5 Mistakes to Avoid when Building an Inside Sales Team

According to CSOinsights.com less than half of inside sales teams make their revenue goals each month.  If you’re a business owner or sales manager of an inside sales team, then I’ll bet you can relate.  So what differentiates the half that makes their numbers from the half that doesn’t?

Obviously there are many factors and each company is different, but there are 5 common mistakes I regularly encounter whenever I work with companies who are struggling to consistently make their revenue goals.  If you can avoid these mistakes from the beginning – or correct them now – you can immediately begin to get better results, and that means you can begin to make your revenue numbers. 

Here are the 5 mistakes to avoid when building or developing your inside sales team: 

1)      Not having a clearly defined sales process (DSP). Nearly every struggling sales team I work with lacks a clear definition of what defines a successful sales cycle.  While they may know they have to cold call or prospect to generate a lead and then call that lead back and close the sale, what is missing are the exact benchmarks (best practices) of what defines each step.  Without this clarity, it’s difficult to teach your reps how to consistently close sales (which is why they don’t half the time). 

Not having these benchmarks – and so not being able to identify, verify and teach each step successfully – leads to many of the problems inside sales teams have.  If you haven’t taken the time to identify your DSP, then this is job #1 for you.  

2)      Not having a training program that teaches your sales reps exactly how to succeed in the selling situations they encounter day in and day out.  Think for a moment about your Top 20% sales reps.  Isn’t it true that they seem to intuitively know what to say and what to do to close sales faster and more efficiently than the other 80% of your team? 

Many sales teams I work with may have a structured training program in place (and I say ‘may have’ because some don’t) but most of them don’t have a sales training program that teaches their sales reps exactly what to say and what to do in every selling situation to be successful (think scripts here).  In other works, the best practices of their DSP are not the focus of their sales training, and this is why their teams struggle to win sales.  

Job #2 for you is to script out your best practices and make sure every member of your team has the core selling skills needed to succeed in the selling situations they face every day. 

3)       Measuring the wrong metrics of your sales team.  While most managers and business owners can tell me how many calls their reps are making, how many opportunities they are getting, what their close rates are, etc., what they can’t tell me is what really matters: What their reps are saying during their calls.  Don’t get me wrong, those other metrics are important to know and track, but they do not drive sales!  How your reps are qualifying their prospects, how they handle objections and what they are doing and saying to move a sale forward is what drives sales.  And that leads me to number four: 

4)      Not recording calls. This is perhaps the most important thing a sales manager can do – record all sales calls and listen to both sides of the conversation.  Knowing exactly what is happening during a call is the only way to know what’s wrong and to know how to fix it.  This is the first thing I ask for from a company who hires me to help them.  If you are not recording your calls, then you need to start today. Trust me, you’ll learn more in an hour of listening to calls than you will in a year of trying to figure it out without doing this. 

5)      Not hiring the right sales reps to begin with.  Not everyone is cut out for inside sales, and that includes reps with inside sales experience. You absolutely have to have criteria in place that will help you identify who is likely to succeed in your sales environment.  That includes profiling your top producers, but it also includes assessing the level of sales skills your hiring candidates have.  

Also, one of the biggest determinates of future sales performance is past sales performance.  That’s why it’s often a better choice to hire reps without experience and put them into a structured program (see items one through four above) and training these new reps to succeed in your environment.  Also, get in the habit of slow hiring and fast firing – most companies do exactly the opposite! 

By avoiding the five mistakes above, you can save hundreds of hours of frustration and hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales and unnecessary expenses.

Proactive Sales Coaching – How Managers Can Win More Sales

If you are an inside sales manager (or director or V.P.), then I know you spend a lot of time in meetings – meetings with the marketing department coming up with strategies to create and close more leads, meetings with the owner forecasting revenue numbers, meetings with sales reps going through their pipelines, meetings with potential new reps, sales meetings, sales training meetings, etc.  I get it – you’re busy.

During your busy days and weeks managing and juggling the 100 other responsibilities in your position, how much time do you actually spend coaching your reps through the prospects in their pipeline?  In other words, how often do you get involved during a stage in the sales process to intervene and coach the skills and techniques that are needed to advance that particular prospect through to a closed sale? 

In a report on sales management I just read from csoinsights.com, “World-Class Sales Management: Closing What You Forecast,” it differentiates between two sales management “flavors”: either reactive sales management or proactive sales management.  It defines proactive sales management as: 

“What we meant is that managers need to know which reps need what type of help to resolve what issues related to what deals to get them to close opportunities when promised.  To any seasoned sales professional, improving management’s ability to effectively coach their teams is viewed as a useful objective, but let us share with you why it is actually mission critical” 

According to this article, proactive coaching not only leads to an increase in sales (win rates), but something more: 

“The increase in win rates is generated by a decrease in both competitive losses and no decisions.  When managers can reach out early and often to the reps who need their help the most on any given day, they can help them develop strong business cases all the way through the sales cycle to ensure the prospect can cost justify moving forward with their purchase decision.  In addition, they can ensure their salespeople are able to differentiate themselves from the competition so that when a final decision is made they walk out the door with the order.” 

