Selling: The Curbside Debrief

Selling: The Curbside Debrief

Well I have taken a little time on this one because of all the selling practices and management routines that I believe in and practice, the one that I am probably most known for is “The Curbside Debrief.” As is many things in life, I have been doing this for so long that I can’t exactly remember when I first learned this simple and powerful “practice.” I know for sure that I learned the idea more than twenty years ago, as a young marketer at Coke. I had the chance at that time to work closely with a number of outstanding veteran executives who were frankly “expert” in their work with customers and sales organizations. It is when I first worked with my current boss, Jeff Dunn, and we both also had the opportunity and privilege to work closely with Dick Flaig and Charlie Frenette. While I can’t be exactly sure, I think I learned the idea of the “curbside debrief” and the following approach from Jeff’s dad, Walter Dunn. Walter meant a great deal to me, and he was an amazing gentleman (I chose that word carefully and I do not use it often) and quite an icon across the Coke system globally, having worked in that organization for 40+ years! He passed away in 2009 and I know that I am only one of many who miss him deeply.

The idea behind the “Curbside Debrief” is a very simple one. Regardless of how big or small, how many people, how hot or cold, or how well the sales call went, you take the time to IMMEDIATELY review EVERY call, preferably literally at the curb of your customers office, always working on ways to constantly improve. I have literally done them in parking lots, airports, theme parks, restaurants, many times in a vehicle, and even once on a ski-lift. I remember once with Walter Dunn we had just finished an extremely successful sales call with a large team who had been working for weeks up to the [pitch that we just knocked out of the park. I wanted to let the team head out and enjoy some much deserved rest and Walter insisted that we pause and do our “Curbside Debrief” there in one of the big meeting rooms at Coke. I said to Walter that since the pitch had gone so well, why couldn’t we skip just this one time, (silly silly me!) He quietly said (and I remember the words just like it was yesterday) “well Bill, even the best moments can be made better.” Humbled quickly, we worked our way through the debrief and indeed, there were a few things that we could have made better and a number of action steps that we might have forgotten.

The approach / routine of the debrief is always the same, there are 6 key steps/questions that you use EVERY time, and you use your hand as a mnemonic device to not miss any step. A participant typically moderated the “debrief”, and the individual / individuals who lead the call provide the answers. It’s definitely a communal process, everyone can and should participate, but the ones “owning the call” ultimately “own the debrief.”

Question #1: “Was the call successful and how would you know?” (Use the thumb) Think back to your call plan, did you accomplish your sales objectives for this call? How would you know if you did? Does everyone see it the same way or are their different points of view. Remember, there are always lots of opinions, let everyone get heard!

Question #2: “What worked?” (Use the fore finger) Take a moment and celebrate the things that worked in the call, maybe a certain person played a key role, maybe a certain part of the deck really connected. It could literally be anything, but on all calls but especially unsuccessful ones, always start with “what worked.”

Question #3: “What didn’t work?”(Use the middle finger / strangely symbolic, ha!) Now don’t let this become a feeding frenzy, but go over the elements that went awry. I have seen some very successful sales calls that had some horrid moments, and the opposite is equally true. If there are a lot of items to critique, really try to start with the big ones.

Question #4: “What will we ALWAYS do again?”(Use the ring finger) The key word here is ALWAYS! This is to work to build into your process things that will become required elements every time, not just a few of the things that worked well recently. Remember that you will ALWAYS have at least one item on this list ….. You will ALWAYS do a “Curbside Debrief!”

Question #5: “What will you NEVER do again? (Use your pinkie) This is the flip side of #4, what things happened in that call that we want to NEVER see happen again, what can we take out of our repertoire for good?

Question #6: “Action Steps?” (Use your palm) It is vital to have someone take notes throughout, but vital at this step. Everyone go over their notes from the meeting, and be sure to not have missed anything. Often times the individuals presenting are not in a position to take the best notes, or capture all the action steps.

Well there you have it, the “Curbside Debrief”, a simple six step approach that with practice, will improve your approach with customers over time. As I said above, I probably learned it in the early 1990’s, but this simple approach certainly goes back decades. Use it and make it your own, and as many things go it will improve with discipline and practice, and remember ….. Immediately after EVERY call, preferably with your foot resting on the curb!!