Why Do You Think That Harvard Business Review Does This When it Comes to Sales?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Nov 18, 2016 @ 11:11 AM

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For years now, Harvard Business Review and its Blog on hbr.com have been accepting articles on sales that are usually laugh-out-loud wrong.  The information is sometimes old and outdated, usually not routed in science, and sometimes simply stupid.  While they have always published a great magazine, the information on selling regularly fails to meet our expectations.  

My issue with HBR is not one of sour grapes.  I have plenty of subscribers and followers that read my science of selling and opinion pieces.  My concern is that because it's HBR, readers accept that which is written on those pages as gospel. "It can't be wrong!"

Why do they allow these articles to see the light of day?  

There are several possible reasons for this:

  • Their editors don't know enough about selling so they lack the knowledge to say, "Sorry Charlie."
  • They typically don't accept articles from authors without a PHD after their name so that generally rules out submissions from experts like me
  • Those with a PHD after their names are often teaching in academia - a wonderful source of real world experience and data.  Most of their data comes from surveys and the real world experience often comes from industrial companies who are still in the analog age.
  • Their model is to publish work from university professors because it appears more credible.

I don't post a rebuttal every time an article like that appears, but when it flies in the face of what we know to be true I can't help myself.  

The most recent example of Harvard Business Review and sales stupidity came earlier this month when they ran an article on social selling being the solution to prevent salespeople from becoming obsolete.  I wrote this article on LinkedIn bring it to light and differentiate fact from fiction.

But this is only the most recent example.  There have been 13 other articles that I have written to correct their false information, as well as this white paper that you can download for free.

The Challenge of the Challenger Sales Model - The Facts

Harvard Business Review Blog Off Target on Sales Greatness

Harvard Business Review Blog Post Gets Salespeople Wrong

Harvard Business Review Hit and Then Missed the Mark on SalesHow Wrong is the Harvard Business Review Article on How to Hire Salespeople?

Revealing Study of Salespeople Makes News at HBR

Another HBR Article on Sales Leaves Me with Mixed Feelings

Top 10 Questions for Salespeople to Ask and Stay Away From

What Customers Expect From Your Salespeople and More

HBR or OMG - Whose Criteria Really Differentiate the Top and Bottom 10% of Salespeople?

More Junk Sales Science in HBR Blog

Now That You Have a Sales Process, Never Mind

Is SELLING an Afterthought in Today's Sales Model?

So what do you think?  Why does HBR consistently publish bad information when it comes to sales?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, harvard business review, hbr blog, sales and selling, HBR, linkedin

HBR or OMG - Whose Criteria Really Differentiate the Top and Bottom 10% of Salespeople?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Aug 22, 2016 @ 10:08 AM

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Image owned by or licensed to CartoonStock®

The Harvard Business Review is at it again.  I honestly can't believe that a publication like HBR continues to publish and push junk science about sales.  Nearly every time they publish an article on sales or selling, they are usually as wrong as the mainstream media is with their attempts to manipulate readers and viewers to vote for their preferred candidates. 

I have previously taken issue with seven of HBR's articles: 

They did publish one that I agreed with on Looking for Potential in your Next Hire...

In their June 20, 2016 article, A Portrait of the Overperforming Salesperson, HBR identified several traits, attitudes and actions that they claim differentiate the top from bottom performers.  I'll summarize it for you below and then explain why I believe it is junk.  The findings include:

 

  • Focus which they described as including Money motivated, respected, likable and effective at prioritizing their time
  • Career Orientation which they described as including how much they think about work and why they went into sales
  • Personal Attributes which they described as including how they remember their childhood and what they use to make decisions
  • Customer Interaction Strategy which they described as tailoring, asking questions, being likable and having personal relationships  (these do differentiate tops from bottoms)
  • Attitude which was word association around sales management and sales process (word association?  really?)
  • Self Perception  which was checking off boxes to indicate the traits they believed they had

This was a survey of 1,000 salespeople. 1/3 of them are in field sales, 1/3 are in inside sales and the rest are sales managers or Sales VP's. 

