3 Questions to ask every salesperson on your team

See if you or your sales team can answer them

When preparing to do a sales training program, I always interview several people on the team.  This includes managers as well as a representative group of salespeople.  By representative, I mean new versus experienced as well as those selling multiple product lines.  That may be agronomy, feed, and fuel salespeople at a co-op.  It might be whole goods, compact equipment, and precision Ag salespeople at an equipment dealer.

During each of those interviews, I have a short window of time to discover as much as I can about them, their specific strengths/weaknesses, their specific market, and what they want to gain from the training program I’m putting together. 

Summarizing all these interviews helps me work with the sales manager to customize the best training for their specific team. 

In that limited amount of time to interview, I found three questions to be most helpful.  They are indicators of whether or not the salesperson knows what they are doing.  Their answers shed light on both their sales approach as well as the company’s go-to-market strategy. 

One important thing to remember:  The quality of the answers I get is not based on the years of experience or on their sales results.  I have asked them of twenty- or thirty-year veteran salespeople.  Some have great answers and some are very poor.  I have asked them of salespeople who have a lot of sales and those who were struggling with their numbers.  Again, I get great answers as well as poor answers from both of those groups.

For the individual salesperson, the questions help determine if they know what they are doing. 

For the whole team, the summarized observation from the questions helps determine if the company has a concerted effort in their sales approach to the market.  Does the sales team understand their products/services and how to position them to the correct customer segments?  Are they managing their territory for maximum ROI and ROT (Return on Time)?  Are they on a path of growth, holding steady, or declining?  Are they aware of how to “sell on purpose” versus “I just go into the office and do what needs to be done”?

Here are the three questions:

  1. Tell me about your territory.

This question gets a wide variety of answers.  So, I narrow in on geography, market segments, customer segments, competition, strongholds, and weak areas.  The answers reveal how this salesperson is approaching the market.  Are they strategic in their approach or letting sales just happen to them?  Most, I find are in the latter approach.  They have some idea of managing a territory but don’t seem to have a driven purpose for where it stands and where they want to take it.  They pick up success wherever they can find it.  Big and small customers, and everything in between.   Customers on the fringes of their geography as well as those close to home.  Time management goes out the window due to fighting fires, which always seem to pop up.  This often kills their sales efficiency and causes them to stop planning.  Not to mention the high cost of mileage expenses. 

Those answers lead right into my next question.

2. Are you at capacity?

Most salespeople struggle to understand the meaning of this question. Yet, the answer is critical to their sales efficiency and effectiveness.

Typically, when I ask this question, I get a, “What do you mean?” response.  I explain, with an easy question, “If it takes 100 customers to fulfill your role as a salesperson, are you at 90 and need 10 or are you at 10 and need 90?”  Now, I know it depends on how much each customer buys.  Sometimes, we have to turn those 100 customers into dollars of sales.  “If it takes 5 million in annual sales to be successful in an equipment sales territory, are you at 1 and need 4 million or are you at 4 and need 1 million more?” 

Their answer reveals a lot about them and the company.  Some don’t know the first number.  They don’t know what it takes to be considered a successful or competent salesperson in their company.

3. Why do your best customers buy from You? your Company?

The first part of this question gets at the heart of whether the salesperson has worked on their personal brand.  Do they know their personal strengths when they are out there selling to customers?  Or, are they just out there letting the market and sales happen to them?   

The second part tells us whether they understand their company’s go-to-market strategy.  It also tells us whether the salesperson knows and uses all the resources their company has to offer. 

As mentioned, don’t assume just because someone has been selling for 30 years that they know the answers to all of these questions.  Most of us in that category were given a sales territory and never really told the answers to the above questions.  It was more of a “Here’s the keys to your company pickup and a price list.  Good luck kid!” type of training program.  Many of us went out, bumped around, and found some sales.  Some of us found enough to keep our jobs, either by luck, skill, or blind ambition.  We just kept going until it clicked and we made our way.

The problem with that method is that in today’s market, it’s too expensive to burn through salespeople.  Not to mention, there aren’t as many salespeople knocking on our door looking for jobs.  Retain and develop the ones you have with just a few questions.  And if you don’t have time, call me.  I’d love to work with you and your team on the answers to these questions.

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