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A 4-Step Process For Developing a World-Class Sales Team

A 4-Step Process For Developing a World-Class Sales Team

Guest: Jerry Swain, a coach at CEO Coaching International. Jerry is a highly recognized, results-driven Chief Executive Officer with over 20 years of experience in executive leadership, planning, strategy, and business operations. He had a highly recognized career in sales management at IBM and other high-tech companies and was also the founder of a high-end specialty chocolate company that he later sold to a strategic buyer.

Quick Background: If sales are falling short, then your salespeople must be falling short. Right?

Only if you hired the wrong salespeople to begin with. Assuming you’re putting a premium on matching top candidates to your company’s specific needs, it could be your processes and training that need an overhaul.

On today’s show, CEO Coaching International’s Jerry Swain shares his four-step process for getting the best out of your existing salespeople and preparing your incoming wave of talent to hit the ground running.

1. Evaluate your current results against your goals.

Do you have clear metrics and measures of success within your business? Do you actually know what’s causing the sales shortfall? Without goals and the data to measure attainment, you’re lost.

When our coaches sit down with new entrepreneur coaching clients, almost all of them have a BIG number in their heads, like 20% growth or hitting $100 million in sales. What struggling companies usually overlook are all the smaller goals that their teams will need to achieve along the way to realizing a BIG goal. That lack of granular planning can leave a sales team feeling lost, isolated, and under unreasonable pressure to hit arbitrary targets.

“The goals for the team should be SMART goals,” says Jerry. “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. If we have a good team, they like to be stretched. So after they have made some attainment, are there stretch goals in place that keep the individual motivated? In our annual planning process that we do at CEO Coaching International, we come up with HOTS, Huge Outrageous Targets, and these should be directly related to what the sales team is able to attain. And there should be some measures of that so we’re not just pulling numbers out of the sky. Salespeople are not motivated unless they see where the actual numbers have come from. So that rhythm is super important to having alignment with the sales team.”

2. Analyze leading activities.

“Why didn’t you meet your sales number?”

That’s the question your struggling salespeople are dreading at the end of the month. But according to Jerry, it’s also a question that sales managers and CEOs shouldn’t be asking.

“It turns into this defensive conversation,” he says, “or excuses on why it didn’t happen. And we really never get down to what the issue is. Setting up really important leading activities in sales is the key not only to setting people up for success, but also measuring how they’re doing.”

For example, a sales funnel might look like this:

  • 50 cold calls
  • 10 meaningful follow-up calls
  • 5 meetings
  • 4 proposals
  • 1 sale

When you’re that clear on how leading actions create revenue, the conversations with your sales team completely change. Instead of playing the blame game, you’re identifying specific problems and leading that salesperson towards positive solutions.

Jerry says, “When somebody misses their number, we can look back and say, you weren’t doing enough cold calls, or you weren’t converting your face-to-face calls into proposals. How do we get that number up? You’re focusing on the area in the sales cycle, not only to have them perform the leading measures, but to identify what areas can they get more help on to improve.”

3. Screen for the right skills.

A SMART sales process and clear metrics should make it absolutely clear what your company needs to do daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly to hit annual goals. Those details should also help you to identify the kinds of people you need to execute each one of those processes effectively.

Like all of us at CEO Coaching International, Jerry is a fan of using TTI Talent Insights when interviewing candidates. These surveys measure how people behave both in their natural working state and also while under stress. Our version also identifies what motivates them. The TTI Survey can also help an interviewer to dig deeper and really understand a candidate whose beaming smile and sterling resume might conceal potential culture or skillset fit issues.

Jerry Swain: Setting up really important leading activities in sales is the key not only to setting people up for success, but also to measuring how they’re doing.

“As we’re looking at the type of company that we have, and the sales individual that we need, we can use this TTI to ask very focused, specific questions,” Jerry says. “So when you think of interviewing a salesperson, what they’re really good at is selling. It’s easy to get emotionally connected with somebody because they might be very good at building rapport and connecting. But do they have the actual skills that are needed? If the TTI says somebody does not follow up and is not detail oriented, that might lead to not closing a sale. All of these things lead to potential questions.”

TTI respondents receive a copy of their survey results. In follow-up interviews, Jerry likes to ask candidates what they thought of their TTI. What he’s really asking is whether or not this person took the initiative to review the TTI and reflect on what it’s saying about them.

Jerry says, “You’d be surprised at how many interviews I’ve been in where I’ve said, ‘Have you had a chance to read your TTI assessment?’ And they said, ‘No, what is that?’ Does that mean they’re not going to prepare for a sales call or a client meeting? If they knew that assessment was important to our company, but they did not read it themselves, that could potentially be a red flag. The second thing that’s interesting is I’ve found people that get very defensive on the areas of improvement, and they start making excuses. So does that lead to potentially a person that is going to make an excuse to a customer or to our teammates if they make a mistake? The people who dive into it deep and acknowledge their blind spots or their weaknesses, we can have a really good conversation on how are you going to grow based upon what the TTI says.”

There’s no one TTI blueprint for a perfect salesperson. But Jerry does believe that CEOs should be on the lookout for two characteristics.

“As a typical profile, we’re looking for people that have a high I, which is Influence,” he says. “Those are people who are optimistic. They’re trusting, they’re effervescent, they’re positive, and they also get along with all types of people fairly well. The other thing we like to see is somebody with a fairly high D, and that’s somebody who has Dominance, who is assertive. That shows somebody who is willing to have the courage to close a sale.”

4. Challenge and cultivate your talent.

Ultimately, Jerry is suggesting that CEOs have to do more than just pick the best resume from the pile. They have to challenge candidates. In addition to asking how past work experience could inform their performance at your company, look forward. Ask finalists to come to their last interview with a plan for their first 30-to-60 days. See who shows up with a detailed vision, and who hands you some buzz words and bullet points they slapped together last night. Bring in one of your sales managers to do some roleplaying. How does the candidate respond to common prospect resistance points? Do they really know your products and services and how to sell them?

Candidates who respond to these soft challenges are demonstrating that they’re open to learning and growth. If you incorporate those qualities into a regular process of training and review, you’ll never have to worry about the depth of your talent pool.

“There’s internal and external training,” Jerry says. “The external training is learning a sales process, learning how to handle objections, learning how to close better, learning how to open doors, learning how to communicate and deliver a proposal. The internal play is having a good leader in house who can run the sales meetings and constantly challenge people to grow, to learn from their mistakes but also to share their knowledge and what they’ve gained. We eat our own cooking at CEO Coaching International. We encourage everybody to be vulnerable when something has not gone right and to share what we did well that we can all learn from. It’s continuous group learning, which I believe is missing in a lot of companies.”

Top Takeaways

1. Stop blaming your salespeople and start helping them to clear their stumbling blocks.

2. Lead, don’t lag. Focus on improving execution on the next set of tasks rather than dwelling on past mistakes.

3. Challenge your best people and they’ll respond with even better work.

About CEO Coaching International

CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average revenue CAGR of 31% (2.6X the U.S. average) and an average EBITDA CAGR of 52.3% (more than 5X the U.S. average).

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