Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

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?

 

Article_020518_Politics-WoozleHunting

 

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

The Emperor's New Sales Brochure

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Oct 27, 2015 @ 14:10 PM

In a coaching call early this week, my client asked me a marketing question that I hear quite often but never wrote about until now. To answer their question, I am going to divulge research results from a study we did here at Kurlan & Associates that up to this point, has not been widely shared by Dave Kurlan, who conducted the study.

We get a lot of marketing questions but it should be noted that our primary area of expertise is sales and not marketing. We are concerned with the “top of funnel” hand-off from marketing to sales, however. And we are also concerned with the role that marketing can play to position products and services in alignment with sales messaging so salespeople will have better conversations. That's why we tend to get questions related to this crucial hand-off period.

So what was the question? It was this: “Would it help our cold-calling efforts to send out a brochure to prospects prior to calling them?” Have you ever asked that question? Have you tried it? Did it work? I bet it did. But I bet you’ll be surprised by the results of our study.

Here’s how the study worked. We divided prospects randomly into three groups. Let’s call them Group A, Group B, and Group C. To each group, we either sent a brochure ahead of the cold call or we didn’t, according to this schedule:

Group A
To Group A, we instructed our client to make a normal cold call. We did not send a brochure prior to this call. This was our “Control” group.

Group B
To Group B, we sent out a brochure to prospects. We then followed up with a call that started with, “Hi, this is so-and-so from such-and-such. Did you receive the brochure I sent you last week?”

Group C
To Group C, similar to Group A, we did not send a brochure, but we made a cold call and instructed our client to start the conversation with, “Hi, this is so-and-so from such-and-such. Did you receive the brochure I sent you last week?” If you noticed that Group B and Group C said the same thing, then you are one very astute reader.

So Here’s the Summary
Group A: No brochure sent. Cold-called the prospect.
Group B: Brochure sent. Followed up with a call asking if they got the brochure.
Group C: No brochure sent. Followed up with a call asking if they got the brochure.


Photo Credit: ©blotty/123RF.COM and Dennis Connelly

And Here’s the Results
Group A, the cold-callers, were able to convert the call into a meeting one out of 10 times. 1 in 10.

Group B, the folks who sent the brochure out first and then followed up with a call, did much better, converting twice as many calls into meetings. 2 in 10. So now you know the answer to at least one question. It’s better to send out a brochure first and then call. You will have a much better conversation rate than simply cold calling by itself.

Putting ethics aside for a moment, there are two reasons why you might want to try what Group C did – either you are pressed for time and don’t want to wait for a mailing, or you are short on stamps and don’t want all that return mail clogging your actual brick and mortar (or aluminum) mailbox. There’s a third reason I should mention that you might want to try what Group C did, which is that their conversion rate was three out of 10 calls. 3 in 10. This is 50% more than group B and 200% more than Group A. This result surprised us. We were expecting it to be the same as Group A and certainly no better than Group B.

How can this be? There are a few explanations that appear to be at work in Group C and not in the other two. 

  • Group C knew in advance that the prospect hadn’t seen the brochure so there was no worry about their opinion of it
  • They had a useful conversation starter
  • The prospect, feeling a little guilty for not seeing it, might have given them a little extra consideration
  • Knowing the prospect’s answer ahead of time gave the salesperson more confidence

So now let’s get back to ethics. Do you really want to start off your relationship with your prospect with a lie, acting as if you did something you didn’t do? Keep in mind that with Group C, there was no brochure sent at all. What made the difference was the mindset of the salesperson.

So how can we learn to bring the more successful, Group C mindset to the call every time without dishing all the bullcrap? Which skills and what hidden weaknesses might be holding us back?

  • Do your salespeople develop early rapport?
  • Are they confident and credible?
  • Do they ask questions easily, and listen carefully?
  • Are their positioning statements aligned with prospects real issues?
  • Can they create urgency?
  • Do they recover from rejection quickly?
  • Do they have excellent sales posturing?

How many of your salespeople can be developed to hunt and close new business effectively? How well does management coach them and hold them accountable? How motivated are they and what actually motivates them? Are you training the right people? How many cannot be trained? If these are top of mind questions for you, a sales force evaluation will answer them. Click here if you would like to learn more about that.

