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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, 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:

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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.

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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

Top 3 Salesperson Success Factors

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Nov 27, 2017 @ 17:11 PM

New England Patriots coach, Bill Belichick was asked during an interview before the Superbowl last year, what the most important attributes football players had to have to be on his team. He said, “Love of football, hard work, and unselfish.” Whether you love him, or love to hate him, by most measurements he does what he does quite well. Indeed, he’s a winner. Rather than look at the details of how to win a football game, let’s take a look at the principles he uses to win often, which is more applicable to winning at sales.

 

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Notice that he didn’t say “strength, speed, and size” among other attributes – the stuff most of us might intuitively assume is of primary importance. He didn’t say yards-per-carry, interceptions caught, or number of sacks – nor anything related to how well the on-field statistics capture a player’s competence in their role.

Clearly, he is getting enviable outcomes year after year. He has amassed a winning record that compares with a handful of the greatest coaches of our era including UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden (read Wooden on Leadership); Tennessee basketball coach, Pat Summit (read Raise the Roof), Dolphins coach Don Shula (read Everyone’s a Coach), or the lesser-known New Zealand All Blacks Rugby coach Graham Henry (read Legacy). So what is Belichick looking at that others might be overlooking? What can we learn from his strategy, as sales leaders, to ensure we have “players” on our team that make us winners and make our competition envious at least or even “hate” us, if we’re lucky?

When selecting salespeople, many managers look for attributes such as a good personality, likeability, strong drive, past success, eye contact, or a firm handshake. And very often they want to see knowledge of the product or industry on their resume. While this might give one comfort that the right choice was made, will it consistently predict that your new hire will be successful selling what you sell, in your environment, to your market? Our extensive research says no.

Picking through the data from this research, and reviewing the findings of the assessments of over one million salespeople and their managers (using ongoing research from Objective Management Group), there are visible patterns that emerge that identify what managers might look for to pluck the elite players from the rest of the pack, or even the good from the entirely, umm, not so good, that upon initial observation are not easy to spot. Most interestingly, some of the most important analysis looks at specific elements of character that are similar to Belichick’s big three. In fact, it’s not hard to see a similar pattern in Jon Wooden’s simple success formula of Conditioning + Fundamentals + Unity (Love of the game + hard work + unselfish).

We all know that there are plenty of NFL players with strength, speed, size, and knowledge who even with all that still don’t perform as predicted. If you draft, trade, or hire enough of them, after much weeding, you might have a decent team. But earning seven Superbowl rings, as Belichick has, takes something else – looking at hidden attributes that we might also tap to ensure we don’t waste time and energy on weeding through player after player. To be the best, an understanding of this difference could make all the difference. One of the New Zealand All Blacks mantras is “better people make better All Blacks.” Not better players; better people – Unity, Unselfish.

Belichick’s three key attributes are also less tangible and not as easy to spot. Everyone can see size, strength, and speed. It takes more effort, care, attention, and recruiting skill to see if there is “love of football, hard work, and unselfish.” Wouldn’t it be great if there was an easy way to measure it? What do we need to look at, to give us the edge, in the role of a sales manager who has the responsibility of ensuring that we have the best people?

Belichick’s big three show a strong emphasis on environment and culture over knowledge and skill. Our research over three decades tells us that the sales equivalent of the factors one must possess to support the right environment and culture could be characterized as follows:

Top 3 Success Factors for Salespeople

  1. Grit – Desire, Commitment, Outlook, and Motivation
  2. Responsibility – No-excuse attitude
  3. Coachable – I’m not already the best.

Grit is increasingly cited in recent literature as a primary factor in success. For more on that, view Angela Duckworth’s TED talk that has now been viewed 11 million times. Let’s take a closer look at these critical character traits.

Desire

We’re interested in desire for success in sales as opposed to simply desire for success. Behavioral styles tests such as DISC, while useful for creating better internal communication, miss this important distinction. If being a “salesperson” is a stopover on the way to another career, or just the result of a belief such as “I will make more money,” the desire to be a successful salesperson might not reach a level of that of a top performer on your team, even if this is an otherwise success-driven person and even if they have written personal goals and a plan to meet them! It must be specific to sales.

