Great Selling Lessons in The Martian - But Should You See the Movie?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Oct 05, 2015 @ 15:10 PM

Most of the great books I read are disappointing, at best, when they become movies.  The Davinci Code, Gone Girl, Absolute Power, Lone Survivor, Hunger Games, The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, The Lincoln Lawyer, 127 Hours, and Heaven is for Real are just some of my recent disappointments.  Unbroken, The Blind Side and Moneyball didn't get botched up too badly.  So it was with great anticipation, but limited expectations, that we went to see The Martian this weekend.  Not only was it the first book that I read where the movie was even better than the book, but there were some great, important lessons on selling to large organizations too!

Two of the great lessons occurred when the director of the Mars program tried to get the Director of NASA (played by Jeff Daniels in a role 180 degrees opposite Dumb and Dumber) to approve what needed to be done.  In the first instance, it was to get some satellite time so they could take a look at Mars where their mission had been aborted.  Later in the movie, after it was determined that Astronaut Watney (Matt Damon) was still alive, he made another attempt to convince the Director to rescue Watney.  In both cases, the Director said "No" because it was the safe decision, wouldn't jeopardize NASA's funding, and wouldn't cause any additional scrutiny of him personally.  Isn't that just like selling to the government?  Oh yeah, NASA is the government!  Isn't that just like selling to a major public corporation?  

So how did they eventually get the idea sold?  In the most unconventional of ways - but not inconsistent with what salespeople must do when they need to differentiate themselves in a large organization, with lots of options, limited budget and executives that are predisposed to maintaining the status quo.

:In this case, Vincent, the young scientist, made his case to the Director of NASA by walking into the conference room, and saying something along the lines of:

"You, stand right there.  And you, move over here."  Then he asked the Director, "Who are you?"  

The Director said, "I'm Teddy - I'm the Director of NASA."  

The kid said, "Cool."  

Then, getting both executives to pretend to be planets, he used a stapler and sound effects to mimic a spaceship and demonstrated the ship accelerating toward Earth, looping around Earth instead of landing, returning to Mars, intercepting and rescuing Watney, looping around Mars and returning back to Earth. 

Most differentiation takes place in the field, not on websites!  Some of the things that are important when it comes to differentiating in the field are whether or not the salesperson:

  • Was Memorable
  • Taught Them Something They Didn't Know
  • Got the Prospects Engaged
  • Got them to Share Information Freely
  • Cared
  • Listened
  • Had the Conversation Nobody Else Would Have
  • Developed a Relationship
  • Pushed Back or Challenged

In addition to Vincent, who convinced them that this approach would work, it would take the work of another NASA executive.  After the convincing demonstration, when the Director still said "No" to a rescue mission, Mitch (Sean Bean), covertly sends the Mars crew a maneuver that convinces them to commit mutiny and begin the rescue mission against the Director's orders.  

When selling to large organizations, you need more than a champion.  You need a chauffeur like Mitch, who forced the Director's hands.

So there you have it.  Good movie, great selling lessons, and since it's a new movie and there aren't any online scenes available that I can link to, you'll have to go see it.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, selling tips, selling to big companies, matt damon, the martian

Why Prospects Don't Buy From You Today!

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Oct 29, 2014 @ 14:10 PM

world Series 2014

Did you watch any of the 2014 World Series?

I watched a few pitches of Game 6 and I'm a baseball guy!  Why so little?  I was watching Jake Peavy give it his all, trying to hold things together, and thought to myself, "Why am I watching this?  I don't care about either of these two teams.  I'm not engaged."  I'm guessing that if you're not a Giants or Royals fan, you may not have seen too much of this World Series either.  I do plan to watch Game 7 - as long as it keeps me engaged.

Engagement.  There is a huge connection between what I experienced with the World Series, and what prospects experience with salespeople.  If you can understand and apply this analogy it will make a huge difference in the quality of your calls and meetings.  Here are the four most important things for you to know.

Think back to the last time you were a prospect - for something - anything.  Other than a shiny new car or your next home, were you excited?  Really excited?  Were you anxious to talk with a salesperson about long distance or VoiP, insurance, payroll, shipping, a new machine, software, office furniture, computers, legal and accounting, landscaping, seal-coating your driveway, a fence, an industry-specific tool or device, anything?

