How Your Greatest Sales Skill Is Curiosity and More Tips for April

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MANAGEMENTCoach the Coach

With the internet now delivering much of the product knowledge and “value” that sales associates once provided, the dynamics of the sales floor have changed. Selling and people skills are at a premium, and it’s up to sales managers to provide such coaching, says Wharton business school’s Linda Richardson. Her studies have shown big payoffs when sales managers upgrade their coaching (not selling) skills. “If you can’t afford a training course, do e-learning, or buy books,” she says. “Even the smallest companies can, and should, develop their sales managers.”

MOTIVATIONMake It Easy to ‘Show Up’

There’s something in the phrase “showing up” that seems to demand grit and buckling down. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says James Clear, author of the bestseller Atomic Habits. “One of the things I recommend in the book is called the two-minute rule,” he told the podcaster Tim Ferriss recently. “And it says, just take whatever habit you’re trying to build and scale it down to something that takes two minutes or less to do. So ‘Read 30 books a year’ becomes ‘Read one page’ or ‘Meditate five days a week for 30 minutes’ becomes ‘Meditate for 60 seconds.’” You’re just trying to master the art of showing up.

ADVICETick Tock

If you read a good idea in any of these pages (or elsewhere), you now have 48 hours to make a change within your business. Otherwise, the idea is likely to fall through the cracks, says INC. columnist and veteran business owner Norm Brodsky. Get to it. The clock is officially ticking.

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OPERATIONSUnburden Yourself

Indianapolis-based advertising agency The Heavyweights asked employees to move their desks every four to six months to encourage people to review their status quo. “When you move, you unburden yourself with things you no longer need to drag around,” founder John Luginbill explained to The Wall Street Journal’s Small Business section. Could you do something similar?

SALESCuriosity Is Key

Probably no piece of sales advice is repeated more often than “listen more.” But what’s often omitted is exactly what the salesperson should be listening for. Jim Lattin, a professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, says the answer is threefold: You need to learn what is important to the customer; what is negative about his or her current situation; and what she thinks might constitute an ideal solution. “With this information, we can create a stark contrast between the customer’s current situation and their ideal. And then map our product onto the customer’s ideal solution,” he says. But what usually happens is salespeople just make assumptions without exploring the hints provided by the customer and never allowing themselves to gain this sweet spot. “Learning to be authentically curious is thus critical for effective selling,” Lattin says.

OPERATIONSBack Up Like a Pro

In most things in life, good enough is fine. But not when it comes to backing up your files. “Be a pro when it comes to storing and saving your data,” says Kevin Kelly in his excellent little book, Excellent Advice for Living. “Back up your backup.” Kelly recommends you have at least one physical backup and one backup in the cloud. And if you really want peace of mind keep more than one of each. “How much would you pay to retrieve all your data, photos, notes, if you lost them? Backups are cheap compared to regrets,” he says.

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MANAGEMENTShut Up

If one person is talking for more than half of a staff performance review (and that’s unlikely to be the employee), it’s not a conversation; it’s a lecture. Instead try this: prompt with something open-ended and just listen to what the staff member has to say, says Mike Carden of performance management company Sonar 6. “If you’re dealing with under-performance there is a further reason to zip it. If you never stop yapping, the team member receiving the feedback is uninvolved and off the hook. All they need to do is listen, nod occasionally, and then go right back to doing things the way they always have.”

CUSTOMER RELATIONSChange the Scale

If you’ve sought feedback from customers and they’ve only ever told you you’re fantastic, you may want to try what Gentle Giant Moving Co. does. Ask customers to rate your business on a 14-point scale. “They could circle 12, meaning you’re excellent but you could be better. You have to do everything you can to find out,” the company’s CEO Larry O’Toole recently told INC. magazine.

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