It’s the last week of the month, and you’re fairly confident your team will hit its quota. You’ve been spending a lot of time coaching your two lowest-performing salespeople, as well as jumping in to help your superstar rep close big deals.
So you’re completely blindsided when three of your reps who always make their number have lousy months. Suddenly, you’re way below where you should be.
Many sales managers essentially leave their salespeople alone as long as they’re hitting quota. When some or several historically reliable performers suddenly fall on their faces, their managers never see it coming.
To avoid this phenomenon,implement the following three strategies.
1) Be a Proactive Sales Coach
The self-serving bias is a major factor of unexpectedly bad months. People tend to take responsibility for their successes but blame external factors for their failures. For example, a rep will attribute a great month to their work ethic and selling skills. The next month, when they’re struggling, they’ll blame marketing for sending them low-quality leads or the sales engineering team for not providing enough support.
As a result, salespeople don’t connect lost deals with specific errors they committed or skills they lack. They’re not going to approach their manager for coaching — and their manager assumes everything is rosy because the bottom line is fine.
In my experience, 90% of salespeople suffer from self-serving bias. While their optimism is critical to bouncing back when they fail, the problem is they’re not analyzing the reasons why the failure occurred.
The solution is relatively simple: Be a proactive sales coach. Don’t wait for your reps to ask you for coaching or their performance to noticeably decrease, because by that time it’ll be too late. Get out of your office, observe your team members, and look for mistakes and weaknesses.
If one of your salespeople is committing an error, it’s relatively safe to assume they’re not the only one. Hold team-wide sessions on specific skills or practices based on your one-on-one observations.
2) Get Involved Early in the Sales Process
Typically, managers focus on the later stages of an opportunity. As the close gets closer — and thus more likely — they want to help their salespeople bring it in.
However, the size of a sale is determined by the customer early on in the buying cycle. Wait until the final days to get involved, and you’ll miss your chance to truly affect the outcome.
Let’s say you have a two-month sales cycle. If you’re getting involved at the six-week mark, you’re not seeing all the mistakes your rep made earlier in the process — and those are the mistakes that are most important to correct. For example, they didn’t connect with the true decision maker, prepare a good call strategy, or set clear objectives for their initial meeting with the prospect.
I recommend getting involved early so you can catch and fix these issues.
3) Ask the Right Questions
During pipeline review, sales managers routinely ask, “Where are we with X account?”
The salesperson describes where she is in the sales process: “I met with the second decision maker and it went pretty well, now I’ve got a conference call with the entire buying committee on Tuesday … ”
However, this answer doesn’t give the manager a realistic portrayal of the deal. Customers don’t follow the prescribed steps of a sales process — so even though the salesperson might think they’re about to close, the prospect might be on step two of the buyer’s journey.
To get a clear picture of the opportunity’s status, managers should focus on the customer and the actions they’ve taken.
Here are some questions that’ll come in handy:
- “What problems does this particular prospect have that we can solve?”
- “What are each decision maker’s decision making criteria?”
- “What specific actions has the prospect taken thus far in regards to evaluating this decision?”
- “Can you tell me how this prospect has made similar purchases in the past?”
- “What’s their timeline?”
- “What’s the process for actually buying a product?”
- “Are there other vendors involved?”
Because these questions deal with the buyer’s journey rather than the salesperson’s process, they surface more accurate insights.
Taking these three steps will ensure you’re not completely surprised by a bad month or quarter. You’ll be able to predict poor performance while you’ve still got time to fix it.
For more advice, check out Kevin F. Davis’s latest book, “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: Ten Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top.”