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The Business Impact of Sales Coaching

July 24th, 2014 by Abby Smith
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Earlier this year, Forum and the Sales Management Association conducted a survey of sales manager and leaders from over 200 companies to discover the impact that coaching has on sales organizations. Many businesses recognize that sales coaching is one of the most powerful tools at a sales leader’s disposal, yet many fail to implement it effectively.

This infographic looks at the impact of sales coaching on the bottom line, challenges facing sales managers as they attempt to coach their teams, plus shares four practical tips to improve sales coaching.

For more information on the results of our  sales coaching survey, you can download the full report or watch an on-demand webinar.

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Sales and Solitaire

January 16th, 2014 by Emily Nicholson
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solitaire and salesHappy New Year!  Yes, it’s that time again when B2B salespeople all over the world turn over a new page.  Everything is possible!  Prospecting, hunting, farming, it’s all necessary as your milestone sales figures are now part of last year’s history.

Over the holiday break, I got to thinking that working in sales has a lot of similarities to playing solitaire.  In sales, in solitaire and in life, you have some control over the game, but you must start by playing the hand you are dealt.

Point One: “Some days are diamonds, and some days are dust”.  Sometime games are quite easy and everything falls together very quickly, winning the game with a minimum number of plays.  Some sales are like this and salespeople can use their skills, their thinking and their networks to advance sales like these.  I’ve found that referral sales are similar to a quick, winning solitaire game:  you start off with a better hand as the referral builds your credibility and momentum faster than with a “cold” lead.   We all know we should ask for referrals, and many of us intend to.  How many have you already asked for in January, 2014?

Some days in sales are “dust.”  I remember one GM telling me, “Emily, if the day starts out badly, you might as well go home and start tomorrow.”  While I am sure every salesperson (and sales manager!) has an opinion on this, my perspective is that salespeople can’t have a bad day.  Due to the roller coaster nature of our jobs and having many sales deals going at the same time (all with their own challenges, client value and revenue amounts), a salesperson should only have a bad 15 minutes!  If your hands of cards are all coming up difficult to win, shuffle the deck, take a break and start again.  The analogy?  Shake it off and set aside time to think.  Maybe ask a colleague’s advice, or pause and find a referral to pursue, and then jump back in to the difficult scenario.

Point Two:  Don’t be afraid to take two steps back to get a win.  In playing solitaire, sometimes if you “undo” some of the plays you’ve made when you’ve hit a dead end, you can find a way to win the game.  This isn’t quick and it isn’t most salespeople’s preference.  However a valuable lesson is provided here for sales:  sometimes you need to go back to the client, clarify their feedback and then re-propose. You can often still win the business, though it may take a bit longer.

Point Three:  “We could be Royals…” Sometimes the opening set-up has no face cards.  Frequently this is a sign of a “go-nowhere” hand.  This is where strategic thinking and working our networks really comes into play.  Am I working “higher, wider, deeper” in this account?  Or do I only know one or two people?  Get senior stakeholders involved as soon as you can, after first “earning the right.”

Point Four: Lay the Foundation – When I was growing up in Boston, my grandmother loved to play solitaire (although she called it “Canfield”).  One of the lessons she taught me is to always get your Aces out early.  Lay a strong foundation with clients and pay your dues; don’t take shortcuts, but make sure to find the real need early on and build from there.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, it doesn’t come through in the end. But just like in  solitaire, the more hands you play and the more you learn, the more you will win.  Get involved, learn from your mistakes (and the “dud” hands) and keep playing, over and over again.  You’ll win more games — and more business.

Sales and Service Intertwined: The Future of Retail Banking Success

September 5th, 2013 by Michael Frisbie
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In the financial sector, the only constant is change. Well, perhaps not the only constant. Yet it is virtually impossible to speak to anyone in the financial sector without mentioning change or uncertainty as a driving topic of conversation.

With that in mind, most financial professionals are all but too aware of the fickle nature in today’s retail banking customer. Numerous surveys have resoundingly concluded that more than 50% of retail banking customers today would consider changing banks within the next six months. Furthermore, Gallup has concluded that of all the factors affecting a customer’s loyalty, positive experiences resonated most as driving factors for customers staying where they are.

This insight begs the million (or perhaps billion) dollar question: how do banks transform a positive customer experience into long-term loyalty?

Deliver Service Experience

The first step involved in delivering a differentiated customer experience relates to the execution of such, as this is the first impression that will be made on any customer.

So how do you transform a customer experience into something that is truly unique and differentiated from the competition? At Forum, we have found that thinking backwards, or, having the end goal in mind before you even think to design the solution, is best.

