Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

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.”

 

64890177_s_Candor_121117

 

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

How Can Consultative Selling Already be Dead?

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Thu, Apr 30, 2015 @ 06:04 AM

 

obsolete11.jpg

In this article for Middle Market Executive,Tom Searcy insists that Consultative Selling is dead.  He says that consultative sellers end up with buyers who can only make small decisions, experts end up in purchasing and only industry authorities can reach executive decision-makers.  He also says that consultative sellers ask, "what is your pain?", experts say, "here is your pain", and authorities say, "here is the pain your industry is having and how you can uniquely overcome it."

Is he right?

Read the entire article on Dave Kurlan's Blog

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales methodology, sales force evaluation, objective management group, Tom Searcy

Mastering Channel Sales Management - Part 1

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Sep 17, 2014 @ 04:09 AM

13300026 s ChannelSales tugpullingboatWhat is it about managing sales in the channel that is so much more challenging than managing direct sales? After reading about the perils of sales management over the past several years, it’s hard not to think of it as the hardest job in the company (though not the hardest job on earth). If you disagree, you’re right! But never mind, it’s not far off.

Your channel partners are the folks who sell your products to customers further down the sales or distribution channel. They could be distributors, rep agencies, value-added resellers (VARs), retailers, brokers, etc. To make it even more complicated, often we hire a sales agency wedged in between our company and our channel partner to act on our behalf leaving us even further removed from our end customers. That might be the right sales model for you, but the challenges are magnified.

In any case, with a channel sale, the front line sales people don’t actually work for your firm. At first glance, the regional manager for your products might barely seem like a manager since he or she might not have any direct employees. Where are his or her people? Or this manager might have five or six direct employees, two rep agencies, and five distributors and their respective salespeople to manage. It gets complicated, doesn’t it?

So how does this person hold all these groups accountable? How does he or she motivate the sales reps on a daily basis? Incidentally, Dave Kurlan wrote this terrific article on motivation. It’s worth a detour to read it. And perhaps still more challenging, how does one effectively coach these people who aren’t really your people so that they consistently improve and sell more of your products and services? I submit that this takes a manager’s manager. They must do what sales managers do but with one hand tied behind their back.

Since the start of this year, I have had the privilege of coaching sales managers in over 180 one-on-one sessions or as live coaching demonstrations of their sales people. About half of these managers work with channel partners. In fact, one such person manages several distributors, rep agencies, and a half dozen direct employees in one of the most far-reaching and complicated management arrangements I have seen. He raises channel sales management to an Olympic sport. Look for it in Rio 2016.

So let’s look at what these people must do to be successful.

Among many functions, a typical sales manager must do the following:

1)     Motivate their salespeople.
2)     Coach their salespeople to make incremental improvements every day.
3)     Hold their people accountable to agreed goals.

However, the channel sales manager must do a complicated variation on the above:

1)     Motivate their channel partners' salespeople.
2)     Coach their channel partners' salespeople to make incremental improvements.
3)     Hold their channel partners accountable to agreed goals, both in the field and at the level of the distribution agreement.

Channel sales managers must have all the people skills and sales management knowledge of a standard sales manager, plus the business skills to negotiate with partners, if not on the original deal (though they are often involved there as well), then on an on-going basis to get the results on which they have agreed. And they must do all of this without direct control over the salesperson’s day-to-day activity.

Under normal circumstances, the channel sales manager doesn’t determine who the front line sales people are, because they were hired by their partner. They must work with what they have, often in cooperation with distribution managers who might possibly be less skilled than they are. Here’s another article by Dave Kurlan that includes the top 10 problems with channel sales and how not to be held hostage.

In short, the job is simply harder than normal sales management, and takes more skill. The most important requirement to success is gaining the commitment of the channel reps to listen, to get better, and to make changes where necessary. This starts with the quality and strength of the original partnership agreement, which leads to the commitment on the part of your distribution sales managers to use their leverage to ensure that their reps are supporting the sales effort and aligning with your growth objectives.

Distribution partners cannot use the excuse that they have other products to sell. That’s a given. The growth goals, time commitments, and accountability are a key feature of the deal. But none of that makes the sales manager’s job any easier. He or she needs to have the added skill of coming across as a helpful participant and not a threat. Do your people have that capability?

Do your sales managers have what it takes?

