In addition to the sales process engineering changes that Levitt Safety made (see the Levitt Safety case study), they also implemented three tactical practices that directly improved the productivity of their inside salespeople.
Direct sales supervision
Levitt has learned that a manager for an inside sales group must provide lots of hands-on supervision. Instead of sitting in an office, their sales supervisor sits with the inside sales reps. The supervisor sees everything that’s happening, gives direct feedback, and y-jacks into their calls.
We ended up bringing in a manager with experience managing inside sales and rather than sticking him in an office where the previous manager had been, he’s in the pit with the rest of the inside sales group. So he’s hearing everything that’s going on, he’s seeing everything that’s going on, and he’s available for quick chats. What he actually does is once or twice a month he will spend an entire day with the rep in the same way that a traditional sales manager will go out and make field sales calls for an entire day with a rep. But instead of going out on calls, our new manager sits down at the desk with the inside sales rep and spends the entire day with them. He watches them, coaches them, mostly listening and then at the end of the day provides feedback on what he’s seen.
Levitt also uses role-playing to train and coach their inside sales reps. When you have to make decisions and act quickly, you don’t have time to think about how to perform. You need to respond quickly and know what to do.
John Buelow of the Shapiro Negotiations Institute explains that the use of role-play in training has three benefits:
- It builds confidence through the simulated experience with many different situations.
- It develops listening skills because participants must not only listen to the words, they also have to pay attention to body language and other non-verbal cues.
- It fosters creative problem-solving as salespeople encounter novel and difficult situations.
Although Levitt Safety has used role-playing to train their salespeople, they admit they are still learning. In particular, they have realized that it’s better to first have a trained actor or consultant demonstrate the role, then let the salespeople try it.
Role-playing is now something we’ve implemented as a standard part of when we do sales training. We’re less then perfect at it, to be honest. I believe role playing is important to internalize the learning. I’m also starting to realize is that it you don’t want the blind leading the blind. Initially we would do a segment in the sales training session, then we would invite a couple of people in the audience to role-play based on what they learned. Unfortunately, often it was pretty poor, although they would get a nice ovation at the end of it. What I try to do now is that at the end, have the person who is actually doing the training do the role play first so they can actually see how the training translates into a sales call by a person who actually knows what they are talking about. Then after that you can invite the audience to take part.
In addition to hiring consultants and actors, Buelow recommends that companies use actual locations, record the role play so salespeople can see themselves, and imitate real work scenarios.
Protected calling time
Without some protected time for calling, inside sales reps are vulnerable to a constant stream of interruptions from people and electronic messages. These interruptions make it difficult to get into the zone of deep work that’s required to make multiple calls to customers. Levitt instituted two protected times per day for their inside sales reps, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
We bought big foam hand-things that inside sales reps put up to ward other internal people away from our sales team. We wanted them to have an hour and a half of pure calling time to just bang out a whole bunch of calls. Otherwise there is so much that can distract an inside sales person in terms of responding to email, responding to internal messages, responding to people who walk over to their desk. We wanted them to get into the zone and get focused. That seems to have worked well for them to have both a morning and an afternoon calling time.
Sales process engineering takes time and experimentation. While you are working on the long project of shifting sales from craftwork to teamwork, you can implement these three tactics right now and see immediate results.