United Airlines Uses Customer Service This Way to Impact Sales

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Jun 26, 2014 @ 10:06 AM

united airlinesYesterday, I was returning from New Orleans on an airline I had previously decided never to use again.  When I arrived at the airport, the monitors showed that my flight, scheduled to depart at 5:18 PM, was delayed.  I entered a very short queue to speak with a gate agent to learn just how long the flight would be delayed.  There was one person ahead of me and one person at the counter.  There were two gate agents.  Twenty minutes later, the second gate agent finally looked up from her computer and asked the man in front of me if he had "some kind of question" he needed answered.  It turned out that he was also concerned about making a connecting flight and wanted to know how long the delay would be or whether the flight would end up being cancelled.

Based on how she responded, you would think he had insulted her entire family.  I clearly heard her snap that there was "a gate agent working on connections behind the scenes (a lie), a gate agent would be here an hour before the flight (a lie), and there were no seats available on any other flight leaving New Orleans because of the convention (truth).  Come back an hour before the flight."

He could not understand why she treated him so nastily so he repeated his fair and calm question and asked, "But do you know how long the flight may be delayed?"  She was even worse the second time, saying, "I already told you to come back an hour before the flight" and then repeated everything she previously said.  She had no interest in talking with him, helping or rescheduling him.

The information was available online.  United's website showed that the status of the flight was a 3-hour delay even though that information was not posted on the airport monitors.  When 5:18, the originally scheduled departure time, rolled around, not a single gate agent had ventured anywhere near the gate.  Everyone seated in the gate area was abuzz with the lack of communication, attention and ambivalence.

Today, as I begin writing this from Washington DC, I'm still not home yet, but I'm closer, having taken things into my own hands and thankfully, not leaving it up to United to get me home.  When I finally landed in DC 3 hours late, 50 people got in line to wait for a single United agent to reschedule them onto a future connecting flight.  Nice preparation, United!  But this isn't about me.  This is about United and what an excellent job they do at selling!  And I must say, they are very effective.

Yes, they sold me, for a second straight time, that flying United is not a good experience, their people don't care, putting their own needs first, ahead of their customers.  United is not the only company guilty of  deplorable customer service.  There are many others and you have likely experienced them too.

Customer service has a very important selling role.  Their job is to solve a customer's problem and do it in such a way that the customer forgets about the problem they had and remembers only how well and painlessly their problem was solved and how nicely they were treated in the process.  When companies screw this up, customer service has succeeded in UNSELLING a customer.  It isn't rocket science, but it does reflect poorly on recruiting, selection, management, onboarding and training.  Do you have similar experiences that you can share in the comments below?

United has been in the news for their horrible customer service before.

Want a good sales book to read?  Check out this list of the best sales books to read this summer.

Do you, your sales managers and/or sales leaders want to receive the most awesome sales leadership training around?  I'm hosting my annual Sales Leadership Intensive in September in the Boston area.  It's two days of training when my team devotes an entire day to mastering the art of coaching salespeople.  Watch this testimonial video and this one too.  If you're interested in attending, I'll make special arrangements for the first 10 who respond.  Just email me.

Sales Leadership Intensive

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management training, Customer Retention, top sales books

How Frequently Does Fear Play a Part in Sales?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Nov 06, 2013 @ 06:11 AM

fear eraseOne of the many things that holds salespeople back, prevents them from reaching their potential, stops them from crashing through quotas, doesn't allow them to exceed expectations and never has them succeeding beyond everyone's wildest dreams is their fear of failing.

Fear of failing doesn't affect everyone that sells. The elite 6% are certainly immune to it, and most of the next 20% aren't affected too much by it either.  But the remaining 74% - the group that basically sucks - battles the fear of failing on a daily basis.

That fear - and most salespeople aren't even consciously aware of it - prevents them from:

  • Making prospecting calls,
  • Making enough prospecting calls,
  • Getting through to decision makers,
  • Pushing back on put-offs,
  • Challenging a prospect's thinking, plan, or position,
  • Asking tough questions,
  • Having the difficult conversation,
  • Talking about finances,
  • Qualifying,
  • Asking about competition,
  • Getting past happy ears,
  • Closing,
  • Dealing with objections,
  • And more...

