Excerpted from Chapter Seventeen, Question Your Way to Sales Success,  by Dave Kahle

In part one of this series, I made the point that thinking better is the ultimate success skill for a sales person, and that good thinking always came from asking yourself the right questions and writing down the answers.  Sounds so simple.  Yet, only a handful of true professionals adhere to that discipline.

I listed some times to ask yourself questions, and some good questions to ask yourself, as they related to improving your personal sales effectiveness.  In this installment, I’m going to focus on questions to ask to drive your overall  improvement as a professional sales person.

          Personal Improvement Questions

The personal effectiveness questions that we reviewed in part one are based on the premise that you can choose to do things that are more effective than others.  You have a choice of how to invest your sales time, and you make those decisions about that investment by following certain thinking disciplines.  The focus is on the decision you make about what to do.

The questions in this section focus on you having the ability to do what you say you want to do.  In other words, before you can do something, you have to be able to do it.  If for example, you say, I’m going to play in a basketball game tomorrow, that is a decision that proceeds out of the first section – what to do.  It assumes, however, that you have the ability to play the game – that you can pass, dribble, shoot and defend.  It has to do with how well you can do that which you said you were going to do.  The focus is on the quality of what you do.

It is one thing to say, “I’m going to call on this huge potential account.”  It is quite another to say, “And I’m going to be very competent in that sales call.”

In this section, we are going to examine those questions that lead to your improvement in quality – in the core sales competencies that are used throughout the sales process and which, in conjunction with your decisions as to what to do, ultimately impact your performance as a sales person.  Superstar sales people do the right things, and then do them with quality – in the right way.

You’ll notice the questions we asked ourselves in the previous installment proceeded from the top down – from the general to the specific.  In other words, we determined, from an annual perspective, what we wanted to do, and then broke those down into ever more specific increments.

The questions we are going to consider in this section are best created in exactly the opposite method – from the specific to the general.  Let’s begin at the bottom, the most specific application we can think of, and then gradually compile our responses to move to the more general.

          Daily questions

Start with a sales call.  After every sales call, stop for a moment or two and ask yourself the two questions with which we ended the previous section:

What went well?  What could I have done better the next time?

Remember, good thinking is asking yourself the right questions, in the right sequence, and writing down the answers.  This is a great habit to develop –taking a moment after every sales call and asking and answering those two questions.  As you do so, you’ll uncover trends and patterns in your behavior that need to be addressed and improved.  You’ll also come to a more complete understanding of your strengths and how to parley them into greater results.

The act of asking and answering those questions also helps build a basic mind-set that is essential for the success of a field sales person.  Notice that the focus of the questions is on your behavior – “What could I have done…”

Sooner or later, every sales person must take responsibility for their own results.  Sales is a proactive profession – we act, and our actions get reactions.  If we act well, having made good choices for the investment of our sales time, and acted well, with quality, we get better results.  So, the ultimate determinant of our success is our actions.

That seems like such a simple truth – that our results are determined by our actions – that it hardly bears mentioning.  Unfortunately, I find expressions of the lack of this mindset everywhere.  In almost every company with whom I become involved, there is somewhere within that organization a belief that it is someone else’s problem, someone else’s decisions that impact the individual’s performance.  As long as we consider ourselves victims, we will never shoulder the responsibility to shape and improve our own behavior, and thus positively impact our results.  These questions, asked over and over, help to instill the idea deeply within our world-views that we are responsible for our actions and our results.

Having examined our performance in each sales call, we then examine the decisions and the interactions we made every day, by asking ourselves, at the end of the day, “What could I have done more effectively today?”

This is a broader question, which encompasses both our specific in-call behavior, as well as the decisions we made throughout the day.  For example, we could answer with “I really need to become better at asking questions.”  Or something like, “That road construction on I-94 is really a problem.  Next time, I’m taking the surface streets.”