Only 15% met the author's criteria of meeting quota 88% of the time. Although we weren't told what the quotas were, it's pretty safe to assume that the field salespeople manage accounts in existing territories.  Based on the questions asked, it is also safe to assume that the inside salespeople are making calls to and taking calls from existing customers.   So just in case you can't do the math, when you account for the sales managers and sales VP's in the survey, it changes the population from 1,000 top performing salespeople, to 150 people who don't have to find new business.  That is quite a distinction!  

I hate these surveys because surveys do not equate to science.

Compare this to Objective Management Group's (OMG) actual science from evaluating and assessing more than 1,000,000 salespeople from more than 200 industries over the past 2 decades.  7% are elite, and there are 16% more who are strong.  77% are ineffective.  From its 1,000,000 rows of data, I can assure you that no personality trait or behavioral style of any kind is predictive of sales success. Traits and styles are good to know - they help you understand who your employees are.  But they have never been, nor will they ever be, predictive of sales success.  

There are 21 Sales Core Competencies. Most of these competencies include as many as 10 attributes. Here are just some of the many differences between the top 10% and the bottom 10%:

Competency Average Score
for the Top 10%
Average Score
for the Bottom 10%
Sales Quotient (overall score) 143 (out of 173) 91
Sales DNA (supporting strengths) 84 (out of 100) 53
Motivation 75 57
Commitment to Sales Success 68 34
Closing 47 12
Hunting 74 37
Qualifying 81 31
Consultative Selling 74 37
Sales Process 67 39
CRM Savvy 77 37
Presenting 82 57 

If you look at Sales DNA - the combination of strengths that supports the use of strategy, tactics, process and methodology, you'll see that the top 10% are, on average, nearly 60% stronger than the bottom 10%.  You'll also see that the top 10% have an average Sales Quotient that is nearly 60% higher than the bottom 10%.  The top 10% have double the commitment to do whatever it takes to achieve sales excellence. For the more tactical competencies, the average scores for the top 10% are approximately double those of the bottom 10%. 

When we break sales down by difficulty level, industry sector, vertical market, decision maker to be called upon, price points, etc., the specific findings and scores that differentiate tops from bottoms change accordingly!  Now please tell me, when we have real science like this, what is the HBR thinking when they publish rubbish like personal attributes, attitude and self perception?

Will Barron recently interviewed me on some of these topics and it was a really good interview. You can watch or listen to it here.

Lori Richardson recently interviewed me on some of these topics too - another really good interview, that you can get here.

This article states that 4% of the salespeople sell 94% of the business.  I don't agree with their percentage but it gives you a sense of what is really taking place in sales.

And from OMG's data, this is just in.  The bottom 10% of all salespeople are actually better than the top 10% in 1 of the 21 Sales Core Competencies.  I'll bet you can guess which one...scroll down for the answer...

 

 

 

Relationship Building! It's no wonder that crappy salespeople keep getting hired.  You can hire the best salespeople for your role when you use OMG's accurate and predictive sales candidate assessment.  Try it! 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, comparison of top salespeople, harvard business review, difference between good and bad salespeople, objective management group

Has the Sales Profile of an A Player Changed Dramatically?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Feb 03, 2016 @ 12:02 PM

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Recently, a number of readers asked me to review two articles which they thought were right up my alley.  Apparently they thirst for one of my specialties - poking holes in articles that are just plain wrong about hiring salespeople.  It's not that I enjoy ripping articles apart, it's just that I don't have any tolerance for authors who either don't know what they are talking about, don't have any science backing them up, or use examples that can't be replicated across industries, markets and geographies.  Shall we dig in?

We'll begin with an article from Sales Benchmark Index which in itself is a surprise because Greg Alexander and his team typically write great articles that are usually challenge-proof. If Dan Perry were more specific, and cited the particular assessments and tools to which his theory applied, then The Myth of the Ideal Hiring Profile would be fine as is.  Instead, he used a broad brush leaving readers to believe that all assessments are outdated.  Most personality and behavioral styles assessments were never designed to be used for sales selection, but not wanting to ignore an opportunity, these mostly old social instruments were adapted by using sales-like labels for their findings.  But make no mistake; the findings are still the same age-old social findings that have no connection to business or sales and therefore, are not predictive of sales success.  Clearly, these profiles are all useless and outdated for the specific role of sales selection.  But not all assessments are outdated or adapted for sales.

