The Science of Achievement Applied to Sales Success

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Nov 29, 2010 @ 09:11 AM

outliersI finally read Malcolm Gladwell's great book, Outliers: The Story of Success, where he relates the histories of some wildly successful and unsuccessful stars and common folk, and the underlying reasons for their achievements.

He concludes that while they were all talented, it wasn't the talent alone that made them successful as much as it was the opportunities of timing, parenting, location and the time and desire to practice and perfect their various skills.  He showed how intelligence only mattered up to a point, and only if it was practical intelligence; people skills,  problem solving skills, and the ability to advocate for one's self.

As powerful as all that was, there was one paragraph that stood out for me.  Regardless of their career path, those who were THE MOST SUCCESSFUL had two things in common:

  1. 10,000 hours of "practice"
  2. 10 years to perfect their skills.

The 10,000 hours/10 years discovery is not a surprise to me.  If I think back to the many sports and business biographies I read over the years, the subjects share as a common theme this single minded focus on that one thing they loved to do more than anything and the days, weeks and months that were consumed in the pursuit of perfecting their craft.  I have always suggested that it took about 750 hours of practice to become effective at selling - to learn, understand, internalize, own and apply the teachings of sales.  But that only gets you to the top 26%.  To become the best of the best, 10,000 hours and 10 years sounds about right.  It was certainly the case for me, and most of the great salespeople I know today.  At 10,000 hours you don't have to think about it - at all - and you can recognize anything and everything that is taking place around you and properly respond to it.

Many salespeople have been in sales for ten plus years and aren't the best of the best.  They're not even in the top 26%.  I will use science to explain this.  If we go back and look at Objective Management Group's data on the 500,000 salespeople that have been assessed so far, we find that 22% are not trainable (no incentive to change) and another 10% shouldn't even be in sales.  So that leaves 42% unaccounted for.  What about them? I dug through the data and found that:

24% have been in sales for less than 5 years. 

21 % have been in sales for between 5-9 years. 

Of the 55% that have been in sales for at least 10 years, only 20% are in the top 26%.  That means 80% of the ten year group, despite their 10,000 hours, have not become remarkable.  The data shows that they have not been an example of sales best practices for their time in sales.  Their weaknesses and skill gaps are well documented and certainly part of the problem. Here are ten possible explanations for why that is so:

  1. lack of commitment to sales success
  2. they didn't practice (the rule, not the exception)
  3. lack of training (especially in small businesses)
  4. low expectations
  5. lack of single minded pursuit of sales excellence
  6. not exposed to best practices, including having a formal, structured sales process
  7. lack of accountability (less than 15%  of sales managers hold salespeople accountable)
  8. didn't work where there was a strong sales culture (very common)
  9. ineffective sales coaching (84% of sales managers just plain suck!)
  10. not aware that the world of selling has changed so dramatically in the past 5 years


How many of your salespeople are consumed in the pursuit of perfecting their sales effectiveness and what have you done about it? How many of these steps have you taken to develop a sales force with more of the top 26% and fewer of the bottom 74%?

  • evaluated the sales force
  • created a formal, structured, best practices sales process
  • developed a best-practices sales recruiting process
  • created a staged, criteria based pipeline
  • developed metrics to keep the pipeline filled, moving and drive revenue
  • close the skill gaps
  • overcome the weaknesses
  • develop sales management's ability to coach and hold salespeople accountable
  • use of sales 2.0 tools
  • ongoing sales training
  • update the compensation plan
  • use of incentives
  • update selection criteria
  • improve ability to on board new salespeople

These are just some of the areas in which your salespeople, systems and processes can be improved rather than simply hoping that everyone will know what they're supposed to do and get it done.

