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National Sales Competition Offered Real-Life Lessons
Four Healthcare Sales seniors competed as a team at a recent national team sales competition at Indiana University. Left to right are Ali Marson, Haley Kelliher, Amanda Braun, Kelsey Kromminga, who say that the competition's case was similar to cases presented in St. Kate's business classes.  
A team of Healthcare Sales seniors placed in the top 10 out of 21 participating universities in the recent "Can't Beat the Experience" National Team Sales Competition. Hosted by Indiana University, the event showcased presentations made in support of a private-label, organic popcorn sold into a fictional store. The students were judged based on their product packaging, sampling and social media solutions.

"We had a morning appointment with one of the buyers/managers of this fictitious store to ask questions and dig for problems so that we could present solutions," according to Kelsey Kromminga. "This allowed us to apply our classroom learning — role-playing around questioning, asking open-ended questions and building rapport — and ideas from the book Beyond Selling Value."

Alison Marson said that learning to take critical feedback is an important take-away from this competition. She said, "The judging processes helped us to understand the meaning of 'no' from a customer. Sometimes you need to dig deeper and ask more questions to gain information to solve the customer's problem. That's where our classroom skills in overcoming objections came into play as we centered around a solution fit for the customer."

"Prepare, prepare, prepare," said Haley Kelliher, who thinks that everyone should have the opportunity to compete like this during their college experience. "It provides the best learning and real-life experience."

All students expressed that they had overthought some of their ideas and, looking back, wished they had stuck with their intuition because some of the original ideas offered better benefits. They also learned the importance of time management and working as a team.
Part II: Research Indicates Major Gaps in Sales Practices
(Note: Part I was published in the September newsletter)

Feedback from 25,000 sales professionals — executives, leaders and representatives — in the 2011 Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study was discussed at the Sales Executive Forum in September. The differences between World Class companies, Forum participants and all 2011 respondents indicated major gaps.

"Our sales team frequently seeks my advice to help advance sales opportunities."

This statement was found true by 84% of World Class companies compared to 46% of Forum companies and 49% of all respondents. Why the gap? Forum participants had a number of observations about how they coach reps:

  • Modeling helps reps to make their own decisions; if they stall, give them ideas.
  • Listening and keeping an open mind to reps is important, but so is making sure the best solution is proposed; encourage reps to come up with answers to build their ability to act for themselves.
  • It's a conflict: What is my role — coach to solution or actively engage? It's very situational. Need to decide if it's my sale to win (as a manager) or the rep's sale to lose.
  • It's good to get first-hand information on the customer, as long as we (as managers) don't take over the deal but partner with the rep for additional ideas.
  • More sales people are going to their peers for help that have had successess in the same industry — maybe a Gen Y thing.

"Who do your phone calls come from?" That's the question that Miller Heiman Sales Vice President Rich Blakeman asked the Forum participants. "Keep an eye on that and see the pattern. Do your best people reach out for additional resources, or those who need the most help?" Across the board, Forum participants related experiences where their top performers know who and where the best resources are, and how to leverage them to expand their success.

"Our process for getting new hires to full productivity is highly effective."

Survey results indicated a gap between World Class companies (57%) and Forum (15%) and other respondents (14%). Blakeman asked: "What can you do differently between now and the end of this year to change this?" Thoughts included:

  • Create an onboarding process for sales and measure its effectiveness.
  • Train sales reps in the art of persuasion.
  • Hire the right people — consider the interview process, referrals and testing.
  • Raise the expectations for reps right out of the shoot and ask them what they need to be successful.

"In an average month, our sales manager definitely spends adequate time coaching each individual on the sales team."

Again, there's a gap between World Class companies that do this (53%) verus Forum companies (23%) and all other respondents (19%). According to Blakeman, "This is a huge theme right now especially in companies where the sales management job is more around being the head person or transaction savior versus coaching and developing."

Forum participants had a discussion around the following ideas:

  • Consistency — the rep expects to be coached and it's part of the process, which means there's a discipline around it.
  • Coaching the coach and then holding the coach accountable by visibly seeing results.
  • Leverage peer coaching.
  • Created a team captain who took over coaching but there was resistance once it became a formal title.
  • Know what you are coaching to — it's usually a focus on activities that lead to results.
"It's a balancing act on where you spend your time," said Blakeman. "Do you have the right activity at the right position of the sales funnel to position you for the next year? Do I have the resources and tools to drive a funnel over time to yield a number I need to make versus what's closing next?" The clear message the group received was being purposeful about coaching time: discipline in scheduling it, keeping the schedule, focusing the content within the coaching, and maintaining a healthy balance in coaching – skills and performance, sales funnel health, forecasting, and critical opportunities.
Sales Performance Meter
How does your organization compare to the top 25 activities and metrics from the Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study? Find out with this quick online survey. You will receive a personal report immediately upon completion. There is no charge to use this tool.

Try the Sales Performance Meter

December 2011

Volume 4, Issue 7


To join the December 9th Sales Executive Forum, contact Lynn Schleeter


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