How Stealing 2nd Base is Today's Secret to Success in Sales

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jun 16, 2014 @ 07:06 AM

stealingYesterday, I was coaching first base in the game that would determine the Little League championship for our town.  It was late in the game, we were down by 4 runs, and had runners on 1st and 3rd.  The runner on 1st base would need to steal second and perhaps draw a throw that would allow the runner on 3rd base to score.  A double steal!  There was only one problem.  He had been reluctant to steal all season.  When given the sign, when asked, when told, he just didn't want to steal.  After all, one of the 10 Commandments is "Thou Shalt Not Steal."  He couldn't defy God for the sake of baseball, could he?

I had a private chat with him at 1st base and told him that this wasn't about him or what he was comfortable with.  This was for the team, we were playing as a team, and would win as a team.  He should want to steal - for the team.  He didn't.  

Another chat, another reminder, another non-attempt.  

A third chat, another request.  No movement.  

The count on the batter was 2-1 and it was time for a desperate fourth chat.  This time, I demanded, with dire consequences (that I won't reveal here), that he steal.  He went.  The catcher threw and he was safe at 2nd and the run scored.  A momentary victory in the game within the game.  A play that will change him, even though it wouldn't change the eventual outcome of the game.

This morning, thinking about that play again, I'm reminded of two selling scenarios that are nearly identical.

First, there are the salespeople who just don't want to pick up the phone and make calls.  How similar are they to the kid who won't steal 2nd base?  We're not asking these adults to steal, but we are asking them to talk to strangers.  Is it possible that when faced with the task of making calls, they revert to their lessons from early childhood?  

Today, kids don't even talk on the phone.  They text.  I can't get our 12-year-old son to make a phone call under any circumstances.  What are the chances that he would make calls if he entered sales as an adult?

The second scenario involves all of the entrepreneurs out there who, according to a December 2013 Forbes article, number around 20 million!  Most entrepreneurs don't give selling a single thought until they have already started their businesses.  It's only then that they realize they might have to sell something in order to eat.

I wrote an article that appears on the #1 site for entrepreneurs,, that explains the 3 biggest obstacles entrepreneurs face when they must sell and how to overcome them.  The article applies to everyone in sales, not just entrepreneurs.  You should read it!

Back to making those cold calls.  In the old days, if a salesperson didn't pick up the phone or knock on doors, we starved.  There just wasn't any other way around it.  

Today, there's social selling and while some view it as a solution for call reluctance, I think it's a crutch.  I'm all for anything that helps a salesperson to sell, but does social selling really do that?  Does adding someone to your LinkedIn network make a sale?  Is having a connection the same as being connected?  Is being connected equivalent to being able to schedule a meeting with that individual?  Is being active in groups the same as making calls?

While we are surely more visible through the social networks, all of that busy work serves as smoke and mirrors for the salespeople who are reluctant to pick up the phone and make calls.  They have hope (by all accounts a good thing), but it's false hope.  After someone accepts the invitation to join their network, they can't reply with, "Now that we're connected, I want to talk with you about what we do.  Is it OK if I call?"  While they can hide behind the keyboard and type a lame request like that, the lack of an actual conversation will make it even more difficult to schedule a meeting.  And you can't have a conversation over email or LinkedIn.

There's an old saying in baseball that has been around forever and used as an anaology for many things:  "You can't steal 2nd base and keep one foot on 1st."  

The same goes for selling.  You can't schedule a meeting if you don't pick up the phone.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, sales pipeline, cold calls, scheduling sales appointments, tips on selling

A Hidden Weakness that Makes Salespeople Procrastinate

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, May 15, 2014 @ 10:05 AM

perfectionYesterday, I was on three separate calls with sales managers whose salespeople needed to fill their pipelines, but hadn't.  They needed those salespeople to schedule meetings, but they weren't doing it.  They needed those salespeople to make calls, but they wouldn't make them.  They needed to get those salespeople moving, but those salespeople were stuck.  

For the salespeople, it was their own doing.  Self-imposed.  And they knew it!

Would you like to know which mysterious, hidden weakness was holding them hostage, preventing them from taking the action they knew was crucial to their success?  Of course you would.

All of them were perfectionists.  You may be wondering what could be wrong with that?

When it comes to salespeople doing something they haven't done before, everything is wrong with that.  A perfectionist must do things perfectly and if ever there was a sales activity that was ripe for imperfection, it would be the prospecting call.  After all, a new salesperson might have to speak with 10 or more prospects to schedule one meeting or call.  And in their perfectionist minds, that would be 9 failures.

