An Inverse Rule of Communication

Does this situation sound familiar?

A salesperson is in a meeting with a customer, or potential customer, and they cannot stop talking. They talk about their product or service, their features and benefits, customers who are in love with their product or service, features, benefits…Well, you get the picture. And then they wonder why so many of their meetings never lead to the next step–"The prospect just didn't seem receptive to our stuff and I couldn't get them to open up and talk about what they're using or looking for!"

It's another illustration of an inverse rule of communication–if you want the customer to listen, stop talking!The ability to use 'silence' effectively in a sales meeting is one of the most under utilized skills in the sales world. The process of 'selling' is having the prospect believe what the professional salesperson believes–that the salesperson's solution is the optimal solution to solve the prospect's problem. Oftentimes, the prospect cannot form the new mental construct (or belief system) of beginning a new business relationship when they are listening to the salesperson present their product or service or features or benefits. They can only do it when there is silence. And that silence is staged and managed by the salesperson.

The ability to use 'silence' is an absolute must for success in sales. Warning! As you or your salespeople work on developing on this skill, it will be horribly uncomfortable. Too often we think we add the most value to the customer when we are talking. So we think we are not serving the customer when we aren't talking. Actually, it's just the opposite. The greatest value we provide is 'not talking'.


“The Mission is Ordnance on Target”

The focus of this post is "focus".

The focus of the Navy Frigate Captain's observation (above) is simple, clear, concise and easy to understand. No mystification. The ship is designed and equipped for one purpose. The crew is trained to accomplish one purpose. the captain's decisions and commands are performed for one purpose–ordnance on target.

Now let's compare the Navy's approach to its mission to how salespeople deal with the sales process–

Do salespeople approach their sales calls with a 'mission'?

Is that mission as tightly defined as 'ordnance on target'?

Are their strategies designed to accomplish the mission?

Are they trained to execute those strategies effectively?

Do they perform the strategies with one purpose–to achieve the mission?


Do most salespeople wing it?

Do they not do any pre-call planning to determine what outcome they want to get?

Do they not do 'what if…?' scenario planning to take into account any anticipated eventualities in their sales meetings so they don't get caught by surprise and thrown off track?

Do they not receive any sales training to improve their selling skills?

Is their decision making performed to achieve a tactical outcome rather than a strategic one?

One group of salespeople is high performing.

One group of salespeople is underachieving.

Do you recognize focus, ordnance on target, when you see it?




The Hidden Sales Talents of Your Non-Sales Team

I had an interesting experience while conducting a coaching session with a client sales organization that will give you some insight to the untapped power available in non-sales departments of most companies.

We were working on a pre-call preparation for a first time face to face meeting that three member of the management team (one of whom is the president) would be having with a prospective client. An individual who is a center of influence in their network had given them an introduction t a prospect company that could result in a long term profitable relationship.

In the coaching session, there were managers, outside salespeople, inside salespeople, project managers and support people from two divisions, covering the company's four primary markets. Specifically, we were strategizing primarily to answer two questions:

  -What is our objective for this call? 

  -What should our process be for achieving the objective?

The group was asked to share their answers to the first question. The salespeople offered, "Sell our products and services." (I'm paraphrasing.) No surprise there right? Some of the managers said, "Sell our products and services." Somewhat of a surprise. Finally, one of the project managers suggested, "Find out if this will be a fit for us?" Eureka!!

Great question! But who did it come from? Not a manager. Not a salesperson. The best question was asked by a non-sales person….a project manager. How could this be? Well, very often I find that the people who are responsible for managing projects, making sure they are done on time, on budget and profitably, are the people who are most concerned about why the business was pursued and acquired. It's the sales team that tells the customer, "Sure we can do that!" and then when the work is handed off to the operations team, those folks are then left asking each other, "How are we going to do that?"

The lesson here is that the operations team can be a great source of additional sales knowledge, intuition and perspective. It's the project managers, engineers, estimators, etc. who will ask:

  -Why are we talking to ABC Company?

  -Is this a fit for us?

  -If we do _________ for them, what happens next?

The list of other great questions generated by operations people is a long one. Presidents, CEO's, business owners–leverage the hidden talents of these valuable team members in gaining more sales.





