“We have enough sales already.” Said no founder. Ever.
Startups run on sales. To grow them, you need a strong sales team. That won’t happen without your help.
As a first-time founder, I often fall back on what I learned at Google. Everyone at Google, from C-suite leaders to sales interns, sought mentors. That stuck with me. At Node, I hire salespeople for excellence, but I never downplay my end of the bargain.
To encourage performance, I give my salespeople the tools to move past the “spray and pray” selling tactics of yesteryear. You’ve seen it: Sales folks shout their messages to everyone they can find, cold calling and hoping desperately for a paltry 1 to 3 percent return rate. That’s backward thinking.
It’s the 21st century. Today, before ever contacting your team, your customers are already 60 percent of the way through the buying cycle. They know their options, and they’re looking for a personalized solution.
Your customers aren’t sheeple. Still, to help your sales team succeed, you need to think like a shepherd.
Leaders sometimes pretend that new hires will come into positions ready to perform. Sure, good hires bring expertise and passion — but that doesn’t mean they have no room for growth. And statistics say they know it.
A recent Gallup poll found 87 percent of Millennials (compared with 69 percent of non-Millennials) approach jobs as development opportunities. So why do just 38 percent of HR leaders, most of whom fully understand the importance of continuing education, think their learning programs meet employees’ needs? Why are they risking losing their best employees to lack of training?
The issue isn’t an easy one to address, but it’s an easy one to see: a dearth of essential feedback, education, and mentoring.
Sell like a scholar
Want better sales results? Think of your company like a university. What courses will improve your sales team?
1. Self-Confidence 101: Take constructive criticism in stride
When you believe in yourself and your product, you build credibility and trust with prospects. The way to get confident is through constructive criticism.
Think your people can’t handle the truth? Information from the front lines says otherwise. A Zenger/Folkman survey found that 72 percent employees craved feedback to improve their performance. They didn’t want the pat-on-the-back variety, either: Almost 60 percent wanted genuine corrective pointers.
But you can’t wait for them to ask for it because, chances are, they won’t. You have to take the lead.
Start with weekly planning meetings to ensure employee-employer vision alignment. Host team-by-team retrospectives, and be honest and individualized with deliverables. Did John meet his? Maybe Cathy met hers, but did she feel challenged?
Discussing mistakes doesn’t have to cause embarrassment. Our weekly meetings run on open communication and good-naturedness. Without losing our sense of humor and perspective, we use constructive criticism to help employees engage and improve.
2. Listening 102: Close your mouth; open your ears
Largely because it couldn’t take customers’ constructive criticism, Dish Network is in a mess. It lost a net 100,000 subscribers in third-quarter 2016 — and that doesn’t even account for the 280,000 who left in July. Now, it’s in the midst of a “Tuned In To You” campaign to shift customers’ perceptions.
What happened? In short, it learned that salespeople tend toward talking, not listening. Even those not in sales use just a quarter of their listening power during conversations. It’s easier said than done, but we need to ask questions and patiently wait for answers.
A collaborative work environment combats this issue. Provide team members with opportunities to teach one another, which forces them to listen before responding. At Node, everyone — including myself — practices an open-door policy. We’re all constantly accessible to one another for informal, everyday sharing.
We’re also adding peer-to-peer roleplaying activities to train junior salespeople. They’ll be able to test their approaches and receive constructive, actionable feedback. Our goal is to help participants become more solutions-oriented listeners.
3. Critical Thinking 103: Act on facts, not fictions
One of the most challenging parts of sales is being bombarded with constant information — some legitimate, some not. Successful salespeople can quickly judge the veracity of these tidbits. They look at the data, draw conclusions, and take action.
Scott Albro, CEO and founder of TOPO Inc., likens great salespeople to hedge fund managers. His philosophy is that the best and brightest know their pipelines inside and out. They know some prospects will close and some will not, and they can predict figures for each relative to their quotas.
Mentorship holds the key to helping salespeople become serious critical thinkers. Critical thinking is a “soft” skill, one gained through experience and ongoing development. Maybe that’s why 63 percent of Millennials surveyed by Deloitte seek better leadership skill development, and of those who receive it via mentorship, 68 percent stayed at their employers for five or more years. Encourage people to interpret data themselves rather than waiting for management to come to their rescue.
At Node, we match junior salespeople with senior mentors. They engage in question-and-answer sessions, shadow each other, attend events together, and co-teach other team members. If your mentors and mentees are experiencing communication gaps, try matching them on personality assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
As a founder, you’re in a position to change the trajectory of your company starting today. Start by giving your salespeople the schooling they need, and make it worth their while by promoting from within. Your best salespeople will climb skyward and repay the favor with loyalty and leads. Now that’s a school of thought every startup can get behind.