Whether you’re a sales leader looking to align your team, help your people differentiate themselves by better articulating your firm’s unique value proposition or simply close more deals, here is a powerful skill you may not have considered:
This highly effective communication approach delivers your message in a more engaging and compelling way. This is because stories do two things that facts alone do not:
They provide context
They connect to emotion
Cognitive Psychologist Jerome Bruner suggests that stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone. His research suggests that if you share a story, people are much more likely to be persuaded. Isn’t that ironic when most leaders and salespeople rely on the use of facts and data to influence buyers.
Stories are the most powerful tool in your sales toolkit.
What if you replaced your facts-based presentation deck with a few concise stories? The results may surprise you.
For example, let’s take a client success story. You and your sales team took a recent project and hit it out of the park for a client, resulting in a significant revenue impact. The client was absolutely thrilled with your work and you were able to get a testimonial from them about your working relationship.
Sharing this story and the revenue impact with a prospect will be much more memorable than the revenue numbers alone.
One client success story can help you share information about your company that a potential customer couldn’t possibly remember in fact and figures.
As philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche explains “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.”
The story becomes a tool that a potential customer can share with his or her boss in order to sell the idea internally; it’s the vehicle for communicating your process, your solution, the benefit of choosing you as a provider, and the company’s ability to deliver high-quality results.
To use storyselling effectively, you have to understand the impact and best approach to use.
Decide which story you should tell
There are 4 types of stories that you should tell when storyselling to prospects and customers:
Success (to motivate and inspire)
Failure (to connect people and build trust)
Fun (to encourage laughter, not to distract)
Legends (the Jack Welch, Nordstrom, Steve Jobs etc.)
Some of these may be obvious. Others, not so much. You need to be ready with several different types of stories so that you can choose the right story, for the right person, at the right time.
Develop your story matrix
Once you are comfortable with each type of story that can be told in a sales or leadership context, spend some time thinking about what situations you need stories most.
These are the situations in which you most often find yourself. For example, it could be: networking events, project pitch meetings, cold calling, implementation meetings, etc. Answer the question: “When and where do I need stories the most?”.
As a leader, what stories compel people to act, get people aligned or think differently?
Stories carry impact, create influence, and establish valuable connections.
You’re well on your way to using the most powerful tool in your sales toolkit. If you want to take it one step further, ask us about our Storyselling training solution.
A veteran sales professional was in the middle of a pitch with a prospect that he had been trying to get a meeting with for the past several months.
“And that’s how we drive alignment, from end to end.” The rep finished this last sentence with hands spread apart, a visual demonstration of his company’s range of capabilities, and also his signature move.
“I see,” replied the prospect. “That’s interesting.” She glanced quickly at her phone, scanned the screen, then focused back on her guest.
“How much would this cost?” she asked.
The rep felt his stomach drop. This was not the response that he had hoped for. The money question was inevitable, but not this early in the conversation.
I went too fast, he thought. Ishould’ve warmed things up a little more before sharing the alignment story.
Fortunately for the sales rep, this was just a role play – a contrived scenario geared to test his relationship selling skills, and a safe environment where he could step back, reload, and try again.
But what about real life? What selling strategy should we coach to, especially when we don’t have the benefit of a do-over? In an age of information and intermediaries, do we look for big ideas that help us stand out, or do more traditional approaches like relationship selling still hold sway?
Trust will always be essential
You invest a considerable amount of time coaching your sales reps on how to deliver a unique message, but have you instilled the foundational skills required to build solid relationships that allow those messages to resonate?
Relationship selling is the creation of sustainable relationships through the process of building trust. This process seems simple. Yet, common sense isn’t always common practice.
Seasoned or new, all sales reps can benefit from using relationship selling concepts. Trust not only sets the foundation for a sale, it also encourages repeat purchases and word-of-mouth marketing.
Business writer and thinker Daniel Pink, in his book To Sell is Human, argues that there is no more powerful influencing strategy than to seek and convey your understanding of the other person’s perspective, or point of view, before presenting your own. That makes sense, if you think about it. Why would you trust someone who doesn’t try to understand you first?