So they procrastinate.  And they'll continue to procrastinate until they are certain that they can get it right.  Make it perfect.  And the more they prepare, rehearse, wordsmith and prepare some more, the worse they'll be.  It won't sound like a conversation, they won't sound real, but they will sound like a telemarketer reading from a script and nobody will want to speak with them.  They will fail.  It's a catch-22.

So what can you do?

If you're a sales manager, give these salespeople permission to fail.  Not only permission, insist on it.  Force them to get someone to say "no" to them and praise them for their effort, remind them that they lived to tell about it and ask them what they learned from it.

If you're a salesperson, give yourself permission to fail.  But even more than that, remember this:

If you make the worst prospecting call in the history of selling, who, other than you, will even know about it?  The chances that a prospect will remember you are in direct disproportion to how bad you were!  The worse you are, the less you'll be remembered.

Image Copyright: iqoncept / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Dave Kurlan, call reluctance, cold calls, empty pipeline, procrastination, perfection, sales under achievement

Why You Don't Have Enough New Opportunities in the Pipeline

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jul 10, 2013 @ 07:07 AM

More connections, meetings and potential new business are being scheduled now as a result of social media use.  Said another way, salespeople are getting better at using LinkedIn and email while companies are generating more interest from their websites, blogs and newsletters.  But be warned, the appeal of 10 times more leads and the simplicity of connecting with someone you want to do business with has its drawbacks too.  

All those new leads?  They are very different from the leads of yesteryear; bingo cards from magazines, call-ins, and brochure requests.  Today your brochures live on or as with websites, call-ins went the way of the typewriter.  And the closest thing to a bingo card are the inbound leads requesting samples, white papers and free trials.  It's so easy to become somebody else's lead today because it's so easy to click for instant gratification.  More leads = smaller percentage of good leads.

And the extremely easy ability to connect with your targets?  Just because they have accepted your invitation to become part of each other's network does not mean they want to talk with you, meet with you or buy from you.  There's a false sense of security there.

And most of all, just like being part of a referral group where you have zero control over whether or not a member ever makes a valuable introduction to you, similarly, you have no control over whether your LinkedIn network will ever produce fruit.

The lesson here is that these new sources of potential business are simply that - sources of potential business - that you can't control.  That's one of the primary reasons that so many companies are complaining that there aren't enough new business opportunities in the pipeline.  Salespeople can't control these sources and at the same time, many have stopped making calls!

When salespeople do make calls, they quickly learn that prospects no longer answer or return calls from salespeople.  Salespeople give up on prospects without realizing that today it requires as many as 10-15 attempts to either reach or get a call back from a prospect.  Then, when they finally do reach a prospect, their messaging, scripts, approach, sound and calls-to-action are so bad, they convert very few calls to meetings.  That's why people say that cold calls don't work.  It's not that cold calls don't work; it's that salespeople truly suck at making cold calls!

Finally, what can you learn from commercial real estate firms and business machine companies?  Don't you still get calls from them?  How about insurance and investment professionals?  They still call, don't they?  They may all be lousy at getting through to you, getting your attention, and compelling you to talk or meet with them again, but they are calling.  Don't let your salespeople off the hook.  If you need them to bring in more new business and it's not working, you'll need to do at least two of the following:

  • Hire a firm like Kurlan & Associates to get them trained on how to be really effective at getting call-backs, attention, engagement and commitments;
  • Require more phone activity;
  • Hire a firm like ConnectLeader to help your salespeople be more productive on the phone;
  • Hire a firm like Objective Management Group to help you identify and select true hunters.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, cold calls, new business, more sales appointments, better prospecting

My Top 14 Articles on More Effective Sales Cold Calling

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Nov 12, 2012 @ 22:11 PM

cold callerYesterday, I posted this article about why sales cold calling is so bad.  One of my readers asked what I would recommend to make the calls more effective.  I've written a lot of articles about cold calling more effectively, so I have linked to fourteen of those articles below.

A new book on sales, How to Close Deals Like Warren Buffett, was launched today.  Highly successful dealmakers themselves, authors Tom Searcy and Henry DeVries, have been studying Buffett’s unique approach for many years. Now they reveal the deal-making secrets of the Oracle of Omaha including 101 top deal-making maxims from a legend in his own time.

They round it all out with an abundance of their own experience – approaches that, added up, have generated billions of dollars in new sales.  When you order today (and today only), you’ll get more than $300 in game-changing bonus material from some of America’s TOP business authors (I’m honored to be one of them).

