The Sales Report. Really? Do I have to?

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 10-04-2012

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The sales report, we love it and we hate it.  Does it really have a purpose or is it just a waste of precious time?  The answer is actually both to some degree.  While the general purpose of a sales report is to inform the sales manager/management of your activities regarding the capture of business it is often abused and overused.  If used correctly, and with a clear explanation of its purpose to the sales team, the sales report is a valuable tool in the sales managers arsenal.  Otherwise it is simply a time waster on the part of the rep that involves time spent and lies told, and the manager for reading and not discerning the support or help needed, if any, to land the sale.

For this discussion, I’m referring to a sales team that is locally based, not a national team that covers many different regions and/or states.  A sales report is basically a log of the reps daily activities.  So why not rename it to an Activities Report? That’s really what we want to know isn’t it?  As a sales manager my job is to support, train, coach, hire, dismiss, prospect (yes, prospect), build rapport with customers and prospects, help increase margins and drive acquisition and penetration, identify new business potential and be a cheerleader for the sales team and be accountable for the teams successes and failures. Accountability is something many sales managers pass the buck on.  A sales report/activity report tells me about the productivity of a previous period of time.  I prefer a daily report but weekly is okay.  Why?  Because it is easier on a daily basis than trying to absorb a weeks worth at a time.  I want the information while is is still warm so I can see if there is additional support or advice needed to help get the business.  Many times my experience contains important information that the rep may not know or perhaps some history of the buyer or company.  If the rep has targeted a law firm then what are they trying to sell them or do I know of a promotion or new product that could benefit the potential acquisition.  It’s nice to see if the rep is practicing wise time management skills. Are they selling or just taking orders?  If they are just being an order taker then we need to have a discussion about the purpose of online ordering and our paid customer service staff.

I spend a lot of time riding with my reps while they make their calls.  I want to see how they interact, their selling skills, how they build their relationships, introduce new products and ask questions.  I want the customer or prospect to know that as part of the management team we appreciate their business and let them know that I am also a resource if they need help.  You see, I also am building a relationship so if my rep is out on vacation or perhaps a family emergency I am familiar enough with the account to know their needs and habits.  If the rep leaves our employ then it is much easier for me to introduce a new rep and bring them up to speed on the accounts history.  When I ride with the reps I make certain that they understand my role in the sales call.  It’s their call and I’m not there to bail them out except on rare occasion.  We discuss the call before and after in detail.

Do I use sales reports?  Yes, and no.  I use  a report for the first 12-18 months after a rep comes on board.  I schedule my ride-a-longs often and read my internal sales/customer reports daily to get the information I need.  Programs such as Sales-i is a tremendous asset for managers and sales teams.  I know/learn  the customer list, the rep and the customer.  I talk to my reps almost every day so I ask lots of questions.  I have enough other information at my disposal to have a clear picture of what my rep is doing.  I am more interested in their prospecting activities at this stage so a Prospecting Activity Report is more valuable.  But that is another discussion.  A good sales manager is highly involved in the activities of their reps.  They lead and manage by their activity, certainly not by their desk in the office every day.  Your report should tell you specifically what the purpose of the sales call was and what was the outcome.  If your rep can not tell you why they are in the customers office that day, or any other day then you have a problem.  Every call has a specific purpose and an outcome and you can’t have one without the other.

While this topic could fill a book and many authors have done so, I suggest you examine what you want to accomplish with your report.  Make it easy to complete such as online submission and make it have value for the time spent for the rep completing it and for your time digesting and evaluating it.  Now it’s up to you to make it a valuable resource or a dreaded task.

The last word: “By mutual confidence and mutual aid – great things are done, and great discoveries made.” -Homer

Challenges, Disappointments, Opportunities

Filed Under (OP News & Views, OP Sales Training) by Don on 09-03-2011

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Such is life in sales.  Although the economy seems to be the biggest disappointment, we as sales people are our own biggest challenge.  With gas approaching four dollars a gallon it is easy to make the excuse “I can’t afford to go out and make sales calls”.  But sitting at home making excuses doesn’t bring in any new business, grow your existing business or continue to build your business relationships.  You need to work smarter, get better organized and remain focused on your goals.

Thinking of working smarter, we rolled out to our group not long ago a data mining program that I am truly impressed with.  If I would have had such a program years ago when I was an outside rep it would have made my life and job so much more productive and easier.  After many months of discussion and consideration we added the Sales-i program to our back-end system.  Sales-i sorts and extracts customer and product information from our system we could never access before.  We always knew this information was there but didn’t have a way to extract it, Sales-i does that and much more.  It is more than a usage report, it categorizes the product categories and tells you how much business potential you are getting or missing in each account.  It shows you your margins on products and you can set up alerts that will email you when your customer hasn’t made a recent purchase, or about anything else you can imagine.  If you have a sales team I highly recommend that you take a look at Sales-i.

