This will be the 18th consecutive year that we attend the Boston Ballet's performance of the Nutcracker, and while it is the same performance every single year, it is a wonderful family tradition and we wouldn't miss it for the world.
Traditions are important. They ground us, give us a sense of stability and purpose, and provide something that we can look forward to. Rituals are like traditions in that they serve the same purpose, but occur much more frequently. Selling, is filled with rituals, from the sales process we always follow, to those specific questions we always ask to those specific talking points, comparisons, and stories we always share. Why? They work!
So it is with that sense of tradition that for the 10th consecutive year, I republish my Nutcracker article which is always the most popular article each December.
The Top 3 Lessons from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker
If you attend a Nutcracker performance or simply listen to some of the suite during the holiday season, one of the selections you'll hear is the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy". Perhaps you can't match the music to the title, but I'm sure if you listen to the first 30 seconds of this version, you'll recognize the melody regardless of your religion or ethnicity.
Even though you've surely heard it before, can you identify the four primary musical instruments at the beginning of the selection?
In this version, you're hearing the glass harmonica, while most orchestral versions and performances feature the celesta, oboe, bassoon and flutes. Can you hear them?
Just as the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" sounds familiar to you, your salespeople find familiarity in the sounds, questions, comments and discussions on their sales calls. As much as you may not be able to distinguish the specific instruments creating those sounds in "Dance...", your salespeople may not be able to distinguish the credible comments and questions from the noise on their sales calls.
During a first sales call, suppose your salespeople hear one prospect say, "This has been a very interesting and productive conversation and we might have some interest in this." And imagine another prospect at the same meeting says, "We'll get back to you next month and let you know what kind of progress we've made." And still a third might say, "In the meantime, please send us a proposal with references and timeline."
Lesson #1 (based on Objective Management Group's data) - Of every 100 salespeople:
- 70 rush back to the office to begin work on the proposal and tell their bosses that their large opportunity is very promising because all 3 prospects in the meeting were very interested;
- 19 leave the call and make 2 entries in their journals - "propose" and "follow-up" - and they'll do both eventually;
- 11 are still at the meeting, asking more questions.
- Prospects' voices are like musical instruments. Each instrument in "Dance..." has a specific role in the performance. If the wrong instrument or notes are played or they're played at the wrong time, the entire selection is ruined. Prospects' comments in the scenario above have different meanings depending on their business titles and their roles in the buying process.
- If "please send us a proposal", "we're interested" or "very productive" are spoken from an Executive - the CEO, President or VP of something - it has a far different meaning than if the comment were to come from a buyer in Procurement.
- When any of those 3 comments are spoken by a user - an engineer for example - rather than a buyer or an Executive, the comments may be far more genuine, but carry much less authority.
- Sometimes it's more fun to listen to a song, symphony or simple melody and to figure out how and why the composer or arranger selected the particular instruments to play the particular parts of the selection.
- Your salespeople must apply that wonder and analysis to their sales calls. The prospect may be the composer (started the initiative), arranger (selected the vendors to talk with), director (charged with the initiative and conducting the process) or musician (following directions of the conductor). It's the salesperson's job to figure out who they're dealing with, what role they play, what influence they'll have and how to get the various players aligned on the compelling reasons to buy and your ideal solution.
Homework Assignment - Return to Lesson #1 and answer 2 questions:
- Which of the 3 sales outcomes do your salespeople typically find themselves doing?
- Which additional questions do those 11 salespeople stay to ask?
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