No, of course not.

So, it stands to reason that your prospects aren't all that excited about meeting with you or your salespeople either.  That helps to explain all of the cancellations and postponements that so many salespeople experience!  The prospects will meet if they have to - if they need to - but not because they are simply interested.  Even that is interesting.  You know they need to meet, but they aren't admitting that.  So, you ask why they wanted to meet and they explain that they are "investigating other options, exploring what's available, or curious about your capabilities."  But, if you know that they are meeting with you because they need what you have, you can push back.  You can say, "Most people are too busy to meet with me unless there is something they were really hoping I could help with.  In your case, what would that be?"

Making this situation a bit more challenging is that salespeople get really excited about talking to, meeting with and presenting to their new prospects.  The reality is that there is a huge lack of alignment in the levels of excitement between salespeople and prospects.  So, how can you get them as excited as you are about discussing and showing them what you have?

It's not easy, but you can do this if you can help them solve a business problem.  At the same time, that's the exact mistake that so many salespeople are making.  They start by trying to demonstrate that they can solve a business problem.   I know.  I sound like I'm contradicting myself even though I'm not.  What I'm saying is, you can't demonstrate your ability to solve their business problem until they have admitted that they have a business problem!  This can't occur until after they have:

  • Told you about the issues that contribute to their business problem,
  • Told you about the business, personal, emotional and financial impact or consequences of their business problem,
  • Quantified the cost of this problem if it's left unresolved, and
  • Expressed their desire to accept your help.

You still need to qualify them.

My favorite Qualification Articles are: 

Top 5 Reasons Why Salespeople Don't Qualify Effectively

Top 10 Reasons Salespeople Struggle to Get Decisions

Top 10 Criteria for a Qualified Sales Presentation

Then, and only then, is it appropriate to demonstrate how you can solve their business problem.  Then, they will be as excited as you are.  Then, they will be ready to buy.  Then, they will take action.

How can you make the transition from demonstrating your product, to demonstrating your ability to solve a business problem, to doing that only after having learned about their desire to get your help?

I'll be honest with you.  It's not easy.  It involves learning to master the art of Consultative Selling, and specifically, how to listen and ask follow-up questions the right way.  For most salespeople, that takes 8 months of training from someone who actually knows what they're doing.  And not many sales trainers and coaches have the ability to teach this the right way.  It is a very elite group!

Prospects will get as excited as you when you learn how to get them excited - not by doing demos and presentations, but by asking enough good, tough, timely questions to learn about them and their business issues.  Then you'll know they are saying, "Wow, she really gets it.  I want to work with her!"

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, selling tips, Closing Sales, sales presentation, sales qualifying, Jake Peavy

My Top 21 Keys to Help Your Sales Force Dominate Today

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jul 08, 2014 @ 07:07 AM

dominateI've seen this happen in youth baseball so many times.  Let's say it's a ground ball and the third baseman boots it for an error.  Of course, the next ball is hit right at the third baseman again and this time he fields it cleanly, but makes an error on the throw.  And just as if it were programmed to happen, the third baseman is suddenly a target, balls coming at him and him alone, as he appears helpless and unable to make a clean play to put a merciful end to an inning.  You could say he has been busy, but not very successful.

Are there sales versions of this?  Do you have salespeople who are busy, but struggling to succeed?  Do you have salespeople who are putting in long hours, but don't generate enough business in relation to the time invested?  Do you have salespeople who find enough opportunities, but struggle to get them closed?  In my experience, there isn't a correlation between busy and successful.  Oh sure, successful salespeople may be busy and busy salespeople might be successful, but one being true does not necessarily mean that the other is true as well. 

An example of a successful, but not necessarily busy salesperson, would be the one whose two whale-sized deals generated three times more business than the rest of the sales force combined.  I'm not saying she didn't work hard to land those two huge accounts, but she can't be as busy as the salesperson who sold 80% less to 50 new accounts.  In the process, our rock star salesperson reset the bar for what would now be considered successful, automatically making salesperson #2, with his 50 new accounts, unsuccessful, despite how hard he worked and how busy he was.  Everything is relative.

