Sales Coaching versus Training

Sales Coaching versus Training

Are you looking for a sales trainer or a sales coach? You might already have an idea in your mind what you are looking for. Did you consider that the answer might be both? Determine which will best meet your needs and will help you create a more productive team.

Understanding Sales Training and Sales Coaching

Let’s first start by understanding the difference between the two in the simplest way. Training is putting your best into someone, coaching is drawing the best out of someone.

While the two terms are often used interchangeably, by those who don’t know any better, or those who simply think coaching is trendy and want to say that is what they do, I like to keep them quite distinct when working with my clients.

When I talk about training, it is often in reference to implementing a new technology, process or system. Something where you could use a manual to describe how to proceed.

Coaching however, is about listening with intention, understanding not only what is being said, but why it is being said, and helping the speaker discover the path best suited for them. Too abstract? Let’s look at an example…

A deeper look at Training and Coaching

Sally is a new salesperson at Company ABC. She needs to learn how to use the company’s CRM, how to track her leads, and how to follow the proven and repeatable sales process that is in place. Sally needs training.

Fast forward a month, Sally is actively selling to prospective clients. She is running into objections. The sales process has tools in place to help overcome these objections, however Sally is still not having much luck getting past them to close the sale. At this point, simply training Sally again on the sales process or use of the technology tools isn’t going to cut it. Sally needs coaching.

With coaching, we work with Sally to understand what is going through her mind before, during and after that objection arises. Also, we can look at what Sally thinks is going on inside her prospects mind at this time. This is often where the key lies. A salesperson with a lot of natural talent typically has a lot of empathy as well. This allows them to relate to their prospects on a deeper level and build that trust and connection. However, this often means that the same salesperson projects their own feelings or beliefs into the situation, when it isn’t the case.

Continue looking at the example with Sally. There is an objection over price that seems to keep coming up for Sally when talking to customers about a particular service Company ABC offers. Sally is selling this service to people who make at least double her salary. When Sally is quoting the price, in her head she is thinking “this is way too expensive” and that is reflected in her pitch (whether she is reading the exact words from the script or not, the tone and inflection of her voice indicates she is not comfortable with that price. Sally is projecting, as expensive is relative. What is too expensive for Sally may not be for someone making twice as much as she does.

Do you need both?

No training program or manual is going to help Sally recognize that she is over-empathizing in this situation. The training provides Sally with a script that is proven to work. The coaching sessions are necessary to help Sally discover how she needs to act and think and be as she is presenting that script.

So how do you determine what your sales team needs? The best way to proceed is to hire someone like Adroit Insights, who provides both coaching and training services, making them more objective to the decision. Have a company conduct a full analysis of your sales process and sales people first and then determine the best approach moving forward.

Conversational Sales

Conversational Sales

Conversational Sales is not a new concept, however it is one that few are employing effectively. Customers come to business seeking information and ideas, not just for someone to recite a product spec sheet to them. Conversational sales is all about education. The most important part to remember is that you are not only educating your customers, you must also educate yourself.

Educating your customers

Many sales calls start with discovery questions asked by the sales rep, following shortly thereafter with the rep talking about how great their product or service is to meet the customer’s needs. However, if all you know is some basic information from your questionnaire, are you really aware of their needs and what will make an impact on their lives or businesses?

Answer: No. Your potential customers know this too. In Linda Richardson’s Book, Changing the Sales Conversation, she states “Today clients will respond to straight discovery questions and product talk with impatience.” They don’t want to feel like another number being given a script. Engaging in a back and forth dialogue will help you start to build the know, like and trust that is so crucially important in the sales process. Consider switching up your script, instead of discovery, like the one above, try “Thank you for that basic information, Mr. Jones, we offer a variety of services, can you tell me a bit about how you are currently using “X”.” Now, allow Mr. Jones to speak, and actually listen to the conversation. TAKE NOTES. This is key, as you will want to recite some of what Mr. Jones said back to him when it’s your turn to speak again.

