Q I have a 40-employee consulting firm built around concepts that are outlined in my books. Every salesperson I have hired has failed to effectively sell our service. I am the only rainmaker. How can I make my salespeople successful?
--name withheld, New York
To paraphrase one of our better leaders: "Ask not what your salesmen can do for you; ask what you can do for your salesmen." Every boss hires a few duds, but if your entire team is sub-snuff, you have to consider that the problem might be you. Given that you are such a talented rainmaker, have you shared with your team all your tricks for seeding clouds?
You have a tough situation, because it sounds as if the product sold at your company is you. That might make it difficult for any non-you salespeople to achieve the same kind of success. If you want other people to start closing deals, you have to make sure they're selling a service, not a person, says Bill Bennett, who oversees sales at consulting firm FranklinCovey (NYSE:FC). He has firsthand knowledge of the person-as-brand phenomenon, as many people associate his company with co-founder Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Bennett notes that clients who want to buy you might worry about what will happen if you get run over by a bus. So, though you can focus on your own achievements when you go on sales calls, other salespersons should talk about the company's successes instead.
Keep in mind that as the founding salesman, you may not even know what it is about you that hooks customers; Bennett calls that "unconscious competence." He suggests bringing colleagues--confidants or trusted executives--with you on a few sales calls. They can observe you and, perhaps more important, observe your potential clients to see how they react to your pitch. He also suggests talking to satisfied customers and asking what it was that sealed the sale. Don't be surprised if the hook is nowhere to be found in your sales training.
Of course, some salespeople may have problems beyond not being you. The best way to find out is simple: Watch. Accompany your reps into the field and observe firsthand what goes down in the pitch, says Chuck Piola, co-founder of NCO Financial Systems, a billing and collection agency, and author of Going In Cold: How to Turn Strangers Into Clients and Get Rich Doing It. Piola has watched one salesman fail to make eye contact; another kept his hands woodenly glued to his sides; still another talked to the potential client in an abrasive tone of voice. These are all tics that may not occur in training. Says Piola: "You have to keep your mouth shut as they're killing a sale, difficult as it may be, so that you can delicately point out areas where the person can improve."
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