Improve Sales Skills, Not Client Relationships
I previously remarked that having great sales relationships is a myth and nothing more than a cover of poor sales skills. So what should a sales manager do to correct this problem?
First, assume that "great relationships” for all but your top performing sales people is probably a smoke screen, directing your attention away from the real issue — lack of confident and competent sales skills.
If the sales person is a consistently good performer, leave him or her alone. Their relationships are probably working for them.
Focus, instead on the marginal performers. When they claim to have great relationships ask this question; "If your relationships are so great, why aren't they buying everything from you?” Begin to measure the quality of relationships by the cold hard reality of account penetration.
If the account is not growing disproportionately, then the relationship isn't really an asset. Consider two actions:
1. Training the sales person in the principles and practices of consultative selling. It is the unfortunate truth that most business2business sales people have never been educated in the paradigms, principles, processes and practices of consultative selling. They often just don't know how to do their job well. Before you can expect that of them, you must educate them.
2. Trading accounts among sales people. Take some of those "great relationship” accounts — particularly those that aren't growing, away from the sales person and assign them to someone else. Often, a fresh sales person, unburdened by the baggage of the precedents and expectations of "great relationships” can often focus on sales issues and grow the business.
Emphasize in one-on-one conferences and in sales meetings, that the relationship is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The purpose of the sales person is to grow revenue. Improving the personal relationships is a helpful step to that end.
Sales people, too, can help correct the problem. Here are three good things to try:
1. Analyze your accounts, not in terms of the relationship, but rather in terms of their potential for future sales. Adjust your time to invest more highly in the higher potential accounts, and less heavily in the lower potential accounts.
2. Strategically build relationships. Focus on building personal relationships with those key people in the higher potential accounts. The focus on the account comes first, the relationship follows — not the other way around.
3. Look objectively at where you are spending your time. If you are not gaining sufficient and growing revenue from your good accounts, make a strategic and cold-blooded business decision to demote them.
Successfully selling in the Information Age demands a professional and cold-blooded analysis of the strategic role of personal relationships. Remember, the result is the reason for the relationship.
Dave Kahle is one of the world's leading sales authorities. He's written 12 books, presented in 47 states and 10 countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. His book, "How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime," has been recognized by three international entities as "one of the five best English language business books.” His latest book is called "The Heart of a Christian Sales Person.”