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Sales People In The Deep End (Again)

November 26, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Education in Sales, Sales Coaching, Sales Skills, Sales Training

Last week I received a call from a woman (let’s call her Tracy for the purpose of this article) desperately seeking help on how to sell.  Tracy had been in her role for 5 months and all that time had not received any guidance, advice, coaching or support from her managers on how to sell her products or who to sell them to. She had never been in a sales role before and did not work in the vicinity of the head office.  She was out there on her own with some product samples, a standardised introductory letter and her wits. All Tracy was told to do when she started the job was ‘go out and sell’. That was it. Nothing else. Not even a field visit by management. Zip.


showing a number of good qualities

To her credit, Tracy tried all sorts of things to generate sales – whilst many of her actions did not yield any sales results, she kept trying to no avail.  In desperation, Tracy called the recruitment agency that placed her in the role to find out how she could get more training on how to sell.  She was referred to us. Despite the situation she wanted to succeed. She wanted to make a go of it, to become a successful salesperson. And to me Tracy is worth helping – she showed a number of qualities that if properly guided, trained and coached would make her into a decent salesperson.  But under the current circumstances she is fighting a tough battle.

I won’t go into specifics about her situation; however, I want to highlight that Tracy is not alone. Too many people who enter sales or start new sales roles with different companies have similar tales to tell.  Many are thrown in the deep and set adrift. Why does this happen? The main reason is that people do not understand selling.  They do not know what is required to sell well. In their ignorance they look for people with bright personalities who are ‘good people’ people. Or they look for people with experience in their industry. And they think that is all that is required.

Either way their sales efforts will flounder if not fail outright.

Selling is a very complex role and to do it well you need a number of components working in concert.  If we are to get our salespeople off to a good start we need to give them the following at the very least:

Go to market action plan
How we sell
Company Policies& Procedures
  • Sales Planning
    • Our company story
    • The business of our business (what we do for people)
    • Our value proposition (how people benefit from what we do for them)
    • Our target markets and types of clients we sell to
    • Our competitors and our competitive advantage (why us?)
    • Our sales strategy (goals, objectives, nationally, regionally and by salesperson)
  • Go-to-market action plan
    • Prospecting: How we go to market to connect with prospective and existing clients to position ourselves to win business
    • How we generate leads (prospecting calls, social media, advertising, events, etc.)
  • How we sell
    • Our sales approach (solutions selling, consultative selling, etc.)
    • How we position and price our products and services
    • How we  present proposals/quotes
    • Product knowledge
  • Company Policies & Procedures
    • Procedures, policies, etc.
    • Warranties, guarantees, etc.
    • Customer service, ordering and distribution
    • Safety and complaints handling procedures

Even if this information is in a manual format it would be a damn side better than what Tracy has received to date. Shame on this business for not setting her up for success in the first place.  Instead, Tracy has been set up to fail from day one.

strong-people-do-not-put-others-down-they-lift-them-upWe are better than that. We don’t throw people into technical roles and expect them to be master craftsmen, tradespeople, engineers, accountants or doctors, so why do we persist in treating one of the most valuable roles in our business with such disdain?

Selling is everybody’s business and it makes sense to give salespeople a decent start. Without good salespeople we do not have successful businesses. Let’s get our collective acts together and make sure that anyone who is undertaking a sales role can get the best start possible.  It will pay handsomely to those who get it right and your salespeople will thank you for that.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

It’s HOW you think, not WHAT you think

October 31, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Coaching, Neuroscience, Neuroscience in Sales, Sales Coaching

What type of salespeople do you want on your team? What type of salesperson do you want to be?

Do you want salespeople who do as they are told or salespeople who think for themselves about possibility, finding new opportunities, looking at different ways to address problems that are still effective, if not more profitable than the current ways, etc.?