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales force evaluation, sales management, sales achievement, sales selection, sales success

Top 10 Reasons Why Sales Commitment Has Become More Important

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jun 15, 2010 @ 06:06 AM

commitmentAs the primary researcher and analyst for Objective Management Group, I drive many of the enhancements, features and new product ideas for our industry leading, world-class sales force evaluations and sales candidate assessments.  Today, we are very close to introducing some very powerful, new features to most of our assessments and while some will provide exciting new insights for clients, one is a fundamental change from our 1989 roots.

From the beginning, the two most important findings have been the amount of Desire for Sales (or sales management) success and the Commitment to do what it takes to achieve Sales (or sales management) success.  Desire, or how badly they wanted it, was always the more important of the two and together, they formed the most important part of Incentive to Change or Trainable.

My recent analysis has shown that today, Commitment has overtaken Desire in importance and we will be reflecting that in assessments very shortly.  But Why?  What has caused this fundamental shift?

A comparison of selling today with selling over the past 20 years shows that selling is significantly more challenging today than ever before.  Let's take a look at 10 of the factors that explain this shift in difficulty:

  1. more competition for less business
  2. more difficult to reach decision makers
  3. prospects are much more educated when they meet with salespeople
  4. selling has become more sophisticated but salespeople have not kept up
  5. there is more resistance than ever before
  6. prospects are generally more skeptical
  7. prospects are placing more pressure on price  
  8. companies are pressuring salespeople to sell value
  9. there is more pressure to perform without effective coaching to support it
  10. thanks to the recession, there is less money available to spend

There are certainly more reasons and I encourage you to suggest them in the comments below.

Commitment to Sales Success has become the single most important factor in determining what a salesperson can become. When it comes to sales candidates, it is the most important factor in our ability to predict success at a particular company, in their market, and with their set of challenges.  Please don't misunderstand.  It is not the only factor and there are dozens of other factors that contribute to various degrees. But more and more, when we see salespeople who are struggling, failing to achieve and not adapting and changing, they often lack the commitment necessary for sales success.  There are other reasons too, but Commitment is usually right there.  I can't tell you how we measure Commitment, but I can tell you that when salespeople don't measure up, their sales won't go up either.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales recruiting, sales management, Sales Force, Sales Candidate, sales force evaluations, sales assessments, sales success

Jiffy Lube Magic, Sales Adaptability and Plagiarism

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Jun 04, 2010 @ 09:06 AM

Jiffy LubePerhaps you've noticed that while driving past a Jiffy Lube during (slow times for them) your commute there may be a mechanic out front, holding a sign, offering a discount, hoping you'll pull in.  I don't know about you, but I am not particularly moved by a guy in a jump suit waving for me to stop.  But it made me wonder, does this work? 

This morning I stopped by the Jiffy Lube next to our offices and asked the manager about this practice.  I learned that this is a corporate initiative but it's up to the local store as to how they implement it.  I asked whether the guys who get people to pull in are compensated for their efforts and was told it is "part of their job".  I asked whether some were better at it than others and learned that the more animated and memorable folks who really put forth an effort, dance rather than wave, and have their heart into it significantly out perform their peers.  There's a surprise...

Salespeople who are more memorable and animated tend to be more successful too, but it goes further than that.  Flexible salespeople, who aren't wound so tight can adapt to their prospects and are more successful.  Some prospects just need to be right.  Some need to be told.  Some need to figure it out by themselves.  Some need to be in control.  Some need their questions answered.  Some need to be answering questions.  All need to feel they are being heard.  In baseball, this would be comparing the hard throwing one pitch thrower, to the craftier pitcher that mixes it up, changes speeds, and keeps hitters off balance.  Salespeople with several pitches rather than one will have more success.

Simply put, figure out what works and duplicate it!

Unless duplicating infringes on somebody's copyright.  I have long been frustrated by those on the web who take my articles and call them their own.  I've contacted them directly and demanded that they either take them down or site the source.

Well, one of my friends and colleagues has had it with plagiarism and is declaring war.  Jonathan Farrington, a prolific blogger and sales expert, wrote the following article and I include it here in its entirety.