That brings us to his other point; that the profile for an A player has changed dramatically in the past 12 months.  I could agree with a statement that said sales has changed dramatically in the past 8 years, but really in the last 12 months?  Here are 25 Ways it has changed...  In sales, A players (the elite 6%) have only needed to add some social selling skills and use of tools to their repertoire.  They already bring to the table the selling package required to succeed in sales in 2016 and beyond.  They build relationships, follow a milestone-centric sales process, use a consultative approach, ask the tough questions, qualify thoroughly and get business and accounts closed.  The group of salespeople that has changed the most are B players, who needed to close their skill and Sales DNA gaps.  You can suggest that C's have had the most changes to make, but the thing with C's is that what they most need to change, they actually change the least.  That's why they are C's!

Finally, if you want to use a sales assessment/selection tool that was designed for sales, is more accurate and predictive than any other assessment on the planet, is customizable for any modern sales role, and evolves as selling evolves, then you'll want to become one of the 11,000 companies that rely on Objective Management Group's (OMG) Sales Candidate Assessments.

 

Moving on to my favorite target, Harvard Business Review, I have to challenge Frank Cespedes again.  I last challenged Frank and HBR in November of 2015 with the very popular article, How Wrong is the Harvard Business Article on How to Hire Salespeople.  Their current collaboration, Hiring Star Salespeople Isn't the Way to Grow, was a very interesting read. The article wasn't really about hiring stars as much as it was about how to scale a SaaS business and I was in agreement with most of that.  My issue - and it's the same issue that I had with the November article - is that the authors insist that hiring salespeople should be based on their ability to complete the tasks they have identified.  

Selling is not task-oriented as much as it is milestone-oriented and that's when we are discussing sales process.  The real magic in selling is when the sales process is integrated with the sales methodology - the consultative approach required for the conversation to flow seamlessly from stage to stage and milestone to milestone.  While there are tasks involved during a sales cycle: following, calling, sending, showing, providing, sharing, explaining, etc., a salesperson's ability to execute on those tasks is dependent upon their underlying selling skills and Sales DNA.  Tasks are an oversimplification of the art and science required to be successful in selling. And whether you want to scale, grow at a moderate pace, or maintain your revenue, your salespeople - both new and veterans alike - must be able to execute consistently and effectively in their roles.  How can you determine whether sales candidates have what it takes?  Once again, I urge you to check out OMG's Sales Candidate Assessments.  How can you determine whether your existing salespeople can execute your plan and what is required to develop their capabilities?  Check out the OMG Sales Force Evaluation

Topics: Dave Kurlan, harvard business review, hiring salespeople, HBR, sales benchmark index, sales assessments, objective management group, frank cespedes, sales a players, greg alexander

More Junk Sales Science in HBR Blog

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 @ 15:04 PM

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What do donuts, chips, cake and ice cream have in common with some of the articles that are written and published about salespeople, sales selection and assessments? That's right, they are all junk and junk is bad for you to consume. Over the years, there has been no better source of junk science written about sales and salespeople than the reputable Harvard Business Review Blog. Recently, they put out another absurdly awful piece, this one written by sales consultant, Steve Martin. As most of these articles do, "What Separates the Strongest Salespeople from the Weakest" attempts to use personality and conditions to differentiate the two groups. This comes on the heels of another horrible article I called out in March 2015, which led to this amazing epic debate on the science of sales, sales assessments, and sales selection. This is why this latest HBR article is yet another example of junk science.The sample size of his research was 800 salespeople plus more than 1,000 interviews he has conducted. In this case, his research consists of a survey, and surveys are not a source of qualitative or quantitative data. As far as the interviews go, if each salesperson was asked identical questions, then they actually would be surveys, and if they were asked different questions, then it's not scientific! Compare his sample size to the nearly 1 million salespeople that we have assessed at Objective Management Group (OMG).

He said the information provides interesting insights.  Insights are opinions - a far cry from the conclusions that come from science.

He identified 6 differentiators:

Verbal Acuity - Martin said that top performers were more articulate and communicated their messages more effectively - 11th and 12th grade skills versus 8th and 9th grade skills. I agree that words are important, messaging is crucial, and presenting in a way that works for the prospect is critical. But it's not about scores in English composition. It's about being concise, simple, and targeted - things that can happen only when salespeople have good listening skills. We've all seen articulate salespeople fail, and we've all seen simple-minded salespeople succeed. 11th and 12th grade communication skills are not predictive and not what should be measured. We should be measuring listening and questioning skills. Top salespeople are great listeners and ask great questions. Those two capabilities cannot only be measured, but they are the causation for verbal acuity .

