Doing pretty much anything as a team has its challenges. Whenever more than one person is involved, there's got to be communication and coordination – and that's not always easy. We see this come up for team sales calls all the time.
There's any number of reasons you might be taking someone on a sales call with you:
- You're riding along with your boss, so they can observe how you work
- You're riding along with an expert, who's going to add an extra layer of knowledge for your customer or prospect
- You're riding along with someone less experienced than you, so they can learn
In any and all of these cases (and others), it's important that the two people riding together are on the same page – otherwise, we run into issues.
When Team Calls Go Bad
All too often, what we hear about in coaching are the team calls that don't go well.
- A younger salesperson feels like their boss took charge of the conversation, making them feel insignificant in the eyes of their customer
- A subject-matter expert feels like they didn't get enough information from the account manager prior to the customer call, and they weren't as prepared as they would have liked
- A manager isn't sure what role to take in the sales call or how to best support their employee with coaching
In these situations, both parties can end up feeling invaluable, resentful or disappointed. Instead of creating an opportunity for learning and value-add, we find ourselves wishing we had just done it ourselves.
There are tons of reasons why you'd want to do a team call, though, so just throwing our hands up and avoiding it in the future is not the answer. Instead, we get to be purposeful about how we communicate, so everyone finds value in the experience.
5 Steps to More Effective Team Sales Calls
Instead of assuming you know how team calling will go, set aside time – either a few days ahead or even in the truck on the way to your first stop – to walk through these five steps.
As you're doing that, remember – it's not just the most senior person's responsibility to lead this conversation. Anyone who wants the most productive team call possible can take the initiative and ask the questions.
1. Get Clear on Success Criteria
It's not uncommon for both parties in a team-calling situation to have their own goals for the day. One person may want to answer a specific question for the customer, while the other may be thinking this is about getting them to an upcoming event. If you're not aligned, you may be talking over and around each other – creating frustration and not serving the customer.
Prior to the visit, have a conversation about what you're out to achieve – what you should walk away knowing or doing, and what the customer should walk away having experienced.
2. Identify the Role Each Person Will Play
This is a big one. It's the constant "Who's taking the lead?" question and it creates a lot of resentment and frustration in the aftermath if not answered ahead of time.
Decide who's leading the conversation, who's filling a consultative role, how questions are going to be set up, and the type of questions each person will answer. Obviously this is best-case scenario and you may have to make adjustments on the fly, but coming up with a game plan will make all parties feel more valuable – both for each other and for the customer.
Something to consider: It's my belief that the account manager/salesperson should always own the customer relationship. That means, in team calls, they should be the one introducing their "guest", setting up why that person is there, and guiding the conversation to its desired end point (providing context, transitions and next steps). They don't need to know everything, but they should be seen by the customer as the person who brings you the resources you need. If you're the manager or expert riding along, be careful not to undercut that person's relationship with their customer.
3. Provide Guidance on How You Want to Handle Feedback
One common reason for a ride-along is a manager going out on sales calls with a direct report for evaluation. This is hugely valuable for both people – the manager gets to see how their employee works in a real-life situation and the employee gets some coaching that is highly applicable.
What we see happen on many of these types of ride-alongs, though, is the manager can feel the need to "save" the salesperson when they see them struggling (subject-matter experts can do this too, by the way). Sometimes that's necessary, but sometimes we jump in too quickly – robbing the salesperson of the customer's respect and trust.
Before you get to the customer's location, have a conversation about how you (the manager) plan to give feedback or how you (the employee) want to receive feedback.
Some things to ponder...
- Try not to correct your employee or diminish their input in front of their customer. We can't always avoid this (see #4), but if you're constantly correcting or challenging their recommendations, all that customer thinks is, "I guess my salesperson doesn't know anything because their boss has to keep correcting them."
- Try to save feedback, coaching and behavior correction for when you get back to the truck (unless it's detrimental to the customer experience – see #4). Remember – if they got themselves in a pickle on a normal sales call, you wouldn't be there to save them. Part of your observation gets to be seeing how they handle adversity.
- If it's important to provide a different perspective in the moment, be purposeful with your language. For example, "That's a good suggestion. Another option you might consider is..."
- After the sales call, have the employee share what they thought went well and what they would change BEFORE you provide feedback. Asking questions first can help you identify where your coaching best fits.
4. Identify the "Save Me" Signals
There are times where the conversation is going nowhere or you run into a customer objection that the salesperson may not know how to answer. There are also times (hopefully they're rare) where the salesperson provides inaccurate information or is handling the situation inappropriately, and it has the potential to have a negative impact on the customer or company. In these situations, we have to be watching for the "save me" signals.
Some of these signals can be identified in a conversation ahead of time – pointed questions, key phrases, gestures. Especially as a manager, you can set expectations ahead of time about what situations you'll intervene in and when you'll let them handle it. Other "save me" signals you have to watch for in the moment (the look of panic, the flat-out incorrect information) and step in.
At the end of the day, the customer experience is top priority. If someone – doesn't matter if it's the salesperson, the manager or the subject matter expert – says something that could negatively impact that, it's our responsibility to (respectfully) save the situation and then have a conversation afterwards about why you needed to intervene.
5. Extend Grace Where Needed
Here's the big thing to remember – we all screw this up from time-to-time. We step into savior mode too quickly. We don't always have the right answers and need to be corrected. We forget that we're there to add value, not to own the relationship.
The question is: will we extend grace to each other and learn from the experience when we fall short?
Too often, we forget to extend grace and we tell stories instead.
"They don't know what they're doing."
"He doesn't trust me."
"She thinks she knows it all."
These stories don't fix the issue.
In those moments where someone falls short, recognize that we're all human and then initiate a conversation about what you saw, how it made you feel and what you'd like to see instead.
"I noticed on that call that each time I made a suggestion, you countered it with something different. The story I'm telling myself is that you don't trust me to make recommendations, which makes it hard for me to feel confident in myself. My guess is that wasn't your intention, so I was wondering what thoughts you have on how we can take a more balanced approach to the next call? Or can you help me understand what you think my role should be in these sales conversations?"
Will that be easy? Probably not. But it's what can move the relationship forward.
As Brene Brown would say, conversations like these are critical for daring leadership, no matter what your seniority or role is. Leaning into the discomfort, setting expectations, getting clarity – aka taking the Appropriate Effort – to learn and grow is what really takes us from where we are to where we want to be.
How do you make sure team calls are effective for you, the customer and the person you're riding with? Have you ever overstepped your bounds and had to correct it later? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Photo Credit: Jake Blucker on Unsplash