Here are some symptoms that you might be able to recognize:

  • When salespeople have good intentions, but lousy follow through,
  • When salespeople have good plans, but poor time management,
  • When salespeople have plenty of time, but a tendency to procrastinate,
  • When salespeople are regularly unable to reach closure on their opportunities,
  • When salespeople have a need to rationalize what they did and didn't do,
...chances are they have just experienced a bout of fear of failing.

The ironic thing is that you simply can't fail. The only failures possible in selling are:

  • The failure to act,
  • The failure to express yourself,
  • The failure to ask good questions,
  • The failure to state your business,
  • The failure to aggressively chase your dreams,
  • The failure to do everything in your power to succeed,
  • The failure to be proactive,
  • The failure to allow yourself to succeed,
  • The failure to think positively,
  • The failure to sell ethically,
  • The failure to grow and improve,
  • The failure to practice,
  • The failure to ask for help, and
  • The failure to follow your sales process.

I am certain there are more - many more - but you get the gist...

It's the fear itself that causes failure, not the actual act of doing.  The paralysis from the fear causes failure, not the act of engaging.

Qualifying is one of the things that salespeople fear quite a bit.  Qualifying involves asking questions that could yield responses they don't want to hear.  Instead, they have happy ears.  We know how important qualifying is and Pete Caputa, Sales & Marketing VP at Hubspot, proves that qualifying improves closing percentages with the metrics data that he included in this recent post.  

My regular readers and clients will notice that qualifying occurs rather early in Hubspot's sequence.  I didn't send you to that article to modify your sales process; only to embrace the power of qualification.  Please continue to qualify between 2nd and 3rd base!

Sales Managers should review that qualifying data and make sure that their own salespeople are qualifying thoroughly, qualifying when they should, and qualifying every sales opportunity. 

As a matter of fact, Sales Managers should be making final plans to attend my Sales Leadership Intensive, being held at the Westin Copley Hotel in Boston on November 14-15.   We still have a few seats left, so don't be afraid, there is nothing to fear, and join us for two amazing days where you will learn to be more awesome at coaching, motivating and leading salespeople than you ever thought possible.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Sales Force, sales management training, fear of failure

The Real Problem with the Sales Profession and Sales Leadership

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Oct 01, 2013 @ 06:10 AM

The folks over at Insight Squared recently posted this interview with me.  It touched on sales management, but there wasn't enough time to do it justice.  I have written about sales management a lot in my Blog over the past 7 years with at least 75% of the roughly 1,100 articles on the subject.  If you are a new reader, there is a lot of material to sift through.  Start with my article series by scrolling down the left-side navigation panel.

In the context of best practices, the sales management role is now 50% coaching.  The problem is that according to data from Objective Management Group, 82% of sales managers make very ineffective coaches.  Just yesterday alone we had conversations with sales managers who:

  • Weren't able to recognize what their salespeople were doing wrong;
  • Had the ability to listen in to sales calls, but weren't doing so;
  • Heard how bad their salespeople sounded on the phone, but weren't able to correct them;
  • Struggled to onboard new salespeople, but hadn't realized that lack of sales experience added at least a year to the ramp-up period;
  • Couldn't identify who their most effective salespeople were;
  • Were afraid to present critical feedback to their best salespeople;
  • Couldn't terminate their worst salespeople;
  • Couldn't differentiate between nice and friendly, versus nice and effective;
  • Didn't have the time to spend with new salespeople.
There is very little of the right modeling taking place for sales managers of the future.  They weren't exposed to it as salespeople.  They weren't trained to do it when they became sales managers, and as a sales manager said to me last week, "I can't come to your Sales Leadership Intensive because when I was hired, the expectation was that I would be able to do all of that stuff."
Are you serious?  You're expected to be an effective sales manager or leader, but you know you aren't a master at sales coaching.  You know you could have a tremendous impact on the sales force if you became a better coach, and you don't attend the very program that could help because it was expected that you could coach effectively when you took the position?  You do know that doctors, attorneys, teachers and other skilled professionals are not only expected, but required to continue their education, attend workshops and conferences, and learn the latest from the greatest minds in their field.  Sales managers, when compared with doctors, attorneys or teachers, have not had years of education and training in the field, but probably less than 10 hours of training in their field.  Why do they believe that:
  • they don't need the help,
  • their boss would have a problem with them getting better,
  • they already know it all,
  • they can't take the time,
  • it's not important?
This is a prime example of what is wrong with the sales profession in general.  There are no requirements to enter the field, no requirements to get promoted, and no expectations of self-improvement.  While there may be exceptions in some companies and certain industries, overall, it's an embarrassment.  What can we do about that?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales management training, sales leadership training, sales leadership intensive

