Living Sales Excellence - Dennis Connelly's Blog

Sales Candidate Selection and the Product Knowledge Fallacy

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Fri, Oct 16, 2015 @ 14:10 PM

16337353_s_ChicagoMercantileExchangeTradingFloorIn a recent sales management training session, one of the managers spoke up about what he believed were the qualities needed in sales candidates that would perfectly fit his business. “They must have,” he confidently stated, “at least 20 years experience in the industry. They must know the product, know the customers, and be able to price the stuff off the top of their head.” I thought he would add that they must also know how to ride unicorns without holding the reins, but he didn’t. Do you share this view about the requirement of industry experience and product knowledge?

I asked him how long he had been in the business. “Thirty years,” he said. I asked him if he sucked for the first 19. He said “no.”

Dave Kurlan recently wrote a fantastic science-backed series of articles on getting the selection criteria right for sales candidates, showing how to predict with 92% accuracy whether they would be successful. Click here for Part 1 and click here for Part 2 of that series. He even showed how to get at least as good as 83% accuracy predicting the success of recent college grads!

To analyze the “Perfect Fit,” he looked at 26 different criteria related to things like selling skills, beliefs and selling-specific “DNA,” all within a selling context for that business in that selling environment. Guess which one was not on the list. You’re right! It was Industry Experience.

Now having said all that, to reduce, but not eliminate, the pushback to this article, let me be clear. Industry knowledge is important for selling. In fact, you better know it, because your prospect does. This is the internet age, after all, and working within that context is precisely the challenge of this new era for today’s salespeople. If you want to help your prospects, it’s good if you know more than they do. But in this same era, it is not often the case that you know more, and because of that, you need to bring something else to the table. Otherwise, you risk bringing nothing new but your price.

Selling is hard enough on it’s own. In widely-respected business author, Dan Pink’s book, To Sell is Human, Pink shares with the rest of the business community what you and I in sales already know - that sales is a profession. Knowledge about an industry, a product, or a service is just that – knowledge. Selling is a profession that requires skills and abilities that need to be learned, tuned, and practiced. Selling acumen, selling skills, and selling-specific “DNA” is more important to your success than industry experience or product knowledge, even if that experience and knowledge are requirements for your success.

In many areas of life, we see people getting stuck on details that masquerade as the real story. The map, after all, is not the real territory. It’s just someone’s representation of the territory. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who wrote The Black Swan, learned this on the trading floors of Chicago, New York, and London. In his book, Antifragile, he writes of a very successful trader of Green Lumber at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange who genuinely thought the lumber was painted green rather than that it was simply ‘freshly cut,” and this was after years of trading it! And he was darn good at it. That’s one example. Here’s another. The guy in the London Exchange considered to be one of the very best traders of Swiss currency at the time, could barely place Switzerland on a map and didn’t know what languages were most commonly spoken there. It was Taleb who coined the phrase, ‘Green Lumber Fallacy,’ to describe this phenomenon. We could call it the Product Knowledge Fallacy in our world.

Goodness! What’s wrong with these people who don't know what they are trading or who aren't superstar experts in their product? The answer is, nothing. They are excellent at what they do. The problem is with our observers' view of what we think is important. And when we’re immersed in an area of expertise and know all the players and all the nuances about the product, it’s easy to mistake the map for the territory.

Getting back to my recent sales management training session, this one manager, as stated earlier, insisted that any new sales candidates have at least 20 years of experience in working with ‘fluids’ such as hydraulic fluid and motor oil. After a five-minute role-play, with the manager playing the part of the prospect, he, and the others in the room comprising managers and VP’s, with an audible gasp at the conclusion, were disposed of this belief. For a transcript of the role-play, click here.

How often does your company get sales selection right?

  • Does your selection criteria need to change?
  • Do you attract the very best candidates?
  • Is your selection process efficient and effective?
  • Is your compensation aligned with the job description?
  • Will your on-boarding process support retention of the very best?

You don’t always have to know what green lumber means to be successful selling green lumber. Sometimes we miss what is most important because we are fooled either by conventional wisdom or by our own misconceptions. And just because sales candidate selection at your company hasn’t given you satisfactory results, doesn’t mean the selection process cannot be optimized going forward. Try using the same accurate and predictive sales candidate assessment tool that has been voted best Sales and Marketing Assessment Tool four years in a row at the popular sales website, TopSalesWorld.com. Learn more here.

Photo Credit: ©Demetrio Mascarenas/123RF.COM

Topics: sales, sales candidate selection, recruiting, WCSO, roleplay, evaluation, OMG Assessment, sales managerment

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



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