We cannot deny that we live in a complex world where outputs are often unpredictable. I hear sales leaders crying out for ‘smart intelligent’ salespeople.  And I know customers want to engage with smart salespeople too.

smart and intelligent

smart and intelligent

When I ask sales leaders and clients alike what they mean by ‘smart and intelligent’ this is what they are referring to:  Salespeople thinking on their feet, finding different answers, innovating, coming up with ideas, preventing and solving problems. All these are essential capabilities if we want to succeed in business and in sales and be of value to our clients.  And this does not mean that we have to come up with some new solution each time we sell or sell in something that cannot be delivered.  Good salespeople know the importance of ‘making promises you can keep and keeping promises you make’.  (Thanks Peter Finkelstein for this lovely quote)

But in today’s market place we, as salespeople, have to have the thinking fitness and capability to come up with new solutions when the old ones just don’t work anymore or our client is looking for something new or fresh.  Yet, many businesses and their leaders stymie (prevent or hinder) their people’s ability to think about how to solve problems, come up with new ideas and take advantage of an ever changing world. Instead, these business leaders tell their people what they should think. They do not allow their salespeople to make decisions in the field or have the levels of authority that allow for better and different solutions. Their people hear messages such as ‘That’s not how we do business around here.’  Or ‘It can’t be done that way.’ And such like. Sound familiar?

However, if we are going to get ahead the ability to learn how to critically think about things and empowering our people to do so is ever more important. Rather than staying inside the safe confines of the ‘norm’, the best sales people think about options, ideas, innovations and possibilities.  They come to you with ideas about how we can make things work better. They do not live by ‘how we can’t.’  I remember my mother saying “there is no such word as can’t”.

Learning how to think critically is a skill – it can be taught.  As cited in Wikipedia:

Critical thinking is a way of deciding whether a claim is true, partially true, or false. Critical thinking is a process that leads to skills that can be learned, mastered and used. Critical thinking is a tool by which one can come about reasoned conclusions based on a reasoned process. This process incorporates passion and creativity, but guides it with discipline, practicality and common sense. It can be traced in the West to ancient Greece with its Socratic method and in the East to ancient India with the Buddhist kalama sutta and abhidharma literature. Critical thinking is an important component of many fields such as education, politics, business, and science.

So why have we found ourselves in this critical thinking vacuum?

Well, William Klemm, D.V.M., Ph.D., is a Professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University and says the problem of poor quality thinking may stem from our mainstream schooling system which is then carried forward into the workforce with devastating consequences.  In an article published in www.psychologytoday.com he focused on the school system and the issue of standardisation. Here is an excerpt:



Too often, students are trained to look for the one “right answer.” Then there are state knowledge and skills standards, where students are actively discouraged from thinking “outside the box.” Many students lack the confidence to think for themselves and are actually afraid to try. The reality is that students are natural-born creative thinkers, but the conformity of schools has drilled students into a submission that precludes analytical and creative thinking. In our culture, the only place where it seems that insightful ideas are excluded is in the school.

Professor Klemm goes on to explain how we can teach critical thinking.

How does one teach critical thinking? Three ways:

1. Expect it. Require students to defend their ideas and answers to questions. Show them it is not enough to have an opinion or the ‘right’ answer. Students need to defend their opinions and understand how they arrived at the answer and why it is ‘right’.
2. Model it. The teacher can show students how to think critically and creatively about instructional material. Even in “teaching to the test,” show students how to think about alternative answers, not just memorise the right answer. Show why some answers are right and some wrong.
3. Reward it. When good thinking occurs, teachers should call attention to it and to the students that generated it. Learning activities and assignments should have clear expectations for students to generate critical and creative thought. A grading premium and other incentives should be provided. Rigorous analysis will only occur if it is expected and rewarded.

These tips are just as valid in business, especially in sales.

Customers desperately want to engage with people who bring this capability to the table. They want to work out the best way forward based on critical and reasoned analysis.

Today, the role of sales professionals is not to push the products, services or solutions that the organisation they represent offers, but rather to use that base, their skills, experience, thinking and knowledge to assist customers clarify their real requirements and then assist them in making valid, well informed decisions. In our view, when sales professionals fulfill this task they find that prospects want to buy from them, or at the very least, involve them in the purchase decision.

do not let your sales-people be robots

do not let your sales-people be robots

It is our view that in the 21st Century, with social media becoming such an important influence in business, salespeople who are able to help their customers make sense of the information and solutions on offer; be more efficient, and do more things better than they have in the past; be more effective and help their customers do whatever it is they do better, and who help their customers mitigate risk, are going to be the real winners. Therefore, a salesperson’s ability to think critically about the options available is vital to their ongoing currency and value to their clients.

