Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Facts and Fallacies About Selling: Fallacy #5

Fallacy #5: The law of averages – making a maximum number of daily sales calls is the biggest factor in selling success.

Reality: This was never true.

The ability to qualify a prospect, and engage in a conversation that inspires and motivates them to buy sooner rather than later (if it is in their best interest to do so), is a professional salesperson’s most valuable asset. The average salesperson says, “These prospects are not interested.” A professional says, I failed to interest them.”

If a salesperson’s activity level is so low that it is impossible for them to hit targets, then we recommend increasing their activity levels. However, increased activity alone cannot produce sustainable blockbuster results. Increasing the activity levels of ineffective salespeople may produce a small up-tick in sales, but at what cost?

Companies would be wise to analyze the cost of lost sales due to lack of sales competency. Most salespeople increase sales from 15 – 80% by increasing their sales effectiveness through proper training and coaching*. Hence, without improved sales skills effectiveness, if they make 20% more calls, the organization loses even more productivity and could lose potentially profitable customers forever.

Ineffective salespeople making more sales calls could mean you'll lose potential customers faster.

* Knowing how to sell is not enough. Many salespeople are good conversationalist about selling techniques, but are not skilled enough or in the habit of applying these principles in their day-to-day selling activities. For example, most sales managers and sales people agree that finding out what the customer wants/needs and what would motivate them to buy from us is critical in securing and keeping profitable customers. However, on sales calls, salespeople behave in a distinctly different way. They may say the sell "solutions", but their questioning and listening skills are minimal and basic, so they tend to default to "selling" a solution" with ineffective or no diagnostics at all. Others wast prospects time and resources conducting drawn-out or ineffective "needs assessments." In today's market, prospects expect easy to execute, customized solutions that are cost-effective and well articulated by product advocating salespeople.

Effectively executed, the questioning phase is revealing for both the potential client and the salesperson. Then, in the all-important conviction step, salespeople clearly and specifically explain their offering in concrete terms. We contend that, if talking with a salesperson has no value in-and-of itself, salespeople can be replaced by a well-crafted web-site. If all they do is recite facts, features and generic benefits, they are wasting our company's money and our prospective customer's time. However, most of our clients need and want  professional help in making a wise buying decision. That is the job of today's professional salesperson and clients invite then in with open-arms once they sense their value.

Motivation is woven through the buying process. In our sales calls with salespeople who sell both tangible and intangible products/services, we see them try to create an artificial "sense of urgency" and, in the process, miss the client's real sense of urgency. Their tactics are transparently manipulative and create more doubt than reducing doubt in the min of the prospect.

As Dr. John Geier Ph.D., co-author of the DISC Behaviour Indicator Profile says, "People do things for their reasons, not ours. Each of us has our own private logic and everything makes sense to us no matter how bizarre our actions seem to others."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Advice From The Pros

We spent some time last night with our local professional football team general manager and several players. They have come from a season where they lost all but two games to a 50:50 record. Quite a feat. Here is some wisdom from them that I believe relates to business success. These are quotes from memory - not a transcript of a taped interview.

General Manager's Comments

You've got to be careful what you say after a game both to the press, players, and coaches. It's important to review the game tape so you’re addressing what really happened, not what you "thought" happened. The emotion of the moment often interferes with your objectivity.

We're always choosing between short term success and the long-term viability of the team. Fans want us to send in the best players on every play and we do that most of the time. However, we need to give our young players enough playing time for them to develop. Right now we're in a building mode so we tend to default to the long-term objective.

Rookie quarterback's comments

When I play badly I try to live in the moment, acknowledge what happened, learn from it, and move on.

After this meeting, I read an article entitled "Attitude Is Everything." What a contrast. Professional athletes acknowledge "attitude" as a factor, but they focus on competencies and dealing with objective reality rather than speculation or wild "optimism." Football is a poor analogy for business since players practice more than play the game. However, there are some parallels. Preparation, coaching, competency development, and attitude control are all factors but no one element, including "attitude" is the "secret."

Don't you just love it when commentators say, "They wanted it more than the other team." Pardon? Are you suggesting the losing team wanted to lose or, more accurately, didn't want to win badly enough? If wanting it badly and visualizing success really worked, both teams would win!!! Wake up! Football, like business, operates with a deadline - and there is competition claiming they are as good as or better than you are. The saddest commentary I've ever heard is a professional player contending, "We won the first half." OOPS - they lost the game and the championship that day. Even professionals, who should know better, can fall in the trap of denying reality.

