Turning Communication into Collaboration

Make a top 10 list of smart business practices and collaboration will probably be on it. And usually it happens pretty naturally – over the course of our day, we connect with coworkers, clients and partners and create something together that’s better than what we had before.

So it’s natural to assume that with the rise of mobile apps and a workforce that’s gone mobile and global in general, collaboration has boomed these last few years. We have so many opportune touchpoints, right? We interact constantly not only with our internal colleagues but with customers and other stakeholders. We’re always communicating over email, social, sharing thoughts, feedback and ideas that should – theoretically – help us work together.

Unfortunately it hasn’t exactly worked out that way. Sometimes there’s so much information flowing back and forth that some of it gets lost in the constant hum of activity. But mostly it’s difficult to step back and take a strategic look at how we turn this information into enhanced productivity. We have plenty of records, data and files somewhere in our lives, but they’re not always embedded into our daily workflows.

I’m guessing this has happened to you. Talking to a coworker about a project, you have a eureka moment – only to spend the next hour frantically searching for the files and facts you were just referencing. Maybe they’re on your home laptop. Oops, no, they’re in another email account. Wait, no, they’re on a project management system you’ve forgotten your password to. So now you need to contact another coworker who has access to those files. Unfortunately it turns out he can only find incomplete versions – and now it’s a day later.

It’s so frustrating when this happens, because the sheer number of tools we use should put the right data at our fingertips. And yet it doesn’t. Too many silos and disconnected systems lead to delays and confusion instead of the lightning-fast collaboration we want.

One solution, of course is Salesforce Community Cloud – emphasis on community. Users can share ideas, files, launch conversations and collaborate easily and efficiently across the organization. Haven’t tried it yet? You should. You’ll get more of what you need out of Salesforce and boost your productivity.

That kind of advantage isn’t a nice-to-have, by the way — it’s a must-have. Business moves fast. Spend hours looking for information and you’re behind the curve. A competitor that’s already figured this stuff out has now pulled ahead of you and will probably cross the finish line first.

But when you’re positioned to turn discussions into action right on the spot, you’re right next to them and positioned to win. You solve more problems, eliminate delays and achieve bigger things. Once cycle one of your project is completed, you also get feedback in real time, empowering you to modify your efforts for better performance. Suddenly your profit and productivity have gone through the roof.

A Better Buying Experience

So far we’ve only talked about the internal perspective. But – as I hope you’ve guessed by now – this kind of immediate collaboration improves the buyer’s journey as well. Imagine a world where customer feedback doesn’t stay in the service department, or languish in a report, but instead goes to the product team on the spot. That in turns prompts immediate steps toward improvement. The customer’s voice is recognized and the company is stronger for it.

Here’s what all this boils down to. Today’s teams are adopting plenty of tools aimed at helping them communicate more efficiently and that’s a laudable goal – but the tools stop being helpful when they make it harder to collaborate. The next time you’ve looking over your tools, think about why you want to connect customers, employees and others. Is it simply for the sake of communication? What’s the objective of this enhanced communication – and does that objective align with your business goals?

Say no to isolated communication, and instead look for solutions that partner communication with real connection. Your employees will find themselves resolving challenges faster, building valuable relationships and expanding their networks. Best of all, they’ll come together to achieve bigger results than ever before.

Turning Individual Coaching into Team Results

I’m willing to bet that when you hire a salesperson, you do so for a specific skill set. At the very least, you hire them because they possess something special other applicants do not. Ideally, that smart hiring practice leads to a sales team of individuals working towards a common goal, while equipped with unique skills and abilities that enhance your business.

So why, when it comes to training and developing these very same people, do so many sales leaders look toward team training? After all, that’s the generic, one-size-fits-all of professional development.

You might argue that it’s cheaper. That it saves time. But is it more effective? If the answer is not a resounding “No”, it’s at least an “Ummm…Probably not.”

According to a study conducted by consulting firm Accenture, thirty-five percent of CSOs are unsure what measurable improvements result from team training. Which means that being “cheaper” and faster starts looking more like a waste of time and money.

As we established above, your sales force is the sum of its parts. Invest in your sales reps not as a unit but as group of talented individuals with distinct strengths worth developing. By tailoring your coaching to each person, you’ll help improve sales, boost engagement, foster creativity, and improve overall workplace satisfaction.

Easy, right? Well, according to a Conference Board Executive Coaching Survey, not really. Of the companies that use some form of internal coaching, most leaders spend less than 10 percent of their time coaching others. Given the power of coaching to drive bottom-line results, that seems like a serious deficiency.

So why isn’t individual coaching more popular? One unfortunate reason: coaching skills and experience are often way down the totem pole of desired resume traits when hiring managers. Companies evaluate sales leaders in many ways, but their history and ability as a coach just isn’t a deciding factor in the hiring process for most.