Actual Coaching Call - Use it to Coach Your Salespeople to Success

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Sep 17, 2013 @ 09:09 AM

sales coachingMy regular readers have seen this number before: 74% of all salespeople suck, so most salespeople need a lot of help, yet training and coaching are only two pieces of the puzzle.  These days, most training can be done more economically and effectively than ever before thanks to AdobeConnect and its powerful, interactive, engaging, live, online training platform.  Most of our sessions include a significant amount of spontaneous roleplaying that provide ample opportunities for us to coach the salespeople who are participating.

While most of these roleplays and coaching moments are memorable, impactful and terrific learning events for everyone on the sales force, some of these conversations tend to be more memorable than others.  More on that in a moment...

Recently, I spoke at the EcSell Institute Fall Sales Coaching Summit in Chicago.  I last mentioned EcSell in an extremely popular article, This is How Sales Managers Should Coach Their Salespeople.  The article outlined exactly how to coach salespeople to success and as its example, discussed a salesperson in a competitive situation.  Back to my story...

Today is your lucky day!  I have secured the webinar audio from which that coaching session took place.  The trimmed audio containing the moment in question runs about 5 minutes but it is so worth the listen.

Click here to listen.

If you would like to have a major impact on each of your salespeople with every coaching conversation, we will teach you how to do exactly that and more at our incredible Sales Leadership Intensive, November 14-15 in Boston.   

The conversation to which you just listened is easy to learn.  But we'll share examples that will blow your mind and show you how to develop the same level of effectiveness.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Sales Coaching, sales management training

Major Changes in Buying Require Major Changes in Selling

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, May 02, 2013 @ 08:05 AM

Sales ShiftLast week I wrote this article and talked about how much selling has changed.  But in that article, I only mentioned the need to differentiate and sell consultatively.  The articles I wrote and mentioned here talk about it greater detail.  But to really understand how completely sales has shifted, you absolutely must read Frank Belzer's new book Sales Shift: How inbound marketing has turned sales upside down making it more difficult and more lucrative at the same time".

Frank has not only written the entire story, but goes really deep and wide on the impact of social selling and how you can and should leverage tools and resources like LinkedIn, inbound marketing, blogging and more.

I'm especially excited about Frank's book because he has worked alongside me at Kurlan & Associates since 2008 when these changes first began to take shape in a lasting way.  As you know, 2008 was also the year the economy collapsed and that says a lot about Frank.  Anyone who can survive a start in the sales development business during the worst economic climate in decades has to be strong.

If you want to know more about Frank's book, there is a great interview with Frank here.  If you would like to order Frank's book - and you should - you can get it here from Amazon.

Finally - if you would like to master the art and science of managing, coaching and developing salespeople in these changing times, this is the last call for our spring Sales Leadership Intensive in Boston May 14-15.  You can read about the event here and check out the testimonial videos here and here; but if you would like to attend, there isn't much time.  I recommend that you just drop me a line instead and we'll make the arrangements for you.  You'll get to work with Frank and me and 3 other great experts on my team.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales process, sales management training, sales leadership training, sales shift, frank belzer, sales management seminar

Sales Management Best Practices - Are Top Salespeople Challengers?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 @ 13:04 PM

describe the imageI am asked quite often about the Challenger Sales model.  I've written about it twice, something that might lead you to believe I like it, but that's not entirely true.  Read this article and be sure to read the comments - a disagreement between me and the editor of the study.  Make sure you read this article too, written when the study appeared in the Harvard Business Review.

