“Many companies have sales departments. Fewer have sales forces,” says Chris Lytle, founder of Apex Performance Systems and author of The Accidental Salesperson (AMACOM, 2000). The discrepancy between the two categories is more than a matter of semantics, says Lytle. It’s the difference between being reactive and proactive, between being commodity-oriented and profit-minded. Salespeople who confine themselves to the reactive arena are stuck at what Lytle calls level 1. Members of a real sales force, however, become catalysts for their companies and for their customers.
It’s these relationships with customers that truly define what level your salespeople are at and what kind of job they’re doing, he continues. “The more level 1 relationships you have, the more you’re in a reactive, commodity mode. You’re out of control of your business,” he explains.
So how do managers help their team members make their way up the food chain? First, says Lytle, “Help them know what a good relationship with a customer is like. Define for them what good is; be specific. Most managers aren’t able to describe in behavioral terms what they need from their salespeople. They’re able to describe it in numerical terms,” says Lytle, noting that salespeople need details on how they’re supposed to act before they can change their approach.
It’s not enough to ask for more client contact. “We have so many meaningless meetings with people,” he says. “If you just dial the phone and leave a dumb message, it doesn’t matter how many calls you make.” Instead you must look beyond the bottom line into what Lytle calls the game within the game. That means considering criteria like the quality of the interaction, the level of the relationship and the degree of penetration into the account.
The next step is to ask team members to identify where they think each of their customer relationships stands. Then discuss where and why the gaps between the ideal and reality exist, and develop a plan for moving in the right direction. “Part of the manager’s job is to lay out the tracks. ‘Here’s where we see you, and here’s where you need to be,'” explains Lytle.
Relationships are made of dozens of interpersonal exchanges, recaps Lytle. He encourages managers and salespeople alike to go so far as to rate each and every phone call and meeting. “It really is on a meeting-by-meeting, client-by-client, relationship-by-relationship basis,” he says.
Often, just looking at the reality of the interaction and the relationship is enough to motivate the salesperson to raise the bar on their relationships. “All of a sudden they aren’t satisfied with having all these level 1 relationships anymore,” says Lytle.
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