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How to Coach a Sales Rep Through a Deal
By Dave Stein, Author, How Winners Sell
Over many years, I've enjoyed the challenge and resultant rewards from successfully coaching salesreps through literally hundreds of sales campaigns. There were small deals, big ones, global deals, and ones where my clients were called in the last minute when a vendor was eliminated. There were deals with extremely complex political machinations. In a few opportunities, business partners tried to cut my clients out of the deal. I worked deals with small companies who trounced a Goliath. There were deals with very large companies who fought a hard battle against a nimble little guy who promised the world. I've coached sales teams on how to successfully avoid getting into a price battle with a lowball competitor. I've worked with unbelievably talented sales professionals who regularly win $100 million deals, and those who haven't won anything for two years.
First, you must understand that I personally coach to a process. Anyone who coaches has to coach to something--a model--a proven way of doing something. Think of a golf instructor helping you with your swing. It's slightly off. He is telling you to keep your head down so you conform to what they know works: you can't hit the ball straight if you turn your head when you swing. Coaching a sales person is similar. You (hopefully) have a sales process. (If you don't, I firmly believe you need to adopt one to successfully compete.) Your job is to coach the rep to align their behaviors with that sales process.
Keep asking questions to get to the truth.
As I observe many sales managers at work, one thing is apparent. They don't ask enough questions. Sure they'll say, "When is it going to close and for how much?" But that's not coaching by a long shot.
In my opinion, the reasons that some sales managers don't coach vary. Some just don't understand the value of asking the necessary questions. For others, who know the value -- they may not want to hear the answers. Others don't have the time, or don't make the time. Time management for sales managers is an entirely different subject for another article.
Let's start with the first part of my selling model, the situation assessment.
I can't help a sales person win unless I know the whole truth about the opportunity. Since I don't speak directly with the prospect, I have to get that information from the rep. And the only way the rep is going to get close to knowing the whole truth is by getting out to the prospect and digging up the answers to key questions. Here are just a few of the questions I ask a sales rep that helps me get ramped up when I am first called to assist with helping win a deal. If it is a rep I've not worked with before or one who isn't using a formal sales process, they are likely not to have all the answers. Obviously, if they are your reps, your questions may be slightly different.
How did you get involved in this deal?
What business challenge or opportunity is the prospect facing?
Who is the competition? Where do we stand versus them, even at this early stage?
What alternatives does the prospect have? What happens if they don't buy?
Who is the real buyer (budget holder)?
What evidence do you have that there is a budget for this purchase?
What are the decision criteria, and how well do our competitors and we meet those criteria?
Who is your point of contact? With whom else have you met in the account?
Describe the company's financial situation.
Those of you who are familiar with my approach know that what I am doing is calibrating how well the rep has assessed the opportunity. If they have done an ineffective job, I need to send them back to the prospect with a series of questions to which they must get answers.
Do some coaching
Help the rep by asking them to state exactly
1. What information it is that they need,
2. Why it is important,
3. From whom or where they might get that information,
4. How they will get it,
5. Alternatives if 3 and 4 don't yield the information,
6. How they will know it is real when they get it,
7. What they will do with the information once they have it.
By the way, if a rep can't rattle off the answers to the questions above by memory, about a critical deal they are well down the road pursuing, you need to be concerned. They aren't embedded deeply enough in that opportunity to be likely to win it.
Worse than having no information is having the wrong information. If the rep has the answers and can provide me with a level of comfort that the answers are factual (not just wishful thinking on their part), we can proceed to the next step. If not, they need additional coaching.
If the rep can't explain exactly how they are going to win the business, they aren't likely to win it.
Here's an example of would how I do that. I ask, "What evidence do you have that there is a budget for this purchase?"
The rep says, "Fred Jones told me."
I come back with, "And Fred Jones's position is..."
The rep replies, "He's on the evaluation committee. He works in customer care."
My turn: "Do you think it's appropriate to base your sales campaign on something that a person at this level tells you?"
The rep says, "No, but that's the only person who would discuss the subject."
(The rep understands the risk. If they didn't I would work with them on understanding the situation that they could be facing if there was no funding.)
I go on, "How might you get more information as to whether there is funding for this purchase so we can be sure you are pursuing real business?"
At that point I'd go through a number of alternatives with the rep. We would look at what would have to be done and the value of the information that would result.
Finally I wrap it up. "So I would suggest that you call on the people we just discussed and ask them the questions we developed. Do you see any problem getting that done by Wednesday?" Then follow up!