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Richard Schroder: From a Good Sales Call to a Great Sales Call – Author Interview

Recognized thought leader in Win / Loss analysis and sales training, and President of Anova Consulting Group, a leading market research, sales training and consulting firm, Richard M. Schroder, was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions about his opportunity creating and game changing book From a Good Sales Call to a Great Sales Call: Close More by Doing What You Do Best.

Richard M. Schroder describes how to develop and utilize an effective debriefing process to provide detailed analysis about why sales were really closed or lost.

Thanks to Richard M. Schroder for his time, and for his very comprehensive and thoughtful responses to the questions. They are greatly appreciated.

What was the background to writing this book From a Good Sales Call to a Great Sales Call: Close More by Doing What You Do Best?

Richard M. Schroder: My company has been performing institutional Win Loss Analysis programs for large companies for over 13 years. Typically we are hired by a head of sales to conduct independent in-depth phone interviews with prospects after buying decisions have been made on behalf of an entire sales team. However, only 18 percent of companies currently have a formal Win Loss program in place for their sales teams, with an independent third party conducting in-depth interviews with prospects. This means there are over 20 million salespeople who have no access to an independent post-decision review on their behalf.

This book was written to fill that gap and bring our institutional coaching, expertise and knowledge to the everyday salesperson or small business owner. It shows individual salespeople how to better conduct post-decision debriefs on their own so they can improve their sales effectiveness and win more business.

What is the difference between a good sales call and a great one?

Richard M. Schroder: Our Win / Loss analysis research shows that there are five key themes that prospects typically express when speaking about a winning sales effort vs. a loss:

1) Consultative: The salesperson did research, asked the right questions, listened and then was consultative in their pitch and focused on the prospects’ unique needs.

2) Differentiation: The salesperson was distinctive / stood out in some way by clearly articulating how they were different from the competition.

3) Treated the prospect as important: The salesperson showed enthusiasm and made it clear that they wanted the business.

4) Rapport: The salesperson worked to build chemistry with the prospect and found common ground in a personal way.

5) Cohesiveness (in team selling situations): The most important word a prospect can say about a sales team is that they were cohesive (as opposed to coming across as disjointed or unprepared).

Why do so many salespeople lose the sale that seemed so near to it being closed?

Richard M. Schroder: One of the biggest things we have learned in all our research is that the main reason salespeople lose is because they are not actually selling to the decision maker. If a salesperson loses a deal and they never met with the actual decision maker then that alone is the reason they lost.

Most salespeople just look at a lost sale as gone, and then move on to the next prospect. Why do you consider this the wrong approach?

Richard M. Schroder: I’ve always believed that you learn more from your failures than from your successes. The best way to improve your sales effectiveness is to learn why you win and lose, so that you can reinforce your successful behaviors and rectify the selling deficiencies that are holding you back. It is only after you obtain accurate and candid feedback on your sales performance that you can institute meaningful change. By implementing a process for conducting better debrief calls, you will unlock a vast source of prospect information that will allow for continuous sales improvement and ultimately increase your close rate for years to come.

You share seven steps for a successful post-decision debrief process. What are those seven steps?

Richard M. Schroder: There is a lot to be learned from losing a deal, yet most salespeople do not know how to gather accurate and meaningful information from prospects to learn from their losses. Salespeople often ask prospects why they lost a deal, but they typically don’t get a straight answer. In fact, according to proprietary sales research data, prospects tell salespeople the complete truth about why they lost less than half the time. In fact, research has shown that salespeople learn the complete and accurate truth about 40% of the time. In other words, in 60% of new business situations, salespeople do not have a complete and accurate understanding of why they lost. This situation begs the question: If salespeople don’t understand why they lose, how are they expected to improve their performance and ultimately win more business?

Below are seven ways for salespeople to improve their post-sales etiquette and get more candid feedback from prospects post-decision:

1) Give early notification that you will conduct a debrief (regardless of the outcome of the sale): In order to make the prospect comfortable and illicit honest and, more importantly, actionable feedback, you should let the prospect know early in the sales process that regardless of the outcome, you will be conducting a post-decision debrief call at the end of the process.

2) Schedule a separate debrief call: Do not debrief on the same call as when you hear about a loss. When you hear about a loss, prospects have one goal in mind: to get you off the phone as quickly as possible. Therefore, getting good feedback is always challenging. Instead, schedule a separate debrief call after you have accepted the loss and let the prospect know that you will not try to change their decision.

3) Use a Win / Loss debrief guide: Using a questionnaire maximizes feedback and keeps the conversation focused. As a result, research has shown that salespeople who use a debrief questionnaire have a 15% higher close rate than those who do not. Sample debrief guides can be downloaded at Anova Consulting Debrief Guide.

4) Take responsibility: Make sure that you really want candid feedback; prospects will be able to tell if you don’t. Don’t get defensive or angry, don’t debate with the prospect and don’t try to resell the prospect.

5) Take notes: Tell the prospect that you’ll be taking notes. This will make them feel important and make them feel compelled to talk more. Your average debrief should last about 10-15 minutes.

6) Probe for specifics: Ask “How do you mean?” or “Say more.” Other great ways of getting candid feedback include asking, “How can I improve on this”, “How can I make it better?” or “Can I get your advice?”