So what do you want your salespeople to be able to do?

Stop wishing for smart intelligent people to come along – instead start training your salespeople to think for themselves. You might just find those smart intelligent people emerging right in front of your very eyes and your clients will be very grateful too.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

Hidden sales coaching moments

October 25, 2013 in Coaching, Education in Sales, Performance Management, Sales Coaching, Uncategorized

The value of sales coaching cannot be ignored. Various studies across the last 30+ years have demonstrated that regular coaching improves recall and retention of learning from sales classroom training at between 80-95%, as compared to 13% with no follow up coaching.  Coaching helps improve sales performance by around 20% when compared to a non coaching environment.

Yet, many sales managers maintain they don’t have the time to perform coaching, the most important of all sales leadership tasks.  Go figure! One of the main reasons why sales managers think they do not have enough time to coach is that they think sales coaching has to be a formal sit down session conducted in a quiet room.

Far from it… it is possible to coach anywhere, any time.  What is needed is awareness of what to pay attention to and have the coaching skills and resources ready for your many sales coaching moments.

Avoiding DistractionsBefore we dive into sales coaching moments it may help to review what coaching actually is:

  • Coaching is about helping people lift the bar of their performance.
  • Coaching is about moving forward not looking back (that is counseling).
  • Coaching is about helping people find the answers to:  ‘How can I be the best I can be?’ and ‘what do I need to do to get there?’

Coaching is…

  • Working in collaboration with a person to help them identify and remove any interference that limits the expression of their full potential
  • Helping a person set goals and take action to ensure sustainable behaviour change
  • Helping a person improve the quality of their working and/or personal life, leading to improved organisational and/or professional/personal effectiveness
  • Above, all, coaching is about helping people self-actualise and reach the pinnacle of their competence

It certainly helps to be trained in how to coach effectively to deliver on all of the above and it cannot go without saying that the only way you will be an effective sales coach is if you get out there and start coaching.

Sales is one of the best environments in which to coach. There are so many variables to contend with and so many insights to be obtained.  So many coaching moments. You do not have to be in a quiet room one-on-one to start coaching.

Sales Coaching Moments

So what do sales coaching moments look like? And how does a sales manager make time for sales coaching?

Sales Coaching moments come in two main forms:

  • Strategic or Formal Coaching:
    • Strategic or Formal Coaching implies an agreed upon, ongoing relationship with a team member in order to achieve change over time. It usually involves an agreement around a coaching program at regular intervals for an agreed amount of time. There is usually a consistent focus of the coaching sessions (e.g. shifting or enhancing skills over time).
    • Strategic or Formal Sales Coaching looks at trends in behaviour across sales processes (sales planning, prospecting, solution selling, Key Account Management, etc.), sales pipeline, territory management, sales input activities, deals that affect strategic and long term development goals. This type of coaching usually includes activity pipeline (Input & Output measures). It looks at career progression including knowledge, skills, mindset. It usually happens once a month on average.

  • Informal or Deal-based Coaching:
    • Informal coaching can occur naturally in a conversation around a ‘coachable issue’. It is a very useful process for on the job development where the leader wants to move beyond a ‘tell’ approach to encourage the team member to discover the path forward for themselves.
    • Informal Sales Coaching or Deal-Based Coaching usually targets performance obstacles within a specific deal or at sales process stage. It is more immediate, more spontaneous, and often happens in the field.  It may be organised as a result of skills focused sessions. It is practical and outcomes oriented. It happens as close to the event as possible, either before or after the sale.  As a sales coach you are often shadowing for the day, in direct observation of a sale, or listening in on a call. It can include role playing, debriefing details of a call, and provides a greater level of feedback and training.

Using a combination of both of these coaching strategies is important as the formal coaching process ensures that there is a structure approach to the development of your team members. However, the informal coaching acts as an excellent support to the formal coaching strategy (particularly where there is a month or more between formal coaching sessions) and examples from informal coaching can be drawn into the formal coaching sessions as a means of enhancing the coaching process.