Decreasing competitive losses and no decisions is crucial because it means that your reps will spend less time with unqualified non-buyers.  This means they will spend less time practicing poor selling skills on prospects who aren’t going to buy.  This will make them more confident and successful, and it reduces the money and time your company spends on chasing bad leads that should have been disqualified out a lot earlier.  This is why proactive coaching is seen as “mission critical.” 

 So what exactly is proactive coaching?  Like the article points out, a big part of it is understanding which reps need help at which part of the sales cycle that is going to make the most difference in moving the sale forward.  It’s also being “proactive in taking action when deals started to go off track.”  It means that you and your reps are on the same page with each prospect and with each step of the sales process.  

Proactive coaching is very different than ‘rear view mirror’ sales management.  Unfortunately, many mangers still coach after the fact, after the deal has been lost.  They coach on metrics and results. This kind of managing has its place, but it’s not effective in driving sales during the sales cycle. 

OK, so how do you learn to be a proactive sales manager?  The article mentions several elements including hiring the right managers with the right skill sets, benchmarking activities, and getting the right actionable data through a “Pipeline Accelerator” CRM type of system.  

Besides that, though, what is needed is to teach your managers the proper coaching activities that will allow them to help your reps succeed during the actual sale.  Methods I recommend are having a phone that allows the manager to listen into both sides of the call live – this allows him or her to actively coach the rep through the sale as it happens.  Another technique is to actively use instant messaging so the manager can send messages to all sales reps while they are on calls, and a third way is to actively use call recording as a way of prepping the rep for the next call.  

If you would like to learn a complete system for teaching inside sales managers to be more proactive in their coaching, see a dedicated product I created for it here (scroll down to “Option Two”). 

I encourage you to read the csoinsight.com white paper on this subject and to invest in ways of making your inside manager more effective.  It will increase your sales team’s win rates and put more money in all of your pockets.

Social Media and Selling – Does it Really Work?

Social media is all the rage right now and for good reason: We are all social beings and with virtually unlimited access to reviews, opinions, updates, people, information, etc, it would be foolish not to plug into it all and leverage this tool to make connections, make better decisions, learn about companies, products and options, and gain an edge in our personal and professional lives.  And we all do.

Social media has changed our lives in many ways, and it’s changed the way we make buying decisions as well.  If you’re like most people today, you probably search several sites, read reviews, look for deals and coupons and then think about it before you make a decision to buy.  It’s obviously changed the way your prospects buy as well and that leads us to the million dollar question: Exactly how beneficial is social media in helping you sell more of your products and services? 

To hear the social media pundits talk about it, they make it seem that without a strong and sustained presence and strategy in social media, you will get left in the dust.  They promise that if you just write your profile properly on LinkedIn and join enough groups (and are active enough in those groups), get enough people to Like you on Facebook, and spend the right amount of time and activities on other appropriate social networking sites, then you’ll have all the business and referrals you’ll ever need.  Ah, the promise of this global paradise is enticing, isn’t it?  

But does it work? 

To answer that, you just have to ask yourself this:  How much of your business last month came as a direct result of your involvement in social media?   

If you’re like most of the companies and sales reps I speak with, it’s less than 5%.  If that matches up with your results, then you understand why it’s important for you to use social media carefully and intelligently.  That means two things: 1) Don’t let it soak up all of your time (face it, it’s addictive!), and 2) Get the information you need and then do what you do best: prospect, qualify and close decision makers.  

Let’s face it.  While social media, company marketing and referrals are all great ways of meeting prospects, the only real activity that is directly under your control is to pick up the phone and call someone.  In fact, the most successful sales reps in all the industries I work with still make the most amount of outbound calls (either cold calls, warm calls to existing prospects and customers, or follow up calls to prospects identified in a carefully orchestrated social media campaign).  

Now don’t get me wrong.  Social media is a great tool and I use it all the time.  What I’m saying is don’t confuse being busy in social media as the same thing as being busy at what you’re hired to do – prospect and close business.  In other words, identify where you get most of your business from and then do more of that.  And for most successful sales teams, that means identify the best leads and then pick up the phone and make a qualifying call.  

Let me use a personal example.  There are many ways for me to generate leads and deals in my business as a sales consultant.  I’ve spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours pursuing one new “distraction” after another.  I’ve pursued social media, pay per click advertising, webinars with associations, multi-level marketing deals, joined endless groups, etc.  And while all these avenues bring me some results, nothing makes me more money than picking up the phone and calling on prospects and current customers.  Period. 