I am certainly not the only one scratching my head about why The Challenger Sale is getting so much attention.  There's nothing new here (for 24 years I have been writing about the blueprint to the sales DNA they just recently described, building into our assessments and delivering training on it) and while some of the Challenger approach is fundamentally correct, it can be very misleading too.

Sales has changed dramatically in the past 5 years and among the many things that are significantly different is this:  You must be able to differentiate yourself and your company and actually be the added value.  You can do that by asking the right questions, at the right time, for the right reason.  It's all about listening.  Consultative Selling, while being a question-centric approach, is driven by listening and nearly everyone who writes about it misses that point.  Another point that is often missed is that when Consultative Selling is properly executed, you can't help but develop a relationship.  Another point that is often missed is that if you are effective with Consultative Selling, you will, in essence, also be using Solution Selling.  Why am I bringing all of that up?  One of the premises of the Challenger Sale is that Relationship Selling and Solution Selling are dead.  As they say in Monty Python, it's Not Dead Yet.  

I don't promote an approach based on either Relationships or Solution Selling, but both must be incorporated into an appropriate 2013 sales approach.  Also worth noting, the approach or methodology is only one part of selling.  Without a sales process and a sales model, no methodology will work very well on its own.

Mike Schultz, a partner at The Rain Group, wrote this article highlighting their own study, What Sales Winners Do Differently, and the areas where their study reaches different conclusions from the Challenger Sale.

Finally, if you want to learn how to drive best practices in sales coaching, sales process, sales accountability and sales motivation through your sales team, sales force and sales organization, you'll want to be in attendance when we present our Spring 2013 Sales Leadership Intensive in Boston, May 14-15.  It's coming up quickly and seating is limited.  If you and/or your sales leadership team would like to attend, please send me an email and I will get back to you.  Event details are here.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales training, sales leadership, solution selling, sales management training, Relationship Selling, challenger sale

Are (Lack of) Results Due to the Salesperson or the Company?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jul 09, 2012 @ 10:07 AM

resultsI'll open with a baseball analogy:  A few weeks ago, the Boston Red Sox traded Kevin Youkilis - a disgruntled, underperforming, 3-time all-star - to the Chicago White Sox AND the Red Sox paid most of his remaining 2012 salary.  In return, they received a couple of unspectacular spare parts.  What has happened since?  Youkilis reverted to form and quickly became a fan favorite in Chicago.  The Red Sox continue to lose games and underperform.  So, the question is: Was it Youkilis or the team that caused him, and just about everyone not named David Ortiz, to underperform this year?

Now the sales connection:  Whether your salespeople are underperforming or doing well, are they responsible or is it your company, culture, advertising or offerings that's responsible?

Using data from the 600,000+ salespeople and sales managers whom OMG assessed, we know that salespeople, who work for industry leaders, do well because of their company's reputation, advertising and offerings.  We know that in underdog companies (pricier than competition, high-ticket, new company, new technology, story to tell, pioneer, etc.), when salespeople are underperforming, it is usually because of the salespeople, not the company.

Sales is not like other roles.  A salesperson's successful performance at one company does not necessarily translate to success in a different role or at another company, much like certain baseball players don't perform well in the Boston or New York markets, despite having the ability to perform at a high level for smaller market teams.

As selling continues to be more challenging, companies must make dramatic improvements at sales selection and development.  Specifically, sales leaders at all levels must follow best practices for the sales selection process, on-boarding and ongoing development.  OMG's data also shows that 86% of all sales managers don't perform any of those three roles very well. 

When sales managers are ineffective at selecting the right salespeople, they compound the problem by being equally ineffective at coaching - the foundation of ongoing development.

