6 Questions Sales Managers should Ask about Sales Team

How to find out what’s really going on with your sales organisation

6 Questions for Sales Managers

One of your sales team has a great prospect lined up and they are pretty excited about the opportunity on the table for the company and for their sales targets, especially as they head into the next business quarter. They may be experienced at selling, and have been meeting similar prospects like this for years. Easy and they do it every day. So what’s the challenge here for them, for you and for the company?

There is always the risk of defaulting to tried and tested habits that have won them business in the past.  A beginner’s mind is always a great mindset to have in  your sales team. Here are 6 questions to ask inside your sales organisation, on a regular basis. to increase awareness of the selling behaviours and get more traction in your sales meetings.

  1. How prepared are my salespeople for their sales meetings?

For any meeting, having a plan and a conversation strategy will get your sales people more focused, create a structure and strategy and make better use of their selling time. Why wouldn’t you plan in such a ways as to reduce the number of meetings to get to a close? There’s nothing more rewarding than making progress fast and increasing the chance of winning business.

So some key questions to ask, to find out how prepared the salesperson is for a meeting: Are all the decision makers going to be at the table?  Obvious question, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to find this out beforehand. What are the key issues each decision-maker is facing?  You might not know, but it’s worth a guess, based on their position in the company. What is the strategy for the sales conversation? What business issues can we focus on? What would trigger value for each of them and how are we going to sell that to the key stakeholders? How are we going to manage and progress the sales conversation? What is our outcome for the buyer at the table?

  1. What is the focus for the sales meeting?

At this point, the salesperson should be demonstrating their ability to step into a higher frame to discuss business issues, acting in a business consulting capacity and exploring how these issues can be addressed with your company’s solution. Depending on the stage in the buying cycle, the salesperson may just be exploring what prompted the meeting, or exploring what is motivating the buyer to want to know more. They may have to focus on increasing the buyer’s motivation to move further into negotiation stage of the meeting. A focus on structure over sales pitch, will increase traction in the sales meeting and keep the sales person connected to the outcome and goal of the meeting.

Asking this question leads you to exploring how much thought the sales person has put into the substance of the meeting. What is this meeting actually going to be about for the buyer and decision-makers in the room?  What is the theme  and focus of the sales conversation? The decision-makers are there for a reason beyond writing a cheque. They have problems to solve and think your company can solve it or they want something better than they have right now.

The focus of the meeting should always be about an implicit promise to the buyer; that if they take the conversation further, there is some real value on the table.  We are not talking here about a sales pitch, a demo or a testimonial, but a solution to their business challenges or future aspirations.

  1. What range of behaviours are actively going on at the sales meetings?

When we talk about behaviours, we are talking about the communication skills and style of interaction going on. Rapport has been taught in sales training courses for decades. At this point, your sales people should be doing this unconsciously and competently. Rapport ranges from non-verbal, body language to linguistic rapport, to understanding and exploring mutual values. What’s even more important is the balance between literal listening and asking high-quality thought-provoking question.

Asking great questions is the fuel for directing the conversation to where you want the buyer to notice business acumen, understanding, pacing and supporting and a possible match for them. A lot of talk has been given to buying signals and I would invite sales managers to think about the signals the salesperson is giving; are they listening, are the responding from the buyer’s point of view, are they pacing the buying decision rather than rushing the sale? The difference between buying signals and selling signals is huge. The right selling signals motivate the buyer to explore more and accelerate their decision to buy.

4. What key actions are they taking to get the buyer to make decisions?

Actions are what you do linguistically to move the conversation along. It allows the buyers to draw positive conclusions about the salesperson and your company; that they are trustworthy, competent and intelligent, and have a good understanding of the business issues at hand.

We are talking about the ability to track and summarise and ask about what has been said; it’s about using the information given to take the conversation in a direction that convinces the buyer that you are worth talking to. If you do it right, the buyer will be making decisions in their head to continue the interaction, to ask more questions, and begin to emote on the value of having the solution on offer. In other words, they have positive impression of the sales person and want to know more.

The actions I am talking about here are what the person is dong to direct and guide the conversation so that the buyer sees it as time well spent and worth paying for, if they choose to. Ask your salespeople, what are the 3 key things you did that got this buyer interested, where they agreed to the next meeting or shortlisted the company for the final selection round?

5. Can people in my sales team explain the process they use to close the sale?

When I talk about a sales process, I am talking about the steps the salesperson takes, to guide the buyer into the future and imagine doing business with your company.

In summary, what we are talking about here is a conversational process to close the sale. I usually have 8-10 steps, which don’t have to always go in a particular order, but doing it right, will always increase the motivation for the buyer and consider the offering. Ask your salespeople to explain it, so that if it worked, you can replicate it across the team. Track it and write it down. What did they do first, and then what did they do? If you have an exceptional sales person who can repeatedly create this conversational process. Sit down with them, capture it, document it and replicate it across your organisation. It’s called modelling. The best people have a model in their head and when captured, it can be a best practice in your sales organisation.

6. Are my team able to explain how the buyer closed the sale?

I always say the buyer closes the sale, because, they are the ones who say yes. As a salesperson, the skills required centre on observing and tracking your buyers decision-making patterns. How buyers make decisions is where the real value in asking questions lies. Consider focusing weekly and monthly sales meetings around where key prospects are in the decision-making process. It can tell you a lot more and get your team to focus on the buyer’s view of the world, where they can be more effective in closing the sale.

CRM software puts salespeople in the tempting position of using their own biased thinking about how close their are to 100%. Of course it all depends how you measure the close rate. It doesn’t always tell you what’s going on for the buyer, but it does show you the level of optimism your salespeople function from. The buyers always close the sale, when they make a decision to say Yes. If you can get your salespeople to explain how the buyer made the decision, it will train them to view every buyer as unique and tweak their sales approach accordingly.

