The Power of Reflection in Sales
Mar 13 2018
My son recently joined a little league baseball team. This weekend brought the life lesson I had been waiting for ever since he moved up to the level where they keep score – they got beat. They didn’t just get beat. The mercy rule had to come into play for a few innings. It was a thorough thrashing.
As we left the game, I asked him the same three questions I always do A) Did you have fun? B) What do you think you did really well? And C) What do you think you should work on this week? Usually, his answers are “Yes,” “fielding and hitting” and “nothing really.”
This time, he just shrugged his shoulders and unenthusiastically told me what he knew I wanted to hear “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose… It’s okay because we had fun… I guess.” Before I could ask what went well, he cut me off with renewed confidence. “I did everything fine! The other team was just older and bigger!”
At six years old, it’s hard to lose, hard to reflect, and hard to self-diagnose. And for those us with a competitive streak, it doesn’t get any easier. I’ve had this conversation before as a manager and admittedly more than once as a seller.
- Why did we win this deal? “We had a great sales strategy. When we did our vendor presentation, we hit a home run. We really understood them.”
- Why did we lose this deal? “The other guys bought the business with a lower price.”
In our recent World-Class Sales Practices study, there is a common theme that runs through many of the key practices we uncovered: reflection helps with success.
Yet, most organizations are running too fast and too hard to take the time to collect the data and consider why they are getting the results they are getting, much less take the time to act on the insight.
- Only 38% (agree/strongly agree) assess why their top performers are successful
- 37% have a culture that supports continuous development of salespeople and leaders
- 31% surface specific reasons for customer churn
- 23% conduct win, loss, no-decision reviews on strategic opportunities
- 18% say their sales managers spend enough time coaching individuals
As a result, sales organizations find themselves stagnating. As an industry, sales is doing a lot of the same things and expecting a different result. It is not surprising that the percentage of salespeople making or exceeding quota has declined in each of the last five years.
As with many things, it all starts with culture. Does your organization drive and encourage, even require, reflection? Culture is a hard thing to make tangible. Cues to your culture live in the language you use, the heroes you publicize, the behaviors you reward, the investment choices you make and the messages of your leadership.
Questions to ask
If reflection, learning and improvement are central to your culture you will see it embedded in your sales organization. Ask yourself:
- Are you hiring salespeople who are wired to reflect? Are they open to coaching? Are they learners? Intellectually curious?
- Are after action reviews part of your process for closing out opportunities and projects?
- Are you making it easy for your sellers to access the data needed to get a clear picture of how they are doing? Does this data encompass the customer point of view?
- Is there a coaching system in place to help salespeople reflect on what is working and what isn’t? Are managers enabled to drive this system?
- Are there resources available for people to act on what they are identifying as areas for improvement?
In that same World-Class Sales Practices Study, we asked sales leaders about environmental change. 77% said that customer expectations were significantly or noticeably increasing. 64.1% reported a similar change in their competitive markets. Combine that with data from the 2018 Buyer Preferences Study which showed 6.4 customer contacts involved in a buying decision and you can see why sellers are being pulled in so many different directions.
However, without taking on reflection as an integral part of the way they operate, sales organizations aren’t going to be able to change fast enough to keep up.
Related Blog Posts:
- Focus on World-Class, Part 10: Our culture supports continuous development
- The Value of Win/Loss reviews, Part 1
- The Value of Win/Loss Reviews, Part 2: Top Five Suggestions
- Focus on World-Class, Part 2: Why are some of your salespeople so successful?
- Sales Coaching: Four Ideas to Improve Sales Coaching Effectiveness