By Bridget McCrea
Sales managers like to think of themselves as the ultimate facilitators when it comes to closing the sale. Working with teams of reps, these experienced professionals provide the guidance, support, and intervention necessary to achieve monthly quotas and keep customers coming back for more. Sometimes, however, even well meaning sales managers can stand in the way of the reps’ success. When the latter lacks the necessary (or, the correct) branding, differentiation, or sales tools, for example, sales can quickly derail as customers seek out other supply sources.
“The problem is that many sales managers were formerly very good sales reps, but reps don’t always make the best managers,” says Barrett Riddleberger, CEO at xPotential Selling in Greensboro, N.C. “They can’ t necessary translate their own success and serve as effective sales coaches for others.”
A great coach, for example, breaks down the plays in a way that others can understand. In terms of branding and market differentiation, equipping reps with the branding information and tools that they need to make an impact in the marketplace should be a top priority for sales managers. Here are five strategies that your distributorship can start using today to overcome this challenge:
- Make sure your sales managers “share” their magic. Michael Jordan was a terrific basketball player, says Riddleberger, but that didn’t mean he was a great coach. If your own managers don’t understand this, then maybe it’s time for a few training sessions – or a replacement manager. “Coaching is the ability to break things down so that the concepts make sense to others; if your sales managers aren’t doing that, then you’ve found the root of your problem,” says Riddleberger. “Successful sales managers replicate success across the entire sales organization and every salesperson. They don’t hold the magic. They share it.”
- Teach reps how to dig deeper into their accounts. One of the best ways to build relationships with customers is by going beyond the solo buyer and forming alliances across the entire account. That way, when your rep’s favorite buyer exits for another job or opportunity, he or she can put more emphasis on the other bonds that have already formed. “Show reps the value of multidimensional relationship building,” says Riddleberger, who views weekly sales meetings as a good time to review this philosophy and teach reps how to adopt it.
- Create conversations around business – not just price and product. With economic issues and a plethora of buying options continuing to impact the selling environment for distributors, now is a good time to get your reps talking more about your business and less about pricing and products. When talking to customers, have them ask meaningful questions like: Where you going with your business? Where’s the market going? Where are your customers going? What are their demands looking like? “When reps ask these questions, clients will view them less as product pitchmen and more as valued and trusted business advisors,” says Riddleberger, “who truly have their thumbs on the pulse of what’s going on in their companies.“
- Show reps how to articulate business value and company mission. Having meaningful conversations with customers can help reps quickly identify key pain points and come up with ways to address those issues. An electrical contractor who has been experiencing job delays due to chronically late orders, for example, could be a good candidate for a jobsite-based, vendor-managed inventory program. “Teach your reps how to ferret out those pain points and to come up with solutions that help customers work more efficiently,” says Ben Katt, co-author of When Buyers Say No: Essential Strategies for Keeping a Sale Moving Forward. “One of the biggest skills in selling is the ability to ask questions. It’s the sales manager’s responsibility to discover the very best ways of asking those tough questions and getting end users to reveal their pain points.”
- Focus less on quotas and more on sales activities. Conversations between sales managers and reps should mimic those that take place between coaches and players, says Riddleberger. Unfortunately, most of those interactions center on meeting sales numbers and quotas – an approach that does very little to help reps sells solutions, outcomes, and business value. “The most important discussions should center on the activities that the rep is engaged in and the quality of those individual activities,” he advises. “Rather than talking about outcomes, discuss the processes that lead to those outcomes.” A rep that’s struggling during his or her interactions with senior-level executives on the customer side, for example, should practice by listing out key questions and then rehearsing those queries with a sales manager. “Don’t just tell your reps to get out there and ask the right questions,” says Riddleberger, “go over the questions, rehearse them, and make sure your reps have plenty of practice asking those meaningful queries.”
McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.Tagged with tED