Fable Friday:  Hatch chiles and killer questions

In the little town of Hatch, New Mexico and in the surrounding area are grown one of the most delicious species of chiles, now known as the Hatch Chile.  Hatch Chiles are harvested in late summer, come in varieties from mild to very spicy and are delicious in soups, stews, sandwiches and other similar dishes, including chili itself.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedMy son Hudson works for Market Street, an upscale supermarket here in Texas and every August the store puts on a huge Hatch Chile Fest.  They roast hundreds of pounds of chiles in a huge hopper over a charcoal fire, and they have Hudson and several other high school age kids out there selling the chiles.  And despite the intense heat and smoke and obvious discomfort of being outside in Texas on a hot summer day, the kids have a ball selling those chiles.

One day after his first assignment at the Chile Fest, he related this story.  “As customers approach the store, we were asking them, ‘Do you want to buy some Hatch Chiles?’ and most of them would say no, so we talked about different ways of engaging the customer. Finally we hit upon a much better question.  We started asking, ‘Would you like to learn about Hatch Chiles?’ which made a lot of sense as many people didn’t know what the chiles were and it didn’t put them on the spot to buy anything.  After that we sold a whole lot of chiles!”

He went on to explain that in “educating” the customer about Hatch Chiles, the kids could also point out the many benefits: limited season for a delicious chile, affordably priced, can be frozen, variety of uses, and that the store roasts them for the customer.  After that, almost everyone who got the “education” then bought some chiles.

Now here is why I’m sharing this story, aside from being proud of my son.  What those kids had was a sales meeting, where they discussed a sales performance problem and came up with a very simple change in their sales skills, one that had an immediate impact on sales results.

What about your sales meetings?  Do you discuss and practice minor changes in skills, e.g., “How would you ask a prospect to describe a pain point without saying ‘What keeps you up at night?’ or ‘Where are you feeling the pain?’”  Do you then conduct quick role play practices of those skills?  If not, you should, because that’s where the money is, what you actually say to the customer.

I’ve sat in on hundreds of sales meetings and I rarely see skills addressed.  I do hear a lot of sales progress to goal review, or someone being asked what made a given deal successful, and those are not bad topics. In the review of the successful deal however, the focus is usually on what the salesperson did, rather than what was said, e.g., “I continued to pursue the sale even though the prospect told me no originally.”

So my sales management tip for today is to look for those small behaviors that work and focus on the skill, which may involve a key word or two.  If you read my newsletter earlier this week, you recall that eliminating the word “just” on the phone made a world of difference in how the customer perceives your pitch.

What those kids at Market Street did was observe the customer’s reaction to “Do you want to learn?” as opposed to, “Do you want to buy?”  One word.  That’s all.

Think Like Your Customer!

Would your manager pass this easy 5-point test?

Are you excited about going to sales meetings?  Do you feel energized and eager to put into practice what you learned after them?  If not, maybe your sales manager has fallen into a rut in leading your team’s sales meetings.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedHere’s a five-part checklist of good practices and what can go wrong if they’re not followed:

1)       The manager sends out an email before the meeting with an agenda. It’s good practice to set expectations for the content of any meeting and since a sales meeting should be an important one, it’s most necessary here. Let the team know what to expect.

2)      The manager facilitates the meeting so that the team does most of the talking and practice.  It’s poor technique if your manager uses this time to make a presentation.  Even worse if there’s PowerPoint. No one learns anything from listening to a long harangue about sales goals.

3)      Attendees leave the meeting feeling that they have learned something important that they did not know before. Quite often the sales meetings are redundant.  “He’s going to put up a slide of the numbers to date and tell us how important it is that we hit our goals this quarter.”  You didn’t know that?  See point 4.

4)      The manager has the team practice a small, discrete (but important) skill.  I’ll give you an easy one from banking.  The front line is tasked with making referrals to other lines of business, Wealth for example, but they’re not doing it.  Why not have them practice how they would bring up the topic with a prospect?  “Let’s go around the room and I want each of you to role play how you would transition into this topic. I’ll go first.” Takes 5 minutes, and one person will do it very well, modeling it for others to use. It’s crazy not to use the sales meeting for one short skill practice opportunity.

5)      The manager gets a verbal commitment from everyone in the meeting about what’s going to happen on the job as a result of the meeting.  “To close up today, I’d like each of you to tell me what you’re going to put into practice or do differently as a result of today’s meeting. Give me specifics and numbers, and I’ll debrief how you did in our next meeting.  Paul, I’ll start with you….”

Some teams don’t have frequent sales meetings because of travel, geography or size, so there’s no need to remind you that meetings should be frequent and short, in order to keep the team energized and positive.  But the above five guidelines will help your team succeed more effectively than the redundant lecture approach.

And finally, if your sales manager would have flunked this test, for goodness sake don’t forward it to him!

Instead, see it as an opportunity for you to take a leadership role with your fellow sales team members and take greater ownership of the content and agenda. After all, these meetings are for you and the team.  It might be, “(Manager), Phil and I came up with some good ideas on how to encourage existing customers to consolidate their business with us.  We’d like a chance to go over it at our next meeting.”  Bang!  You’re a hero.

