Questioning Sales Success

Questioning Sales Success

Last month Kat Cole – President of Cinnabon – shared in an interview: “I’ve learned to question success a lot more than failure. I’ll ask more questions when sales are up than I do when they’re down. I ask more questions when things seem to be moving smoothly, because I’m thinking: There’s got to be something I don’t know.”

Her points struck a chord with us – primarily because we too often see sales managers – whether first-line sales managers, mid-level sales managers, or VPs of sales focus on what’s going wrong in sales – “Why did we lose the big sale?” or “How come the forecast figures were off?” or “If something does change I wonder if we are going to reach our end-of-year target?”

While it’s certainly important to diagnose what’s gone wrong – it’s equally important to analyze successes. It reminded us of the many sales strategy sessions we’ve sat through where salespeople couldn’t really articulate why they closed a piece of business. This is where great sales managers come into their own. Their ability to help sales reps think through the “why” of their sales successes has several payoffs:

  • Fact from fiction. It helps the sales rep know to what degree their actions contributed to success versus they just happen to be at the right place at the right time.
  • Best practices. Together the sales manager and sales rep can isolate best practices that can be reused by the sales rep and also by others on the sales team.
  • Bad business and good business. By taking the success discussion to the next level by asking sales reps to analyze what was going on in the customer organization, sales reps can improve their ability to do a better job of initially qualifying the account and avoiding the extremely costly mistake of chasing bad business.
  • Customer questioning skills. These types of discussions where the sales manager is skillfully using questions can help the sales rep appreciate and learn the power of using questioning in sales call.

Learning how to replicate sales success surely must be as important as learning how to correct failure – plus the former may reduce the need for the latter.