Top Ten Ways to Be an Advisor in the Sales Process

Too many salespeople these days are just that–salespeople. In the way they look, act and behave, they don't stand out from their peers. And they definitely don't stand out in the minds of their prospects and customers. Result? They get commoditized, shopped, talked down to and ignored. Here's a list of necessary attributes to move from 'salesperson' to 'advisor'.

1. Advisors don't fear a 'No' – They know when sales opportunities are a good fit or not. They prefer to lose early, save selling costs and go and engage with prospects with whom they have a higher percentage of getting the business.

2. Advisors know how to push back – If all salespeople do is show up and accept at face value everything prospects tell them about what they want or how they view the world, they are a facilitator in their prospect's eyes. Advisors know how to effectively challenge what they hear and see and in the process, build respect and value in the minds of their customers.

3. Advisors use 'business language' rather than 'sales language' – They discuss market share, ROI, share of wallet, cost reduction, etc. with their customers. Prospects want to buy from business people, not salespeople.

4. Advisors see themselves as change agents – They are experts in quickly determining if the customer's current reality calls for change and whether the customer can effectively and efficiently execute that change.

5. Advisors recover quickly from rejection – All people involved in the sales process get rejected. For some, it's a day killer, maybe a week killer. For a very few, it's a month killer. High achievers take a lesson from a lost sale and promptly move on to the next opportunity in their pipeline.

6. Advisors control the sales process – They use a formal, structured sales process designed to achieve consistent, predictable results while providing them with feedback relative to where they are in the process and what they must do to succeed.

7. Advisors have clear and specific personal goals…in writing – They know where they are going, what they must do to get there and how they will measure progress. Period.

8. Advisors build relationships quickly – They perceive, gather and interpret all the information that prospects give out–body language, behavioral style, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), birth order, educational background, industry expertise, organizational title–and use that knowledge to make other people feel comfortable and safe with them…in a very short period of time.

9. Advisors are great listeners – There is a Native American proverb, "Listen or your tongue will make you deaf". Enough said.

10. Advisors are life long learners – Whether its reading industry trade journals, books on selling or human psychology or listening to self-inprovement audio CD's, high achievers are constantly adding to their knowledge, looking for strategies and tools that will give them that decisive edge over the competition that gains them the sale.



This Story is ‘Developing’ at This Hour

Perhaps some of you have seen the movie, “The Blind Side”. It’s a popular film about the true story of a rich, white couple (Leigh Anne and Sean Touhy) who take a poor, black 16 year old (Michael Oher, now a professional football player for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens) off the streets of Memphis, Tennessee and into their home.

While I haven’t seen the movie yet, I’ve just read the book by the same name written by Michael Lewis that the movie is based on. It’s a terrific read and more than just a story about football–it’s really about serendipity, family and love.

As I read the book, several parallels occurred to me between the story and the challenges that companies have in the ongoing development of their sales organizations.

Companies looking to develop high-performing sales organizations must focus on:

-Raising and managing expectations for their salespeople.

Once they got to know a little bit about Michael Oher and realized he had achieved virtually nothing in the Memphis public school system (at the time he had a 0.6 grade point average), the Touhy’s never stopped believing that, given his athletic ability, he had a great future in front of him if he put in the work on his school studies. And they consistently communicated their beliefs by the manner in which they set expectations for Michael–that he would do the necessary work, period. No rationalizing. No excuse-making. Get it done.

Sales leaders need to raise their expecations higher with their salespeople and communicate those expectatons clearly and consistently…and not back down, not give in, not accept excuses, poor economy or not.

-Helping their salespeople overcome their weaknesses.

Michael’s biggest area for improvement was his lack of an adequate education. Sean and Leigh Anne began an intensive tutoring program to accelerate his learning not only to be able to play on the football team but to guide him in day to day living. LeAnne commented, “Everyday I try to make sure he knows something he doesn’t know.”

In order for their salespeople to meet the expectations set for them, companies must identify those selling weaknesses that may prevent them from getting there. Once those obstacles are known, sales leaders should put together a plan to coach and develop their people until those weaknesses no long affect them in the sales process. Note: Work on only one weakness at a time and begin with the one that is the biggest roadblock to effective execution and performance.

-Preparing their salespeople for more responsibility and a higher level role.

In working with Michael, Sean and LeAnne Touhy’s guiding principle was this–football aside, they were willing to do whatever it took to prepare him for a fulfilling and rewarding life on his own. After Michael graduated from high school and entered the University of Mississippi, the Touhy’s purchased a home near the Ole Miss campus and continued to provide guidance and support  because they felt he needed their continued help to be successful in college, in his anticipated NFL career and in life.

