Interact with Sales Staff in the Field to Determine Their Strengths and Weaknesses
By Peter Lyle DeHaan
Mitchell came to us in need of a second chance. With a lifetime of experience in the business world and history of sales success he seemed overqualified to work for our company. But he assured me this was the right job for him at this point in his life. I agreed and offered him the position.
It was a newly created role in a large but underdeveloped market for us where we had a presence but little market share. The metropolis offered much potential, and Mitchell relished the opportunity as well as the challenge. He breezed through training. I set him up in an office, and he went to work.
He quickly filled his sales funnel with promising prospects, and we were both excited. But he struggled to close them. On each weekly phone call, he’d regale me with the potential that sat in his sales funnel, especially his most promising prospect. Should he close the sale, it would be our biggest client to date.
We both expected it to happen, but after a couple months of futility, he was perplexed, and I was frustrated. I needed to see him in action if I hoped to figure out what was going wrong.
I blocked out a day on my calendar and told him to schedule appointments with his three most promising prospects: one in the morning and two in the afternoon.
The Meeting Objective
On the appointed day, I drove to his office, picked him up, and we headed to his first appointment. It was the big prospect he’d been courting for months. Before we went in, I asked him what his objective was for the meeting. He didn’t understand my question.
I explained that each interaction with a prospect must have a goal to move them forward in the sales process. This could include providing them with more information, learning how soon they wanted to move forward, or asking for the sale.
He wasn’t sure.
I suggested we try to find out how quickly they wanted to act and see if we could get them to commit to a date when they wanted this to occur. He concurred.
I told him to take the lead. He agreed.
He introduced me to her and began making small talk. She seemed irritated. After letting him flounder for a few minutes, I eased myself into the conversation.
“In an ideal situation,” I probed, “when would you like to see a transition to our service occur?”
Her outlook brightened a bit, and we launched into a meaningful discussion about her business, a strategy to move her account to us, and what outcomes she could expect.
Twenty minutes later Mitchell and I left her office with a signed contract and a check in hand.
Once back in my car, Mitchell looked at me and shook his head. “How did you do that?” I explained to him my secret—which I’ll reveal to you later, in the first chapter in “Part 2: Sales Tips.”
A Couple of Feds
As we drove to our second appointment (which was a business lunch at a local diner, something I hadn’t expected or wanted), we discussed the objective of the meeting. This is when I learned that we weren’t meeting with someone in his sales funnel, but with a new lead that had only come in yesterday. He hadn’t done any work on it.
Knowing what my first question would be, however, he already had an answer for the goal of our meeting: it was to find out what they were looking for. This is something he should have done before setting the appointment. I explained that prequalifying a prospect was a smart idea before agreeing to meet with them, especially for lunch.
I wore a suit and Mitchell wore a sport coat and tie. This was the perfect attire for our first meeting, but apparently a bit overdressed for our second. The two men wore business casual. When we sat down in our booth, one glanced nervously between Mitchell and me. Then he blurted out, “You two look like a couple of feds.” He shuddered a bit and forced a smile. I did too.
If he had experience with federal agents interviewing him and was uncomfortable because we reminded him of those interactions, I wondered what type of business he was in and if we wanted anything to do with him or his company.
Again, we had agreed that Mitchell would take the lead, and I would step in if I felt it was appropriate. The guys were tight-lipped about the type of business they were starting and talked in vague generalities that could apply to most any entrepreneurial endeavor. This made it hard for us to evaluate how we might be able to help them or even if we could.
Not meeting our goal, we finished our meal and paid the bill. Mitchell tried to follow up with them later, but they ghosted him. Given how uncomfortable I was with their demeanor, I wasn’t disappointed.
As we left the diner, I learned that our third appointment had cancelled the day before, and Mitchell had been unsuccessful at finding a replacement prospect to meet with. I was disappointed, feeling I hadn’t used my time with Mitchell to its full advantage. I suspect he was just as discouraged.
We did earn a large sale that day, landing the biggest client our company had ever seen. Even though I closed the sale, I gave him credit for it, explaining that he had nurtured the prospect and prepared her to buy. Also, we had a 50 percent close rate for the day, another thing to relish. I tried to encourage him by focusing on the positives.
However, I also had doubts, wondering if Mitchell could be a successful sales rep for our company. Though he had the experience and the background, the results were decidedly lacking. I needed to figure out a way to help him turn things around—or we would need to part ways.
Sales Management Success Tip Periodically go on sales calls with your sales team, especially those who underproduce. Demonstrate sales techniques to them by example. Use each situation as a teachable moment. Figure out what you can do to help them succeed.
Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.
He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.