Fatal errors and results

Successful sales managers are leaders. Knowing how to inspire, motivate, coach and hold sales people accountable for their behavior is the foundation for improving sales. Skill sets for success as a sales manager are not the same as skill sets for successful sales people. In some cases it’s not surprising that unskilled sales managers with no training can commit many fatal errors without recognizing why sales fail to increase.

Here are thirteen for your consideration:

1.  Refuse to accept personal accountability for the behaviors and production of your sales force. Spending time blaming the sales people, the market, the economy, the product or the company will never increase sales. Accepting these excuses from sales people does them a disservice, as well.

2.   Neglect to develop the sales people you manage. The top job of the sales manager is not to sell. It isn't even to "get sales up." It is to develop the sales people on the team. The problem with promoting the best producing sales person to the sales management position is that he may think sales would go up if everyone sold the way he did when he was the top producer. It is rarely so.

3.   Focusing on the results rather than the behavior, attitudes and beliefs. Results are clear to everyone. Knowing what behaviors, attitudes and beliefs enable sellers to sell is the first step. The second step is to know how to change the things that get in the way.

4.   Don't use all the data you can get. Evaluate your sales people. It just doesn't make sense to stay in the dark when highly accurate, dependable assessment tools will tell you precisely how and why your sales people sell or don’t.

5.  Manage all your sales people the same way. Managing everyone the same way will result in frustration, lack of clarity, and missed opportunities for growth in the ability to sell.

6.  Forget the importance of profit. Sales volume is not the indicator of success. Dropping the price may get the sale, but it leads to leaner margins, lack of confidence and a poorly performing sales force.

7.  Focus on the problems rather than the objective. Know your target market and limit your presentations to qualified prospects. Learn as much as you can about the prospects in your target market.

8.   Being a buddy rather than a coach. Your sales force wants to get better. If they don't, see #11. Sales people need a mentor, a coach, to spur them to leave their comfort zone to find new success.

9.   Don't set standards and never rank your sales people by anything other than revenue. Without clear expectations, without the awareness that there are varieties of ways to succeed, and without the knowledge of where they stand, sales people flounder into isolation and alienation.

10.  Never train your sales people. Thinking you know everything the sales team needs to know about sales limits them to your experience. Without continual refinement in the rapidly changing marketplace, you can find yourself unprepared to meet unexpected challenges.

11.  Condone incompetence. Sales people can actually believe their lack of competent performance is acceptable when there are no consequences for poor performance. What are you doing to implement an accountability process?

12.  Recognize only the top revenue producers and then only once a year at bonus time. Failure to see the team as the reason for sales success leads to isolation, lack of camaraderie. Recognition of everyone's efforts strengthens the team and leads to greater initiative.

13.  Always see conditions instead of obstacles. Seeing a down market (or anything that gets in the way of business) as an unchangeable condition leads to excuse-making. Accepting excuses de-motivates the sales force.


Avoid judgmental messages

Did you ever have a conversation with a prospect who suddenly, and for no apparent reason, became unreceptive to perfectly good advice?

It happens to many salespeople. Shortly after we offer advice or insights rooted from deep personal and organizational experience, to be technically correct, we find ourselves in a conversation that loses momentum … or stops altogether. In some cases, the prospect even stops returning phone calls or e-mail messages.

What happened in these exchanges?

Typically, the “good advice” we offer in such situations sounds something like this: “The problem is, Jim, you aren’t conducting assessment surveys on your new hires. You should incorporate a simple online questionnaire into your hiring process. Then I bet your turnover numbers would start to go down.”

Jim may not respond well to a message like that. Why not? Because we’re telling Jim what he “should” do – and that message is not likely to be a welcome one, no matter how much experience we have that backs it up. We’re telling Jim that what he’s doing right now isn’t what he “should” be doing. Even though our advice is sound and well-intentioned, it’s likely Jim will interpret what we’ve put forward as an unwelcome message of judgment. That’s one of the big reasons why prospects shut down and decide to keep salespeople at arm’s length … or even further away!

