Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

How the Dreaded Sales Script Can Help Improve Your Team

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Jul 09, 2018 @ 17:07 PM

98862376_s_CoachingToScriptImagine using a script for all of your sales calls and meetings. Get on the phone: use a script. Have a meeting: use a script. Get hung up on an objection: use a script. Now imagine managing your people. "Here's your script. Don't stray." And imagine what your ad for salespeople would look like? "Wanted: Anyone who can read."

Sales managers frequently ask me how to use a script for certain selling situations and how to use them for coaching their people. You might be thinking that one shouldn't have or need a script, or that sounding scripted is unnatural and not something real salespeople need, or that scripts are only for rude telemarketers. And you'd be right. And they also serve a more helpful purpose. The sales manager on top of their game understands both the useful purpose of a script and the need to toss it aside just before you might actually be tempted to use it. Let's explore this misunderstood but important area of sales coaching and find out how to use a script to help your people improve while perhaps not sounding scripted at all. Ready?

First, where do we find scripts. Here are some examples:

  1. Cold call opening
  2. Response to an inbound lead
  3. Handling an objection
  4. Asking for a referral
  5. When your prospect says they are all set
  6. At tradeshows
  7. At Closing

It might sound something like this: 

"Good morning, Bill. Do you purchase industrial phenolic wheels? Good. May I take fifteen minutes to tell you why mine are the best? Thank you. We have a vast array of kingpinless phenolic wheels at any load capacity you need...blah blah."

Or:

"Thanks for telling me that, Jill. I often hear people say they are all set. Can I take a few moments to let you know what you might be missing? We have a vast array..."

Or:

"Thank you for stopping by the booth. What interested you? Who are you buying from now? May I show you this short video showing the vast array of..."

And so on.

I chose these somewhat comical scripts because they are close to the kind of language I often hear from clients at the beginning of our engagement. And it doesn't matter if it's industrial wheels, software as a service, TV advertising, or professional services. The concepts are the same. 

On the flip side, some will say, "I don't want to script anything. I'll just wing it." Then I'll ask them, "So what's your strategy for when a prospect says they are all set?" And I usually hear some hesitation followed by several reasons why they should consider buying from them. "If I can just show you our vast array of wheel options, I think you'll be impressed. We are second to none in service. We ship to this area three times per week. We keep every accessory and part in stock locally... etc..."

The Purpose of the Script

The above examples demonstrate where scripts can be helpful. Here's why. Absent a formal sales process, most salespeople will result to the kind of language patterns shown above, and will follow a default process that is some variation of trying to get in front of the right person, present all their great stuff, and ask for an order. The resulting coaching session might sound like this:

Typical Coaching Session
Manager: How did it go?
Salesperson: Great!
Manager: Where does it stand?
Salesperson: They're going to get back to me in two weeks.
Manager: What went well?
Salesperson: They liked the product and we know a lot of the same people in the industry.
Manager: What could be improved?
Salesperson: Since they are talking with someone else, too, I need to do a better job explaining why we're different.
Manager: Great. Let's work on that.

On the other hand, if there were a formal sales process in place (grade yours here), the manager might have poked a few holes in that description and analysis. "When you asked them why it was so important to make a switch at this time, what did they say?" And then, "It sounds like your presentation was a bit premature."

"Okay," your rep might say, "What should I have said?"

And this is where you might write a script together that will start the conversation off the right way. What might that sound like?

Example of a Script

"It's nice to meet you, Bill. I find that the people who do what you do, and who ultimately want my help usually tell me either that they are frustrated by slowdowns caused by bad wheels on their industrial carts, or that they are concerned by the high variability in service life of their wheels making it hard to plan ahead. Are either of those true for you?"

From the prospect's answer, a conversation can ensue. Wouldn't it be nice to work out in advance how this initial question should sound so that it sparks a discussion about your prospect and their issues, concerns, and difficulties, rather than making it about you? Your rep will normally resort to doing it the way they are used to doing it and the way that makes them comfortable. The point of the script, in this case, is to practice a new conversation starter to the point when which it becomes comfortable.

When coaching your people, role play this scenario enough times so that it rolls off the tongue and so they are truly comfortable with it. Then...and here's the good part; never say it the way you wrote it. In other words, write the script, and then don't use it. The point isn't to have a script. It's to get comfortable with a new approach to a conversation. When you are in the moment of a real sales call, be yourself, speaking to your prospect the way you might speak to a friend that you believe you can help. Your salespeople will be relieved that they don't have a recite a script. If they aren't, you might have other problems with your team and you can do some quick math here on what a non-performing person can cost you.

The script is for thinking through a change in the sales conversation. Coaching is an opportunity for a manager and a salesperson to work, one-on-one to make an improvement in the salesperson's skills. Now imagine your people using a script as a tool to make improvements over how they've been doing it for perhaps years and years. Someone smarter than me once told me that no one is in sales for 20 years; they are in sales for 5 years and repeat the fifth year fifteen more times. Now you can add script writing to your available tools to help your people make improvements regardless of how long they have been selling.

 

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Photo Credit - Copyright :  dmitrimaruta (123RF) 

Topics: Sales Coaching, Top 10 Sales Tips, sales management role, coaching culture

The Single Most Important Metric to Turn Existing Accounts into Growing Accounts

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, May 29, 2018 @ 08:05 AM

52558345_s_puregoldLast week, at our Sales Leadership Intensive we hosted for a packed house of CEOs, Executives, Sales VPs, and Front-Line Sales Managers here at our Training Center at Kurlan & Associates, a question came up about metrics and holding account managers accountable for activities and proactive behaviors related to growth. "How can I create metrics for my people related to growing existing customers that we've had for years -- especially those golden accounts we'd never want to lose?," an attendee asked, adding, "I can see how monitoring these metrics would be great for business development folks seeking new business, but it's not as simple for account managers. What metrics can I use for them?" By the way, this is the kind of fun question that gets a room full of sales leaders charged up like a bunch of astronomers debating whether Pluto is a really a planet. Real geeky sales stuff that I love.

It's interesting that this question was asked. We so often think of pursuing the "new account" as easier to quantify than nurturing existing accounts. But if we think about growing an existing account as simply seeking "net new business," it ceases to look a whole lot different. So I asked the participant, "You probably don't need any of those accounts to grow, right?" He answered, "Haha, you bet we do." And I followed that with, "Well that makes sense, but you probably don't have any attrition with these accounts and they all come back every year without fail." He said, "You're dreaming! That's the whole problem. I don't think my people are on top of this and we're often surprised when we lose an account." Hmm. "So we can get several metrics right from there, can't we?" Now it makes sense. How often are you meeting with your existing accounts to have a meeting about how many other ways you can help them? 

One of the ways in which salespeople grow business is by having productive, eye-opening business conversations with prospects that no one else is having. But to have that conversation, they have to first set up a meeting. Here's where there's confusion for account managers. If I get a lead, I can contact that person and set up a meeting. It might take one, two, or 22 attempts, but the conversation gets awful one-sided when the prospect isn't there, so I need to schedule an actual meeting. Seems obvious enough. And when I have it, I can learn what I need to learn by asking questions and discovering compelling reasons for my prospect to make a change from doing what they are doing to doing business with me. On the other hand, for an account manager, I am usually well past that first conversation and we already have a relationship. But, as the sales leader said, these accounts are pure gold. They already know you, trust you, want to do business with you, and they even call you. So how do we leverage that golden relationship for growth?

Introducing the Reset Meeting

When you already have an account, but need to grow it, and further, when you already have many accounts and want to keep them, the best method is to use a Reset Meeting. The purpose of a Reset Meeting is to shift from the normal, habitual conversation and move toward a business discussion that can lead to more sales. The problem is that it might seem like an abrupt change to the prospect to suddenly be talking about growing the account, and more importantly (and problematically) it might also expose a weakness in the salesperson who might not be used to "selling," and is more comfortable in the role of simply keeping the customer happy.

