One of the primary roles of a sales leader is to make his/her team members better – to develop their skill sets. However, this often gets lost in all the noise of pipelines and forecasts and strategizing on the deal of the day. Sales leaders get so busy with the noise, that their team can stagnate. A wise man once told me, “Rank your team from top to bottom, from best to worst.” The immediate response was to ask what the criteria was for ranking them. He replied “Whatever criteria you want to use. You know in your heart who is best and who is not.” I followed his direction and came up with our list. The top few were easy and the bottom few were easy. I had to think hard about a few of the middle people a bit, but I had my list. Then he said something I will never forget. “If we do this exercise next year and the list is the same, then you are not doing your job as a leader.” It really made me think. I had been closing deals with my team like a mad man and we were hitting our numbers, but I couldn’t honestly identify things that I did that improved their skills.
Think about that for a minute. If your team never improves its skills from year to year, how will they sell more? It seems so fundamental, but we see so few leaders really focus on it. Some will tell us “Well I lead by example. I model the right behavior and that is teaching.” Maybe, but I never got any better by watching the golf pro hit balls on the range. I actually had to swing the club, hit bad shots, get feedback and coaching and make adjustments. It’s the same thing with sales. You can model it, but that’s only a start. The real work comes in actually teaching and coaching. Other sales leaders will tell us they do sales training once a year. That’s also good, but what are they doing to reinforce it or coach to it? Usually not much.
So where do you start this all-important skills improvement process? Here is a process for you:
- Identify where the sales person needs to improve. Each sales person is a little different, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to making your team better. You need to evaluate how they are doing in each part of the sales process. Are they good prospectors? Do they do enough research for the call? Do they have a plan? Do they perform good discovery to understand customer issues? Are they good at presenting? How are they at time management? All of these are examples of specific skills and I could probably easily name a dozen more. Decide what the most critical skills are to be successful at your company, then identify a skill to work on for each sales person on the team.
- Talk to them about it. Have them rank themselves for that skill from “1-Still learning” to “5-Mastered and could teach others.” It’s important that you agree with the sales person on where they are at today. If they think they are a superstar and you think they are awful, then you need to talk about why the opinions differ. Most of the time that is not the case. You will rank similarly.
- Discuss why that skill is important. How will it impact them if they are better at that skill? Will their close rate go up? Will they get more activity in? How much more money could they make?
- Agree on a plan for how to get better. Maybe they need additional training. Maybe you can role play with them during 1 on 1s. Maybe you can go out in the field or listen in on the phone with them to observe and provide coaching. Maybe it a combination of all those things.
- Make it a focus and set goals around it. For example, the sales person may want to get better at getting meetings with new prospects. Set a goal for how many new ones they should get per week or month. Start tracking it. Talk about it every week or every two weeks. Are they making progress? Celebrate it whenever you can.
If you follow this process, chances are good that they will continue to improve. Than what? Pick the next skill to work on. This is an ongoing process and good sales people never stop learning. Before you know it, they are much better in multiple areas and they are selling more which is the ultimate goal.
So ask yourself, and be honest, “Have I done anything this month to make anybody on my team better?”