How close are your average performers to your best in your company?

What’s the difference between the best & worst, whether you measure that by how happy your customers are after talking to them, or in gross revenue, or in the lifetime value of their clients?

These are often abstract questions, but the whole of my work is in not only making them tangible but making them actionable.

Let me give you an example of that from one of my clients.

I talk a lot about internal benchmarking and role-playing, and today I’m going to give you a peek behind the curtain of how we’ve used this process with large clients to dramatically improve the performance of their sales teams” and customer-facing staff.

I was working with a B2B manufacturing client, and one of our initiatives was to improve the closing ratios of their sales team. It was very evident from early on that just doing a training session wouldn’t get them their desired results.

They’d tried various training initiatives before, and like most companies found that the investment was either wasted or that it was impossible to tell the difference in behaviors or results pre and post-training.

After some initial discussions, it became apparent that while these salespeople were good at getting in front of potential buyers, they varied wildly in their ability to ask the right questions to get to the heart of what mattered to the prospects.

Now, savvy readers of the Tuesday Tidbits will recognize that there are many options we could have taken here–perhaps we could have done some work to create better processes to identify high vs. low-quality prospects.

Or, we could have done some work on the sales process as a whole, to identify the gaps at each stage from identifying prospect through to closing the deal.

Or, we could have reached out to happy customers, and prospects who didn’t convert, to find the differences.

Or we could have put much better sales management into place, watching for activity & identifying the different skill sets that each salesperson needed coaching in.

In this instance, we decided to do the last piece–looking at the difference between the top performers and everybody else. Everybody on the team did 1:1 role-plays with me.

The differences were striking. Most of the low performers gave pitches instead of having conversations.

That was strike one.

Strike two, was that those pitches involved trying to get the prospect a PDF pitch deck or brochure as fast as possible.

Sales isn’t baseball–two strikes is two too many.

In the team of 13, there were two very high performers, and both did things very differently from the rest.

They barely touched the pitch deck.

One started the conversation with me by using a variation of an opening I learned from my mentor, Alan Weiss, which opens a meeting with the question, “I’m curious, why did you agree to meet with me today?” and then used the answer to that question to drive the rest of the meeting.

They were able to sell well, to do on the fly needs analysis, not to accept easy brush-offs.

They were able to dig out of me what I was looking for as a buyer and were able to change their approach based on new information I gave them.

In short, what we learned was that this team (except for the superstars) had a real problem in having value generating conversations, and we set up a program to reverse engineer how the superstars were able to alter their approaches on the fly and teach this to everybody else.

Of course, the average performers didn’t reach the superstars’ level, but they did see a tremendous increase in their closing rates, and in their ability to provide value to a much wider prospect base than they could previously.

This weeks challenge is simple: Do the role-play exercise with your own sales team (or customer service team; or a segment of your retail employee team; whoever is customer facing!)

Create one scenario that they face often, and play your part the same each time.

For example, You may do a “First meeting with a reluctant prospect” scenario, where you aren’t very forthcoming with the salesperson about why you’re meeting with them, what you want, etc.

The key is to set up a realistic boundary (“I am meeting with him because my boss told me to, but I don’t think there’s any value” would be a tough one, but valuable!)

Or, you may do a “new customer” scenario in a retail situation, where the customer enters a store ready to spend but needs help. What questions would they ask to get the heart of what would be valuable to this customer?