Imperative 5: Benchmark Each Individual Sales Professional

The ability to COACH effectively is the ultimate aim of most sales managers…and it is a worthy, albeit elusive, goal.  Many abilities and tools are required to reach this status and we will discuss these in upcoming segments of this series.  The key component of these tools, without which coaching will be ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst, is BENCHMARKING.

The question then becomes,

What are the skills required to be successful in selling?” 

Over four decades of experience and empirical evidence has confirmed our strongly-held beliefs regarding these essential skills.  They are: People Skills, Selling Skills and Product Skills, and are discussed in more depth in chapter two of this series.

The next question follows logically…

 ”What are the desired standards in each of these areas and how do we measure each producer against these standards?”  

 The empirical evidence and experience alluded to above have led us to specific standards in each of three Skill Components also discussed above.  We explore all of them in more depth in later articles, but will illustrate the breadth of these standards with the following example of one of the 7 specific selling skill capabilities.

One of the seven selling skills  (discussed in article #2 of this series) is the ability to ask a broad array of specifically defined and worded QUESTIONS.  Some of these are discovery questions, designed to uncover broad areas of interest, problems, conditions, needs, etc., on the part of the client/prospect.   Another type of question is one designed to create doubt and to convey to the prospect/client a need they have and the accompanying impact to them of not solving that problem.  This type of question will:  (a) convey the need without telling them they are deficient…which could be offensive; (b) establish the questioner’s knowledge of the subject and situation; and (c) do so without setting up an adversarial situation.  There are other equally specific types of questions that must be mastered and, therefore, should be a part of the process of evaluating a producer’s skills before beginning the process of coaching.

This is just one segment of this all-important process of establishing standards in the three skills required in this highly intricate and professional job of selling.  Then comes the process of measuring against these specific standards.

We believe, and experience has proven, that there are three levels of measurement that normally take place in the evaluation of people: ASSUMPTION, OBSERVATION and CONFIRMATION.

 Assumption, the first tool, is universally used to some degree and in many cases is the only measurement.  “They have been in this field for thirty years…they must be pretty good.”  I bet you have heard, or maybe even said this.  Assumption…well you know the rest of that adage…is a dangerous tool and habitual liar.  Don’t engage in this activity; it will not serve you well and at some point get you fired.

 Observation is a much more reliable tool, but it can also, on occasion, take you captive and trick you in a dastardly manner.  Observation is an essential tool and activity…but the pro needs to know what to look for, how to recognize strengths and weaknesses and then know what to do with the information gathered.

 Confirmation is the ultimate tool…but is often difficult to use in every evaluation situation.  Where possible, a quantitative measurement process should be used in combination with observation to benchmark in a specific skill area.

Now how should this process be applied in benchmarking a producer in the 3 Key Skills areas of selling?  Where possible, there should be a qualitative and a quantitative method of combining observation and confirmation in establishing a producer’s current abilities in each skill area.

The following is a glimpse of the methods we believe are the standards for establishing an accurate benchmark reading at any point in time.

  • People Skills…
    • Quantitative:  A profiling system that segments a producer’s behavioral tendencies in interactive situations and reveals strengths and weaknesses as they relate to specific required skills. (As an example…does the producer have an over-abundance of empathy? It will assist in developing rapport with a client, but will likewise thwart his/her ability to close the sale.)
    • Qualitative:  Manager observation in many and varied situations.
  • Selling Skills…
    • Quantitative:  Specific measurable testing involving the skill elements defined as requisite to the job coupled with historic Sales Results.
    • Qualitative:  Classroom and frontline feedback of a broad cross-section of peers, professionals and clients .
  • Product Skills…
    • Quantitative:  Testing that reveals the producer’s knowledge of both the company’s products and the context of the market served by the company.
    • Qualitative:  Manager observation of the knowledge displayed during interaction in various sales situations.

With this step of benchmarking complete, a manager now has a clearer understanding of how to coach each producer.  The next step of development will be discussed in next week’s article.

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