Achievement Oriented Personality - Martin said that 85% exhibited this personality, which included Goal Orientation, participation in high school sports, and being power users of CRM.  These behaviors are symptomatic, not sources of causation. We all know salespeople who bury themselves in technology, played sports and are goal-oriented, but who can't sell space heaters in Alaska.  At OMG, we measure Strong Desire for Sales Success, and Strong Commitment for sales success, along with Motivation for sales success.  This is not the catchall finding of Drive, but sales-specific measures which are responsible for the behaviors that Martin observed. In the end, for findings to be useful, we must be measuring the right things!

Situational Dominance - He talks of the salesperson who is relaxed and able to guide the conversation. Maybe. But you can't measure that. What you can measure, and what is proven to accomplish the same outcome as the customer taking the salesperson's advice, are Consultative Selling Skills. Martin said test scores for situational dominance were 20% higher for top-performing salespeople, but that's not a big difference. When we look at consultative selling skills, there is a huge delta between top and bottom performers. The general population has on average 21% of the attributes of a consultative seller. The top 26% of all salespeople have more than 56% of those attributes, while the bottom 74% have fewer than 12%!

Inward Pessimism - Martin said that 2/3 of the top performers had inward pessimism. We might be in alignment on this one. We call it healthy skepticism or not being too trusting - not accepting at face value that which a prospect says. According to OMG's statistics, 86% of all salespeople are too trusting, but only 56% of the top performers have the healthy skepticism. I agree that Inward Pessimism is measurable and found in top performers, but his number is not consistent with OMG's data.  Additionally, when this finding is combined with an individual that does not need to be liked, and who has over-the-top assertiveness, we have an individual who comes across as condescending and arrogant - not someone we would want selling for us!

Sales Management Impact - I'm sorry, but sales management impact is not a differentiator between top- and bottom-performing salespeople.  If it were, a sales manager would not have both top- and bottom-performing salespeople!   Sales managers can have a tremendous impact on sales performance overall, especially when they spend half of their time coaching, and when their coaching skills are top-notch, but in most cases, the top salespeople became top salespeople independent of the sales manager.

Sales Organization Influence - Martin stated that 39% of top performers versus 23% of bottom performers were held accountable. That is not a very big difference. Of greater significance is that he said 60% of the top performers are not being held accountable, meaning that the top performers are likely to perform regardless of whether or not they are being held accountable. Being a top performer is not sales organization dependent!

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There are significant differences between top and bottom performers, but you won't find them in the HBR article or any others like them.  With nearly 1 million rows of data, across more than 200 industries with sales organizations of every size, shape and configuration, the differences reported by OMG between top and bottom sales performers can be seen in both a macro and micro view.  And our data does not come from surveys or interviews!

From a macro view, we can look at OMG's Sales Quotient. This score, between 0 and 173, weighs 4 findings that make up a salesperson's will to sell, the 5 most important Sales DNA findings, and the 6 most important Selling Competencies.  The elite 6% of sales performers have Sales Quotients of 140 and higher.  The next 20% have Sales Quotients above 129, and the remaining 74% typically underperform.

From a micro view, each finding (over 100) is sales-specific, and together, they are extremely predictive of sales success. Unlike personality and behavioral styles assessments where the names of the findings are modified to appear (marketing) as if they actually measure sales skills and behaviors, OMG actually does.

But don't take my word for this, experience it for yourself. A sales force evaluation provides you with answers to 26 difficult to answer questions about your business and the sales force that is your economic engine. OMG's award-winning sales candidate assessments will accurately identify only those salespeople who will succeed in the particular role you have identified for them.

It's important to differentiate between the best and the worst, but you need the right tools to help. Without those tools, you'll find yourself coming up with insignificant differentiators like those identified in the HBR article, or in the Epic Debate. Stay with science and you can't go wrong. Follow faulty conclusions and you'll have more hit or miss sales selection results with an emphasis on miss.

