Signs & Symptoms of the Wrong Sales Focus
Do your sales reps have the right sales focus? Join Jeb Brooks and Anita Greenland, from The Brooks Group, as they discuss:
- What we mean by a sales focus
- What the symptoms of a wrong sales focus look like
- What sales leaders can do to shift their team’s focus
- The essential question to ask in order to re-frame your approach
Read the Full Transcript of the Briefinar Below:
Jeb Brooks: Hello and welcome to the Brooks Groups Breifinars for sales leaders. Bright, brief, and gone. We are going to be fast. We are going to be respectful of your time. We’ve got 19 minutes or less focused on the topic of sales focus. My name is Jeb Brooks, I’m the President and CEO of the Brooks Group, and we are excited to have with us today one of our leading consultants, one of our experts, Anita Greenland. Anita has been in and around sales, sales leadership, sales management, sales development, sales training for 30 years. She has worked with a wide variety of companies, everything from food service to industrial to agricultural media, financial services, you name it, Anita has been there. She has been with us since 2014 and is excited to share her passion about these topics with us today.
Jeb Brooks: So, Anita we are talking about sales focus. We are touching on the signs and the symptoms of the wrong sales focus, and most importantly, we are focused on what our listeners can do about it. So, let me just take care of a couple of housekeeping things. If you have any questions, we promise to answer as many of those as we can as they come in at the end, and if we don’t get to your question, we will respond personally via email. Those questions come to our producer, Allison, who is on the line and will be happy to answer those or get those to us as they come. So, Anita, let’s get started. Time is valuable. What do you mean by sales focus?
Anita Greenland: Well, Jeb, actually before I answer that question, I would like our participants to answer a poll. The poll question is: what do your sales people focus on? So there is a variety of options here.
Jeb Brooks: Yeah, so where do most of your people focus their attention on. We are talking about the most, not the best, not the worst, the majority. Are they focused on survival, how am I going to make rent? How am I going to pay my bills? Are they looking at quota? Am I going to make the number? Are they looking at a focus on product? They just love whatever it is you have to bring to the world, just have an obsession with that. Are they focused on their own income? Or their ego? Are they going to win? Am I going to be in the President’s Club this year? Or, are they focused on customer needs and wants? Where are most of your sales people focusing their attention?
Anita Greenland: And it looks like we’ve got the votes coming in, let’s give the group about ten more seconds to cast your vote. Five, four, three, two, one. And let’s share the results. So we have about 10% of the respondents indicated that you feel that your sales people are focused on survival, 21% quota or budget, 11% focused on the product, only 5% on income or ego, and 45% on customer needs and customer wants. So, that’s great. Let’s take a look at what most sales organization, how they shape up.
Anita Greenland: So this is what we call a standard bell curve. Most organizations sales departments fall into this typical bell curve. For our purposes today, we will call it the focus curve. And you’ve got about 20% of your sellers that generally fall in the low performing section, you’ve got 60% that generally fall in that mid-level range, and then you’ve got another 20% are your higher level performers. So the low level performers, these are the ones that are here today, gone tomorrow, tend to be focusing on survival. They are just trying to make it through the day, the week, the month, the quarter, the meeting. These guys are hanging on to their jobs by their fingernails. Similarly, are the folks that are focused on the quota or the budget. So collectively, our group that is on the line here, 31% of your sellers tend to be focused in this area, and that can be very, very challenging as a sales manager.
Anita Greenland: Let’s take a look at what our mid-level performers tend to focus on: the product. We see this a lot in highly engineered products or very technical type of products, that they’ve got to learn as much as they can and then they are so proud of all that they have learned, they want to make sure that the customer knows everything that they have learned, so they just show up and they do that data dump on them, and they haven’t even really investigated enough to find out if the product is even the right fit or if the service is the right fit, so the focus on the product. Of course, a lot of sales people are drawn to sales because of the opportunity to make a good income, and often times being overly focused on the commission and how much they are going to make on the sale can sometimes be a distraction.
Anita Greenland: And then, it was interesting to see that also nobody in the group focuses on ego, but a lot of sales people are drawn to this field because they are competitive, and they want to be a winner and they want to be at the top of the leader board. So one thing that all of the low level and mid-level performers tend to focus on, if you look at all of these characteristics here, it’s very self-focused. The top sales performers, the top 20%, and I was really glad to see that of our participants, your people, for the most part are getting it, but focusing on the customer needs, and the top 5% are focused on the customer needs and customer wants. So obviously the more successful you are as a sales manager getting them to focus on customer needs and customer wants, the more successful they are going to be. The more you are going to move them into that high performing section.
Jeb Brooks: So we spend a lot of time, Anita, looking at the way that a sales organization spreads across this focus curve in our management workshops, when we are working with front line managers, and one of the things that we find is very often, there is an adherent bias among sales leaders that the team is focused on the customer needs and wants, and then when we dig into it in those workshops, we find that there is really a focus more to the left, so what are some symptoms of some of those wrong sales focuses? How do sales leaders see that play out?