To prepare their people for more responsibility and a higher level role, sales leaders should develop their team to become “advisors” in the sales process rather than “salespeople”. This involves strengthening their sales skills, competencies and ‘presence’ to effectively interact with all levels of a prospect organization with an emphasis on C level executives. 

There are many more lessons to be gained from “The Blind Side”. I can’t wait to see the movie.


“How Can You Resist?”

Here is the call control tip of the month:

Salespeople encounter 'resistance' everyday. Resistance from prospects, current customers, internal customers. It usually comes in the form of a stall or objection – "I'm happy with our current provider." or "That pricing seems on the high side."

Amateur salespeople react to resistance by going into "sell" mode to overcome it  by supplying reasons why the prospect is wrong or should be thinking differently. This only results in the resistance growing stronger.

Professional salespeople take a different approach. They realize that any resistance from a prospect must first be lowered before attempting to clarify the reasons for it and resolving them. The most effective way to accomplish this is by making statements with which the prospect can agree. Once the resistance is lowered, it's easier to then drill down on the stall or objection and get to the real issue.


Prospect: "We're happy with our current provider."

Salesperson: "I appreciate you sharing that with me. It sounds like they are doing a perfect job for you and there is no reason for you to look at anyone else right now."

For the prospect who is expecting the salesperson to start 'selling' why his product or service is better, the above response is unexpected. When you say what your prospect isn't expecting, it results in the lowering of their resistance, the changing of their position and the opening of their mind. And you maintain control of the call.

Try it. It works. 


“I Need Your Approval…No, I Really Do!”

As a leader of a sales organization, has one of your salespeople ever found themselves in one of these sales situations?

-The prospect requests more time to think before making a decision.

-The prospect has been leading the salesperson on.

-The prospect talks out of both sides of their mouth ("I'm happy but we do have some problems with our current supplier.")

I'm sure you can think of more challenges. Each of these situations can be deadly for a salesperson who has a strong need for approval which is primarily a need to be liked by their prospects. Now it's okay to like people. However, some salespeople can like people a little too much and work for their approval rather than to move the sales process forward and close the sale. Need for approval can be even more debilitating in a tough sales environment such as we currently experiencing.

Need for approval prevents a salesperson from closing a prospect who wants more time to think it over, from confronting (professionally) a prospect who is leading them on and from dealing with a prospect who doesn't sound like they are being truthful.

This need for approval is based in the salesperson's belief system. They feel they need the prospect's approval to feel like they are doing a good job. Anything other than the prospect's approval leads them to feel like they have failed and even feel rejected.

For those that have it, need for approval is a major weakness that must be overcome for a salesperson to be effective in the sales process. The bad news–it takes a long time to accomplish this, especially if the need is strong. The good news–it can be fixed, with hard work, discipline and coaching.

The first step is for the salesperson to change their belief system from a belief of "I need prospects to like me" to a more supportive belief of "My prospects must respect me in order to be my customer". This new belief, if consistently followed and combined with the supportive sales behavior, will dramatically improve a case of need for approval.

As a reminder for leaders of sales organizations (and for any individual salespeople who may be reading this post) the old thinking is "I need prospects to like me, then love me, then they will buy from me and respect me". The new thinking should be "My prospects respect me, they can like me when they decide to do business with me and then when they experience the value of my product or service, they can love me".

Remember, first 'respect, then 'like', then 'love'.


Your Negotiation Process

You are a leader or a member of a sales organization. Your sales team has a well defined sales process that disciplines your salespeople to the behaviors that will best identify, pursue and close good business and everyone adheres to it.

Question: Do you also have a negotiation process that meets the same description as your sales process?

When I ask this question of company presidents and owners, all too often I get a puzzled look and a response of "What do you mean?"

Too many sales organizations have neglected to include a defined, documented negotiation process in their sales function and by not doing so, have failed to help their salespeople develop and implement the necessary skills they need when they find themselves negotiating with prospects and customers. The outcome of this failure has been lower margins, unfavorable terms for conducting a business relationship and a tilted playing field with the customer holding the balance of power over a supplier, to name a few.

That's the bad news. The good news is that many of the components of an effective negotiation process are already present in a sales organization's sales process. Excellent questioning and communications skills are necessary for engaging in a negotiation just as they are in any sales process.