Let's take some advice from a fictional character, Dr. Gregory House. "People don't get what they deserve, they just get what they get and there's nothing we can do about it." If you know the character (he is a diagnostician) this is not a fatalistic approach to life. Dr. House deals with reality by taking action rather than worrying, stressing out, over-thinking, or engaging in irrational, wild behavior.

When a distraught father asked House if he was sure a treatment the doctor recommended will work, House answers, "I will be when he (the patient) responds to the treatment."

We could use more of this kind of thinking in business. Rather than contending that we're sure something will "work", why not emphasize our commitment to do it, then make our judgment after we've taken the prescribed action? This is how the Dale Carnegie process works. We get people in action, then evaluate the results (quickly) and take new actions based on what we've learned - in reality.

This is similar to the 15-second conversation in a football huddle. "What happened? What's next? Who's doing what? Let's go!" You can see that being clear about what happened and having choices around what's next and having the competency to complete the assignments are all critical factors in creating the results we want to create.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Facts and Fallacies About Selling Fallacy #4

Fallacy # 4: Some salespeople are good at selling but they can’t “close” the sale.

Reality: Effective selling includes securing the business. There are no slick closes ineffective salespeople can pull out of their bag of tricks to get unconvinced prospects to sign. Knowing when to ask for the business and asking with skill and confidence is only part of the selling process. In our view, selling is not a battle with prospective customers; it is a battle with competitors.

For example:
“While people liked my work when I first showed it to them they had a lot of questions about why things were the way they were. Their questions indicated that my design was not what they had in mind, and as a result, I would spend countless additional hours redesigning pieces to fit what I thought they were looking for or asking them irrelevant questions that would not move the sale forward.

Slick closing techniques would not help this designer to secure more business for herself. Here's one component she focused on to increase sales through effective selling competence.

I increased my sales 234% by asking more pertinent questions and listening to what would actually motivate the client to buy now.” [Graphics Designer]

I know this sounds hard to believe, and there is more to it than noted here, but plenty of salespeople leave business on the table and this has little to do with their ability to "close the sale."

In the eighties, one prominent publisher said they would never publish a sales book without the word "closing" in the title. Thank goodness those days are almost over! ABC (always be closing) is an antiquated theory based on ineffective sales managers transposing their theories onto our fine profession. Closing is a logical conclusion to a fine sales conversation.

There are competencies in closing that salespeople need to learn and practice. But the best “close” applied to the wrong prospect in the wrong way at the wrong time will not “motivate” the prospect to buy.
Order-takers pride themselves in saying “I’m not here to sell you” or “I’m not trying to sell you” as if the very reason they are there is invalid or somehow wrong.

Prospects don’t mind talking with salespeople, as a matter of fact, they want to talk with salespeople who bring real value to the conversation and can help them make an informed buying decision. What is offensive is ineffective salespeople trying to deny their profession. I don’t need another “buddy.” What I want is relevant information presented in a reasonable way to help me make the right choice. I want someone who is willing to explore the fit between their products and service and what I am motivated to buy and am willing to pay for in money and other resources – including time.

I am okay if you ask for the order. I’m just irritated when it’s done in a sloppy way for all the wrong reasons.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009


A recent article accused businesses of being far too passive-aggressive and went on to explain how unhealthy this is for our business future. I’ve often thought that many people seem to have an imaginary umbilical cord searching for a place to plug it back in. This is not only unhealthy for the individual; it drains our resources, and saps our organization’s vital energy.

If you doubt this, an on-line survey of 50,000 individuals from profit and non-profit organizations around the world revealed that, based on seven distinct organizational factors, China scored highest and Europe was a close second. Only three countries scored lower than the U.S. and they were Japan, Canada and Australia. The profiles examined an enterprise’s decision rights, information flow, motivators, and structure.

All of these realms are the responsibility of management, not individuals. Managers are constantly trying to improve productivity through “accountability”, so let’s scrutinize what accountability is and what it is not.
  • Accountability is not an outcome or goal. 
  • Accountability is not abdicating responsibility for results. 
  • Accountability is a concept and as such – people can’t “do” accountability.
We constantly hear the following statement from managers when they are speaking to direct reports... “I’m holding you accountable for this.” 

Let’s parse this sentence. I’m holding you – [Translated: "This is about me and I have all the power – you have none."]