  1. Can they set up an effective environment of accountability?
  2. Can they coach their channel partner’s salespeople?
  3. Can they motivate the reps throughout the channel to push even harder?
  4. Are they well-received and not seen as a threat?
  5. Can they forecast sales and not just report history?
  6. Can they lead in a variety of circumstances without losing their eye on key metrics?
  7. Can they get CRM working regardless of the hurdles?
  8. Will they insist on coaching the reps for continuous improvement?
  9. At a higher level, can they manage the relationship with the partner and keep them in line?
  10. Do they have the sales management DNA to be successful in this context?

In Part 2 of this series on managing channel sales, I’ll explore the challenge of coaching the front line sales team of your channel partner, why it’s so important, and how to lower resistance so you can meet your sales objectives. If you have questions about sales management, channel sales, this series, or this blog, email me at dconnelly@kurlanassociates.com.

Incidentally, Hubspot’s INBOUND14 event is happening this week in Boston. Dave Kurlan, author of Baseline Selling, will be speaking there today at 4:15 pm. Malcolm Gladwell, author of David and Goliath and other great books, will be speaking later this morning at 8:30 am.

 

Photo Copyright: pius99 / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, coaching, sales management, accountability, leadership, Motivation, channel sales

How Sales Can Help Marketing With Your Go-To-Market Strategy

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Thu, Jan 30, 2014 @ 14:01 PM

MixingIntoFlasks KateLeighAll month, Dave Kurlan, Frank Belzer, Chris Mott, and I have been writing on Sales Architecture as part of an ongoing series on what it takes to build a world-class sales organization.

We’ve touched on issues of enablement, management, infrastructure, and other critical areas this month as well.  These articles have been written in support of our upcoming webinar that you won’t want to miss if you are a business leader or sales leader who believes that sales could be a lot better at your company than they currently are.

In this fast-paced, one-hour webinar, we're going to cover sales architecture and other related issues in more depth.  If you're the person who needs to get the sales organization right, this webinar is for you.

Here is the webinar agenda:

  • Sales Process - Optimizing Conversions
  • Sales Methodology – Why It Matters
  • Sales Messaging - How to Get It Right
  • 3 Critical Conversations
  • Executing in a Changing Economy
  • Sales Model – Making It Scalable
  • Channels - Optimizing Your Traction
  • Sales Training - Critical Components for Maximum Impact
     
If you missed some of the articles specifically related to these issues and this webinar, here they are:

Today, I want to talk more about how sales and marketing must work together.  It's sort of nuts, in today's market, to let these two organizations work in a vacuum.  They must continually feed each other valuable market information in a healthy, robust, iterative process of information gathering and feedback.

Far from silos, the line between these two organizations has been mixed together like chemicals in a flask, producing a new kind of hybrid organization within the existing company structure.  Sales leadership and marketing leadership must have the right chemistry to drive results for the organization.  Let’s take a look at some of the questions we need to be asking:

Who are our customers?

So what are some of the ways that sales and marketing can help each other?  Of primary importance is answering the question of who we are targeting.  Who is our customer and what are their issues?  And another important and often overlooked question is who do we want as customers in the first place?

What is our strategy?

How are we getting in front of our customers?  How are we getting their attention?  What role is marketing playing and what does the handoff to sales look like?  Ideally, not only is marketing feeding the front end of the pipeline, but they are also planting seeds in the minds of your prospects, or more accurately "suspects."  These seeds or issues then serve as a conversational starting point from which the sales staff can probe further.  When marketing points out a source of frustration or a missed opportunity, it preframes the discussion for your sales people.

How do we gain traction?

No, not the kind where they drill holes in your head.  But more like a good snow tire.  Can sales move the prospect through the sales process effectively?  How can marketing help?  How far along the sales cycle is marketing bringing the prospect?  And how far should the salesperson back up the prospect in the process to ensure that the bases are properly covered? 

Marketing might be setting the stage, but sometimes they've shared so much information that it creates a false impression in the mind of the salesperson that they are further along the sales cycle than they really are.

How many of your sales people will recognize as a mirage, when a prospect only appears to be in a later stage of the sales cycle, but really isn't?  How many of them can properly bring this prospect back to an earlier point in the cycle, perhaps somewhere near that point discussed above where marketing might have identified a key source of frustration?  If you're not sure, you can click here to find out.

How do we get the business?

Finally, how are we getting the business?  Where do we fit in the market?  What kind of feedback can sales bring back to marketing to adjust the message and continue an iterative process that improves your results and desired outcomes with time?

