Episode 66: Terry Mitchell on Key Attributes of Successful Salespeople
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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I am Shawnna Sumaoang. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs.
Today, I’m excited to have Terry Mitchell from Fujifilm’s join us. Terry, I’d love for you to just introduce yourself to our audience.
TM: Thanks for having me on, Shawna. I’m Terry Mitchell and I am director of sales enablement at Fujifilm. And many people know the brand name Fujifilm, Fuji today is a global company headquartered in Japan, operating in almost every country around the world.
I would expect most people would know Fujifilm for its photographic film, but today, even though film is still in our name, it’s a very small part of our product portfolio. Photography has transitioned to digital, but so has medical x-ray and printing. And I’m actually in the printing group or what we call the graphic systems division of Fujifilm. We sell a wide range of products for traditional printing as well as digital printing systems. And we sell these through direct sales force to printers or print providers who print everything from brochures to books or newspapers, magazines, labels and packaging, and even signs and banners.
Regarding my background, although I started my career in sales, I have spent most of the time in marketing roles. That alone probably makes me a bit unique to your listeners, but I think it has given me a different perspective and approach to sales enablement.
SS: Absolutely. I think having a combined sales and marketing background is unique. I think it definitely does give you a better lens on enablement. I’d love to hear from you kind of how that’s helped you in your sales enablement career.
TM: In marketing, I spent a lot of time on development of content and sometimes we flip that over the wall to the sales team and we expect that they know what to do with it, how to use it. Sometimes there’s missing links where we haven’t correlated the content to the customer buying or deciding journey and/or provided the tools for the sales team to show or demonstrate value or perhaps even justify an investment. So, it was interesting because I became a certified trainer for the Miller Heiman professional selling skills course, and that really led to my role in developing sales training materials and coaching all around improving our sales performance.
SS: Very impressive, very impressive. And in fact, you were recently included in a list that covered 100 sales enablement best practices. And in that, you mentioned that you developed a list of sales effectiveness attributes. I’d love for you to explain to our audience the attributes that you identified as leading to success.
TM: Well, we did develop this list and there are 25 in total that we’ve identified. We’re not trying to suggest that that’s the comprehensive list and we’ll never add to it. But what we set out to do was look at all of the different phases of the sales process. So, for example, we have attributes such as how well does the seller open a sales call by setting a meeting agenda stating the value to the customer and checking for acceptance?
But we also have criteria here about how well the seller executes the agenda that they established, and they stay on task and focused. We talk about how the seller uses open and closed or layered questions to explore and discover possible pain points within the business, realized and even unrealized needs. We also have criteria around collaboration and how we create a customized or tailored solution based on the prospect’s unique business pain or need. There are a lot of different factors here and 25 attributes in total. All of them, we believe, are important to be effective in selling.
SS: Maybe you can explain to our audience how you went about identifying those attributes. What was the process like for developing and validating that list?
TM: Yeah, it’s a great question. I attended a workshop session at a conference and actually, it was around what are the effective skills that are needed to be successful in selling? And so that’s where it got started and where some of these were identified and discussed. I took that list and incorporated several of the attributes from the professional selling skills course, since that was the foundational basis for us in terms of how we go about conducting an effective sales call. So, we included the steps of open and discover, satisfy or basically how you present and differentiate your product, and then close with a mutually agreed path going forward.
All of those attributes really correlated to that professional selling skills course, but we didn’t stop there. We then reviewed the list with our sales leadership and we added even more attributes. So, it really was a comprehensive look at all of the things that we determined to be contributing to, if not critical to, sales success.
SS: I like how you guys built the attributes to kind of help support the sales methodology within the organization. And it sounds though, as you mentioned, that you guys kind of took it a step further and have basically created that list of sales effectiveness attributes to almost guide a sales representative in creating a personal development plan. I’d love to learn how you’re using that.
TM: Yeah. When we looked at the 25, we’d like to tell you that everybody in our organization was best in class on all 25 attributes. But we realized that some people earlier in their career, or maybe later in their career, maybe struggle with a certain part of the sales process and maybe were stronger in some attributes but weaker in others.
So, we started this idea of developing a tailored, customized personal development plan by having the individual sellers rate themselves on each of the attributes on the list. We used a rating system where one was defined as low skill, three as an average skill, so following some or all of the steps, but maybe not fully effective. And then five is high skill, so follows the steps and is fully effective. We wanted them to be candid and we wanted them to feel that there was a safe environment to be able to identify those things that they felt they could improve in.
At the same time, we had our sales managers also rate the individual sellers on the same scale for all the attributes. And the manager and the individual seller then sat down and reviewed the list, looking for common scores. High performance was acknowledged, and then the attributes that were directionally lower were discussed and identified as areas where both the seller and the manager felt that improvement was warranted and that they wanted to take action.