“Accountable” – [Translated: "I don’t trust you to be responsible enough to do this on your own, so I’m going to treat you as a child." ] Whooh!
I know, most managers don’t mean this, but I respectfully suggest that this is the thinking this phrase represents even when it’s sugar-coated. As a manager, you are not a person’s mother or father and they don’t need another parent to hold them accountable for their actions.

How to achieve true accountability

Effective management is not sexy – it’s a set of repeated, often boring habits. Most effective managers meet weekly (in some cases bi-weekly) with their direct reports. Managers have varied styles and personality traits, but conducting effective one-on-ones is a habit developed by a high percentage of effective managers regardless of their "style." 

The difference between effective and ineffective managers is not in the latest management books – it’s what the effective manager does and does not do. It’s not what they know, it’s about whether or not they repetitively display core competencies. By engaging in similar behaviours over time, effective managers master the fundamentals and one of the most important competencies is effectively conducting weekly one-on-ones with direct reports.

One-on-one’s are not just “talking” to people. It is a clearly structured process designed to produce predictable outcomes. It maintains robust communication between a manager and his/her direct reports.  

The way you stop putting out fires is to schedule and effectively engage in these focused conversations. Almost immediately people stop bringing small issues to you on a regular basis. They know they have a specific time with you weekly in which they can ask questions of you. 

The one-on-ones we suggest are more formal than informal. Experience tells us that if they are left informal, they lose their effectiveness. Some people try to keep their conversation records on a computer, we strongly recommend against this at first. You'll prepare faster and in a more focused way with a paper notebook or binder for each salesperson. 

Most people are not that good at communicating what they are doing and how well they are doing it. This one-on-one framework is designed to bring to the surface work issues and what we can do about them together. 

NEVER MISS a one-on one. Reschedule if absolutely necessary, but do not cancel the conversation. Part of this process is sending a genuine message to each person that they are important to us and to producing desired results together. Please don't whine about not having time to do this. You have all the time there is and effective managers treat their time as a precious resource. Once they do an honest time-log to determine where their time goes, most managers reveal a great deal of “reactive” rather than “pro-active” activities. What else could you do with your time that would produce more value than focused, results-oriented on-on-one's with your direct reports?

Having the "right" attitude?

In coaching for performance, focus on behaviours, not attitudes. Yes, attitudes are important and vital part of a person’s success (or lack of it). However, we cannot actually see an attitude. We only see behaviour. The organization has every right to request certain behaviours of the people representing them. People can adjust their behaviour, and, when they do, this often impacts their attitude. However, if you begin by focusing on “attitude”, you are subject to speculation, interpretation, miscommunication and strong push-back. 
For example, an employee was accused of being “aloof".. She denied this, and clearly stated she did not feel she was above everyone else. However, others saw her this way and this perception was effecting performance. When her manager described the behaviours that seemed to cause others to make this assumption, and gave her specific alternate behaviours that clearly represented her genuine personality, she immediately made the adjustment. Imagine the disastrous effect of her manager trying to "change her attitude?"

The lesson here is clear; to dramatically improve performance, coach for adjusted behaviours, not attitudes.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Culture Change - Mind-shift

In almost every conversation with executives and senior managers, we hear a desire to shift mind-sets or change the organization's "culture." When we drill down, they tend to express little more than vague hopes and longings. For example, "We want salespeople to become proactive; we need our salespeople to collaborate with clients; our supervisors need to step up and coach people; and we want a culture of collaboration and involvement." (You get the idea.)

Executives and business owners seem to know what they want, but struggle to effectively influence other's mind-sets or change their organization's underlying "culture." There is no shortage of information, since a search for "culture change" on Yahoo produced an astounding 88,100,000 hits! (Whew!) Let's cut through this mass of information and focus on what truly matters. Much of what you've read or heard about culture change is, to be blunt, wrong.

Our worldview colors our thinking, but we are often unaware of their specific influence. For example, if we believe people fundamentally resist change, our actions reflect that belief. As a result, we design strategies and take actions to deal with the resistance we caused. This sets in motion reactions to our actions which seem to confirm our beliefs as we filter out evidence that may disprove our worldview.

Culture lives in conversation and conversations are created by people with deeply held worldviews.

