Opening Pandora’s Box Reveals the Truth in Manager to Seller 1:1

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The manager to seller 1:1 is a critical interaction that takes place in every sales organization, and yet it is a black hole for sales leaders

“90 minutes of your time can enhance the quality of your subordinates work for 2 weeks or for some 80+ hours.” – Andy Grove, CEO & Co-founder at Intel

The manager to seller 1:1 meeting is a proven management practice that, when executed well, creates happy, healthy, and productive teams. In fact, the 1:1 may be the single biggest leverage point a manager has to impact team performance.

But today’s overwhelmed and underdeveloped frontline sales manager may not have gotten the memo. The tyranny of managing to the number leads to choosing what’s urgent over what’s important and being reactive versus proactive. 1:1s commonly get pushed, lack preparation and structure, and have no clear outcomes. This dysfunction of such a critical management activity creates a hole that is hard to dig out of.

The desire to help sales managers has led us to study the manager to seller 1:1. In doing so, we’ve come to realize that this may be the single biggest unmet need in today’s sales organization. If you’re ready to open Pandora’s Box, let’s dig in.

The Purpose of the Manager to Seller 1:1

Manager to Seller 1-1 meetingWhy are we here? Without a clear purpose, there’s no alignment on what would make the meeting successful.

This is where the issues start. Because managers themselves aren’t sure what the purpose of the 1:1 is. They know that every manager does them, and they are supposed to, too. But why? And how does it fit into their goal to get their reps to their number?

Most frontline sales managers have not been trained on how to run a manager to seller 1:1. So they make it up as they go along. Often, each 1:1 is a bit different. In my experience, the typical flavors of a manager to seller 1:1 are:

  • Forecast review
  • Pipeline review
  • Deal review
  • Coaching

But what if I told you the most common type of 1:1 isn’t any of these. It’s actually all of them combined into one meeting!

Successfully executing any of these interactions with a seller requires practice and discipline. Trying to accomplish them all in one meeting is downright impossible! The discussion jumps from topic to topic and quickly becomes a disaster that is a testament to the fact that no one is sure what the purpose of this meeting actually is!

Managers must establish a set agenda for their 1:1s and develop a cadence with their team that allows them to focus on each of these interactions separately at various points in the month and/or quarter. Get this simple, but often overlooked, piece right and you are on your way to better 1:1s.

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Failure to Take Off and Land

Without a clear purpose, we’re off to a rough start. But a well-structured agenda will still make this meeting work. Extra credit if the manager has transferred ownership to the seller to own the agenda and it’s documented in a way that creates clarity and structure.

Without an agenda, the meeting is likely to meander aimlessly into irrelevance. Fear not, you can still make it worthwhile if there are clear actions items that come out of the meeting. Actions could include:

  • Submitting a revised forecast
  • Executing on agreed upon pipeline goals
  • Inviting manager to a call
  • Drafting an email for review
  • Scheduling an internal meeting

If you are a sales manager with 8 to 10 direct reports, this can be pretty hard to keep track of. Don’t be surprised if these actions float into the ether, never to be seen again.

After establishing a purpose, take off and landing the meeting tend to be the lowest hanging fruit to be addressed that will also provide the biggest payback.

Manager and Seller Should Feel Good

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” – Albert Einstein

A sales managers’ list of tasks includes rolling up the forecast, managing the pipeline, and closing business. That’s the easy part! What differentiates an average sales manager from a great one is their ability to remove roadblocks for their sellers. But while the manager may parachute in to save the day from time to time, this is not a scalable strategy for success. Helping the seller come to his or her own realization to solve a problem is.

When a manager is using the appropriate mix of guiding versus telling, the seller learns not to come to the manager for a solution, but rather with a problem that can be solved together. The same basic discovery and active listening skills that make for an effective sales conversation are a manager’s friend in the 1:1. There is typically at least one issue that, if solved for the seller, would make a big difference in the coming week. Isolate and focus on it.

If this sounds like more art than science, it is. But it’s also critical. A manager can get the mechanics of the 1:1 right, but if there is no trust the seller will be more likely to see the manager as in their way rather than a partner.

One simple way to find out is to ask! How was this meeting? Was it useful? Why or why not? What should we keep doing or start doing? Seeking feedback is an unnatural but highly effective way to instantly make this meeting better.

