Three New Tricks to Boost Sales Performance: From a Former Sales Trainer’s Casebook

Years ago in Australia, I worked as a consultant trainer for a top problem solver to solve the underperforming Australian end of a major consumer electronics marketing operation. I worked with them for three years, twice a year, traveling the country, 4 states, doing their sales training.

The first trip was easy, basic technical things, and it is still being taught today. What should I do the second, third and fourth time? The things I discovered will probably work for you today.

Trick 1: Make the client tell you what they want from you.

I decided to ask a client. I rate the best retailer of consumer goods in Australia; this guy is a living legend.

“How many sales reps deal with you professionally?”

“None! I’ve never met one.” was the forceful response.

“Would you spend an hour telling a group of sales reps how to do business with you?”

“Yes.” was his immediate response and I visited him to set it up.

In due time he arrived and was ushered into my training room. The students were impressed and a little terrified to have to meet and listen to the great man.

Spent an hour pounding them on all the mistakes sales reps make and I’m sure the list hasn’t changed. A small sample:

  • Treating him like a consumer.
  • Total focus on product features: we have an x, an ay and an az, and it’s great.
  • No understanding of the most basic question; “How does this guy make money selling my product?”
  • No interest in my business.
  • I have no idea how I set up a product range and its brand position in my retail strategy.

He spent the second hour telling them how to sell to him. It was the easiest sales training session I’ve ever given.

They were a pitiful, bedraggled, and miserable bunch when it was over, so he gave them a consolation prize in the form of the largest order that office had ever received. Beer all that afternoon? your bet

The strategy was still working two years later. So if you’re selling to retailers, give it a try. It’s free, and customers can’t resist the opportunity to tell sales reps what they’re doing wrong.

You can do it yourself, and I suggest you should. It’s a great way to build relationships with customers. I bet you will get an increase in sales. You may need to tailor the approach to your business.

If you’re a retailer, why not have a disgruntled customer come in and tell your people what went wrong and what the customer really wanted? You may need to give them a gift, but when you consider the extra sales you’ll make, that’s cheap training.

In a hospitality business, you can get customers on your side by giving them the opportunity to explain to your staff how they feel when faced with a system or attitude that can’t be done.

Trick 2: A day in the field is worth three behind the desk.

The easy way to find out what your sales people really need to learn is to spend a day in the field with them.

When I did, I would make sure I was presented as the new kid, new to the business and just learning my way around. He would say very little, just hello and goodbye. I listened and watched and took my mental notes.

The hardest part was resisting taking control and making the sale myself.

When we were out for the next call, I would ask the salesperson the “why” questions.

  • When he said that, what was he really looking for? What did you say? Why? What happened after?
  • Why did you say no?
  • This curbside conference worked best when I discovered things that could have been done differently or better.

A day in the field gave me a renewed insight into the behavior of salespeople, their doubts, fears and blindness to opportunities and buying signals from customers. I had enough material to work through two or three days of actual training. And my credibility increased because it was all real, his world, and I could do it, not just teach it.

The upside was that the discipline of listening showed me what customers really wanted.

Trick 3: Self-image counts

If you work with a sales team for an extended period of time, you’ll find that a salesperson’s self-image is reflected in their personal presentation. As your personal presentation improves, so will your results.

I mentored a talented salesperson for a period of two years. At first, it was a really rough uncut diamond. Slightly disheveled, shoes unpolished, jacket and trousers, tie badly knotted and somewhat old-fashioned. His speech was sloppy, with excessive use of jargon and little ability to ask questions. He was too affable with some customers and uncomfortable with others. He seemed as unprofessional as he carried himself. But he could sell.

Little by little I saw how his appearance changed. She invested in a nice suit with matching ties and shoes. She had regular hairstyles. She changed her speech by dropping the jargon words. As he improved the image he projected of himself, his clients treated him with greater respect. They sought his opinion and responded to his suggestions. His sales improved. He worked hard to understand his business and made suggestions on how they could vary his product to achieve higher profits.

The last time I saw him he looked good, sounded great and was climbing the sales management ladder very fast. It wasn’t about sales skills; he had those. It was about self-image and self-confidence.

The moral of this story is that anything you can do to build a person’s self-confidence will pay off in sales.

We hope you find these ideas useful and can find a way to put them into practice in your business.

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