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The Sales Post-Mortem

It's not nearly as morbid as it sounds. The word autopsy simply refers to an analysis of something after it has been done. How often do you take the time to autopsy a sales call? As a routine, you should use every sales call as a learning opportunity. It's otherwise known as “learning after doing.”

The purpose of the sales post-mortem is to figure out what you did well and what you could do differently. When you take the time to think through what made you successful, you have a better chance of replicating that success. And when you candidly examine what happened, taking time for reflection and deeper-level introspection about what you did not do so well, you also have a better shot at improvement in the future.

The point of taking a cold hard look at what has already happened is not to glorify your successes. It isn’t to make you feel bad about mistakes you made. Frankly, neither of those purposes will serve you well. The entire purpose ought to be learning and improving in the future. When you take the time to dissect and scrupulously examine every part of your sales call, you're going to become a better salesperson. It's unavoidable.

The sales people who stagnate and fail to improve over time are those who do not spend time on or attention to learning from their mistakes. Complacency is the enemy of improvement. Thinking that what you’ve done to be successful in the past will help you be equally successful in the future is self-limiting. Think instead about continually improving what you have done no matter how successful you've been.

So how would you go about doing a sales post-mortem? First, it's really helpful if you have another set of eyes and ears involved in a sales call with you. The role of the other person might be nothing more than taking notes or scripting what happened, what you said, what the other party said, and what the results were. After all, you are caught up in the moment. You need to focus on the call itself in that moment. It isn't likely that you will be able to recall everything that was said and done. You will not see every subtle cue that the buyer signaled. And you will only have your own perspective, your own lens to look through.

Side note: be sure to set this up so that you aren't taking someone along for the purpose of observation only to be surprised when he or she interjects him- or herself into the sales call and/or takes it over. Be sure to set those ground rules and expectations upfront.

If you are able to have the same sales coach observing you on several sales calls, that would be even better. Then you could get some third-party insights on your patterns of behavior. But even a single sales call can be quite helpful for a sales post-mortem.

Just in case you're thinking that you are too experienced to benefit from somebody else helping you dissect a sales call, let me tell you about George Brett. He spent his entire career – 21 years – with the Kansas City Royals, and he has more hits as a Major League third baseman than any other third baseman in history. Overall he's got the 16th highest number of career hits at 3,154. He's only one of four players in MLB history to get 3,000 hits, 300 home runs, and a career batting average of 300; the others are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial. Brett is a Hall of Famer. When he was at his peak performance in the 1980's, George Brett hired a batting coach. And he was quoted as saying that he hired a coach because he needed only a little sliver of improvement. He was already at the top of the game. He was looking for something he couldn't see himself, something minute that would make an impact.

In other words, no matter how good you are, there may be room for even a little bit of improvement that could make a difference for you. The only way to figure out what that little bit might be is to pay attention to what you're doing. You pay attention by doing sales call post-mortems. And you get another person like a sales coach to give you something that you can't see on your own.

By looking at the sales call, getting a coach to help you look at it, reviewing the notes from the call and thinking about the tipping points in the call to ascertain when it went one direction versus another, you will have opportunities for improvement. You will see things that you did not see before you did the dissection.

In sales call post-mortems, here are the sorts of things that sales people generally discover: Some can see how the questions they are asking are not very effective in yielding the types of information they're looking for. Others realize that they aren't actually attempting to close. Sometimes sellers are able to notice that they are not specifically answering a customer’s objections or questions. Still others are able to identify that they have missed a key buying signal that the customer put out there for them.

As you can see, this is all high impact stuff, well worth a couple minutes’ reflection and the post-mortem in order to learn and improve. Don't be afraid of the post-mortem. It is the very best way for you to get at the truth.

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