Happy Holidays – Happy New Year

seasons_greetings51Thank you for reading the Sales Training Connection.

We’ve decided to extend our holiday break this year – so look for your next blog on January 5, 2015!

Wishing you a happy holiday season and a happy new year,

Janet and Richard

 

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Consultative selling and selling consultatively – don’t confuse them!

Every once in awhile in any field it is useful to get down into the weeds – explore language, word usage, and other things that go bump in the night.

In this case, the weeds involve drawing the distinction between the term consultative selling and the concept of selling consultatively.

As starters, Mark Hanan established the branding this term in his brilliantly written book Consultative Selling – an early and extremely important work about selling consultatively.  Because of the branding, Consultative Selling has become one of the “ings” in our field like: SPIN Selling, Conceptual Selling and Solution Selling?

Now, why is it worth making this point about confusion in regard to selling consultatively?

We would suggest there are at least two.  One relates to the just noted language distinction; the other to an important trend in the world of buying.  Let’s first look at the language point.

Language. The failure to draw the language distinction becomes important because it can be assumed that a sales model other than the branded one is not somehow as well designed for selling consultatively – and that is clearly not the case.  Take, for example, SPIN Selling.  The SPIN model for questioning, as well as, the other techniques in the program are fundamental for selling consultatively.  We would suggest this is equally true for the best of all the modern day selling models.

In regard to this distinction point, the really important distinction is between all the models that provide help for selling consultatively and those approaches that are mainly about tips, tricks and product pitches.  They are not about selling consultatively; they are basically about manipulation.

Buying trends. The second point relates to an important trend in the world of B2B buying and it is the strategic reason for making a big to-do about selling consultatively.  Let’s take a look.

Recently Ian Altman published a Forbes article entitled – Top 10 Business Trends that will Drive Success in 2015.

In the article the author makes the following point when discussing trend Number 1: “customers don’t value old-school high pressure manipulative sales methods.  In fact, many executives say they have decided not to select a vendor because of a negative sales experience.  Customers value subject-matter experts.  As customers increasingly value subject-matter experts, salespeople need refined consultative skills.”    

In 2015 and beyond your sales team will need to be able to sell consultatively at a very high level of competency in order meet customer expectations and to differentiate you from the other guys who have gotten the message.  This means you have to be very good at the following:

Consultative Selling Skills.  Today customers have changed dramatically in regard to their expectations of the role of the salesperson.  They are not looking for a product facilitator.  They want a trusted advisor that can help bring fresh ideas for redefining their business challenges and new insight for formulating innovative solutions.  You have to be able to position the value of your solutions and company for being a business partner helping to solve business challenges.  This requires competency in at least three consultative selling skill domains:

  • Fundamental consultative selling skills.  These are the competencies that are addressed in those aforementioned programs.  They are based on great questioning and active listening skills – the ability to determine fit between the customer’s decision specifications and preferences and your capabilities and emerging skills like: working effectively and efficiently as a member of an expert-based team and being able to leverage the new technologies for designing and delivering value-based customer interactions.
  • Second-level product knowledge.  First-order product knowledge is all about features and functions. The second-order refers to the application of product knowledge to the customer’s business challenges. How do your products individually or collectively solve the problems likely to be encountered by your customer base?  How do they impact productivity, risk, expense and revenue?  Can you relate a customer story or describe the research that demonstrates your product does what you say it does?  And can you fine-tune these narratives based on whether you are talking with a Marketing Manager or Engineer or Chief Information Officer?
  • Customer knowledge. Today, customers expect salespeople to know more their company and industry than ever before. They expect sales reps to provide new ideas, imagination, and insights to: manufacture products more quickly, improve product quality, shorten order times, or improve the customer service experience.

Consultative skills.  The second set of skills relates back to Ian’s point in the article.  Selling consultatively requires more than selling skills; it requires consulting skills.  Here is a short list:

  • Subject-matter expertise.  If you are selling enterprise software, then you have to understand the technology and applications in order to bring the expertise required to help the customer solve their business challenges.
  • Business acumen.  Being able to integrate a business and economic perspective into customer interactions.
  • Adaptive thinking.  Coming up with creative and innovative solutions that are not rule-based.
  • Computational thinking.  Being able to translate vast amounts of data into useful information.
  • Transdisciplinary competency.  Knowing how to integrate knowledge and concepts across disciplines and areas of expertise.