Setting up a Reset Meeting might sound something like this: "Ya know Bob, we've been doing business for several years now and we've had a lot of conversations, haven't we. Along the way, I've always been ready to serve you and your business and I've taken care of your needs whenever called upon. If you're willing, I'd like to set up a meeting with you just to gain an even better understanding of your business so I can understand how to help you even more, going forward. I think we'll need about an hour and a half. Would you be willing to talk about that?"

When this meeting is on the calendar, it is analogous to the first "needs analysis" type meeting one would set up for a new account. And as managers, we can quantify how many of these Reset Meetings our people have set up, giving us a solid metric. It's important to note that this meeting cannot be ad hoc. The customer cannot say, "Yeah, we'll talk about that the next time you come in." It's vital to the effectiveness of the meeting that there is a commitment on the part of the customer to set the time aside to have exactly that conversation.

As with a new account, the existence of a real date and time on the calendar is the first step toward gaining buy-in. Your odds of converting, or in this case, gaining more business, is significantly higher when the customer/prospect commits to having the conversation as defined. "Yeah, sure, whenever..." and "Call me next week to set something up..." doesn't cut it. Those are put-off responses that say nothing about whether this is important to them, or even if they were paying attention to what you were asking.

If we can't get commitment to have the meeting, it's our first red flag regarding either the account's intent or our salesperson's skills. Sometimes, a salesperson is good at account management, but not as good at what we would call "farming" the account or growing the business within an account. Their skill sets and selling "DNA" support account management but farming requires other skills. With farming, we need closing skills and closing urgency which isn't required for account management. We have to stay in the moment. We can't get emotionally involved. We have to be able to listen and ask questions with ease. We can't have too much "Need for Approval" from our prospects/customers, and we have to be rejection proof. How many of the salespeople whom we expect to grow their existing accounts have the requisite skills and DNA to support farming?

For an aggregate view of these traits on your team relative to other sales teams, at no charge, click here. Or if you have a specific salesperson in mind and wonder if they have what it takes to set up and execute a proper Reset Meeting, click here for a free trial of an assessment tool most useful for selecting sales candidates who will be able to perform and succeed in the role, right from the beginning.

The Reset Meeting gives sales managers a good tool for framing the discussion around growing existing accounts while providing the basis for measuring and monitoring activities that will lead to customer growth and retention. Good luck with this tool and let me know how it works for you.

 

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Photo Credit - Copyright : Dario Hayashi  (123RF)

 

 

 

Topics: Sales DNA, effective sales coaching, Sales Accountability, account management, sales metrics, selling skills, sales farming, Reset Meeting

The Top 7 Most Common Excuses for Delayed Sales Process Adoption

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, May 14, 2018 @ 23:05 PM

48275588_s_ProcessAdoptionDelays-chalkboardLearning an effective sales process is easy. It usually fits on one sheet of paper, takes about an hour to memorize, and, having just come off of two weeks of travel to four different clients for intensive day-long training sessions, I can confidently share with you that salespeople and managers understand the simplicity and effectiveness of a fundamental sales process right away. There's a collective "a-ha" that occurs in every session at the moment when something that seemed so complicated at first is suddenly understood at its foundation. So why does it take months to impact sales results? I'm glad you asked. Read on to find out.

Think of the complexity of your product offering and how, while there are differences in ability on your team, most of your people can talk about the products and services in great detail. There could be hundreds of items or dozens of service combinations and options, but most seasoned salespeople can rattle them off like they are discussing backyard barbecue tips at a Little League game. With little investigation, one can see that most of your product offerings exceed the complexity of an effective sales process, often by an order of magnitude. So why does it take the team so long to adopt the sales process, use it on every call, and reap the rewards of regularly outselling their competition?

1638064_s_ProcessAdoptionDelaysThere are reasons of course, or if you prefer to use the language of elite salespeople (those possessing selling skill scores in the top 7% of all salespeople), then let's just call them excuses. Here's my list of the 7 excuses I hear the most related to the lack of adoption of sales process:

Top 7 Most Common Excuses for Delayed Sales Process Adoption

  1. Management doesn't insist they use it.
  2. They don't practice it enough to be comfortable using it on an actual call.
  3. They aren't coached specifically to sales process.
  4. They have too many hidden psychological barriers.
  5. Managers can't identify their people's personal obstacles.
  6. Their beliefs don't support acting on key steps in the process.
  7. They don't have the right sales process.

1. Management
If management isn't insisting that salespeople follow sales process, then is it a corporate adoption and buy-in problem, or is it an accountability problem? Accountability runs all the way through the organization. Sometimes there's an expectation that because managers are tasked with achieving the overall outcome of their people, that they will do what it takes, ethically, to accomplish their goals and we don't need to tell them what to do.

This kind of thinking lets leadership off the hook. That would be like managers telling their salespeople to go out and sell "so I'll just leave you alone so you can get on with it." Who will motivate them, who will coach them, and who will hold them accountable to performing the activities that lead to hitting the goals? Sales management isn't the top of the chain of sales hierarchy. The top of the sales food chain is occupied by the party or parties responsible for the outcome of the business: Owner, CEO, Board of Directors. Insistence on something as fundamental as sales process starts there.

When it's important to find out how you are getting the results you are getting and why, it might be time to evaluate the sales organization as a whole. Click here to see if a Sales Force Evaluation makes sense for your team.

2. Practice
Try it out in practice sessions first, using role-play, ideally with a manager or between salespeople and an observant manager helping to facilitate or play one of the roles. You wouldn't change your grip in the middle of a golf tournament. You would try it out on the practice green first. Do the same with sales process. Ask yourself what this call should sound like? Look for places it could get derailed and work through each one. Then be prepared for the call to go nothing like what you planned.

3. Coaching
Think of the greatest player you know in a sport you love to follow. That person has a coach, right? And if that person happens to be the best player in the world in that sport, they still have a coach. From this perspective, it means the coach is, by definition, not as good at the sport as the player, or they would be number one. Yet, the star player wouldn't want to lose them as their coach and they would never stop wanting to be coached. That's how they got where they are. In sales, formal scheduled coaching should happen daily. It's the most important role of the manager. You can read several articles on coaching by selecting from the list found by clicking here.

4. Psychological Barriers
What is blocking a salesperson from saying or doing something that they know they should say or do? The answer is often based on certain barriers that lie within their own head? It might not be a lack of ability or understanding; it might instead result from how they stop themselves due to habit, discomfort, or fear. Thanks to the magic of the OMG sales assessment, we now know that among many, there are six major hidden weaknesses that can cause a barrier to success and lead to slow improvement. They include:

  • Non-supportive Buy Cycle
  • Excessive Need for Approval
  • Getting Too Emotionally Involved
  • Discomfort Talking about Money
  • Non-Supportive Beliefs
  • Difficulty Recovering from Rejection

Rather than explain each one of these in detail, I would direct you to our upcoming one-hour live webinar on this very topic scheduled for June 14th at 11:00 am U.S. Eastern Time. It's free of charge and you can register by clicking here.

5. Identifying Issues
Often, even when salespeople have barriers to their success slowing down their progress, it goes unrecognized, either because the manager isn't looking for it, or the manager has the same issue herself and doesn't recognize the weakness in her people. To find out how your people compare with respect to the 21 Sales Core Competencies measured in the OMG assessment tool, against other salespeople, click here.

6. Beliefs
Beliefs are at the heart of all of our outcomes. Our beliefs, especially the ones about which we feel most certain, determine how we view our potential. Our beliefs about our potential determine the actions we take. And our actions produce the results we get. Each time we get a result, it reinforces our beliefs and the process starts again. I first learned of this cycle of success from neuro-strategist, Steve Linder of Strategic Brain, who had learned it from Anthony Robbins over 20 years prior.

When we come to terms with the fact that our beliefs are the driving force of our personal success machine, it can feel quite energizing. When I conduct Belief-System workshops with clients, we cover over 90 self-limiting beliefs that can impact sales outcomes, drawn from the original work of Dave Kurlan along with others such as Nassim Taleb, Robbins, Linder, Napoleon Hill, Milton Erickson, and repeated personal observations from my work with clients.