Messages that communicate judgment or bias (see the list on the left below) about what is right or wrong, good or bad, what one should or shouldn’t do, and what is acceptable and what isn’t, are likely to trigger emotional responses from the listener. Those responses can range from compliance (which may carry with it some degree of resentment) to rebellion, neither of which are desirable or conducive to the rapport and trust you are working to establish in a sales discussion.

Rather than tell someone what to do or how to act, you can frame the message around a helpful suggestion or a point for consideration. (See the list on the right below.)


You should…

You should have…

You shouldn’t…

Don’t do…

You’re wrong about…

You missed the point.

You just don’t get it.

Listen to me.


You may find more value in…

Had you considered…?

It might not help to…

You may want to consider…

Your perspective might change if…

Have you considered…?

Perhaps you should think about…

May I suggest…?

So, using our example, if you were to say to Jim, “In addition to what you’re doing now, Jim, you might find value in conducting some basic assessment surveys on your new hires. If you were to incorporate a simple online questionnaire into your hiring process, those high turnover numbers might start to go down.”

Consider framing your advice as a helpful, neutral partner, someone who avoids judgmental messages. Using this approach, you may well find that it’s easier to keep the conversation moving forward, easier to make your advice accessible, easier to keep the prospect engaged as a peer, and, ultimately, easier to close the sale.

Agree to ask questions


I think, said Janet to herself, that I just figured out a solution to my problem of letting the prospect run the meeting.

With that thought in mind, she got out of her car and walked into the office building. Her first face-to-face with Harry Whitland, the CEO of Whitland & Sons Furniture Factory, has been rather easy to arrange. One of her existing clients, at her suggestion, had arranged for the appointment. Nothing like asking for a referral, thought Janet as she was led into Harry Whitland's office.

"Mr. Whitland," began Janet, "I appreciate your taking Gabrielle Deprey's suggestion and meeting with me."

"Ah," responded Harry, looking up towards the ceiling for a second, "Gabrielle and I go back a long way... I've tried my best over the years to hire her away but she's always telling me that we'd fight tooth and nail if we were in the same company."

"Why would that be?" asked Janet, thinking to herself that this meeting was going just like she wanted.

"Not that it would matter, but Gabrielle has an incredibly strong personality and very definite opinions about running a business. The problem, you see," Harry said, looking at Janet, "is that so do I." He concluded and stared at her.

Janet decided that she had nothing to lose at this moment. Either she wimped out and let Harry Whitland start running things or she would keep control. Taking a deep mental breath, she remembered her question.

"I appreciate that you also have a similar personality and definite opinions about running a business. If we could agree on one thing at this point, I think we could both get something out of this meeting." Janet knew that was a statement, but she wanted to see if he would interpret it as a question.

Harry looked at Janet for a moment; the puzzled expression lasted a few seconds and then faded to one of curiosity. "What might that be?"

"Gabrielle thought that you and I might be able to work some business. Neither of us know at this moment. Can we agree to ask each other questions to find out?"

He thought for a moment and smiled. "Sure," he said, "you start."


Janet got up-front agreement on how the meeting would be conducted.


How rare is a salesperson who can comfortably approach an initial meeting with a prospect, knowing that there may be no business? Doesn't this go against what every salesperson is supposed to believe, that every prospect can be a close if you are good enough to beat down the objections?

Janet could have taken the easy road, the one that leads to the mindless "salesperson now dumps information". She could have started in on what she had just sold Gabrielle, assuming that would be of interest to Harry. Or, if she sensed that was not working, she could have pulled back and talked in general about the wide range of products she represented. And if neither of those appealed to her, she could have asked Harry the question he had heard from every salesperson, "What do you need?"

Of course, what Harry would have heard with that question is, "What can I sell you today?"

Instead, Janet got Harry to agree on how the meeting was going to be held. Both of them would be answering questions. Nothing unusual? Actually it is. Rarely does a prospect ever expect to answer any question other than "Will you buy it today?" Janet is now free to ask as many questions as she needs to find out whatever she needs to know.


New way to prospect

Frustrated with prospect calls but want new business? If you don't have a process for these calls, perhaps now is the time to adopt one that works...