Here are my top 5 examples of salespeople who are busy, but not very successful:

  1. They spend long hours researching companies and prospects, reach out on LinkedIn, send InMails, emails and make calls, but have few takers for meetings.
  2. They spend long hours making cold calls, reach very few people, and most of those people are completely disinterested in talking or meeting.
  3. They find a few opportunities and spend hours writing and delivering proposals, presenting, following up and chasing closable prospects with little to show for it.
  4. They spend a lot of time calling on and visiting accounts with great potential, who are doing business with your competition, but have very little success capturing that business for you.
  5. They attend every networking event they can, participate in networking groups, invest a lot of time talking each day with people in their network, but rarely get introduced to a quality opportunity.  Everyone knows them, but people aren't buying from them.

What can we do about the salespeople who are so busy, but have so little to show for their effort?

First and foremost, we must determine whether there is hope for them.  Can they be saved?  Can they be trained to do things more effectively or, if necessary, in a completely different way?  Can they be coached up or not?

Don't rush to an answer.  The two mistakes that so many executives make are:

  1. The belief that their hardworking, but unsuccessful salespeople can be saved.  They remain hopeful, but without any science on which to base their hope.
  2. The belief that their unsuccessful salespeople cannot be saved.  They give up, but don't make changes.

Statistically, about 30% of the 1831614 salespeople who Objective Management Group (OMG) has evaluated, aren't trainable.  Some of those are successful salespeople, but if we look only at the unsuccessful salespeople, or the bottom 74%, we'll see that some of them can be saved.  The magic is being able to identify which ones.  Let's say that you have 10 salespeople and 2 of them are A players.  You have 2 B players and you have 6 C's.  When the science can show you which of the 6 can be saved, trained and coached up to be A players, and which can mercifully be replaced with A players, you have the power to completely transform your sales force in one year's time.


After evaluating, it's helpful to make sure that these salespeople are following the guidelines for where they should be spending their time, how much time should be spent there, and how to do those things more efficiently and effectively.  This is sales infrastructure, or systems and processes.

Next comes training, and how to follow a customized, milestone-centric sales process that will steer them in the right direction, advance them on the path, govern their time, and help them disqualify those who will not buy.  Additionally, they must learn to have the conversations that make today's salespeople successful.  For those with difficulty at the top of the funnel, we would need to emphasize strategies to improve engagement and tonality.  For those having difficulty at the bottom of the funnel, we would need to emphasize the multiple strategies and milestones that precede closing and how the conversation changes along the way.

Along with evaluating, recruiting and training, sales managers must be trained and coached to support the training in such a way that they can coach to it and hold salespeople accountable to executing it.  Nothing changes without effective sales managers spending half of their time coaching and growing their salespeople and impacting their opportunities!

  Sales Leadership Intensive

Don't mistake busy for smart.

Don't mistake effort for commitment.

Don't mistake proposals for effectiveness.

Here are My Top 21 Keys to Help Your Sales Force Dominate Today:

To succeed in today's world of selling, you must have (1) smart, (2) motivated, (3) savvy, (4) well-trained and coached sales managers, (5) committed to spending most of their time (6) coaching (7) smart, (8) motivated, (9) savvy, (10) well-trained and coached salespeople. They in turn must approach selling in a (11) strategic, (12) social, (13) relationship-based, (14) milestone-centric way, with an emphasis on the (15) conversation, an eye on (16) quantification and (17) qualification, and a (18) commitment to getting their opportunities closed in an (19) efficient, (20) pleasant, and (21) helpful way.

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Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, selling tips, Closing Sales, keys to sales success, relationship based selling, social selling

Top 10 Problems with Channel Sales - Don't be Held Hostage

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, May 09, 2014 @ 09:05 AM

channelsWhen most sales bloggers write about selling, we almost always discuss direct B2B sales.  Ignored in all of these articles are those clients and companies that sell through channels.  The channels are many, and include stocking distributors, brokers, retailers, VARs, agencies, partners, resellers, rep firms and more.  The salespeople charged with selling to and through a channel are different - in many ways - and their goals, expectations, activities, skill sets and strategies must be different as well.

When we work with companies selling through channels, the sales processes, metrics, sales management, sales coaching, sales training, messaging and coaching must be different from what we do with direct B2B sales forces.  Channel sales is quite different.