As VPs of Sales and Sales Training Directors sit down to explore the training needs for 2015, we would suggest that meeting customer’s expectation in 2015 does indeed require your sales team to be able to sell consultatively. If one buys the notion, then the 2015 sales training for most companies needs to be more than just a little adjusting and upgrading here and there.  While it is it is easy to learn tips and tricks; it is extremely difficult to learn to sell consultatively.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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How to accelerate your sales by avoiding empty sales touches

Amp-Up-3D-coverOur colleague, Andy Paul, has just published a new book – Amp Up Your Sales. We thought it was interesting – and asked Andy to share some of the ideas contained in the book in this guest post …

Sellers and buyers alike want to accelerate the sales and buying processes. Both parties can realize measurable gains in productivity if these processes were shorter. So, what’s holding them back?

On average, how many meaningful, substantive sales touches do you have with a prospect in your typical sales cycle?

First, subtract all the meaningless one-sided “touching base” emails and “checking in” voice mails that you send to a prospects and then count how many meaningful sales touches you have in your average sales process where you actually interact with and deliver value to your prospect.

The number will vary by the nature of the product and service being sold. But in general, the answer is “not many.” And that number is shrinking as customers put more pressure on sellers to help them navigate their buying process is a shorter period of time and with fewer sales touches.

If you waste just one of those sales interactions without delivering meaningful value to your buyer, what percentage of your sales cycle will you just have wasted?

It is absolutely essential to avoid empty sales touches, which are sales interactions that consume your buyers’ time without giving them anything of value in return. Waste your buyers’ time and it will make them reluctant to invest more time in you. If that happens, you’ll be on the outside looking in with your nose pressed against the glass as the buyer moves forward with your competitor.

Two Important Value Questions

Here’s a simple way to avoid empty sales touches. Answer these two questions before each and every interaction with a prospect:

  1. “What value I can deliver today that will help move the customer at least one step closer to make a purchase decision? (Another way to frame the question is to ask ‘What information does the buyer need from me today to move at least one step closer to making a purchase decision?’)
  2. “What’s the very next action that I want the customer to take as a result of receiving this value?”

If the answer to either question is “I don’t know,” then don’t do anything with that prospect until you do. Each time you interact with a prospect they invest some of their limited time in you and they expect to receive something of value in return. If you train a prospect through empty sales touches to expect not to receive value from you, then you can expect not to receive any more of their time in order to sell to them.

You’re better off sitting on your hands than calling the customer without a plan to deliver value.

Are You Prepared To Deliver Value?

Let’s look at how this works in practice. Let’s assume that your typical sales cycle has five actual interactive touches with your buyer. Last week you met a potential prospect at a business event and scheduled a time to meet them at their office to follow-up on their interest in your services. You showed up at the meeting two days later but you hadn’t adequately prepared in advance. You hadn’t spent enough time learning about the prospect, their products, their industry, the people you were going to meet and the challenges they faced in their business. In short, you weren’t ready to ask the probing questions that would get to the heart of the prospect’s requirements and, as a result, you missed out on uncovering their key pain points.

The prospect exited the meeting without learning substantially more about your services than they knew going in. They had doubts about working with you and your company because you didn’t deliver anything of value in the meeting that would help them move closer to a decision. As a result the meeting didn’t produce an outcome that was satisfactory to the buyer or to you. The customer felt that you unnecessarily wasted their time. And, you didn’t secure a commitment from the buyer to move forward in their process.

This is the point in the sales process where salespeople often trip up. That empty sales call just wasted one of your five meaningful sales touches. 20% of the opportunities you have to deliver value to a buyer just disappeared for good. Suddenly, you’re behind the curve with the prospect. Not only did you fail to deliver value you didn’t provide the prospect with a compelling reason to move their buying process with you to the next step. When this happens, it’s extremely difficult to make up lost ground and in all likelihood you will be fighting for second place. And, as we know well, there are no medals for coming in second in sales.