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, harvard business review, hbr blog, sales selection, sales science, objective management group

Harvard Business Review Blog Off Target on Sales Greatness

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Mar 04, 2013 @ 23:03 PM

This recent article in the Harvard Business Review Blog was as far off target as any I have ever debunked.  Steve Martin lists 7 characteristics that he says differentiate great sales forces from good ones.  His seven are:

  1. Strong Centralized Command and Control with Local Authority, 
  2. Darwinian Sales Culture, 
  3. United Against a Common Enemy, 
  4. Competitive but Cohesive Team, 
  5. DIY Attitude, 
  6. They Suspend Negative Belief Systems, and 
  7. There is Energy and Esprit de Corps!

Compare that with the six I wrote about in this article:

  1. Effective Sales Selection for Appropriate Sales DNA,
  2. Effective Sales Coaching,
  3. Effective Sales Accountability,
  4. Formal, Structured Consultative Sales Process,
  5. Sales and Sales Leadership Training, and
  6. Coaching and Development and Hunting for New Business.

By the way, I'll be leading our top-rated Sales Leadership Intensive in Boston, May 14-15, 2013, and we'll be doing justice to all six of my competencies.
Steve's seven characteristics may be common among the 200 companies he worked with, but common is not the same as cause.  Whether these seven characteristics are adopted or not is dependent on personnel.  As noted on my list, if the #1 priority of a sales organization is the selection of top talent, most of Steve's seven characteristics are unnecessary.  If the #1 priority of a sales organization is to protect the status quo, and/or retain underperforming veteran salespeople, Steve's seven characteristics may be more necessary.  Objective Management Group (OMG) has studied 650,000 salespeople and 100,000 sales managers from around 10,000 companies and if we looked only at common findings, we would be completely misled about the top sales management core competencies.
Whether you call them competencies or characteristics, which ones will actually cause a sales force to perform to their greatest potential?  

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, sales management functions, harvard business review, sales enablement, sales management competencies

Is SELLING an Afterthought in Today's Sales Model?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Aug 16, 2012 @ 10:08 AM

influenceI believe that the blog at Harvard Business Review believes that it is.  Once again, HBR was nice enough to run another article for me to dig into.

This year, their authors consistently wrote articles on selling despite not really knowing enough about what's going on in the real world.  They are many levels removed from the field and rely on interviews with academics and corporate types (insulated executives in large companies) for their opinions of what has changed and what is required today.

While the four requirements which they list are valid (salespeople today do need to have more capabilities), that which really angered me was their use and placement of the word "influencing".  It appears almost as an afterthought to their fourth category, "Management skills and capabilities".

Even if we accepted their concept of people in sales roles, instead of salespeople (semantics?), the entire concept of what selling actually entails seems lost on some of their writers. So, hear this:

  • Regardless of which technology is embraced;
  • Regardless of which sales model, process or methodology is used;
  • Regardless of which markets into which you are selling;
  • Regardless of on which decision-makers you call;
  • Regardless of what you sell or to whom you sell it;
  • Regardless of your price points and competition;
  • Regardless of the length of your sales cycle;
  • Regardless of the resistance you get;
  • Regardless of the obstacles you must overcome;

influencing will continue to be the single most important skill:

  • to overcome initial resistance;
  • to differentiate and effectively position your offering;
  • to help prospects understand the value which you bring to the table;
  • to get prospects to share important information about issues, opportunities and challenges;
  • to align prospects on their compelling reasons to buy from you instead of the competition;
  • to standardize on your offering;
  • to find the money;
  • to get you in front of the right people;
  • to buy from you!
When the day arrives when your prospects don't need any help being convinced that they should do business with your company and buy your products or services, even if:
  • you are new, 
  • you are more expensive, 
  • you have a new technology, 
  • you aren't the market leader, 
  • you don't have the best product, or 
  • you aren't the default choice,
then you won't need to worry about influence, selling or any of their four requirements because people will simply point, click and buy.
Bye.

Topics: sales culture, Dave Kurlan, harvard business review, new selling strategies, influencing, sale leadership

Another HBR Article on Sales Leaves Me with Mixed Feelings

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Jul 20, 2012 @ 13:07 PM

I was asked to comment on an article called The End of Solution Selling, which appeared in Harvard Business Review.  The article was generally right on, but it also included several things that irritated me enough to question them and the article.

