I recently finished a podcast about a kidnapping that occurred almost 30 years ago in rural Minnesota. A lot of episodes focus on the details of the case and the victim, but the real story was how the local sheriff’s office failed not only to solve the case but to acknowledge any wrongdoing or mistakes made during the investigation.
This podcast got me thinking about how we all deal with failure and whether we take the time to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them. From athletes to politicians there’s no shortage of inspirational quotes about failure, but they all share a similar sentiment; failure isn’t the end, but a chance to try again with more knowledge. In the case of this sheriff’s office, their sin wasn’t the inability to catch the criminal. It was their refusal to admit mistakes and reflect on what they could’ve done differently.
For salespeople, failure is a daily endeavor. You hear no more times than yes, but the great salespeople learn from the nos and move forward. So it was surprising to find out that taking the time to reflect on one’s performance isn’t standard practice for salespeople. Only one in seven salespeople self-assess following a sales meeting or phone call; a confounding statistic considering that the method works. Those who do perform routine self-assessments are considered top performers at their companies. So what’s the excuse for the other 85 percent?
A self-assessment doesn’t have to be a formal review. It isn’t meeting with a manager or coach in a conference room after every single call, and it’s different for everyone. Instead, it’s taking a few minutes after a meeting or call to look back on the interaction and ask yourself what went right and what went wrong. What did they respond well to or where did I start to lose them?
For example, a standard mistake some salespeople make is talking too much. This is especially the case for beginning salespeople who don’t have a lot of confidence on the phone and might be sticking to a script. So one of the most critical questions to ask yourself is, did I talk too much? Did I ask questions and did I listen to their answers before returning to the script or rambling about product features?
Without self-assessments, mistakes and failures not only feel more significant, but they continue to cause damage long after hanging up the phone. “If a person doesn’t self-assess, they’d be stuck in mediocrity, blissfully unaware that top performers were doing anything differently from them,” said Jill Konrath, speaker, author, and thought leader. “Or, they’d get progressively discouraged, questioning if they were cut out for sales and ultimately, quit.”
This idea of self-assessing is essential for sales reps as well as managers. Embracing and instilling a culture that encourages self-assessments as well as the freedom to make mistakes gives your reps the necessary environment to grow and get better; making you, your team, and company look better in the process. So let’s look at some common questions reps and managers alike can ask to learn from past mistakes and improve moving forward.
The key to performing self-evaluations and assessments is not just to ask yourself or your team tough questions, but to also brainstorm different approaches to various scenarios. In some cases, you can even act these scenarios out with your sales team to instill in them these good practices before their next call. Above all, getting in the habit of self-assessing following phone calls and other sales interactions helps inspire a culture of responsibility in yourself or with your sales team.
So whether you are self-assessing or a sales manager talking with a rep, it’s important to start with a few broad questions, making sure to give yourself plenty of time to think about the interaction and how the client or lead responded. Start with these:
- How do you think that interaction went?
- What were your goals for the call or meeting?
- Do you think you accomplished those goals?
- Were you understood?
From there, you can break the reflection down to what went well and where you struggled. While self-assessments are meant to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them, it’s also important to recognize where you succeeded so you can replicate it in future meetings or calls. Ask yourself questions like:
- What were the best parts of the interaction?
- What good parts can you use in other interactions?
- Did you forget to ask a question or talk about something you wanted to?
- Where did you think you lost the customer?
- Did anything throw you off? If so, what was it and why?
Whether you work through these questions alone or with a trusted co-worker, manager, or coach, write down your answers and be as truthful as possible. The purpose of self-assessment sessions is to be honest with yourself and dissect every detail of the sales interaction. That way you can reflect on both the positive and the negative, and have a more meaningful interaction the next time. If you aren’t honest and you don’t take the answers to heart, the practice won’t help, no matter how often you do it.
A/B Test All Activities
Another more scientific and data-driven way to learn what works and what doesn’t is to A/B split test every sales activity. In fact, sales expert and owner of JBarrows Sales Training, Jay Barrows, wrote on his blog that the number one piece of advice he’d give his 22-year-old self if he talked to him today is to A/B split test everything.
As sales continues to evolve, Barrows believes salespeople need to adapt and become more scientific in the way they learn if they want to survive. “By split testing everything you do you can objectively learn what works and what doesn’t and make measurable improvements on a daily basis,” he wrote.
This includes everything from two separate email or phone scripts when reaching out to prospects to different ways of handling objections. Whatever the action, A/B split test the way you respond or treat the rejection, record the responses, and let the data lead you to the best possible actions.
Above all, you have to start. By getting in the habit of reflecting on every interaction, you not only make it routine and part of your sales process, but you will also begin to grow and improve. Remember, no one expects or demands perfection. But by refusing to look back on your sales meetings or calls and learn from your mistakes, you’re doomed to repeat them in future interactions.