Continue the conversation in this back and forth format until you have all the information you need and can make a truly information recommendation on which product or service will be best based upon the client’s needs, and not just your opinion of why your offering is superior.

Ms. Richardson goes on to say, “Clients want to be educated but not about products. They want new perspectives and ideas.” As you engage in the conversation with your prospective clients, enlightening them to something they were previously unaware of will open up entirely new doors. If you do not engage in a dialogue and find out what they already know, you aren’t bringing any value to the conversation.

Educate Yourself

In the busy world of sales, we don’t always take the time to research prospective customers before engaging in a conversation with them. The old school way of sales thinking is that this was a nice thing to do, but not really necessary if you just didn’t have time. That is not the case in today’s market. You must be informed on your potential client before you engage in a sales conversation with them.

People want to be heard, and know that you are listening to them. This helps to build trust in the relationship that is not only important in the initial sales conversation, but later down the road when they are customers as well. If you have done your research, you can ask informed questions that will help guide the conversation in the right direction.

Move away from the monologue sales pitches and engage your potential customers in a meaningful conversation that you will both benefit from.

Building a Sales Process

Building a Sales Process

Let’s start with three simple questions: 1) Do you have a sales process? 2) Is it written down? 3) Have you made a change to it in the last 6-12 months?

If you answered no to any of these questions, definitely keep reading. Even if you answered yes to all three, I am confident you will learn something from this post that will improve upon your current sales process.

What is a Sales Process?

A sales process is the repeatable set of steps your sales team will take to move a prospect through various stages from initial contact to closing. While there isn’t one sales process that works for every business, there is a formula that everyone can follow.

Step 1: Know Your Lead Source

Do you feel like you have enough leads? Do you know where most of them come from? Do you know where the best come from? Many businesses are focusing on getting “more” leads, forgetting that quality leads will get them more business than quantity. Really evaluate these three questions above, write down your responses and determine how you should move forward.

For example, does your Facebook lead generation bring in 5-10 leads a day however your sales people are only closing 1 in 100 of those? Meanwhile, your LinkedIn leads generation is bringing 1-3 a day and your salespeople are closing 2-4 a month. I like the odds from the LinkedIn conversion rate a lot better.

Now, depending on your business and what you are selling, your convertible leads may be higher from Facebook, Instagram or your website than LinkedIn. The purpose of this example is not to sell you on LinkedIn lead generation, but rather to give you an example of how you should be evaluating conversion rates from your various lead sources.

If you cannot answer these lead source questions, put a process in place to track this information. 

Step 2: Track Your Leads

Here’s where the heart of the Sales Process comes in. A good framework for a repeatable sales process involves Sales Stages. This helps you track clearly where your leads in their buying process which will help your salespeople to overcome objections more easily (more on this shortly).

Know that you know your various leads sources, you know how they are entering your process and you can decide what happens next. Depending on the lead source, the first action or two in your sales process may vary, but don’t worry, they’ll all sync back up again quickly. Once your lead comes in to you, add it to your tracking system. A customer relationship management (CRM) tool simplifies tracking leads through the sales process. Having your leads automatically input into your CRM not only streamlines the process and saves you time, but it also works to ensure that no leads are lost due to inefficiencies. Once in the CRM, you can easily drag and drop to move your prospects through each stage. An example of potential sales stages may look like this:

Prospecting → Contacted → Qualified → Educated → Visited → Quoted → Sold / Lost

While a linear sales process would certainly be ideal, that is not the reality of it. So instead, most sales processes look more like flow charts, with branches going on in various directions. Many of those branches are due to buyer objections that come up at various parts in the process. This is where you can start to see real value from a sales process, especially when working with a more junior salesperson.

Step 3: Find Leaks and Fix Them

Leaks in your Sales Process are the points where a lead drops off and either makes a firm decision not to buy or simply stops responding to your salesperson. Think about two or three of the most common objections that you receive. One objections that we hear in almost any business is around price. There are a lot of sales strategies to overcome pricing objections, but often it involves a bit of a dance between buyer and salesperson. Perhaps even ends in a salesperson over-promising what the operations side of the business can actually deliver upon.

