“It was Monday, September 17, 2012, and Peyton Manning had just completed one of his worst games as an NFL quarterback. The four-time MVP had thrown three interceptions in the first quarter alone, on the way to a 27-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
It was assumed that Manning’s poor play was attributable to a lingering neck injury that had sidelined him for the entire 2011 season. Such a poor performance was surely best explained by an injury that continued to impair his ability to throw the ball accurately. However, during the post-game news conference, Manning revealed that those three passes had gone exactly where he had intended to throw them. His ability to throw the ball was not the issue. So what was the culprit that had caused those three interceptions?
Manning said that his ability to throw the ball accurately had not been the problem. And it was not the result of confusion over the plays. Nor had the receivers run poor routes. The noisy crowd was not a problem, nor anything that the opposing defense had done. “It was decision-making,” he said. “It’s disappointing, but I just made three bad decisions.” The balls had gone where he’d wanted them to go, but he had chosen the wrong spots to throw them.
So what does this story have to do with sales managers? What lesson is to be learned from those three bad decisions?
In the sales force, we obsess over the skills of our sellers. We send them to sales training programs to develop their selling skills. Then we observe their sales calls to see if they’re demonstrating those skills. We coach them on what to do and what to say in front of their customers. And that’s all good. But is it sufficient?
Many salespeople fail to reach their potential not because of poor skills. In fact, an average salesperson can typically make a sales call that’s good enough to win the sale. Rather, many sellers fail because they’ve made bad decisions leading up to the sales call.
Continuing the football analogy, the sales calls that your salespeople make are like the throws Peyton Manning made that night. They are the result of many decisions that lead up to the demonstration of skill – whether throwing the ball or conducting a sales call. Just like Manning chose the plays to call and the receivers to target, your sellers decide which opportunities to pursue and which customers to target.
Are their sales calls executed well? Probably, because you’ve trained them and coached them on how to do it. But what about the decisions that lead up to those calls? Are those the best opportunities to pursue? Are they the right buyers to meet? Is it the right time to meet with them? Maybe. Maybe not.
A well-executed call at the end of a string of bad decisions will render a seller’s skill irrelevant. If it’s the wrong call on the wrong customer at the wrong time, who cares how well it’s conducted. It’s the wrong sales call executed flawlessly.
What sales managers should spend more time doing is coaching reps on how to make the right decisions – how to prioritize their time and target the right opportunities. We see very little sales coaching around these decisions, and it’s sorely needed. Sales skills are required, but they are not sufficient. Smart decisions must precede them.
So if your salespeople are failing, don’t assume that it’s a problem with their skills… Examine the decisions that they’re making. Don’t only look at HOW are they selling – look also at what, why, when, and where are they are doing it? They might be doing everything right, but for all the wrong reasons. And your competitors might be intercepting those deals that you’d rather have had instead.”