New Sales Manager: How to Get Straight Answers from your Reps by Asking the Right Questions

Here’s the conversation between sales manager and her rep:

SALES MANAGER: Bill what do you think makes a good salesman?
SALES REP: A good salesman? Drive, aggressiveness, being able to talk convincingly, planning his work. Why?
SALES MANAGER: Do you consider yourself aggressive?
SALES REP: Yes, I think so. You have to be aggressive to make sales.
SALES MANAGER: What’s your idea of being aggressive?
SALES REP: Oh, let’s see. Well, applying pressure, staying in the interview when it gets rough, asking for the order, (pause) I guess that’s about it. But what are you getting
at? Don’t you think I’m aggressive?
SALES MANAGER: What do you do in the sales interview?
SALES REP: What do you mean what do I do? You’ve been on calls with me.  (Salesman is getting irritated)
SALES MANAGER: I want to hear your view of it.

SALES REP: I say, hello, present my product, show samples, give literature, and leave.
SALES MANAGER: What about asking for the order?
SALES REP: What about it?
SALES MANAGER: Do you ask for it?
SALES REP: Well, I wouldn’t get it if I didn’t ask for it, and you know my sales are moving up. You don’t have any complaints about my sales do you?
SALES MANAGER: Your sales are coming along fairly well but they could be better. On my last visit with you I noticed you didn’t try hard enough to close.
SALES REP: What do you mean? I try for a close in my own way. Each salesman has his own approach. You said yourself once we shouldn’t use a canned approach Anyway we happened to have a run of calls where the timing on many of them was wrong for closing. That wasn’t typical.

Here’s the unspoken communication:

You’re not interested in finding out the truth and improving yourself but only want to put on as good a front as possible and see how much you can get away with. You’ll reject any constructive criticism I offer. You’re untrustworthy in this respect and therefore I can’t be straight-forward with you but have to try to trap you into admitting your faults.

A Better Beginning to a Tough Conversation

Think of how different the discussion might have been if the district manager had opened with a statement like the following one:

“Bill, I wanted to talk to you about the closing of the sale. From my last visit with you I felt that you weren’t trying hard enough for a close. What’s your feeling about this?”

The chances are that the sales rep would have replied with something similar to the following: “I wasn’t aware of this. I thought I was closing. Can you tell me specifically what you mean?” This should lead both of them toward getting down to specifics and taking an objective look at what was done as compared with what the manager thinks should be done.

Tell Before You Ask

One common way sales managers create distrust is by asking their reps questions without telling them why they want/need the information. As a result, the other person becomes suspicious. He feels that perhaps the first person is trying to trap him in some way. (And often, the first person is).

A much better beginning to a sales manager/rep conversation is to share the purpose of the talk.  Not only will it speed up the communication process, it will send the right unspoken message – that you trust your sales rep to tell you the truth, and that you can be trusted to handle it.

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