Remember: start by answering this simple question before every sales touch: Am I going to deliver value to the prospect in this interaction that will move them at least one step closer to making their decision? Don’t waste the prospect’s time, or your time, until the answer to that question is yes.

You can access the book here - and learn more about Andy Paul here.

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Why hold sales training off-site?

Sales Training

Sales Training

As VPs of Sales and Sales Training Directors think about the sales training to achieve their 2015 sales goals, many decisions need to be made: ranging from what the sales training will cover – to how it’s delivered (online or face-to-face or blended) – to when the sales training will be conducted – to how to communicate the purpose of the sales training before it actually happens.

Unfortunately once decisions are made about the what, how, and when, other important secondary factors impacting the sales training don’t get much attention. One secondary but important factor is:  Where will the training be held?

A few months ago we wrote a blog proposing that sales training and national sales meetings are an odd couple.  An equally dysfunctional idea is sales training programs that are taught on-site. In fact, we’d argue that in many cases sales training conducted on-site can lead to even more downsides than conducting it during a national sales meeting.

Conducting sales training off-site sets a tone from the get-go. It sends a message that the sales training is important and is the focus of the time together.  It also provides the opportunity to select the right type of training room given the structure and format of the training – which is a big deal as any Sales Training Director will tell you.

On the other side of the coin, the off-site commitment prevents sales reps from disappearing for those “short” meetings with someone in corporate because they’re in town.  Or, the reverse – someone from corporate seeking out a sales rep for a “high priority discussion.”

Off-site sales training also encourages socializing during the program that is important to salespeople. By being together – whether in formal or informational social activities – sales reps can meet one another, renew relationships, and learn from one another. Ask any successful salesperson and you’ll hear that social conversations with other sales reps have been one of the keys to their sales success.

Yes, off-site sales training cost more money.  But we would submit this is one of those “for want of a nail the kingdom was lost” type decisions.  Given the total cost of the designing the sales training plus the added payoffs if the training is more effective, then it is money well spent.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

 

 

 

 

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It’s bad selling to pursue bad business – An STC Classic

A Classic - '63 Corvette

A Classic – ’63 Corvette

Too many salespeople spend too little time selling and too much time doing stuff that either needs not be done or should be done by others.  So let’s not make the problem worse by spending the sales time available pursuing bad businessOne-way to avoid this problem is to “up” the importance of getting better at lead qualification.

Getting lead qualification right requires a laser like focus on two issues – funding and fit.

Funding.  Finding out information about funding can be difficult. Yet you can’t find out if you do not ask and it is okay to ask.  But make sure you are talking with someone who knows the answer to the funding questions so you do not get poor information or end up asking the same questions again and again to different people.  In general, the more senior the person, the more likely they will have accurate information about funding.

When funding has been budgeted, asking questions about the estimated budget or what the customer has in mind to support the effort is fair and can yield beneficial results. It helps you competitively.  Plus, it can also enable you to continue to shape thinking about a realistic price.

Sometimes legitimate opportunities have not yet been funded. These opportunities often turn out to be non-opportunities and salespeople spend a lot of time pursuing opportunities that will never lead to closed sales. However, if there is a real opportunity, salespeople can help their customers seek the right amount needed by carefully determining an estimated cost and pre-selling them on that amount. If done correctly this can be helpful to both you and the customer.

Fit.  Next let’s turn to “fit”.  Fit is a two-way street. You must objectively determine the degree of fit between the customer’s specifications and preferences, and your capabilities. And, you must obtain the customer’s perception of that fit.

Here are three best practices for analyzing the alignment between you and the customer.

  • Get a sense of clarity and priority of the customer’s decision criteria and preferences for selecting suppliers.   The criteria can vary from very concrete criteria – such as the extent of vendor experience with the customer – to criteria that are more difficult to define such as the vendor’s capability for innovation.

It is important to develop a shared view of the meaning of the decision criteria and to get a sense about the relative priority on the importance scale.  You can’t win if you don’t know how the customer is determining the winner.  For example, you may think the right solution requires the company to provide substantial technical support.  On the other hand, the customer may place a greater priority on the specification for just-in-time delivery.

