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Ad Sales Seminars vs. Coaching

Posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 10:00 PM

Part III -- Providing feedback that will improve sales performance.

By William Dunkerley

Providing feedback can potentially boost a salesperson's performance. But if handled clumsily, it can precipitate a setback.


Here are some basic guidelines to promote a positive result:

a. Time. Be sure to select a time for the feedback session when neither you nor the salesperson will be feeling pressure to do something else. Pick a mutually convenient time and allow sufficient time for the session. Don't try to do it in less than half an hour. Depending on circumstances, you might want to allocate an hour, but more than an hour is probably too long. A feedback session can be intense. Fatigue will set in for you both if it takes too long.

b. Privacy. A lot of sensitive issues can come up during a feedback session. It is very important that the feedback recipient feels secure that potentially embarrassing information will be dealt with confidentially. Assure the person that the physical setting for the session provides privacy.

c. Attitude. A performance feedback session is not your opportunity to unload your frustrations with a salesperson. It is an opportunity for you to help improve the salesperson's productivity. You should approach it with a mindset of helpfulness, not of reprimand. Be prepared to use both candor and objectivity in dealing with the salesperson.

d. Scope. You may have observed the salesperson make just one presentation or perhaps a half dozen. Neither is the right number for conducting a feedback session. Just one observed presentation may provide an example that is not representative. Six presentations are too many to cover. I recommend that you go over no less than two and no more than three presentations during your session.

e. Timeliness. Schedule a feedback session no later than two to three weeks after the observed presentations. If too much time passes, recollections will not be as fresh and the impact of the feedback will be less powerful. The factual and emotional content of the recollections will have faded.

Reviewing the Presentation

Now you're set to review with a salesperson two or three sales presentations that you've observed. Either you've accompanied him to an in-person presentation, or you've had her record a presentation made by telephone or teleconference. Here are some tips on how to proceed. I'll use the example of a sales presentation that was recorded.

Begin by framing the purpose of the session. Indicate that you are doing this to be constructive and that the objective is to help him increase productivity. Invite the salesperson to identify any specific objectives he may have for the session and to discuss in advance any general concerns he has about the sales presentations you will be reviewing. This may elicit either some bragging or defensiveness. Be an attentive listener to such comments, but don't engage him conversationally about them. Just let him get them off his chest.

Now it's time to listen to the recording. For the first presentation under review, indicate that you will first play the recording in its entirety and then go back and listen to it point by point.

Before you replay the recording, offer at least a couple of positive general observations. Do that even if your overall impression was negative. It is important to set a positive tone.

Handling the Feedback

On the replay, there are some things you should be attentive to. A common shortcoming is that the salesperson did not cover all the elements needed for a successful presentation. As you're replaying the recording point by point, consider the following:

--Did the salesperson successfully get through to the decision maker, or was she screened out by a secretary or assistant?

--How well did the salesperson do in establishing rapport with the prospect?

--Was an adequate probe conducted to find out what needs or interests of the prospect could be served by advertising in your publication?

--Were feature-benefit statements presented targeted to those needs or interests?

--Did the salesperson clearly attempt a close?

--If there was resistance, did the salesperson handle it successfully?

--Was another close attempted?

Each time you hear a problematic handling of any of those elements, stop the recording and discuss it.

If you are going to point out a problem, state it in terms of the salesperson's behavior, not in terms of his or her personality. Here's what I mean. Let's say the salesperson did a poor job of establishing rapport. Perhaps she sounded stiff or scripted. Don't say, "You have a stiff personality." Instead, offer to discuss techniques that she can incorporate into her sales behavior for establishing a warmer connection with the prospect.

Whatever the problematic area, don't just discuss it. Set up a role play to explore different ways of handling the problem area. Simply talking about it may give your salesperson an intellectual understanding of the problem, but it may not translate into a change in her behavior.

A frequent cause of failure in a sales presentation is an unsuccessful probe. If you try to sell an orange to someone who needs an apple, you won't have a lot of luck. The probe is intended to find out what the prospect needs. That allows the salesperson to pitch your publication as a solution for satisfying those needs. This is basic targeting 101.

Another common problem is the close. Sometimes a salesperson may just skip it. If her sense is that the prospect is putting up a lot of resistance, is sounding grouchy or impatient, or seems inattentive, the salesperson may predict that this is a lost cause and fail to ask for the order. That way, she can avoid an anticipated rejection. But her sense of how things are going may be off, and a sale may be lost if she doesn't go for a close. The salesperson should always ask for the order.

How often should you conduct feedback sessions with a salesperson? That depends on his performance. Even for a star performer, it is wise to have a session each year. It will help to give the salesperson the impression that you maintain an interest in his work and are ready to help whenever necessary. Besides, you might learn something from him.

At the other end of the spectrum, when you have a salesperson who is a nonperformer and on the verge of dismissal, and if you still believe that the individual has development potential, it could be productive to do a session each week.

You may encounter problem areas that haven't been covered in this article. Or you may have some questions or concerns about the overall process of conducting feedback sessions. If so, please write to us. We'll try to address your concerns in a helpful way. Write to concerns@stratnewsletter.com.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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