Regardless, the answers to the question all focus on our behavior, and ascribe a future change in action.  Building the habit to continually ask these questions will lead us to decisions and actions that will eventually take us to exceptional levels of performance.

          Monthly review

When we dedicate the one-to-two hours per month to our planning session, we always begin with a reflection on the previous month.  The question I like here is this:  “Did I do what I said I was going to do?”  That question should be asked in general, for your overall performance for the month, but also specifically for each category in your plan.  For example, if you planned for the penetration of key accounts, your question should be “Did I do what I said I was going to do in this account?”  “In this one…?”  Each account should be examined.

If your plan called for the promotion of certain products or lines, then your question should be, “Did I do what I said I was going to do with regard to this line/product/service?”

Having answered that question, as specifically as your plan allowed, then you need to follow up with a key question, “Why or why not?”  This is where you uncover those actions that either contributed to, or detracted from, your successes.  It is just as important that you identify your strengths – the answers to the “why?’ question, as it is that you identify your weaknesses – the answers to the “why not?” question.

As you identify your strengths, you’ll naturally find ways to accentuate them and bring them into play in your sales routines.  For example, as a sales person, I discovered a real strength in working with, and speaking to, groups of customers and prospects.  That strength later came into fore as I moved into my practice as a trainer and speaker.  However, as a sales person, having discovered that strength I began to seek to find, and to create, opportunities to speak to groups of customers.  Rather than do three presentations to three different people within an account, for example, I’d try to bring them all together into a small group.  When I was selling to surgeons, rather than try to see each individually, I’d continually organize small scale seminars, and try to get a half of dozen of them together.

That just happened to be my particular strength.  The point is that you, like me, have strengths that can be creatively brought to bear on your task of increasing the company’s revenue in your accounts.  The process of asking these questions, each month, will uncover those strengths.

But it will also uncover those specific areas where you need to improve your competence.  I believe in basic sales competencies.  A sales person should have a minimum of competence in each of the basics, or he/she should not have the job.  Once you have achieved a minimum degree of competence at the basics, however, you are not finished.  You’ve only just begun.  Your life-long task is now to forever improve in those competencies.

My youngest daughter, for example, likes to play basketball.  You know, and I know, that she needs to have a minimum skill level in each of the basic competencies of basketball or she should not be in the game.  She needs to be able to dribble, pass, shoot and defend up to a minimum standard.  If not, putting her into the game will hurt the team.  However, once she has attained that minimum competency, she’s not done.  She’s only just begun.  She may be able to dribble to a minimum standard, but she can’t dribble as well a Michael Jordan.  If she is serious about the game, she can improve for the rest of her life.

So too for sales people.  There are several basic competencies that we use in each and every encounter with prospects and customers.  We need to have a minimum level of competence in each of them, and then forever improve in the competencies of connecting to the customer, learning about the customer, presenting to the customer, and agreeing with the customer.  These four basics provide an infrastructure for continuous and never-ending improvement.

When we ask the “Why not?” question, we will eventually and inevitably, identify the competencies in which we are most lacking.

The final question of this series is this:  “What should I do differently next month?”  And the objective answers to that question will lead us to a commitment to personal improvement that will, over time, eventually lead us to exceptional performance.

          Annual review

          What do I want to do better next year?” or, “Specifically, how do I want to become more competent and capable in the coming year?”

That question, asked as a culmination of the monthly questions that you asked and answered along the way, focuses on your professional growth and expresses the answer in terms of your competencies.  What do you want to become better at this year?  Is it ‘asking questions’, ‘time management’, ‘getting along better with your boss?’  You may want to use a more specific question:   “What one specific change can I make in my routines that will have the greatest impact on my performance?”

Ask yourself that question, in your annual thinking and planning retreat.  Think it through in depth and detail, and write the answer down.  Commit yourself to a year of focused personal improvement.  That’s good thinking.  And good thinking precedes good results.  And better results, is, after all, the ultimate goal for all our efforts.

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