Does it bother you too?
As a sales leader, you’re doing the best you can but sometimes you still wonder, “Am I really having an impact on my salespeople?
You know employee development is one of your responsibilities but how do you do it effectively? And more importantly, when?
If you’re like most sales managers, you’re strapped for time. What if there was a way you could develop your staff and still keep control of your schedule? What if you could:
- gain more respect and authority
- develop better relationships with your sales force
- and drive improved sales performance?
Interested? Well, if you want to build a killer sales team, you can. And you can get started in the next 10 minutes.
However, the problem is…
At the Heart of Every Learning & Development Program is an Important Problem
What’s the problem?
Well, for starters, learning something isn’t the end goal of sales training. Learning something that leads to different actions or development of new skills is the real objective. In other words, behavior change is the key factor to success.
How do we get behavior change? We need systematic, ongoing learning and reinforcement. And that takes more than attending a one-off sales training event. Yet many sales leaders expect sales reps to master successful sales skills even though they are only exposed to training occasionally and reinforcement is lacking.
But guess what?
There is one person in the position to make an immediate improvement to the way sales reps are trained. That is their sales manager.
Why do I say sales managers are perfectly positioned to help their reps? Because it’s been estimated that 70% of employee development takes place through informal learning, not through formal learning events. And that means sales managers have a great opportunity to drive on-the-job employee development.
And sales reps will take notice. In Selling Power magazine, Lisa Gschwandtner writes, "In fact, listening and keeping lines of communication open are essential skills for managers and their sales teams. Sales reps commonly give high praise to managers who are readily available to talk and who return phone calls or emails promptly. The manager who comes through in the clutch will gain more respect and authority. When a rep wants to talk, the ideal sales manager listens first, diagnoses the issue and offers solutions but never imposes them. Often it takes only a little help to solve a problem that may initially seem cataclysmic to a salesperson.”
So, in today’s “do more with less” business environment, how do sales managers develop employees without a huge budget and additional resources?
With one-on-one meetings.
Why You Should Care About 1:1s
"Getting, developing, and keeping the best people is one of every leader’s most crucial jobs, and you can’t do it the way you used to." ~Geoff Colvin
One of the ways to develop top-performing sales people is to take full advantage of an overlooked opportunity: the 1:1 sales meeting.
The only thing is, most sales managers are going about conducting one-on-one meetings all wrong. That is, the managers who even bother to do 1:1s.
The EcSELL Institute Sales Management study, Through The Eyes of a Sales Rep, asked sales reps "How often do you receive feedback from your direct sales manager on ways to improve your performance?”
Shockingly, 27% said never. No wonder there are so many sales reps who are struggling to meet their goals.
The same study also asked sales reps, "How often would you prefer to receive feedback?" 53% of the reps said at least monthly or more.
So we have sales reps who want feedback from their manager so they can improve their performance but managers are dropping the ball when it comes to providing that feedback.
Maybe these sales managers are depending on the company to train and coach the sales force. But that’s not the most effective method. An Inc magazine article cites research by the Corporate Executive Board showing that sales reps strongly prefer coaching to come from their direct supervisor.
It seems like there are some missed sales training opportunities here.
Here are a few more reasons you should be conducting one-on-one sales meetings regularly:
- One-on-one meetings can be useful for developing relationships with your sales team, and to help promote personal development.
- One-on-one meetings can confirm objectives are in alignment between the sales manager and the sales rep.
- These meetings provide clarity around job performance and role expectations.
- They can also help prevent unwanted surprises at the end of the month.
How to Turn Your 1:1 Meetings into a World-Class Sales Team
So how can you improve your sales management training in the next 10 minutes?
Take 10 minutes and block out time to meet with each of your sales reps.
I know, you're probably skeptical. Right?
Well, don't take my word for it. According to Mike Weinberg, "Executives are going to wake to the fact that you can't simply manage people...by staring at a CRM screen or sending threatening emails about deal status and pipeline health. My strongest hope and belief is that managers will once again see 1:1 meetings with every member of the sales team as their highest value activity."
Are you treating 1:1s like your highest value activity?
As mentioned earlier, many sales managers simply ignore one-on-one sales meetings. Those that do conduct them tend to fall victim to the bane of most meetings. According to the American Management Association, “Most meeting experts agree on at least two things: (1) There are too many meetings in the workplace, and (2) most of those meetings are a waste of time. This is due most often to poorly planned and poorly run meetings. The organization and the participants gain little or no value when meetings don't go well. In fact, a cycle of failure can quickly set in: People start to expect meetings to be unproductive, and so they are." How can you get the most out of your 1:1 sales meetings and avoid the cycle of failure?
Here are a few ways to make 1:1's productive:
Schedule & Don't Skip: Do your one-on-one meetings at the same time every week. The goal is to hold recurring meetings so you get into a weekly rhythm. Schedule them for an hour. You can always shorten your meetings during weeks when there's not much to discuss. Don't ever cancel a 1:1. The easiest way to communicate to your sales reps that they're not important is to cancel their 1:1! If a scheduling conflict develops, try to reschedule the 1:1 for a different time on the same day, and apologize for doing so. Cancelling a 1:1 is worse than never scheduling one in the first place. It can make your team members feel unvalued and frustrated that the issues they want to cover will have to wait another week.
Remember It's Not About You: Keep in mind that it's the employee's meeting, and not your meeting. One-on-one meetings are a time for the sales rep to discuss problems, issues, and ideas. Go into eache 1:1 intending to learn something. Plan to split the time talking about both your concerns and theirs. Let the sales rep control the flow of the meeting (to start). Don't begin a 1:1 by piling more work on your sales reps. Encourage them to drive the agenda and come with a list of things they'd like to discuss or get your advice on. You can try to draw out concerns out by asking, "What can I help you with?"
Be Prepared: If you want your 1:1s to work, you have to do your part. That includes learning how to conduct effective meetings and being prepared. Take notes during the 1:1 on follow up items. Use your notes to prepare for the next meeting. Then, roll the notes from that meeting into the next meeting, and so on. Make sure to ask open-ended questions and be a good listener.
Use 1:1s to Stay On Course: Ask for course correction during your 1:1s. You won't always get the answers you want, but every couple 1:1's ask your reps, "What could I be doing better as a manager?" You can get some really great feedback this way. It is much better to get feedback throughout the year and act on it than be surprised on it at review time when you hear about it from your own boss. You should also give course correction. Sales performance issues crop up over time. If you can spot patterns early and give gentle feedback, you have an opportunity to nip performance issues in the bud. If the performance issue persists, strengthen the tone of your feedback.
Discuss Career Development: Every few 1:1's make sure to step away from project discussions and have a higher-level discussion about your sales reps' careers and job satisfaction. Sometimes these are called "stay interviews." Talk about the team member's specific goals. Ask them what they think will make them satisfied in their job in the coming months. If their goal is to be promoted, discuss what they need to achieve to make that happen.
Don't be vague: Skip the platitudes and the rah-rah speeches during your one-on-one meetings. Make sure your feedback is constructive and actionable.
If you feel like you need even more help with learning how to conduct one-on-one meetings, Ben Horowitz wrote a great blog post on the subject.
When you commit to doing effective 1:1s, you're committing to helping your sales reps reach their goals. That just happens to be the fastest way to reach your goals. Do you have any tips for having an effective 1:1 meeting? Share them by tweeting @HireVueSales.
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image credit: Anthony Sills