Why Your Reps Aren’t Closing

A Sales Leadership Interview with Theresa Kelso

For the last few months, my team and I have been working diligently on my forthcoming book, Pivotal Conversations: How knowing what your prospect really thinks about your offering can radically boost forecast accuracy and goal attainment. The book delves into and describes the messaging framework we’ve developed for sales teams and sales management. We’ve been looking at the powerful and necessary conversations that sales teams have to engage in to advance and close more business

In order to have an even sharper grasp on the real world implications of this topic, I’ve been talking to sales leadership at some very interesting and diverse companies — all to learn what they had to say about the current state of sales and how important the right messaging was to their success.

That’s where Theresa “Terry” Kelso comes in. Terry is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Ametek. Here’s what she had to say.

(Note: We’ll be hosting a breakout session at Boston’s Sales 2.0 Conference on May 2. For those attending, meet us there! For those who can’t make it we’ve put together a complementary e-Book. You can download A Sales Manager’s Guide to Team Building here.)

Why Your Reps Aren’t Closing

Terry and I talked a bit about forecasting — and why reps all too often fail to close deals. The sorry fact is that deals slip through the cracks despite everyone’s best intentions and forecasting efforts — but why is that? We started talking about how even the “most likely” forecasted deals don’t close on time (or at all) because reps aren’t able to interpret the real deal indicators that are at the heart of forecasted opportunities.

Terry said that sales reps miss this step because it’s not in their nature: “I don’t think it’s within the makeup of the typical sales professional. You can train them how to ask the right questions and all, but [forecasting accurately is] still an extra step for them.”

Terry told me that being able to look at an opportunity and say, “This is going to happen,” and how to apply a forecasted probability to a deal is something many sales reps “struggle with.”

Getting her reps to look into the future and decipher whether or not a deal would close was all about “asking the right questions.”

Ask the Right Questions

This idea — that sales reps are missing basic steps and forgetting to ask the basic questions — is one I keep hearing over and over again from sales leaders.

Although it varies from industry to industry, Terry affirms that it doesn’t matter how basic or how complex the deal is — the right questions are key.

“It doesn’t matter what it is, you just have go in and ask good questions. There’s a couple of key questions that every person who has a need should be answering in order to meet that need and what you need to do is train reps to do that. You have to train them enough where they’re asking the right questions and showing them the value and then once you’ve got that — then you prove to them that they can do it.”

In order to discern what questions you should be asking in a sales meeting, remember to look at the sales conversations from your buyer’s point of view. What are the key concerns your buyers have had before signing on the dotted line? What are the FAQs in your industry? Do your sales reps known how to answer them? Have you prepared them?

“My most successful salespeople were not the most technical,” said Terry. “You just have to know the questions to ask and how to pull in the right people.”

Selling to Your Salesperson

Training salespeople to forecast accurately and ask the right questions isn’t always part of the sales culture. We tend to train and hope something sticks, instead ofcoaching them through every opportunity. So how DO we change the sales culture? I asked Terry this question, and she responded without missing a beat. “Just like you sell to your customer, you need to sell your sales reps.”

Selling to your sales rep — such an interesting concept!

“You need to think about what drives them and I would tell you in my experience, it is not compensation. I mean, that’s a piece of it. That’s a component of it. But, I really do think that what drives sales people — good sales people — is a willingness and a ‘want to win’ and a desire to be clear to their customer, to end a meeting with the customer feeling, ‘You know what? I really gave that guy something that he could hold.’”

Terry talked about sales culture as coming from the top down. They (reps) need to see a positive energy from the very top of the food chain. Negativity spreads like wildfire. “They have to see change. They have to live and breathe a change. It is so important that the sales leaders continue to drive a positive view.”

Getting your reps to know how to forecast. Helping them identify the right questions to ask. Changing the sales culture. All of these issues are addressed in my book, Pivotal Conversations, because these are the topics that concern sales leaders.

Stay tuned to my blog for more insights from sales leaders like Terry as we gather more and more research for my book.

  • How have you trained your sales team to forecast more accurately?
  • Do you agree with Terry that salespeople aren’t necessarily wired to forecast?
  • How do you identify what questions your sales rep should be able to answer?

Jose Palomino is President of Value Prop Interactive and author of the book, Value Prop. Jose combines tactical creativity, strategic orientation, marketing savvy, and technical acumen to deliver insights, leadership, and results.

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