Training salespeople is nice, but a waste of time and money when the wrong salespeople are trained and sales managers aren't prepared to coach to and hold salespeople accountable to the training.

It's time to fix these problems, not turn a blind eye.  

Topics: sales competencies, sales culture, sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales management, Sales Coaching, sales management training, sales evaluation, omg, sales personality

Are Sales Leaders More Receptive to Training Than Salespeople?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, May 16, 2012 @ 19:05 PM

training dayWhen a room full of sales leaders arrive for two days of intensive training, there are many things that can and do happen.  Here are ten of them:

  1. They can and do resist the training if they were sent there.  If they chose to come on their own, resistance never occurs!  Fortunately, the resistance fades away by the end of the first day.
  2. They can and do see the magic of how proper sales coaching should be conducted.  
  3. They can and do pick and choose what to embrace and bring back to their offices and teams.
  4. They can get a much better grasp on what it takes to make their sales force change-ready, but some won't take the time to do so.
  5. They can understand the subleties of how to shape their sales environment, but it's not as exciting as mastering sales coaching.  So, even though one can't coach effectively without shaping their environment, some will fail to execute that important step.
  6. They can and do see the power, efficiency and magic of a well-thought-out, time-tested, proven, customized, optimized sales process.  But old habits are hard to break and some still want to demo and present too early in the new process!
  7. They can and do get a much better understanding of how to effectively motivate their various salespeople, but some will forget most of it by the time they return to their office.
  8. They can and do understand how to more effectively and consistently find, assess, interview, select, hire, on-board and retain better salespeople, but some would rather work harder and longer and do what they have always done instead of trusting that a time-tested, proven, customized, efficient sales recruiting process will make it as easy as advertised.
  9. They can and do learn the power of the daily huddle as a great way to hold their salespeople accountable to the KPI's that will drive revenue.  However, some will ease into this by conducting a weekly huddle, mistaken in their belief that weekly will work as effectively as daily.
  10. They can and do learn the power of a staged, criteria-based pipeline and what it takes to keep it filled.  Most will implement this upon their return.
If it sounds like some people waste their time by attending, that isn't true.  What actually happens is that they fear that they can't do everything that they hear (not enough time and too much work), so they determine what is most important (or most comfortable) and resolve to do that.  It's not a waste at all.  It's simply the sales leader being guilty of some of the same "I can't" issues that their salespeople have.
Here are ten suggestions that will make participation a success if you decide to attend an intensive sales leadership training event like this:  
  • Embrace instead of resist.
  • Focus instead of getting distracted.
  • Participate instead of observe.
  • Be early instead of late.
  • Take fewer detailed notes, but focus more on concepts.
  • Apply everything, not just with what you like or feel comfortable.
  • Listen with your sales force in mind.
  • Ask questions, ask for help, enter into discussions.
  • Complete all exercises which are intended to help you apply the lessons to your sales force.
  • Perform the overnight assignments so that you won't be left behind.
You can get more out of these two days than from your entire sales leadership career, but you must be present and in the moment for the entire two days.
Can the next event help you?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, sales management training, sales leadership training

Top 5 Keys to Effective Sales Coaching and Results

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, May 02, 2012 @ 09:05 AM

sales coaching effectivenessOne confusing component of effective sales management is that great sales management skills don't always translate into great sales results.  This phenomenon is most obvious when a company hires a terrific, new sales manager, who possesses all the desired skills, and the manager fails to have an immediate impact.  Worse, in many cases, is when the inherited salespeople rebel!  This scenario also occurs when sales managers go to seminars, watch video clips, read books or blogs, and attempt to extract specific skills and tips but don't have the luxury of hearing them demonstrated, in context, in a real situation.  When Objective Management Group conducts a sales force evaluation, we often see that sales managers' skills are much better than the resulting effectiveness of those skills.  Why is that?

Sales coaching is not a solo endeavor.  It's a lot like playing doubles in tennis.  You can take tennis lessons and improve, but unless your tennis partner has been taking lessons and practicing along with you, your personal development won't translate into more victories, as opponents quickly realize that they can simply force the ball to your weaker partner.