Commitment

To many managers, the word Commitment sounds interchangeable with Desire, but the confusion leads to one of the more common reasons why new hires don’t work out. We see their strong desire and assume they’ll walk through walls to get there. If they have a high desire for success in sales, they might come across as just the person you are looking for. However, without understanding what they are willing to do to reach that success level, you’re taking a not-so-small risk, as OMG data has shown for the past three decades.

Anyone with teenagers understands this phenomenon. A kid might want to own one of those cars they saw in a James Bond movie, but sleeping till noon and taking endless selfies won’t usually help them get there? They might have the desire, but not the corresponding commitment.

Outlook

How do you feel about your work, your life, your friends, your direction, your general state? Is the glass half-empty or half-full, or are the contents moldy? Your outlook comes with you to work and affects your ability to do what needs to be done and ultimately, your success.

In a scene from the HBO television show, Game of Thrones, when the character, Aria is being trained in sword fighting, her teacher notices her mind is elsewhere. “You are with your troubles,” he says, and continues, “When you are with your troubles,” he explains, pausing long enough to dance around her with his sword until she is on her back lying on the hard stone floor, “…more trouble for you!,” he says.

If we measure a poor outlook in a pre-employment assessment, we want to probe that a bit, and ask about it in the interview. Is it related to the simple fact that they are currently out looking for work, or is it a common feature of their daily life independent of circumstance.

Motivation

If you want to motivate someone, find out what already motivates them. Where is their motivation coming from? When I coach managers and executives, I often hear the statement, “I don’t know how to motivate this person.” My first question is, “How well do you know them?”

Do they love to win or hate to lose? Do they like pressure from a superior or do they apply pressure to themselves? No right or wrong answers on that; if you know you need pressure from above, then set up an environment that creates that and it will help your success, or find an “accountability partner” to help remind you to do the things you know you need to do. Do you compete against others or against yourself? Do you like recognition or is self-satisfaction more important? …and many others.

In a sales force evaluation I reviewed with a client two weeks ago, we found that the two most motivated salespeople were motivated in opposite ways. Any one approach the manager adopted would motivate one while demotivating the other. Only a tailored approach would be effective.

Is your motivation extrinsic or intrinsic? In other words, does it come from outside rewards or is it more internal or even altruistic? In the book, Drive, author Dan Pink uncovers research that shows that we are motivated mostly by three things: autonomy, growth, and purpose – all intrinsic. Money can still be a driver but for most of us, it usually isn’t a primary driver unless you don’t have enough to meet basic needs. Since 2008, intrinsically motivated salespeople are now the majority at about 54%. Incidentally, there are certain compensation models that can reconnect even the most intrinsically motivated among us to their own bottom line.

If you are interested, recent new data from Objective Management Group regarding the latest statistics on motivation in salespeople was revealed by Dave Kurlan in this article.

Responsibility – No Excuses

Measuring “responsibility” provides a yardstick on how willing someone is to own their outcomes, both desirable and undesirable. When things don’t go right, which way is the finger pointing? Is it pointing out there at someone or something, or back at you? Does it depend…? As a manager, have you ever heard, “Well at the last minute, the competition lowered their price and got the business? There was nothing I could do about it.”

Having a “no-excuse” policy for yourself and for your team doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate reasons that things go wrong outside of your control. It means that you aren’t wasting your time on them. The focus, rather, is on what is within your control that you could do or could have done to change the outcome. The excuse prevents learning because it provides a psychological out, and gives away all the power to the subject of the excuse. It feels good in the moment because it gets you off the hook, but it ultimately makes you powerless to make important changes.

Coachability

My spell checker always puts a red line under the word, coachability. (It just did it again. Hey, programmers!, it’s cromulent.) Being coachable is a predictor of professional growth. It doesn’t mean that one isn’t already great…if they are. Rather, it’s about limiting oneself. If we are closed to all but our own personal views and experiences, we cut off receiving potentially useful knowledge from others who might contribute in some manner to our continued success.