Rather than having to respond to objections after they occur, what if you could head them off. If you know exactly where in your sales process common objections occur, then you can put a step into your sales process that heads off those objections before they even arise.

Step 4: Re-evaluate and refine your sales process as you go

A sales process is an ever changing thing. I’ve run into companies that say “we had a sales coach come in several years ago and put a great process into place for us.” First of all, Kudos for taking the steps to bring in an expert to help you with building your process, which can get a little complex. However, have there been any changes to your business? Has your marketing strategy changed in the last few years? (I hope so, given that there have been amazing advancements in digital marketing). Do you offer any new products or services? Even if neither of those have changed, your buyers and their communication preferences certainly have. Your should be regularly assessing your sales process. Perhaps a new objection came up that you haven’t heard before; write it down and how you overcame that objection, consider building that into your sales process at the educational stage, providing a new resource to your buyers to help them understand your offering better.

Step 5: Sales is not Marketing, Marketing is not Sales, but they do need to work together.

A solid sales process utilizes the marketing branch of the company. When a prospect stops responding to calls or emails, or when they tell us they aren’t interested, commonly the sales process ends right there. How many times do your sales people reach out to each prospect before stopping? 80% of sales people only contact a prospect 1-2 times, however it typically takes 8-12 touches to convert a prospect.

When you receive a no, add that person to your drip marketing campaign (make sure to give them an option to unsubscribe, but understand that often a “no” is just a “not right now.” If they’ve stopped responding to calls and emails, add them to a drip marketing campaign. Just because they don’t have time to answer your calls right now, doesn’t mean they won’t need/want what you are selling in the future. Did they buy from you? Add them to your marketing campaigns. Previous buyers make great repeat customers. They already know and love your products. If you rely solely on salespeople who are chasing the next new lead, your prior customers may go unattended. Leverage your marketing team here, and if you don’t have one, leverage your CRM which can make marketing to them easy.

Follow these 5 steps to build your proven and repeatable sales process. Make sure to include your sales team as they will have valuable insights to provide. If you need help with this, let us know, this is exactly what we do!

Manage Your Sales Leads

Manage Your Sales Leads

There are a lot of ways you can manage your leads. CRMs are the best and most effective way to do so. If you use them properly.

What is a CRM?

Simply put, a CRM – Customer Relationship Management – tool allows you to track and follow-up with your leads and customers in a more efficient way. Perhaps you are currently using a spreadsheet or pen and paper. Is your office wall covered in post-it notes with your most promising leads and priority tasks? Don’t get me wrong, I love post-its, my wall is covered in them, but these are my long-term goals, dream projects, etc. My priority items, are all digitally stored, so that I can get pings, dings, emails, alerts and whatever other automated reminders I need to keep me on task. This is the way I operate my daily activities AND my leads.

Why do I need one?

Maybe you just have a handful, so few that you remember every conversation in perfect detail. What happens when 10 become 20, or 200, or 2000? You need a system in place that works just as efficiently for a few leads as it does for thousands. Why? Because your business is going to grow. That’s what you want isn’t it? So be prepared for that growth.

What to do with your leads once you have them

Most people follow-up with a lead 1-2 times. Studies show that it takes between 5 and 12 contacts with a person before they buy from you. A CRM will help you make all those touch points in a variety of ways. 1) Notifying you, at intervals you set, based upon your sales process, when your next action is due. 2) Sending automated emails based upon where a prospect is in your sales process. 3) Providing date-based alerts – birthdays, anniversaries, expiration dates, service due, etc. Reminders and follow-up will become second nature. Let your CRM be your automated assistant.

Additionally, with a CRM you can segment out your leads based upon purchase history, interest type and virtually any other category you can come up with for your business. If you offer multiple products or business lines, this is a must when you are trying to effectively market to your audience.

What features should I look for/avoid?

When determining the best CRM for your business, you should consider factors such as, what features you need, how many leads do you have and how much does it cost. One of the key pieces necessary to understanding this, is know your sales process and finding a tool that aligns with that process. I included more tips on selecting the best CRM for your business in a previous post.