Does your typical prospecting phone calls sounds something like this?

"We've helped our clients (X, Y, and Z) to deliver (so-and-so benefit) with our (such-and-such brand product/service), which has (so-and so feature). I'd love to meet with you for just a few minutes next week to show you exactly what we've done for those clients. How's Tuesday at 11:00 a.m.? Are you free then?"

I'm not sure if you noticed or not, but the only question in the salesperson's verbal vomit is focused on what he or she wants... the meeting. Why do salespeople think the prospect cares about what the salesperson wants?

Bad cold calls are typically structured around a script with lists of features and benefits, which leads into a direct request from the salesperson for an appointment. There are also some cute, but commonly known turnaround techniques the salesperson is supposed to memorize.

This old approach to prospecting calls is ineffective for any number of reasons, perhaps the most important of which is that it does not support a real conversation between business peers. It's basically a fire-hose that you turn on and point at the person who answers the phone. You keep up the pressure until the person either hangs up or submits by agreeing to a meeting they really don't want to attend. The ratios associated with these calls are generally abysmal, and that's not surprising.

Fortunately, there is a better way to prospect by phone... but it requires moving beyond the familiar feature-and-benefit-dump, and it challenges you to engage in a true conversation before you ask for a slot on the calendar.

To initially stimulate prospects' interest and engage them in conversation during a prospecting call or in any other setting, you must be able to make them aware of and focus their attention on a meaningful and relevant challenge they face - a goal they are attempting to achieve, a problem they are attempting to solve, or an important issue they have yet to recognize.

The problem or goal should be one that is efficiently, effectively, and uniquely addressed by your product or service.

This conversation typically begins with a statement and a question from the salesperson's side. The following is a statement and question for a company that sells turnkey, one-step solvent recycling equipment:

"Several manufacturers in your industry have told us that due to the new compliance regulations, not only have the costs associated with the storage and disposal of used solvents nearly doubled, but so has the paperwork. How does that compare to your experiences?"

Now you're not unloading a fire-hose at the other person. You're asking an intelligent business question - and waiting to hear what kind of answer you receive.

In order to ask meaningful, relevant, and timely questions, you must not only be thoroughly knowledgeable about your product or service, but also about your prospects' and customers' industry trends, market conditions, competitive positioning, and regulatory requirements - anything that may affect how, when, where, or with whom they can do business.

The more you understand the landscape on which your prospects and customers do business, the better able you will be to identify opportunities to serve them. Thus, the more successful your prospecting conversations will be.

Many salespeople fall into the feature-and-benefit-dump pattern during the prospecting call simply because it's what they're most familiar with. They don't feel like doing the research. Considering the ease with which you can do an Internet search to discover information about the companies you target, their executives, their industries, and their markets, there is really no excuse for not initiating a conversation between peers about a prospect's likely business problem.

The element you use to connect during an initial conversation with a prospect doesn't have to relate to a unique circumstance or event (such as new compliance regulations). It can relate to the means for increasing efficiencies, revenues, and profits, or decreasing inefficiencies and expenses.

Forget about features and benefits. Build your prospecting calls around relevant, appropriate questions that connect to some pain that you can remove from the prospect's world. Then listen.  

Your prospecting ratios will improve dramatically.

More Sales Meeting Minute articles

About the Author

John Glennon is an authorized licensee of Sandler TrainingSM in the Interior of British Columbia.

John is an accomplished sales person and manager with over 17 years sales and sales management experience. Beginning in sales in 1990 as a sales representative, he progressed to territory manager, sales manager, division manager and national sales and marketing manager roles throughout his career.

In 1997, John became a student of the Sandler Selling System. This introduction changed his sales career and over time propelled John and his career to new heights.

Successful in accelerating growth through strategic leadership, John knows firsthand the value of a sales training approach that follows a learning philosophy of ongoing reinforcement. He is experienced in driving the behaviours, attitudes and techniques required of an effective sales team.

Sandler Training is offered on a regular basis from their Kelowna, BC training center and through innovative distance learning programs to the rest of the BC Interior.


[email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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