When we think we know it all, it’s unlikely we’ll take anyone’s advice. I teach a training module called Improvement Dynamics™ that illustrates our limits by describing the nature of the very next deal that we almost got. It’s the one we might have closed, but didn’t. Each of us has such a deal or opportunity over any time frame of your choice, regardless of the breadth of our experience or of our sales ability. One can ask themselves what skill they need to refine, what activity they need to do more, or what belief they should update so they can close that very next deal that they otherwise would have missed.

Regarding uncoachable salespeople, if someone is already on your team and having success and beating targets every quarter, but you can’t tell them anything they already “know,” there can be value in keeping them on your team, but they must be managed differently. However, if we follow the logic of people like Belichick and Wooden, then being “unselfish” or insisting on an environment of “unity” might be more important to your overall success than protecting an attitude problem merely for their incremental sales numbers, while the team suffers.

The 3 Success Factors

In short, we could summarize the critical qualities a salesperson must possess if you want your team to have the edge, as Grit, No Excuses, and Coachable. There are many more attributes and skills that contribute to sales success, of course, and you can read about the 21 core competencies of salespeople in this article by Dave Kurlan. However, these three success factors must be present because the other skills and experience necessary for success won’t be enough to compensate for if these qualities are missing.

These “big three,” however, are a subset of the 21, and gaining an understanding of what they are and how to spot them is not just about having good salespeople, but about gaining the edge in your market. They are instrumental for shaping your environment and fostering a culture of constant improvement.

Where else have we seen this emphasis on culture make the difference in defining winning teams? In the sports world, Belichick has a lot of company including many great coaches and managers both today and before his time that have witnessed the benefit of environment, culture, and character over more obvious commonly-measured skill sets.

John Wooden coached UCLA to seven consecutive national championships by specifically de-emphasizing victories in favor of behaviors. Wooden would say, “Winning takes talent; to repeat, it takes character.” Vince Lombardi said, “Collective character is vital to success. Focus on getting the culture right; the results will follow.” And then there’s the All Blacks rugby team who looked for, “…high work rate, strong body movers, guys that were unselfish and had a sacrificial mindset.” Sound familiar?

Using radical new thinking about statistics, Theo Epstein helped the Red Sox break a “curse” and win the World Series. But when they started to lose in subsequent seasons, there was infighting and finger-pointing that made it difficult to recover their former glory. While other teams were hiring statisticians and quantitative analysts to find the next big inefficiency in the game, Epstein left the Red Sox and went to the Chicago Cubs with a simple approach that followed on what these great coaches mentioned above had discovered – find good players with the right character. Once again, the statistics were important, but character was more important.

Epstein said, “If we can’t find the next technological breakthrough, well, maybe we can be better than anyone else with how we treat our players and how we connect with players and the relationships we develop and how we put them in positions to succeed. Maybe our environment will be the best in the game, maybe our vibe will be the best in the game, maybe our players will be the loosest, and maybe they’ll have the most fun, and maybe they’ll care the most. It’s impossible to quantify." Sounds a lot like, “Better people make better All Blacks,” doesn’t it?

With this mindset, he went on to help the Cubs’ break their 103-year “curse” and win the World Series. Perhaps the curse had been self-inflicted all along and someone needed to step up and own the problem. No excuses. What problems do you have at your company that you can choose to decide are happening because you haven’t found a solution.

As the NFL gets into the swing of the second half of the season, fans will be watching to see what Belichick achieves with this year’s team of new and old faces. When asked how he deals with personality problems in the locker room, he said, “We don’t have them.” New England fans know this as they’ve watched great players get shown the door when they became more important than the team.

Who on your team is helping you win? And who, despite their experience, knowledge, skill, and individual success is holding you back from meeting your company’s true sales potential? What are you going to do about it?