Of the over 90 self-limiting beliefs addressed in the workshop, here are seven:

  • My prospects usually buy on price.
  • My prospects don't have the time we really need.
  • My territory is the hardest.
  • My lack of result was due to the competition.
  • My prospects are often unreachable.
  • It takes several meetings to build rapport.
  • I need my prospects to like me.

If you are interested in having your own facilitated Self-Limiting Belief Workshop, click here to book me as a speaker.

7. Wrong Sales Process
The sales process should be a customized, optimized, staged set of steps that naturally describes and directs your actions and conversations with a prospect as you move them from lead to close.  If you are using the wrong sales process or if your sales process is inadequate, what should you do? Click here to take our eye-opening Sales Process Grader to find out.

Summary
To re-cap, all that is required to ensure speedy and effective adoption of your sales process is to address and resolve each of the seven most common excuses listed above. I'm willing to bet you could memorize this list in under five minutes. See how easy that was. And here is your perfect success formula if you are willing to accept it. Create a to-do list to address each of the seven excuses for not getting total early buy-in on your world class sales process. Then do the items on the list!

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Photo Credit - Chalkboard: Denis Ismagilov  (123RF)
Photo Credit - Road Barriers Elena Elisseeva (123RF)

 

Topics: sales process, adjusting the sales process, self-limting beliefs, excuse making, sales managerment, managerial leadership

Rugby and the Executive Role in Sales Manager Accountability

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Apr 16, 2018 @ 07:04 AM

When a sales manager says, "This guy isn't cutting it, but I can't let him go," it's an "uh-oh" moment, the "a-ha" moment's evil cousin. When she says, "I have him on an improvement program but it's not working," adding, "Every time I give him something to do, he has an excuse for why it can't be done, shouldn't be done, doesn't work in this market, etc." And then she says, "I think he thinks I don't have the authority to do anything about it. I have no leverage." That's when I say, "uh oh, what's behind this?" Having no leverage is like a rugby scrum. No one has any leverage and the line of scrimmage at the center of it barely moves at all. But there's always a way to get the ball out.

2508552_s_Rugby_041618

What's going on here? Why did she say, "I can't let him go." The answer, it turns out, is that he's been with the company for 22 years and the CEO says  he stays, period. "We're a family," I heard one CEO say recently. The same CEO complained that the numbers weren't improving as expected. I have seen enough close involvement of CEOs with their sales managers lately that it's worth taking a closer look at what can happen with that approach and offering a way through it that's so simple it will surprise you.

I'm not talking about CEOs who directly manage sales managers and who are therefore coaching them. I'm referring to the examples where higher-level executives and/or CEOs specifically limit the authority needed by managers to perform their required responsibilities. Before I get into what I see is at the core of this issue, let's dispense with some of the other possibilities that could be happening independently of any meddling:

  1. The manager might have a need to be liked by her reps. This is an issue for some managers. It could be the reason why she is still getting resistance from this rep. If she's worried about what he thinks of her, she might be holding back a bit. There might be much she could do to make improvements if she weren't worried about the consequences to their relationship. 
  2. It could be an issue of Shaping the Environment of the team. What is her relationship like with this person? Is there mutual trust and respect? Does he ask her for help? Does she offer it? Does she coach him effectively? Does she hold him accountable? Does she know what motivates him? Has she created an environment for him and the other team members that supports constant improvement and learning and does everyone know where they stand with respect to their goals, behaviors, and activities.
  3. It could be that the CEO believes this rep has a lot of desire for success and that the right management style will bring out the best in him. However, "desire" is often confused with "commitment." In this case, the desire might be there, but perhaps commitment is low. Commitment is defined as the level of discomfort one is willing to endure to reach what they desire. Desire is the height of the bar. Commitment is what you are willing to do, ethically, to get over it. The CEO might not see this and might be stepping in for a personal reason and/or a genuine sense that this person wants to be there and wants to be successful. That's why measuring commitment is so important. People tend not to improve without some degree of change and discomfort.

What is often overlooked as a root cause for lack of results is the way that hierarchies are structured within the organization. With so much time and effort going into ensuring salespeople are properly trained and that managers are coaching and performing other key duties properly, it's frustrating when the organization structure is the block, not the people, nor their ability.

So let's take a page from a master of organizational leadership drawing from a tremendous body of research done in the 50s by Elliott Jaques (pronounced, "Jacks"). Managers will be relieved to see in such starkly obvious terms what they intuitively know. Executives could use this to free their organizations from the shackles of misalignment and organizational blockage. It's a simple way to get ball quickly out the back of the scrum and off to the fly half to make something happen.

Managerial leaders, Jaques writes, must have three critical accountabilities and four critical authorities as follows:

The Three Critical Accountabilities of a Sales Manager

  1. For the output of their salespeople
  2. For maintaining a team of salespeople capable of producing the outputs required (e.g., meeting quota)
  3. For the leadership of that team so that they collaborate with competence and full commitment with them and with each other in pursuing the goals set.

When you hire a manager, this is what you are expecting, particularly if they are not also acting in a sales role. The sales manager role, by definition, demands that these three responsibilities rest on their shoulders. However, these accountabilities are unattainable without the proper authority. So what does that look like?

The Four Critical Authorities of a Sales Manager

  1. Hiring manager - who's going to be on my team
  2. What do I want them to do? What tasks should be assigned so that we attain the required outputs?
  3. Judging their effectiveness and deciding any merit awards as appropriate. This is not a group activity, nor is it something that a CEO or owner should step in and do. It only would undermine the sales manager's authority.
  4. Initiating removal from the his or her team. Not necessarily firing. The CEO can keep their long-time friend at the company, but the sales manager must decide who is on his or her team.  
I have seen situations where the manager has taken a large hit to their compensation due to the organizational inability to exercise this vital authority. Hire the right person and then get out of their way. If you don't like the job they are doing, fix that - develop their skills are move them to a different role. If you believe they are doing a good job in the role, then get out of their way.
 
Let's take a look at rugby again for another management parallel. In the book, Legacy, which was written in part about the All Blacks rugby team in New Zealand, author James Kerr writes, quoting head coach, Graham Henry, "The manager's first responsibility was to find a captain for their team - to pass the ball to them. And the Captain's first responsibility? To pick a team. And the team's responsibility? To turn up for every game on time." Quoting further, Kerr writes, "The leader sets objectives and parameters, then ‘passes the ball’ to the team, handing over responsibility for implementation and detail. Leading by creating leaders."
 
One can see the empowerment inherent in this approach, but make no mistake. There is tremendous responsibility placed on those captains. As a college rugby player, I witnessed something similar (not similar rugby ability). Our team was a club sport and we played several other colleges in our league with similar club status. We had no official coach, so our back captain and scrum captain were the leaders. They had both a responsibility to the team and the authority to decide who played, in what position, and how often. There was an A team and a B team and they chose those players as well.
 
On the surface, it might appear rather egalitarian. We voted them into those positions. But the managing of the team wasn't a flat organization, and necessarily could not have been. We might have elected our leaders, but once on the job, we expected them to perform. They were accountable for the performance of the team. And they had the authority to decide who was in what position and who sat out.
 
Back to our example with the CEO insisting that a rep cannot be let go. Without vested authority, a sales manager cannot do the job she or he believes is necessary to achieve the required outcome. Thus impeded, a good manager feels held back and eventually finds a new job where they will be allowed to succeed. The CEO might be thinking that his or her feelings that we're all a family are useful and meaningful to the organization. That's the "uh-oh" part. The sentiment is nice, but the effect on the organization can be devastating. By denying the the manager the proper vested authority of the position, they cannot reasonably be held accountable for their outcome. As the CEO, I'd be worried about the manager who stays.
 
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For sales managers who are seeking a major advantage over their competitors, check out our sales statistics tool and see how your team compares against your competition in the 21 Sales Core Competencies.
 
