Salespeople are masters of communication–or at least we like to think so. In reality, successful communication with customers, sales leaders, and peers requires continuous practice. The biggest blunder you can make is asking for something without any evidence to back up your request.
When we communicate without evidence, we’re responding reactively to events. Before you even bring up your concerns with others, make sure you fully understand your stance. If all you have is a feeling, no one’s going to buy into making any changes. Always support your stance with evidence.
When individual contributors first become managers, they tend to still operate on the carnal, emotional level of a sales rep. When a customer is upset or happy with their work, they latch onto those emotions.
Even though these conversations happened in isolation, they somehow influence how we perceive everything. We jump past thoughtful communication and believe something that we can’t actually explain with data. Soon, everything we see becomes proof of our original viewpoint and we spend our time searching for information that confirms it.
Here are 3 common complaints:
These are all hyperbolic statements. As a sales leader, my first response to a manager or sales rep who comes to me with these problems is, “okay, show me WHY you think this.” Showing up without an answer is the quickest way to show your immaturity and lack of experience as a new manager.
Clearly, this is bad news for your personal brand at the company. But the repercussions don’t stop there. What if you happen to be right? If you can’t communicate effectively, you’re doing a disservice to your reps and the business as a whole.
Even VPs will forget to communicate with evidence. No one is immune to leaps of logic. Unfortunately, when leadership acts without proof, it encourages bad behavior in the rest of the sales organization. If they can’t resolve this shortcoming, sales leaders are on the fast track out the door.
How do you avoid falling into this trap? Bring attention to something that you think needs action, awareness, or change, by having a clear and distinct rationale formed–and back it up with evidence. This applies to written or verbal communication.
If your customer tells you that they’re having an awful experience with your product, start by identifying what the problem actually is. Perhaps the login screen was broken or they’re worried about data security. Next, pinpoint what about this interaction worries you. Maybe you’re concerned that, if this product experience isn’t improved, more and more customers will start to complain, leading to churn.
If a rep says that their territory is bad, dig into why. Was the previous seller in charge of this territory creating negative experiences for customers? Does this put the new rep on the backfoot from the get go? If the call recordings show that customers are referring to the former account executive by name, you may need to offer customers some concessions to turn things around.
When reps approach me with their evidence in hand, I understand their stance much faster. Whether you’re communicating over email, verbally, or in cross functional meetings, you want to be thoughtful about what and how you communicate.
Having a process for finding evidence, like listening to call recordings, can help you identify what you’re asking for and how important it is. When 10 managers are all asking for something from the VP of Sales, this person will need to prioritize which problems to tackle first, or at all. You can also avoid embarrassing situations where you ask for something that ends up having no evidence to begin with.
Let me be clear, none of this means that your gut feelings are useless. Sometimes our spidey senses are tingling, especially when it comes to problems like morale issues. Be upfront and set the context that your concerns are coming from your gut. Admit that you could be wrong but that you’d be remiss not to share your thoughts.
Bad communication has consequences. On one hand, you end up working on issues that are, ultimately, not important. On the other hand, you erode any trust you’ve built with other teams and functions. They might start to feel like sales never has evidence to back up claims.
Conversely, good communication habits can help you accomplish so much more, like:
One final caveat - just because you have evidence of a problem, and even a solution in mind, it doesn’t mean that your boss has to believe the problem is real. In sales, we tend to have raw feelings and see the world as “good vs evil.” But not everyone will see things the same way you do.
We’ve talked about why it’s important to communicate with evidence, but what about how? Use this simple template to organize your thoughts so you can make a compelling case for change:
I believe this rep’s territory isn’t set up for success and won’t allow them to hit their quota. The reason is <evidence of problem>. Have a listen to these 3 call recordings where it was discussed <include links>.
My rep is concerned, rightfully so, that they have an uphill battle ahead of them due to <source of problem>. I think we should consider giving some of these customers a month free as a way to counteract their negative experience and improve their relationship with the new rep.