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Leading Indicators: Worrisome Behavior in a Sales Representative

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When it comes to running a world-class sales team, one of the most important things you can do is get out in front of problems. If you can identify behavior that are leading indicators — in other words, behaviors that present as symptoms before there’s an actual problem — then you have the opportunity to correct those behaviors, keep your individual reps charging towards peak production, and keep your team on top of the mountain.

Here are four characteristics that you should always be on the look out for. The most common place you’ll see them is with new hires, but they can creep up even on the most experienced rep. Watch for these four signs, and coach your team to success!

Fear of Rejection

We all know that in sales we hear hundreds, thousands of times more “noes” than we do “yesses”. Probably no one that has any serious fear of rejection is even pursuing a career in sales, let alone are they on your team; but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep your eye open for this.

If you’re actually building a super-star team, then this is one that you probably need most to look out for in your mid-level performers. Your top guns are just that. Your new guys are too gung-ho to worry about this. But in the middle, you’ll often see that after someone gets knocked down a few times, they start to get a little gun shy. They stop making the hard calls, asking the hard questions, getting to the close.

This is your chance — this is where you take that middle level perform that’s been bloodied a little bit, and either coach them back to excellence, or let them slip back to failure.

No Control over Emotions

It happens to all of us. We have a bad day. We didn’t get enough sleep because the baby was up all night, or we’re stressed out because we’re at end of quarter and behind on our numbers, or our favorite team got demolished last night and we’re a little hung over. It’s normally not a problem. But being good in sales means being adaptable with your customer. If your emotions are getting the better of you, then you may be zigging when you should be zagging after the prospect throws you a curve ball.

Every day ups-and-downs are not really a big deal; but if you start to see a pattern of a rep losing control of his emotions — getting heated when he should be backing down, or vice versa — then it may be a sign of deeper issues, and is certainly an indicator of lower performance in the future.

You need to really dig in and find out what the issue is. Maybe they just need a little coaching, but maybe they need a real vacation. Or maybe there’s something going on outside of work. In that case, maybe you can’t do anything, but maybe you can, and you’ll never know if you don’t ask.

The Money Questions

This is kind of similar to the fear of rejection point, but it often comes up in different scenarios. While your junior guys may be all gung-ho and not fear the flat-out “no”, they may subconsciously fear rejection enough that they’re not asking the critical questions: the budget of their company, current spending of the prospect, the monetary performance of their enterprise etc….

For more senior guys, you’re more likely to see this when there’s a new product introduction. Previously above average or even stellar performers might start stumbling when it comes to asking these sorts of questions.

For the junior guys, this is probably a simple matter to work through — just push them through it a few times until they realize it’s not that big of a deal. But if it’s happening with a new product introduction on the senior team, it’s probably a good indicator that there’s a training problem. I most often see this when the rep doesn’t believe in the value of the product, or (even if he does believe in it) when he can’t articulate the value. Jump on this immediately, because even if you see it in only one or two team members, this kind of lack of understanding is probably deeper than you think, and is generally easily fixed with a little training.

Lack of Self Awareness

On the one hand, sales is sales. It’s been that way since the beginning of time. Like I wrote last week, even the ancient philosophers had something to say about it.

That said, the world is changing every day, and most people — junior or senior — are really bad at knowing what they don’t know. In any organization there are new things all the time — new books recommended by management, new training seminars, new technology in the industry, new competitors.

Great sales reps are all over this stuff. Not only are they reading everything they can get their hands on, they’re diving into all the new technology, and they’re always up to date on the competition.

If you see a rep who isn’t doing this (particularly one who used to), then it may well be as simple as a little lack of insight. They may think they already know what they need to know about the competition, because they’re handling all of the objections the customer is making. They may not feel the need to read that book, because the back flap makes it sound like something they learned a decade ago. But again, we’re looking for leading indicators. If someone starts getting out of the habit of staying on top of this stuff, it’s only a matter of time before performance starts to suffer. Keep a close eye on your team. If someone’s not working on getting better, then by default they’re working on getting worse. Don’t let it happen.