Leadership, Sales Management

5 Things I got my sales reps to do that I wish I hadn’t

I’ve been managing sales teams for 15 years so this definitely isn’t an exhaustive list of ‘if only’s’. But maybe this post will make you smile and reassure you that you weren’t alone in making mistakes, maybe you’re an aspiring sales manager or new to sales leadership and would like some advice, either way, I hope this is useful to you.

Roles plays. I hate them, I don’t know why I made my team do them

I’m sure in a few years we will look back and think why did we use sales role plays “that was weird”. We are not actors, we are sales professionals,  so why would we expect to be good at this. To start with it’s  really hard to replicate a real life situation and I’ve definitely added to the weirdness by throwing the camcorder into the mix ( I cringe as I write this).  It just creates a high pressured and unnatural environment which doesn’t add up to a great training experience for your sales rep. There’s no better way to learn than by shadowing real-life sales calls and pitches. My advice for new starters is to shadow and then work with another member of the team to deliver parts of the pitch. Start small, maybe its 20% of the pitch or maybe it’s just one of your products. As their confidence grows add additional parts until they are delivering the whole pitch.

Reporting on lost opportunities 

A few years ago I introduced a ‘lost sales report’ that reps needed to complete after they’d lost a deal. It triggered in our CRM when an opportunity was ‘closed lost’ and asked the rep to complete 5 questions.  The intention was good, we wanted to learn from our lost opportunities to improve,  but the idea didn’t work in practice. I think it’s really hard as a sales person to give an honest and objective view on why you lost an opportunity, especially if you’ve been working on the account for 6 months or more.  You’re emotional about it and the last thing you want to be doing when you’ve just lost a deal is fill out a report about it, talk about adding salt to the wound. If you really want great, objective insight into why you’re losing or indeed winning business, I found selecting a small number of prospects and having an independent researcher interview them gave the most insightful data and was well worth the investment.  Better to have a small amount of quality data you can action than lots of data written by reps covered in lost opportunity wounds.

Managing inbound and outbound business together

2 big problems with this. Why would a rep who has inbound leads ever want to give the right amount of attention to developing outbound business.  Inbound leads are great, they are the people that actually want to speak to you.  Going in cold is much harder and if you have the choice of the 2 why would you want to go in cold? Secondly, it’s much harder to quantify the value the business is getting from each source and be able to make good investment decisions if the 2 things are muddled under one umbrella.

Onboarding new sales reps

I’ve never worked in an organization where we’ve had big induction plans and training budgets so that luxury aside I would map out an induction plan for my team. In hindsight, too much of the training was reliant on the sales team and if I went back and did it all again I would have drawn on the knowledge and experience of other departments to develop new reps. I think I obsessed too much about learning the ‘pitch’ rather than learning the ‘value’. To really understand the value you need to spend time with your customer facing people, that’s when you hear and learn about the great stories you can share with sales prospects. That’s what really builds credibility and trust in the sales process.

Researching sales prospects

A few years ago we did some research about where our sales reps were spending  time during their working week. It was a time study of four areas. a) Finding a company to call b) researching the company c) hunting the company d) selling to the company. The results were alarming, on average 85% of our sales teams time was being spent on a,b & c and only 15% of their time was spent actually selling our products. So much time being spent by just getting to the point where they hold the first conversation. We immediately implemented a new sales structure and as part of that decision we hired a research team to source and research the right companies we should be targeting. It’s no surprise our sales teams hated doing that part of the process anyway and their skills weren’t best suited to research either so not only were they wasting time on it, they weren’t effective at it either.

I hope this helps



One thought on “5 Things I got my sales reps to do that I wish I hadn’t

  1. Hi Tom, enjoyed this post. I’ve also spent 15 years as a sales manager and now consult on sales. Most of my sales management time was with sales teams spread all over the world and their targets were pretty high in the $2m – $40m range mostly

    Role plays – I have always done model role plays for the team – usually me and another manager, we deliberately make mistakes and let the sales guys critique us. Model role plays are excellent for modelling a customer conversation for a new product launch. These days I also do quite a bit of role play in skype coaching calls – but its always private. The group role play thing I agree is embarrassing and not fun for the team.

    Lost opportunity investigation – a job for the sales manager or other manager, not the sales person

    Onboarding new reps – a huge area for improvement for most companies. Making available useful sales collateral, particularly stories is really important. The story library – company creation story, who have we helped, company values stories, cost of delay stories – is incredibly valuable. Unfortunately most companies don’t have this library, its hidden in the minds of the best sales reps

    Inbound versus outbound – I’ve never had the set-up with separate inbound and outbound reps, the bulk of quota was always going to come from outbound work. Interested in your opinion though. Generally the companies I’ve worked for have favoured single point of contact for each account.

    Research – yep, sales people are not efficient at it and it should be done by an analyst

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