Good Bob, Bad Bob, The Stockdale Paradox, and Sales Success

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Feb 02, 2021 @ 09:02 AM

Navy Legend Vice Adm. Stockdale Led POW Resistance | The Sextant

I read that Admiral James Stockdale, a Vietnam War veteran and former POW at the Hanoi Hilton, said, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

His combination of faith and brutal reality was the difference between surviving long enough to be released from captivity, and being one of those unfortunate souls who died in captivity.  In Jim Collins' best-selling business book, Good to Great, he refers to that quote as the Stockdale Paradox.  

It's also consistent with what Jack Reacher, the lead character in the Lee Child series by the same name, would say.  In 2015, I wrote this article about Jack Reacher and I have always taught that "you must be eternally optimistic about your outcomes but completely skeptical about everything you hear along the way."

Why is that important?

Happy Ears is a Big Problem for most salespeople.  When it's a strength, Objective Management Group (OMG) calls it Healthy Skepticism.  The challenge is that Healthy Skepticism is unlike the other selling strengths and weaknesses measured by OMG, where great salespeople have them as strengths and weak salespeople have them as weaknesses.  With Healthy Skepticism there is little differentiation between strong and weak salespeople.

While the strongest 5% are 35% less likely to have Happy Ears than the weakest salespeople, Happy Ears affect all salespeople, even the best ones.  For example, this article tells the story of a very talented salesperson (good Bob) who was thrown off his game because of Happy Ears.  Read the story about bad Bob and his $225,000 selling mistake.  Bad Bob has happy ears. 

This short article points out how Happy Ears plays a part in weak/empty pipelines.  And this article explains how to coach your salespeople beyond Happy Ears.

This famous clip from Dumb and Dumber demonstrates Happy Ears better than anything I can write.

Whether it's a good salesperson being thrown off his game, a weak salesperson always having happy ears, James Stockdale, Jack Reacher or the rest of us.  It's important to be optimistic about your outcomes, but you must confront the brutal reality of your situation.  Listen closely to what you're hearing.  Challenge and push back by asking questions, even if you're uncomfortable doing so.  Especially if you're uncomfortable doing so!

OMG has assessed 2,059,200 salespeople and you can see that data and compare by industry here.

Image from US Navy archive

Topics: Dave Kurlan, assessments, happy ears, james stockdale, stockdale paradox

When Agreement is Really Disagreement - Happy Ears for Salespeople

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Oct 27, 2010 @ 23:10 PM

happy earsYour salesperson asks his prospect a question like, "Does that make sense?" and his prospect replies, "Sure."  Feeling relieved that his explanation was successful, your salesperson moves on, an unwitting participant in what will become a huge surprise to him. 

Why will it be a surprise? 

Your salesperson had happy ears - he heard what he wanted to hear and missed the accompanying signals that should have alerted him to the fact that he got lip service rather than the truth. 

Perhaps you're thinking, "but my people sell on the phone, not face to face, so how will they be able to see it?" 

They must listen - and listen for what's not said as much as for what is said.  In a scenario like the one I described above, they can simply push back a little by saying, "I know you said, 'sure' but I had the feeling that you didn't really mean 'sure'."

That's when the prospect will admit that he wasn't really comfortable with the explanation, didn't completely understand how it would help, didn't really see the need for that one benefit, and isn't impressed - yet.  And his resistance goes up.   

So two things can happen.  Your salespeople can sail through their discussions, hear what they want to hear, believe they have a strong opportunity and never quite understand why it doesn't close. Or, they can stop, push back, and help their prospects communicate the real issue.  Then they will have a chance to deal with it while the prospect can still remember what the problem is.

Happy Ears or Effective Salespeople?  It all comes down to training, coaching, observation skills, commitment and practice.  When put that way, there is as much burdon on you as there is on your salespeople.  Are you up for this challenge?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, Sales Coaching, happy ears

Happy Ears - 2nd of the 10 Sales Competencies That Are Key to Building a Sales Culture

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Oct 09, 2009 @ 08:10 AM

This article focuses our attention on the 2nd of the  10 Sales Competencies That are Key to Building a Sales Culture.

#2 Prevent Happy Ears

I recently wrote two articles on the subject; this article on the 5 Steps to Coaching Your People Beyond Happy Ears and this article, Is It Happy Ears or an Empty Pipeline?

So let's explore a little more.

What exactly is a case of Happy Ears?  A salesperson has Happy Ears when she hears what she wants to hear.  Example: Your salesperson asks her prospect about the budget and the prospect says, "we'll try to find the money".  Your salesperson hears, "We have the money, and we will spend the money, and there isn't a limit."  Another example: Your salesperson asks his prospect who is making the decision and the prospect answers, "I'll be involved."  Your salesperson hears, "I'm the decision maker!" A third example: The prospect says, "We should do this." Your salesperson hears, "We're going to buy."

Here are some of the things salespeople with Happy Ears tend to do:

  • make assumptions
  • accept vague statements
  • fail to question things
  • not ask specific questions
  • fail to make sure the answers are to the questions they asked
  • fail to make sure the answers were as specific as the questions
  • draw false conclusions
  • not ask the right questions about incumbents and competitors
  • not ask the right questions about motivation, incentives and reasons
  • not confront
  • never have the actual amount of money a prospect will spend
  • never have the time line for the decision right
  • never quite understand the concept of what can go wrong
  • see the world through role-colored glasses
  • be too optimistic

Ugly.  So what can you do about it?  Understand that many of the people with Happy Ears also have Need for Approval.  You have to help them overcome that before you can solve the problem with Happy Ears.  The fastest way to overcome Need for Approval is to have them use the SalesMind CD twice daily for 3 weeks. Then begin interrogating your salespeople (who have happy ears) during post-call debriefs!  Ask every skeptical, doubting, question you can. Be consistent with the questions and the frequency of your interrogations.  Make your salespeople so uncomfortable that they start asking these questions themselves, just so they'll have the answers to the questions they now know you will ask.  And then, finally, their happy ears may just begin to disappear.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, Sales Coaching, Sales Force, happy ears

5 Steps to Coaching Your Salespeople Beyond Happy Ears

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Sep 29, 2009 @ 10:09 AM

Today I posted this article about Diagnosing and Overcoming Happy Ears on the Baseline Selling web site.  And last week I wrote this article about Happy Ears and an empty pipeline.

Following are my thoughts about how you, the leader of your salespeople, can help them overcome Happy Ears. Slip into these five roles to help them be more realistic about and more comprehensive with their opportunities.

  1. Be their Doubting Thomas - Be more pessimistic than them. 
  2. Be their Carpenter - punch holes in everything they tell you by asking, "how do you know?" or "did they actually say that or is that what you think?"
  3. Be their Elephant - remind them of the last time they told you this - and what happened late when they were caught by surprise.
  4. Be their Show Director - rehearse them for what they must ask - before the call - through role play.
  5. Be their Coach - Do less cheerleading and more challenging.

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(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales, sales management, selling, sales tips, sales management coaching, happy ears

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader,  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog has earned medals for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for nine consecutive years. This article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016, this one earned a Silver medal for 2017, and this article earned Silver for 2018. Read more about Dave

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