I would also like to give two thumbs up to our Salels-i trainer, Jeff Gardner from Maximum Performance Group. I had Jeff come to our office for hands-on training for our team and it made a huge difference.  Jeff is more than a trainer, he is also a sales person at heart and understand the challenges the OP sales rep has.  Jeff was a worthy investment and a fine person to have support your team.

There are many opportunities out there as there are challenges to meet them.  Disappointments, well we all have some.  Customers don’t seem to have loyalties much any more, sales people want all the commissions without doing the work, and I still hate selling copy paper.  However, I’m spending more time coaching and field training our reps which I love to do.  It gets me out of this miserable office (I hate being tied to a desk!) and I love to meet new people and help the reps with prospecting and developing new business within existing accounts. Remember, work smarter not harder and utilize the tools available to help you get new business and remain at the top!

The last word: “You are the only person on earth who can use your ability.”Zig Ziglar

Field Coaching, Part 3 – Ask Yourself

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 22-06-2009

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 In the previous two posts we discussed some do’s and dont’s for Field Coaching your sales reps to help them achieve greater success.  Your role as a field coach is that of an observer who after each calls gives positive feedback and re-enforcement for actions to improve the reps success in closing or building business in new and existing accounts.  When analyzing the reps for the after-call conference ask yourself questions like this:

  • Did the rep demonstrate effective listening skills?
  • Was the rep honest with the customer?
  • Did the rep cover/discuss important sales information?
  • Did the rep demonstrate concern for the customers needs and wants?
  • Is the rep too wordy?
  • Was the rep impatient or irritated?
  • Did the rep mention or discuss any particular products or services?
  • Was the rep focused on the call’s objective?
  • Can you learn anything from the rep? (Technique, approach, product info)
  • Did the rep offer a solution(s) to the customers problems?
  • Did the rep recognize any sales opportunities?  
  • Was the rep observant?
  • Did the rep identify the appropriate decision maker(s)?
  • Does the rep understand their expectations and/or goals?

Always hold your post call discussion prior to the next call but keep it brief and to the point.  Always find the positive attributes of the call first and then ask if the rep thinks the call would have gone better if they had done the items in question.  Give the rep the opportunity to learn from their experience and your observations, give them the first chance at discovery.  Ask the rep to rate their performance and see if they picked up on what you observed.  Don’t beat on the rep with any errors, actual or perceived.  You do not want to be confrontational.  Positive feedback will return positive results. 

At the end of your day have a wrap-up session and discuss the day in a relaxed environment, not in your office, if possible.  Agree on what changes should be made to achieve greater success.  Suggest solutions and help your rep make a commitment to a goal that is attainable and realistic.  If the rep needs further sales training or product knowledge make that commitment to them and follow through with your promises.  Monitor your progress for proof that your coaching is successful.  This isn’t a complete listing of everything you need to do.  But rather some suggestions to help you think about what you want to achieve.  The best coach will always get the most from their team.

 The last word: “Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”– Anthony Robbins

Field Coaching, Part 2

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 16-06-2009

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In the previous post we discussed some things to do prior to spending the day field coaching your sales reps.  Unlike the fellow in the image above shouting and finger pointing doesn’t accomplish anything.  Items such as listening on your part as a coach is very important.  Prior to walking through the customer/prospects door you have agreed to what your role is and laid the ground rules so each of you are on the same page.  You should have discussed the customers’ present status such as: problems or issues, current purchasing habits, needs, wants, decision makers, account stability, etc.  You should watch the body language of the rep and the customer and listen closely to their verbal exchanges for later discussion.  No matter what the outcome be willing to sacrifice the sales and let the rep leave without the order.  Even if you’re confident you could have gotten the order and saved the call there is more at stake than just the order.  The rep will resent your presence and the customer will think less of your company and your rep if you intervene.  Use your time after the call to demonstrate to the rep what ideally should take place and how to handle the issues next time.  Building self confidence in your rep is more valuable than the sale.  This strategy has a long term effect and will strengthen the relationship with your reps.

Some things I suggest you avoid, such as talking to much with the customer (being chatty) which makes your rep feel inferior.  Unless the rep asks you in the presence of the customer, never correct them in front of a customer.  Don’t offer any concessions to deal with problems unless you have been dispatched for that purpose.  Even then, let your rep save the account and you tag along for support.  You want to avoid taking sides for any reason which can turn a situation ugly quickly.  Don’t take notes, it’s rude and inconsiderate.  Don’t let your body language give away your personal discomfort if the rep is making a mess of the call.  Always make the rep and the customer the center of attention.  Don’t become distracted with looking outside and watching the television in the waiting room for the latest news blurb.  Never, ever do anything that could or would embarrass your rep.