MarketingSalesDiagram

 

Not long ago, marketing created the brand, researched the market, and positioned the products.  The job of sales was to close the business that marketing teed up for them.  The problem is that communication wasn't strong enough nor frequent enough, leading to complaints from both sides.  "The leads were no good."  Or, "Why can't those guys close the business?"

Today, a more iterative approach is needed.  The market is changing rapidly.  Marketing must solicit from sales real-time information gleaned from all interaction in the field to constantly adjust their message and ensure that their positioning statements are resonating with their intended audience.

Join me and a panel of sales experts for a powerful, one-hour webinar that will address the topics that the Kurlan team has been writing about this month.  The webinar is on February 5th and we will discuss, "Leading Your Ideal Sales Force - Part 1"at 11 AM Eastern Time.

Image credit: kateleigh / 123RF Stock Photo
Diagram credit: Dennis Connelly, Kurlan & Associates

© Copyright  Dennis Connelly All Rights Reserved


Topics: Dave Kurlan, frank belzer, evaluation, sales enablement, sales architecture, marketing, sales optimization, kurlan, chris mott, webinar, world class sales organization

Marketing and Sales Feedback Loop Can Help You Grow

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Thu, Jan 16, 2014 @ 12:01 PM

JackLambertI was recently at a marketing conference where the main theme was Inbound.  Thanks to Brian Halligan at Hubspot, “inbound” is now almost a household word.  He put a name to what is surely one of the more powerful phenomena shaping the business environment, and by extension the selling environment, today.  For the record, the conference to which I'm referring was not Hubspot’s own "Inbound13" held last fall.  At that event, the recurring theme was “Be Remarkable” and it was best embodied in Seth Godin’s brilliant keynote address.

The two recurring themes heard most at this other event, were that inbound marketing was, on average, bringing prospects 70 percent of the way to the sale, and that companies did better when technology people worked closely with the marketing department.  Each of these statements is true.  Yet each has a glaring hole.  You might have heard this before, but just because we know tomatoes are fruit, doesn’t mean we put them in fruit salad.

Let’s take the first one first - that prospects are 70 percent of the way toward making a purchase by the time marketing hands them off to sales.  Ask yourself if you have any salespeople at your company who possess a gazillion contacts, a stuffed pipeline, and lots of meetings and conferences to attend, but only a trickle of business falling out of the end of the funnel.  Marketing is doing a better job than ever, but the elite salesperson will understand the pitfalls inherent in the overdeveloped lead.

We normally like baseball analogies here, but ‘tis the season to talk gridiron.  So imagine you’re the Cincinnati Bengals offense, Ken Anderson, in September of 1976 up against the defense of Mean Joe Greene and Jack Lambert (pictured above), et al. of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Don't worry if you're not sure what that means. The Steelers defense that year was arguably the best in the history of the NFL. Suffice it to say that being on the Steelers 30-yard line didn’t mean much. If you were up against their defense, you probably weren't going to close the deal if you were on the 2-yard line.  Ken scored 6 points in that game.  Later in the season, he played them again and scored 3 points. Again, for the uninitiated, that's not a lot of points.

There are actually two problems when a salesperson starts on the 70-yard line.  One is that the last 30 yards is the toughest, especially when you start there, and two is that you’re simply standing on the wrong part of the field.  At 70 yards, your prospect wants a proposal, a demo, pricing, and references.  An elite salesperson will not take the bait.  It will only lead to an endless chase scene in a bad movie.  Rather, thank your marketing department and then walk your prospect back to your own 25-yard line so you can drive them down the field properly.  In today’s world of selling, the salesperson makes the difference.  Marketing is an important ticket to the game, but when everyone’s website looks the same, the difference is the salesperson.

Now for the second theme - that marketing should work more closely with the IT folks.  That rings true to me.  Collaboration is a proven business fundamental.  And while that’s a good pair, it is as important that marketing collaborate with sales continuously.  Usually, these two groups do not always see the value that each provides.  Marketing people are often flustered that salespeople aren’t closing all the business they have handed them, especially when they believe it need only be walked over to the end zone.  And sales people keep telling marketing that while leads are up, the quality of the leads are down.  Wouldn’t it be better if it worked a little more like this:

  1. Marketing focuses on perceived customer needs,
  2. Marketing builds awareness,
  3. Marketing generates leads and hands off to sales,
  4. Sales questions leads using consultative skills,
  5. Sales learns about key business issues,
  6. Sales stays alert for other market trends,
  7. Sales informs marketing about what’s truly important, and
  8. Marketing adjusts message.

