Article courtesy of Nidhi Mathson, Qstream.

M assTLC recently held an event for sales professionals entitled, “Ideas on How to Advance the Deals You Want to Close Today.” Senior sales leaders from Black Duck Software, IBM, Pegasystems and Qstream served on the panel and discussed best practices for, and by, sales reps and managers alike. Here are four key takeaways:

Coach Millennials to Independence.

We know Millennials are a force, and keynote speaker Jim Pouliopoulos, founding director of the Professional Sales Program at Bentley University, shared some interesting insights gleaned from his experience with university students. Their preference for face-to-face, immediate performance feedback has many companies moving away from traditional annual reviews. He also talked about the difference in how Baby Boomers and Millennials view influences on major events in their lives: their “locus of control.” While Baby Boomers have an internal locus of control, believing they can influence events and outcomes in their lives, Millennials have an external locus of control and believe that outside forces, such as the people around them, have a greater influence.

While it’s dangerous to put Millennials in a box and assume they’re all the same, these insights can help sales managers coach them more effectively. For example, their preference for immediate face-to-face feedback means that sales enablement leaders with Millennial-heavy teams may want to forgo investments in costly classroom-style events, and instead center their coaching and development strategy around more frequent 1:1 sessions. Additionally, understanding that Millennials see their success as dependent on the people around them means managers should work on helping them become more independent salespeople. This can start during the onboarding process, with the assigning of a mentor, for example, as well as clear goal setting to align individual and manager expectations. And perhaps try not to be too available for every question. After all, a key characteristic of a “top closing salesperson” is independence.

Make Sure Your Managers Are the Reason People Stay.

“People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers,” noted Julia Abramovich, VP of Sales at IBM, pointing out that 60% of job satisfaction starts with managers. While not a new revelation, it certainly makes you wonder – are managers truly helping their reps succeed, or are they part of the problem? Are they coaching them regularly? Are they focused on day-to-day development or just the most pressing deal for the quarter?

CSO Insights’ Jim Dickie has said that nearly half (46%) of firms participating in their annual survey spent less than 30 minutes per salesperson, per week on coaching. Dickie believes managers must go beyond deal-based coaching and focus more time on core competencies. While this may seem difficult to achieve with large, distributed sales teams, Qstream’s data-driven coaching framework helps managers easily identify proficiency gaps within their team and provides targeted coaching recommendations. Graphical dashboards and timelines of coaching activity by region or team can also help senior leadership track both the frequency and quality of coaching.

Be an Investigative Journalist.

Qstream’s Matt Johnson, Director of Financial Services Sales, said, “Sales is a low yield sport. The inflection point is transitioning from being a nuisance to being a problem solver.” He likens it to being an investigative journalist: salespeople must work on getting the “story” out of a prospect and writing it down. To borrow from an actual investigative journalist, New York Times’ David Barstow, start with a narrow field of focus, which allows you to ask targeted questions about a specific area, and then connect it to the larger issue you’re trying to uncover. Think about the larger issue your prospect might be looking to solve, such as declining revenue growth, and then ask discovery questions that connect directly to that larger issue such as, “How are you combating the entry of new competitors to your market?” or “Are your sales reps able to effectively sell value over price?”

Having Trouble with Prospects Who “Go Dark?” It Might be Related to How You Prepare.

A hot button issue that came up was how to deal with prospects who stop responding. A prospect most often goes dark for 1 of 2 reasons: either they’re just too busy, or the sales rep did not provide a compelling enough reason to continue the conversation. Most reps will have just minutes to hook a prospect and motivate them to engage, so a crisp, clear value proposition is essential. Some good upfront research can also make a huge difference, including checking out the prospect’s LinkedIn profile to understand their world. Where did they work previously? Who are your common connections? Review the company website, understand the history of the company, and read industry articles. Look at their Twitter handle to see what they are reading and talking about. When a prospect can clearly see why a product or service you’re selling is relevant to their business, they’re more likely to respond. Of course, as busy as sales reps are, these things don’t come to mind immediately, that’s why using effective reinforcement methods on best practices for successful conversations can be extremely beneficial.