Anita Greenland: Well, I think the graphic on this slide pretty much sums it up, that what most of these symptoms generally are. They are either afraid to deliver price, or they are really quick to drop price, or maybe you’ve got the revolving door of sales people coming through your door asking you for discounts in order to close their deals. Another thing that we see that is pretty much a common theme is that they don’t really know what the customer’s business drivers are, because they typically talk more than they listen. My expression for these guys is the show up and throw up sales people. The bottom line is that they are typically more of a transactional seller. You have to sell on price because they don’t know what’s a value to the customer or the prospect, because they ask them little or no questions at all. So, therefore the only way they are able to differentiate themselves, is on price, and ultimately that becomes the race to zero, and that is not really successful for anybody.
Jeb Brooks: That’s an unwinnable race. You mentioned this concept of not having business conversations, of not bringing the business acumen, and it is so common out there and one of the things that we find drives that is in fact, focus, right? The more attention I as a seller pay to the application of what it is I’m selling, the better off I am. One of the things that folks struggle with, though, is living that in the moment. Everybody knows I’m supposed to be focused on my customer, but they don’t always do it. It doesn’t always play out when we are riding along with sales reps out in the field, as you well know having ridden along with literally thousands, so what can sales leaders to do shift their team’s focus?
Anita Greenland: Well, it really does start with the leader, and whatever you are focused on is what they are going to be focused on. So think about what you’re emphasizing, if your focus is on budgets and numbers, then their focus is going to be on budgets and numbers. So the strategy as a sales leader should be to change your focus in order to get your sellers to change their focus. And you’ve got to be very intentional about this, so instead of making the bottom line your sole purpose, and we saw a lot on this call have sellers that tend to be focused on that quota, so instead of you focusing on that, emphasize the positive difference that your organization and that your seller can make for the customer.
Jeb Brooks: Right. So, how can this happen? What can our listeners do?
Anita Greenland: Well, let’s keep it simple because we are doing this in 19 minutes, let’s start with incorporating this question into your approach when you are coaching your sellers, and this could be in your one on one meetings with your sellers, it can be in your group meetings, it could even be in your national sales meetings, and I wish I could take credit for this question, I really can’t, it comes from Lisa Earle McLeod’s book, Selling With Noble Purpose. And I think it’s really, I highly recommend this book, it’s a great book for sales leaders.
Anita Greenland: But in her book in chapter four, the name of that chapter is the sales managers question that changes everything, and that question is: how will this customer be different from doing business with us? And I actually like to tweak that a little bit and ask the question: how will this customer be better as a result of doing business with us? So if you ask one of these questions each time you are coaching your sales people, they are going to come to expect it, and they will eventually be prepared to answer it, which will force them to move their focus to what the customer truly needs and wants, which ultimately is going to change their positioning in the minds of the customer, going to give them more credibility, open them up to learning more information, and being able to make better recommendations, and that ultimately is going to bring them greater success as well to the organization.
Jeb Brooks: You know, we believe so strongly in this concept, we have actually incorporated, this is a tactic for our listeners too, we have incorporated this question as a required field inside our sales force.com platform. And we get some really good data that becomes helpful to sort of guiding where we do our best work with our clients. I think, though, some of the feedback we have gotten as we have talked about this is that it seems like it would be pretty easy for sales people to just develop a pad answer, so what can our listeners do to help facilitate open and honest responses, really viable, meaningful responses from their sales people?
Anita Greenland: I think they need to be coaching their sales people on asking better questions and really digging deep into that, we hear the training, if you have been in any kind of training class, ask open ended questions, ask open ended questions, and it might sound like beating a dead drum, but the reality is, and I’ve seen it out there in the field, we know in our head, knowing and doing are two different things. And so, I think that you really need to, as repetitive as it sounds, you’ve got to be working with your sales people on asking those open ended questions and having them to prepare those open ended questions, and training them and coaching them on how to go deeper with those open ended questions, not just having a formatted template of questions that they ask, but truly customized questions, based off of the research that they have done on the customer or the prospect, and I would have them share those questions with you so that you know that they are getting out there and they are putting thought to it and they are actually following through.
Jeb Brooks: Yeah there is, it’s an old book at this point, but some of the oldest books are some of the most helpful. The book is the Knowing, Doing, Gat by Pfeffer and Sutton, couple of Stanford professors, and talks about this concept of what I know is not necessarily what I do, and there has been a lot of work recently with neuroscience and the way that plays out. The principle, essentially is, when all is said and done, more is said than done.
Anita Greenland: Amen.
Jeb Brooks: Right? So the more often we talk about these things, perhaps the less we apply them, so the secret is exactly what you described: getting your front line managers, because let’s face it, the most critical role inside any sales organization is that front line sales manager. What they are doing as they are working with sales people either can drive strategy or derail it. So, are there perhaps some tools that front line managers can use with their sales reps in weekly sales meetings or monthly sales meetings, or something they can practice?
Anita Greenland: Yeah, I think is a great strategy when it comes to open ended questions is the three deep strategy. So for example, as I was saying earlier, I think it’s important to customize the questions based off of the research that the sales rep has done in preparation for the call.