Some channel salespeople simply sell to the channel and the channel does all of the work.  Retailers are a great example of this channel and the work they do is marketing and display centric.

Some channel salespeople sell by pulling sales through their distributors.  A good example of this is food manufacturers, whose salespeople create a demand with restaurants and hotels, who then purchase the food from their local distributor.

Some channel salespeople work WITH the channel reps, conducting sales calls together.  Unfortunately, most of these sales calls are nothing but quick, 5-10 minute product demonstrations.  In cases like these, the channel salespeople are more like technical experts.

Some channel salespeople are charged with signing up channel partners.  This is more like traditional B2B sales.

Some channel salespeople work with an existing channel and the only way for them to grow revenue is to either get the channel to take on new products or generate new customers for their existing products.  In these cases, the channel salespeople function more like coaches.

And, as one of my clients learned recently, if the distributors are very large, control too much territory, your product is not part of their core business, and there isn't a commitment from the distributor's ownership and management to proactively increase the focus and visibility of the product and/or brand, you're in trouble.  In this case, it doesn't matter how good your sales management is or how talented your salespeople become.  When you are held hostage by your channel, you're screwed.

Having lots of resellers may seem like a lot of work but smaller ones aren't big enough to hold you hostage, they are often more motivated, nimble, and must have stronger salespeople to compete against the larger firms.

Channel management is much more challenging and most companies using channels lack the necessary awareness to determine exactly why their channel isn't moving more of their stuff!

In some cases, it isn't until you've ruled everything else out, that you can finally determine where the real problem lies and what you must do about it.

Do you sell through a channel?  Do you have any of these issues?

  1. They don't communicate their opportunities.
  2. They don't share their pipeline for your products.
  3. They won't make a commitment to generate more revenue.
  4. They aren't proactively looking for business for your brand.
  5. They don't sell - they mention.
  6. They don't accept your coaching.
  7. They want your brand - but only so their competitor can't have it.
  8. Their reps are awful.
  9. Their management is ambivalent.
  10. They think your contract is unfair.

There are many ways to solve the problems of your channel, but all of them require either a different mindset, alternate approach, nerves of steel, or all three.  Have you had enough aggravation with your channel to make some changes?


Copyright: blueximages / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Dave Kurlan, selling tips, distributor sales, wholesale sales

Top 10 Reasons Salespeople Can't Move the Conversation from Price

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Jul 11, 2013 @ 12:07 PM

I have written many articles on the importance of and how to use a consultative approach to differentiate you and your company from your competitors and their companies so that the decision is not based on price.

However, many of the calls for help are just that - opportunities that are about price and only price.  Or so the callers believe.  When salespeople have an opportunity that has sunk to the depths of price despair, it can only mean that one or more of the falling conditions are true:

  • Salespeople did not uncover their (not yours) compelling reason to do business with you.
  • Salespeople are calling too low in the organization.
  • Salespeople are with someone from Purchasing.
  • Salespeople have not uncovered the prospect's motivation for needing the lowest price (watch this video clip).
  • Salespeople have not asked what part of the solution the prospect could live without (see the image below).

There are other factors that could contribute to salespeople regularly finding themselves in a price-sensitive discussion:

  • That's the way that the salesperson buys - lowest price rules.  That does not support successful selling because they agree that they should have the lowest possible price.
  • Salespeople aren't completely comfortable having a discussion about someone else's money.
  • Salespeople aren't comfortable pushing back and challenging.  Prospects have their way with them.
  • Salespeople are too trusting.  They take what the prospect says at face value and because the salespeople don't question it, they can't determine if the prospects are bluffing and playing games.
  • Salespeople get emotional when a prospect tries to push them around on price, and therefore, lose control of the sales call.
There is much more to how and why salespeople get caught up in the lowest price conversation than meets the eye.  That said, there are many things that can be done to put a stop to it:
  • Training,
  • Coaching,
  • Overcoming the weaknesses that allow these problems to occur,
  • Role-playing with colleagues,
  • Practice,
  • New expectations and guidelines and/or
  • Accountability.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales leadership, Sales Coaching, selling tips, sales tips, lowest price

Baseball and Selling Revisited - A Powerful Analogy

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jun 12, 2013 @ 10:06 AM

260 swinging at high pitchHow many times has this happened to you?