Conclusion

With limited direction outside of “get to your number”, it’s no wonder the average sales manager can get lost. When manager to seller 1:1s lack a clear purpose, fail to take off and land effectively and don’t feel good for either party, it’s a recipe for dysfunction.

Think of it this way: if your sales calls were to resemble anything like this picture, would you expect to sell anything? I don’t think so.

The manager to seller 1:1 is the key force multiplier moment an organization has to lift sales team performance, and it’s time we start facing that reality head-on.

 

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How To Improve Sales Team Performance with 4 Easy Adjustments

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Benchmark data spotlights four fundamentals to improve sales team performance

There are some basics to every sales call that most sales teams tend to take for granted. Sales and enablement leaders assume that their teams are highly capable of executing the fundamentals of a sales conversation. They lack the visibility into daily sales interactions to really get a good snapshot of how these fundamentals are used in the field. As a result, when met with the question of how to improve sales team performance, they will fixate on adjusting activity levels, offers, messaging, and/or processes to improve outcomes.

Michael Jordan said, “Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.”

Companies make huge investments in big sales transformations, consulting, methodologies, etc. when the end result is going to be the same. When a team lags in performing fundamental skills, no messaging strategy is going to have the intended impact, and sales performance fails to hit expectations.

The data from our 2018 Sales Team Performance Benchmark Report spotlights a critical need for optimization in four fundamental sales skills. This data is based on the observation and assessment of over 32,000 sales calls over a range of company sizes and industries.

1. Setting an Effective Agenda

how to improve sales team performance_Agenda100% of your reps should be able to set an effective agenda at the beginning of each call or meeting. This is a fundamental, yet simple, area of improvement to focus on in your team and will have a clear impact.

Setting an agenda establishes a mutually agreed upon purpose for your meeting, ensuring that the time the prospect spends with your sellers is uniquely relevant and valuable to them. This helps build the relationship by signaling that your seller respects their time and has something valuable to share with them in return.

How to Improve Your Sales Team’s Agendas

  • Write it Down: Have your sellers draft their agenda for a given interaction type and review it with you in their 1:1. The agenda should remain 90% the same for any conversation of that interaction type.
  • Roleplay: Have your seller roleplay setting an agenda. Ultimately, sellers fail to set an agenda because they get excited at the beginning of the call, and then before they know it, they are straight into discovery. Give them the opportunity to practice so it becomes second nature.
  • Monitor and Recognize It: Provide feedback (positive and constructive) to your sellers on their agenda every time you attend one of their meetings to continue to reinforce positive habits.

2. Telling a Client Story

how to improve sales team performance_ClientStoryOur brains are wired to seek out stories. Stories give us a glimpse into what our lives could be like if we make the same choice that others have already. A client story gives your prospect tangible proof of success and assures them that, as a customer, they will be in good company. It also helps establish trust and provides third-party validation to your solution.

It is relatively easy to teach sellers how to tell an effective client story during a sales calls. Sellers should be equipped with available stories that align with customer needs, profiles, industries, pain points, etc. Given the information, your sellers then need to practice incorporating the story and making it their own. If appropriate, it is also often helpful to provide slides that sellers can include in their decks that help illustrate the key points of each story.

Access the full Sales Team Performance Benchmark Report for more insights & coaching tips >>

How to Improve Your Sales Team’s Client Stories

  • Tell Your Sellers a Story: The hardest part of creating a story is having a compelling narrative and arc. If you have client stories that you have found to be successful in your selling, document them and share them with your sellers.
  • Practice Your Story: Have your sellers practice their stories. Like most things, stories improve over time. Consider adding a “story hour” portion to your team meeting where, each week, a seller brings a client-facing customer story and shares it with the group.

3. Differentiation

how to improve sales team performance_DifferentiationHow important is it to your business that customers understand the differences between your solution(s) and those of your competitors? Very important, right?

Differentiation is a core sales skill that leadership expects all sellers to be able to do. But that expectation is being taken for granted when 47% of your sellers are not able to articulate these differences! They are actually creating more harm than good by taking calls with your customers and prospects. In fact, we found that a full 6.29% where providing absolutely no differentiation at all!