To think backwards and truly transform your service model, you have to start with

  • A comprehensive profile of each client type that is served by the financial firm
  • The driving principles of client service and factors of service quality that resonate most with your prospective customer base

Once the above have been identified, you are ready to begin considering what the ideal client-interaction model might be. It is important to keep in mind that a positive customer experience is not necessarily differentiated from your competition. Think of customer experience/service as if it were akin to writing a 3 minute speech – value must be provided with every interaction, along every turn of the way (or in every line, as is the case with a compelling speech).

Linking Sales Skills to Customer Experience & Transforming Engagement

In our experience delivering results in sales transformation and customer engagement, there seem to be a few common denominators that unite these two areas of focus. The following skill-sets transcend both sales and customer experience:

  • Connecting – Establishing a personal bond with the customer.
  • Encouraging – Keeping the customer participating in the interaction.
  • Questioning – Gaining in-depth information about the customer’s situation, needs, and problems.
  • Confirming – Ensuring that the interaction is explicit and specific to the needs of the customer.
  • Providing – Share information and insight that creates a clear, positive image of you, and bonds the customer and employee together in a mutually trusting relationship.

Whilst instilling the above drivers will assuredly create a positive experience, which will serve to stabilize your existing customer base, the smooth execution will lead to a differentiated experience that empowers customer advocates with compelling stories and a will to share them.

A large part of how leaders channel the power of employees lies in creating the leadership climate that enables employees to deliver the experience that ‘sticks’.  In our experience, connecting, encouraging, questioning, confirming and providing do just that.

So I’d like to end this story with two questions: What value have you placed on sales through service in your organization? and, Where are you in the process of defining your own differentiated experience?

How to be a successful sales manager

June 5th, 2013 by Holly Gage
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Sales managers have to wear many hats.  They have to develop the sales strategy, make sure that their team is hitting their sales figures, coach and motivate all while developing and driving sales strategy.  Most sales managers were promoted into their roles because they were excellent salespeople, but being a successful sales manager isn’t as much about being a great salesperson, as it is about leadership skills and business sense.

What can a sales manager do to ensure success? In this article for The Guardian, Managing Director of Forum EMEA, Graham Scrivener, shares three areas that a sales manager should focus on to get to the next level of sales management success.  You can read it here.

What do you think it takes to be a successful sales manager? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social media.

Winning with Point of View Selling—Despite Constraints

March 28th, 2013 by David Carder
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Selling is going through a bit of a transformation.  An emerging practice is challenging the established approach of consultative selling.  It goes by several names, including challenger selling and insight selling—but they all focus on the notion of proactively bringing compelling ideas to customers that demonstrate significant value.  As we’ve written about in some previous posts here and here, Forum defines this practice as Point of View (POV) selling.

Our recent practitioner work and research has led us to see an issue that organizations are struggling with related to POV selling. As we’ve spoken about in our webinar, this approach to selling can be especially relevant in the sale of complex, multi-faceted solutions, where the selling organization has significant room to creatively redefine value, integrate offerings, customize, and invent.  In contrast to this, organizations with more fixed offerings are asking questions like:  “Can we apply POV selling to what we do?” and, “How creative can we be around defining value beyond our core products?”  Our recent work with a top-10 pharmaceuticals company provided a unique context to answer these questions.

A critical function for a pharmaceuticals company is its managed markets area, working with a wide range of healthcare organizations to get their products “on formulary,” or positioned optimally to be prescribed to patients.  Dramatic changes in the healthcare industry and significant competitive pressures prompted this pharmaceuticals company to consider POV selling—looking for ways to bring new ideas and sources of value to their customers.  However, not only are their products highly targeted to specific disease states, but they also must speak to the impact of each drug in precise ways, carefully regulated by their compliance organization and outside entities.

So, can managed markets sales people in a pharmaceuticals company use POV selling, in the midst of these kinds of constraints?  The answer is yes, though our work with them took a different approach than with other organizations.  We placed a premium on idea-sharing.  It turned out that the elite-performing sales people across the group were experimenting with unique sources of value that they could control (vs. needing to be funded heavily by the company) and that weren’t affected by compliance considerations.  We interviewed these high performers, designed and facilitated brief POV Selling sessions at their National Conference, and are in the midst of rolling out a series of highly tailored webinars throughout the year—focusing on how to blend the best thinking from across their organization, with the research-based POV Selling practices that we’ve defined for high-performing sales people.