When Plagiarism Is NOT Flattering

I would like to introduce you to Michael J. Roman - Michael who? Exactly. But after today, I suspect so many more people will be familiar with that name, as it flies around the "Blogosphere" and becomes the topic of much "Twittering"

Here is how Michael describes himself:

"Michael is a POLISHED BUSINESS EXECUTIVE with a proven history of success including nearly fifteen years of successful leadership experience.
Michael is highly skilled in effective, strategic management of sales, operations, administrative, and consulting professionals in addition to full operations and profit and loss (P&L) management....." Etc. etc.

You can read more here.

You may also be impressed by Michael's "core values" particularly this one:
"Integrity - The most important of all values. Michael's belief is that integrity is not optional, nor is it situational."

Michael posts to his site virtually every day, and the articles are of a very high quality -he goes to great lengths to protect "his" copyright:

"©Copyright 2010 Michael J. Roman. All rights reserved.
Except where specifically noted, no information within this blog may be copied, duplicated, stored in a retrieval system or reproduced in any form without the express written consent of Michael J. Roman. If you have any questions regarding this policy, please contact me at the following email address:"

Nothing unusual about that? Well, yes actually. Why does someone go to such lengths to spell out their copyright statement, when they have total disregard for everyone else's?

You see, Michael doesn't actually write his own material - he steals it from other people. He just goes and copies it from other people's sites and claims it as his own.

On his first page alone, there are seven of my blog posts, and in total, I found twenty!

Sometimes he leaves the title and the text wholly intact, other times he changes it to suit himself, here is an example:

I posted "So, Just What Are The Essential Leadership Qualities?"
"I have been "leading" since I was eight years old - my first soccer captaincy - and I have been leading for most of my life."

He posts "What Are Essential Leadership Qualities" and changes the text to:
"I have been "leading" since I was twelve years old - being the lead drummer for my grammar school jazz band - and I have been leading for most of my life."

I am not the only "victim" - several of my colleagues and friends have also had their work pirated, and to say the least, they are not impressed.

On Thursday, I took the unusual step of adding an additional copyright notice to my post - I placed this at the foot -
"The moral right of the author, Jonathan Farrington, has been asserted. © Copyright 2010 All rights reserved.
This article or any part thereof may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording, storage in an information retrieval system or otherwise, unless this notification of copyright is retained."

But that did not deter him - he not only stole my post, he also stole my copyright notice and replaced my name with his!

If that were not enough, he has now re-published an article, which I first published on Ezine Articles on October 27th 2006 -
And claimed it as his own -

This week, I celebrated my 900th post on this blog. Each of those posts took time and effort to craft. Each of the 200 articles that I have written and published on various sites over the last four years has also required a huge investment of my time. Why have I bothered - after all, I know lots of people who write so much better than me?

You know the answer to that question.

So, what to do now? I am going to let nature take care of itself for a few days, and then I will be in contact with Michael. Or maybe he will do the decent thing and contact me first.

I would have willingly given him all of my work to re-publish, if he had asked - as long as he placed my bio underneath them, and not his own!

I will of course keep you fully updated as events unfold.
There is a chance that by the time you get to read this, he will have taken the site down, so you can download a PDF of the front page here.

Awesome article Jonathan.  I hope the many frauds like Michael are exposed for what they are and are prevented from conning unsuspecting readers,  clients and colleagues for good.


Topics: Dave Kurlan, plagiarism, Jiffy Lube, jonathan farrington, sales success

Sales Success Secrets From Beyond the Grave

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jan 05, 2010 @ 08:01 AM

Warning. I have included some very controversial material in this article so I'll start with the easy stuff and finish with the material you may not want to read. I have some insights from three totally unrelated books as well as an unrelated article that I had a chance to read last week. I found common themes that relate directly to sales and sales management success. 