More often, we find that sellers talk about features, rather than specific benefits to the client. To effectively differentiate, sellers must be trained to focus on customer needs and how your solution is uniquely capable of filling that need. Features and pricing do not differentiate your solution from your competitors.

How to Improve Your Sales Team’s Differentiation

  • Play a Game: Is it a feature or a benefit? In one of your team meetings, prepare five to ten index cards with examples of features and benefits of your product. Have team members pick a card from the pile and determine if it is a feature or a benefit.
  • Show and Tell: If you record sales calls, find an example of strong differentiation based on value and an example of a feature dump. Play both clips and have your sellers discuss what they think went well and what did not as a group.

4. Value Proposition

Fb_SpotLighthow to improve sales team performance_ValuePropYour strategic team worked hard to create a value proposition that clearly states how your solution helps your customers. It’s pure gold and ready to be shared with the world. But does your sales team know how to articulate it to your prospects and customers? You have about a 50/50 chance.

Delivering the value proposition in a sales call is critical to establish why the prospect should care about what you are trying to sell. But, in this environment, it needs to be delivered appropriately. Many sales teams have the value proposition scripted; most sellers can recite it in their sleep. But only about half of them can deliver it in a way that is engaging and highly relevant.

How to Improve Your Sales Team’s Value Proposition Delivery

  • Certify: Value propositions should be consistent across sellers. Establish and confirm that all sellers have the knowledge by certifying them on your value proposition.
  • Practice In-Workflow: In an effort to move beyond a flat delivery that often occurs with scripted content, start each of your 1:1s by having sellers tell you the value proposition.

How can you improve sales team performance? By relentlessly focusing on improving and optimizing the fundamental sales skills reps need to be successful. Without that commitment, investment in big, sexy sales transformations, rebrands, consulting, messaging, etc. is just a huge waste of money.

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5 Sales Team Performance Fails Guaranteed to Make You Miss Quota

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New benchmark research highlights 5 sales performance fails that contribute to sales teams missing quota

Infographic_5 Sales Performance FailsWe are all well aware of the statistic that 53% of salespeople fail to hit their quota—and many claim that number will only continue to climb. I don’t think many sales leaders need to be told that, though. You’re living that reality every day. You know that attaining your revenue goal continues to ride on the shoulders of just a small segment of your sales force.

Those star sellers carry the rest of the team, while your enablement and management organizations struggle to onboard, train, coach, and develop an almost continuous stream of new hires, who are thrown into the revolving door with little hope of ever breaking from the middle of the pack. You tell yourself that this is just how it’s always been done, all while sales performance fails to improve quarter over quarter.

Could more of your sellers be closing more deals? Based on our recent research, the answer is a resounding YES!

While many sales leaders inspect the activity of their team to understand how to attain their goal, activity management isn’t solely responsible for sales performance. If you have reps on your team who cannot properly articulate your message and move the conversation forward, it doesn’t much matter how many cold calls, discovery calls, or follow-ups they are completing. They don’t have the skills to effectively close the deal and no activity metric is going to get them there.

Every interaction your sellers have with prospective clients is critical to getting them to their goal. That is why we assessed over 32,000 sales conversations and analyzed the results. This analysis unveiled five critical skills that the average sales rep struggles to effectively implement within the sales conversation.

Sales Performance Fail #1: Telling an Effective Client Story

Our brains are wired to seek out stories. Stories give us a glimpse into what our lives could be like if we make the same choice that others have already. However, 59% of sellers do not tell an effective client story within the sales conversation. Client stories are important to your process because they provide tangible proof of success and a vision of what life could be like for prospective customers. They also assure your prospects that they will be in good company, should they decide to move forward with the relationship.

Our assessment did not just focus on the existence of a client story (23% did indeed tell a client story, but failed to make it engaging and/or relate it specifically to the prospect’s situation). In order to be effective, a client story must be tailored to your prospect’s persona, industry, business need, and/or specific pain points. It must also incorporate a compelling narrative and arc to captivate your audience into relating to it.

It is relatively easy to teach sellers how to tell an effective client story. Sellers should be equipped with available stories that align to customer needs, profiles, industries, pain points, etc. Given the information, your sellers then need to practice incorporating the story and making it their own. If appropriate, it is also often helpful to provide slides that sellers can include in their decks that help illustrate the key points of each story.

