“Negotiation is always important,” Jeff began, “but looks very different for SMB vs Enterprise selling.” In high-velocity SMB business, Jeff explained, there is a desire to avoid commercial and protracted price negotiations. What is critically important is being able to articulate ‘here’s how we go to market’ or ‘here are our commercial terms’ and ‘here’s why.’ Because “we really don’t want to get into a lot of negotiation.”
When he’s interviewing potential hires for SMB roles, Jeff has found that most candidates are younger people, some even looking for their first sales job. “We know they don’t necessarily bring a lot of negotiation experience, so we look to measure their presentation skills, ability to learn, and confidence. We know that we will need to develop them and coach them as they work on deals.” Managers should get more involved with helping SMB reps understand how to manage the deal through negotiations – if the prospect wants to negotiate.
“We found an outside firm to do short-term enablement and training around negotiations, and just constantly make it a priority to talk to [our reps] about the philosophy and techniques behind negotiation,” Jeff told us. This can be a good way to teach a new rep all the negotiation basics that a seasoned rep would know.
When he’s looking for new enterprise reps, Jeff explained, he’s looking for much more seasoned and experienced candidates. “During the interview process, we ask situational questions, dig into examples of past deals and utilize references to see what kind of success they’ve had.”
We expect them to come into the business with negotiation skills. If a high-paid enterprise account rep can’t negotiate or close on their own — if their manager is constantly jumping in to help them — then they may be more trouble than they’re worth.
“There’s no point having a highly-paid Enterprise rep who can’t negotiate or close a deal… They typically go on plan quickly, and eventually, you have to move them out of the business.” There are certain skills that you expect enterprise reps to have. Where you might spend time coaching and developing SMB reps, with regard to negotiations — enterprise reps need past experience.
What You Know
When Jeff hires an SMB rep, he’s looking more for presence and ability — and less for past experience. Coaching an SMB rep on their negotiation mindset is something that he’s willing to take the time to do. However, on the enterprise side — it’s more important to look at what a potential hire has done in the past.
“Enterprise reps — we spend more time with product knowledge, business acumen. Marketplace awareness, we have to enable them.” Enterprise account managers are expected to have the foundations of how to negotiate — things you might take the time to teach SMB reps — so that you can build specific company knowledge on top.
Coaching the Coaches
Sales managers are meant to coach the reps under their purview — and Jeff believes that all sales managers are absolutely not created equal. “Half our managers are promoted inside, and half are hired outside the company. If someone becomes a manager for the first time, they’ve got to learn to be a manager.”
New coaches require instruction and guidance from managers with more experience in that area — mentors who can help them help their reps. They sometimes have a tendency to immediately jump in and do something for a rep – but as a coach, they have to learn to help the rep get there on their own.
“Managers can continue to get better at coaching,” Jeff told us. “Instead of asking your managers ‘why didn’t you do this or that,’ you coach them. Tell them, ‘here are some tips’ or ‘try these techniques’ or ‘here’s who you can talk to that has relevant experience that you can learn from.’”
What You Learn
Business acumen is something that you often have to intentionally develop, Jeff believes. “We don’t want to talk technology,” he explained. “We want to talk about the challenges [our clients] face, and the solutions and techniques that can be leveraged for the strategy they have or the industry they’re in, in order to address the challenges.”
It’s about the bigger picture — the business improvements and value offered by your product, not just the product itself. “We have weekly meetings for the sales team… where speakers often come in and talk about the value of our solution.” Business acumen means understanding the value and uses of your product — not just the technicalities.
While coaching reps to have better business acumen, Jeff said his company uses mock scenarios, new hire training, and ongoing sharing of customer cases studies and value messaging along with certifications. Still, there are some reps that really take to it like a fish to water, and some that don’t.
“It’s the rep that always seems to sell a larger deal versus the rep that always comes back asking for a 50% discount,” Jeff said. Understanding the solution-based value of your product is extremely effective in negotiations and in closing a deal — and it shows.
“Some people are born with the ability to sell… Some have it and some don’t… Ones that do have the natural ability, and they have the mindset. And then you supplement them with specific enablement about your market and your product.”
You have to look for different things when hiring SMB reps vs. enterprise reps. Good coaches can be developed and should work constantly to improve. No matter where you are on in terms of sales experience, business acumen is something that can be taught.
- Do you encourage your sales managers to speak with mentors to learn more about coaching? Or do you scold them for things they need to improve on?
- Do you look for past experience when interviewing potential enterprise reps?
- Do you put time into building specific product and market knowledge on top of your reps’ foundational talents and skills?