Curses! Foiled Again!

How many of you are familiar with "Made to Stick:  Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die" (New York: Random House, 2007) written by Chip and Dan Heath? If you've read the book you may remember the concept of the 'curse of knowledge'. This concept comes from an experiment conducted by a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford. The experiment involved a "tapper" and a "listener". The tapper's role was to pick a well known song –"Happy Birthday", "Star-Spangled Banner" etc.– and tap out the rythm (on a table) to the listener. The listener's job was to listen to the rythm being tapped and guess the song.

Prior to the experiment being conducted, the tappers were asked to predict how often the listeners would correctly guess the song. Their prediction? 50%. However, listeners only guessed correctly 1 time in 40. Why? Chip and Dan Heath explain:

"It's hard to a be tapper. The problem is that tappers have been given knowledge (the song title) that makes it impossible for them to imagine what it's like to lack that knowledge. When they're tapping, they can't imagine what it's like for the listeners to hear isolated taps rather than a song. This is the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has "cursed" us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can't readily re-create our listeners' state of mind."

How does this relate to sales and salespeople?

How often do salespeople get in front of prospects and make a presentation of their company and it's products and/or services and recite their features and benefits and then afterward write in their call report what a successful meeting they had with the prospect! They talked and the prospect listened. The salesperson asked the prospect if they had any questions and the prospect said 'no'. A successful meeting right? Wrong! The curse of knowledge strikes again!

The curse of knowledge hits salespeople because they can't imagine what it's like for the prospect not to know about the salesperson's products or services. Because they don't know what the prospect's mindset is like (the prospect's world) they wind up talking only about what they do know–their own 'world', which is made up of their product or services.

And here is where the sales call runs off the tracks. The salesperson fails to get the prospect to talk…so they can listen to the answers…and ask good, tough, timely questions…to identify the problems that must be solved. This is the key to consultative selling.

The curse of knowledge will impact a salesperson at all points of the sales process but never more so than at the front end of a sales call. It's at this point that the salesperson should be positioning their company, themselves and describing the types of problems they help their customers solve. Ideally, all of this sales messaging should be designed, structured and delivered to focus on the prospect's world, their problems, their issues, their concerns to avoid the curse.

If this part of the call is done correctly, the prospect will engage, the meeting then becomes a conversation with questions being asked and answered and information being shared. Compelling reasons to buy begin to be uncovered and an agreement to move to a solid next step is agreed upon. Now what do we have? A great meeting! The curse has been undone!


Great Sales Coaching Question!

What's the difference between these two questions?

"How did your week go?"

"How many new opportunities did you add to your sales pipeline?"

If you answered, "The number of words." you're correct. If you were being serious and answered that the second question drives to a specific piece of data, you're also correct. And more, a specific piece of data that gives more context to a salesperson's sales performance and effectiveness in a week's time than the first question.

Only 15% of sales managers spend as much as 25% of their time on coaching  and the little they do spend coaching is not very effective. These numbers only serve to emphasize how important it is that sales managers be highly competent at asking great sales coaching questions.

If you are a sales manager (or a company president or business owner who serves as their own sales manager) who is looking to improve your sales team's performance, pay more attention to the types of coaching questions you're asking of your salespeople.

When beginning a coaching conversation with your salespeople, use clear, concise and concrete questions. This is not the time for 'warm and fuzzy' questions or inquiring how your salesperson is feeling. Those can come later on in the conversation when action items  are committed to by the salesperson and you want to know their comfort level in executing the strategies so you can offer more coaching to ensure effective performance. Role-playing the sales situations or strategies with your salesperson will help here.

Want to ask great sales coaching questions?







“Play It Again, Sam!” – Top Self-Limiting Records of Salespeople

Too many salespeople in the sales profession suffer from what we call "self-limiting records". A mentor of mine, Dave Kurlan of Objective Management Group explains that a self-limiting record is really a belief by a salesperson that sabotages rather than supports their efforts for a successful sales outcome. As a result, the salesperson's failure will be predestined in many selling situations.

The best way to think about self-limiting records is this:  the belief behind it is like a 'record' that begins to play in a salesperson's mind whenever they find themselves in a certain situation and the record will dictate their thinking and behavior.

Here is a short list (there are more) of some of the most common self-limiting beliefs of underachieving salespeople. See if you can relate them to the situations you or your salespeople encounter.

1)  I need my prospects to like me.

A salesperson who suffers from this belief winds up losing control of the sales process, doing a lot of free consulting or closing too few sales whenever a situation requires them to do anything, at least in their mind, that could cause the prospect to get upset with them.

2)  Prospects are honest.

Salespeople who have this self-limiting belief lack the personal selling power to deal with the 'little white lies' that prospects use to protect themselves or hide their true intentions or agenda.

