As a Sales Manager (or business owner acting in that role), you have probably spent your share of time doing front line sales. You have tried new things, had your share of success, and learned from your mistakes. Year after year you have excelled at bringing business to your company. Your experience matters. Your wisdom matters. Your voice deserves to be heard, right? Most of the time, this is certainly true. But there is one situation when you should simply keep quiet. That situation – one that is critical to sales success – is…
The Exception to the Rule
As a Sales Manager, you are, of course, manager of the sales process; but you are more than that: you are also a teacher, a motivator, and a leader. It is your job to instruct, inform and inspire your sales team so they feel empowered to perform their best. They depend on you to speak up with lessons and advice. Most of the time, this is essential. The one time it is more important for you to remain quiet, however, is when you accompany a member of your sales team on a sales call.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t expect you to put duct tape over your mouth while sitting with your salesperson in the prospect or client’s office. Nor do I expect you to hover outside the door, hidden from view as you eavesdrop on what is being discussed. During the meeting portion of a ride-along day with your salesperson, your presence in the room can, and should, be a signal to the customer that their business matters enough for you to be involved firsthand. You will, of course, want to act in a courteous and confident manner. You should be there to support both the customer and the salesperson. You can answer questions directed to you, and act, if necessary, to authorize any exceptions or enhancements to standard services or solutions your salesperson normally offers.
But you must not run the meeting. You must not criticize or instruct the salesperson during the sales call. You must never undermine the customer’s understanding that the salesperson is the go-to person responsible for the account.
You are there to listen, to observe, to make mental notes, and to be prepared to discuss the meeting afterward with the salesperson. You are there to learn – silently (even if it means losing the sale) – so you can teach more effectively later on.
Before the Sales Call
When riding along on a sales call with your salesperson, don’t use the drive to the customer’s office as teaching time. Trying to instill new methods right before the call will only add stress to the situation. Rather, use that time to reinforce what you should have already planned. I’m a strong advocate of role-playing so that you and your salesperson know in advance how to conduct the sales call. As I note in my book, Beyond the Mountaintop: Observations on Selling, Living and Achieving, while “only 15 to 20% of sales teams actually practice role-playing…if yours is one that does, you’ve got an instant advantage over most of your competition.” Again, role-play with purpose well before the sales call. At that time, make sure you and your salesperson are clear and in agreement on your individual roles to be exercised when you meet with the client.
Before the sales call, agree that you will leave most of the talking to your salesperson. Understand that you will let the salesperson and the customer drive the meeting from the initial handshakes and pleasantries to the final discussions of next steps, agreements and follow-ups. Know that the objective is not only (and not always) to win the sale, but IS always to make the customer understand that you and your salesperson are on the same team, on the same page, and ready to serve with a solid solution.
After the Sales Call
During the sales call, you should have observed, supported, and stepped up when necessary to offer additional resources or perhaps negotiate minor exceptions to your company’s standard solution offerings. Other than that, you should have kept quiet and took mental notes. After the call, you should discuss with your salesperson how the meeting went (but only after they have shared with you their perception of the meeting and their own performance). If you role-played beforehand, there should have been few surprises or situations you didn’t anticipate. Share your observations and perceptions with the salesperson. There may be things the salesperson didn’t notice about the customer’s reactions you were able to observe. Constructive criticism is appropriate at this point (never in front of the customer during the sales call). Now is the time for praise, too, and motivational coaching. “Sandwich” your criticism with praise (start and end with praise).
By role-playing beforehand, silently observing during the sales call, and using the time after the call to debrief, praise and coach, you can help your salesperson hone his or her craft in order to boost future sales.
Remaining mostly silent during a sales meeting is tough. There will be times you will be chomping at the bit to interject, correct, or even overrule your salesperson. Don’t do it! Let the customer observe you showing quiet confidence in your salesperson. That, in turn, will help fill your customer with that same confidence in the Sales Rep and your company.