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6 Common Questions We Get Asked About Sales

We’ve worked with hundreds of companies and thousands of sales leaders and owners over the years. With that being said, there are always six common questions we get asked all the time. We decided to break them down into three of the most common questions from sales leaders and three of the most commonly asked questions by owners.

Three common questions from sales leaders we get asked all the time:

1)    How do I make more time to spend with my team and implement best practices?

We ask sales leaders what takes up your time? We often hear things like meetings, sales calls, reports, getting together for meetings with other company leaders, etc. the list is at least 25+ items long. What we want them to focus on is a list of the most impactful things for their team. How do you make more time for these things? Because you can’t manufacture more days in the week.

Start with evaluating your schedule - find out what is truly necessary. A lot of these meetings, like the product, marketing, leadership meeting, etc. are like soap operas. You can leave for a month and then when you come back someone is still in a coma, someone always has a fatal disease, and someone is still pregnant with twins not from her husband, nothing really changes.

Since nothing changes in these meetings, do you need to be there? How can you get out of those meetings or maybe not attend every single one of them? You can send someone else or have someone write up notes and give you feedback. All in all, go less often if it’s not one of the most impactful meetings for your team. It is okay to say ‘no’ to some meetings so you can spend more time with your team.  If you went to your boss and said “I need to spend more time with my team to work on (insert more beneficially team activities) that means I may need to miss a few of the weekly meetings,” chances are your boss will say ‘okay’ 9 times out of 10.  Play this card so you can impact your team.   

Start with prioritizing your meetings and time. What is most valuable? Keep your weekly 1-on-1’s and time in the field, observing your salespeople and providing feedback. Those are the most impactful things you do with your team. For meetings like forecasting and pipeline reviews, those don’t have to be in addition to your 1-on-1s. You can look at forecasting every 3rd 1 on 1, or you can look at the pipeline every 4th. Substitute meetings or delegating them to a particular weekly rotation is more effective than just adding more meetings. The significant part is to prioritize what is the most impactful. Make sure those happen, and the rest will drift away.

2)    Why can’t my salespeople do things like I did them?

This is more of a common question than you might think. They expect that a salesperson should be able to ask all the same questions that they would ask, pivot in a conversation like they did, present like they did, and so on. But they don’t. Why? The short answer is because that often sales leader didn’t do enough training on the front end or reinforcement and feedback on the back end, check out our “The ABC’s Of Managing Your Sales Team” blog to help with that. The long answer, however, is many sales leaders were excellent salespeople, and that’s why they got promoted in the first place. They were great at selling, and their manager or leader wanted them to share their skills with the rest of the team.

But, many sales leaders have a hard time being clear about why they were so successful. Sales leaders never really had to track how they did what they did so concretely, and now that they do, it’s hard for them always to be clear on why they were successful.

One of the more significant mistakes a lot of these sales leaders will do is jump on a call with a salesperson and “model” it for them (i.e. “takes over”). It ends up being the sales leader who takes control and makes all the plays to get the deal. The short-term reward is good, but the salesperson probably did not learn as much by watching. No one ever got better at golf by just watching the pros on the range. You must step up to the tee and swing for yourself. Then when the coach tells you to keep your elbow in and not to use so much wrist, you listen and practice. With the proper coaching, you’ll be able to get par and land that call.

The sales leader needs to set the expectations and write down what they want their team to do and coach them. Then provide feedback and always reinforce, reinforce, reinforce.

3)    Why does my team rely on price so much?

If your team is relying on price to close their deals, then there is a good chance that they aren’t doing their work on the front end. Let’s take, for example, that you are going to buy a pen. Your choices are three visually identically black pens. The first is $1, the second is $2, and the third one is $3. Remember they all look the same, so chances are you’ll go for the cheapest pen.

But then what if we told you the first pen is flimsy and plastic and will only last a week, the second pen feels nice and will last a month, and the third pen has a lifetime warranty. Now, which do you pick?  Chances are your choice may have changed because there is now a difference in your choices.

Salespeople get into a rut and think their product is the same as everyone else’s product. When salespeople rely on price, chances are they didn’t distinguish your product from your competitors. Maybe they didn’t ask the right questions, didn’t follow your sales process, or didn’t get to the right decision-makers.

People typically don’t make choices based on price alone. People make choices based on value and emotion and what they see in things. Teach your team how to demonstrate the value of your product(s) and how those products can impact the company you are selling to. Once you teach that, your products will stand out, and then your customers will stop going cheap.

These next three common questions are what the owners often ask us.

4)    How do I know what my sales department is doing? How do I know what’s working and what’s not?