As long as we are talking about books on selling, these are links to articles on my Baseline Selling site which provide instructions for making more effective cold calls :

Saying Hello

Getting Through 

Getting Your Prospects' Attention

First Impressions

Getting More Appointments

The Five Biggest Phone Selling Traps

Obstacles to Scheduling Appointments 

Overcoming Negative or No Response

What it Takes to Get Appointments Scheduled 

Sales is Like an Obstacle Course 

Getting Your Calls Returned  

These blog links are to articles right here about cold calling:

Are Your People Still Cold Calling? The Ugly Truth

Best and Worst Cold Call in a Single Call 

The 9 Million Dollar Cold Call - Do Salespeople Still Sell That Way? 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, new business development, prospecting, cold calls, sales book, sales cold calling, warren buffett

Gaining Sales Traction is Like Talking to Kids

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Feb 29, 2012 @ 09:02 AM

selling is like talking with kidsOn a recent coaching call, I was explaining how to handle the prospect who doesn't admit to having an issue with which they need help.  During a first call where the salesperson is taking a consultative approach, it's not unusual for a prospect to become protective or defensive by denying having issues.  At this point, most (74% according to Objective Management Group) salespeople will choose one of the following three paths:

  1. They hang up - no problem means no solution - good bye.
  2. They get combative - of course there's a problem - we just haven't found it yet, so let's fight.
  3. They revert to selling their features and benefits, hoping to generate interest.
It should be obvious that options 1 and 2 don't work.  Option 3 will generate some interest, but only when salespeople are fortunate enough to stumble upon the combination of good timing and luck.  It's the missing option 4 that salespeople should choose.  Of course, only 26% have the DNA and skills to effectively utilize option 4.  So, what exactly is option 4?  It's a second effort, and it's the art of selling.
As I explained on the coaching call, option 4 is much like talking with your kids or grandkids.  Let me provide an example:
Me: How was school today?
My Kid: Good.
Me: Really?  What made it so good?
My Kid: We played football, I was the quarterback, I made two great plays, they served pizza for lunch, it was so-and-so's birthday so he brought in cupcakes, and I got to draw a baseball diamond in art class.
Me: That's terrific. It sounds like it was a fantastic day and you have a lot to be excited about.  So what part of the school day didn't you tell me about?

Some prospects need to feel proud of what they have accomplished.  Let them brag. Let them say they're all set.  Let them tell you that they're doing great.  Congratulate them.  Praise them.  And follow that up with, "So that's the good part of the story.  What's the part you haven't told me about?"

Only four things could happen next:
  1. It's possible that there simply isn't another part of the story.  No problem.  No solution.  No prospect.  But your salespeople can feel good because they made a second effort.
  2. It's possible that the prospect isn't ready to share the rest of the story yet.  No problem.  Use that as an excuse to schedule a get-acquainted meeting so the prospect can feel more comfortable about sharing.  That is a much more acceptable outcome than taking a put-off.
  3. The prospect doesn't like the question and ends the call.  Salespeople with Need for Approval or Difficulty Recovering from Rejection won't like this, but that's how this sport works.
  4. The prospect begins sharing a challenge or issue and the salesperson can schedule a first meeting or call.
The most likely outcome from these four options is option 4.  Salespeople won't be able to accomplish this outcome though, unless they can imagine that they are talking with their kids, make the second effort, and have the patience to take baby steps until they get the desired level of engagement.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales tips, cold calls, first sales call, generating interest on the first call

Cold Calling Example - Best and Worst in a Single Sales Call

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Sep 22, 2011 @ 06:09 AM

voice mail messageToday I received the best and worst sales cold call ever - all from the same salesperson.  It started with a voice mail where he expertly left his name, number and not much else - so I had to call him back.  Just like we teach it.  That was the good part.

I called him back - the same day - and here is the transcript:

Him: "Hello?"

Me: "Hi Peter, it's Dave Kurlan, returning your call."

Him: "Hi Dave.  Is this the best number to reach you at?"

Me: "Yes."

Him: "Is it OK if I call you back at this number?  I'm on the road and don't have a headset right now."

Me: "Yeah, sure."

So here's a salesperson, making a cold call, he gets the CEO to return his call and then won't talk with him!  Do you think he's going to get a 2nd chance?

I could have asked him what it was about, why he called, what he was selling (or buying), but he showed a lack of respect for my time.  I wasted my time returning his call.

He did call back later but he already had his chance and  I decided not to give him another one.

