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Planning for Rapid Sales Growth? Make Sure to Develop Your People First

how to rapidly improve sales performance


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I recently met with a prospect who shared his company’s plans for rapid sales growth. I asked about the company’s sales force and how good the salespeople are. He replied that some are better than others, some are superstars, and some are not as productive as they could be.

I asked what the superstars are doing in meetings with customers that has led to their high success rates. The prospect couldn’t really tell me. Assumptions could be made, but there is very little direct witnessing of the superstars’ selling behaviors.

Then, I asked how the sales managers are coaching the sales professionals, which is one way to gauge the selling behaviors that managers find important for success. The answer was that their coaching styles are more directive. Sales managers are telling their people what to do in each selling situation or, when participating in customer calls, taking over the calls themselves. Their first priority is to get the deal closed, not to develop the skills and craft of their sales professionals.

I immediately sensed a disconnect. If the company is planning on fast growth and hiring more salespeople, then relying on sales managers to jump on calls with sales professionals to help them close deals isn’t going to allow the company to scale up very rapidly. This means that its aggressive plans for growth aren’t likely to be sustainable.

If, instead, the sales managers begin using each of these selling situations as opportunities to develop the skills and behaviors of their people for those crucial moments of interaction with customers, then the company is much more likely to achieve its goals. If the coaches can develop sales professionals to the point where they are successful on their own and, as a result of recognizing their ability to grow, begin to continually improve their own skills, then the company’s plans to scale up for rapid growth might just be achievable.

I will share a personal anecdote that illustrates what I believe is a typical scenario between sales professionals and their leaders, based on my past experiences in both roles. I noticed early in my career as an individual contributor that, as long as I performed well in achieving the numbers, no one really paid attention to what I was doing, at least not with any specificity. Generally, no one joined me on sales calls or attended sales meetings with me. As long as I was producing, I was left to my own devices — which, frankly, was what I wanted!

The thing is, who knows how many missed opportunities there were for me to perform even better in my job. Obviously, my sales manager and I would discuss my activity and review account strategy, but there was no direct coaching on the quality of my interactions with prospects and customers. I just went along on my own, learning by trial and error.

Sure, there are a lot of ways that you can learn: by experience, by formal training, or by collaborating with peers. But, there’s something to be said for mentoring and sales coaching, with one-on-one feedback focused on developing your craft.

I consider myself successful today, but who knows how much higher or faster I would have risen with the right coach to help me hone my abilities. And who knows how much more of a contribution I could have made to my sales organization with a coach supporting my efforts. That’s why I say to prospects and clients: if you’re planning for growth, make sure to invest in your people first.

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