"The End of Traditional Solution Selling" - The ineffective selling model described by the authors is more aligned with transactional selling than solution selling.  The real issue is that the authors were describing ineffective salespeople who, because of their ineffectiveness when attempting to use solution selling, have sales cycles that are more transactional, an approach that simply doesn't work anymore.

"Reps" - It was difficult for me to accept the authors' use of the word "reps" 81 agonizing times.  They were writing about solution selling being dead and how successful reps use "insight selling".  We don't call salespeople "reps" anymore unless they are independent manufacturers' reps.  They referred to solution selling as a methodology from the 80's, but the term "rep" probably came into use right after the term salesman - probably back in the 50's!

Mobilizers - The article discussed the different people inside an organization who used to coach salespeople on how to get the business.  The authors wrote that a successful salesperson would now coach these people on how to get the company to buy from them.  The authors settled on the term "mobilizers" to refer to a group of skeptics, go-getters and teachers with whom salespeople should align themselves.  I wrote an article about this around 4 years ago and believe it's a much better approach to utilizing people inside the prospect's organization.

Complex Solutions - This article is based on selling complex technology solutions and you and your company are probably outside the boundaries of that focus. 

Major Accounts - As usual, this article is based on research of big company sales forces, selling to other big companies, and has little to do with what most sales forces look like or face.  As a matter of fact, our data on 600,000 salespeople and 8,500 sales forces, significantly larger and more comprehensive than the Corporate Executive Board research data, shows that big company salespeople are among the least effective salespeople anywhere.  They aren't underdogs, they have the welcome mat laid out for them, have the resources to heavily discount the deal to buy the business, and don't face the resistance of smaller, newer or more expensive competition.  

Summary - My first take away from this article is that the "superstars" (the best of all big company, ineffective salespeople) are simply selling the way that modern day salespeople are being taught to sell.  I didn't read anything in that article that was different, controversial, eye-opening or even new.  Everything about which they wrote was simply well-executed consultative selling strategies and tactics and any sales training company worth its fees will teach their own version of that.  Some will do it a lot better than others. 

My final take away from this article is to reinforce this warning, which I issued just two months ago.  If your salespeople aren't effectively utilizing a consultative sales model, you must move to the 2nd decade of the 21st Century or you will continue to climb an uphill battle to win your share of new business.

Topics: sales culture, Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales model, sales methodology, sales training, harvard business review, solution selling, hbr blog

Top 10 Questions for Salespeople to Ask and Stay Away From

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Oct 12, 2011 @ 10:10 AM

assault rifleThe theme of my recent posts has centered around links sent by readers, asking me to weigh in with a counterpoint to the conclusions drawn in the  articles.  Today, I address yet another Harvard Business Review Blog article (how many misguided HBR Blog articles are there?), this one about the Single Worst Question a salesperson can ask.

The authors contend that "What keeps you up at night?" is the single worst question a sales rep can ask.  I can think of much worse.  The "what keeps you up?" question is inappropriate when asked:

  • at the wrong time
  • to the wrong person
  • in the wrong context
  • with the wrong lead-in or follow up
  • by a transactional salesperson
  • by a junior salesperson

Suppose a salesperson, trained to sell consultatively, meets with a senior decision maker. The issues are communicated so that the salesperson understands them, but doesn't yet know the compelling reason for the decision maker to change/take action/buy.  The salesperson should say, "I understand that issues A, B, C and D need to be addressed", and then ask, "What impact are these four issues having on you personally?"  If the salesperson learns that there is no personal impact, it is inappropriate to venture into the "darkness".  However, if the prospect talks about stress, pressure, time, money, staff, job security, promotion, etc., it should be, "darkness here we come!"  Then, it is not only appropriate, but perfect to ask, "And of those, which one keeps you awake at night?"  Followed by, "Why?" and "Tell me more about that" and "How would you feel if..."

It's not the worst question.  Oh no.  The question is more like an automatic assault weapon.  Very dangerous in untrained hands, but used for the right reason, at the right time, by the right person, with the right prospect, it uncovers the compelling reason(s) to buy!

So what is the worst question a salesperson can ask?  There are two:

  1. "Do you have a budget?"