Perhaps the best way for me to bring this work to life is to give an example of a bold point-of-view that one account director was able to implement with one of their key customers.  The customer was a healthcare provider in the southern United States.   The pharmaceuticals company wanted to create greater awareness for cardio-vascular health, which was relevant to several of their products—The healthcare organization wanted to target the Hispanic population in their state (a practice called Population Health Management).  The point-of-view/idea prompted by the Account Director was for the two organizations to collaborate together to put on a Heart Healthy Weekend event— where the organizations co-delivered promotional radio spots in Spanish and in English, co-sponsored the event, provided a range of interactive and educational activities, and had a significant impact on the heart health awareness for this key population, creating a win-win for both parties

This was one of many points-of-view that these sales people have been able to proactively bring to their managed markets customers—demonstrating that they can gain the benefits of Point of View Selling, despite the important constraints in which they need to operate.

For more information on POV Selling and to download the POV Selling toolkit, please visit www.forum.com/povselling.

Empowering Your Sales Team with The Right Mobile Apps

March 21st, 2013 by Forum Corporation
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Is your business preparing for the future, or is it trapped in the past? Mobile devices, smartphones, and mobile apps are the newest wave of technology tools available to businesses.

According to a Cisco report, 64% of firms consider providing more mobility support a top priority for their business. Specifically, 47% want to support more mobile devices within their business, and 46% want to extend their business’s internal systems for mobile access.

So, what happens when your business hops on the mobile app bandwagon? 76% of businesses who utilize mobile devices reported increased employee responsiveness and decision making speed, and 60% reported faster issue resolution.

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Sales Coaching: Driving Improved Results

March 20th, 2013 by David Robertson
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In sales, coaching is the key to driving improved results; when you coach it demonstrates your real commitment to achieving the team goals, and Forum’s climate research shows that this is one of the key motivators of improved team performance.

To maximise your coaching impact, you should coach every day, and our experience shows that coaching is particularly effective if delivered before, during and after any learning experience. Most sales managers have coached in the field and know the value of being on hand to support planning, observe performance and give feedback. However, with our help, some of our clients are now extending this good practice to the workshop experience.

The coaching dialogue should be at the heart of the learning experience, and this needs to be owned by the coaches (sales managers). Coaches set the context, check and challenge reality and provide the encouragement and support to help the salesperson move from concepts to business outcomes. They help salespeople identify the ‘low hanging fruit’ and through providing relevant scenarios, stories and examples integrate the concepts, tools, processes, skills and behaviours into their world.

Coaching prior to the workshop

Four to six weeks prior to the learning event they meet and get aligned around the content of the workshop and the expected outcomes and together explore how they can be applied. This builds confidence and provides focus; it also provides the opportunity to select relevant examples and data from their workplace for use in workshop activities. They also explain their role in the workshop as activity coaches.

Coaching during the workshop

The workshop is an often a missed opportunity for coaching; having the coach in the room is key to providing real challenge and support which increases the relevance and rigour of the learning experience. If the salesperson can’t think of a context or scenario then the coaches can provide one, they get involved in activities and provide active feedback, they observe performance and build their coaching agenda. Their presence at the workshop reinforces their role as coach and helps to embed this role with their salespeople.

Coaching after the workshop

This helps to drive results through focusing the application of their learning where it will make most impact on your key metrics. Coaches help salespeople to evaluate the outcomes of applying their learning, exploring the impact on revenue, orders and contracts etc. Coaches link to strengths, development needs and business priorities and provide regular feedback to reinforce progress and address on-going development needs. The most effective sales managers use this phase to have regular coaching conversations and organise coaching calls where they can directly observe skills, process, and behaviours in action.

For the sales manager this means spending more time as a coach, this creates a sharp focus on results throughout the learning experience which pays off through consistently producing salespeople who are motivated to apply their learning and improve their performance. This is what drives improved results long after the workshop experience.

 

Has your organisation had success with sales coaching? Share in the comments or on social media.

Forum Named a Top 20 Sales Training Company by TrainingIndustry.com for Third Consecutive Year

March 15th, 2013 by Forum Corporation
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2013 Sales Top 20 seal-small jpeg

Forum is pleased to announce that we have been named a Top 20 Sales Training Company by TrainingIndustry.com for a third consecutive year! As with any honor, this award would not be possible without the continued relationships of our exceptional clients and partners who work with us to help salespeople develop strategy-specific skills.

TrainingIndustry.com compiles its annual Top 20 Sales Training Companies list to continually monitor the training marketplace for the best providers of outstanding service, and a proven track record for delivering superior sales training and improving the impact of the sales organization.

TrainingIndustry.com selected us based on the following criteria:

  • Industry recognition and impact on the sales training industry
  • Innovation in the sales training market
  • Company size and growth potential
  • Breadth of service offering
  • Strength of clients served
  • Geographic reach

In addition to our clients, we would also like to thank TrainingIndustry.com for this award. We are humbled!

The Introvert…a Sales Manager’s Dream?