 
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Photo Credit:  Alison Bowden

 

Topics: Sales Accountability, sales managerment, rugby, 21 sales core competencies, all blacks, managerial leadership, liberational hierarchy

Educating Sales Prospects - A Misconception

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Mar 19, 2018 @ 08:03 AM

47338449_s_Educating_031918.jpg, educating, too much information

This week, I'm taking a short break from my series on selling into corporate environments where office politics and isolated resistance swarm and defeat the uninitiated. If you missed the first three articles in the series, you can read them here, here, and here. For this week, since the subject of "educating" prospects has been coming up too often to ignore, I believe you're going to like having this common sales misconception cleared up once and for all.

Interviewing a sales candidate recently for a client, I asked him why people bought from him. His response was, "They trust me and I make sure have all the information they need." And then I said to him, "Walk me through your sales process." And he said, "First I find out what they are using now (hydraulic hoses and valves). Then I educate them! That's what I do. I believe it's the best way. You have to show them you know what you're talking about. By the time I'm done, they know a lot more about valves and usually, one of the things I told them will be just what they need. I want them to see me as the guy with the answers."

When I checked out his resume, I noticed he'd been selling valves for 2 years. Before that, it was phenolic wheels for industrial use - 18 months, truck bodies - one year, cellular phones - 2 years. That's a lot of jumping around. Before I cut him short on one of the answers to a question, I had learned why I might want to use wheels without king pins instead of with them for my industrial applications. He didn't ask me if I had any industrial applications but I got educated anyway. Now I know how his prospects feel.

It was probably the the cell phone experience that "taught" him to "throw up" on his prospective new customers and no one gave him another tool. Apparently, none of his sales managers along the way trained nor coached him on how to use an effective sales process.

A common belief held by many salespeople is “I must educate my prospects.” There has been a misconception brewing about this idea for many years. We're going to clear it up right now. For the past three decades, sales expert and hall-of-famer Dave Kurlan has shown that in one context, educating prospects doesn't work. At the same time, research from consultants, Mike Schultz and John Doerr have shown that in another context, it's the most important part of the sales conversation separating winners from second place finishers. What gives?

The confusion lies in the word, 'educate.' The way that most salespeople interpret the idea of educating prospects is based on product knowledge. I want them to know, they might say, all about my product, what it does, how it does it, and why it's better than the other options. The salesperson has spent a huge amount of time learning the products well enough to sound like a seasoned auctioneer. It flows right off the tongue, and there's no way the prospect knows as much as they do, so the thinking goes, and why not sound like THE most qualified expert in the room. The more you showcase your knowledge, the more impressed your prospect will be and the more likely they are to choose the product from the guy or gal that knows the most, right?

Unfortunately, that's not how it usually works out. Spilling your guts about your products or what is most commonly referred to as the "show up and throw up" approach fails for several reasons.

  • It's not targeted. Maybe I need phenolic industrial wheels right now or maybe I don't, but why talk about them if I don't?
  • It's boring and distracts from a more productive sales conversation.
  • The information will be stolen and given to the incumbent to help keep them honest.
  • The information will be stolen and given to the competition to help them bring their service offerings in line with yours.
  • It exposes a lack of inquisitiveness in the salesperson, leading prospects to believe that the salesperson is more interested in a sale than in understanding them.

This approach is masking an underlying inability to listen carefully to prospects. What's important to them? What are they saying they need vs. what do they truly need? Why are they talking to you? Legendary songwriter and guitarist, Eric Clapton, once said, "Well, I think part of my gift, or if I have one, is that I love listening." Listening to his music, one can feel him holding back to deliver exactly what is needed for the song in that moment, never playing to impress, and always impressing.

Following Dave Kurlan's well-honed advice, by taking a more consultative approach and following a sales process that emphasizes listening, asking questions, digging deeper, and uncovering compelling reasons to buy, we educate in a different way. This means holding back on all that knowledge. It means using your listening skills and being curious to ensure that the focus is on the prospect/client/customer, and not the salesperson. It's about knowing when it's the right time to talk about your stuff and having the patience to wait for that time (said Lancelot).

When we're curious and inquisitive and willing to spend the time to listen and learn and direct the conversation toward what our tremendous experience and knowledge tells us will be useful to the prospect, something magical happens. We uncover new possibilities. We serve our prospects by discovering together "new ideas and perspectives." It's in this manner that we educate them. That's what Schultz and Doerr found was the difference. Looking at 42 factors, they found that clients reported this form of education as the #1 factor in their decision to go with the winner. Second place finishers, on the other hand, did this hardly at all, coming in at number 42 out of 42 factors. Dead last!

So we're aligned after all. We could simplify it this way. Educating prospects about your awesome stuff before you understand them: bad. Educating your prospects with new ways of looking at their problem: good. As long as we don't confuse the two, we won't find ourselves pitching industrial wheels to human resource specialists, unless they really need them. 

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Photo Credit:  olegdudko

 

Topics: self-limiting sales beliefs, Mike Schultz, common sales myths, salesales, educating prospects, eric clapton, John Doerr

Selling To a Resitant End-User

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Mar 04, 2018 @ 22:03 PM

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Corporate politics can fluster a good sale, especially in the case where an end user is resistant to your products and services even though the person who contacted you says they really need the help. In my last article, I listed the top 7 most common resistance scenarios when selling into a corporate environment in which there are strong political forces, and I addressed specifically #1 below, the Resistant Purchaser. Click here to read that article. Today, let's look at the case where the end-user herself or himself is where the resistance is coming from. The very person that's going to use the product or service doesn't want it. Now what?!

Here is the list again:

Top Seven Most Common Resistance Scenarios in Sale

  1. The Resistant Purchaser
  2. The Resistant End-User
  3. The Resistant Problem Owner
  4. The Resistant Decision Maker
  5. The Resistant Outsider
  6. The Resistant Insider
  7. The Resistant Faction

The scenario goes something like this. Your good-intentioned contact tells you, "Gosh, we really need your service. It's been tough to get the stuff we need when we need it, before the whole things becomes a you know what." And you say, after much conversation, lots of listening, and asking good questions, "And given all that, do you want my help to make all those problems go away the first time, the right way, right now?" And they say, "I'd get started today, but there's one problem. The department boss, who you would be directly helping, hates getting help. Frankly, I think he believes that it's all on him to fix it, and any help from the outside might look bad for him."

Typically, this scenario manifests in the following way. Your contact mentions it to the department boss who either says 'no' right away, or worse, pretends to think it's a good idea so he appears open-minded, only to find holes in it later after you've spent a lot of time working on it for him. So how do you deal with it?

A common approach is to try to work with the resistant end-user to change their mind. However, one must understand the strength of their fear if you are to move them to change. If it's too strong, you won't get anywhere, particularly if they won't have a genuine open dialogue and are not open to change. 

Another approach is to start with your contact saying something like this, "Mr. Primary Contact, given how passionate you are about this issue and given how much you think the company must solve this problem, I'm curious how many others in the organization care about this issue as much as you do." This will start to give you an idea of where the strength in the organization is to get something done. You might then ask, "Have you ever done something like this before, where you see the solution and others don't?" And then follow up with, "How did you get it done that time? Should we cut through roadblocks the same way this time."

When the product is "sold" to one person at the firm, who isn't the end user, and where the end user has said something that sounds a lot like 'no,' then find out where the political leverage is within the company and put it to work. There could be someone or some group that can move Mr. Obstinate where you couldn't. I know I'm going to get emails about how this is stepping on toes, and no one will ever do business with you again and so on. If this is an ongoing account that needs to be managed for the long-term, then yes, tread lightly and focus more on changing the mind of the end-user (or, if appropriate, stop wasting valuable selling time and move on, or get a referral, etc.). 

If this is not an ongoing account, then to worry about stepping on toes is to lose the sale. There are important selling competencies at work in this example including the Hunter Competency and Sales DNA such as Need for Approval. Read about the 21 sales core competencies here. If you piss someone off because you did that, and you do end up losing the sale, you're in the same place you started. If, on the other hand, by taking a risk and telling it like it is at the right time to the right people, in the genuine desire to help your prospect's firm, you will have built trust and credibility because you demonstrated the bravery to risk jeopardizing the sale to do the right thing and you didn't let your own need for approval get in the way.

