Good sales managers know that those with thin skins and negative attitudes rarely go far in this business. But sometimes even seasoned sales professionals can hit the skids. You’ve probably seen it at some point: coasting through sales calls by focusing only on competitive pricing, surfing social media when they could be curating relevant content for customers, or worse, sticking to the script instead of using a masterful Q&A to close.
With daily or monthly quotas bearing down, it can be difficult for managers to think outside the box(es on spreadsheets) and encourage their sales staff to take an innovative approach with a customer. Part of the problem, Mike Ryan, senior vice president of the Madison Performance Group, writes:
“As the pressure to close more business increases, many sales incentive programs remain focused on rewarding sales outcomes when they should be encouraging winning methods.”
One big antidote is to encourage those sales people to take a few, calculated risks. If the thought of multiple mistakes and disgruntled customers sends shivers down the spine, take heart. There are ways to let sales peoples’ creativity flow without the threat of dire consequences. Here’s what the experts recommend.
1. Change Your Own Habits First
Before you expect your staff to make the leap and try new things, you must be willing to demonstrate that you can take a few risks yourself. Troy Hazard, entrepreneur and author of Future Proofing Your Business told YFS Magazine that after analyzing his company’s $6 million client base, he realized that not only were more than half not profitable, he didn’t like, respect or trust them.
Though it would be risky to pull the plug on a method that had already built the business, Hazard sent a note to his entire staff instructing them to take a new approach to prospecting.
‘Beginning now, our new criteria for taking on new business will be that we like the client and that they are prepared to pay our price. Don’t try to make any potential clients fit into our culture, people, and what we stand for.’ Morale shot up 1,000 percent; all of a sudden, we were making money on every project. It was amazing. My staff was happy and the sales team sold more!”
2. Create a Safe Space and Validate It
Brad Farris, principal with Anchor Advisors, observes that managers who foster cultures that punish mistakes can lead to blame shifting and cover ups before everything shuts down. A healthier alternative is to create a place that allows staff to experiment without worry. He suggests identifying a small area that could be changed without triggering a big catastrophe.
Maybe it’s a tweak to the call template. Maybe it’s a shift in prospecting for a subset of new clients (see the example above). Either way, Farris writes:
“The ultimate way to create a more innovative culture is to promote people (by praising them publicly, as well as giving them more responsibility) who are willing to take calculated risks, regardless of the outcome.”
3. Encourage Half-baked Idea Sharing
At a recent sales kickoff meeting, sales strategist and author Jill Konrath made a counter-intuitive proposal to the audience. “Be an idea person. Today’s crazy-busy prospects love it when you bring them ideas on how to improve their business.”
Of course it sounds risky to take unformed advice to a prospect without really knowing the ins and outs of their business. But Konrath maintains it makes for a great introductory conversation.
“The truth is, your prospects don’t get out a lot. They don’t have a lot of chance to interact with others who hold similar positions; they’re too busy doing the work.
If you can bring them ideas on how companies approach the problems they face or reach hard-to-achieve objectives, they’re interested. This is high value information.”
Perfection is overrated, says Konrath. “Even half-baked ideas stimulate new lines of thought or fresh approaches to tough challenges.”