March 7th, 2013 by Melissa Powers
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Is an introvert an ideal sales person? I say yes, absolutely!  As an introvert myself, I am keenly aware of the benefits of being an introvert and am always amazed at how this personality type gets the short end of the stick, especially in sales, a seemingly extroverted profession.

To keep it simple, I define the difference between an introvert and an extrovert by looking at where they find energy. When introverts want to re-charge, they look to do it alone.  For extroverts, they get energy from being around people.  It’s the difference between wanting to go to a cocktail party or settling down to read a good book.  This doesn’t mean introverts don’t enjoy parties or business meetings but they probably won’t be the last one at the bar or lingering late into the evening.

It’s a common misconception that introverts lack people skills. But what if you looked at it from the perspective of someone who prefers to build deep, long-lasting relationships?  Some also might presume an introvert is shy and quiet but you could instead view them as thoughtful and introspective.  Once you take the notion of extroverts as the only personality types for a career in sales out of the equation, then the possibility of introverts being successful in sales becomes a reality.  I am proof of this myself.

In today’s selling environment, it takes more than just being good at building relationships to find, win and keep business.  Customers are savvy and they are looking for insight, value and a point of view to help guide them in realizing their business objectives.  One of the many strengths of the introvert is their ability to listen well.  In turn, this enables them to ask better questions – a critical skill of the successful consultative salesperson.  Also, they tend to be highly prepared and creative.

In a perfect world what sales manager wouldn’t want their people to be thoroughly prepared for every sales call, to sincerely and effectively listen to the customer, ask thoughtful questions that get to the heart of the matter and uncover needs to ultimately recommend solutions based on this dialogue?   For those attributes alone, the introvert can be just as successful as the extrovert when it comes to selling today.

This reminds me of two adages’ I learned early on in my career.  “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” and second, “people love to hear the sound of their own voice.”  These help me to focus on the customer and to listen for things that are truly important to them. Thank you, Mr. Dale Carnegie (himself a famous introvert).  For more reading on introverts, I recommend Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.   I think you will find it eye opening, and you may even come to realize you too are an introvert.   I will happily welcome you to the club. Food for thought!

So what is my secret for being successful in sales as an introvert? I’ll cover that in my next post, Getting Your ‘R’ On.  What do you think, can introverts be strong sellers? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The Trouble with Sales

February 25th, 2013 by Holly Gage
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The title of this post and the fact that I’m in marketing suggest that what’s to follow is a rant about all of the things that salespeople do wrong. It isn’t. The trouble with sales is that it still suffers from an image problem.

Last week I was listening to a university professor on the radio discussing Machiavelli’s The Prince. He likened it to a spin doctor’s guidebook, saying “that’s why they teach it to real estate agents and salespeople.”

That is the trouble with sales. People are always eager to perpetuate the myth that selling is faintly disreputable. And of course the trouble isn’t caused purely by those outside the industry offering their “educated opinions”: multiple examples of mis-selling in the last few years haven’t helped the industry either.

The suggestion is that salespeople have to practice Machiavellian cunning in order to peddle goods or services that you don’t really need. But in 2013 would this Machiavellian salesperson really thrive—when potential customers can find out what others are saying about you as well as your organisation via web sites and social media before they decide whether to even contact you? The 2012 Buyersphere Report, a survey of B2B buyer behaviour in Europe, found that 87 percent of buyers go out and look for advice before buying. They won’t find Machiavellian salespeople based on recommendations, award nominations, or other credible sources.

As businesses struggle to strike a balance between growing revenue and managing costs, there is increasing pressure on salespeople. A December 2012 Which? investigation found that 65 percent of bank employees in sales roles reported being under more pressure than ever to meet goals set for them.

Star sales performers are certainly tenacious and focused. An organisation which places importance solely on hitting revenue goals runs a risk: the pressure that hitting the goals creates can drive salespeople to employ dubious methods to achieve results. This is avoidable, however, if two things are in place:

  1. Positive organisational climate: A healthy climate increases employee motivation and catalyses more effective performance. Even when there is pressure to meet tough targets, employees understand the organisation’s goals and standards. They are committed to achieving them—and they are recognised for positive behaviours. Research has shown a direct correlation between organisational climate and financial results.
  2. Strong sales manager: Leaders create a positive climate by setting high standards and helping their employees to meet them. They ensure that their team members remain focused on strategic goals—and that they are not tempted to employ reactionary short-term tactics. Strong sales managers reinforce positive behaviours by leading by example and providing ongoing coaching support to their team.

Recent research has shown that the most successful sales organisations place an equal emphasis on creating the right organisational climate and ensuring strong performance and results. Do you agree that sales is suffering from an image problem? Join the conversation by commenting below or on social media.