So what conclusions can we draw from this?

You are likely to have many more informal deal based sales coaching moments than formal.  To help you help coach your people we suggest you start your day with an open and prepared mind – be alert and ready to sales coaching moments, especially the spontaneous, informal moments. They often take up very little time but can produce very big results.

Gallup research also demonstrated that there is a very significant connection between outstanding salespeople and their managers.

You know it. We know it. Sales Coaching pays dividends on many levels.

You want to improve sales? Get to it… get those coaching moments happening.

If you need further information on how to be a better sales coach please call us on 03 9533 0000.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

Never forget Selling is a Doing job – a quality Doing job

July 8, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Coaching, Sales Coaching, Self Development

Every week we can learn something new about ourselves, our business, our clients and markets even if we have been in sales for many years.  However, we can only learn something new if we take the risk and put ourselves out into the market place on a regular and consistent basis and we pay attention to the details.  And the amount of details salespeople need to pay attention to is extraordinary.  Paying attention to what we do and how we do it is how we continue to evolve in an ever changing world – it is how we create success.

we-are-what-we-doAs Aristotle stated thousands of years ago, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

The Quality

Excellence and opportunity meet when we pay attention to the details. For instance, asking that next question, pausing long enough to let the client continue their train of thought as their ideas form, introducing new topics to stretch the boundaries of what is possible in a relationship, not being afraid to say ‘No’ and standing your ground to protect the value of what you offer.  These are some of the little things that make us great when working with our clients.

So what have you been paying attention to as a professional sales person?  What are you taking responsibility for in your own professional development? Do you know what to focus on or look for in your own behaviours and sales processes that will elevate you to the next level of sales excellence? Often, most sales people do not know the specific answers to these questions; the details to look for. Yes, it is challenging to self correct and that is why effective coaching is so critical to sales success. That specific feedback loop, the focus on specifics, helps sales people become more self aware about the quality of what they are doing.

I recently wrote in the article ‘Why managing sales inputs leads to sales disasters’ that sales managers need to coach to inputs and measure outputs. That is correct for sales managers and coaches because for too long they have been focusing on the wrong things – only managing numbers at the expense of quality.

So let’s not confuse things by taking an ‘either-or’ approach. It’s not quality at the expense of quantity or vice versa.

The brutal facts are that sales people, like elite athletes, need to be 100% certain that their job cannot function without sufficient activity. Make no bones about it, we have to do many things in sales to create our own success and achieve results.  Selling is definitely a Doing Job – a doing job in that there are critical activities that cannot be left to chance or done every now and then.  These activities, like exercise need to be done every day and if they are left to chance and not properly examined then our success in sales diminishes very quickly.

calls-prospects-buyers-graphOver 50 years of empirical research shows that the secret to sales success is… the number of contacts initiated with prospective buyers on a consistent daily basis.  Which as it turns out is no secret at all.  If we are truly responsible and professional sales people we all know that we have to prospect, meet clients, turn out proposals/quotes, follow up, close deals, etc.

The Quantity

Making sure that we do enough of the right sales activities each week to make our selling efforts worthwhile is critical. For without sufficient activity we cannot get enough practice time to get better.  For instance, what is your current sales ratio?  How many contacts do you need to make to get to talk to viable prospects and how many viable prospects turn into real sales deals?  If your ratio is currently 10 contacts : 3 viable prospects : 1 sale then look to see if you can improve that ratio by being better at the details of what you do. Could you convert the 10 contacts into 4 or 5 viable prospects and then turn these into 3 sales not just 1?  Or are you doing enough sales activities in the first place? (like prospecting calls, client meetings, etc.)  Perhaps your market has slowed down and you need to make more prospecting calls to get enough viable prospects to speak to. And so on.

It never stops if you want to be your best as a sales and business professional.

So why not pay particular attention to the details: the number of activities you are doing (quantity) and the effectiveness of what you are doing (quality)? That way you can lead a healthier more successful sales career enjoying the fruits of your labour and reducing unnecessary stress. You can have in-depth quality coaching conversations with your sales coach about your effectiveness and efficiency in sales. And you can both look forward to what you are planning to achieve and set about achieving it.