In short, when the end-user is resistant, if you can find a way to go around them, then go around them. If you can't get permission for that, you have mine.

 

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Photo Credit : Andrew Grossman

 

Topics: sales management effectiveness, overcoming sales resistance

Selling Against Resistance

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Feb 18, 2018 @ 19:02 PM

To understand corporate politics in sales is to understand the shifting intensities of resistance. My most recent previous article argued that it’s important to clear a path through the thick brush and brambles of your prospect’s company politics by retaining your courage to do what it takes to get to the right audience.

 

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One reason why it’s necessary to master corporate politics in a selling context is that there will always be divides in thinking, due in part to sincere differences in understanding on what’s best for the business, and due in part to plain old self interest. And whether we're talking about reaching the lone business owner or the key procurement coordinator at a large company, how we overcome resistance will determine our outcome.

Your products and services might appeal to one group of stakeholders at a company, and at the same time seem unnecessary or even detrimental to another individual or faction within the company. In the first scenario, where there is appeal for your products and services, resistance is low. When resistance is low, your words and actions are interpreted in the best light and minor mistakes are given a pass. With the second group, however, the resistance is high. Everything you say and do is viewed with suspicion. Minor mistakes are magnified in an I-told-you-so kind of way.

There is virtually no way to close a sale when resistance is high. When you encounter high resistance, your first order of business is always to lower it. Watch Dave Kurlan explain how to do that in this short video. As you improve your ability to sell to businesses through their political underbrush, it is imperative to learn how to manage resistance. Sometimes, flipping just one detractor to an ally might be the key that closes the sale. So let’s talk about resistance in the context of corporate politics. Here are my top-seven most common scenarios:

Top Seven Most Common Resistance Scenarios in Sales

  1. The Resistant Purchaser
  2. The Resistant End-User
  3. The Resistant Problem Owner
  4. The Resistant Decision Maker
  5. The Resistant Outsider
  6. The Resistant Insider
  7. The Resistant Faction

Today, we are only addressing the first one. Stay tuned for future articles covering the remaining scenarios, which you will want to print out and keep with you so that the next time one of your salespeople has one of these issues, you’re ready!

1. The Resistant Purchaser
This is the most common resistance scenario and can happen at any point along the path of your sales process. At the beginning, it is resistance to meet with you. In the middle or near the end, the resistance is against continuing the discussion or returning your phone calls.

If you’re getting resistance to meet, work on your positioning statements – not your elevator pitch. The positioning statement is about whom you help and why they need your help. The elevator pitch, as described by most people who describe such things, adds a part about how you help them. Leave that out. The “how” part shouldn’t matter this early in the sales process and often only serves to increase resistance.

If you’re getting resistance in the middle, then you have lost their interest and while you may have distracted them from their mental to-do list momentarily with your exciting positioning statement, they now think they already get it and don't need it. As sales Hall-of-Famer Dave Kurlan often reminds us, while the science of selling is following the correct process, the art of selling is managing resistance, both raising it and lowering it when appropriate.

If we get near to the end of the sales process and we suddenly find resistance, or you find the floor disappearing under you feet exposing a swimming pool with live sharks and all you have is a tiny air tank in the shape of a pen that Q gave you, now you’ve really messed it up! The prospect, somewhere along the way lost interest, or wasn’t heard, or wasn’t understood, and the presented solution doesn’t match up with what really matters to them.

Now, I welcome comments below, and I realize the above might offend some salespeople who might be reading this thinking I’m blaming you, so I will say that it could also be that the company changed priorities, or the purchaser moved to another department, or their phone system went down for weeks and they couldn't call for help because they didn’t have any phones. However, since we don’t have any control over that, let’s work with something within our control and for that matter, let’s make it even more within our control by taking full responsibility for it. Let’s go ahead and blame ourselves. So now that we own the problem, we can own the solution.

When the prospect gets resistant at the end of the sales process, if you’re still talking, it often sounds like an objection, in which case, click here to view the same video link as above where Dave sheds new light on an old term. Lower resistance by agreeing with your prospects concerns and objections. Then ask questions about what they are thinking and feeling, why they think or feel that way, and let them tell you as much as they are willing. When they have said all they want to say about it, ask them what has to happen that would make them want to hear about alternative solutions.

If it’s because they won’t return your calls, it might be due to what I just described about a mismatch between perceived solution and described problem. This is of course more challenging because if you can’t speak to someone, it’s hard to lower anyone’s resistance. Somewhere along the path of your sales process, we might have failed to find the compelling reasons for doing business. It could be because we didn’t ask enough questions, we didn't ask good questions, or we didn’t ask the hard questions. Maybe we didn’t have enough rapport to ask them, or maybe we weren’t listening, or maybe we did everything right and our prospect either changed their mind or were lying to us in the first place.

In this case, it’s important to try to get them back engaged and when you do, don’t try to sell them even harder, making the false assumption that your last pitch just wasn’t good enough. They don’t want that. Instead, take them back to the beginning. It might sound something like this, “When we first spoke, it sounded like you had a problem in procurement so that every time you were in a pickle, you were almost always out of dilithium crystals right when you needed them most. Is that still a problem?” And then follow up with something like, “Do you still want help? Should we keep talking?” Etc.

The Other Six Most Common Resistance Scenarios in Sales
Stay tuned to this blog by keeping an eye out for the email, or by subscribing in the box to the left so I can deliver the articles right to your inbox. I will address each of these common resistance scenarios in these upcoming articles. You won’t want to miss how I recommend dealing with The Resistant Faction when I give you the same advice my friend received from the chief of police in Guangzhou, China after a group of thugs stole the air conditioners from their corporate headquarters in broad daylight.

And one more thing: If you have a sales team, or sales teams, and want to become an elite sales coach, or you want someone who works for you to become an elite sales coach while learning the most state-of-the-art sales management skills, come to our Sales Leadership Intensive on May 22nd and 23rd in the Boston area. The class is kept at the optimal size to ensure both lively discussion and personal attention as we learn about your business and show you how to get the most output from your people with nothing but the power vested in you by the executive team. As I write this (2/18/18), we have six seats left. Because you read my blog, click on this link to register for the event and receive a $100 discount.

 

Photo Credit: lightwise (123RF)

 

Topics: overcoming sales resistance, sales accountability. sales coaching, top sales management articles, sales and politics

7 Sales Beliefs that Cut Through Internal Politics

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Feb 04, 2018 @ 12:02 PM

Don’t you hate when you have a great prospect and you’re about to close, and your offering makes a ton of sense and you know you can really help, and then poof, the deal is scuttled by internal politics? Or am I the only one? From the salesperson’s vantage point, outside the company, isn’t it interesting how clear it is to tell who the people are that care about the company and who are just thinking about themselves? It can drive you crazy: “Don’t you see what this person is doing!?” And yet, within the company, there doesn’t seem to be enough will or even understanding to do anything about it. In the interest of delegating, so it goes, oversight gets neglected.

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The larger the company, it seems, the more likely that is to happen. But it doesn’t have to. Selling to larger companies adds a political dimension that is as important to the sales process as any of the critical stages, milestones, and steps we build into an effective sales process. As if selling isn’t hard enough, without adding a seemingly random roadblock, unconnected to the solution.

I hear frequent stories from my clients describing internal politics that slow progress and halt deals. The details of each story are different, but the themes are the same and the behavioral psychology is often familiar. Humans behave like humans. Failing to understand that and failing to plan for it, as the saying goes, is planning to fail.

The typical story goes like this: Their salesperson, Ethan, might tell us that the company's CEO, Janet makes all the decisions. "But we’re meeting with Dave, who expressed that he wants to move forward with our proposal. Dave’s head of procurement." But then there's Jim in operations, who used to have a bigger position. "Dave likes Jim. He brought him to the firm from a company where they both worked in the past. It doesn’t seem like the company has a lot of confidence in Jim because they moved him from running all of operations over to 'national projects' which was obviously a made-up role, but they let him keep his VP title. And Jim, of course, has an opinion about the deal even though our solution affects him more or less indirectly."