When is the right time to get a CRM?

Now! And yes, I can say it this assertively, NOW  is the right time. If you are reading this post, or asking this question, then now is the right time for you to get a CRM. This doesn’t mean run right out and get the first one you find, however. Do your research and pick the right CRM.

Mark Hunter, author of High-Profit Prospecting and High-Profit Selling was quoted saying: “It’s not about having the right opportunities. It’s about handling the opportunities right.” You can purchase an incredible lead list, or spend a ton of money on marketing, but if you aren’t managing those leads daily through a CRM, you are wasting your time and money.

So, once you have the best CRM for your business, make sure you are fully utilizing it! Even the most expensive CRM does you no good if you don’t use it. Every. Single. Day.

The Feel Felt Found Strategy

The Feel Felt Found Strategy

Recently, I was having a conversation with a sales manager about apologies. Quite often, sales people start a call with “sorry” and then do exactly what they just apologized for. Rather than offering up apologies that carry little weight, try relating to them. Let me elaborate…

Have you every started a sales call with “I’m sorry to interrupt” or “I’m sorry we keep calling you” followed quickly by your sales pitch?

Now, think about the last time this happened to you as the consumer? Has someone every offered up an apology that you could tell they didn’t really mean? It reminds me the kind of apology a 5 year old blurts out when they got caught doing something they weren’t supposed to, but they don’t really feel bad about it.

Even if you do feel bad about it, you clearly don’t feel bad enough to change what you are doing (because you are still “calling,” “interrupting,” etc.). So instead of offering up a meaningless apology, try actually listening and relating to the person on the other end.

The Feel, Felt, Found Strategy

More than anything, people want to be heard, and understood. Simply listening to a customer’s complaints is not enough. They don’t just need a sounding board; customers need confirmation that what they just said was received.

Start with Feel

Acknowledge that you heard their concern. You don’t have to be a wordsmith to make this strategy effective. You can do this by simply repeating back what they said and include the word feel. Let’s see how this would play out with a very common concern expressed by customers in most any industry…

A customer tells you, “Your prices are too high.” A common response to this very common complaint is to go right into an explanation about the value that they are getting for the cost. The problem is that the customer is not connecting cost and value in the same way you are. Chances are pretty good you won’t make the sale with this approach because you are arguing two different points.

Instead, start by saying “I understand that you feel the prices are too high.”

Right now, you have let the customer know that you heard their objection clearly and you are ready to work with them on it.

Progress to Felt

So now that the customer feels heard, they need to feel connected. If you are struggling to relate to their objection personally, consider the other times you received that same objection (don’t worry, if you are new and it’s the first time you are hearing it, you can make it up a little, I’m sure it won’t be the last). Also try to think about a similar situation you have had personally as a consumer.

You could follow up with “Others felt the same way you do.” This makes the customer feel connected to other customers who have been in their situation.

Now, let’s say for the case of this example that the customer is a small business owner. If you really want to connect to them, try saying “Other business owners have felt the same way you do.” This lets them know that not only has this objection occurred before and is therefore resolvable, but also that it was felt by others who are in their same situation (e.g., business owner).

Found for the Win

The last part of this strategy is to help the customer understand what actions others in their situation have taken and what the result was. The found phrase typically has two components; the first is what you want them to do (buy your product, sign up for your service, etc.). The second part is the positive impact that this action had on those customers, or how you resolved the concern previously.

Here’s how that would look: “They found that after purchasing our service, their expenses went down.”

.Now, let’s look back on what we’ve covered here. If you responded to “Your prices are too high” with “Our service will decrease your other expenses,” you are stating a fact, but not one that you customer can relate to or trust.

If you want your customers to know, like and trust you, they need to be heard and understood. Employing this strategy, we can respond to “Your prices are too high” with “I understand that you feel our prices our too high. Other business owners have felt the same way you do. They found that after purchasing our service, their expenses went down.”