The emphasis of a focused, well defined negotiation process should be different than that of a sales process. Let me share with you why.

In a sales process, our goal is to determine if we can match up our capabilities to the prospect's needs (their pain) and design a solution that adds value to the customer's business. While we are working each step of that process, it's relatively easy to keep our emotions out of the interaction.

However, very often in a negotiation, we are making decisions that directly impact the outcome of the process. In this high pressure environment ("We want a 10% price reduction or we will put this out to bid!") it's much more difficult to keep our emotions out of the deal. And when we become emotionally attached to an outcome ("We will lose the account!"/"We will keep the account!") we begin to lose in any negotiation.

So the emphasis of an effective negotiation process should be on developing and implementing great decision making skills that allow us to keep our emotions in check, use the right strategies, maintain control and achieve the results we desire. Combine this kind of focused negotiation process with a defined sales process and watch your sales results take off!




The three most important words in sales process, process, process.

I know, that's a cheap rip-off of the old real estate maxim. However, that admission doesn't diminish the value of the statement.

There are many things that are important for success in sales–asking great questions, being a good listener, the ability to emotionally detach in order to enhance execution of a sales process, being gutsy and recovering from rejection quickly to name a few.

Having these competencies present in your sales team is necessary for helping them to incrementally get stronger in the sales process. Sales leaders (presidents, CEO's, V-P's of sales, sales managers) who are looking for a quantum leap forward or want to impact their sales culture, should instead put in place an effective sales process first.

What are the qualities of a sales process?

It must have two qualities:

First, it must have defined steps that are clearly performed and, when executed effectively, deliver expected results.

Second, it must have a clear, concrete method of measuring progress.

This is the 'common language' that sales organizations need for strategizing, coaching and pipeline management of their sales opportunities.

When everyone in the sales organization begins to use a dedicated sales process, certain efficiencies are immediately realized:

  • Sales opportunities are qualified quicker (and cheaper)
  • Sales opportunities are disqualified quicker (and cheaper)
  • Briefing and debriefing of sales calls take less time
  • Sales resources are focused only on opportunities that deserve them
  • Management has better visibility into its sales pipeline
  • High-performing salespeople thrive in a sales environment that stresses accountability
  • Poor performers are exposed and moved out or leave on their own

Companies who have put processes in place on their manufacturing floor or for delivering services to  customers to achieve more efficiency and productivity and now want to gain those same results in their sales department should design and implement a dedicated sales process…today. 


Fail Fast, Fail Cheap, Get Smarter

High- performing sales professionals 'fail' almost everyday…if they are following their sales process effectively. And inside each 'failure' is a success. Here's why.

Maybe you have heard of Doug Hall, the CEO of Eureka!Ranch and author of Jump Start Your Business Brain. Eureka!Ranch  provides research and innovation tools to accelerate innovation success for companies that want to grow. A big proponent of the 'fail fast, fail cheap' concept when introducing a new product or service, Doug takes this strategy one step further–fail fast, fail cheap, get smarter. And from any failure, be sure to take a lesson and move on.

How does all this apply to high-performing salespeople?

It's common sense to say that ideally, salespeople want to engage with prospects with whom they have the best chance of winning the sale. Each 'engagement' means that sales resources begin to be invested (time, knowledge, technical capabilities, estimating time, etc.) in the sales opportunity. These resources must be protected carefully by the sales team.

To accomplish this, a salesperson's focus at this point does not necessarily need to be on qualifying for the prospect as a possible supplier. Instead they should work to determine whether the potential customer qualifies for a fit with their product or service offering. Following this approach ensures that sales resources will be carefully and wisely spent.

Once the qualification process begins with prospects, it's vital that salespeople discipline themselves to a process whose objective is to determine if there is a potential fit or opt out of the opportunity. Here is where 'fail fast, fail cheap, get smarter' begins to apply.

The high-performing salesperson will see the value, even the necessity, when the circumstances call for it, of opting out of an opportunity to protect their resources, live to fight another day and more importantly use this 'failure' to be smarter in any future interaction with that particular prospect. (Salesperson: "When we last talked six months ago, you told me that low price was your main buying criteria and our higher priced value added offering was not a fit. Can you help me understand what's changed?")

Whether you are a CEO, business owner, sales manager or sales professional, how successful are you or your sales team at failing fast, failing cheap and getting smarter?

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