"I think Dave’s protecting Jim," Ethan might say, adding "Jim actually likes us but he has no clout. And Dave wants to move ahead, I think. But Dave is afraid to talk to Janet because he doesn’t want to put his neck on the line." Enter Michele, who is a procurement specialist under Dave. "She thinks we’re a good fit for the company. Actually, I don’t know if she thinks that but she likes me personally and we hit it off because we both had similar theories about what’s going to happen next on Game of Thrones."

"She said Dave and Jim are having trouble getting together on exactly what to do." Jim, of course, needs to demonstrate that he's still relevant. "It’s a rare clash between these two friends." I don’t think I mentioned that Janet is indifferent to us and to our solution, but since Dave isn’t communicating the details of our deal to her, we don’t know what she knows nor why she would care. Oh and one more thing. He's been working on this deal for eight months. "We’ve had lots of 'really great' conversations," continues Ethan, "and a 'no' is just a 'yes' delayed, right? But they haven’t exactly said, no." They’re getting closer to agreement, and to moving forward, and to getting Janet involved, but the progress report at eight months sounds a lot like the progress report at four months.

Sound familiar? Though this is a simple example for illustration purposes, there are clearly politics at work here. Do politics play a role in selling your products and services to your customers or clients? Are you coaching your salespeople through this kind of sales-process-gone-sideways, regularly?

  • What is really happening here?
  • What should be done about it?
  • How do you avoid this from happening again?
  • How much time has been wasted?
  • What is the cost of chasing this deal?

These are the common questions that come up when politics gets in the way of an otherwise compelling solution. In this case, the salesperson, Ethan, was trying to speak with Dave and Jim to understand their relationship and help them get on the same page. The theory was that if they could agree on how to move forward, together they might be able to convince Janet that this is a good idea. They just needed to get aligned and frankly, grow some… er, courage.

But was this the right choice for the salesperson, given the politics of that specific environment? We often get caught up in the value of our solution and then get frustrated that it’s not moving ahead, especially when, duh, “it’s a no-brainer.” If we don’t understand the internal politics, however, we won’t be able to sell in those environments. Instead, we’ll be limited to simpler interactions, selling to an end-user or a decision maker with few other influences. It’s safer and easier, of course. However, mastering politics in sales opens up far more opportunities for expanding your market.

Mastering politics doesn’t mean you’ll close every deal. Selling in a political environment means cutting threw the noisy communication cross-currents, undercurrents, and general kicking under the table in executive meetings, to find the path that will get you an answer. Sometimes it’s trial and error. The value in getting this right is high, regardless of the outcome of the sale itself. Here’s why:

  • If you win the deal, you increase your business.
  • If you lose the deal, you move on so you have time to win other deals and increase your business.

In other words, work to move the deal along, as early as possible, to get a decision either way. The mistake is wasting time chasing woozles around trees. So where do you think it went south in the example above? How did Ethan, after spending so much time on this deal, find himself running in circles around a clump of trees with his friend, Piglet?

 

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Ethan told his manager that he was frustrated but that he felt that if he could get Dave and Jim to the table again, and hash this out between them, he could get the deal back on track. What would you tell Ethan to do?

Remember the opening line. “Janet makes the decisions.” If the solution is right for the company, then Ethan does them a disservice if he fails to close the deal. He’s caught up in a political eddy between Dave and Jim and missing the real issue: Janet is not getting what she needs for the company to progress. Ethan needs to get to Janet. Obvious, right?

And it’s at this moment where our beliefs might get in the way. “No, you can’t just go around Dave!,” you might say. “They’ll never do business with you again.” In addition to this one, there are variety of other beliefs that could prevent us from looking at the problem clearly and doing the right thing in this situation:

7 Non-Supportive Beliefs that Get in the Way

  • I can’t talk to the CEO. Or, I can’t get to the real decision maker.
  • I can only talk to CEOs after talking to purchasing.
  • I don’t want to step on people’s toes.
  • Pushing this deal is being aggressive.
  • I don't want Dave to dislike me.
  • I need to be patient when they can’t decide.
  • People who don’t want my service will eventually buy from me.

What would happen if we re-wrote these beliefs so that they were more supportive? We don’t need to debate whether the belief is right or wrong because the answer, oddly, doesn’t make a difference. It only matters whether it is supportive or not to selling.

7 Supportive Beliefs that Cut Through the Politics

  • CEOs want to talk to me because I help them.
  • I talk to CEOs early and they trust me.
  • I tell the truth and serve my customers.
  • I’m assertive and pushing forward is my job.
  • I don’t need to be liked. My prospects respect me.
  • I bring a sense of urgency to closing that helps people make a decision.
  • I don’t waste time with prospects that don’t do business with me.

Using these new supportive beliefs, how can we clarify the appropriate next steps on this stalled opportunity? Recognizing that every situation is different, politically, in this case we see that Dave and Jim are working out their new relationship with Jim’s “demotion.” Dave expressed that there’s a compelling case for the deal, but isn’t driving it forward. He’s putting off Ethan, the salesperson, with an endless back and forth dialogue with Jim. Waiting for them to work things out might take a long time, and the emotions associated with fixing their problems with our service will dissipate.

The key to this is the CEO. We need to get to Janet and find out if there is urgency to solve the problem. Dave was the right person eight months ago but we have to recognize he has failed to play the role he should be, and has lost sight of the value, or might never have seen it in the first place. It’s been too long.

So instead of waiting another eight months, the simplest solution is to pick up the phone and call the CEO, get an answer and move on. But wait, Janet is likely to put us off or ignore us. Remember that Michele is involved and we hit it off. So call Michele and have her send the CEO an email telling her that she recommended that you call her and to expect a call from you soon. And this is just one approach. I’d love to hear your ideas. What would you do? Write an answer in the comments section below.

In the context of supportive beliefs, notice that the political solution presents itself once we clear the obstacles of our beliefs and get out of our own way. Janet wants to speak to me because I can help her. She trusts me because I tell the truth and I will serve her. Because I’m assertive, I pick up the phone and push ahead in the best way I know how. Dave, Jim, and everyone else will respect me when I help them get rid of their headaches. My sense of urgency to close is more powerful than the excuse of Dave and Jim stalling. And I’m not wasting any more time when I can get a decision either way, right now, and move on.

There is always a constructive path through the political noise. When our beliefs support selling success, it’s easier to find it. For sales managers coaching through this, use your position as an objective observer to find the real problem for the salesperson. In this case, Ethan was caught up in the stories and forgot his purpose. Questioning this deal with Ethan throughout the process, in the context of coaching, usually resulted in a retelling of that week’s tails and tragedies in an endless saga. Queue the sound of the needle scraping across the record. Stop. The stories all mean one thing: the deal isn’t getting done and now you’ve become part of the story, having been sucked into the vortex of the politics.

The more players there are, the more opportunities there are to find or construct a path toward a solution and decision. The more confusion and personal tensions within the company’s political realm, the more you become the provider of clarity and reason to the conversation, so politics don’t scuttle your next deal.

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Note: If you’re a sales manager, sales VP, director, or CEO, and you want to learn how exceptional sales coaches help their team continuously improve, you won’t want to miss our spring Sales Leadership Intensive at Kurlan & Associates Training Center near Boston, Massachusetts on May 22nd and 23rd. You’ll also learn to shape your environment, motivate your team, recruit like the best, and hold everyone accountable. Be prepared to work. It’s a packed two days. Click here for details. As a reader of my blog, this special link will give you a $100 discount.

