By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

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manager-repAs a sales manager now on the other side of the desk, I asked rather than answered the question: How did your sales call go? My new perspective soon caused me to draw several conclusions:

  • Long pauses and stammering as sellers started to answer were bad signs.
  • A significant amount of irrelevant information was shared.
  • The more sellers talked, the less confident I became in how well the call went.
  • Good calls took far less time to debrief than bad ones.
  • Sellers were more effective in trying to convince me bad opportunities were viable than they were in selling to buyers.

Sellers with thin pipelines want managers to believe numbers will happen. Forecasts are roll-ups from sellers to districts to regions and ultimately to CSO’s, so managers want to believe.

I appreciate the value Sales Enablement initiatives can bring to organizations but believe they have limitations. The elephant in many rooms is that organizations don’t empower sellers to make better calls. Providing better collateral, industry briefs, Success Stories, leads, etc. are helpful but don’t address the root of the issue. 

Most companies view sales as more of an art than a science. It might be interesting to review the written job description for your salespeople. I think you’ll find it will be vague and focused more on the ultimate outcome (achieving quota) than the skills needed to do so.

To shift the balance more toward science it may be necessary to have a fresh look and consider creating the following five (5) prerequisites:

  1. Define milestones for different types of transactions that sellers work on. Most companies have 5 or more types of sales (National accounts, new accounts, SMB opportunities, renewals, professional services, etc.). Often milestones have only been created for large opportunities. One size does not fit all, so steps should be proportional to opportunity size. Sellers will rightfully rebel when asked to use cannons to kill mosquitoes.
  1. Provide the skills needed to achieve each milestone. If you give a detailed road map to a person that doesn’t know how to drive they’ll never reach the destination. Think about the varied backgrounds of your sales staff. Without a common skill set that aligns with your defined process you run the risk of asking sellers to do things they don’t know how to do.
  1. Whenever possible there should be measurable buyer actions to allow sales managers to validate milestone achievement. Without objective measures, pipelines will be based upon subjective opinions of sellers under pressure to show adequate activity to make their numbers. The result is usually a focus more on quantity than quality.
  1. Identify Key Player titles (the people sellers must call upon to sell, fund and implement offerings). For each Key Player, create a menu of business outcomes that can be achieved through the use of each offering. This allows organizations to help salespeople know who to call on and potential reasons they would buy.
  1. Each title/outcome becomes a conversation sellers should be prepared and able to have. Map only the capabilities/features that are relevant to achieving business outcomes and provide questioning templates to help sellers more consistently position offerings. By doing so you are defining the potential components of Key Players’ visions.

Having all of these components in place along with providing sellers the skills needed to execute each step in the process will make manager call debriefs much more focused. After making calls sellers should be able to answer the following questions: 

  1. What title did you call on?
  2. What goal or goals did they share with you?
  3. For each goal summarize the barriers that stand in the way of achieving them?
  4. What capabilities address those barriers?
  5. What value did you establish?
  6. Can/will the buyer provide you access to other Key Players? 

The costs of competing and losing to other vendors or to ‘no decision’ are high. In my mind the primary responsibility of a first level sales manager is to be a second set of eyes to ensure that all opportunities in a seller’s pipeline are winnable. Having standard debriefing questions that sellers should be able to answer goes a long way toward improving pipeline quality.

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