A few weeks ago I received the best phone call any coach or mentor can receive. I received a call from the first sales rep that I coached (as a “Menemsha sales trainer.”) Her name is Lori, and to protect her and the owner from a million recruiting calls, I won’t reveal her last name. We started working together in the fall of 2008 before wrapping things up some 18 months later. Unfortunately, and to my dismay, we hadn’t spoken in months. So naturally, it was great to hear from her and catch up. Let me share a little with you about Lori, my time working with her and how she is doing today. Perhaps we can all glean a lesson or two from this experience.
When I started working with Lori in the fall of 2008 she was running her book of business around $10K per week in GP. It was clear to me from the start that Lori had a strong work ethic, was diligent and truly cared about her customers. She was (and always has been) passionate about serving her customers. All excellent qualities in a sales person. In fact, I have now coached hundred of sales professionals in the IT staffing industry and I have yet to work with a rep that even comes close to Lori’s work ethic. Kudos kid-you rock!!
Like me, Lori hails from the Midwest. Strong Midwest values, full of integrity, hard working and a bit conservative. To put it mildly, Lori (and like many of us) didn’t like to venture outside of her comfort zone. She had her routine and that had worked reasonably well for her. But I felt she had untapped potential and part of my job and challenge was to tap in and unleash that potential. To do so required me to build her confidence so that she would feel comfortable operating outside of her comfort zone and try new approaches and adopt new ideas.
What made it so fun (and rewarding) working with Lori was the process we went through together. I would describe the “process” as a series of debates or sales pitches. I was the one always making the sales pitch for her try to a new approach or idea to overcome an objection or properly navigate a sales scenario. Lori naturally always had push back as to why she couldn’t or wouldn’t try these new ideas. Keep in mind that we met 1-2 times per week where we sat together for 4 hours a session. So when I say it was a process, it was a process. Lori questioned me like a NYC homicide detective questions a suspect-she was relentless! I literally had to think through and prepare my “sales pitches” before each session on how to get Lori to buy into my ideas so that she would feel comfortable in adopting and applying them. She made me think! But good ole’ Lori-she loved to push back and question me! Here is one my favorites.
One day Lori and I were reviewing her open job requirements and she shared with me that one of her clients was “on the fence” about whether or not they should hire her candidate. Historically, Lori had accepted “on the fence” as a “no” without even questioning the client. In this instance I didn’t let Lori off the hook. I pushed her to think about how she could probe the customer to further understand their concerns and see where that conversation may lead. Lori’s initial stance and thought process from the client’s initial feedback was this is a lost cause. Lori felt, the client didn’t say they want my candidate so they must not want my candidate. Here comes the fun part.
I distinctly remember explaining to Lori that part of our job (as the salesperson) is to simply get the client thinking from all angles about the pro’s and cons of hiring her candidate. Mind you, I didn’t suggest that Lori try to shove the candidate down the throat of the client and hire them. Instead, I suggested she use some open-ended probing questions to get the client to evaluate the pros and cons of hiring her candidate. I wanted Lori to use effective questioning to get the client to play out all of the scenarios of hiring or not hiring her candidate. I actually didn’t care if the client hired her candidate or not, that was not the point.
I further reasoned with Lori by saying that “the job of a sales person is to influence (not twist their arm) the client and help them make the decision that is best for them and their company.” How did Lori respond to this advice? I don’t recall her exact words but in essence Lori said, “You can’t influence the client’s decision and decision making process. That is impossible. The client is going to do what they want to do.” My response to Lori was “what you’re saying is basically challenging the entire profession of sales. The sales profession is based on influencing a client’s thought process and how and what decisions they make.” Lori just gave me her typical skeptical stare down. Clearly she needed to think about this thought and process it.
Now I don’t actually remember if Lori closed this specific deal or not. But it’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that later in the day Lori called the client and had the conversation. For her, this was getting WAY out of her comfort zone. Lori asked the client open-ended probing questions and pushed them to really think about the pros and cons of hiring her candidate. She got her client thinking. The conversation allowed her to build more rapport with the customer and it demonstrated that she could problem solve with the client. Lori gained credibility from having this conversation. She was not simply an “order taker” but a problem solver with ideas and insights to share that were valuable to the client. The conversation was full of integrity and it was open and honest. Lori built value into the conversation for the client.