 

Photo credit: Copyright: giorgiorossi73

Topics: sales management best practices, Great salespeople, recruiting better salespeople, sales selection

Top 6 Rules for Writing Emails that Get a Response

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Nov 12, 2017 @ 23:11 PM

How many times do you write an email to a prospect and get no response? How often do you think, "My product makes so much sense for this prospect that if they only agreed to have a conversation, we'd be doing business." Here's a recent real-life example from my work with a client that I believe will give you insights and tools to dramatically increase the likelihood of getting an actual response.

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The target for this email could be on your top 50 prospect list or it could even be an existing transactional customer who hasn’t been farmed in a few years, as was the case in this example from just two weeks ago, though the lessons are widely applicable.

In particular, this kind of email is useful when you believe it is squarely in your prospect's best interest to have a conversation with you. We often work and re-work those emails, sending them off into the darkness, and listening for a response, hearing nothing but crickets. We’re about to increase your odds of success. Read on.

So let's set this up. I received the following email from a sales manager at one of my client companies:

Good morning Dennis,

One of my sales reps is working on sending an existing customer an email to try to get a meeting to get reconnected. We’ve been doing business with some of their properties for years without fuss, but we know they have a lot more and there has always been reluctance from this gentleman to work with us or even see our value. He inherited our services when he took over the role he's in and he's always been skeptical. The old business is essentially just hanging on and frankly, we're a little afraid of calling attention to it.

We have not had a business review with this client for many years nor any communication. My rep’s initial attempt at an email to this guy was lengthy and provided a lot of information - probably too much. Thinking about what she learned in the training sessions, she shortened it to the note you will see below, which is much better, in my view, but still doesn’t seem quite right. Didn’t know if we could review it this morning in our regular coaching call.

Thanks,

Sarah, Sales Manager

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Here is the email that Sarah’s business development sales rep, Jill, wanted to send to this prospect, who was high on her target list for her company's initiative to farm old customers and grow their accounts:

Dear Mr. Janson,

Hope you are doing well today. I work for Agency Solutions, Inc. We work with management companies to help them find hidden sources of revenue on their properties without the burden of taking time to negotiate and administer all the ancillary contracts on their own, especially when they are usually unrelated to their main revenue sources. I would like the opportunity to come and meet with you in person. I have the following days/times available, please let me know which one of these will work for you:

  • November 16 – anytime from 8:00 – 1:00
  • November 17 – anytime from 8:00 – 10:00 or 1:00 – 5:00
  • November 20 – anytime from 8:00 – 5:00
  • November 21 – anytime from 8:00 – 5:00
  • November 22 – anytime from 8:00 – 5:00

Thank you,

Jill

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Take a look at her letter and ask yourself what you might change:

  • How is she positioning her company?
  • What's the message she's sending about herself?
  • What could make this email more effective?
  • Is the prospect likely to read the whole thing?

We will never know the answer to these questions because she never sent the email. Phew! But we can draw from our experience, make some educated guesses, and suggest changes that might increase the chances of a favorable outcome. Whether you're a salesperson, business development expert, or a sales manager, what edits would you suggest?

Later that morning, I met with Sarah and the President of Agency Solutions, her boss, so we could dig into this email and see if we could improve it. I'm going to share with you what we came up with, but first, let’s pick out the key points and make some comments:

  • “Dear Mr. Janson” – Let's start there. That kind of salutation works better for some but not all members of a certain age bracket and I recently read an article about email etiquette in the Middle East and it recommended starting off that same way. However, it’s usually better to position yourself as a peer. So let’s use “Hi Frank,” or “Dear Frank,” or simply, “Frank,” your choice. If you disagree with this and want to keep it formal, then continue doing it the other way, especially if it’s helping you engage better, differentiate yourself, develop rapport, and position yourself as an advisor at their level whom they can trust.
  • “Hope you are doing well today?” – The body of the letter starts with this. It usually means, “Warning, this is a sales letter so you can stop reading now.” If you wouldn’t kick off an email to your best friend that way, don’t do it here either. Oh, you mean Frank Janson isn’t your best friend? Fine. Pretend he is, and he just might become one.
  • “We work with management companies to help them…” – This is pretty good, but I’d rather use “I,” for starters because in sales today, and particularly when there is product parity, the best differentiator is often you. And the phrase “work with…companies” removes you too much from the specific people you help so perhaps you might dive right into “I help managers…” I love the whole rest of that sentence.
  • “I would like the opportunity to come and meet you…” – Wait a minute. Whose opportunity is this? So what you're saying is, “Please, oh mighty prospect, grant me your time for my personal opportunity, and while it’s possible there might be something in it for you too, at least you know that I have myself in mind from the outset.” The only opportunity here is a chance for your prospect to receive much-needed help. Don’t make it about you.
  • “I have the following times available…” After this sentence, the email continues to list times and dates that add up to 38 hours of available time over five consecutive business days. Now there's a message for you. “Listen, Mr. Janson, I’ll try to stay awake that week in case you call. In fact, I’ll put the phone next to the TV so I’ll be sure to hear it. With any luck, you’ll be my first customer in months. We’re going to have some fun together, buddy, cuz my schedule’s clear sailing to the new year!”