Your salespeople will only get a small percentage of their messages returned but for when they do, make sure they are offering their prospects value on that call.  Their messaging must be in the context of helping rather than selling and they must be able to overcome the resistance that is sure to be present with a blind returned call.

Salespeople waste a tremendous amount of time cold calling so when they actually connect with prospects it is crucial for them to be animated, positive, memorable, engaging and effective.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Sales Coaching, cold calls, voice mail messages, worst cold calls, best cold calls

Top 11 Reasons Why Salespeople Fail to Close Sales

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 @ 12:09 PM

stop sign


















Today I coached a salesperson who thought he had call reluctance - but I didn't agree.  He was pushing through, making calls - although not as many as he should.  He has some need for approval - but since he needs approval from his boss he needs to make the calls in order to get it.  He needs some approval from his prospects but can't earn that unless he gets prospects on the phone and impresses them. So he actually has reason to pick up the phone and make calls.

I wondered whether he loved selling - enough.

I wondered whether he was committed - fully and unconditionally.

I wondered whether it was something else entirely...

The reason I'm bringing this up is that in most companies, when certain stages of the sales process are not being exectued as they should, executives often don't know why.  That's one of the many reasons why we evaluate Sales Forces - to identify root causes of the known (and unknown) problems.  The second reason is that problems are often misidentified.  For example, half of the calls and emails we receive each day ask us to conduct workshops/coaching/training/seminars on closing skills, even though closing skills are almost never the reason why salespeople fail to close sales.  With sales and salespeople, you need to work backwards from what you know, and ask many "could it be?" questions to identify the real problem and more importantly, the reason for the problem.

For instance, problems with closing (delays, put-offs, losses to the competition, pricing, etc.) happen for any or all of the following reasons:

  1. not a qualified opportunity
  2. salesperson did not present an ideal solution
  3. lack of urgency
  4. salesperson did not create/build value
  5. no compelling reasons to buy
  6. lack of posturing
  7. timeline misunderstood
  8. not selling to the correct person
  9. salespeople lack opportunities so they continue to work the lousy ones too
  10. salesperson presented too early in the process and then went into chase mode
  11. prospect never agreed to spend the money required
Even if you identify which of the reasons are responsible for the closing problem or challenge, you must go through that same process and identify 10 more possible causes for each reason - and go through that process repeatedly until you have identified the root problem.  The root problem will probably have nothing to do with selling skills!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales force evaluation, closing, prospecting, cold calls, presenting, sales assessments

Most Salespeople Suck at Selling - Is it Worse Than Ever?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Aug 26, 2011 @ 06:08 AM

vacuumLast year I wrote this short article on the difficulty that salespeople have getting their voice mail messages returned.  In May, this article addressed the subject in a different way. Two years ago I posted a related and very powerful and popular post about Lance Armstrong and how he uses metrics.  Last month, a member of a LinkedIn group, Sales Management Executives, posted this question:

"What is your approach to get people to call you back after you have left 2 or 3 messages?"

In the past month, there have been 47 comments, one of the most popular topics I've seen there.  Some of the replies have been on target but most are embarrassing to read.  These are sales management executives and this is a "what salespeople must learn to do in their 1st week in sales" topic.  Most salespeople do not have the skills to consistently get new prospects to the phone!

Yesterday I met with a national sales manager from India and we reviewed the sales candidate assessment he would be using to recruit a national sales force there.  We were talking about skill sets and I pointed out that it might not be realistic for him to expect the candidates in India to have well developed consultative skills.  He asked why and I explained that even here in the US, it's not realistic to see it.  Companies and their sales forces are able to talk about the concept, they say they are doing it, but the data suggests they are not.  Objective Management Group's data from 100,000 salespeople assessed most recently, shows that on average, salespeople possess only 22% of the attributes of consultative sellers.  They aren't doing it.  When I observe salespeople who are supposedly selling consultatively, they ask one or two questions before jumping into a presentation.  If performed correctly, a salesperson who is selling consultatively should spend the first 60-90 minutes of a sales call asking questions to completely understand the issues, problems, impact, cost, and compelling reasons to invest in a solution.  Most salespeople are only asking for 30 minutes time and since it's what they are most comfortable doing, they want to make sure they have enough time to present something.

So most salespeople aren't reaching prospects, aren't selling consultatively and, as you could tell from last week's post about qualified presentations, they aren't qualifying either.

