All too often, what holds salespeople back in terms of reaching their potential is not a missing sales skill or an improperly applied technique. More often than managers like to imagine, the problem is a failure of leadership.
Here’s what I mean by “failure of leadership.” Most of the sales managers we work with have little or no idea what the personal aspirations of the salespeople who report to them are. They know all about what the individual’s sales quota is for the month, quarter, or year. But they know hardly anything about what this person hopes to accomplish in life. This is essential information, yet most of the time management makes no effort to secure it, clarify it, or help set up a plan to turn the dream into reality.
Years ago, a sales rep of ours – I’ll call her Jeannie – sat down for a coaching meeting with me. I asked her what she wanted to make happen in her life – what kind of change she wanted to see in her world three months from now that wasn’t in evidence for her right now. (By the way, simply posing that question in a one-on-one meeting will put you well ahead of the sales management curve.)
Jeannie thought for a moment and said, “I’d really like to have a new car.” Her current car was breaking down all the time. I could tell from the certainty in her voice and the focus in her eyes that this goal did in fact mean quite a lot to her on a personal level.
I said, “Great – let’s set up a plan to get you a car.” She smiled. I could tell she liked where this conversation was going!
I asked Jeannie what kind of car she had in mind. She told me. Then I asked, “How much do you think that will cost?”
As it turned out, Jeannie had already done some research on this. She said, “It will cost me $500 up front, and just $199 a month after that, for 36 months. I’m thinking of getting a lease.”
I thought about how to respond for a moment, then I asked, “So how much do you think the true cost of the car is going to be if you do that?”
She didn’t know what I meant. I explained that the true cost was the total amount in payments and penalties she’d eventually end up making on the car, minus the amount she’d get back for selling it – which she quickly explained that she wouldn’t be able to do, because this was a lease she was talking about. I asked her again what the total cost of the car would be, considering that the resale amount she would receive would be zero. She worked out the figures, and concluded that a lease agreement made the total cost of the car very, very high!
We continued to crunch the numbers together. We compared that lease figure she’d just worked up to what the total cost would look like if she got a bank loan, and then compared both those numbers to what the total cost would be if she simply bought the car using cash. She ended up figuring out, during our conversation, what a lot of other people before her had figured out – that the dealer makes the most money on a lease, the second-most on a bank loan, and the least when you buy the car outright.
Of course, I could have simply told her that she would have been making a dubious financial decision if she leased the car – but somehow the act of working through the numbers together made the conversation flow a little bit more smoothly. Jeannie was the one reaching the conclusion that it didn’t make sense to lease the car.
In the end, she decided to go for a bank loan – one that she would find it a lot easier to afford once she earned the bonus connected to hitting her quarterly quota.
I am happy to report that Jeannie did hit that quota – and kept right on hitting it. She attained her goal. She bought, and loved, the car of her dreams. I tell you this story not so much to impress you about my own experience as a coach, as to impress upon you the following three vitally important lessons for sales managers:
One: This kind of “what do you want to make happen in your life” conversation gets the salesperson focused in on what he or she really wants. It connects the dots between the company’s financial goal for the salesperson and the salesperson’s goals as a human being.
Two: By continuing beyond the initial level of discussion, and helping the salesperson set up the plan and avoid potential problems, you as leader make it much easier for the salesperson to believe that you actually care about him or her. You prove that you care!
Three: Last but not least, by focusing on a goal that means a lot to the individual salesperson, and by helping to put together a viable plan to achieve that goal, you are supporting the salesperson’s ongoing personal and professional development. That’s the kind of support that makes good people decide to stick around for a while.
Very few leaders have this kind of conversation with the salespeople who report directly to them. If more did, their people would learn and grow more, produce more, and stay with the organization in the role of salesperson for a longer period of time.
The moral: Connect the dots!