Okay, now that we’ve had some fun with this, let’s take a look at how we changed it during our 30-minute call later that morning. When we finished, Sarah, the sales manager, gave the copy to Jill to send off to Frank. Here's what she sent him:

Frank,

I’m sorry we haven’t contacted you in some time, even though we are already representing some of your properties. I wanted to reach out and introduce myself, to set up some time to understand your needs better and see if and how I can help.

Would you be available to meet in the next couple of weeks? I am available on the following dates:

  • November 16 – From 10:00 to Noon
  • November 17 – From 1:00 to 3:30

Please let me know what might work or suggest another date and time.

Thank you,

Jill

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There are other methods we could have used and other approaches to this particular challenge including picking up and dialing the phone. And Jill surely had that on her tactical roadmap, but as everyone in the trenches knows, calling prospects on the phone is an increasingly frustrating method for making initial contact. I once cold-called a CSO of a Fortune 1000 company with whom I had never spoken. To my amazement, he answered the phone. However, before he’d even let me tell him why I called, he said, “I answered the phone because I happened to be expecting a call from someone with your area code, so can you call back another time?” Hey folks, this doesn’t only happen to you.

Almost immediately after our coaching session on the phone, Sarah sent the new email copy to Jill and two hours later, I received an email from Sarah who had forwarded a note she just received from Jill:

Sarah,

OMG! I got a reply within an hour of reaching out. I’ll forward it to you! Holy Crap – he even tells me some of the issues they have….

Jill

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Success! While not every email gets a response so quickly, if at all, what lessons can you take on how you might improve your email outcomes? Here are my top six rules for getting prospects to respond:

Top 6 Rules for Effective One-Off Email Prospecting So They Respond

  1. Position yourself as a peer on their level.
  2. Make it all about them.
  3. Don't talk about your stuff as it gives them a reason not to respond.
  4. Make the purpose about helping them if they need it.
  5. Your time is a scarce resource. Narrow the choices.
  6. Remember it's their opportunity, not yours.

If you took something valuable from this article, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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For those interested, a few times a year, we host an open-enrollment live online training series for individual salespeople in a group environment who are trying to improve their game and master the most effective and easiest to learn sales process ever. The next session can be found by clicking here.

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Photo Copyright : file404

Topics: Sales Coaching, better coaching of sales people, advanced selling skills, prospecting emails that work, sales communication, writing

Two Most Critical Challenges When Managing Professional Services Sales Teams

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Oct 30, 2017 @ 17:10 PM

Professional services companies pose unique challenges for sales leaders and managers in two important ways: one strategic, the other tactical. Just in the past month alone, three companies of this type have asked for help and their issues are closely related.

85669208_s_ProfServ-Biplane_103017_blog

Copyright : John Malone

 

The story usually sounds like this. Sales are strong, but growth is flat. The professionals (delivery experts, practitioners and subject matter experts) are too busy to adequately hunt or farm new business, selling abilities differ dramatically, and individual growth goals are undefined. Sales process, if there is one, is ineffective. The professionals don’t have the skills, sales DNA, and training to execute corporate goals.