There is a glorious opportunity for companies who find the synergy in their marketing and sales departments.  Working together can create an upward spiral of feedback and progress to improve the quality of your leads.  Then, it’s critical to have the right sales people under the right sales leadership to take advantage of all the opportunities.  Today’s sales people must be more than just relationship people.  They must also be able to do the following well:

  1. Listen,
  2. Ask good questions,
  3. Ask tough questions,
  4. Ask enough questions,
  5. Uncover truly compelling reasons to buy,
  6. Make appropriately-timed presentations, and
  7. Remain present and unemotional at the close.

This is a subset of the consultative skill set.  Can all of your sales people do that, every time?  Last week Frank Belzer, author of Sales Shift, wrote an important article on the Architecture of a Sales Force.  And Dave Kurlan, author of Baseline Selling, wrote a piece that you shouldn’t miss on Sales Methodologies, an often misunderstood concept.  If you’re wondering about the capabilities of your own sales force, it might be time for an evaluation.

Join me and a panel of sales experts for a powerful, one-hour webinar that will address the topics the Kurlan team has been writing about this month.  The webinar is on February 5th and we will discuss, "Leading Your Ideal Sales Force - Part 1" at 11 AM Eastern Time.

Image credit: Sports Illustrated, 1984

© Copyright  Dennis Connelly All Rights Reserved

Topics: Dave Kurlan, consultative, sales evaluation, sales marketing, sales enablement, sales architecture, marketing, synergy, methodology

Commitment to Sales, and Soccer in the Snow

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Mon, Dec 16, 2013 @ 16:12 PM

CentralParkSoccer1 300 borderSomeone didn’t tell the people in this picture that there was a snowstorm and it was below freezing outside.  These men were playing a soccer game in Central Park and barely seemed to notice that it was so cold out and that the snow was coming down so hard that they should simply cancel their game and go home.  My son and I were on our way to the Frick Museum on the other side of the park when we walked passed them and took this picture.

We thought these folks were crazy, but it occurred to me that they must have known that the weather was bad.  We were quite bundled up and they were playing in it.  If I told them it was cold and snowing, it wouldn’t have been new information to them, and they probably would have just laughed.

Does that remind you of certain kinds of salespeople?  We have a finding on our sales candidate assessment that if too low, triggers a DO NOT HIRE recommendation.  About a week ago, I was asked to review just such an assessment.  The client was mystified.  This candidate had it all, they said.  He had “personality,” hunting skills, lots of excellent relationships, and he knew how to close business, but he wasn’t recommended.  How could it be?

The finding had to do with commitment.  He scored 33 out of 100.  Upon further investigation, we learned that there were issues in this person’s life that made it unlikely that they would stay in this job, no matter how good they were.  In our experience, when we have encountered this problem where candidates with low commitment, but excellent findings in other categories, were hired against the assessment recommendation, they usually left the company in under six months.

Both desire and commitment are needed as foundations for a successful career in sales.  Desire is how much you want to succeed.  Commitment is what you are willing to do to get there.  Dave Kurlan provides the clear difference in this blog post.  Imagine if your entire sales team was like the Central Park soccer players that day?  They played on Saturdays, period.  The weather didn’t matter.  They were committed to their group to be there.  They were committed to themselves to be there.  They didn’t make the obvious excuse.

When there is a “good” reason not to succeed, such as the economy is suffering, interest rates are going up, no one’s buying, or our products aren’t the best on the market, etc., those without commitment will fold.  People who are committed to their success and to the success of the company will ask, “What can I do differently to succeed in this environment?"  At some point during that day, each one of those soccer players asked, “What will I need to do to play in this weather?”  Sometimes, it’s only a matter of asking the right question. 

  • How many people on your team are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed?
  • How many are looking past the hurdles as if they are not even there?
  • How many are asking better questions of themselves and their prospects?
  • How many are using their resources to overcome unplanned obstacles?
  • How many people on your team would come out in the “snowstorm” and play full out?