So, once that plan was outlined and these areas of focus were determined, we set up training and reinforcing the foundational skills, and then the individual sellers were provided training materials that would address each skill area. We actually have a library of short videos covering most of the skill attributes along with some slide decks and some scripts to assist them with their learning and with their skill development. And then we outlined a plan for actually holding practice sessions and role-plays and other ways to improve their skills.
SS: That’s fantastic. Maybe we can dive a little bit deeper. What are some examples of specific actions or accountabilities that are included in the personal development plans?
TM: Yeah. Actually, the most common action plan or accountability that came out of these are the role plays or the practice sessions that actually demonstrate that they’ve mastered the identity identified attribute or skill. I mean, you can only do so much and over so much period of time in terms of maybe observing a seller in a direct or live customer interaction. But if they practice and they do it in a safe environment where the roleplay, then they can actually improve their skill and feel like it is a safe environment for them to maybe mess up or trip up and actually improve and get some feedback.
So, we started out writing customized role plays around each of the attributes or skills. For example, if the individual seller and the manager agreed that asking effective discover questions was the skill that needed an improvement, then the role play was designed to focus on that skill. And this verified the seller’s ability to use effective discover questions to identify all the customer needs. But let’s say the skill was how well does the seller execute the agenda they established? Well, that’s a tougher one because that’s really going to be best observed during a live sales call.
We use both role plays and practice sessions as well as observance during a live sales calls to actually help the individual sellers improve in their attributes. And we also provide coaching and call planners to help guide the customer conversation and stay focused on the agenda. But in the end, the individual seller demonstrates his mastery of the scale and essentially moves from a lower rating of a one or a two to a higher rating of a four or five. And really, at the end of the day, it’s all about improving the skills and then demonstrating the competency.
SS: Absolutely. So, you mentioned sales managers a couple of times now during the conversation, and obviously they are critical in reinforcing a lot of the sales effectiveness attributes that you’re trying to put in place among the sales force. How have you partnered with sales managers to help implement and even enforce the personal development plans?
TM: Yeah. Actually, I got buy-in pretty quickly. I mean, the sales managers are all about helping their teams improve. They want to make their quota, they want to improve their sales volume. We started out a little bit small, if you will. Each one of our sales managers has 10 or 12 direct reports, and we said, “Hey, just give us three people from your team. And let’s go through this individual assessment and manager assessment and see how it goes and see if we need to make any adjustments along the way.” So, we kind of piloted it and we approached the individual seller to try and gain their acceptance to work on the skills.
And then we conduct the role plays, over the phone or face to face, or even a video Zoom call. We assign roles. The individual seller obviously takes the role of the salesperson, I generally take the role of the customer, and the sales manager takes the role of the coach, and we go through the role play and then we debrief with the seller. We ask them what they thought went well. They get a chance to tell us where they were comfortable. We then ask them what they thought didn’t go so well, and they get a chance to be a little vulnerable and explain that. And then we ask what could they have done differently? And they self-realize where they’re strong, where they’re still needing to improve their skill in this dialogue.
Along with the coaching framework that we have for that discussion, it really creates a basis for a meaningful discussion and a journey to improvement. And again, we do this in a bit of a safe environment. So, the managers really saw the value in helping their team improve their skills, and they bought in pretty quickly.
SS: Well, that’s fantastic. It is critical to get the sales managers bought in. And I also imagine part of that buy-in comes from showing the impact that this is having. So, what were some of the benefits that you guys were realizing from these personal development plans and these sales effectiveness attributes and how have you gone about measuring that impact?
TM: Yeah. Our definition of a sales enablement is to deliver the content tools, training, and coaching for those inside sales and direct customer-facing sales roles so that they can continue to improve their sales performance. So, we look at sales performance and we’ve defined it as improving the win rate and reducing the sales cycle lengths, kind of a sales velocity view, obviously they have to have a good qualified number of opportunities in their funnel. We do look at the deal size, but primarily we’re looking at how much they win, and how long it takes sometimes.
So, we’re doing that. We’re imagining where we’re measuring the sales effectiveness through just direct observation in the field. And we’re also doing it through reports or looking at perhaps how well they’re doing with emailing, prospecting, getting a meeting, summarizing meeting results, and advancing sales. We’re looking at a lot of different parts of the skill, but ultimately we’re looking at that win rate and sales cycle length. And this gives us an indication as to where that velocity is increasing.
Now, we’re still early in the process, however, we are seeing a direct correlation to higher win rates and shorter sales cycles as a result of improving the sales effectiveness skills. For example, when looking at data from 2018 and comparing it to 2019, we’ve increased our win rate by 27% overall and reduced the sales cycle length by about 90 days. So, that’s resulted in an increase in our sales velocity by 47%. Now, that’s pretty powerful. I’m not hanging all the improvement solely on sales effectiveness training and coaching, but we believe that our efforts to develop these personal development plans and then improve our skills is really making a big contribution to our overall success.
SS: That’s fantastic, Terry, and those are some impressive results. Kudos to you and thank you so much for joining us today on this podcast. I really appreciate your time.
TM: Thanks for having me, Shawnna.
SS: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.