Jackie Stone

Recently, a colleague forwarded an email to me that arrived in his inbox from the Harvard Business Review. The headline read, “Today’s Tip: Pressuring Your Sales Team Can Be Counterproductive.”

Wow, did that statement ever resonate with me. My colleague’s accompanying note said, “Doesn’t that suit your sales philosophy to a T, Jackie?” And he was 100 percent right.

In my long-standing work training and coaching sales staff at senior living communities, I have absolutely found that turning up the pressure to get team members to “make the numbers” doesn’t help, and in fact, is often seriously detrimental. As the Harvard Business Review article went on to explain, it’s not about closing sales at any cost; it’s about training and coaching salespeople to sell more effectively, not harder. Get the process right, and the sales flow from there.

Selling Isn’t Like the Movies

Perhaps it’s movies about high-pressure sales environments — “Jerry Maguire,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Boiler Room” and the list goes on — that add to the impression that the most effective way to make salespeople reach sales goals is to crank up the heat and dangle money in front of them. But I’ve found that pressuring people and setting impossible goals for them doesn’t work well. In fact, pressure adds stress and anxiety, which hinders productivity, and setting unrealistic goals, no matter what the reward, demotivates people because they feel that success is unattainable.

Another unfortunate side effect of pressuring your salespeople is that they tend to turn around and pressure prospects, and when you become aggressive and push prospects to make a decision, they push back. In a category where the sales funnel to a decision can require an average of 24 touches and potentially two years to reach that decision, it’s much more important to build a relationship of trust with your prospects and lead them through the sales journey than to strong-arm them.

Same Team

When I train and coach sales staff, I put myself on their team. I work alongside them, get to know their selling style and where they might need additional training and support. Do they need help in selling the appointment over the phone? Or are their conversion rates of getting the appointments good, but their closing rate on getting deposits needs to improve?

I find out what I need to do to support salespeople in reaching their goals and being successful. I also help them understand that selling, especially in high-dollar and highly emotional sales, is about communicating and connecting with that unique individual sitting across from you. How I do that, and how I train others to do that, is by asking the right questions and really listening to learn what the person values; what his or her fears, hopes and dreams are; and how he or she makes decisions. When people feel understood, acknowledged and accepted, rapport is built, and they will follow you. This goes for salespeople as well as prospects.