Monday, July 31, 2000

The Success Coach

With support, any employee can be effective in sales

By Michael A. Crom
Gannett News Service

        Question: Our company has just announced that everyone with customer contact will be expected to become involved in the sales process. I manage the technical support function, and my employees are especially nervous about this.

        Several say they're planning to quit because they got into this work to help people, not sell to them. The company is planning some basic sales training, but I need to help my people get over their fear. — Suzanne.

        Answer: Your company is pursuing a state-of-the-art business tactic. The theory is that everyone, no matter what his or her job, has some role in selling the product. Following this theory, your department would naturally become more involved on the front-end of a sale because your employees have such close contact with customers on a second-by-second basis.

        The problem is that your employees are being asked to do a job for which they were not hired. In addition, sales has an unfortu nate reputation as being a profession for pushy extroverts. Your task thus becomes one of building their confidence while convincing them that they do not have to change personalities to become solid sales professionals — good salespeople are helping people by leading them to the right product.

        Try these tactics:

        • Show your enthusiasm for the change and your support for their new roles. Enthusiasm is contagious. Every time the subject comes up, tell your employees how excited you are about it. Emphasize how their skills and knowledge make them perfect. Tell them you know how well they'll do because sales is just a small extension of customer support. Leave no doubt in their minds that this is exciting, fun and a chance to grow.

        • Use role plays. In our Sales Advantage course, role play exercises are a crucial part of the training. The participants can practice new skills in a safe, nonthreatening setting. They can work together to develop “scripts” for overcoming objections unique to their industry. They naturally begin to support one another and pass along tactics they've found successful.

        I would encourage you to have monthly role-play meetings in which your staff brings in especially sticky problems they've had to deal with. See how several people would react to the situation, then discuss what seemed to work best.

        • Coach them carefully. Even with good training, your employees will be nervous when they enter the real world of sales. The best way to help them conquer fear is to work with them side by side for a while. Coach them while they work and give them nothing but positive reinforcement. Eliminate all criticism — even constructive criticism — until they are comfortable with their new tasks.

        • Keep them focused. All successful salespeople work a plan. They know what their goals are and work backward from them, defining exactly what tactics to pursue to meet the goals. This includes helping them prioritize accounts and providing tools such as sales literature and scripts that can increase efficiency. It also means developing a departmental vision and ensuring every activity flows from that vision.

        Your task is not easy, but these tactics are a strong cornerstone for building your sales management skills.

        If you have a question or need advice on a certain topic, please e-mail us at


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