Today’s post is contributed by Dr. Leff Bonney, vice president, research and product innovation at VantagePoint Performance, a leading global agile sales training company for sellers and frontline managers. Leff is also head of Florida State University Sales Institute.
We heard about a study where pilots went into a programmed simulation and were stopped halfway through without warning. After stopping, they were first asked things about their virtual flight, like altitude, speed, and enemy location. Then, they were asked about what they thought was going to happen next based on their experience to that point.
There were correct answers to these questions, because the simulation had been fully programmed, and the pilots had the training and knowledge necessary for appropriate anticipation and reaction. This research was testing the pilots’ ability to be situationally aware – because that skill is literally a matter of life and death. And, it got us thinking.
Many Factors Contribute to Salesperson Awareness
While deal viability and probability are not on par with national security or military safety, they do have enormous impact on organizational health. So, we wondered:
- What about salespeople and their situational awareness in client meetings – and what does that ultimately mean for deal outcomes?
- How would consistent performance affect this awareness?
- What impact would, or could, sales managers have on meeting awareness?
- Finally, is there anything else that contributes positively and/or negatively to reps’ consciousness in meetings?
Research from Florida State University found that high-performing salespeople are typically more alert in customer interactions, but that level of situational awareness often diminishes in reps who have recently been top performers – because they tend to become overly confident. It’s as if continued, consistent success numbs reps’ senses. That means ongoing management check-ins and coaching are critical for the situational awareness of all your reps – and not just those who are average or underperforming.
Speaking of coaching, we also found that management coaching styles influence all levels of salespeople. If your managers are very prescriptive in discussions prior to client meetings, our research shows that your salespeople will have lower situational awareness. This is because they will essentially be going through a mental checklist about what to do and when – and focusing less on what’s unfolding in the room. As a result, they will have lower awareness about what is actually happening in their meeting, which will impact their perception of how it is going.
But, if your managers take a collaborative approach with your reps, that helps the salespeople think through contingencies and possible alternatives – and increases situational awareness in the meeting itself.
Finally, interactive presentations (such as whiteboarding) increase situational awareness, while more scripted approaches (such as standard, “canned” decks) decrease situational awareness. Your managers need to develop and choose wisely because the types of content and presentation tools you provide, and the expectations you set for prep, will affect salesperson awareness in customer meetings.
Salespeople Need Strong Situational Awareness to Win
Just like fighter pilots, salespeople need to develop their situational awareness. Without it, they might fall victim to their own success, become overly dependent on pre-call coaching, or fumble their presentations. Therefore, it’s important to monitor your reps’ ongoing meeting outcomes, your managers’ involvement in prep and planning, and the resources your teams are using to execute.