3)  I must educate the prospect.

This self-limiting record is usually held by a salesperson who educates themselves before making a major purchase. They view their prospects as having the same need and wind up getting their brains picked and giving away their knowledge and expertise.

4)  It's OK if my prospect thinks it over.

Overachieving salespeople never accept a 'think it over'. They always take the 'think it over' to a 'yes' or 'no'. By doing so, they save tons of time not chasing opportunities that are never going to happen. Underachievers hang on to the 'think it over' until the last dog dies and even then won't let go. A dead giveaway of this limiting belief is a bloated sales pipeline where nothing ever seems to close.

5)  I'm uncomfortable talking with prospects about their money.

Having this belief leads to a lack of information on what the prospect is capable of and willing to invest in the salesperson's solution. The result is underquoting, overquoting, misquoting and giving quotes to prospects who may not deserve one.

The good news is that these self-limiting records can be changed by 'taping' over them with new, more supportive beliefs. Accomplishing this requires time, effort and focus. The payoff for going through the process is a better performing, more effective salesperson.


Are You Helping Customers Feel Safe?

Do you know what makes a relationship with a potential customer work? Or not work?

Many salespeople see developing a relationship with a prospect as:

  1.  Being able to establish bonding and rapport.
  2.  The prospect shows interest in their product or service.
  3.  The prospect gives them a small piece of business initially.
  4.  The prospect is willing to meet with them or returns their calls.

These are all part of developing a relationship…but there's more, something much deeper.

At a human being to human being, one on one level, a relationship that works for both prospect and salesperson is about safety.

Both parties feel a certain amount of safety and comfort in dealing with each other. Because of that, good, substantive conversations are held. A meaningful exchange of information takes place. And by safety I don't mean that the only necessary element is trust. Safety comes from how the tension in the relationship (anxiety, fear) is managed by the two parties.

In selling, tension is always high in the beginning of the process, usually in the first face to face meeting. The prospect feels a need to protect themselves from a salesperson who they feel may take advantage of them. The salesperson feels tension from being in a situation where they may be rejected. As a result, both parties erect a  'boundary' (think of it as an invisible wall) around themselves. The 'fight or flight' instinct is at play here. The boundary serves as a mechanism to not only create safety–it also helps each person manage their own tension.

Many sales meetings begin and end without these boundaries ever coming down for either person. Neither party feels safe, meaning they never cross their own boundary much less cross the other party's boundary to have an open, straightforward conversation and make a connection with each other. Because salespeople must take responsibility for their sales outcomes, it's up to them to take the lead in making the connection first. The good news is that prospects very easily recognize which salesperson is willing to cross their boundary and help them feel safe. And with other things about the potential purchase being somewhat equal, these are the salespeople from whom they buy.

The tools at the salesperson's disposal to accomplish this level of rapport are readily available and can be developed through consistent, focused effort and discipline:

  1.  Behavior style adaptation
  2.  Matching and mirroring
  3.  Neurolinguistic programming
  4.  Language
  5.  Communication strategies

With this post I've only scratched the surface of the role that managing tension and helping customers feel safe plays in developing relationships with customers and winning more business. Look for future posts that expand on this subject!


Just a Word!


Do you recognize the word above? And when did you first hear it?

If you said the 1964 Disney musical film, Mary Poppins, you probably would have alot of company. 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' appeared in the film's song with the same title as sung by the movie's stars, Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

But ask yourself if, when you first read the word at the top of this post, whether you weren't a little intimidated by the unusual length of the word itself and maybe by the fact that you haven't seen or heard the word for quite awhile and so may not have remembered it's meaning right away.

Salespeople can be intimidated in the sales process by words as well. In fact, in my experience, the word that has the biggest impact on salespeople is literally at the opposite end of the spectrum as far as the number of letters is concerned. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious has 34 letters. The word that intimidates salespeople the most has only two. The word is…


That's right, 'no'. No other word has as much of an impact on a salesperson's self-image, performance and results. Ineffective salespeople interpret 'no' as failure, as rejection and as a reason to bail out of the sales call, either a face to face meeting or on the telephone. High-performing salespeoplef hear 'no' as just another word and respond in a manner appropriate to the sales situation. In fact, to a high-performing salesperson, a 'no' can even be a success…especially if it comes early in the sales process from a prospect who doesn't qualify for what they offer.

If you're a sales leader, ask yourself how your salespeople respond to 'no' from their prospects. Do they hear it as 'failure' or just another word?

If you're a salesperson, ask yourself the same question.

By the way, in case you were wondering (or can't remember) the everyday definition of 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' is "something to say when you have nothing to say". I hope I've exceeded that definition with this post.