I read Craig Ferguson's autobiography, American on Purpose, and laughed all the way through.  This was much more than a fall-down-drunk-asshole-Scot finally wakes up and becomes a sober American star-TV talk show host story.  Repeated, over and over through his story is the theme persistence. He knew, from an early age, where he wanted to be and what he wanted to be, and despite his demons, he just kept on trying and failing and trying some more. There is no better analogy to developing true sales success than that one.

Jim Griesing turned me on to a video that went viral, The Last Lecture, and I was so mesmerized that I purchased Randy Pausch's book by the same title.  It's filled with his life lessons, written to be read by his kids long after he has passed on from Pancreatic Cancer.  He has a similar theme, although he uses different words and life experiences to pass it on.  I loved his use of the brick wall metaphor - that insurmountable obstacle you hit that stops you dead in your tracks.  He says the brick wall is there to stop everyone else while he believes that the brick wall only appears so that you can demonstrate how badly you want what's on the other side.  He also emphasized always asking for what you want.  The worst they can say is no!

Ed Kleinman turned me onto this article about world-famous violinist Joshua Bell and the Washington, DC. Metro social experiment he participated in with the Washington PostObjective Management Group's data shows that 74% of all salespeople truly suck at listening and asking good, tough, timely questions. This amazing story, if properly interpreted, tells us just how important it is for us to pay more attention - to the prospects, to what they're really telling us, to why they're telling us, and to what they really need from us.

And finally, if you can't handle topics like reincarnation, the afterlife, life between lives and the controversies about whether or not the soul lives an eternal life, don't read this paragraph and certainly, don't read Journey of Souls - Case Study of Life Between Lives!   Michael Newton is the founder of the Newton Institute and a famous therapist who uses past life regressions to help people through their greatest difficulties.  His book includes transcripts of conversations with his carefully hypnotized patients to provide a glimpse of what our soul experiences from the moment of the death of our human body, to our time on the other side, and our eventual rebirth into another life.  Under hypnosis, the interviews actually take place with our spirit/soul.  Newton asks one particular soul what its biggest challenge is when taking human form again.  He learned that it's all about "having the desire and motivation to fulfill each soul's goal" in a particular lifetime and that these goals remain quite constant from one lifetime to the next.  Compare that with what the top 5% of all salespeople have in this post from last month.  There you have it - after we die and before we are born it's still all about Goal Setting, Desire and Motivation!

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, selling, Sales Force, sales motivation, Craig Ferguson, Randy Pausch, Michael Newton, sales success

The Holidays are a Great Metaphor for Sales Success

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Dec 22, 2009 @ 13:12 PM

Which do you anticipate more?

The gifts that you will receive?  What will it be?  Could it be what you were hoping for?  Will it be smelly socks? Will you have to return it? Will you love it? Will you hate it?


The gifts that you present? Will they be surprised?  Will they be delighted?  Will they be speechless?  Will they know how much thought you put into it?  Will they be appreciative?

I can only speak for myself but I couldn't care any less about what I get, but I sure get nervous - more nervous than any other thing I can imagine - when I'm giving a thoughtful gift.  If you focus on the gifts you'll get you'll certainly miss the entire point of this great holiday season.

Sales success works much the same way.  If you focus on your prospect, the value you're providing,  the questions that will cause them to think differently, about their business, their challenges and you, and what you can do to help them, you can delight them and get them to buy from you.  If you focus on yourself and your needs - to present, to talk about capabilities, your company, your need for approval and your desire to do business with them, you'll miss the point of the sales call.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, selling, holiday fun, sales success

A Forgotten Secret of Sales Success

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Oct 01, 2009 @ 04:10 AM

Brad Ferguson, my guest on this week's edition of Meet the Sales Experts, shared a story about a bank he worked with.  Using Objective Management Group's Sales Force Evaluation, he identified 8 bankers that weren't right for the business development roles they were in.  After both the voluntary and involuntary turnover of 7 of them, the bank increased new business revenue by 30% from the 5 remaining bankers.  What did Brad have them do?  It was relatively simple, really.  He had them identify and focus on specific behaviors they could measure, required them to perform specific levels of those behaviors, and held them accountable.  Listen to the show to hear more.