Get Coaching Tips for Sales Managers in the Full Sales Benchmark Report Here >>

Sales Performance Fail #2: Engaging Delivery

In most companies, sellers are given a script or “talk track” to help guide them through the sales conversation. While this is necessary to optimize your sales process and maintaining your message, sellers do need to learn how to make it their own so they can deliver it in a natural, conversational, and compelling way. This is a key skill that separates top performers from the rest of the pack.

Our assessment found that 56% of sellers are not delivering an engaging message to their prospective customers. While most salespeople can hit the key talking points, features, and positioning marks, few can make them come alive for the person on the other side of the conversation. Many people think this is a skill reserved only for “natural-born salespeople”, but it is absolutely a skill that can be taught and learned—with a bit of practice.

Train your sales reps to do their research, ask engaging questions, tell a compelling client story, and be unexpected. There is nothing like throwing a little curveball into the conversation to bring your prospect back into the meeting and stimulate a reaction.

Get Coaching Tips for Sales Managers in the Full Sales Benchmark Report Here >>

Sales Performance Fail #3: Value Proposition

Your sellers can likely recite your company’s value proposition in their sleep. But that just may be the problem—they sound like they’re sleeping when they try to articulate it to prospects. Our analysis found that, at the end of 50% of sales calls, prospects do not know what the company does or the value that it can provide.

The whole point of the sales call is to clearly articulate what, how, and potentially why your solution solves the prospect’s specific business problem. When sellers fail to engage prospects in your value proposition, they are wasting the most important opportunity your company has to establish an on-going, mutually beneficial relationship.

Most companies will attempt to mitigate this issue with scripting, training, and, perhaps, message certification. But this just scratches the surface. Sellers need to be able to apply your company’s value proposition to specific scenarios that make it relevant and valuable to different prospect’s needs. They also need to be able to deliver it in an engaging manner, not just recite it.

Get Coaching Tips for Sales Managers in the Full Sales Benchmark Report Here >>

Sales Performance Fail #4: Differentiation

After 47% of sales calls, prospects do not have a clear view of how your solution differs from your competitors. The main gap here is that sellers tend to equate differentiation to pricing and features.

Differentiation is a core sales skill that leadership expects all sellers to be able to do. But that expectation is being taken for granted when 47% of your sellers are not able to articulate these differences! They are actually creating more harm than good by taking calls with your customers and prospects. In fact, we found that a full 6.29% where providing absolutely no differentiation at all!

More often, we find that sellers talk about features, rather than specific benefits to the client. To effectively differentiate, sellers must be trained to focus on customer needs and how your solution is uniquely capable of filling that need. Features and pricing do not differentiate your solution from your competitors.

Get Coaching Tips for Sales Managers in the Full Sales Benchmark Report Here >>

Sales Performance Fail #5: Creating a Vision

A full 43% of sellers do not effectively create a vision of use for prospective customers. Without that clarity on how they would use the solution, your prospects likely do not have much urgency to purchase. They know they have an issue that needs to be solved, and they’ve identified you as a potential resource, but if they don’t see specifically how your solution is going to translate to pain relief for their life, they are likely to either continue with the status quo or continue looking for a solution that will fit their needs.

Your marketing and/or business development departments have done some heavy-lifting to get prospects to the stage in the buyer’s journey that they are talking with sales. To lose them simply because they don’t have a clear understanding of how it works is just a tragedy!

The solution comes back to being able to tell a compelling story. Integrating a client story into the discussion provides prospective customers with a vision of use. Also, make sure sellers are doing their research and understand the prospect’s business so they can effectively align your solution with prospective customers’ needs.

Could your sales reps be closing more deals? Absolutely.

But the ability to do so will not just come from optimizing your tech stack or requiring more activity. These adjustments will result in only marginal improvements, at best. Optimizing the conversations your sales reps are having with prospects and customers will yield greater returns with a relatively lower amount of investment.

Begin improving your team’s conversation performance by downloading the full Sales Performance Benchmark Report. Discover what skills other sales organizations focus on to improve their sales interactions and gain specific, actionable coaching tips that sales leaders and frontline managers can start using today to improve sales interactions.

 

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