Jeb Brooks: Back to the business acumen concept we were talking about earlier.
Anita Greenland: Exactly. So, an example of a good question might be: I noticed your company just launched a new rev site, what a great differentiator for you compared to what I have seen on your competitors websites. What are some other things that you are doing to separate yourself from the competition?
Jeb Brooks: Oh well, we are developing a new custom application tool that will allow us to engineer specific products for our clients.
Anita Greenland: And how is that strategy working?
Jeb Brooks: Seems to be going well. Our sales people are saying they are opening up some new opportunities so there have been some interesting new markets that we found.
Anita Greenland: Like what?
Jeb Brooks: Well we are working in food service which is something we have never done before.
Anita Greenland: Okay. What are some of the opportunities that you see there?
Jeb Brooks: Well, there is some refrigeration applications that we can explore, which not only open up food service, but then also we can look at industrial applications, so we are really seeing a whole wide range of opportunities there.
Jeb Brooks: So let me just stop you and get you to kind of unpack what your goal there is, and how this can be applied by front line managers with their teams.
Anita Greenland: So, the goal here is to not just ask the one question and move on to your next question, but it’s actually to ask follow up questions based off of how your customer is responding, because you see you will get a whole lot more information which enables the sales person to ultimately make a more refined, more on target recommendation to the customer that is focused, again, on their needs and on their wants. So, having your sales people to share with you their customized open ended questions and then I think role playing is a great tool to do one on one with sales people and role playing just like you and I just did right here on the call, role play how that might play out. Get them feeling comfortable, create a little muscle memory for them.
Jeb Brooks: And that is so key, right? Is the idea that, and we will just go ahead and open it up for questions here as we are wrapping up, what we find is that what, again, I said it earlier, what people know is not what they do, which is why this practice makes perfect. As much as this seems like hey, everybody knows what an open ended question is or how to ask it or so forth, there is a lot more to it than that. So, thank you very much. Let’s go ahead and check in and see if we’ve got some questions.
Producer: Jeb and Anita, we’ve had a couple questions come through.
Jeb Brooks: Play here, I’ve got one coming in right now, thank you, Allison, that question is, let me see if I get it right: alright so the Noble Purpose concept is very interesting, but what if my leaders don’t buy in? I get this. Let me paraphrase it as best I can, I’ve heard this question before. Upper management is just driving for a number, how do we communicate that up and down that we’ve got this noble approach, I want to focus on helping my customers get better.
Anita Greenland: Well, just because it is trickling down to you doesn’t necessarily mean that it needs to trickle down to them as far as the pressure on the number, the number to number. It’s there, that reality exists, and that is just part of the challenge of being a sales leader and sales manager, is we are kind of trapped in the middle between what the executive leadership is wanting, the number, and what you are wanting to get from your sales people, which is that focus on the customer needs and customer wants. So, I say you don’t necessarily let that trickle down, and as you ar working with your sales people on some of the strategies and tactics that we talked about, they are ultimately going to produce that number, and you are not going to have to beat that drum as loud, as long as you are continuing to help them to focus on their customer needs and customer wants.
Jeb Brooks: You know, I think that is so true and all of us find ourselves in this place. If you are responsible for a number, you have requirement that you hit that number, and I think what you described is really, really the key here, just being that that stop gap, and eventually what we have found here, as I said here at the Brooks Group, it’s now a required field, our sales people have shifted their focus and there was a little bit of an adjustment period, and it’s worked. Our impact is greater and quite frankly, our growth has come as a result. So, we have another question here, and the question is: I’ve got one rep who is focused on income, but he is just not receptive to coaching. He is the “know it all” type. We have all run into one of those, right? How can I get him to open up and be more receptive to the coaching idea?
Anita Greenland: Well, I think that every organization has got your know it all sales person, the one they think has got it figured out and that they are perfected project, and so what I would do as a sales manager is I would tap them to do some mentoring of new sales people, and what I also find is sometimes the new sales people can do some teaching of their own, incidentally, it just kind of happens by accident, and another strategy besides having them to mentor the sales person and have to really start thinking about what they are doing and become more intentional about what they are doing is to also use them as a benchmark and tell them we are going to do a sales contest and we want to use your stats to help accomplish this sales contest and that will help them to be more mindful of what they do and perhaps more open to coaching.
Jeb Brooks: Wonderful. And we do have a couple more questions and unfortunately we are going to have to answer them off line so expect those emails coming because we are ready to wrap up, we are at 19 minute and that’s what our promise was to you. So with that said, I want to thank you for your time. I want to encourage you to consider our Sales Leadership AcceleratorAugust 3 through 5 where we dig into this even more. If you have questions about that don’t hesitate to reach out. With that, I want to say thank you to Anita for being with us.
Anita Greenland: Thank you.
Jeb Brooks: Thank you to Alliyon for your help and the rest of the team. Meanwhile, happy selling. We will talk to you next month. Thanks so much. Bye.