The assumption that others will automatically resist is self-defeating and self-fulfilling. We are swimming upstream here, since plenty of literature implies that resistance is primarily the "fault" of the resistor. But what if the ideas presented are poorly conceived or presented? How are differences of opinion dealt with in the organization? Are "resistors" chastised, ostracized, booted out, put down, and/or given a platform on which to speak? Do executives quickly get defensive at so-called "negative" feedback? If there is an open-door policy, do people walk through the door and what do they tell (or withhold from) executives? Are we genuinely stimulating dialogue at our company or simply reinforcing a climate of power and control?

The following from Noam Chomsky, in the Montreal Serai [Vol. 13, No. 3, Autumn 2000], is lengthy, but hang in there with it, it's quite sobering and highly relevant to this conversation.

If we consider the likelihood that as humans we have an instinct for creativity and moral instincts . . . that has problems. For one thing it means that you will encourage challenge of authority and domination. It will encourage questioning of powerful institutions. The fact of the matter is that honesty, integrity, creativity, all these things we're supposed to value, all run up dramatically against the hierarchic, authoritarian structure of the institutional framework in which we live. . . . Behaviorism is very popular among the managerial classes, for not surprising reasons. For one thing, it gives them a moral right to control and dominate people. If people have no intrinsic nature, then there is no moral barrier to control or manipulation of them - in their own interest, of course. . . Behaviorism gave the perfect intellectual justification for it; it didn't matter that the intellectual foundations were ridiculous. It served a function so it survived. And the parts of the society that need that, they still believe it--in fact, believe it more than ever.

Taking a stand for freedom and choice is largely unpopular in spite of the rhetoric professing otherwise. Our behavior often exposes a basic desire to control the uncontrollable - other people.

Stand #1: "You cannot motivate others."

(We resist the temptation of "proving" our point, a common diversion initiated by those looking to avoid the issue that much of what we do is clearly an attempt at command or control, or more simply put, manipulation.)

Taking a stand is distinct from "core beliefs." There is an implication that in order to perform at a high level, others need to share our beliefs. Perhaps, but this contention also takes us down the road of "selling" others on believing what we believe, which often deteriorates into "selling" them on our worldviews. People with distinctly different belief systems can, and do, achieve spectacular results together without ever changing their individually held beliefs.

Stand #2: "All motivation is intrinsic - from within, not without."

 We base this on our experience in hundreds of meetings backed up by a 19 year study quoted in Fast Company Magazine involving 356 companies by Paul C. Nutt, a professor of management at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business. According to Nutt, "Most (executives) pushed their decisions through, either by persuasion (41%), or by edict (40%)." Each approach is a formula for failure. Persuasion failed 53% of the time; edicts failed in 65% of the cases. "The typical problem", Nutt says, "isn't just that decisions lack merit. It's that staffers resent these heavy-handed tactics and thus resist or undermine bosses who resort to them."

A better way is to clearly articulate goals or outcomes using visual language. Ensure that your outcomes are not just knee-jerk reactions to circumstances, and clearly place a "stake in the ground." Those who truly care about the viability of the enterprise will embrace changes clearly on behalf of something more important to them than the discomfort of change. Creating something of genuine personal value is distinctly different than "buying-in" to something the organization is "rolling out."

One example is an organization whose owners expressed a desire to "drive out waste." More than 90 managers and 300 employees engaged in the initiative with a dramatically different approach. For two hours, managers grappled to change the "make waste go away" (seek and destroy) into a "turning waste into profit and sharing the wealth." This is more than a semantics exercise. It is a distinct shift in perspective and way of thinking. These managers engaged others in a project that supported their spirit of fun, commitment, and creativity. Each member of the project shared in the profits and helped the enterprise add money to its bottom-line. There was virtually no resistance. Young, part-time students (millennials) gladly engaged in the fun and shared in the results. Senior managers were in shock, since these same employees resisted similar initiatives. Clearly the employees were no different than before. A different approach created a dramatically different outcome. A distinction made to owners and managers was that the "sharing the wealth" component was not an "incentive program," instead it was an invitation to be part of a genuine creative process.

[Call Dave at 905-826-7300 if you believe they are one in the same.]

If you're up for facing reality with courage, listen for how many times you inadvertently shift into a manipulative mode.

Are you trying to produce an outcome, or simply get your way?

Are you trying to get others to "buy-in" to your worldviews or are you listening for differences and commitments that bring fresh views to the table?

Are you trying to get others to "believe" something, or accomplish something? (There is a distinct difference.)

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