  2. "When do you expect to make a decision?"

Objective Management Group's data shows that:

  • 58% of salespeople don't ask enough questions - whether or not they're the right ones
  • 53% aren't comfortable talking about money and can't discuss the subject when the answer to question #1 is "no" or "not enough"
  • 86% are too trusting and believe the answers they get to questions 1 and 2
  • 40% never identify the amount of money a prospect is able and willing to spend
  • 68% aren't with the person/decision maker who can actually answer the questions

Data aside, both questions trap salespeople in holes from which they cannot escape.  Instead, and only in the right context at the right time, salespeople must ask:

  1. Are you able to spend $________ in order to solve this $ ______ problem (or take advantage of this $______ opportunity) the right way, the first time, right now?"
  2. How soon would you like to have this problem solved?

Obviously, your salespeople must have gone wide enough and deep enough to know the problem or opportunity (compelling reasons to buy), and the cost (of the problem) or size (of the opportunity) in order to ask the first question.  Are they consistently effective doing that?

Asking how soon a prospect would like to have their problem solved shortens the sales process, whereas asking when a decision will be made extends it.  When a salesperson hears, "yesterday" as an answer to question #2, they should ask, "How do you short circuit the decision making process in order to get started right away?"

Reading the HBR article kept me up at night!

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, harvard business review, sales tips, sales questions

Harvard Business Review Hit and Then Missed the Mark on Sales

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Nov 16, 2010 @ 05:11 AM

HBRSubscriber Ken Leeser pointed me to this recent Harvard Business Review article.  Their observations of 800 salespeople weren't significantly different from Objective Management Group's data on 500,000 salespeople.  Following is where they hit the mark:

Our data has an elite 6% and they categorized 9% as experts.

Our data has an upper 26% and they categorized an upper 37%.

Our data shows that 74% of the sales population are ineffective while their observations peg it at 63%.

They attempted to illustrate seven skill sets and map them with their top 37%.  They included (their categorizing, not mine):

  • Skills Related to Sales Success
    • Rising to the Challenge (overcoming objections)
    • Customer Interaction (listening)
    • Meeting Prep
  • Skills Not Related to Sales Success
    • Story-Telling
    • Presentation and Rapport
    • Company Presentation
    • The Sales Pitch

They said their top 9% had all 7 of these skill sets while the remaining 28% of the top group all excelled at the pitch and the presentation.  The top 37% were above average at customer interaction.

Where did all this lead?  Their conclusion was that everyone receives sales training on presentation and pitch but not on rising to the challenge and customer interaction.  They recommended that salespeople should get more training in those areas where they haven't developed the other skills.  You don't say...

OK, I can't wait to share my perspective.  Here is how HBR missed the mark:

In no particular order:

  • Expanding the topics for training won't solve the problems they identified.  The truth is that the salespeople who are being trained on presentation and pitch are probably being trained on Rising to the Challenge as well and, to a certain degree, Customer Interaction.  The training may not be very good, but they are probably getting it.  The reason the large group of salespeople on the bottom were observed to require more training is because they have hidden weaknesses that make it uncomfortable for them to use the tactics, strategies, competencies, skills and approaches they learned from the training.  Comfort Zone Rules!
  • The key skill possessed by the best salespeople was completely glossed over in their findings.  That key skill is the ability to ask a lot of good, tough, timely questions along with the ability to push back and challenge prospects' assumptions and decisions.  To the researchers it may have simply appeared to be "interaction" but make no mistake.  Exceptional salespeople know exactly what they are doing with their questions and while the result is interaction, the skill they have mastered is asking questions.
  • The researchers came to a faulty conclusion with their claim that the last four skills are not related to sales success.  The problem is that those skills are often used without the three skills that do relate to sales success making it very difficult to succeed with the four unrelated skills alone.  But when those unrelated skills are used at the right time, and a salesperson emphasizes the three related skills, the last four are absolutely related to sales success.

In the end, a successful sales force has the right people in the right roles, a process that can be easily accomplished with a sales force evaluation.  The next requirement is a greater emphasis on efficiency and effectiveness in the sales selection process.  And only then will appropriate training make a significant difference.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales force evaluation, harvard business review, difference between good and bad salespeople, sales assessments

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About Dave

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

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