A strategy for all

This strategy works for many situations, whether it’s an initial cold call, or a long time customer. Whether you are responding to an objection, or simply feel an apology may be in order. Consider the cold call complaint at the start of this post. You are aware that a prospect has already received numerous calls from other companies selling the same product you are (or perhaps even calls from other reps within your company). Instead of saying “I’m sorry” in response to “My phone has been ringing all day with people trying to sell me ‘X’,” use feel, felt, found like this.

“Thank you for letting me know how you feel about the numerous calls you have received today, I felt the same way when I filled out an online information request for ‘Y’ and what I found was [enter your microscript or resolution here]”.  You have now related to them personally, they understand that you get where they are coming from and they are much more open to listening to what you have to say.

Small Business Sales and Activity Planning for Success

Small Business Sales and Activity Planning for Success

“It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.” – Scott Belsky

Ideas are a dime a dozen.  Your world changes when you make ideas happen.  And in the for-profit business world, that means sales.

Do I Really Need a Sales and Activity Plan?

Yes.  You start your business because you have great ideas.  When you grow your business through sales, you are getting your ideas out there to a bigger audience, making an impact, realizing your dreams, changing your world and the world of others. You are, in Belsky’s words, “making [your] ideas happen.” You are also reaping the rewards you envisioned when you started your business.

This only happens through sales planning and executing!  You start with a plan, then you execute through activity.  I have found there are two types of business owners:

  • those who love to plan and are afraid to execute
  • those who hate planning and do nothing but execute

As a small business owner, your “happy place” is planning and executing!  That means you need your sales and activity projections as a starting place.  These are key metrics in business planning.

Before we go any further, let’s debunk a myth.  As a small business owner, you often believe if you do enough marketing activities you will miraculously grow your business and be profitable, and therefore you won’t have to “do sales.” Not true.  Marketing will grow awareness of your business, which is very important.  However, you must also…actually…sell.

To increase sales without feeling like a hamster running endless circles on a hamster wheel and going nowhere, you need a sales plan. Your sales plan becomes part of your business plan.

Now that I have convinced you, how do you start to figure out your projections?  The process is to ask yourself these questions:

  • How many units must I sell to realize my desired profit plus expenses and taxes owed?
  • How much time and effort per week/month/year will it take me to achieve my goal?
  • Can I devote necessary resources (time/money) at this point in my life to achieve this goal?
  • Do I want to?
  • By doing this, what other opportunities am I giving up?
  • By doing this, what opportunities am I “growing” for myself?

Sounds like a lot of work, right?  Actually, it is not, with the right planning and support. In this article, we will stick with the basics of making realistic projections and ensuring you can handle the activity to support those projections.  To simplify this, these calculations are based upon a solopreneur business where you are the business owner and the only sales person working in your business.  If you have a sales staff, great! Simply add them to the math calculations below and consider them in the resulting questions you will ask yourself.

Sales Projections and Activity

I am assuming you have projected your annual expenses for your company, including taxes, and your desired profit for the next 12 months.  This is your Annual Sales Goal.  Divide that number by 12 for your Magic Monthly Sales Goal.  [Note: This is where you begin to add those extra sales people in if you have them! If you have 3 sales people, divide your Annual Sales Goal by 3.]

In your business, you will break your monthly goals down into weekly and daily goals.  In this article, to simplify this, we’ll keep it at the monthly level.

To keep the math simple, let’s say your Annual Sales Goal is $120,000 and you are a solopreneur. That means you will need to sell $10,000 per month to reach your goal (120,000/12).  Is that realistic? First, you need to know a couple of numbers. Let’s start with your historical data.

  1. Average Sale Per Client: Let’s assume your revenue for the past 12 months was $96,000 and you had 48 sales. Your average sale/client was $2,000 (96,000/48).
  2. Conversion Rate: If on average you make 50 calls and they result in 2 sales, then your conversion rate is 4% (2/50).
  3. Activity Goal: Using these numbers, if you make 125 calls per month, you will close five sales (125 X .04).  With five sales at $2,000 each, you will have reached your monthly goal of $10,000.