Think like your customer!


The number one rule for an effective sales meeting

With so much pressure on sales managers to conduct frequent and regular sales meetings, there’s a risk that your team will have to attend frequent and regular meetings that are highly ineffective, unless you design them well.

So let’s agree that you conduct a sales meeting for one critical objective:  to improve sales performance. And to improve sales performance, you are looking for a change in your sales team’s behavior. It’s that simple.

Now let’s look at behavior change. For those of you who are trainers, you know the three premises of behavior you use in instructional design, so you always ask these three questions:

  1. What do I want the learner to know, that he doesn’t already know?
  2. What do I want the learner to do, that he isn’t already doing, or not doing effectively?
  3. In what way do I want the learner to feel differently about what he does on the job?

That’s all there is to it.  So it follows that if you are designing a sales meeting you can simply make three columns, then create activities from there.

But here’s the finer point. For your team right now, which of the three performance areas is most important?  Let me make a guess.  It’s either two or three isn’t it? In other words, you have a team that either needs to polish or enhance its skills, or you need the team to be self-motivated to put more positive energy into the job.  There’s seldom content that an experienced sales team needs to know, but here are two examples:

  1.  You select a top performer from the current month. He’s having a heck of a good time bringing in new business and leading the team in sales. As a reward, you call on him to talk about some of his best practices, how he prospects, great questions he asks in uncovering needs and so on.  The other team members glean a lot of new information from him.  That’s a good knowledge piece.
  2. There’s some logistical or time management problem within the team, or some obstacle to be worked out, so you call a meeting to resolve it, giving everyone a chance to speak: What do we need to do? What gets in the way? What should we do about it? And you reach a conclusion and agree on best steps. A good outcome from this meeting will have everyone knowing what to do that they didn’t know before.

So as a meeting designer, when you are looking at the first of the three performance areas, what you want people to know, ask yourself this question: If there is information I need my team to know, is it logical that I could tell them in an email? Or do I need to say it in a meeting?

You can see that in my two example meetings, the outcome is increased knowledge, but there is also a motivational component too. In the first, team members are encouraged by hearing a peer describe success, and the speaker is rewarded for top performance, which is itself a motivator. In the second example, team members feel empowered to solve a problem. In both cases, there’s good reason for having a meeting.

But for all other areas where you need only to provide information, save yourself and your team time by sending it out in an email, and use meetings for skill enhancement, or motivation.

That’s a powerful rule to remember, as it will help you…

Think Like Your Customer

Three easy tips to make you a better sales manager

It’s time to do a self-audit on your habits and routines as a sales manager.  You have just one goal in this position and that is to improve your team’s sales performance and revenue. This means that everything you do that does not support that goal should be eliminated from your activities.  Here are three easy ones.

Stop Scolding—Immediately stop scolding your sales team when it falls behind on production goals.  It doesn’t motivate them to improve and it annoys the hell out of those who are ahead of goal.  There’s an opportunity cost to having a sales meeting in that you have taken your team off the line to attend it, so you’d better make the content rich.  Inform them of current results, good or bad. Praise if results are good, but then coach individuals one-on-one if they’re behind goal. If you’re one of those managers who devotes 5 minutes of every meeting telling people to get moving, cut that out.  You’re being lazy by not addressing the issues head-on.

Audit Your Sales Meeting—Get the agenda for your next sales meeting and for each item on it, ask yourself in what way it contributes to your “improve revenue” mission. If some topic doesn’t support sales performance, toss it out. I’ll bet you have at least 30 minutes of content in your present meetings that has nothing to do with helping people sell.  If you want to do an even better audit, turn it over to the team itself.  Simply ask 2-3 people to solicit ideas from the others in response to this question:  “For all sales meetings going forward, what content would you like to see us include that will help you do your job better?  And conversely, what items are in our present agenda that you would like us to skip?” Phrase it in positive, upbeat language:

“My job is to help you win, but so far I’m the only one putting together the sales meeting agendas.  I’m not perfect, and I worry I’m not giving you the best content.  Be honest with me on this. What would you like us to include, and what can we reasonably do without?  All responses are good responses.  Food for thought:  How do you feel about rotating agenda responsibility among the team?  Have at me!”

Be a Micro-manager!—I don’t know why this expression has such a bad connotation. It implies the sales manager is in your face all the time, and not in a productive way.  But you should micro-manage. Oh, you say, “But what about your top performers?  You shouldn’t micro-manage them!”  Sure you should.  Here’s how.  Tell your rain-maker salespeople how much you value their performance and leadership.  Ask them to speak at sales meetings to discuss how they won a deal.  Ask them to teach a skill, modeling it first for the group.  Ask them to coach and help a less productive performer.  Are you spending most of your time coaching the non-performers?  If so, you may be missing a great opportunity to reinforce the desired behaviors from your top people.  They have feelings too.

These three tips make perfect sense don’t they?  And they’re not difficult to do.  Your sales team should be treated as if they are customers.   So Think Like Your Customer.