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A LinkedIn friend and former colleague of mine posted a question the other day:  “How do you get salespersons out of the office and out calling on prospects?”  He started me thinking and tapping into a body of knowledge from back in the 90s, when I was on the road conducting sales management training for a national vendor and working with clients like Bank of America and Wachovia.

Combining that knowledge with some wisdom garnered elsewhere, my answer to my friend’s question is this:  “Implement rigorous “short-cycle sales management.”

My model of “short-cycle sales management” revolves around a weekly meeting that is conducted by a sales leader very strictly according to these rules:

  1. The leader calls upon a salesperson to list the actions the latter pledged to take at the prior weekly meeting.
  2. The leader calls upon the same salesperson to tell what actions they actually took during the past week to produce sales.
  3. For each action taken, the leader asks, “What resulted from that action?”
  4. The leader does notexpress disapproval or ask during the meeting for explanations as to why the pledged actions were not taken.
    1. If a salesperson attempts to explain why pledged actions weren’t taken, the leader says, “Relax, Beth; you don’t have to explain here; we all know that things don’t always go according to plan.  If you want, you and I can talk later about any difficulties you’re encountering in working your plan.”
    2. The leader doesexpress appreciation for pledged actions taken and results achieved by the salesperson.
      1. The leader should not go overboard with this.  If they do, members of the team will start to “low-ball” their pledges for the coming week.
      2. The leader will ask the first salesperson, “What are the two or three most important things you are going to do this week to generate sales?”
        1. If the purpose of the activity is not self-evident, the leader should ask, “What sort of sales results are you gunning for, Bill?”  For example, the leader might respond to a pledge like, “I’m going to call on Acme Company,” with the question, “What exactly will you do during that call, Diego?”
        2. The leader will challenge politely any planned actions that are vague and immeasurable and compel members to describe their actions clearly.   “Actions” like “I’m going to try to…” or “I’m going to work on…” should always be challenged.  Go for commitment, not conjecture.
        3. The leader will ask, “What help can the rest of us provide that will enable you to complete your action plan?”
        4. After every one has pledged their actions, the leader will sum up in an upbeat way, expressing confidence that the team is building momentum as they get more familiar with the model.

The leader won’t overreact to a slip-up now and then.  If a salesperson is repeatedly unable to fulfill their commitments, however, the leader will coach the person one-on-one.  (How that coaching should be done is a topic for another post.)

The meetings are held every week by every sales leader in the organization.  The first level leader will report to the second level leader, the latter to the third level leader, and so on…  The questions for junior sales leaders to answer each week are, “What did you do last week to help your people be more successful in selling? and “What will you do next week?

So how does this relate to us training guys?  It may not.  It’s possible, though, that an introduction of the model to all involved would carry a bit more impact when delivered by an outside “authority.”  At the same time, salespersons and their leaders might feel more comfortable asking tough questions of a stranger than of their boss or the CEO.  Finally, a consultant might bring a few more bells and whistles to presentations.

A final—optional but highly recommended—role to be played in making this initiative a success would be that of an executive coach, who would sit in on meetings and meet with sales leaders from time-to-time to help them become more comfortable with and effective in their roles.  (I don’t provide coaching services, but I can refer business leaders to excellent coaches on request.)

As always, your comments will be most welcome!  Guest posts are likewise welcome.