 

Take a breath – there’s more! Business development people who focus solely on new business have too many masters and unclear goals. And the worst of it might be that the biz-dev team brings the professionals into the sales process too early, short-circuiting an effective sales process. Lastly, compensation is leading business development people to focus on services that aren’t aligned with business goals.

 

Aside from that, everything’s perfect! Right? But remember I said there were two challenges for sales leaders, and if those challenges are properly addressed, the issues above can be resolved and they can get back to growing the business at expected levels.

 

The strategic challenge is defining the reporting and operational structure so the right people are doing the right things and reporting to the right people. The tactical challenge is effectively managing more than one type of sales role, while motivating, coaching, and holding the whole bunch accountable.

 

Let’s look at the strategic challenge first. The business development role tends to be newer in professional services companies because competitive pressure has increased more rapidly in recent years. Information is widely available to clients and it’s harder to differentiate. Further, professionals used to get by mostly on their ability and reputation. Today, to really make rain, they need a set of skills more closely associated with selling: hunting, qualifying, farming, and closing, for example. For many, these are new skills and their expertise is not at a level consistent with their professional skills and mastery.

19856368_s_ProfServ_103017_blog

Copyright : ximagination

In addition to the above selling problem, there are usually questions about organizational structure. Who should report to whom? How should they be compensated and how should it align with corporate goals. Like learning a card game, the rules are just the rules; the real strategy emerges as you play. Similarly, compensation systems are eventually “gamed” to serve the financial interest of the salesperson. That’s not a problem; it’s normal. However it’s best for companies to understand this and ensure that the compensation plan puts the cheese in the same place for salesperson and company alike.

 

The tactical challenge for professional services companies is day-to-day management of the sales organization. Typically, there hasn’t been one to manage. The professional service practitioners incentives are more aligned with the company. The company grows either because they are growing their own business, or more professionals/partners are hired. As a result, there is limited knowledge of sales management competencies including recruiting, motivating, coaching, accountability, pipeline management, sales process, CRM, and relationship building. If sales process is an issue, here's a quick tool to find out how your's measures up.

 

First, is there a dedicated manager? The usual early mistake is to have service line leaders manage business development people on the occasion when there is a prospect who is interested in their service line. This means the salespeople have as many bosses as service line leaders, which means they have no boss, no real manager, and therefore not enough accountability.

 

While each company structure is different, from experience, I can state with reasonable confidence that unless you have one to three business development people who are completely self-winding and who also make it rain every month without supervision, you need a dedicated manager who possesses the tools needed to perform the managerial leadership function. How does your team compare? Click here to find out.

 

The sales manager must have a longer time horizon than the business development people they manage, and the cognitive capacity to challenge them at a level appropriate to their specific place on the learning curve. They must understand each person’s motivations. We look at seven different motivational tendencies, for example, when evaluating salespeople. It’s difficult to motivate people without knowing how they are motivated and what already motivates them. Motivation is like martial arts. Managers get better results when they use their people’s motivational energy to direct and guide them rather than trying to change their direction entirely.

 

A dedicated manager is in a better position to coach to the sales process without letting other distractions limit this most critical of functions. Coaching can be a term of art with definitions that sometimes include any interaction between a manager and salesperson. However, getting this right makes the difference between merely knowing what’s going on and creating an environment where constant growth and improvement is a daily norm and part of the culture.

 

There is much written about how to coach and we hold a two-day sales leadership intensive twice a year with a heavy emphasis on coaching, but here’s something you can takeaway right now. Schedule a regular, predictable, formal 30-minute coaching session with each of your people twice a week. In the session, focus on only one opportunity using plenty of role play until there is a distinct “a-ha” moment. Imagine the capability of your team after six months of that?!

 

Without overwhelming you with too much information, the last critical competency to discuss, with respect to the value a dedicated manager brings to the business development team of a professional services company, is accountability. Service line leaders have a lot to think about and many constituents to serve. It’s easy for the activities of the business development team to get lost in all that noise.

 

Sales managers are in the best position to know what activities are important on a daily basis and to hold the team accountable. Again, without trying to hold a two-day seminar, here is a quick way to think about activities. Start with goals and work backward. I’ll keep the math simple in the following example.