Only after you get clarity around why the customer is placing the importance on just-in-time delivery can you assess the degree to which you are able and willing to support the emphasis on just-in-time delivery.

It may also be true that you have an insight not yet recognized by the customer.  So gaining clarity can also be about helping the customer develop an awareness or insight about required capabilities the customer has not yet considered.  Bring fresh thinking to the discussion that the customer finds of value is an excellent way to differentiate your company from the competition.

  • Check the customer’s perception of your capabilities. This best practice seems straightforward. Unfortunately, it frequently is not followed. Customers often has a history with you and therefore they know a lot about your capabilities. But anyone making a judgment about a particular capability may have less than a complete assessment.  For example, customers might not know that you have an outstanding service capability.

It is important to find out the customer’s view. If that view is not objectively accurate, then finding a way to correct the misperception is both important for the customer and for you.  To correct a misperception, you could reference another customer where you demonstrated that capability or set up a special meeting with the staff in your company that could discuss and explain the capability.

On the other hand if the customer’s perception of a weakness is accurate, you need to find a way to correct or compensate for that weaknesses.  The key point is you have identified the need for action versus being blinded sided later in the sale.

  • Recognize when shaping is appropriate. There are times where it is appropriate to help customers change their point of view about the capabilities.  The just noted example about a misperception of the fact that your company has an outstanding service capability is one case in point.

A second example is when a customer has deemed a particular specification for the work to be extremely important and in your experience that priority is misplaced. This, of course, is a road to walk with care. If a customer would end up making a better decision if the assessment was different, then shaping brings value to the customer and that is appropriate. Obviously, it is not appropriate if the viewpoint shift is strictly in your self-interest

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Sales training and learning styles – another popular myth

Sales training

Sales training

Each year lots of companies spend lots of money on sales training.  Given that developing and sustaining a superior sales team is more important than ever, this commitment appears warranted.  Due to the transformational changes occurring in the market place, sustaining a superior sales team requires companies to adopt a culture where professional development is an ongoing effort.

However, a reasonable question is – how are we doing?  Is sales training as effective as it needs to be?  Here, there is some good news and some bad news.

If you ask that question in regards to times past, then the answer is a positive one.  Today, sales training is significantly better than it was ten years ago.

The bad news is we still have a long way to go.  Recently Brainshark conducted an interesting survey with 162 B2B sales training professionals as to the state of sales training.  Only 32% described their own organization’s training as effective.  Given that the respondents were rating their own sales training, that is a relatively telling percentage.  We wondered what the number might have been if the survey had asked salespeople the same question.  We suspect worse news.

Now, some of the reasons for the ineffectiveness are unique to a particular company – some are relatively common across companies.  For example, the Brainshark study reported that 48% of the training professionals felt the content of the training was not engaging enough.  Our own experience suggests another common reason is too little effort is given to what happens before and after the training – for example, sales coaching is not what it should be in most cases.

To the focus of this article, let’s talk about myths as another reason why sales training is not as effective as it needs to be.  Unfortunately sales and sales training have over the years been plagued with stories about myths and magic that keep being reinvented.  For example, regarding sales – no, you should not “always be closing” and “objections are not great buying signals”.

But, what about sales training?  Let’s tee up one myth the truth of which has been classified as “just common sense.”  A recent article by the British Psychological Society reported on the ten most common counter-intuitive findings in the psychological literature.  All were interesting but the one that caught our attention was – people do not learn better when taught via their preferred “Learning Style.”

The importance of focusing on learning styles is an incredibly popular idea – the concept being learners learn better when taught information via their preferred modality such as: auditory, visual or by doing.  In fact, the authors noted “people do not perform better when they are taught information via the modality that they say they prefer – and there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.”