Obviously that needs to change. And the good news is, you can still make individual coaching work for your company if you emphasize the following to your sales managers.

Create relationships to earn trust.

When a salesperson understands your goal is to help them become more effective, they’ll be that much more open to and engaged in any coaching you can provide. But that understanding will never take place if you only come down from the ivory tower to provide feedback or make an announcement. Lay the groundwork for effective coaching by strengthening your interpersonal relationships.

Feedback is a good thing.

Nobody likes being told they did something wrong or that their performance is lacking. But it happens to all of us or sooner or later and it’s an essential part of developing as a professional. The real problem? Receiving criticism when we can no longer do anything about it.

So here’s a tip to prevent that blindside. Be generous with feedback as needed. Small coaching sessions that help your sales team brush up on new skills or address trouble areas early on will let them know that you care about helping them improve before it becomes a real issue. No one wants a “gotcha” moment come review time.

Set meaningful – and achievable – goals.

Ultimately this is a numbers game. Lofty goals may sound dazzling but if they don’t move the company needle, they aren’t of much use. And if they can’t be measured, it’s almost impossible to claim victory. The solution: be clear with where you want to go and what you hope to accomplish with this coaching, such as higher conversions rates or a better average deal size. Both you and the sales rep will understand the right metrics to use in evaluating progress. And when you lace goals with small victories, it paves the road to the larger goals that can energize the whole team.

“You had (my business) at hello…”

Ever see the movie Jerry McGuire? In it, a character tells the fictional superstar sports agent, “The key to this business is personal relationships.” This simple yet sage advice really applies to any sales job. Personal relationships are key. And these personal relationships are fostered by communication.

Ask CEOs what skill most directly correlates to business success, and nearly all will answer “SALES SKILLS!” (Well, maybe they won’t scream it.)

But in some ways, this answer is incomplete. It’s like saying that the key to fitness is being able to lift heavy weights or do hours and hours of cardio. Well, the key to fitness is actually dedication and planning. Lifting and running are the symptoms of these.

So to continue the analogy, what are strong sales skills a symptom of? The answer is simple: strong communication skills.

That means that before you invest in fancy metrics, new technology, and robust sales platforms, you’ll want to invest in developing good communication skills on your team. Use those skills to build long-term customer relationships and you’ll see your investment pay dividends for years to come.

Consider the benefits of a strong communicator.

Confident communicators make more sales.

A salesperson might in fact be very knowledgeable about a product, sector, or industry. But what good is all that knowledge if they can’t project confidence or convey information? Even worse, what if they come off as clueless? As we know, perception becomes reality in the client’s eyes.

Prepared and confident communicators can adjust with the changing tides of a negotiation. They convey authority and expertise, convincing the prospective buyer that their solution is the right one.

Genuine communicators foster stronger bonds.

“Genuine” in this case means listening to your customers. One of the most important skills of an effective communicator is listening to other people speak, and doing so with sincere interest.

So go ahead – really listen. Listen to what the prospect is saying and pick up on what they’re not saying. Ask questions that show you heard their true concerns. Not only will you be able to tailor your message to the customer, they’ll feel valued and heard. Customers can tell when they mean nothing more than a number on the sales lead sheet.

It’s this personal touch that is lost on many companies, which is why it goes a long way with clients. In a world where customers have way too many options – some of them probably cheaper than you – being the sales team that shows genuine interest is a huge competitive advantage. Best of all, it’s free.

Effective communicators help teams function.

Being able to collaborate effectively means being able to communicate effectively. How do you truly sell your team on a new initiative? You don’t strong arm or threaten. (Well, I hope you don’t.) No, you communicate clearly and persuasively so that the team realizes that your goals and their goals are the same. That you’re all working together.

Maybe the sales department is adopting some new tech. Maybe a new approach is being rolled out. Whatever the new direction or project is, you need your team’s buy-in. It’s as important as convincing a client that they need to buy from you, so apply the same strategies.

Social communication demands effective communicators.

We all know the advantages of social selling. Cultivating relationships, warming up leads, dissolving buyer objections: social media seems born to be a sales team’s best friend. Whether you’re using Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or some other platform, you can reach a large number of potential clients quickly and (relatively) cheaply.

Of course, in the wrong hands, social media can allow you to quickly damage your company’s image in front of a large number of potential clients. We’ve all heard the stories of brands that sent out an embarrassing tweet or misguided post. That’s why every team needs strong and effective communicators who understand what their audience wants to see on social media. They can capture the spirit of your company in a few words and create social communications that help close deals.

At the end of the day, business relationships aren’t that different from personal ones. Good communication can prevent misunderstandings, position opportunities in an attractive light, and foster lasting loyalty. So go ahead and help your team communicate effectively. You may just get that Hollywood ending.