The biggest miss we see is that the sales leader and the CEO/owner don’t sit down and talk about what’s going on. Don’t get me wrong – they talk often, usually every day - but not about the overall performance of the sales organization.  

The sales leader will often sit down with their team weekly and talk about what’s going on in the department, progress against plan, specific initiatives, etc. That same meeting needs to be had with the CEO but often does not. Sometimes it is on the schedule, but either the CEO or the sales leader cancels them because they get too busy. We think that is a big miss.

We also see that many CEO’s have the mentality of “if I can’t see them, then they are probably out playing golf or hunting or fishing.” That mentality can get the sales leader into a lot of hot water as there may be nothing to contradict the CEO’s perception. Sales leaders need to start by making a structured agenda for the conversation. Set a formal meeting on the calendar for weekly or bi-weekly - AND KEEP IT!

In a typical CEO-sales leader meeting, there is often an “open forum” of whatever you want to talk about – typical the deal of the day or issue that arose. We think that is a mistake and does not provide enough context for the CEO. We suggest that the Sales leader follows a structure that provides enough detail that the CEO knows they are on top of things. We believe the structure should include how the team is doing against the plan, what deals are at risk, which deals the team is counting on, how the team is doing, what are you focused on this week or month, etc. As the owner, you need to make sitting down with the sales leader a priority, so you know what they are doing and can provide feedback, observations, and adjustments.

Having this weekly sit-down allows for those gaps to be filled in. No one is left in the dark, and there is a better understanding of what’s going on.

5)    How do I get accurate forecasts?

Often times, the sales leader provides a pipeline/forecast that includes every deal under the sun at every stage of the sales process. The CEO can have a hard time telling what is real and what is not, which makes planning the business difficult. The CEO needs to ask for two things a) what deals or numbers they can count on that month or quarter and b) what deals aren’t a guarantee, but they seem promising. The rest of the opportunities are just noise and don’t need to be reported until they are further down the pipeline.

If the sales leader is having a hard time getting their team to give an accurate forecast, check out this blog on “Inaccurate Forecasts - Are You to Blame?

To get your “counting on them” numbers, ask your sales leaders what deals have a confidence level of 90% or more. This may not include every deal in the later stages of the process. The sales leader should have a good idea of which deals to include or not if they are meeting with their salespeople regularly. After you have figured out your “for-sures,” ask your salespeople to drop it down to the next tier of deals. These are a bit riskier and maybe around 70% confidence or higher.

Then the last question would be, how many more do we have out there? I don’t need to know details just how many are swimming around. If you just get those few numbers. Then you, as the CEO, can plan around that.

For example, as a sales leader, you have about 100k locked in then another 75K dollars that you’re feeling okay about. Not all are going to come in. Take that 100k and then half that 75k, and then you are forecasting about $135k. The actual number you hit might be more or might be less, but now you have something more accurate than you can plan around. Then have a discussion. The CEO and sales leaders should discuss what they think the forecast should be and be honest with one another.  This should be a joint forecast.

6)    How do I motivate my sales department without changing my comp plan?

In all the research out there, compensation ranks anywhere from 3rd to 5th in what motivates a person. If you want to know more, check out our blog "Managing for Salespeople Retention." I don’t know if you can really “motivate” another person, but you can certainly tap into the things that are important to that person to provide the right rewards so that a person becomes motivated. For sales, some of the most common ones are:

  1. Recognition. Most salespeople love to be recognized for winning the big deal, getting into a new prospect, doing an excellent job in a demo or meeting, etc. Good sales leaders are always “trying to catch them doing the right thing” and then recognizing them for it. As the CEO, make sure your sales leaders are providing that feedback and recognizing their efforts. Also, you can play a big part by providing recognition yourself.  It means a lot to a salesperson to have the CEO or owner thank them or recognize the job they did. This can have just as much effect on their performance as money. 
  2. Competition – many salespeople, are very competitive. Allow the sales leader to start a contest and publicly display results. As a CEO, encourage your sales leader to implement some type of competition. Make sure you provide feedback to the team noticing who is in the lead.
  3. Performance Management – this is probably the most effective measure. Each week, make sure your sales leader sits down with the salesperson and talks about how they are doing activity-wise, look at close rates, and deal size. The simple fact that the salesperson needs to show the sales leader what they did each week typically motivates most people to accomplish what they committed to. The fact is that these sales leader-salesperson conversations do not happen as much as they should.  Instead, they just talk about deals.  As the CEO, you should ask your sales leader about their 1-on-1s and help them have more meaningful conversations. 

There you have it -  six common questions we have heard many, many times from both sales leaders and owners. If you would like more information on any of the six common questions, feel free to reach out.

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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