Successful sales managers – question success more than failure

Questioning Sales Success

Questioning Sales Success

Last month Kat Cole – President of Cinnabon – shared in an interview:

“I’ve learned to question success a lot more than failure. I’ll ask more questions when sales are up than I do when they’re down. I ask more questions when things seem to be moving smoothly, because I’m thinking: There’s got to be something I don’t know.”

Her points struck a chord with us – primarily because we too often see sales managers – whether first-line sales managers, mid-level sales managers, or VPs of sales focus on what’s going wrong in sales – “Why did we lose the big sale?” or “How come the forecast figures were off?” or “If something does change I wonder if we are going to reach our end-of-year target?”

While it’s certainly important to diagnose what’s gone wrong – it’s equally important to analyze successes. It reminded us of the many sales strategy sessions we’ve sat through where salespeople couldn’t really articulate why they closed a piece of business.

This is where great sales managers come into their own. Their ability to help sales reps think through the “why” of their sales successes has several payoffs:

  • Fact from fiction.  It helps the sales rep know to what degree their actions contributed to success versus they just happen to be at the right place at the right time.
  • Best practices.  Together the sales manager and sales rep can isolate best practices that can be reused by the sales rep and also by others on the sales team.
  • Bad business and good business.  By taking the success discussion to the next level by asking sales reps to analyze what was going on in the customer organization, sales reps can improve their ability to do a better job of initially qualifying the account and avoiding the extremely costly mistake of chasing bad business.
  • Customer questioning skills.  These types of discussions where the sales manager is skillfully using questions can help the sales rep appreciate and learn the power of using questioning in sales call.

Learning how to replicate sales success surely must be as important as learning how to correct failure – plus the former may reduce the need for the latter.

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©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC


About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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2 Responses to Successful sales managers – question success more than failure

  1. Dan Murphy says:

    Having held VP and Director of sales positions, it always amazes me how often a Sales Manager reporting to me could not articulate why they are successful. This has always scared me worse than the poorly performing team whose Manager at least knew why the wheels were off. I call it being accountable for your success.

    Once they all learned to be accountable for their success, we invariably became a better sales organization that had sustainable success.

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