 So, does social media work in bringing you new business?  I would say that it’s one of many new ways of finding new prospects and making new connections.  But at the end of the day, where does the majority of your business come from? 

If you can answer that, then do everything you can to get better at it and spend more time doing it.  Your result, like mine and all of my clients, is that you’ll make more money as a result.

Five Ways to Get a Commitment on the First Call

What kind of a commitment do you get from your prospect at the end of your prospecting call?  If you’re like most sales reps, the answer is, ah, none.  Or, it’s an undefined, “Well, I’ll follow up with you next week…”

If this sounds familiar – or if you’re a manager and it sounds like your whole team! – then you’re not alone.  You see, many sales reps haven’t been taught how to properly qualify prospects and they especially haven’t been taught how to ask for and get a commitment at the end of the first call.  Most sales reps are just happy they were allowed to “get information out” to someone and don’t feel they want to push it or ruin it by asking for and getting clarity and commitment about what’s going to happen before the next call.

And that’s where Top 20% producers differ.  You see, a top closer knows that any prospect who isn’t willing to make a commitment of either time, or of taking a specific action or agreeing to some other part of a sales process (sitting through a demo, etc.) means that they are dealing with shaky prospect.  And think about it: if a prospect isn’t willing to commit to something now, what do you think your chances are of getting them to sit through a pitch and actually take action with you later?

So here are five kinds of commitments you can ask for (along with scripting) that will help you further qualify your prospect and get the kind of cooperation and buy in in the beginning of the sales process:

1)      A commitment of time for the next call.  Crucially important as we all know how busy people are and how prospects can literally disappear never to be heard from again.  I always end my call with:

“Because you’re probably as busy as I am, it’s best if we get on a calendar to make sure we can discuss this next week.  I’ve got my calendar open in front of me, are you looking at yours?”

Then simply set a firm date and time to get back with them.  Always send an email follow up confirming the time and asking them to email you if they have to change the appointment.

2)      A commitment of what they are going to do before the next call.  Give yourself some options here.  Can you get your prospect to look at a particular part of your proposal?  Is there a section on your website they can commit to reading?  Can they commit to running this by their boss or marketing department before your next call?  Think about your selling situation and come up with the most appropriate commitment of action and then say:

“OK, so let me make sure I have this right.  Before our call next Tuesday you’ll have been able to spend some time with your marketing manager and get his buy in before our demo next week, right?”

3)      A commitment of what you’re going to do (always make sure you get one of the two commitments above as well).  Think about your product or service and your prospect’s particular situation.  Perhaps you can check on the adaptability of your products or on the licensing or fit within their department.  I’m sure you can come up with something.  Try:

“OK ________, here’s what I’ll do in the meantime.  I’ll contact our delivery department and make sure we can ship to all of your locations for delivery at the same time.  This will make installation easy as we can walk all your managers through this at the same time.  That will help a lot, won’t it?”

4)      A commitment of what the next step is if they like it (again, make sure you get one of the first two commitments above as well).  This is so important on two counts: 1) By agreeing in advance what the next step is if they like it, you are actually trial closing on the first call.  Your prospect’s reaction here will be important – if they won’t commit at all, that’s a red flag.  You can choose to either keep qualifying or get an idea of what kind of objections you’re going to get when you do call back.  And 2) If they tell you what the next step is, you can prepare for that and for the closes you’ll need to use once you get back to them.

This is an important step.  Use this scripting here:

“_________, it sounds like this will be a great fit for you. Let me ask you, after you get through the demo, if you find this will work for you, what is the next step for you to get started with it?”

5)      The best commitment of all: Asking for the deal if the prospect likes your material.  I know, this takes real guts, but if you’ve done the proper job of qualifying up front, then this is actually the natural progression of your sales process.  In fact, this is how I became a Top 20% in 90 days.  I would always say (and still do, by the way):

“Great _______, well I think I’ve covered everything.  By the way, do you have any initial questions?”  (Now bare in mind that I covered every detail of my proposal and qualified for interest, compatibility and budget up front).

“OK, then let me ask you a question:  If after you get the material I’m sending you see it’s exactly what we just spoke about, and you can see this (making you money, working in your environment, meeting your needs – whatever is appropriate for your sale), what size participation do you see yourself starting with?”

The answer you get here will almost always be the same one you’re going to get after you get back to them and go through your presentation, so why not just get it now?

So there you have it – a variety of ways of getting a commitment at the end of your prospecting call.  Work with these approaches and adapt them to your selling situation.  I guarantee you that the better you get at asking for and getting a commitment, the more sales you’ll close.

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Do you have an underperforming inside sales team?  Talk to Mike to see how he can help you and your team reach your revenue goals.  To learn more about Mike, visit his website: http://www.MrInsideSales.com