the above is leadership. And that’s what they want to see from you so that they can model their future behavior on what you’ve shown them. Remember, you are developing each employee so that they can be the future of your department/company. Make sure you show them a good example!

 

A Bad Review? Transform Your Behavior

Yikes! A Bad Review!! What to do?

Winter is the season when many employees have the previous year’s performance review. Obviously, the hope is that it goes well. But…what if yours is sub-par?

Getting a poor review can result in a host of reactions. I realize the first might be to fight it and defend yourself through examples of competence, etc.  However, once you take a defensive position, you will have stopped doing the one thing that could help as you navigate this review session: Listening!

Your supervisor has come prepared to tell you things that could help improve how you do your job. Are you ready to hear them? If so, you need to listen without bias. This means hearing what is being said without mentally preparing your counterarguments. This is not a courtroom!

Once you’ve digested the feedback, it’s now time to transform your behavior. I recommend enacting these steps:

Four Steps to Reverse a Bad Review

Step #1: Prioritize Behavior Shifts

You can’t change overnight. So, list the behaviors that need attention and prioritize them in a way that will have the most immediate impact. You may find that there are some that can be addressed more quickly than others, which will show your supervisor that you were listening and are implementing steps that address the feedback.

Step #2: Create Measurable Goals

If you get feedback that you don’t participate enough in meetings, it’s one thing to declare “I will participate in meetings.” Great…that’s a change in behavior. But how will you get there?  It’s better if you establish “I will present 2-3 salient points per meeting that forward the team’s thinking.” By doing this, you will know after each meeting whether or not you met the goal and demonstrated the behavior change.

Step #3: Get Agreement

In this step, your boss and you will agree on the steps you are taking to address the feedback. This does two things: affirms that their feedback was heard and appreciated while also giving you a benchmark by which you can be evaluated throughout the year. Make sure you schedule regular check-ins so that your progress can be evaluated. Don’t rely on your boss to do this! You need to be proactive and get these on the calendar.

Step #4: Define Actions

Finally, let your supervisor know the specific actions you are going to take this quarter. Walk them through HOW you will operationalize these areas of transformation via specific workstreams. Give him/her something to be on the lookout for so that they can witness your progress. For example: if you were observed as being too often on the sidelines and not on the playing field with others, during the next round of meetings with X Team, declare that you will facilitate these meetings, synthesize the next steps, and follow up with all team members on their obligations.

These four steps illustrate your commercial maturity in accepting a sub-standard review as a contribution NOT a criticism. Focus on the acknowledgment you’ll receive by transforming these behaviors by the end of the quarter. You’ve got this!

 

New Job Opportunity! Great…or Is It?

Unexpectedly. Or expectedly, you’ve got a job offer in the New Year!

How do you proceed professionally and with swagger?

Step 1: Determine If You Want the Job

It’s nice to be wanted. But just because someone offers you a new position which, on the surface, looks like an advancement…check in. Reflect on the opportunity and determine if it would be fun, actualizing, and accretive to you and your family.

This seems like a no-brainer, but it comes with a lot of thought and emotion.

The actualizing part is often the tougher one. Determine where you are professionally and if this mission, which you may not fully know at this point in time, seamlessly continues the professional trajectory you most desire. If you have doubts, stay with them and determine why you have them. Try to predict if these doubts will transition into issues for you in the short or long-term. If you think they will, you may want to stop the process at this point and wait until a better situation arises.

Step 2: Do Your Research

Again, just because they think this is the right opportunity for you, you need to learn whether the company is right for you. You must do your research diligently. Digital tools make it so easy to find out a lot about your possible future, so use them well and thoroughly.

As you begin your diligence on the opportunity, action these steps:

  • Examine the company’s public filings, including their 10 Q
  • Read the past six months of media articles on the company
  • Find out what you can about the person hiring you (make LinkedIn your friend)
  • Similarly, find out about the team you’ll be on and/or managing
  • Research the top competitors and their differentiators
  • Take a stab at doing a brief SWOT analysis

With this research complete, you are ready for an informed conversation about the position. But you’re not done asking questions…

Step 3: Create Interview Probing Questions

Asking the right, insightful questions credentials you. Including details from your research in your questions will impress upon them that you are taking this opportunity seriously.

Here are examples that you can tailor to your opportunity:

  • How did you match this opportunity to me?
  • From my research it appears that some of the company’s challenges are XYZ, how would you categorize them?
  • What’s mission-critical with this position?
  • What most challenged the last person who had this position?
  • Who are the team members and what experience do they have?
  • To action a 90-day plan/finish line, what should occur?
  • How should the team and I be perceived in the organization?