Invest in relationship selling skills
Here are the 3 skills that your reps must master to build trust and influence buyers more effectively:
1. Demonstrate humility
One key to perspective-taking, according to the book, is adopting an attitude of humility – setting aside your own knowledge and experience, and putting yourself in a position of inferiority, or ignorance. Thinking more about what you don’t know, and less about what you do.
2. Ask curiously
This requires different habits than most people are accustomed to practicing in their sales conversations. We’re good at “telling”, but perspective-taking requires that we focus more on asking questions, and listening. To do this, we need to think less about what we want to say, and direct more attentional resources to pulling out the other person’s story.
3. Listen generously
Journalism, when done well, can provide an excellent demonstration of these skills. Take award-winning radio and podcast host Krista Tippett, for example. In her book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, the journalist and author talks about the need to bring “generous listening” into our conversations, letting curiosity and a “willingness to be surprised” guide us in our questioning, instead of allowing our assumptions, or our agendas, to direct the conversation.
So, if we want someone to pay attention to our ideas, then it’s helpful that we learn about theirs first. To do this, we need to think about what we don’t know, and be open to the unexpected. Sounds simple, but how to put into practice, especially if our default habit is to do the opposite?
Embed these skills in your coaching conversations
Can you confidently say that your salespeople have mastered these foundational skills?
To bring relationship selling skills into your coaching conversations, ask your sales reps to think about the following questions as they prepare for their next meeting:
Do I fully understand what’s important to this client?
What am I curious to know more about?
Where can we provide unique value?
What is my goal for this meeting?
As they think about these points, instruct them to use their answers to create questions that will engage the client in meaningful conversation, targeting areas that are anticipated to be of interest them.
Here are 3 practical tips you can share with your team:
1. Write their questions down
This step will “prime” their mind for the meeting ahead, and spark their curiosity.
2. Focus on the present moment
During their meetings, have them focus on what the clients are saying and the meaning behind the words, instead of thinking about what to ask or say next. They need to have faith that their prep work and natural curiosity will lead to that next great question, right when they need it.
3. Confirm what they hear
Finally, have them look for opportunities to play back, in their own words, what they’ve been hearing. That way the client will know that they’ve been listening, and the client will be able to correct them if they’re not 100% accurate in their data capture. There are two major benefits here: they’re now aligned on the facts, and a relationship has started to form, based on the trust that perspective-taking creates.
There are many challenges to selling today, and we do need to think differently about how we get the attention of our busy, distracted, and barricaded clients. That said, any idea, no matter how inventive or valuable it may seem, will land flat unless we’ve taken the time to lay the relational groundwork. This is true in both role plays and real life.
When it comes to influencing in sales, asking and listening trump telling, and relationship-building allows profitable ideas to take hold.
To embed these important skills in your sales organization, ask about our consultative selling training solution.
Jim was surprised that the client had not replied to his emails in several weeks. His manager was asking for updates on his pipeline during their regular one-on-one meeting. “I reached out twice and have heard nothing”, Jim explained. “I suppose they just aren’t in a position to make a decision at this time”.
“So, what do you think is stopping them from making a decision?” Jim’s manager asked.
“Well”, he began to explain, “I did everything by the book. My part of the presentation was great and the client seemed impressed but, on reflection, I think the support team got it wrong! I am not sure the solution our team created is what the client wanted.”
“Maybe” responded the manager. “Anyway, you win some, you lose some I suppose. I will have a word with the sales support team and let them know that we did everything right so they really need to offer better support in the future. What else is in your pipeline?”
Jim then moved on to his next pipeline item and his manager continued to listen intently.
This is, all too often, a familiar conversation where a sales manager asks for regular updates, gets the information but takes no accountability for the outcome. Jim was passing blame onto everyone else except himself; his manager was not taking any form of responsibility; and Jim was not being coached effectively on how to manage the loss of opportunities in a constructive and effective manner.
Accountability starts with sales management
Sales manages must be accountable in order to instill a high level of accountability amongst their team. In the example above, neither Jim nor his manager took responsibility for the outcome.
