Selling Strategies: Back to Basics

At the builder show in Orlando I got the sense that builders were nervous about the market and where it was headed.
By Rick Heaston, Rick A. Heaston and Company | March 31, 2006

Wow. Another trip to Orlando, another builder show; most of all, it was another chance to see old friends, check out new products and get a feel for what was happening in the industry. Everything seemed the same at first, but then it hit me. Something was drastically different.

Now I'm not talking about the type of difference that caused you to stop, stand still and mumble, "Holy cow." What I sensed about was much more subtle. It was that graveyard feeling you got when you knew something was wrong but couldn't put your finger on it. But finally it hit me. I knew what it was. In a word, builders were nervous.

Builders were nervous about the market and where it was headed. But most of all they were nervous about their sales and where they might be headed. I knew I was right when I heard a few of the speakers and their topic — "Back to the basics."

It Seems Funny to Me

Whenever builders get nervous about the market, trainers from everywhere seem to jump in and scream, "It's time to go back to the basics." Now I'm pretty good with a story line, but that's one that gives me trouble. Why go back to the basics? Why not go beyond the basics?"

Sure, I understand what everyone's talking about. That they're referring to going back to the fundamentals of meeting, greeting, presenting and closing. That's not my problem. My problem has to do with questions.

Why would you have to "go back" to something that's supposed to be happening in the first place? And if it's supposed to be happening in the first place, what happened to cause it to stop?

Why would anyone want to go back to a process that has been around for 20 years, is used by their competitors and hasn't come anywhere close to producing breakthrough results?

I understand that many of you are coming off a hot market. But even if that's the case, there's still a question you need to ask yourself: Isn't a hot market a wonderful time to practice and develop advanced selling skills?

How Great Would It Be?

Think back to when you were growing up and see if the phrase "do over" rings a bell. You were playing with a friend when suddenly you realized the outcome might not be what you expected and you quickly cried, "Do over! Do over!" And who ever you were playing with grudgingly replied, "Ok, but just once."

The good old days; too bad they're gone. How great would it be to watch your associate chase his customer out the door all the while shrieking, "Do over! Do over! I want a do over!" Unfortunately, as great as it would be, it's not in the "grown-up" book of rules. This means you're stuck with a couple of choices.

Your first choice is to go back to the basics. You'll have to reinvest in terms of money and resources. In other words, pay for training twice, all the while knowing that your reinvestment will only get you back to your original competitive position.

Your second choice is the same as the first. Go back to the basics. Only this time it's not the same. If you're going to go back to the basics, why not go beyond? Why not do something that will move you ahead of your competition? If you can't have a "do over" how about the next best thing?

If you look close enough, you'll stumble on a very interesting fact. A great sales manager can change the fortunes of your company. There's lot's of proof that if you have a good sales manager, you've struck gold.

It's easy to boil a sales manager's value down to a couple basic differences. First, they can either articulate where they are and where they want to go, or they can't. And second, they can either coach, or they can't. So if you want to go beyond the basics, you'll need a sales manager that can put together a performance plan and one that can coach.

Planning for Beyond the Basics

A performance plan is nothing more than a reference point. On one end of the scale, it tells you where you started and on the other end where you want to go. I know it might not seem like much, but without it you're doomed.

Without a performance plan you'll either fall so behind your competition you can't catch up, or you'll end up using an increasing amount of incentives to just to make your sales numbers — or maybe both. To avoid either disaster, here's what you'll need to do. Start by defining the basics. In my world, they are: Opening the sale, the interview process and closing the sale.

In your program it might be meeting/greeting, qualifying, demonstrating and closing. It really doesn't matter as long as you have or develop a numerical method of measuring your associate's performance in each of the areas. No more "yes, they did it" or "no, they didn't do it."

Numerical performance scores can be mined in many ways. You can convert scores from audio or video shopping, performance skits, role plays or customer questionnaires. The important thing is that you quit the "yes/no" format and go numerical. You need to have a number score for each associate for opening, interview and closing or your definition of the basics.

All that's left for you to do is answer the three or four key questions that define whatever you call the basics. Next, you'll compare the scores of question one to question two. The difference between the questions will tell you what you need to achieve.

To finish the plan, you need to decide what skills or critical success behaviors, if any, are needed to address and improve the performance of each team member.

The Final Step

Your plan will help you determine where you need to go and the art of coaching will help you get there. A sales manager's main responsibility is to help his associates become better sales people. And sales managers don't need to be trainers to make this happen — they need to be coaches.

Coaching can be defined many different ways. But in my book, coaching is a series of activities that are designed to improve the sales performance of a particular associate. And to make this happen, I vote for easy and to the point. So here is what you need to achieve to be a great coach:

  • Explain the skill you want your associate to model
  • Model the skill that you just explained for the sales person
  • Ask your associate to model the skill you just modeled

From this point on, all you need to do is repeat the process until you achieve the results you expect.

Some final Thoughts

The days of the "do over" have passed us by, but how about the next best thing? How about creating an advantage your competition won't be able to match. It's as easy as planning and coaching.

After all, isn't it about time that the sales department joins the rest of your organization and become accountable? In the end it what you could call going beyond the basics.

Author Information
Rick is president of R.A. Heaston and Company, a sales training and marketing firm. You can reach him at


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