Making sales training better is a big deal; it’s important to work at it all the time.  Some of the problems are tough – like getting sales coaching right.  On the other hand the dispelling of myths, which do nothing and sometimes cost a lot, are low hanging fruit for increasing effectiveness.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum®

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Becoming a top sales performer – in the end it’s up to you

Top-Sales-Performers.Today having a superior sales team is more important than ever.  Good is no longer good enough.  Several factors are driving this need for excellence – two stand out:

  • You can’t sustain a competitive advantage by product alone.  Because of advanced manufacturing technologies and global competition, even if you have a great product, the competition is likely to come out with one that is just about as good (or sometimes better), in half the time compared to yesteryear – worse yet, it’s likely to be cheaper.
  • Customer expectations have changed – they expect salespeople to know more and know it at a higher level of proficiency than ever before.  Customers expect salespeople to bring fresh insights to redefining their problems and imagination for creating alternative solutions.    

So the bottom line is a superior sales team is more important than ever and it is more difficult to achieve.  Yet, how does a company effectively, efficiently, and affordably develop and sustain a high performance sales team?  Over the years we have written a lot about two obvious initiatives that a companies must get right as starters – sales training and front-line sales management coaching.

But even if a company gets sales training and sales coaching right, and most companies struggle to achieve that goal, it is unlikely those two efforts, by themselves, will be enough.  We suggest the remaining challenge is: companies need to establish a culture where learning is viewed as an ongoing process for which the individual salesperson assumes personal responsibility. 

If a company does not invest in the sales training and sales coaching, then each salesperson needs to develop that professional development mindset and do what it takes, to learn what they need to be a top performer.

Sales is a profession like any other profession in business, sports or the performing arts.  And like in those professions top performers do not rely on the training and coaching from their respective institutions, they take personal responsibility.  Sport examples are legendary.  During their best years the San Francisco 49ers had great training and great coaching, yet players like Jerry Rice developed and maintained an off season conditioning and training schedule that enable him to be the very best for a very long time when competing against other world-class athletes.

Now – the good news.  There are great resources available for sales reps to improve their performance on their own.  The really good news is these resources are easy to tap into and affordable.  For those that would like to get started immediately, here are some ideas.

  • Blogs. There are 100s of blog sites about sales – clearly some are better then others.  But you can find recommendations throughout the web to help sort that out.  So, pick 5 blogs that relate to your learning needs and read them on an ongoing basis.
  • White Papers.  There are both training companies and consulting firms that produce great whitepapers on sales best practices.  For starters go to websites like those published by McKinsey, BCG, Bain & Co., Accenture, and Booz Allen.
  • Online training.  Online training has improved significantly over the last 5 years.  There are a number of online universities offering courses in sales. Again to get started go to Udemy.com – they have a number of sales programs and most are $100 or less.
  • Apps.  There are a number of apps that can help.  For example, SweetSpot is an app that will help you learn about the latest developments and trends in a wide variety of industries and companies.

As a best friend once advised – you can’t write if you don’t read.  And so it goes in sales.  All the old stereotypes no longer apply – sales is a profession and like all professions the very best work really hard at being the very best.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum®

 

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Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving holiday … and for many a long weekend filled with fun, football, and perhaps some shopping, too.

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Sales manager trust – everyday, all the time, everywhere

Sales managers and developing trust

Sales managers and developing trust

Sales managers must develop the trust of their sales team and help their team members to trust each other.  Trust takes time to create but can be lost in a wink of an eye.

While trust takes time, it doesn’t just evolve over time.  It takes explicit thought and action.   When trust exists, everything on the road to excellence is a little bit easier; without it some things are more difficult and others are out of reach.

Because of all this we are always looking for ideas that can help sales managers do a better job in developing trust.  Recently we came across a Harvard Business Review blog by Carolyn O’Hara.  Although it was directed at employees in general, we thought the learning points were particularly important for sales managers.

So, how can sales managers develop trust?