The best way to find out might be to evaluate the whole team and see where improvement is needed.  If you are assessing potential new sales candidates, you can avoid the dilemma described above by assessing before you interview.  By placing only those candidates who pass the assessment into the continuing selection process, you won’t make the mistake of falling in love with a candidate who won’t succeed.  Envision your team bringing their top game to any environment and letting the worst of the unpredictable economic tundra keep them from asking how they can succeed against the odds, let alone a little snow.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, assessments, sales commitment, soccer, sales candidates, desire, whatever it takes

Building Rapport - The First Step in Your Sales Process

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, Nov 29, 2013 @ 03:11 AM

CrossFit 240 borderYesterday morning, for a brief 49 minutes, I wasn’t very thankful for Navy SEAL, Lt. Michael P. Murphy.  But today I am.  And I will continue to be, every day until the next time I subject myself again to the particular workout that bears his name, simply called “Murph.”  It’s a CrossFit exercise explained in this New York Times article.  He called it body armor, because it so effectively made you stronger and faster.  And yesterday morning, when I was in the middle of it, I wanted to have a word with this guy and tell him what I thought of it, given the pain and strain I was under to complete it.  But I couldn’t, because he was killed in Afghanistan, at the age of 29, in 2005 fighting for our country, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

In the United States, today is our holiday called Thanksgiving.  As you read this, it might not be today anymore, but think back not too long ago, if you will.  Many of my clients are not from the U.S., but this holiday is so easy to embrace that most seem pretty cheerful about going along.  There’s nothing necessarily religious or geo-political about it.  You get together with family and/or friends and eat.  Humans like eating. 

But of course, Thanksgiving is also about being thankful.  I’m not going to indulge in list-making today with all of things I’m thankful for, and it’s a long list.  That’s not the point of this blog.  But I will relate it to living sales excellence.

Thankfulness is a close cousin of gratitude.  Being thankful is about acknowledging what’s good in your life.  Gratitude comes from the good feelings you have for the people in your life.  When you meet someone new, try bringing both of those feelings to the surface.  Find a reason to feel thankful for this new encounter.  Find something about them to appreciate and feel grateful to them for sharing that part of themselves with you.  Isn’t that a recipe for rapport?

Now try it with a prospect?  See how your tone changes, how relaxed you become, and how your good feeling helps make the dialog more natural and conversational.  Your appreciation and understanding, born of a genuine sense of gratitude and thankfulness, moves the conversation in a positive direction, allows people to breathe, and opens them up to consider your offer of help where there might once have been resistance.  Isn’t that the first step in the sales process?

I’m sore today from the Murph yesterday morning, but I completed the exercise and made another incremental improvement.  I’m one day stronger, one day healthier, and one day closer to a personal goal.  I spared you my long list today, but it is worth remembering, on this day of Thanksgiving, that Lt. Murphy and so many others have died for the cause of our health and safety.  I learned about this man from Mike Collette, who owns the CrossFit gym where I work out. 

The good feelings generated by these and so many other great people in my life shape my attitude every day.  They contribute to an overall balance and sense of purpose that is the motor of my willingness and desire to help company executives achieve in sales, what Dave Kurlan calls “results they only imagined.” 

My gift to you on this day is to make you aware of a book entitled, Just Listen, by Mark Goulston.  I’ve included it on my book list, but I call attention to it today because it holds the secrets of rapport – of understanding and appreciating the world of others.  I hope you enjoy it.

Thanksgiving is a day that generates feelings that are just like those that help us build the kind of rapport that is so helpful in the early stages of the sales process, unless of course, you’re in the middle of the Murph.  But like any worthwhile effort, the pain of the exercise goes away, leaving you stronger and maybe a little better than when you started.

 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, sales process, Rapport, Thanksgiving

Breaking Through a Common Sales Management Hidden Weakness

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 @ 08:11 AM

HighJumpBarbedWireFence 200pxWe often talk of “breaking through barriers” as an important step to getting unstuck, achieving goals, and reaching full potential.  As many of us know, entire industries have been created around this topic.  When we speak of “living sales excellence” (the purpose behind these blog posts), understanding and overcoming our barriers is an important part of that conversation.  This might surprise you, but I’m not going to cover the whole topic in this article, partly because my limited knowledge on that very broad topic would endanger you, and partly because my computer doesn’t have enough ink.

So, let’s just look at one common barrier amongst sales leaders:  Need for Approval from Salespeople.  This differs from Need for Approval from Customers as the titles suggest, but they do not necessarily go together.  When we assess sales managers (and we’re up over 150,000 in our database), we find every combination of one or the other, prospects and/or staff.  In smaller companies, sometimes the sales manager wears other hats (including CEO).  Without the bandwidth to focus 100% attention on sales people, there is often less understanding of how to manage them and greater fear of upsetting them.

