Written by Kevin Jones, Principal – Ignite Selling

As performance improvement professionals, our clients have invited us to work with their sales teams on a variety of sales effectiveness challenges. Over the years, we have worked with sales professionals of every skill level, drawing lessons from all of them. We have worked with them to improve their call planning and execution skills. We have helped our clients successfully launch new products and pursue suitable customers. We have also worked with them to become proficient in the more complex areas of opportunity, account, and territory management. It is the latter target which motivated us to write the book “Premeditated Selling: Tools for Developing the Right Strategy for Every Opportunity,” a project we originally conceived as a way to codify and disseminate many of the lessons learned and best practices observed over the years. It is our hope that this book will help sales reps better analyze opportunities and develop smart strategic opportunity plans to beat out the competition and win the business.

As managers ourselves, we know how sales teams react to development. Some folks will embrace new ideas, in whole or in part, and begin implementing them straight away. Ironically, this book is not really meant for them; they are top performers because they are already doing much of what we describe. Another constituency may read this book, but choose to disregard the ideas completely. Although they might have the most to gain from implementing these “success ideas,” they are the ones least likely to use them. However, it is neither the top performer nor the bottom performer whom we had in mind when we conceived this book. Rather, it is that lot in the murky middle, the ones who often hit their numbers, but seem to have room for growth. They win some and lose some, like most salespeople, but they ought to be winning more than they are. It is this group of “middle performers” who represent the primary audience. We might call them the coach-able middle. A sales manager likely knows who on their team is represented by this label. This is the group that should be coached to improve performance.

As sales managers, we know that it’s our job to improve the performance of our sales team. Simply telling a sales rep to think more strategically, or to sell smarter, is about as effective as a platoon leader telling his troops to go get the bad guys. It’s the right idea in theory, but a little vague in practice. Unless you can help them understand what to do and help them learn how to do it, it will likely not be done (or not be done effectively).

Team Preparation Example
Chuck Pfarrer was a commander in the elite US Navy SEAL Team Six whose members took down the world’s most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden. The preparation for this specific mission took months. All of the members of SEAL Team Six had the best training; they were conditioned and ready for action. However, without a strategic plan, without discussing the upside payoffs and downside risks of their plan, and without rehearsing their plan, it’s likely the results would have been significantly different.

We are willing to bet that most of your sales reps have the foundational skill set necessary to succeed on the job, or they would likely not be on the team. It is the manager’s job to keep their skills sharp, to challenge their thinking, and to help them apply what they know in a more effective way. Without constant involvement providing proper strategic direction, however, reps can become complacent and might lose their edge. We’ve all seen it when our sales reps begin to make too many assumptions about what’s happening inside their accounts. Our job is to challenge those assumptions and help our reps see the barriers or opportunities differently. The members of US Navy SEAL Team Six were ready for their strategic mission. They worked with their commanding officer to develop their strategy; they walked through all possible scenarios and devised plans to overcome any possible obstacle. The job of the Sales Manager is to do the same with their sales reps, to help them be best prepared for any possible scenario that could happen when trying to win the business.

Sales Coaching Process
We recommend a simple, six-step strategic coaching process that will help your team build smarter opportunity plans, which in turn will help them win more business.

The six steps are:
1. Select your target account
2. Establish preliminary strategy
3. Challenge the thinking
4. Take action
5. Status check
6. Refine strategy

The steps are sequential and you repeat Steps 3 through 6 until the opportunity is won or lost.

We genuinely find that helping the sales team to think and act more strategically is one of the most important jobs of the sales manager. And, we are aware there are a lot of tasks and responsibilities competing for that precious time. We will continue to go into further depth on each step in future postings.