 

If you desire one new client per month per salesperson, look at your closing percentages at each stage of the sales process to calculate the appropriate daily activity. One client might demand two closeable opportunities. Two closeable opportunities might mean four prospects with compelling need to do business, which might take eight meetings. To get eight meetings, you might need 16 conversations. To get 16 conversations, you might need 160 leads. So every day, I need each salesperson to reach out to eight people (8 x 20 days per month = 160). What equation works for your firm?

 

I hope this helps the many professional services firms working on this very problem today. In short, strategically, the organizational structure must be supportive of growth. The right people are doing the right things and reporting up through an organization that has the time and skills to support them, at all levels. Tactically, sales managers have the requisite skill sets to effectively motivate, coach, and hold their people accountable using best practices and proven tools. Find out if your team has what it takes by clicking here. Getting this right means nothing short of writing a new story, this time with a happy ending.

Topics: effective sales leadership, Management Assessment, Hierarchy of Sales Coaching, professional sales

Sales Accountability Lessons from the Emergency Room

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Aug 15, 2016 @ 10:08 AM

10127196_s_DoctorsRushing-1.jpg

I noticed the nurses and doctors rushing past me one afternoon as I lay on a gurney, parked in the hallway of a busy ER. Reasonably sure, by then that my spooky, painful experience was just kidney stones, I turned my focus to all that rushing about.

Over the course of a few minutes, a nurse, then another nurse, then a doctor, and several more, rushed by, all moving quickly to the same place past the central desk and part way down one of the halls. They weren’t running, exactly, but they were moving pretty fast.

Then I overheard one of them yelling over her shoulder, “I’ll look that up in five minutes,” she said, “I have to get to our huddle!” I felt like a kid hearing a siren and waiting to see the fire trucks, only to realize that it’s just the noon alarm in the center of town.

One of the more indispensible tools for the world-class sales manager is the huddle. Yet it is often neglected due to real or imagined time constraints. Why?

For sales managers, the morning huddle is primarily an accountability tool, to help salespeople stay focused on the most important top-line pro-active behaviors that will help lead to the results they want. That might seem like something salespeople wouldn’t love. However, executed properly, by a sales manager that has embraced the huddle, sees the value in it, and wouldn’t live without it, the salespeople in turn, also love it. And here are the top reasons:

Top Three Reasons Why Salespeople Love the Huddle

  1. Gets everyone feeling like they a part of something bigger.
  2. Creates a team spirit.
  3. Leaves them uplifted and energized 

And here are the Top Three Reasons Why Sales Managers Love the Huddle

  1. Creates peer-oriented accountability
  2. Builds bonds and energizes the group
  3. Provides a daily conduit to provide strategy, direction, and clarity to the team

Of course, this assumes it is done right. On the flip side, can you imagine that it doesn't always go this way? It’s probably not hard to believe that there are some real time-wasting huddles out there. Welcome to the land of Dilbert, where the manager drones on and everyone is checking their emails. Okay, when I hear about how much people don’t like it, these are the usual reasons:

Top Three Reasons Why Salespeople Hate the Huddle

  1. Too much criticism or too negative
  2. Always runs long so cannot plan around it
  3. Types of activities reported are inconsistent with stated goals
  4. Boring waste of time

When the Huddle has been commanded from above because of something an executive read about online or learned at a conference, and the manager herself is not bought in, the results are predictable.

For the past 30 years starting with my first introduction to huddles from a coating manufacturer, I have found this tool to be one of the most indispensible for the well rounded sales manager who shapes their environment and gets results; the same kind of manager who has mastered coaching. For more on coaching, read this article. I consistently hear that huddles are the one thing they would never give up. 

If doctors and nurses in a busy emergency room put saving lives on hold to have their daily huddle, we can certainly take 10 minutes a day from our 50-plus-hour weeks to make sure all those hours are used in such a way that success is unavoidable.

Topics: Sales Coaching, accountability, top sales leadership, sales managerment, daily huddle



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