First, here’s a short explanation.  Need for Approval means that one needs to be liked.  It means that one is concerned enough about being liked that certain kinds of questions are not asked, certain topics are not broached, and a theme of avoidance of difficult topics permeates every discussion.  It’s difficult to properly challenge a prospect when there is need for approval.  So, how can you be consultative in your approach?  Similarly, when it applies to sales staff, there is a fear that actions, statements, or demands might diminish how one is perceived and lead to some form of mutiny.  If you have this fear, how can you really hold your people accountable?

Recently, I was working with a sales leader who had this particular weakness, which the OMG Sales Manager Assessment clearly indicated.  In his case, he was particularly good at motivating people.  It’s analogous to having one bad knee.  You limp a little and make the other leg carry more load.  This could lead to a cascade of other problems including back pain.  Interestingly, his weakness in the area of Need for Approval led him to emphasize his ability to motivate, in an obvious but subconscious attempt to overcome the weakness.

In other words, if holding people accountable is hard, one might look for alternative ways to accomplish that in the thinking that it might alleviate the need to stand up to your people.  “Gosh, if I can get them fired up and performing, I won’t have to have a hard conversation with them for not performing.”  The root cause of this particular brand of Need for Approval might be fear.  The “back pain”, however, is the lack of respect and corresponding ineffectiveness in holding people accountable.

If you’re starting a new job as a sales manager, or if you have just hired someone with this issue to lead your team, here is a way through it:

  1. Like all barriers, the first step in moving past it is acknowledging it.
  2. Start out on the right foot and set an expectation that accountability will be enforced.
  3. Tell your people that you will be “tough, but fair; confrontational, but kind.”
  4. Prepare your people for “hands-on, constructive criticism when appropriate, all in the spirit of making them better”.
  5. Now, go live up to your words.  It’s easier once you’ve set the expectation.

If you’re not new, but know you have this problem, it’s trickier.  You must now make a change in your behavior, and people notice changes.  If you are already worried about how your people view you, this might make it even more difficult.  Sometimes it’s helpful to combine this change with other corporate changes, such as new demands for higher growth, greater margins, expanding territories, increased market share, new partnerships, or any other goal to which you can reasonably tie your change in behavior.

You might say something like this: “Our shareholders are demanding 10% growth this year coupled with a 25% reduction in overhead.  These are big goals.  We’re a motivated group of talented salespeople, but we need to elevate our game.  I expect to lead the way by elevating my own game.  You can expect, going forward, that I will do a better job of clearly defining what I need from you.  My goal is to bring out the best in you so you can achieve the goals of the organization.  At times, I might be tough, but fair; sometimes confrontational, but as kind as I have always been.  It’s going to feel a little different to you and that’s understandable because you won’t be used to that from me.  But know that my commitment to your success is unwavering and together we can be much better.”

Is your leadership in fear of the sales team?  Do you or they believe that upsetting salespeople will put the company in jeopardy?  Are there certain sales staff around whom you walk on eggshells?  Are you in control of sales staff or the other way around?

It might be time for a sales force evaluation.  Try this handy sales force grader and see if you might be ready for that step.  Take a look at this case study to see what happens when, instead of reacting to the need to make changes, you stop and assess to find out what’s really happening.  Sales force development is a broad topic.  Dave Kurlan explains it well in a video found at this link.  How much better can you be?  What will it take to get there?  What would you do if you had no fear of negative reaction from your sales team?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, coaching, sales management, Management, accountability, sales leaders, leadership, change, changing salespeople, WCSO

Retail Selling, the Role of the Salesperson, and Missed Opportunities

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Nov 17, 2013 @ 09:11 AM

LuxuryStore Mall 250pxJust yesterday, I was walking through the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle in New York with my son. After getting our free chocolate truffle from the Godiva store, we stumbled into a famous luxury goods store while we enjoyed our little confections. I should note that if you like chocolate, the Godiva membership is one of the few that gives away something for nothing. One need only wait until the calendar changes to the next month to get your yummy treat. You don’t need points; you don’t need to buy ten to get one; you don’t need to spend a nickel – ever. You just show up and get your free truffle. 

This isn’t a marketing blog but there’s something there worth noting. I know Godiva fully expects that I’ll buy stuff along the way. But that’s beside the point. While other companies work to build “relationships” with their customers with all kinds of strings, caveats, and quid pro quos, Godiva is acting more like a friend. “Here, have one. I ask for nothing from you.” Seth Godin writes copiously about this kind of behavior toward customers becoming increasingly important in a noisy, information-rich world of companies desperate for your narrowing spans of attention. And Frank Belzer, whose new book Sales Shift is in the running for Top Sales World "Top Sales & Marketing Book" of the year. Vote here.

