Bar Talk

“What’s really valuable,” I hear one salesperson after another tell me, “is getting together informally with sales colleagues and hearing the latest stories about what people are doing. What are their recent successes, big or small, and their recent embarrassing failures. These meetings, usually at a bar or over lunch, are informative, motivational and give me the feeling that we can help each other out. I leave those casual meetings feeling motivated to try a couple of new ideas.”

What is it about these informal chats that are so useful?

What is said at these meetings often takes the form of stories. And stories are most helpful when they are told, broken down to their key ingredients and details, and then mined for usefulness. This happens at the bar when a listener interrupts and asks, “Now wait a minute, tell me more about how you did that?” or “What did you say exactly and why?”

The question for today is: In what ways might one devise a way to get the key details out of all those useful stories, deliberately?

One exercise … (as soon as it’s called an exercise it sounds like work, maybe stories at the bar are effective simply because they’re fun) … that does this is to gather a list of the last 20 new deals that were signed up with new clients. How you define a “new” client or a “new” deal, and the relevant timeline you use, depend on your industry and company context. But whether it’s three weeks or the last couple of years, a few questions posed to each of your sales people will uncover the 20 transactions you need to start. Once you’ve identified the transactions, gather some data on each transaction, for example:

1) type of product or service,
2) location of the client,
3) size of the client company,
4) size of the deal,
5) contact person within the organization- what is their role, who were key influencers and why,
6) why did you get the business rather than your top 3 competitors,
7) was there anything about your company that helped win the business,
8) what was the one thing you- the salesperson- did that was critical to winning the business,
9) how were you introduced to the client,
10) how did you first become aware of the client,
11) what is the client’s niche in their industry,
12) were there any product modifications needed to win the business,
13) what help did you get -internal or external that helped you get the business,
14) what problem(s) did your product or service solve for the client?

Add or subtract variables from this list but at least ten is a good number to use. Ideally, when you’re together as a group, distribute this information in a matrix form to each of your sales team members. Then, have a few of the contributing salespeople tell the story of their piece of business.

Put people in teams of 3 or 4 and ask them to identify any trends and then have a discussion around the following:

What conclusions can you draw? What was the recipe for success?
What can you do to take advantage of these trends?
What actions does this suggest?
How do you make these actions part of your daily habits or process?

Have each group present back their results to the full group.

This combination of story mixed with a little bit of rigor can yield interesting results. Like chefs comparing recipes, effective methods and techniques rise to the surface and can be applied elsewhere. In one company, they discovered that nearly a third of their new transactions came from introductions made by lawyers or accountants. (A lawyer, an accountant, and a salesman walk into a bar…) Salespeople on the team became more deliberate about strengthening and accessing their network of lawyers and accountants to find potential new business opportunities.

A drizzle of story, a dash of rigor and you’ll whet your appetite to try a few new techniques in the ol’ sales kitchen.

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