7) Consider having someone else conduct your debriefs: Once you have a debrief guide, you could have someone else within your company conduct the debrief (such as an inside wholesaler or cold caller). You could also find someone outside of your company to do this work for you. If you are running a sales team, consider hiring an outside third party to conduct Win Loss Analysis interviews on behalf of your entire sales team.

There are a number of steps in the program that differ from the usual concept of debriefing prospects. What are those differences and why are they important?

Richard M. Schroder: The big thing I tell salespeople is not to debrief on the same call where the prospect tells you that you have lost the deal. This is a major mistake and in most cases, you will not get any meaningful feedback from prospects during this discussion. Why are prospects not forthcoming when they call to tell you that you lost the business? One reason for this is that when a prospect calls to tell you that you lost the deal, his primary concern is to tell you the decision and get you off the phone as quickly as possible. No one likes to give someone bad news; therefore, prospects feel uncomfortable during these conversations and are looking to get the call over with as quickly as possible.

Another problem with trying to conduct a debrief interview at this time is that as the salesperson, you will typically feel rejected, defeated, deflated and defensive. That’s a lot of emotions to handle all at once, and no one enjoys going through rejection. Whatever emotions you have at this point will prohibit your ability to successfully debrief a prospect. You need time to reflect and allow yourself to gain composure after defeat. It is virtually impossible for you to have all the right questions to ask at this particular moment and to ask them in the right frame of mind.

Here is an example of how to ask for a debrief interview:

“Mr. Prospect, I understand your decision and I respect it. I’m disappointed, because I really wanted to work with you and your company but I’m not going to try to change your mind. I wish you all the best in the future. If you recall, I had mentioned to you that my company conducts debriefs at the end of every sales cycle and you agreed to debrief with me. We do this so that we can continually improve our sales process and product and service offering. Can we set up a time in the next week or so to speak for 15 minutes? It would really be helpful to me. Do you have your calendar handy?”

There are many key points to be aware of in the above example. For one, it is important to let the prospect know that you are not going to try to change his mind. By letting the prospect know that you have accepted the loss and that you will not try to change his decision, you are putting the prospect at ease and as a result, he will be more willing to talk to you. Also, you have let them achieve their main objective for the call and they will be calmed by this. Make sure to let them know that you don’t like to lose but that you do like to learn as much as possible from every loss.

How can a sales representative and a company create a tool to debrief prospects more effectively in the future?

Richard M. Schroder: As I mentioned, sample debrief guides can be downloaded at Anova Consulting Debrief Guide. Any salesperson or sales team can start with these tools and customize them for their company’s products and services and their own sales process. If a company wants to take it to the next level, they should consider implementing a formal Win Loss Analysis Program whereby an independent third party conducts the interviews on behalf of the sales team.

You describe a Win Loss Analysis program. What is that program and why should sales managers consider adding it to their sales process?

Richard M. Schroder: One proven way to improve a sales team’s close rate is to implement what is popularly known as a Win Loss Analysis program, whereby an independent third party interviews prospects after buying decisions have been made. Through this type of process sales teams can learn the true, candid reasons why they win and lose.

Below are a few reasons why every sales manager should consider implementing a formal, independent program for their sales team:

1) A third party interviewer can get the complete truth from prospects during post decision debriefs. Prospects are more candid when giving feedback and criticism to an independent third party because they don’t have to worry about hurting the salesperson’s feelings or fearing confrontation, criticism or reselling efforts from sales reps (who often become defensive while receiving feedback). Given the option to remain anonymous, a prospect can feel at ease with a third party interviewer inviting the prospect to share any issues he or she might have had with the salesperson, sales process or a company’s products or services.

2) Tailoring sales training with actual Win / Loss data and feedback from prospects is a huge opportunity for sales teams to improve their selling efforts. Every year, sales managers spend significant time and money training their salespeople. However, most companies do little to verify that salespeople are actually implementing the right tactics in their interactions with prospects. A Win Loss Analysis program ensures that sales training focuses on the most critical and actionable sales performance issues

3) Third party feedback can become a comprehensive senior management tool. A Win Loss program delivers a reliable, objective and consistent tool that can be used by senior management to improve its products and services, as well as provide competitive intelligence. This information transcends the sales process and can become a critical conduit for strategic decisions.

The most important long-term goal and benefit of a Win Loss Analysis program is to increase a company’s new business win rate. This is achieved through an improved understanding of how a company’s sales effectiveness, products and services compare with the competition.

There is significant opportunity for many sales managers to improve their sales teams’ close rates by better understanding prospect perceptions. Over time, analysis can allow a sales team to charge ahead of its competition by continually keeping a pulse on industry trends, the competition, and needed enhancements to the sales process.

What is the first step that an organization should take toward having more great sales calls?

Richard M. Schroder: The first step to be taken is to fully understand why your sales team is winning and losing. This is the basis for winning more business.

What is next for Richard M. Schroder?

Richard M. Schroder: Writing a book while trying to grow a business is like trying to fix a flat tire while your car is still moving! I plan to regroup now and speak as much as possible on the subject to train salespeople on this overlooked final aspect of the sales process. I also plan to spend more time with my family since I spent many Sundays writing over the last year.