Remember: Our fiduciary duty is to do right by our business as well as doing right by our clients, where a fair exchange of value is achieved. And that means putting in enough quality effort to make it all worthwhile.

As Alvin Toffler said, “You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”


Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

Mastering the Sales Management Essentials

February 5, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Business Acumen, Coaching, Education in Sales, Sales Coaching, Sales Forecasting, Sales Leadership, Sales Management

What are the Sales Management Essentials and how do we master them?  Well firstly Sales management and leadership is not about selling!

In fact when one examines the role of the modern sales leader it quickly becomes evident that there just isn’t time to sell. Equipping sales leaders to perform the tasks for which they are responsible, and sustaining the momentum of the sales force in its drive for incremental value and volume, at the same time as continuously improving the customer experience, is a challenge that demands a high degree of maturity, dedication, focus and extraordinary leadership skills.

Tragically many sales managers are promoted to this crucial role without the training and development that this demanding role requires. Too often these managers end up as little more than highly paid “super salespeople”. 

The brutal facts in today’s world of sales management…

  • brutal-facts-gunSales leaders are given very little or no support when it comes to being a competent, effective sales managers.
  • In most instances the majority continue to learn their craft by observing their managers and then replicating both the strengths and faults.
  • Today’s sales mangers perpetuate the mistakes of their managers.
  • Few sales leaders receive formal training in “sales management” practices – either before or during their tenure.
  • Sales management training happens less than annually or not at all.
  • Even where sales leadership is relatively mature, managers do not know what standards to use to coach and develop their teams.


The sureness of our success

  • If sales managers are more frequently and better trained and coached themselves, their sales teams achieve higher performance and results.
  • No other type of sales training has a more positive correlation between frequency of training and sales performance.

Whilst much is made of the role of sales leaders as coaches, little attention is given to the other crucial roles performed by effective sales leaders, beyond coaching and / or themselves being “super sales / relationship people”. 

With more than 40 years field research and experience observing and addressing sales and sales leadership challenges, Barrett has been able to highlight 8 fundamental functions of sales leadership which provide sales managers with the knowledge, skills, confidence and competence to…

  • Define sales strategy and see to its implementation
  • Develop, implement and monitor sales systems
  • Inculcate sales disciplines that support a performance culture
  • Stimulate innovation and change
  • Select and build sales teams
  • Train, teach and coach sales teams
  • Facilitate territory management plans that support strategy


sales management essentials

click to see our sales essentials website

These 8 Sales Management Essentials are:

  1. Creating and managing sales systems, processes and protocols
  2. Supporting the sales effort and instilling disciplines
  3. Developing and managing sales strategies
  4. Stimulating and managing change
  5. Managing sales performance, budgets and targets
  6. Sustaining commitment to the organization
  7. Developing, training and coaching
  8. Selecting sales team members and stimulating individual talent


Sales management and leadership is a multifaceted role. Mastering these 8 functions is not easy however raising awareness and making these functions visible is the first step to sales management and sales leadership mastery.  Let’s get these topics in the sales leadership agenda and stop selling and start getting sales management fit.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.
Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au 


PS: If you are interested in attending the Sales Management Essentials 5 day intensive workshop in 15-19 April 2013 please contact us to book your place or call (+61) 03 95330000.

Who is it for: Barrett Sales Management Essentials is designed for sales managers and people moving into a role in sales management who want to ensure they are current with sales management best practice.

Until now no single program has provided sales leaders with a complete curriculum of sales management and leadership skills and techniques.

Participants will leave this unique workshop with an entire portfolio of skills, systems and competencies, including…

  • How to create an effective sales strategy that supports the organisation’s focus;
  • how to develop, map and monitor territory plans;
  • how to profile what characteristics are required in salespeople and then how to interview and staff the sales operation;
  • how to introduce sales systems that enhance productivity and establish reward mechanisms to inspire top level performance;
  • how to manage under-performing salespeople, map customer, account, new business development and prospecting strategies and skills;
  • effective solution selling skills; including questioning, listening, analysis, problem solving, solutions development, influencing, integrating and closing. 


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