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!

After the Sales Training – What can the sales manager do?

8 Sales Behaviours and what to look out for as a Sales Manager

When you want to figure out what’s really going in with your sales team, it’s time to look at what they do in front of their customers. I am big believer in observing behaviour to see what the salespeople have applied and what is not working, especially after investing time in building their skills.  As luck would have, there are researchers out there to help us shine a light on the real problem in getting the sales team to apply the learning and hone their skills, once they leave the sales training room.

8 Sales Behaviours – The  Best and the Worst

Researchers Lynette Ryals and Iain Davies observed 800 sales professionals in live sales meetings to understand the gap between investment in sales teams and their performance. They discovered in their research of sales meetings, that 9% of sales meetings end in sales.  So why is that?

In exploring this, they discovered a set of patterns among the best of them.  It seems that a 1 in 250 salespeople exceed their targets. Well that doesn’t surprise me, when I observe the range of behaviours that we unearth during a sales training course. At the high end we have the experts, closers and consultants, who make most of the sales while the narrators (product sellers), socialisers (relationships builders) and aggressors (pushy sales people) score very low in their sales close rates.

Here are some great info-graphics to show us what is really going on, courtesy of HBR and the researchers.


The cream of the crop and the rest…

Eight selling behaviors were highlighted in the study, of which only three were actually related to sales success and high close rates. By mapping how salespeople defaulted to a particular sales technique and behaviour, they discovered salespeople fell into 8 categories on a quality to performance scale. The top 3 were consistent in closing sales. And made up 37% of the sample. The remaining group of sales people – 63% – under-performed because of their selling behaviours.



The Sales Outliers are the Best Closers and here’s why
Here’s an infographic of the skill-sets of the three salespeople that close the sales more effectively – Experts, Closers, and Consultants. The closer each corner of the green heptagon is to the edge of the circle, the more effective the salesperson is at the corresponding behaviour. Experts (9% of salespeople) are good at all seven selling skills; Consultants (15%)  good listeners and problem solvers; and Closers (13%) can pull off big product sales, but their smooth-talking style is less effective when selling services.

The poorest closers and what they are missing

The Friend to Everybody #1: The Socializer
We always think of the best salespeople as extroverted and socially-astute and winners in the selling game.  Based on the research, Socializers score the lowest when it comes to closing the sale. Notice the difference in their performance against the aspirational traits and the average of all salespeople. Socializers spend way too much time making friends and involving themselves in the buyer’s personal world, instead of staying focused on the result of the meeting, which is to get the buyer closer to making one more decision and closing the sale.




The Underachiever in Sales  #2: The Storyteller
Storytellers have a great ability to illustrate the value by sharing how successful the offering was in the minds of their existing buyers. Often they lose focus on progressing the sale by sharing too much of what is not always relevant to the buyer in front of them. It can bore or turn the buyer off. It’s always about gauging the relevance of the story in the sales conversation.  The positive in all this is, at least their gab focuses on how other clients used the product or solved the problem. Ryals and Davies discovered that much of the buying signals can be lost by focusing too much on past success rather than asking and listening to burning issues relevant to the client sitting in front of them.

The Product Seller #3: The Narrator
Narrators rely heavily on their product knowledge, the same sales pitch and the marketing material that is more suited to written communication.  They lack the dynamic approach that bends with the concerns and questions thrown to them by the buyer. If they are not flexible enough, they can come across as unsure and rigid in understanding what the buyer really needs. Product knowledge is a must, but it is not a selling technique to use with inquiring buyers who wants to dig into the value of what’s on offer.

The Master of Detail  #4: The Focuser
Focusers, tend to stick rigidly to the formulaic way of presenting and talking about the ins and outs of the technical specs of the product at the expense of listening, probing to figure out what the clients is interested in hearing and to get a sense of the bigger picture in the purchase along with the concerns of key stakeholders. Detailed people miss the buying patterns of the buyer and fail to progress the conversation to a close. They often confuse sharing product knowledge with closing the sale in the buyers mind.


The Pushy Salesperson #5: The Aggressor
Aggressors are the least liked of sales people. They drag the selling into the price pit and drive down the price often just to win the sale. They are bad for the seller’s business and for the market they operate in. They can win sales, but often at the price of a long-term relationship or company reputation. They can be unappealing to do business with because their style can often be like a battle with a win/lose dynamic. Somebody always looses in the short term and the company and industry may lose in the long term, driving down the price at the expense of quality.

Fixing the Problem by looking at the sales team in the right way
Ryals and Davies found that too much time in sales training is spent on doing the sales pitch, building rapport and presenting the product. Giving product presentations is not selling. These skills are no longer enough to keep the sales people at the top of their game.  The sale is not made there. So many sales people think they have to know more about the product to get the sale. They don’t. They have to spend more time developing their consulting skills and sales-closing techniques and taking more risks in the sales conversation.

What is clear about The Experts, Closers and Consultants is their skill in designing and using a more sophisticated and smarter approach to each customer. They have a strategy for their sales meeting. They profile the buying strategies, the have high-quality coaching skills; they ask great questions, they know how to move the conversation from exploration to consulting to closing. Their listening and retention skills allow them to coach their buyers to come to a quality decision by the end of the sales meeting.

Sales training courses that continue to focus on the standard commodity of opening, closing, overcoming objections is not what the low performers needs. They need the tools to become better at recognizing their behaviour, developing better questioning skills and sales techniques that getting quality outcomes from every sales meeting.




You may also like to read our ebook, The Sales Outliers, How top People Power Ahead in their Selling Game

At Zenith Training, we offer sales training courses that can add more dynamic selling skills to improve buyer engagement in each sales meeting. Want to learn more?