By getting salesperson selection right, training and coaching existing salespeople, and ensuring alignment with leadership and corporate goals, you will improve the quality of your sales organization. You will improve sales efficiency, preserve margins, and create more success for you and your people.

 

Photo Credit (Top): ©MarinaGallud/123RF.COM

Topics: sales force evaluation, sales training, sales recruiting, sales candidate selection, Sales Coaching, coaching salespeople, hiring sales candidates, coaching sales managers,

The True Meaning of Sales Coaching

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, Sep 23, 2014 @ 09:09 AM

14563945_s-weights-CoachingThere is sales coaching and there is sales coaching. Let’s talk about the latter. The most important skill to master for sales leadership and effective sales managment is this one. As a sales coach for sales managers, sales VPs, and CEOs, I see what works and what doesn't work when working with salespeople. I have watched sales managers push through to a find a new, more effective way of coaching their people to greater success, even when coaching a seasoned veteran who is already successful.

The best analogy I can use for this skill set is exercise. Practice, as you may already know, does not make perfect; it makes permanent. So to achieve more effective sales coaching, we have to know what better is, and then take it one incremental step further with every session.

To do this well, one must spend at least three times per week for 30 minutes coaching salespeople. Help them push through a problem to gain better understanding. A formal, structured, planned coaching session every day is even better. The session must go deep enough to tax the brain a little. And the result is growth.

Are you ready to hear two surprising truths about coaching? Okay.

Surprising Truth #1: The best managers spend 50% of their time coaching.

The company grows through improvements from the their team. That could mean adding territories, adding sales people, and/or making the existing people better. It is the sales manager’s job to grow the company through sales. Read my earlier article on how sales management is the most important job in the company.

Companies suffer without creating a sense of urgency among their team. Therefore, regardless of other growth strategies, managers must be working on improving the existing team. Executives must help clear a path for managers to spend their time coaching, motivating, and holding people accountable. Coaching is the number one priority, however.

Surprising Truth #2: Ongoing daily interactions with salespeople about their opportunities is not coaching.

Many managers believe that because they are frequently interacting with their team about all of the different opportunities and deals that they are working on, that they are coaching. But this is like saying that because I walk around all day and walk up the stairs occasionally, I’m exercising. Rather, this ad hoc interaction maintains current abilities, and does not lead to improvement.

So let’s get back to our analogy.

  1. Three times per week minimum: Exercising twice per week maintains current levels of fitness; exercising three times per week or more creates growth. Properly coaching three times per week leads to improvements and mastery.
  2. High Intensity: Exercising with intensity leads to growth; exercising at low levels maintains current fitness. The equivalent to "intensity" in coaching is to dive in more deeply, digging in to find the root issues, and finding the sometimes hidden diversions from sales process resulting in more “aha” moments, even for veterans and top sales people. I’ve witnessed this over and over. Our best people benefit from coaching.
  3. Variations: Mixing it up leads to better all around fitness and less injuries. Working the whole body is critical to long-term health. In sales coaching, work on the pre-call strategy one day, a post-call debrief the next day, sales process another day, and identifying and working on hidden weaknesses yet another day. The consummate sales person is a whole person who is able to listen, respond, show curiosity, and bring all of his or her character to the conversation.

Can your people coach effectively? Can they help all of your people to be even just one increment better every day? Do they tolerate non-performers too long? Will they take a discussion deep enough to find a lesson? Do they have the trust of their people? Are they seen as a master? Do they create a sales environment conducive to growth, energy, and enthusiasm? Are they in the right role? (Read Chris Mott's article on this subject here.) Are they building a culture of constant improvement?

What’s working well in your sales organization? What could make it better? Click here if you'd like to find out if your managers can achieve the level of skill required to meet your corporate objectives. And here is a link to a case study of a real sales force evaluation. A sales force evaluation will give you the action steps required to achieve your vision of success. If you are selling into a sales channel, you might be interested in reading Part 1 of my ongoing series on channel sales management. 

Evaluation Checklist

 

Photo Copyright: mindof / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: coaching salespeople, evaluate the sales force; sales assessments, sales leadership effectiveness, coaching sales managers,, constant sales improvements



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