Follow these three steps and you should, by the end, know whether this opportunity is your dream job or a nightmare in waiting!

What’s Your Transformation Point in 2023?

In traveling through Morocco, Madrid, and Milan at the start of the new year,  I’ve been struck by the humanity, ownership, and pride of others throughout my journey.

From the compassion and humanity of our hotel staff in Morocco to the pride of our flamenco dancers, I realized how focused and important their trade/art is to them. It defines them and the difference they make to others. It is their transformation point.

It got me thinking about what each of our transformation points are for the upcoming year.  And further, how will we bring this transformation to others?

Each time we present this transformation point, we’re saying, “This is who I am and how I care about you.” And if it’s coming from a genuine place, you will gain the attention and respect of those around you. Keep in mind…the opposite is true. If there is any degree of faking it or just saying what you think they want to hear, you’ll be found out and lose valuable trust points.

One of my transformation points in 2023 is that I will be someone who listens empathetically without bias and appreciates people’s life struggles before I craft a solution. I won’t just say this…in fact I likely won’t say it at all…they will just get that that’s what they can count on from me based on my actions.

Further to this, my second transformation point is to be a person of flexibility and patience. Already I’ve been amazed at how much more I understand about someone and even myself when I’ve been this way.

To determine/crystallize your Transformation Point answer these three questions:

  1. What is it I love to produce in my work?
  2. What promise will I make to each client I work with?
  3. How will I deliver on this promise?

From these questions, you will be able to define who are you for your clients, your employees, and other important people in your life. Remember that these transformation points aren’t about changing people’s opinions of you…it’s about changing how they see you showing up for them and the benefit they believe that to be for themselves.

‘Tis the Season to Keep Your Clients

Right now, your company’s business development executives are probably creating a 2023 plan that has them growing the business versus 2022, right?  That plan includes an aggressive strategy for securing new business. And where will that new business come from? Mostly from companies that are probably clients of another company right now. Well, guess what? Your competitors are creating similar plans and may be targeting YOUR clients.

Here’s your 2023 client retention silver bullet: make your clients feel special! And no, I don’t mean by getting them an expensive holiday gift. I mean you’re going to make them realize that your relationship with them is special to you, is valuable to them, and that you are their partner as they face 2023.

How will you do this? By presenting a synthesis of their business goals you’ve gleaned over time and outlining the commercial challenges you know they will be facing in 2023.

A starting point:

“From what I’ve learned in our partnership this year, I believe 2022 will end with you ahead in these areas (be specific) while still facing challenges in these other areas (be even more specific). Is that an accurate assessment?”

The more details and real experience you can bring to this conversation starter, the better! You will get their attention. Why? Because all of this is already on their mind but now they know it’s on YOUR mind, too. Good! Now let’s follow that up with:

“Based on that, would it be true that the most mission-critical issues for you in 2023 are going to be ______?”
Again, be specific. Demonstrate your understanding of their business, their industry, their competitive set, their operational issues, etc. And then, you can move on to:

“And the challenges we are going to face together are ________, right?”
There you are, comprehending their internal and external challenges while standing right at their side to help guide them. Can your competitors do that? No…because only you have the relational experience with your client. You know what makes them tick, what keeps them up at night, and what your company can offer that will help them achieve their goals.

Even if you are slightly off with some of your assessments and recommendations, your clients will appreciate that you comprehend their actual issues. This also illustrates a nice level of prescience by offering solutions you’re confident they’ll accept.

Have this conversation with them as soon as possible. It is a positive action that makes clients feel special. ‘Tis the season to do this!

 

Changing is Hard; Not Changing is Worse

As a leadership development coach, I’ve found that the strongest leaders don’t resist change, they embrace it. But they also know that changing their own behavior can be a monumental challenge. They realize that if they don’t change/adapt they will become “stuck in their ways.” And you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who considers that a positive attribute of a leader!

Being Ready to Change

In a recent article in the New Yorker magazine, I came across a great article by Joshua Rothman entitled “Are You the Same Person You Used to Be?” He states that “becoming you in some cases means embracing a drama of vulnerability, decision, and transformation; it may also involve a refusal to accept the finitude that’s the flip side of individuality.”

This struck me by its simplicity and truth. Evolving means being vulnerable enough to realize that a current behavior doesn’t serve you anymore. You have to be ready to change. In contrast, being dogmatic and stubborn so that you hold onto this behavior usually doesn’t work out well in the long run.

Determining Why You Need to Change

But changing is not for the lighthearted. Not only does it take time but it requires that you look at things, and yourself, differently. You may need to lean on those around you for honest feedback…and be ready to receive it, even when they reveal something about yourself you don’t want to admit.