Brad learned early in his career that left to his own devices, he would find ways to avoid picking up the phone and making calls.  Like so many salespeople, he suffered from call reluctance, fear of rejection, fear of failure, and more.  Over time, he learned to trick himself, play games and, most importantly use purpose, motivation and fear to assure that he was consistently filling his pipeline.  Listen to the show to hear more about this compelling topic.

Brad's early willingness to help prospects that weren't yet customers once earned him a vendor of the year award - before he was their vendor!  His take away?  Just show up!  Get out there and do whatever you have to do and don't just sit around waiting for good things to happen.

Click here to listen to the show.  Click here to contact Brad.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, selling, Sales Force, sales motivation, brad ferguson, sales success

2 Things Race Car Driving Has in Common with Selling

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Jul 16, 2009 @ 05:07 AM

Karl Scheible was my guest on this week's edition of Meet the Sales Experts and Karl is not only a sales development expert, but he is also a professional race car driver!  How many people do you suppose there are that can take claim to both of those professions?

Karl said that for him, the single biggest commonality between racing and selling is the ability to be in control of his emotions, a strength which, in selling, not too many salespeople have mastered.  It was as a professional race car driver when Subaru, his first real employer, would send Karl to struggling car dealers to help them push cars - despite the fact that Karl didn't view himself as a salesperson.  However, if you listen to his very entertaining stories about growing up, you realize that he was always selling - because he had to.  He had the intangibles - the will, the motivation, creativity and perhaps, the most important element of all; In his mind, he didn't have the option to fail, which caused him to do whatever it took to succeed. Sounds to me like another thing that selling has in common with race car driving!

Listen to this week's show to hear Karl relate these stories:

  • how he personally outsold his entire school in a candy selling contest
  • how he started his first business
  • how he outsold his private school's in-house bookstore and landed the rights to be its exclusive printing supplier
  • what he sold his first business for - a Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card!
  • his tips for sales success - it's all about process
  • the importance of having a purpose

You can reach Karl at

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan


Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales, selling, sales motivation, emotions, sales success, race car driving, Mickey Mantle

How to Turn Around Flat or Declining Sales Revenue

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Sun, Feb 01, 2009 @ 21:02 PM

I am in the process of reading a New York Times bestseller called 90 Minutes in Heaven.  The first chapter, where Don Piper describes his 90 minutes in heaven, is by far the best part of the book.  Page after page of the rest of the book (so far), details his horrible ordeal, the accident, his years of pain and recovery and his depression.  This section of the book is not that enjoyable.  But today, I came to a passage of about 3 pages that made the drudgery worthwhile.

Don Piper was recounting his days, weeks and months of self-pity, and his refusal to accept help from anyone.  His mentor, an eighty year-old minister, was visiting him one day, and let him have it but good.  I won't go through the trouble of including the word-for-word conversation here but he basically said, "get your act together."  He went on to say, "you must allow others to help you."  And he wouldn't leave until Don agreed.  As Don recalled this encounter, he called it the turning point of his recovery - a miracle!

As I read this section of the book it occurred to me that while none of you are twisted, mangled, broken versions of your former selves, many of you are at the helm of companies with broken sales forces and, like Don, refuse to accept or ask for help.  Your sales force may be no different than it was a year ago, except for the lack of revenue they are producing.  Ask for help.  Accept help.  They may be the same group of people you had at this time last year, except that they are struggling today.  Ask for help. Accept help. They may have the same accounts that they had last year, except that those accounts aren't buying as much. Ask for help.  Accept help. They may be prospecting like they did last year except that the deals in their pipeline have been stalled or delayed and last year's level of prospecting isn't enough to make up for it.  Ask for help.  Accept help.