I love to watch old movies, especially from the 1930′s and 1940′s.  People displayed a high degree of class and integrity.  They had high moral values and were not intimidated, or afraid of offending others to mention God or Jesus or their faith either at work or at play.  Things that we consider socially acceptable now were taboo then.  Women were treated with respect and men always, always demonstrated manners and proper etiquette.  Clothing was revealing enough to make you wonder, but no so to make you wonder how much.  We have strayed far from treating people with the same dignity, respect and purposely practicing good etiquette in today’s environment.  There is a time and place for everything and now is the time to be gracious, kind, polite and well mannered.  Take a moment to open the door for others, chew your food with your mouth closed and don’t talk with your mouth full, say a kind word and be complimentary toward others.  It’s the little things that bring big rewards down the road to success.  People will remember a kind word and deed longer than they will today’s special “deal”.

On the next post we’ll discuss a few things to ask yourself when evaluating your rep for the after call discussion.  Have you an interesting coaching story to tell?

The last word: “When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves.”– William Arthur Ward

Rep Ride-Alongs, Do’s and Dont’s of Field Coaching

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 12-06-2009

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As a sales manager you must spend quality time in the field with your reps evaluating performance and other areas to determine if improvement, or additional training, is necessary to bring your rep to a level where they can meet or exceed expectations.  You should have covered what your expectations are previously such as, quotas, profit margins, reporting, closing ratios, new account acquisition, etc.  If you have not covered this with your rep(s) then stop what you are doing right now and do this!  It’s that important. 

There are many things to do and not to do when field coaching.  I’ll cover this topic over the next several posts.  Plan you ride-alongs in advance, don’t just call the day before.  Surprise visits should only be for special reasons and you want your rep to be prepared so advance planning is important so my advice is to give a week’s notice.  Call or sit down with your rep the day before your time together and plan how you will spend your time together.  Set the ground rules as to how many new or prospective customers you want to see.  Give the rep the leverage to decide how he, or she, wants to introduce to the customer: sales manager, member of the management staff, sales trainer, etc.  Always keep your message to your rep positive and upbeat.  You’re not there to be critical on a personal level but to help and encourage them and to identify any weaknesses they may have where you may be able to help them become more successful.  Be up front about what you are looking to accomplish.

Early on the morning of you day in the field, meet early with your rep and review the day’s schedule.  Have your rep review each customer and prospect so you have a through understanding of why the visit is warranted.  When visiting regular customers suggest your rep to give some advance notice to the customers as some may not like the team approach and feel intimidated when two people walk in unannounced.  Remember to not wait until the end of the day to address any problems or concerns found during the calls.  It’s best to cover these issues after each call.  Your role is that of an observer so you must resist the urge to rescue the rep when they make a mistake.  When you correct them use words like “we” and not “I”.  You don’t want your rep to resent the time you spend with them.

Your role is to listen and observe and most of to be silent.  Don’t say anything unless you are addressed directly or asked a question.  When you are introduced be gracious and polite and if it is a regular customer tell them how much you appreciate their business.  As we have discussed here often the #1 thing most people desire is to feel appreciated!

I recall a visit with a rep recently where I had brought with me a quantity of miniature Fellowes Banker’s Boxes that I had filled with tiny little Tootsie Rolls.  My Fellowes rep gave me a case of these to demonstrate a new file storage box and I had the idea of pasting a business card to the top and handing them out to customers.  The rep and I made a prospecting appointment call and our contact was quiet resistent.  I had the box hidden behind my back and after an awkward moment the rep looks at me for help.  I asked if I could show them a new storage box, which was ok’d, upon which I gave a quick demonstration of the box and presented the contents to the prospect who was delighted to receive the candy.  In short, after seeing that we interested in the person first (relationship) and seeking to identify a possible solution (problem resolution) the prospect nearly leaped out of her chair and he demeanor completely changed.  Please understand I have left a lot out of the story here that you may be wondering about however, the rep looked to me for help and the situation offered me an opportunity.  This was an attorney’s office and my experience with this market is attorney’s use a lot of storage boxes.  Therefore, I was prepared in advance of the call whereas the rep was not. 

In my next post I’ll give you some things to avoid in your field coaching work.  If you have suggestions you would like to add I would love to hear from you!  If you have a story to share, please do.  We can learn from each others experiences.

The last word: “Obstacles are necessary for success because in selling, as in all careers of importance, victory comes only after many struggles and countless defeats.”– Og Mandino