Are These Realistic Projections?

Now, back to our basic question about whether these projections are realistic.  It depends.

You used historical data and math to calculate your key metrics.  Good so far.  But let’s dig deeper. Using our example:

  • Do you have systems in place so that you will have 125 solid leads to call each month?
  • Are you properly qualifying those leads? This is a great area to delve into, so you can achieve higher conversion rates (more sales!)
  • Are you looking for opportunities to upsell?
  • What is your client retention rate? To dig deeper here, ask yourself:
    • Are you in a constant state of client churn? How can you change that? Do you need to?
    • Are you reaching out to existing clients on a regular basis?
    • Are you engaging in conversations with your leads, creating relationships, or are you simply being transactional? Does this fit your business model?
  • Are you receiving word-of-mouth leads from existing clients and referral partners?
  • Are you using the new technology that is available to you (there is always new technology!)?
  • Do you have the proper tools and training already in place to be successful in sales?
    • Have you included time in your projections for training and professional development if you need to get up to speed?
  • Do you have any seasonal fluctuations in your sales? Have you adjusted your projections for that?
  • Are things changing in your business or your industry? (Automatic answer: )  How is that impacting your sales?
  • Are there new competitors in your space? How are they impacting your sales?

Soft Metrics Are Also Important

Now you have the hard metrics (black and white calculations). In our simple example, you need to make 125 calls per month to close 5 sales of $2,000 each, and you will reach your goal of $120,000 per year in revenue.  You have determined $120,000 annual revenue will meet your profit goal plus expenses and taxes owed.

But what about the soft metrics, the “work life balance” and “quality of life” considerations?  How much time and effort per week/month/year will it take you to compile a solid lead list so you can make 125 calls per month with a 4% conversation rate?  How much time will you spend in making those calls and following up on each one, scheduling 1-1’s, doing demonstrations, etc.? Can you devote the necessary time and resources to your sales efforts while also running your business?  Do you want to at this point in your life?

Your Decision

The answers to these questions are subjective.  One person will say, “Heck, yes, I can’t wait!” while another person may not be so sure they are willing to pay the price to achieve their desired sales level.  We are all at different points in our lives, with different responsibilities and personal goals in addition to our career goals.  That is okay.  What is not okay is to make excuses or let fear rule your decisions.

After careful consideration, you may decide that your sales goal is too aggressive for now, that you are not willing at this point in your life to give up other life opportunities open to you to achieve those goals.  You may choose to adjust those sales goals and grow your business more slowly.  That is fine!

Or you may feel now is the time and you are more than ready! Great!  However, there could still be something stopping you.  Are you afraid of sales?  Many people are (just saying!).  If so, schedule some sales coaching or training.  We have a video in our Startup to Growth Video Library entitled Sales 101.  It is fun and will get you excited about sales! Or you can take a seminar, a workshop, or hire a small business coach to work with you on your business sales goals.  You can do this, if you are willing to devote the time and resources to making it happen.

Make the choices that best fits YOU and YOUR circumstances, but don’t make excuses. In setting your sales goals and making them happen, you are choosing between the time you devote to current opportunities (including life activities) and the time you devote to growing future business opportunities for you and your company.  Grow at the pace you desire.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, of if you would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact me at [email protected].  Together, we’ve got this!


About Robin Suomi, MBA, Owner of Startup to Growth, LLC.  Robin is a small business coach, consultant and trainer who has worked with thousands of small business owners for over 10 years, helping them start and/or grow their small businesses.  She combines her combines solid technical knowledge with her coaching and listening skills to help clients achieve their goals. In addition to teaching business courses as an adjunct professor, she created her own Business Plan Boot Camp and Customized  Individual and Group Business Plan Boot Camps for her clients. Today, she delivers most of her coaching/consulting/training services to clients across the country through a live, video meeting platform.  She has also developed an online small business training and professional development video Library, where experts in the fields of marketing, sales, insurance and law, to name only a few, present their expertise to Library Members 24 X 7 X 365 by a recorded video format.

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