With many distribution sales teams either grounded by internal policy or customers who are not accepting visitors, COVID-19 has ushered in a new era of virtual selling and sales management. MDM CEO Tom Gale recently spoke about how to succeed under this evolving sales model with Colleen Stanley, president of SalesLeadership, a sales force development firm specializing in emotional intelligence, sales and sales leadership training who got her start with a small distributor and manufacturer.
Gale: How do you see the future of selling in the age of COVID-19?
Stanley: The fact is, selling has changed forever. The future, it’s probably a hybrid model, for a couple of reasons. No. 1, it might simply be how your customer likes to buy. I’ve heard from a lot of customers; they don’t mind Zoom calls. Maybe you don’t have to get on a plane for every appointment. You can get a lot accomplished. No. 2, remote selling is simply a new skill and it’s one that’s very learnable if you’re coachable. I am not dreading the future, because I do think we’re social animals. People love that human connection, they’re ready to get back to some live conferences, and some live meetings. But they’ve seen another way that business can be accomplished quite successfully and effectively.
Gale: What does the coaching management aspect of sales look like right now?
Stanley: I believe managers need to double down on coaching. Any time you’re going through a change curve, you’ve got a lot of psychological things happening to your sellers — self-limiting belief systems, I can’t succeed or I’m just fatigued. If you’re going to specifically look at some tactical skills, I’m finding many sellers need to really re-identify or re-clarify, who is their ideal client? Because what was your ideal client back in January may have shifted, and you don’t even know the target is shifted. Has your messaging statement shifted? Has your value proposition or elevator pitch shifted? Because that’s where a lot of companies are having to re-engineer — and they’re not re-engineering.
I would also say if you’ve got a face-to-face field seller, maybe they didn’t use email as much before. When we teach email prospecting, I always tell my sellers, this is not a selling skill. This is a copywriting skill. So here you’ve got salespeople that are trying to prospect in new ways, but we haven’t given them the skills.
Gale: You’ve just finished a new book, Emotional Intelligence for Sales Leadership. You’ve been a long-term proponent of both hard selling skills and soft selling skills. What’s the difference between them?
Stanley: First of all, they’re both important. It’s kind of like diet and exercise, right? We all want to lose 20 pounds, but if I simply go out and run 10 miles and then come home and eat a bag of chips, it’s probably not going to happen. So for many years, I think sales organizations have been equipping their teams only with 50% of the skills. That’s generally the hard skills that can be questioning skills, negotiation skills, prospecting skills. They are very, very important.
However, in my years of research, study and teaching, if the salesperson isn’t demonstrating the right behaviors, it’s usually lack of a development of a soft skill and EQ [emotional quotient] skill. An example would be impulse control and questioning skills. The biggest complaint we all have with salespeople is they present too soon, talk too much, listen too little. Is that lack of knowledge? Or is it the inability of the salesperson to be aware of when they get triggered to start presenting solutions and they can’t manage that impulse to share solutions too soon and too often?
If you can start really looking at places where the soft skill does directly link to dollars, another one is empathy. A very, very powerful skill. Most of your good negotiation teachers will teach you that if you don’t know what the other person’s thinking or feeling, how can you possibly influence them? A lot of times there’s an unspoken objection. And that takes empathy; tuning into the conversation that’s not happening. There’s a lot of money that gets lost due to the lack of soft skills.
Gale: You’re going to be addressing some of this at MDM’s Sales GPS conference, but in distribution, there’s a lot of legacy sales reps out there who’ve been in the field for 20, 30, 40 years. Can you coach those people who have been doing it so long?
Stanley: One thing I have shared with business owners is if you do have a legacy seller, don’t try to make them open up a bunch of new business. They’re probably not good at prospecting, don’t want to prospect. Those days are gone. But that seller is actually very profitable for you managing a set of clients. Let them manage that set of clients, but for heaven’s sakes, don’t keep giving them big territories that they never call on, prospects that they never call. If they like what they do, if they’re being profitable, there might be a piece you slice out for them.
On the other hand, I think companies really have to up their game on partnering with universities, colleges, even high schools, and letting them know what a great profession distribution is. That’s a way that you start building out your future sales team.
Hear Stanley speak much more on this topic during her session, Culture Shift — The Empowered, Integrated Sales Team, at MDM’s upcoming all-virtual Sales GPS conference, happening online August 31-September 2. Click here for more information or to register.