 

Image copyrightAndriy Popov

 

 

Topics: coaching salespeople, self-limiting sales beliefs, great sales management training, sales and politics, internal politics

Shedding Light On Sales Process and the Consultative Sale

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, Jan 05, 2018 @ 12:01 PM

There are many sales processes out there with lots of catchy names. SPIN Selling, N.E.A.T. Selling, Conceptual Selling, SNAP Selling, The Challenger Sale, The Sandler System, CustomerCentric Selling, MEDDIC, The 7-Step Sales Process, The 8-Step Sales Process, The 10-Step Sales Process, no joke, and there's even a Selling for Dummies because who wouldn't want to buy from a dummy? I think you get the picture. And I particularly love this diagram:

EndToEndSalesProcess_010518-2.jpg


Even though there's a big arrow that says, "Start Here," I still couldn't figure out where to start. Maybe I'm one of the dummies. And in case the author of this Rube Goldberg selling diagram catches wind of this article, let me add that it probably works very well - once it's perfectly understood and properly executed. Most sales processes do what they are supposed to do. Even No-Sales-Process works some of the time. Imagine being an iPhone salesperson, for example, where the key sales candidate selection tool is a stethoscope and the sales process has two steps, 1. Avoid people; and 2. When they demand to buy something, insert their credit card. The question is whether your sales process can be understood by your people and do they have the skills, sales DNA, and beliefs to execute it.

It seems like a book comes out every month with a new sales process - a new way that's seemingly the only way to be successful selling. It's as if they are all saying, for example, "Before The Challenger Sale, there was only spinning your wheels and wandering aimlessly."

The Harvard Business Review article introducing that particular methodology seemed to imply that no one understood selling before "these guys" figured it out. I like HBR generally, but that turned out to be a pitch for their contributor's consulting firm rather than an enlightening academic article. The methodology is a useful imitation of pre-existing similar methodologies and works well when used in the appropriate place in the sales process, the description of which was absent from the article. I'm reminded of a sub-chapter in Antifragile by Nassim Taleb entitled, "Teaching Birds How to Fly," reminding us of the tendency for non-practitioners to "teach" us what we already know and then claim credit for our success.

For any sales process to be successful, it must tap into the fundamental nature of how people are moved to change. Many of them do this. Some don't. By process, I mean the steps, to-do's, and milestones accomplished in a specific order that takes a potential customer/client from lead to suspect to prospect to qualified to closed. After analyzing dozens of sales processes over the past few years, I've noticed the effective ones overlap with what we might call a fundamental sales process, one that includes a consultative approach to the conversation (methodology) in addition to other vital stages and milestones (process).

Even Challenger has elements of a Consultative approach. They point out that challenging prospects is important. Objective Management Group (OMG) has data from over a million assessed salespeople and point out that half of all salespeople have a hidden weakness called "Need For Approval," that prevents them from challenging prospects, even if you teach it to them. This hidden weakness must be addressed before they can effectively "challenge" their prospects.

Consultative Selling

Take a quick look at your sales organization and count the number who are consistently selling consultatively.  If it's less than 100%, then count the salespeople who at least know what the term means.  Of that group, who could tell you with clarity, how it differs from other forms of selling?  For bonus points, who could tell you why consultative selling is a more desirable approach in 2018?  If your company didn’t score high on this test, it might be time to question why some of your sales people consistently miss their targets.

Most believe they're selling using the latest tools and methodologies.  “I’m asking lots of questions,” they might say, adding “I have the solution to their problem, have great relationships and they trust me.”  All that sounds right until you consider that almost any seasoned salesperson can say all of that.

What makes one salesperson so much more effective than another?  It’s not about asking questions; it’s about asking the right questions.  It’s about drilling down to uncover issues which weren’t on the table beforehand.  It’s not about having a solution to their problem; it’s about defining the problem in a new way which plays to your strengths.  It’s not about having great relationships; it’s about standing apart from the competition so much so that you command your customer’s attention.  This is what Dave Kurlan calls “Speed On the Bases” or SOB Quality.  You want to be like the great base-stealer who forces the pitcher to pay more attention to you than the batter.  If consultative selling is the lock, then SOB Quality is its key.

It's worth repeating in this context of sales processes and consultative selling methodologies what I described in an article a few years ago about a scene from The King's Speech with Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the speech therapist, and Colin Firth as the prince, and future King George VI.

Article_010518_FirthAndRush

In the movie, Lionel Logue, a commoner from Australia, was the service provider.  The prince, who was known by his family as Bertie, was the potential client.  The prince had a speech impediment which others hadn’t been able to correct. Logue came recommended, but couldn’t prove that he could solve his problem any more than the knighted doctors who'd previously tried.  Here’s an excerpt from their first encounter, before any agreement is made to contract his services:

Logue:  “Please call me Lionel.”
Bertie:  “I prefer Doctor.”
Logue:  “I prefer Lionel. What’ll I call you?”
Bertie:  “Your Royal Highness. Then Sir after that.”
Logue:  “A bit formal for here. What about your name?”
Bertie:  “Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George”
Logue:  “How about Bertie?”
Bertie:  “Only my family uses that," he said angrily.
Logue:  “Perfect. In here, it’s better if we’re equals.”
Bertie:  “If we were equal, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be home with my wife and no one would give a damn.” Bertie lights a cigarette.  
Logue:  “Don’t do that.”
Bertie:  With astonished look, “I’m sorry?”
Logue:  “Sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.”
Bertie:  “My physicians say it relaxes the throat.”
Logue:  “They’re idiots.”
Bertie:  “They’ve all been knighted.”
Logue:  “Makes it official then. My ‘castle,’ my rules. What was your earliest memory?”
Bertie:  “What on earth do you mean.” Now visibly irritated.
Logue:  “First recollection.”
Bertie:  “I’m not here to discuss personal matters,” he yells.
Logue:  “Why are you here, then?”

Logue’s probing inquiry eventually uncovers that the prince's self-image is more important than the stammering. In fact, the breakthrough comes when Logue sits in the king’s cathedral throne before the coronation, angering and challenging the king, until he finally yells at Logue, “I have a voice!”  Logue calmly replies, “Yes, you do.” and gets up out of his throne.  The King never questions his credentials again.  Logue has that SOB-Quality or Speed on the Bases. He's differentiated himself and become a trusted advisor.

That’s how a commoner with no credentials, title, formal training nor guarantee of success took the business away from his high-powered, knighted, competitors who possessed the inside track.  That’s SOB Quality and it’s at the heart of consultative selling.

Do your salespeople push back and uncover the underlying problems?  Do they challenge the decision-maker and ask questions which could cause discomfort or even irritation?  Do they look past the original inquiry, listen intently and ask follow-up questions until something interesting emerges?  Are they always looking to disqualify (“Why are you here, then?”) and letting the prospect sell themselves?  If the answer to any of these questions is ‘No’, could they be trained? What would a sales force evaluation reveal about your company's potential for change and opportunity for massive growth?  Do you have the right people to help you realize your organization's full potential as you envision it?

This month is a terrific time to reflect on questions like these.  Rather than wondering whether you can hit your 2018 goals, perhaps you should be looking further and asking which sales force changes you must make in order to achieve sustained, double-digit, year-over-year growth.

If you are looking for a sales process, you can reach your hand into a plain brown bag and pull one out, or you can ask for help so you get a proven process based on fundamental human behavior that fully accounts for how people are moved to change. If you would like to become an expert at the kind of consultative selling described in this article, using a fundamental sales process that's as easy to learn as naming the base paths on a baseball field, sign up for our Baseline Selling 12-week online training course, by clicking here. Don't worry about the catchy name; focus on how easy it is to learn, even for self-proclaimed Dummies!

Topics: Consultative Selling, Baseline Selling, sales process, challenger sale, The Kings Speech

Telling it Like it Is - How Candor With Your Team Improves Sales Results

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 @ 20:12 PM

In his book, Winning, GE’s ex-CEO, Jack Welch wrote, “I would call lack of candor the biggest dirty little secret in business,” adding, “Lack of candor basically blocks smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got. It’s a killer.” These are hefty words for a topic that, in your leadership role, I’m guessing is probably not at the top of your list of improvement initiatives for the year. But according to Welch, you might be missing the “biggest” secret and end up a victim of this “killer.”

We could spend more time on why it’s so important to have candor as a primary component of your culture and why the practice of “telling it like it is” is so important to your team’s success but I’m going to focus on how to do it. And you can get amply educated for the benefit of your sales team, executive team, or any other team where there’s hierarchy and structure and where a leader can shape her own environment. You can also read Mr. Welch’s book or you can read Dave Kurlan’s article about your role in the sales environment, where he shares another important book recommendation. But read on if you want to know how to do it, what approach to take, and what must be present in your team environment to make it work.