Let's assume that you have plus sales coaching skills.  You know how long you should coach, how frequently you should coach, what subject to coach on, how to expertly debrief, role-play and identify the specific cause of an outcome, and get to lessons learned and action steps.  You can effectively strategize an upcoming sales call and you can coach right in the middle of a live sales call without ever taking over the call.  You're a master.

Now let's take that mastery to your sales force and consider these five factors:

  1. The strength of your relationship with each salesperson; 
  2. If they trust your intentions and if you trust them to follow through;
  3. If they respect you and your experience or you lack credibility with them;
  4. If your salespeople are open, coachable or resistant to your efforts to help; and
  5. If you pressure them, micro-manage them, or often ignore them.

Your collection of sales coaching skills is only one factor.  Consider the matrix below where one's effectiveness and overall impact is in direct proportion to the five factors listed above.  The score indicates how effective a sales manager will be, depending on their level sales coaching proficiency and the conditions of their sales environment:

Sales Coaching
Skills
(0-5 scale)
5 Strong
Factors
4 Strong
Factors
3 Strong
Factors
2 Strong 
Factors
1 Strong 
Factors 
0 Strong 
Factors 
 5  100%  80%  60%  40%  20%  0%
 4  80%  64%  48%  32%  16%  0%
 3  60%  48%  36%  24%  12%  0%
 2  40%  32%  24%  16%  8%  0%
 1  20% 16%  12%  8%  4%  0%
 0   0%  0%  0%  0%  0%  0%
Table 1.0 Overall Effectiveness

We will be showing managers how to shape their sales environment at next week's Sales Leadership Intensive in Boston.  This is the last week to register!  We'll also demonstrate how to master the art of coaching salespeople.  Hope to see you there.  Email me if you would like to attend.

 

 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales management training, sales leadership effectiveness, sales management effectiveness, seminar, workshop, program

Why Most Companies are Struggling to Grow Revenue

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Apr 25, 2012 @ 09:04 AM

sales training dave kurlan picChris Scirpoli, of Invoke Selling, managed to engage me for nearly 15 minutes in a power-packed, fast-paced, video interview that covered a tremendous amount of ground in a very short period of time.  He did the mandatory, "Tell me about your background.", but he left nearly 13 minutes for me to elaborate on the greatest challenges to sales managers and salespeople, and the various approaches that can be implemented to solve these challenges.  Because of the questions which he asked, it was one of the better interviews with regard to content.  You can watch the interview here.  If you liked that, you'll really like the Sales Leadership Symposium in Boston next month.  

Dan Perry, writing at Sales Benchmark Index's Sales Force Effectiveness Blog, wrote that "The single biggest problem with sales today is sales reps are mismatched to the buyer.  They think like a sales rep and not like a buyer."  

Well, Dan, I don't agree and I have the statistics to back me up.  If you were to interview buyers (we don't call them that in 2012, we call them procurement specialists today), I'm sure they would agree with me because they don't want to be sold anything by anybody!  They want total control, want to squeeze every last dime from you, and don't want to share any information that might help a salesperson gain an edge.  

The biggest problem with salespeople today (I can back it up with the data from Objective Management Group, which has assessed more than 550,000 salespeople) is that 63% are not reaching decision-makers and 58% begin the sales process with procurement.  In general, the sales population doesn't possess the skills to sell consultatively (on average, salespeople have only 21% of the attributes of the consultative skill set), to uncover compelling reasons to buy and to use those compelling reasons as leverage, and to differentiate themselves. That leverage causes decision-makers to tell their procurement people to do business with your company (the company that stood out).  If your salespeople can differentiate themselves to such a degree that a decision-maker wants to buy from you, it's the internal decision-makers that must sell the procurement folks, not your salespeople!  When the opportunity finally arrives at procurement, only the terms need to be negotiated.

Don't believe everything you read.  Just because it's printed, doesn't mean it's good.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management training, sales leadership training, selling to procurement, selling to purchasing, selling to buyers, sales benchmark index, sales assessments

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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 eight 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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