Here are four tactics that you can employ to make sure that you, as a manager, are taking accountability for the performance of your sales team and instilling a sense of accountability in every sales professional on your team:
1. Balance expectations and results
As sales managers, we set sales targets and goals and we define metrics to help measure results and productivity (e.g. number of calls, meetings, proposals sent, revenue etc.) and expect our team to be accountable. However, accountability starts further upstream.
Each member of your team must have the right mindset, attitude and behavior to be successful. Leading by example will set your expectation of what success looks like. Find balancing in your coaching by focusing on both how they are showing up and executing their goals will drive increased accountability.
2. Create a proscenium arch
In a theater, the proscenium arch is the dividing line between the actors and the audience. In theory, neither party should cross that line to enter the realm of the other. This means that while we, as the audience, get to experience and witness the lives of the characters on the stage and begin to feel very connected to them. However, those characters never enter our lives by crossing over that proscenium arch.
What this means for you as a sales manager is that as much as you become part of your team, there still needs to be an invisible line between you and your team members. Maintain your emotional balance in order to make sure that you can hold every member of your team accountable for their actions without having your friendship with them prevent you from having difficult conversations and coaching sessions.
3. Become a submariner
On a submarine, when a command is given, it is repeated several times. For example, the officer on deck says, “Set course 180 degrees”. The helmsman replies “Course 180 degrees”. Once the ship is on this heading the helmsman says, ” On course 180 degrees” and the officer on deck will repeat “180 degrees aye”. The point of this constant feedback loop prevents errors.
As a sales manager, you can drive accountability by creating a similar feedback loop. When you are setting expectations, discussing activities, setting goals for the week, and addressing any team issues, make sure that what your team member is hearing is actually what you are saying. So, become a submariner and get your team to summarize and confirm what you have said so that they are accountable for hearing what you have been saying and not just politely listening.
4. Always be the captain
On a commercial aircraft, there are two pilots, the captain and the first-officer. They take turns in flying the aircraft and when one is flying, he/she is known as the “pilot flying” and the other is known as the “pilot monitoring”. When the first officer is the designated pilot flying for that leg, the captain becomes the pilot monitoring, i.e. assisting the pilot flying and managing communications with air traffic control. However, at no stage is the captain never the captain. He/she still has ultimate responsibility for the flight and if the pilot flying makes a mistake, the captain takes the responsibility.
As a sales manager, if your sales team does not succeed, the ultimate responsibility rests with you. While they may have authority to make decisions and create strategies, you are always the captain, and ultimately responsible for the outcome of these decisions and strategies.
If you were not able to attend our Executive Breakfast on The Art and Science of Measuring and Managing Your Sales Force, we’ve got you covered.
This special event was hosted at the Art Gallery of Ontario and focused on sales execution tactics and reporting techniques that drive business growth.
Here are 4 of the many insights from the event:
1. Salespeople are still critical to influencing purchasing decisions.
Research suggests that by 2020, 1 million salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service e-commerce. We surveyed over 100 sales leaders that attended our event and 76% said their salespeople are more critical than ever and 64% believe that sales relationships with customers are still critically important.
Jaime Hugessen from Empire Life shared how their sales teams are working closely with marketing to create unique points of view to bring insight into the conversation and get their customers thinking differently.
2. The art of selling can be trained, but must be driven by sales management.
Sales capabilities, such as becoming a Trusted Advisor and the use of StorySelling are clear winners for salespeople looking to finesse their art of sales. Being able to sell your unique value proposition is essential to differentiate. Moreover, sales management is a key leverage point for organizations to ensure that the new selling skills are adopted and continously improved.
“Learn the rules like a pro,
so you can break them like an artist” - Pablo Picasso
3. Selling has changed, and sales organizations must adapt.
60% of a customer’s buying decision is made before interacting with a salesperson. Consultative selling skills are critical to asking the right questions to understand where the customer is in the buying journey to help navigate their purchasing path effectively.