But I want to talk about the luxury good store experience because we can learn something about selling. We walked in, turned right (just like the research showed we would), and started looking at stuff in the glass cases. Art deco lighters, fancy cigar holders, and thousand-dollar pens were among the items so you get the idea of the type of store we were visiting. The young salesperson walked toward us and asked, “Can I help you find something?” I replied, “No.” He said, “Okay,” and backed away. That was it. Poor “ol’ sport,” I thought, having just seen Gatsby and having not yet completely purged that phrase from my head.

How do you spend a fortune renting retail space at Time Warner on the ground floor, with carefully-designed layout (the result, no doubt, of all the latest in psychological testing), and the best in customer acquisition strategy, and still manage to neglect the part about actually getting the sale? If inbound marketing gets you 70% of the way to making the sale (their figure), in this modern era, the upscale retail shop is designed to go even further. It has to, after all, given the expense of all the bricks and mortar they took the time to assemble. If it didn’t work, they wouldn’t keep building them. Humans, occasionally, like to get up from their computers and move around. We get cabin fever, eventually, and continue our voracious shopping habits in person.

The mentality that led to such poor salespersonship at “Luxury Store” reminds me of the approach that car dealers take, where the role of sales is misunderstood and misdirected. (More on that in another article.) The corporate executives undervalue the role of sales, rely on imagecraft, market positioning, aesthetics, and prestige, etc. and for the most part, it works. People walk into the Honda dealership because they already like Hondas, not because they have no idea what they want and lucky for them, the nice salesperson is there to help them figure it out. Gazillions are spent on advertising to help minimize the role of the salesperson, whose job is to get the person to stay long enough to experience the paper-shuffling, manager-approving Jedi tricks and sign on the bottom line.

The good ones don’t lose the sale. The lousy ones make people furious. Really, haven’t you had that experience, or know someone who has? Don’t you know people who will never buy a car from so and so till the fiery underworld remodels itself as an arctic getaway? But what about real salespeople? Can’t they make a sale where there wasn’t one? Of course they can.

Let’s replay that conversation with Ol’ Sport using a simple conversational technique I learned from TopSalesWorld Hall-of-Famer, Dave Kurlan. “Hi! Should I say welcome, or welcome back?” Me: “I haven’t walked in here before.” OS: “Then welcome. What made you walk in here today?” Me: “You were across from Godiva and I was too busy enjoying my chocolate to notice which store I was wandering into.” OS: “Perfect! If there were a reason to wander in here, what would it be?” Me: “I like cool pens.” OS: “Do you have a pen collection?” And so on, which might include questions like, What’s your favorite pen? Why? Is it sentimental or design or quality? Etc. “You know,” I might think to myself, “I wasn’t expecting to have a real conversation.”

Instead, OS stood back, afraid to say anything more, and eliminated the risk that he would lose a sale that he thinks might otherwise automatically happen. Why is this allowed? It happens because the leadership of Luxury Store, the manager, the marketing department, the board of directors, the finance team, and the sales staff are all on the same page. They undervalue the role of sales. Sales is increased, in their thinking, by the clever product creation, history, story, reputation, design, store layout, inbound strategy and marketing. The sales associate is there to open the glass cabinet, make light conversation, and ring up the purchase, right?

This is a missed opportunity because it’s possible to dramatically increase sales.

  • How many of your sales people are falling into this trap?
  • Is your company fostering the problem?
  • How much pressure do salespeople have to not blow the sale?
  • Do your sales people have the necessary selling skills?
  • Do they have the DNA to overcome their own weaknesses?
  • Can they listen?
  • Can they react in the moment?
  • Do they have the presence to be the added value themselves?

Maybe it’s time to evaluate your sales organization? Maybe it’s time to look at what you might be missing from your sales team. What are their current capabilities? How much better could they be? What would it take to make them better? And how long would it take?

Someday, I’ll buy a super nice pen because I like pens. When that happens, there was nothing about my experience at Luxury Store that puts them on the short list. But there could have been. It was a missed opportunity to make a sale much more than it was a careful execution to not lose one.

 

 

 

Topics: sales competencies, sales assessment, Dennis Connelly, Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales management best practices, recruiting sales people, sales hiring, Baseline Selling, Sales Coaching, retail sales, retail, adapting to changing sales environments, roleplay, role play, alignment of sales and marketing, alienate the prospect, CEO, changes that sales people need to make, change sales behavior, developing better sales teams, gimmicks in sales, getting your foot in the door, dysfunction, improve sales, hard selling, losing the attention of the prospect, losing the business, sales competency, losing the sale, sales mistakes, sales management training, sales leadership training, sales strengths, SOB Quality, selling process, what gets in the way of selling, amazon, sales shift, frank belzer, David Kurlan, Kurlan & Associates, Living Sales Excellence, sales excellence

Inbound Marketing Part One - Leads Are Up But Why are Sales Down?

