I never wanted to be in sales. I only entered the profession because I had an idea for a business. When I shared it with a consultant , he said it was a good plan and timely.
Then he asked, "Who's going to be doing the sales?" I was disgusted by the question. Ugh. I shuddered, then leaned forward and said in a most accusing manner, "I thought you said it was a good idea."
He replied, "It is, Jill. But somebody has to sell it." After thinking about it, I begrudgingly entered the sales profession to learn what I needed to do to sell my idea, getting myself hired by Xerox.
I gave myself ONE YEAR to learn everything I needed to know ... which meant I was a total sponge, a student, someone who was hell-bent on mastering this profession as quickly as I could.
That meant I studied everything—even my own performance. I had to figure out what worked and what didn't, what approaches were most effective and which caused problems. I enjoyed considerable success, fairly fast and actually started to enjoy selling.
Fast-forward a few years ... I was still at Xerox and had been selected to attend a Management Development workshop in Washington DC for high performing sellers with leadership potential.
That's when I heard the statistic.
Sitting in class, I was stunned when the instructor said, “Only one in seven salespeople self-assess after a sales meeting.”
How could that be? I instantly thought. To me, it was a standard operating procedure. I assumed everyone did it. All the time.
Then, the instructor added, “…. and, those who do are the top performers.”
Bingo! It made total sense to me. After all, how could you get any better if you didn’t analyze your own performance on a regular basis.
Yet over 85% of sellers didn’t do it. Maybe they didn’t know how. Maybe they didn’t want to be at fault. Maybe they didn’t even know why it made a difference.
But it did. It mattered tremendously.
If a person didn’t self-assess, they’d be stuck in mediocrity, blissfully unaware that top performers were doing anything differently from them.
Or, they’d get progressively discouraged, questioning if they were cut out for sales and ultimately quitting, leaving me with an open territory to fill.
Hearing this statistic was a defining moment for me. It reaffirmed my own behaviors. I'd unwittingly stumbled into a best-practice because of my impatience to learn sales and leave the profession.
As an emerging sales leader, I realized that I’d never be successful unless I could teach my salespeople how to think about what their actions and strategies in a way that enabled them to continuously improve.
Over time, I realized that questions were my best tool in helping salespeople get better. They provoked curiosity and implied that there were alternative ways to do things. (I’ve listed some helpful ones below.)
The ensuing discussions led to lots of impromptu role-plays, where sellers could test out new ways of doing things. It was all an experiment in getting better.
I loved exploring my salespeople’s challenges (aka issues, obstacles, objections, delays, losses) the most. My goal was to help each person get to the root cause of their particular selling problem.
For example, it was a great learning opportunity—for example, when a prospect asked about price early on in the meeting—and upon learning it quickly replied, “We don’t have any money in the budget.”
“Mmmm,” I’d say to my salesperson, “Based on my experience, something you said elicited that response. What were you talking about just before your prospect brought up the budget issue?”
Then we’d backtrack, review their actions, brainstorm different approaches and do quick mock meetings to see if they could possibly lead to better responses.
It got salespeople thinking. Exploring. Testing. Assuming personal responsibility for their success. Getting better.
By showing my reps how to self-assess on a regular basis, their sales results improved enabling them to outperform even their own expectations.
While that “1 in 7” statistic has haunted me my entire career, I am eternally grateful I learned it early on. It's a difference maker!
Here are some good questions you can ask yourself or your reps. Use them after a phone call or a sales meeting.
- How do you think that call/meeting went?
- Did you accomplish your objective?
- If not, was it a realistic one?
- Is the next meeting on the calendar? If not, what happened?
What Went Well
- As you review the call/meeting, what were the best parts?
- What were you doing then that was so effective?
- How can you integrate that into future conversations?
What Needed Improvement
- What surprised you, put you off your game?
- What did you forget to do/say/ask that could make a difference?
- Where did you run into trouble? What do you think caused that?
- What could you have done things differently? What else? What else?
To get the maximum impact, use these questions frequently. Make them a regular part of your personal self-assessment or your sales management process.
P.S. I don’t know the source of the statistic, nor if it was Xerox-specific. While it would be nice to know, it didn’t affect its impact on me.