A salesperson tells you about a great-looking opportunity that has been forecast to close this month.  "We're definitely getting this and it's an awesome opportunity for us.  We're going to knock this one out of the park!"

At the end of the month, the deal hasn't closed and you question your salesperson about it.  You are told that the decision-maker has been away on vacation, but as soon as he returns, the deal is sure to get done.

A month later, nothing has changed.  This time, the salesperson admits that he has had a little difficulty reaching the decision-maker, but he is sure that nothing has changed.  You are assured that everything is good.

Six months later, when the deal still hasn't closed, you force the salesperson to archive the opportunity with the salesperson still not understanding what went wrong.

The exact same thing happens in baseball - especially with Little Leaguers.  

When the pitcher throws the ball toward the plate, no pitch looks more enticing, easier to hit or simpler to track than the one thrown at eye-level to the hitter.  The hitter has an extremely short time to react and decide whether or not to swing and the pitch is simply irresistable.  So time after time, the undisciplined batter swings - and misses - every single time.

We know why they swing - the pitch looks so, so good.  But why do they miss?

A ball thrown at eye-level is much too high to hit and out of the strike zone.  When thrown fast, it is pretty much impossible to hit.  The high fastball - a Little Leaguer will swing underneath it and be late swinging every single time.  So, rather than teaching them how to hit that pitch, it's important to teach them how to not swing at that pitch.

Back to your salespeople.  The very opportunities that look so good to them - the high fastballs of opportunities where they hear what they want to hear - cause them to skip steps and milestones.  Along the way, they fail to question things like competition, decision-makers, timelines, compelling reasons, things that can go wrong, incumbents, preferences, pricing and more.  Just like with the Little Leaguers, your salespeople must learn to lay off of those great sounding opportunities - until they are completely qualified.  It's not a matter of helping your salespeople hit these opportunities out of the park as much as it's a need to disqualify these opportunities so that your salespeople don't swing and miss.

Salespeople are just like Little Leaguers, only they should know better.  Why don't they?  They share a weakness where they both get excited or emotional, and when that happens, their judgement can be faulty.  It takes discipline to lay off the high fastball and ask the necessary questions when the prospect is saying that they are ready to buy.

Discipline and consistency - two qualities that great salespeople share.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, sales leadership, Sales Coaching, selling tips

Election Day - Like Decision Making Day for a Sales Opportunity?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Nov 01, 2010 @ 23:11 PM

Vote ButtonNovember 2 is Election Day in the USA when the candidates, along with the rest of us, learn who the big winners will be.  The winner benefits from the work initiated 18 months ago, culminating in a frantic  last minute push to win votes.  The decision that voters make is the result of TV ads, endorsements, testimonials, media attention and most importantly, one-on-one visits between candidates and voters.

Interestingly, this is very similar to the sales process to a large corporation.  An 18-month sales cycle, lots of one-on-one meetings, many group presentations, a frantic, last-minute push and a result based more on the work over the 18 months than anything that happened on decision-making day.

Politicians get elected one vote at a time.  Salespeople win sales one prospect at a time.  The problem is that too many salespeople take shortcuts and attempt to sell prospects in groups.  While it is possible to make a great group presentation, that is not where the selling actually takes place.  Selling takes place one-on-one, and much earlier in the sales process.  The presentation, and still later, the proposal, are simply a formality that leads to getting the business when the selling that was conducted earlier was effective.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales process, Sales Force, selling tips, election

Three Ways I Can Help You Feel Better about the Economy

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jan 14, 2009 @ 10:01 AM

  1. Start with this.  Thanks to my friend and best-selling author Dan Millman, of Peaceful Warrior fame, for turning me on to this light-hearted take on last year.
  2. Then read this week's Baseline Selling Tips article on how your salespeople can have more success making appointments by phone.  You'll get to hear me too.  While you're there, you may even want to subscribe if you don't already get these selling tips...
  3. Register for this Business Experts Webinar where I will discuss how your salespeople can Close More Sales by Shortening Your Sell Cycle.

Feel better?  I sure do!

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, booking appointments, selling tips, Closing Sales, sales tips, sales cycle, business experts webinars, uncle jay, economy is good

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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 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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