So the two questions are:

  1. Why?
  2. What Can be Done?
The why is simple.  It's not really a complete lack of skills as much as it is a combination of weaknesses that prevents salespeople from doing things they need to do.  As a result they resort to what's comfortable for them, even though what's comfortable is rarely effective.
In order to solve the problem, you must evaluate your sales force, identify which weaknesses are causing the problems, determine on a salesperson by salesperson basis who can be saved, what it is required from a training, development and coaching perspective, what your ROI will be, and provide the 8-12 months of development required to get them doing things consistently and effectively.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales force evaluation, closing, prospecting, cold calls, presenting, sales assessments

One Surprising Key to Selling Value

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jul 29, 2009 @ 16:07 PM

Gary Harvey, my guest on this week's episode of Meet the Sales Experts, has great advice for companies that are trying to avoid getting sucked into having the lowest price.  His secret? Purchasing Agents have always told salespeople that they go with the lowest price.  When he asks them why they do this, they always tell him the same thing.  "Because it works on every other salesperson until we met you.

This little secret came up when Gary was relating his story of how he won the Coor's Brewing account...even though he was competing against 1700 other companies - all with lower prices.  It's a great story and you can hear the entire story by listening to the show.

He also told a great story about the day got laid off from an engineering job, met the woman who would become his wife, and a week later, prospected her so effectively that it would make today's salespeople embarrassed - all before he knew how to sell! You can hear this funny story too by listening to the show.

His tips for sales success?  

  • Examine both your Conscious and Subconscious Beliefs 
  • Remain Open Minded
  • Don't Pretend That You Have All of the Answers
  • Be Willing to Find Someone Who Can Help You with the Answers
  • Since Beliefs Correlate with Behaviors, Look in the Mirror
  • Recognize Those Beliefs that Don't Support Your Desired Goals and Outcomes

He shared another great story about calling a company at the 11th hour, just as they were going to sign a contract with a competitor.  Using some great questions, he won this client too and helped them grow by 275%.  Listen to the Show to hear how he did it.

You can contact Gary Harvey by clicking here.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales tips, cold calls, selling value, Gary Harvey

Will Gifts Get Prospects to Return Calls from your Salespeople?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Feb 12, 2009 @ 22:02 PM

A fruit basket arrived this morning.  My first reaction was, "who would want to send me a fruit basket?" It turned out that a salesperson sent it, hoping to get me on the phone.  He had already left two voice mail messages and stopped by on one other occasion.

As I write about his attempts to reach me, a few thoughts are running through my mind:

  • I can't recall a salesperson who had ever tried that hard to make an impression;
  • He must not have any other prospects;
  • It's an expensive way to prospect;
  • It does make him memorable;
  • The fruit was good;
  • He's a lousy salesperson but has most of the strengths to support selling;
  • I'd rather have an unskilled salesperson who pulled out all the stops than a skilled salesperson who didn't (can sell vs. will sell - our assessment would identify this);

The problem is that I'm not a prospect for him and sending me fruit doesn't make me a prospect.  If he had already spoken with me and wanted me to remember him, the fruit basket surely would have separated him from the pack.  But just to get me to talk with me for the first time?  If I didn't have time to call him before, a fruit basket won't help me find the time tomorrow.

When your salespeople aren't getting through and aren't getting their calls returned, it's not because they didn't send fruit baskets.  It's because they are ineffective on their calls or they aren't making enough of them.  When they aren't very good at it, look to one of the following areas to improve:

  • Introduction - is it 5 words or less and do they sound like someone you would choose to speak with?
  • Attention - do they get their prospects' attention in the first 10 seconds?
  • Engagement - do they get the prospect engaged in the call after that?
  • Positioning Statement - are they able to articulate the prospect's likely problem in about 12-15 words or less?
  • Example - can they provide two examples of the problems you solve in about 10 words or less for each?
  • Stickiness - are the positioning statement and examples memorable?  Do they have the elements of surprise, emotion, credibility, and a story?  Are they concrete and simple?
  • Dialog - do your salespeople have a discussion around the prospect's issues?
  • Close - when they identify issues do they close for an appointment? 

Remember, fruit baskets are OK for follow up.  They are lousy for getting prospects to the phone.  The best story I ever heard for getting people to the phone was a story I read in a business magazine last year. A company was recruiting engineers and they sent candidates a package containing a cell phone.  When the candidate opened the package, the phone would ring and the candidate would answer. Bingo.  This is a bit more expensive than the fruit basket but I'll bet it would work a lot better.

(c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, Salesforce, prospecting, sales appointments, cold calls, getting calls returned, sales calls, sales assessment test

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader,  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned awards for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog for eleven consecutive years and of the more than 2,000 articles Dave has published, many of the articles have also earned awards.

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