I’ve realized this through my own transformation.

Some twenty years ago, seven of my closest friends vehemently said that I often talked too much. If memory serves, I balked at this notion! I believed myself to be an excellent and effective communicator. But they were insistent. And that was the crucial moment…right then, I had to decide if I was going act on their feedback or disregard it and remain the way I was. There was something in their passion for my growth that drove me to accept their direction. I recall saying to myself, “Well, if enough people call you a horse, buy a saddle!”

Since then, I’ve concentrated on being concise in my speaking and writing. I’ve also enjoyed the transformed state I’ve gotten to from this advice as it has allowed me to listen more intently and purposely. And as you know…I am consistently stressing that my clients  listen first before they start selling or convincing.

So my advice to you is this…reflect on something you’d like to change.  Begin your transformative journey by sharing your desire with a few committed friends (and me, if you wish!). Listen to how they respond. And then get into action so that you have a plan that will make this change permanent. Ultimately, you will have to work at it and it may not come easy. But as they say, most good things in life never are.

Enjoy your journey.

Four Do’s And Don’ts for Managing Sales People

Whether you’ve had your team for a while or just inherited one, sales team management can be a challenge. Salespeople tend to have outward personalities and strong opinions. They also have a tendency to do things “their way” since that’s what has worked (based on their definition) in the past.

I can’t stress enough that you apply the adage, “trust but verify” here. They probably are good at their jobs or they wouldn’t be on the team in the first place. But are they sacrificing brand consistency and reputation for immediate gain and success? And are you involved enough in their work to know that what they’re doing is good for the long-term health of your company?

The great financier, Andrew Carnegie, once said, “As I grow older, I pay less attention to what people say, I watch what they do.” I’ve always applied this to my coaching of sales teams. It’s important that you see and hear what your team members are doing so that your company’s value proposition is being communicated effectively and in “one voice.”

Understanding the above, here are my Do’s and Don’ts for your success as a sales team manager:

Sales Manager Do’s:

  • Assess EACH person by measuring how well they listen and how well they tailor their recommendations
  • Get in the field with them regularly and watch them sell
  • Meet weekly and review the activity scorecard that you have BOTH agreed to use
  • Know their personal and professional goals

Sales Manager Don’ts:

  • Trust what they say needs fixing until you observe it yourself
  • Avoid presenting your critique of their sales process
  • Allow their numbers to decline without changing their approach
  • Forget what THEY said is important to them professionally as you craft your recommendations for improvement

How many of these are you doing…and not doing? Keep them in mind each day/week as you work through managing your sales teams. Being consistent in how you approach that responsibility will make a big difference and keep your team motivated out in the field!

 

Slowing Down the Opportunity

The great Spanish philosopher/essayist Jose-Ortega y Gasset once said, “Life is fired at us at point-blank range with no time to think.”

Too often we allow this tenant to control our client behavior versus SLOWING the process down and injecting humanity into our strategy. I’ll explain:

During a meeting with a client who was presenting a company for potential acquisition to a buyer, I realized it was as important to understand her buyer’s goals and challenges BEFORE presenting the opportunity.

I call this process “slowing down the opportunity.”

Determine Their Motivation First

Her tendency was to first present the merits of her client’s company to “wow” the buyer and then determine their propensity for the acquisition. That is very much a “life fired at us point-blank range” approach. Hurry up…get your message in front of them ASAP! Act…don’t think!

I interceded by insisting she slow down and take time to ask a series of questions to first determine/acknowledge the buyer’s commercial goals and the headwinds they faced to better tailor her comments about this investment.

We developed a series of questions, which I’m sure you could apply in your next presentation (tailored to your audience, of course):

  • What are your business goals for the balance of 2023?
  • What headwinds are you facing?
  • What promises have you made to your management team/Board of Directors?
  • What is your company’s position relative to your competitive set?
  • Ideally, where would you like it to be?
  • What’s your perception of the company and the opportunity I represent?
  • How could this acquisition enhance your organization?

Then Declare a Solution/Recommendation

These questions would affirm the person/team to which she was presenting this opportunity. Once knowing the goals and headwinds of her client, she could then be declarative with the value proposition she developed. In the process, she was also clearly demonstrating a desire for the acquisition that would benefit the buyer as well as her client. The classic “win-win” but this time, she had spent time determining what a “win” for the other side was first!

To sum this up, before you run to present the value of your idea, take a step back and affirm the person to whom you are presenting your opportunity/ideas. Your goodwill and professionalism will shine through, get their attention, and likely lead to positive results!