Let’s look at two important areas of candor:

1. The environment required for candor

2. How to give feedback, especially criticism

And let’s face it, candor is not simply “telling it like it is” when things are great and when you have good news, no criticism, and nothing to worry about. Anyone can do that, and we don’t need to write about it, do we? Candor is a mindset, a habit, and a conviction about honest and direct communication, especially when the message isn’t all sunshine and cookies. It’s a commitment to open and direct honesty with your people. When there's concern the message won't be well-received, one could be uncomfortable delivering it, thus the need for commitment. When you reach a point where no one on your team is wondering what you really meant or believe and there is no mystery about how you will react and behave, then the corresponding trust frees them to get to work on the business problem, confident that they understand the full meaning of your communication.

 

THE ENVIRONMENT REQUIRED FOR CANDOR

First let’s talk about the environment, which we can break into two parts:

1. The conditions that must be present

2. How you can actively shape that environment

Conditions for an Environment of Candor

This one is simple: trust. Business author and thinker, Patrick Lencioni writes about this at length in his book, The Advantage. Starting with trust, he builds a case that there are building blocks one can visualize in the form of a pyramid that will lead to a healthy organization and to the top of the pyramid, which he defines as “Results.”

To build a healthy organization, start with trust. Trust allows for conflict, which is vital to airing out and understanding the issues. The team has to have trust in the leader and in each other to ensure that sharing ideas, no matter how radical, will be taken in the proper context. To fully vet an issue, opposing views are necessary, leading to conversational conflict or what Ram Charan and Larry Bossidy refer to as “Robust Dialogue,” in their important business book, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.

Once there is trust, there can be a healthy form of conflict that gets to the decision more effectively. In Execution, the authors write:

“Robust dialogue starts when people go in with open minds. They’re not trapped by preconceptions or armed with private agenda. They want to hear new information and choose the best alternatives, so they listen to all sides of the debate and make their own contributions.”

 

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Sounds like utopia, doesn’t it? That’s because none of that can happen if there isn’t a trusting environment, and what’s the probability of that? Zero, if there isn’t a purposeful effort to create it. And it won’t rise out of nothing all by itself. There will always be someone putting their own interests above that of the group, sometimes more than one person. When it is tolerated by leadership, it festers and grows like toe fungus. You have to own your environment and insist on ensuring its health, precisely so you can tackle the other building blocks that lead to the Results at the top of the pyramid of healthy organizations.

Lencioni puts them in sequence to build the pyramid:

1. Trust – in each other, and bringing our authentic selves to the table

2. Conflict – so we can be heard and so we can listen to understand the issues fully

3. Commitment – to the decision once it is made

4. Accountability – to the leader and to each other so we do our part

5. Results – what naturally follows from getting all this right

How You Can Actively Shape Your Environment

This is less simple. But here’s how. As a leader, get to know each of your people and develop a relationship with them, not so much to be friends, but to have mutual understanding and appreciation for who they are and how they see the world. Know them well enough, and understand their lives just well enough, and know how they interact with others well enough to be able to answer some fundamental questions about how they contribute to the environment you are shaping.

Next, take an inventory of everything that might impact the environment or indicate its current state. Make a spreadsheet so you can get a visual reference point when you have finished it. And then go to work on it and watch it improve. Place a check mark in every box where there is a gap. Examples might include is there mutual trust, is there respect, do they have the skills required, and do their beliefs support their success. If you are interested in finding out how hidden weaknesses limit their results, come to this webinar tomorrow.

These are just a few, and I do an entire workshop on this with sales leaders who consistently report that it’s one of the most impactful tools to building a world-class sales team. It helps them to see how they can directly impact the team and get results from any starting point with respect to the quality of their team. Our own research with clients who learned about shaping their environment has provided an interesting statistic: when leaders actively shape their environment, they hit their numbers. When they fail to shape their environment, they don't hit their numbers. There's a one-to-one connection.

One of the things that frequently comes out of my work with sales teams when managers do the above exercise, is that they find that it only takes one or two people to throw the whole environment off. They quickly see that a lot of their resources are wasted on the few to the detriment of the whole, leaving them with a caffeine-like boost of clarity on how to fix the problem.

 

GIVING CRITICAL FEEDBACK

Five years ago, I wrote an article on how to give criticism, parts of which I’ve revised below in the context of candor and the importance of “telling it like it is.” Most managers believe that when providing feedback, especially when it could be perceived as negative, one should pad it with positive comments on either side - a "criticism sandwich," if you will. It's Grandma’s mincemeat in between two pieces of cinnamon toast. Mmm. Sounds great!

In addition to the above approach, many managers will give a positive statement first, and then fire off the criticism, as if they've warmed them up so they're ready for bad news. The practice was studied by Clifford Nass and described in his book, The Man Who Lied to His Laptop. The brain goes into full alert, he explained, when hearing negative criticism, and enters a state called “retroactive interference” which results in near total loss of the memory of anything just preceding the criticism. It might take minutes, hours, or a couple of days for the memory to disappear, but your brain simply cannot hang onto those words of praise that came just prior to the criticism. If asked later if there was any positive feedback from the discussion, one simply can’t remember. "What cinnamon toast?"

But another interesting phenomenon occurs when you give someone criticism. In that same heightened alert state, one also experiences a new sense of awareness that Nass calls “proactive enhancement.” You’ve got their attention so now they are ready to listen and absorb whatever you say next. This is where the opportunity is often wasted. Most managers, at this point, provide what they regard as a soft landing by giving positive-sounding generalities. That’s the slice of bread on the other side of the sandwich. Generalities, it turns out, by their very nature are hard to remember. So we soon forget that slice as well. With all of the bread missing, what remains might leave us a little unsatisfied and hungry for more.

So how do we improve on this model? When coaching your sales force, finding optimal mixes of positive and negative feedback, while important, is not the real goal. Rather, the goal is improving sales effectiveness with honest, useful feedback. Criticism is important, after all, if you want to improve a specific behavior. And positive comments are also important to ensure you get more of the behaviors that are already working. When both forms of feedback are delivered in the same conversation, and you want both to be remembered, you need a better strategy.

Here are three must-do steps for effective criticism:

1. Tone – How you say it is more important than what you say

2. Order – Negative first, positive second

3. Actionable – We handle criticism better when given the recipe for improvement

First, your tone provides the signal for how you feel about someone. Is the person the problem or is it just their behaviors? If we stick to the behaviors, then we can still smile at them, love them, cherish them, be filled with gratitude for them, and remain firm that the behavior needs to change. Keep the list of negatives short and specific. Too many criticisms will feel like a barrage which can be depressing rather than instructive. A few helpful points will provide focus. Second, the order matters. Tell them the positive comments after the negative ones, and make the list of positives long and specific, rather than general. “ You’re basically doing a great job” can be replaced by, “You’ve been growing the front end of your pipeline by making more calls, which is really going to help you in the last quarter.”

Third, always provide actionable feedback alongside the criticism so they understand how to correct the problem. Don’t leave them hanging and wondering what it all means. General negativity makes us anxious and frustrated. Specific criticism with the steps to make it better leaves us empowered and provides a sense that someone is looking out for us. Is coaching an important part of your culture? Do your people regularly come to you for help? Do you look for advice and feedback in your own organization?

Candor, as so many successful business people have echoed, is a requirement for success. It starts with trust. The supportive environment you build that you, as the leader, must own and insist upon, is the foundation from which to build trust, leading to candor and healthy conflict, and ultimately to buy-in, accountability, and results. When we get good at building an environment where there is trust and open honest dialogue, where people aren’t “trapped by preconceptions” and “private agendas,” the full potential of our teams and ourselves can be achieved.

 

Photo Credit: Copyright, Igor Zakharevich

 

 

 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, Criticism, Clifford Nass, Executive Team, Patrick Lencioni, Organizational Health, Candor, Jack Welch, Shaping the Environment



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