6 tips to help sales managers develop trust

  • Make a personal connection – If is difficult to develop trust without interacting with the other party.  This can be a challenge on some sales teams because they may be scattered over a wide geography – separate from the manager and from each other.  Here technology can help.  And, the sales manager must leverage ideas like peer coaching, new hire on-boarding programs, and team meetings.
  • Be transparent and truthful – Share as much as you can about the company – strategies, financial results, new initiatives, and performance metrics.  Share why things are happening, as well as, as what is happening – this is important for both good and bad news.
  • Encourage rather than command – Don’t just tell people what to do –motivate them. People work harder and smarter when they are empowered to succeed and empowering requires trust to be extended.
  • Take the blame, but give credit – One of the best ways to encourage high performance and to develop trust is to give credit for successes and own up to your mistakes.
  • Don’t play favorites – This is an easy and quick way to lose trust.  Here appearance matters.  In some cases the sales manager may not being playing favorites by intent but the optics of the situation may project a different image.  Again, this is why communication is so important.
  • Show competence – Trust will not be sustained by just doing all the above.  Sales managers must be competent at performing their own piece of the sales productivity puzzle to be trusted.   This means sales managers must continuously update their knowledge and skills

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum®

 

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Sales success – don’t forget these 6 soft skills

Develop soft sales skills, too

Develop soft sales skills, too

Asking questions. Selling value. Handling objections. Crafting sales strategy. Closing. Analyzing the competition. Check out any sales training program and you’re likely find some of these sales skills being taught. They are the fundamentals and they are critical to sales success. And just because they are fundamental does not mean they are simple to learn.  To perform them skillfully requires a lot of practice and feedback.

But to borrow a phrase, these skills are “necessary, but not sufficient.”  A study by Millennial Branding and American Express, for example, reported that 61 percent of managers surveyed felt that soft skills were more important in new hires than hard skills, or even technical skills. In fact, the same study showed that the top three characteristics managers looked for when promoting Millennials were the ability to prioritize work (87 percent), a positive attitude (86 percent) and teamwork skills (86 percent).

The study goes on to report six soft skills most often cited as critical to success.  Although the report was focusing on professionals in general, we thought the work held merit for those concerned about developing sales success.

6 soft sales skills critical to sales success

  • Communication – Communication moves beyond sending emails, texts, and Instagrams. Everyone inside companies must be able to effectively engage people face-to-face. Nowhere is this more critical than for salespeople who must engage a wide variety of customers across a varied set of situations.
  • Teamwork – B2B sales increasingly are moving away from salespeople as the lone wolf to sales teams – whether multiple salespeople, technical specialists, etc. This means salespeople must develop the skills required to both lead and to participate in sales teams.
  • Flexibility – Flexibility provides some unique challenges for salespeople. Beyond simply being flexible about schedules and responsibilities, salespeople increasingly are being called on to marshal internal resources and to be part of – or manage – sales teams.  In today’s environment salespeople are required to play different roles at different times during the sales process.
  • Positivity – This one is no surprise – people like to be around positive people. And, this is certainly true for salespeople. Salespeople need to learn how to leverage praise from people for what they do and avoid overreacting to criticism and bad news. But, salespeople have a special challenge – not only do they have to work with colleagues, they also have to work with prospects and customers where it’s easy to say “yes” – but yes is not always the right answer. Salespeople must learn how to effectively say “no” or disagree or present a different view to prospects and customers and have the customer view that interaction positively.
  • Time management – Whether new to sales or a veteran, time management is an obstacle all salespeople must tackle. Learning how to prioritize and manage time is important for all salespeople.  A good idea for any salesperson is to periodically assess the percentage of their time they are actually selling vs. doing something else.  If one can increase that number by 10%, which in most cases is very likely, a whole lot of good things happen.
  • Confidence – Confidence is an underpinning of every salesperson’s success. Salespeople must learn to display confidence – it’s at the heart of building their credibility and credibility is a key for success. When someone is new to a company or new to sales, building confidence and credibility can be tough to do. One answer is leveraging your company’s capabilities and success stories until you develop your own tales of success.

If one believes the soft skill story, then a real challenge emerges for sales managers.  It’s likely that most salespeople would not on their own, over time, develop these soft skills. As a matter of fact in some situations, time may actually degrade the skill.  For example, a salesperson could very easily lose confidence due to failures vs. learning from the failures as to what to do next time.

Once again this is why sales management coaching and modeling are so important for developing and sustaining a successful sales team.  Yet, how often do the soft skills make the short list for sales coaching?

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum®

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