I talk a lot about buying filters when I work with sales teams and we always do a short profile on buyers and their typical buying patterns. We stick to 10 so as not to overwhelm them!  An example of this is, whether a buyer looks at Options or Process, what motivates them, the past pain or the future possibilities, whether they are focused on the big picture or the details. So asking your salespeople, “what do we know about the decision makers in this organisation and how they decided to buy and can we map it?”

If you are a sales director or manager in a competitive industry, test these questions with your team at the next sales meeting and see what you discover. Questions empower and expand your sales team capacity to win more business. What would it take for your team to become more curious about how they create their success and how to have more of it?

Listening as an Effective Communication Skill

5 Insights into the Art of Literal Listening

The 30-Day Challenge

Have you ever been described as a great listener? Would this describe you? Are you the person that keeps saying  “Sorry, what did you say?”  I was prompted to think about listening in the past few month because I was working on some business projects which required deep levels of listening on my part to get results needed for a team and a client’s business.

I put myself up to the challenge of really noticing how well I was listening while also taking in how other people listen in a conversation, so I could learn from them.  In coaching, the most powerful tool we can use is listening, and listening in an active and fully present way. No matter where we are in our professional life, nothing gets achieved without listening.  Mis-communication is often created by under-developed listening skills. People make assumptions based on what they thought they heard. The next thing, you are sitting in a reality far removed from the actual facts. Here are some thoughts on what listening can do for you, if you take up the 30-day challenge.

1. Listening is an internal and external dynamic

We cannot be listening to the inside and the outside at the same time. There is a distinction between practicing self-listening and other-listening. When you are self-listening, you are consciously following every thought and word you speak, and ensuring that it fits with those you are addressing, the environment and context. You are noticing how congruent you are with what you are saying. So if somebody asks you, “What did you say?” you can repeat it, instead of realising that you can’t actually remember.  Being present to your own words and thoughts will keep your self-listening levels high. And it helps in negotiations to know exactly what you said throughout the discussions.

When you are other-listening, you are tracking for understanding of others, without comment, you are turning down the inner dialogue and literally hearing every word and idea being said. Distracted listening will show up where you need to repeatedly utter“Huh, What?” or a variation of this. You will look distracted, moving or fidgeting if you are thinking about what you are going to say next. This will be picked up as not being fully present to other person and will certainly affect the communication. This is a very common habit, particularly where there is a tempting smartphone near by to pick up and check. Listening deeply to the words, tone and gestures of others will give you a wealth of unspoken valuable insight into their way of working and help build a quality relationship with them. Don’t miss out on the cues to tell you how the conversation is going.

2. Literal listening creates clean language

Have you ever been in a conversation where somebody completely paraphrases what you just said? They don’t use the words you used and may even have turned what you said upside down.  How did you feel? I’ve seen one incident where it was definitely not what the person said at all. It started a whole argument because one person was just making up what they heard. Putting words in people’s mouths does very little to build relationships.

This is called inferred listening, where we put our own spin on what we hear, usually for our own benefit. Literally listening to every word will never get you into trouble.  It allows you to take what you heard and bring clear clean responses to your conversation. If you need to relate what they said, your literal listening will allow you to use their words in a clean way, rather than paraphrasing and inviting misunderstanding and, at worst, distance between people.

3. Listening is the only way to build interpersonal relationships

Whenever a person feels that you are listening and hearing them, you are actually including them. As far out from your own view as they may be, it is always a good practice to listen and then consider what they are saying. Listening to others is about receiving who they are, their contribution, ideas and points of view. Getting a reputation for poor listening will tend to alienate others and when you really need these people on your side, they may not be around. “They never listen anyway” is a good indication that relationships need building. I have heard it in many places I have worked in, and certainly in the parenting zone, it is a common theme.

4. Listening is great for concentration and recall

I noticed that the really great listeners are fully present in how they hold themselves. They are still, calm, nodding, and really seeking to understand. It comes back to one of the Steven Covey’s Seven Habits, Seek first to Understand. If you develop your skill of really listening, and recalling exactly through literal listening you will find people warm to you more readily. Over the years I have worked to develop skills in tracking what people said in earlier coaching conversations and so I can bring it into relevance where appropriate. It is an invaluable skill to have.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about learning styles in school children.  A child who has only one channel switched on will struggle more in the classroom. This can often translate into poor academic performance. Seeing, hearing and doing is how we learn best. Listening and hearing is how we understand. A great way to develop your recall from listening is to close your eyes, listen to a dialogue and see how much you can remember verbatim.

5. Listening slows down our responses

Even when you are in a heated discussion with somebody, it is always worthwhile listening to everything that is being said and doing your best to hear what the other party is saying. If you are lost in your own responses, you may be drawing your own opinions from the interaction. You will hear the stuff you don’t like and miss the real words that are being spoken. And when you slow down your listening, it gives you time to ask “When you say this, what exactly does that mean to you?” It invites deeper understanding and empathy. A wise strategy I recently learned from a friend was to “say nothing, until you know more.”

Listening is not just confined to the spoken word and daily conversations: consider how you “listen” to the messages in emails and social media posts. Are you listening with your inner ear and asking what the intention of the message was or are you assuming a meaning that is not there?  Listening as a communication skill can really take your relationships to another level.

Give yourself a 30-day challenge to see you well you listen. Can you do literal listening, as you stay fully present with the other person, instead of reaching for a distraction, thinking about your next utterance or making up your own interpretations of what somebody means.  In the power of listening lies your communication and relationship success. See where you are in 30 days!