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Debrief Your Sales Process—With An “AAR”

Bringing an energetic blend of insight and humour, creative problem solving and productive thinking expert Tim Hurson teaches audiences what they already know in their hearts: that creative intelligence is the essence of human potential. Whether you’re a manager or an artist, whether you work alone or in a group, you’ll think better and do better by learning to unlock your creative intelligence—and “unblock” your thinking. With creative intelligence, good work becomes brilliant, and life opens up with a new sense of freedom, confidence, and possibility. Tim has just published his most recent book, with co-author Tim Dunne, called Never Be Closing: How To Sell Better Without Screwing Your Clients, Your Colleagues, Or Yourself. In the piece below, Tim explains the importance of debriefing during your next sales meeting. Tim’s also included a special offer for readers of the Speakers’ Spotlight blog at the bottom of the post:

The US Army trains elite brigades through war games against a special unit called OPFOR. The trainees get every advantage: better intelligence, better technology, more manpower. Yet, OPFOR almost always wins—because OPFOR employs a powerful learning tool: the After Action Review (AAR).

The best way to get better at any craft is to conduct systematic debriefs, or AARs.

In this blog, I’ll focus on debriefing the process of your sales meeting. Debriefing content is important too. That’s where you plan your next moves to make the sale. But because their value is less immediate, most people give process debriefs short shrift. Too bad, because it’s process debriefs that will make you a better salesperson.

One useful way to do a process AAR is to ask yourself three basic questions about your experience: What? So What? Now What?

To answer What? describe the details of your meeting—what you said and did, what your client said and did.

To answer So What? describe the effect of what you said and did. What did it mean to you? To your client?

To answer Now What? identify what you might do different next time. What lessons might you learn?

What? So What? Now What? is a simple, but powerful AAR. It can can help you derive the right lessons from your experiences.

Here’s an example:

Salesman Bob was selling ad space for a TV show on sustainability—a perfect opportunity for a particular prospect. The theme was in line with their mission, and Bob could offer a discount.

He called, left a message, and…

Within 48 hours, Bob called 35 times, leaving 15 voice mails. Finally, by chance, he got through. His prospect was so annoyed she told him never to call again.

Next day, Bob did phone again, apologized, and asked for one minute of her time. He laid out both premise and price. She bought on the spot.

Bob filed this story under ‘Persistence = Sales’. But is that really the right lesson? Let’s debrief using What? So What? Now What?

What? Bob called 35 times, leaving 15 messages. When he finally connected, his client told him never to call again. He did anyhow and in one minute outlined the offer and price. The client was impressed and bought.

So What? Because Bob had the gumption to call again and managed to outline his proposal in one minute, he got the sale. He also irritated his client.

Now What? If 15 messages produced no callbacks, and a one-minute script produced a sale, was the key really persistence? What if Bob had left a short, substantive message, giving his client a reason to call back: “The advertising opportunity is for a show on climate change. Your mission is linked to that issue.” He might even have mentioned the discount.

Seen through the lens of a disciplined debrief, the real take-away is not about persistence but the value of compelling messages.

Try What? So What? Now What?. Debriefing your process with a systematic AAR can help you become a more productive salesperson each time you use it.

The above excerpt is from Tim’s new book, Never Be Closing, published by Penguin this month. As a special offer to Speakers’ Spotlight readers, we’re offering two free e-books for ordering it this month (from Amazon or other online services): Speak to be Heard, a guide to identifying and connecting with the communication styles of people you meet, and GUST, a creative problem solving template we’ve used for years with our innovation clients. For more information, see .
By Tim Hurson/July, 2014