Mike Badour from Canada Post shared an interesting approach to this new way of selling. Canada Post is using neuroscience to better understand their customers’ buying decisions for more informed digital marketing. This has allowed them adapt to the new environment of selling.
4. CRM is a critical component to sales science.
Tracking sales activity and sales pipeline in CRM is critical to effective sales management execution. Our attendees were asked if they follow “if it’s not in CRM, it did not happen” approach and 57% of them said no.
Adopting this mentality will motivate your salespeople to track their activities. This results in accurate reporting that enables you to drive sales productivity in your sales organization.
Martin Iyamabo from American Express discussed how CRM has changed the way they sell. They have their salespeople manage their accounts for only one year and use data to identify where to fill gaps in their pipeline.
“You are what you repeatedly do.
Excellence is not an event – it is a habit.”
We’re looking forward to our next executive breakfast event in early June. Stay tuned for your invitation – we would love to see you there!
Providing feedback to your team is a critical sales coaching discipline that must be delivered the right way to create an engaged and motivated team.
In a recent survey of North American sales leaders, we at Fusion Learning asked, “Do sales managers have a model they use to provide feedback to their people?”
The response was surprising: one third said no. This was an aha moment for us.
Almost half of sales managers do not have a reliable coaching approach. We also know from our sales-management training sessions that feedback offered without a clear model ends up as a one-way conversation delivered from the manager to the performer. This leads to critical information not being understood and actioned by the performer.
These ineffective one-way feedback conversations come in one of two types:
1. The “sandwich”
The manager presents the performer with what he or she did well, “sandwiches” the negative feedback in the middle, and wraps it up with more positive feedback. It’s a habit based on years and years of giving feedback – and it’s a habit we have to break. Sales coaching requires a two-way conversation to be effective.
2. The “drive-by” approach
The manager doesn’t attempt to engage the salesperson; he or she simply states negative feedback and moves on. You never want to provide drive-by feedback. Remember, if you simply tell the salesperson, the conversation is one way, but if you ask the salesperson, this facilitates a two-way conversation.
If you constantly praise your team members without suggesting improvements, you will have an extremely confident, unskilled team. If you constantly suggest how they can improve without celebrating their success, you will have a skilled team that is lacking confidence.
Balance in feedback is critical
Our Effective Feedback model makes self-discovery by the performer the first and most critical part of this process. The model is two way, and has four easy-to-follow steps:
1. Ask performers what they did well.
2. You add what you feel they did well.
3. Ask performers what they will do differently next time.
4. You add what you suggest they do differently next time.
Steps 1 and 2 build confidence. We need confident team members. Steps 3 and 4 build skill. All four steps create a confident, skilled, and engaged team member with clear action items for improvement.
Do we spend an equal amount of time in each of these steps?
People have different capacities for feedback and different abilities to assimilate information.
Those who lack confidence need more in steps 1 and 2. Those who are very confident, but lack skill need more time in steps 3 and 4 (but be careful that it comes after reinforcing confidence in steps 1 and 2).
Although two-way feedback is common sense, it isn’t common practice.
Making Effective Feedback common practice will engage your team and support their development. Once this four-step process is in place and well embedded in your culture, you’ll find team members are so well versed in receiving and giving feedback that they can actually provide themselves with clear, actionable, realistic, and balanced feedback on a daily basis.
How does this work in the real world?
Fusion Learning has consistent double digit growth, and one of the most significant factors is feedback. When we hire new team members (all members, not just sales), we provide them with a two-page summary of what it will be like to work at Fusion Learning. Here is what we say about feedback:
“Growth and development is key in our industry, not only for clients, but for employees as well – you will receive constant feedback here, some you will like and some that is harder to hear – either way there is an expectation that you take it and act on it.
“We will be open and candid with you. If you are performing well you will know it and if you are not performing well you will receive feedback and coaching.”
Our belief is that our successful growth has a lot to do with feedback being frequent and helpful for our team. Everyone on the team knows that feedback is a four-step process, and they appreciate how it contributes to their growth and development.
If you would like to improve your sales coaching skills and take your team’s performance to the next level, ask about our practical sales management training solution.
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