When revenues are flat or declining, that isn't the time to let pride or ego get in the way. 

John Miller, author of QBQ! - The Question Behind the Question, gets it.   Last week he wrote that cutting training would be as ludicrous as the fire department not being able to respond to an emergency because they cut training and their department wasn't prepared.  He went on to say that for most companies, right now is an emergency!

I don't care how many years your people have been in sales.  They weren't trained to sell in an economic environment like the one we have today.  Retaining accounts is as important as ever, but right now, most companies need their salespeople to bring in new business.  Unfortunately, most of your salespeople weren't trained to hunt and close either, only to manage accounts. So it's a complex situation: 

  • You need your salespeople to hunt and close but they weren't trained to do that;
  • You need them to sell in the worst economy in their lifetimes but they weren't trained to overcome that either;
  • You aren't comfortable asking for help because you think you should be able to solve this problem yourself (these times are challenging even for top experts like me);
  • You don't want to spend any money because - oh yeah - sales are down;
  • If just a couple of those deals on hold would close you'll be OK (hope is not a strategy).
There are some very talented sales develolpment experts that know exactly how to quickly turn around your flat or declining revenue. Ask for help.  Accept help.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, declining sales, improve sales, sales success, sales development, flat revenue, declining revenue

Management's Guide to the Top 10 Differences Between Sales Winners and Losers

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Sun, Oct 19, 2008 @ 22:10 PM

Friday I wrote this post and today I wrote this longer article about the Top 10 Differences between Sales Winners and Sales Losers.

This post is the sales management version of the article referenced above.

In that article, I asked sales professionals to rate themselves.

In this article, I'll ask you to rate each of your salespeople using the same scale.  Top producers score 40-50.  B players score 30-40.  C Players score 20-30. Below 20? Losers.

Now, use this scale to rate your sales force.

80-100% A Players - You have an over achieving sales force.  Congratulations!

50-80% A Players - You have a core of A players to build around. You're on the way.

30-50% A Players - You know what they look like, now go find some more!

Less than 30% A Players - You are working to hard, hoping for more but often getting less and your pushing the 18 wheeler up hill.  You may need to start from scratch!

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales, selling, Salesforce, Sales Force, over achievement, sales motivation, sales evaluation, sales personality, under achievement, sales winners, sales losers, sales assessments, salespeople, sales success

Highly Successful Salespeople Can't Remember What They Say

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Aug 18, 2008 @ 10:08 AM

We were in an internal meeting last week and Frank Belzer said something really profound.  Chris Mott asked him to repeat it and he said, "I have no idea what I just said."

Light Bulb.

Chris and I can't remember most of the most magical, profound, insightful things that we say, whether they occur in sales calls, training environments or consulting scenarios.  The ideas come to us through intuition, they're based on experience and they're typically game changing, life changing, business changing or paradigm shifting insights.

Why can't we remember them? 

We don't remember these memorable sound bites because we didn't prepare them, haven't said them before, and weren't paying much attention to what was coming out of our own mouths.  We're focused on the other individual(s) in the room.   We're in the moment, with clear minds.   occurrences like these happen often for us and for other highly successful individuals. When you are in the moment, your own idle thoughts, strategies, tactics, next steps and scripts block great ideas from coming through.   Most unsuccessful salespeople aren't able to engage and persuade resistant prospects. They're too busy reciting their prepared objection handling scripts which, to their prospects, sound like high pressured sales pitches.

Instructions to Your Salespeople: Clear your minds.  You know enough and have prepared enough to succeed. Focus only on what your prospect is saying in that moment and question everything they say.  Ask lots of "why" and "how" questions to identify compelling reasons for them to spend money with you and only you. Refer to the sample dialog in this post from last week as an example.

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan         

Topics: coaching, sales success

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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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