Start and Stop – Changing Sales Behaviors

I recently worked with a small sales team for a division of a fairly large company. The topic was prospecting and their challenges were interesting:

 -They are starting from a baseline of zero sales.
 -They are selling into a market that is not familiar with their 
  company and what they do.
 -Of the group, only one person has any experience with cold-calling 
  but that was in a different industry.
These salespeople are knowledgeable and smart about their business and they’re led by a very capable sales leader. They are all up to the task ahead of them. However, in order to be successful, they know they will have to employ a different process than they have used in the past that will require them to stop doing certain behaviors and start doing new behaviors if they hope to avoid the temptation (and high cost) of meeting with anyone who has an interest in what they sell or wants to take a look at what they offer.

Here are just of few examples of the ‘stop’ and ‘start’:

They will have to stop trying to qualify for their prospects, telling them why their product is a fit for them. Instead, they should start by asking questions to determine if the prospect qualifies for them!

They will have to stop making appointments with prospects that show interest in their product and start meeting only with those people that are experiencing problems that they want to solve.

They will have to stop hearing objections from prospects who don’t want to talk or meet with them. Instead they should hear these objections as statements.

They will have to stop trying to deal with objections—overcoming them, selling the person on why their ‘stuff’ is better and giving the prospect reasons why they should think differently. Rather, they should start hearing their prospect’s statements and then asking them why they think or feel that way so they know where the prospect is coming from.

I could go on but these are a good introduction. Any type of change in selling behaviors will necessarily require salespeople to stop taking certain actions in the sales process and start doing new behaviors.

Question—if you are a professional salesperson, what will you do stop doing and start doing during the coming year? And if you are a sales leader, do you know how your sales team would answer that question?




Goal Setting and Your Team

It's that time of the year again. That's right. Most companies are just in the middle of their process for putting together a business plan for 2011. Of course, part of their plan will include a sales and marketing plan.

Typically management will ask the sales department for a sales forecast of what the sales team will sell in the coming sales year and their salespeople will turn in estimates of business they will bring in from prospects and current customers. Management then digests the numbers and eventually each salesperson receives a sales goal in the form of a dollar figure.

Sound familiar? If you are a leader of a company or a sales organization and you recognize yourself in the above description, you are probably not alone. However, it's not that the process is wrong, it's just incomplete. It needs to go one step further.

What I've discovered in working with many successful companies and businesses is the need for a certain required next step to be accomplished as part of the planning process–individual goal setting.

Goal setting by an individual salesperson is important for several reasons. For a sales leader (or a company president or owner who also wears the sales leader's hat) it's imperative to know what motivates each and every member of their team. Are they motivated by money and what money can get them? Like a second home, travel, a Caribbean cruise, a boat, etc.? As a leader, if you don't know what motivates your people, then you won't know how to manage them on a daily or weekly basis.

From an individual salesperson's perspective, having clear exciting personal dreams, goals and a process to measure progress will enable them to maintain a high level of desire for success in their sales career as well as the appropriate commitment needed to be an effective and successful sales professional.

If you already have salespeople who do personal goal setting on their own, consider yourself lucky. Fewer than twenty percent of all salespeople have written personal goals and a process to measure progress toward those goals.

If you don't have personal goal setters on your team now, sit down with them, have a conversation with them about working through the goal setting process today. It's the right time of the year to get it done!



The CEO and the Sales Call

Here's a familiar scenario that is happening more and more these days. Company CEO's are now more active than ever participants in the  company's sales process for retaining current customers and developing new business. The most common form is the "joint call" with the salesperson in the account.

Whether you are a CEO or a salesperson here is a short list of guidelines (there are more) for a joint call that includes the sales organization's CEO.

1) "Plans are worthless but planning is everything."

You may be familiar with this Dwight D. Eisenhower quote. The critical thinking and discussions that occur during a pre-call planning session prior to a sales call are more valuable than the plan that emerges. Obviously, you won't need to do this for every sales call but if you are pursuing a 'whale', exercising your planning muscles before the call is indispensable. Take the example of a PGA golf professional. What do they do during the week of a tournament? They play a practice round to find out how the course is 'playing' to determine what it will take to shoot a competitive score and win the tournament. It may rain the third day of the four day tournament and playing conditions may change completely. Because they went through the planning process (the practice round), they will more easily be able to adapt to a new approach and still be successful.

CEO Tip:  Allow your salesperson to lead the planning process. It will not only help them take ownership of the plan, but it will give you a measure of their strategic thinking capabilities as well.

2) Define what success will look like.

