Confidence might seem an ephemeral quality manageable only at the recruiting stage, but technology tools are emerging that can help a sales manager bottle competence and confidence for consumption across an entire staff.
Posted May 19, 2003
Faced with a combination of top- and bottom-line pressures, competitive pressure, and relentless product innovation, what sales manager has not indulged fantasies of observing her top sales representatives using bugs and cameras simply to discover and replicate the patterns of success?
But surveillance of top performers would likely yield little beyond one obvious, although profound, discovery: competence and confidence feed one another.
In many sales organizations, as little as 3 percent of salespeople are driving revenues while 97 percent are unwilling or unable to do so. Those in the majority may be underperforming because they're early in the learning curve, because they've learned just enough to get by, or because they're simply overwhelmed with the pace of change in products or competitive positions. Whatever the reason, only the sales leader who addresses competence and confidence at a strategic level will achieve real success shifting those percentages in her company's favor.
Confidence might seem an ephemeral quality manageable only at the recruiting stage, but technology tools are emerging that can help a sales manager bottle competence and confidence for consumption across an entire staff. These tools are now available in the form of sales effectiveness systems (SES), designed to give salespeople the information and best practice queues they need, when they need them.
Through SES, confidence becomes a natural outcome when a salesperson is empowered with real-time sales effectiveness tools that (1) help the salesperson understand the specific types of business analysis that should be conducted in the context of each specific sale, and (2) assist in translating the prospect's thoughts to the types of offers that could be shaped. Thus empowered with the product and competitive positioning intelligence they need, as well as with the skills needed to marry that knowledge with a specific customer's needs, more than the typical 3 percent of salespeople can become confident in their ability to pitch the highest-end products and meet their numbers.
Transforming every sales rep into a top performer may remain unlikely. But if the performance of the bottom 30 percent can be moved up to where the 40- to 50-percent performers are, and the middle third can move up 10 to 15 points on the performance scale, the impact on a company's top line revenue growth will be significant, and the return on the SES investment will be speak for itself.
Trying Badly or Never Trying at All
Sales representatives who never even try to sell their company's high-end products often spend most of their time (and a good deal of their company's resources) trying to close lots of little deals in order their quotas. At the same time, aggressive but incompetent attempts to sell high-end products and services can prove counterproductive.
In all likelihood the less-than-competent salesperson will:
guess erratically at the questions to ask
fumble for product information
find himself forced to retract misstatements
fail to present competitive differentiators that might have sealed a deal
overuse engineers better reserved for the most strategic opportunities
In the end, in addition to losing the sales opportunity, the salesperson will walk away without having learned much and without the knowledge or confidence needed to close a similar deal next time around.
Without real-time intelligence and contextual, best-practices guidance, even the best-trained sellers can find themselves in such a downward spiral. According to a recent Motorola study, "employees tend to retain only 15 percent of what they learned within three weeks after taking a corporate education course, and just one day after hearing a lecture, knowledge retention might be only 5 percent."
Confidence Building Within the Sale
Sales leadership must continually employ more sophisticated strategies in the never-ending drive to equip sales representatives to confidently approach, engage, and close customers. Enterprise portals stand as a prime example. But to change confidence and competence, sales leaders must deploy tools that provide real-time knowledge and guidance during the actual sales process. Portal solutions can be useful tools prior to and after the sales process, but they do not provide spontaneous contextual information and codified best practices needed between engagement and closing.
SES systems can provide the kind of in-process knowledge and guidance needed to enhance sales reps' effectiveness during the actual sales process by providing them with the information they need, when they need it and in a format that is contextually relevant to the sales stage they're in. SES systems should include deep vertical product and industry knowledge; real-time guidance to share successful tactics and practices; and suggestions for effective cross-selling and upselling.
With a system of this nature, even the greenest rep can be rapidly empowered with the institutional wisdom and confidence needed to sell effectively. For example, one large sales organization using sales effectiveness tools saw an increase in closed revenues over 75 percent among salespeople utilizing the SES tool over those who were not.
Real (-Time) Dollars
The cause-effect relationship between strategic confidence building and sales success is being proved in real markets. For example, SBC Communications, one of the largest North American telecommunications service providers, deployed a sales effectiveness application to more than 3,000 sales reps. SBC was able to use the system to provide its salespeople with real-time information about a multitude of product options. As a result, the carrier has seen both quantitative and qualitative improvements including:
Shortened sales cycles and improved close rates. Salespeople are able to deliver targeted solutions customized to meet customer needs.
Reduced reliance on technical support. Salespeople are able to deal with less complex solutions, freeing technical support to focus on larger, more complicated deals.
Reduced time to transition salespeople from order taking to consultative selling. The system allows new sellers to quickly ramp up to sell the full range of services.
Increased confidence. The system gives salespeople dealing with more complex products increased confidence to sell unfamiliar products.
Confidence and competence go hand in hand. By arming sales reps with the knowledge and guidance they need to boost their expertise and, by default, confidence, sales organizations will meet their numbers by not only signing more deals, but by closing more high-end, high-margin sales.
About the Author
Michael Heflin is the CEO of WhisperWire, a provider of sales effectiveness solutions. Heflin has 20-plus years experience in sales and has worked extensively in the CRM industry.