Improving sales performance

Mike Brooks, president of Mr Inside Sales and THE authority on inside sales, is the best-selling author of The Ultimate Book of Phone Scripts and winner of “The 25 Most Influential Professionals on Inside Sales” six years in a row by the AA-ISP. We recently checked in with him about how business leaders can improve the performance of their sales teams. Here’s what he had to say:

Tell us about your leadership philosophy?

Lead by example has always been my guiding philosophy. If you want your team to arrive early and stay late, then you’d better be doing the same thing. If you want your team to follow a sales script, then you’d better lead the way. In fact, if you want your sales team to sell using a defined sales process, then pick up the phone and demonstrate how to do that. People will always follow what they see. A great coach once said to his players: “I don’t hear what you say – I hear what you do.”

What leaders have taught you the most important lesson/lessons so far in your career?

My first sales manager, my brother Peter Brooks, taught me some of the most important lessons in sales, such as: Listen and Think B-4 Responding. He taught me to use my MUTE button so I didn’t talk over others. He taught me to treat others just as they are – as people. My next mentor, Stan Billue, taught me to put in the time to be the best. To always do what others were not willing to do so I could enjoy the things that others would not be able to enjoy because they weren’t willing to work for it. Finally, Bob Mowad, of The Edge Learning Institute, taught me to visualize the end result of what I wanted in any situation. He taught me the power of imagination and of the law of attraction. And it works!

How did you become the authority on inside sales?

I have always sold over the phone. I’ve never had an outside sales position, so everything I know about sales has been through inside sales. After demonstrating the skills and techniques that I teach by elevating myself from a bottom 80 percent producer to the No. 1 producer out of five branch offices in just nine months, I know what it takes to excel in sales and it was just a natural for me to teach it to others through inside sales.

What are the most common mistakes you see leaders making in organizations that hurt their inside sales opportunities?

The biggest problem I see is that some leaders look at the wrong things to try to influence or change sales results. Technology is so much a part of our lives, that some leaders get caught up in metrics and looking at the front end of the funnel or the middle, etc. What they aren’t doing is looking at what goes INSIDE the funnel. And that means looking at and teaching sales basics such as real rapport building, qualifying leads and uncovering and speaking to buying motives, handling objections, etc.

How do you coach organizational leaders on changing these habits or methodologies?

You’ve got to drill down to the specifics before you can measure and change behavior. My foundational technique is to develop a “Defined Sales Process” – I call it a DSP. You must identify the best practice approach of any sales cycle and then you can break that down into a scripted format. Once you do that, then you can teach it, measure it and help sales people adhere to it.
Once you get leaders to do that, then their leadership style becomes objective rather than subjective.

What are the most common reasons that sales teams underperform?

From what I still encounter, sales teams are simply not taught how to effectively and consistently qualify and close sales. In other words, they lack training on the fundamental skills of the sales process. If you want to know what I mean, just ask any sales rep in your company what to say when a prospect says they have to “talk it over with their boss.” If you get any answer other than, “That’s fine and let me ask you: if your boss says this sounds fine and to do whatever you think, what would you tend to do based on what you’ve just heard right now?” This is one of several “best practice” ways of handling this objection, but barely 5 percent of sales reps know it or ever use it. When you put together all the other objections, stalls and other sales situations that sales teams are mishandling, you begin to understand why sales teams underperform.

Why should struggling organizations re-examine their culture?

Where do I start? So many cultures are counterproductive. There is resentment among the sales team and sales leaders; there is discontent over performance, commission or leads, and there is generally a big gap between product knowledge and sales skills. When you examine a sales culture and develop a DSP, a scripted sales approach that makes everything objective, and then you begin rewarding and acknowledging proper behavior, that’s when a culture becomes productive and empowering.

What are some qualities of a thriving workplace culture?

Healthy competition, acknowledgement and reinforcement of proper sales skills and achievement, objectivity, and helpful managers and employees.

How can a positive workplace culture reinvigorate underperforming sales teams?

Once you institute the above ideas (DSP, proper sales techniques, etc.), people become empowered and a “Can Do” attitude takes over. Once people can see themselves thriving in a workplace or on a sales team, they will naturally begin to compete and seek reinforcement. This is what drives a sales team and a company.

What’s one of your favorite anecdotes of a company that was able to turn around a poor sales record through cultural change?

It was one of my clients in Canada that was already doing well but felt they could do better. They brought me in to develop a systemized selling system (DSP, Script Playbook, etc.) and then we made some changes in management structure to develop a “team versus team” approach. We broke the sales team of 25 reps into three teams each headed by a manager and a team supervisor. After equipping them all with a new DSP, a solid script playbook, and a grading system designed to measure and reward adherence to this new best practice approach, the teams started doing what they did best: compete. Managers competed against managers, supervisors competed against supervisor, and teams competed against teams. The atmosphere was supportive, fun and highly charged with positive energy. Oh, and the sales team saw a 38 percent improvement in sales in the first 90 days. That was an empowering experience!

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