Too many salespeople don't have a clearly defined goal for the sales call. This is usually revealed in the pre-call planning session. If a formal planning meeting wasn't done, perhaps because of the size of the account, the lack of a specific meeting outcome will then become known during the car ride to the call when the CEO asks, "So why are we seeing this person today?" What he will hear is some vague, ambiguous response about how the salesperson thinks that it's a good idea for the customer to meet the CEO.

I may be exaggerating, but not much.

CEO Tip: As CEO, consistently ask your salesperson what the goal of the call is and don't accept anything less than a clear, concise action step to be taken by the customer.

3) "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players."

Maybe Shakespeare was a sales leader at one time as well as a writer. I can't stress enough how important it is for the CEO and their salespeople to be on the same page and know what their roles are in the sales meeting. Is the CEO there as a presence for the company, to share the company story or conduct part of the call? There should be no mutual mystification here.

CEO Tip: Remember the 4 W's: Who will say What to Whom When?

4) Follow your process.

Dave Kurlan of Objective Management Group reports that 91% of the companies OMG has evaluated since 1985 (covering 500,000 salespeople) do not have a formal, structured sales process. That is an amazing number. If your company currently has an effective sales process, congratulations! Make sure that you and your team stay focused in it and execute it consistently! If you don't, I'll remind you of W. Edwards Deming's thoughts on the subject: "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing."

CEO Tip: Because you wear seventeen hats and all before noon, it's not necessary that you have the same mastery of the company's sales process as ideally required of your salespeople. However, you should have enough knowledge of it in order to recognize that it's being implemented effectively in the field and to be able to ask great coaching questions in your sales call de-briefings with your salespeople.

5) Be prepared to be unprepared.

A sales organization can faithfully follow all of the above guidelines and somthing totally unexpected may still occur during the sales call. Anyone who has been in sales for awhile has experienced one of these moments. Embrace them! They are tests of how well you and your sales team have developed their competence in executing your sales process, it's concepts and strategies. Learn to use these episodes to learn a lesson that will enable your people to react better in the future and improve their effectiveness.

Sales organizations that follow these guidelines for CEO involvement in the sales process will see significant effectiveness in their sales results!



Are You Still Winging It?

I recently came across something that totally astounded me. While doing some research, I came across a business resource website that contained information covering a wide range of topics. Under 'Sales' was a section that was devoted to 'Closing Techniques'. Out of curiosity I clicked on it and it listed sixty-eight (68) different closing techniques! You read that right! 68 closes!

Now granted, if you eliminated half of these closes because they are more appropriate for retail sales than business to business sales, that still leaves you with over thirty different closes. Even if you wanted to use them, who can remember all of them, at the right time, in the right situation? I don't think anyone is that good!

But do you have to be 'that good'? Here is my point: The necessity of using a 'close' in a sales process or relying on a 'close' to make a sale is the direct result of not having well-designed, systematic sales process to use in place of a 'close'.

What I mean by a systematic sales process is one that eliminates the need for a close. Instead, the salesperson's sales process would be designed to determine 1) whether the prospect has any compelling reasons for changing his current reality, usually to fix a problem or acquire a desired gain, 2) whether the prospect sees the seller as someone who is uniquely positioned to provide a solution and 3) whether there is any urgency for the buyer to take the first two steps now. If these three steps are executed properly, there would be no necessity for a close because the prospect would take action and close themselves in order to fix the problem or acquire the gain.

So, what are you doing?

As a salesperson or a sales leader, are you just winging it when you engage with a prospect or are you implementing your systematic sales process that will efficiently help you close the sale and get the business? 

To read more about the objectives and characteristics of a systematic sales process, you can go here and here.  


Commitment to Success in Sales – How Important Is It?

During the last eighteen year that I've been working with companies and their sales organizations I've seen many changes in the profession of sales.

Here is groundbreaking news about one of those changes.

One of the necessary elements for success in sales is the level of commitment that a salesperson brings to the process. The willingness to do 'whatever it takes' to be successful is a common trait among all high-performers in sales. I'm not talking about conditional commitment ("I'll do it as long as I'm comfortable, not afraid or I agree with it.") I'm talking about unconditional commitment ("I'll do it no matter what.")

Now Dave Kurlan of Objectivement Management Group has put forth a very convincing case that of the four crucial elements–Desire, Commitment, Responsibility and Outlook–Commitment has now passed Desire as the most important element for success in sales! To find out why, you can read Dave's recent blog post, Top 10 Reasons Why Sales Commitment Has Become More Important.

The impact of Dave's finding cannot be underestimated. In looking at why salespeople struggle to get sales, sales organizations tend to overlook the amount of commitment on their team. Instead they blame  a lack of closing skills or not enough new prospecting calls. They look in all the wrong places except the one right in front of them–no commitment on the part of the salesperson.

Check out Dave's blog post and let me know your thoughts in a comment.

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