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Wed, Aug 07, 2013 @ 16:08 PM

Inbound Marketing, sales call, sales force evaluation, sales and marketing, Frank Belzer, Dennis Connelly, Dave Kurlan, Trust of Salespeople, sales leads, Sales, Social Media, Sales LeadershipIn Frank Belzer’s recent book, SalesShift: How inbound marketing has turned sales upside down making it more difficult and more lucrative at the same time, he convincingly demonstrates that the nature of the lead has changed and many salespeople are having trouble adapting.  It’s true that in an Inbound world, marketing must work in tandem with sales creating an information feedback loop which propels new sales.  That is also one of Frank’s points.  Where salespeople get into trouble is thinking that a lead is a lead is a lead.

The reality is that all leads are not created “equal.”  As different as a referral is from a cold call, an inbound lead is different than those generated through traditional marketing channels.  When marketing works well, it performs the first part of the sales function.  It generates interest, exposes a potential issue, and may even lead to someone picking up the phone and calling your company for a rep appointment.  When it’s done well, the sales department can get hooked on this approach, even to the point of developing an “order taker” reputation.  The prospect, in this case, is already interested.

But inbound leads are different.  They are born on a different continent.  They are ethnically and culturally different from a traditional lead.  A potential prospect might have been doing research on the internet, watching a cool video, or simply wandering around on the web when an opportunity presented itself.  Taking advantage of the opportunity might have involved a simple mouse click.  Then after typing in an email address and answering a couple of multiple choice questions where your computer usually fills in all the details for you - free stuff arrives on your screen.  Behind the scenes, a company is collecting that information and calling it a lead.  The “prospect” barely lifted a finger in this case, and might not have thought about it very much.

Now back to that lead that is sitting in the rep’s inbox. It has the look and feel of someone who wants your product - just like a traditional lead.  It looks "bigger and badder" than it is.  But it is fundamentally different.  The person on the other end actually might be stunned to get a call from you - “What?! You mean I triggered a sales call? I just wanted to see the video. I’m not in the market for anything.”  But this is exactly the point where the path forks.

What is this fork, you ask?  Yogi Berra said to “Take it.”  Okay, let’s take it.  And here are your choices.  You can continue reaching out to leads who appear to be deer caught in headlights, make assumptions, and watch them run away, or you can develop your selling skills, approach them differently, and convert them.  That’s why Frank said that it’s more difficult, yet more lucrative.  With a few critical tweaks, your sales team can convert more of these kinds of leads and outproduce the competition.  And isn’t that the point?  As the economy comes back and as it lifts all of the boats in your market, are you concerned that your vulnerability to the competition will be masked in the short run as sales increase?  The market winners will be those who outpace the competition or those who beat the competition relative to each other rather than where they were last year.

Throw away "solution selling".  Toss aside spin, dodges, and dropping five dollar bills.  (Reminds me of the Barry Levinson movie, Tin Men, about two rival aluminum siding salesmen!)  Read Dave Kurlan’s Whitepaper on Trust for additional insight in that area. Get rid of "technique" altogether and embrace a conversational and consultative style, like you might with a friend or an uncle.  Back off.  Don’t push.  Ask questions.  Assume nothing.  And most of all, slow down.

In Part 2 of this Inbound Marketing blog series, I will let you in on few secrets.  There are two key selling weaknesses, which most sales people have, that prevent them from having this consultative-style discussion.  Having or not having these two key weaknesses makes all the difference.  And there are three others which could also cause your people to get in their own way and lose more of these opportunities than they need to.  But your staff can overcome them with help, and open the doors to a wealth of opportunity generated by Inbound Marketing.  You may want to consider having your sales force evaluated to see whether the current team can executive your objectives and whether they can both embrace and be effective selling in an Inbound world.

 


Here is the link to "Inbound Marketing Part Two - Leads Are Up But Why are Sales Down?" 

 

Topics: Dennis Connelly, Dave Kurlan, Inbound Marketing, sales leads, sales, sales force evaluation, sales call, sales leadership, frank belzer, sales and marketing, Trust of Salespeople, Social Media



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