Isn’t Selling is Both an Art AND a Science?

The dichotomy facing sales leaders now is how they reconcile the fact that most corporations today provide less upfront training for their sales staff than in years past, yet attach increasing importance to staff development?

This should not come as a surprise, because current stock market thinking provides a powerful disincentive for firms to invest in their people on an on-going basis.

You see, an organization’s investment in their human capital, in the form of training and other forms of education, is not separable from general expenditure – it therefore appears as a cost on the corporate balance sheet.

Unfortunately, as a consequence, most sales leaders have concluded that their only realistic option is to cut back on training and instead look to recruit sales professionals who, in theory anyway, already possess the necessary skills needed to do the job. They then send them out to win business armed with what they know.

However, most of those same sales leaders are discovering just how difficult it is to find skilled salespeople who have all of the essential skills and personal traits. And anyway, it is not possible to equate experience or seniority with success. As I have said on numerous occasions: “Some front-line sales professionals do have ten year’s experience, but most have one year’s experience ten times.”

In skills development there are many similarities to sport – i.e. does an athletic champion stop training as soon as they win their first medal? In music, does a concert pianist stop rehearsing as soon as they have given their first recital? In art, does the artist stop improving after they have enjoyed the first exhibition of their work?

The answer in all cases is obvious, and we should apply the same common sense principals to the on-going development of our sales teams.

The reality is that selling in today’s climate is both an art and a science. Selling is a profession that demands a far wider range of skills than ever before, skills that require continual fine-tuning and constant practice.

In summary – On-going reinforcement and development is essential: The operative word here is “on-going.”Even if salespeople have undergone progressive sales training, there’s no guarantee that they will be successful. It is common knowledge that skills grow “rusty” over time and salespeople are prone to pick-up bad habits along the way, or to simply skip steps and take shortcuts that can lead to long-term trouble.

Perhaps even more important these days is the fact that markets, competition, technologies, and customer preferences are all in a constant and accelerating state of change. This fact requires that sales people are able and willing to rethink their sales strategy and approach frequently and receive a regular top-up of skills and motivational coaching.

Our people are the most valuable asset we have – doesn’t it make sense to invest in that asset and increase its value?

Are You Up to the Challenge of Change?

Becoming a strategic and consultative Sales Superstar requires significant changes in your “world view” -how you think about yourself, and how you think about your relationships with key stakeholders. You are faced with new ways of thinking, many of which directly challenge what you have been taught and believe.

When faced with significant innovations in thinking, we tend initially to find ourselves in one of the following three characterizations:

The “Authoritative Critic”

The “Authoritative Expert”

The “Enthusiastic Apprentice”

We can think about these three characters as being on a spectrum that runs from outright rejection to eager acceptance

As we take a brief look at each of these, allow yourself to wonder where on the spectrum you fall in your process of becoming a Sales Superstar.

The Authoritative Critic

This individual quickly dismisses new ways of thinking, rejecting them as ridiculous, foolish and unwise.

What is this individual’s motivation? Fear of change, of loss.

The Authoritative Expert

This individual is one who typically responds to the introduction of innovative ideas by rejecting the reality that the ideas are indeed innovative. This individual is typically thinking “What’s the big deal? I’ve always done it this way.”

What is this individual’s motivation? Fear of losing face, of appearing inadequate.

The Enthusiastic Apprentice

This individual is excited by innovative thinking and is eager to learn. He/she may not understand or totally embrace the innovative concepts, but they are excited about the possibilities that well-informed change may bring about.

What is this individual’s motivation? It is hunger for knowledge and excitement about the possibilities that may come with new knowledge.

The nature of change is dynamic. As much as we might like to believe that change is linear, the truth is that deep transformative change develops in a spiral pattern.

As you reviewed the above characteristics, you may have seen parts of yourself in each description.

Knowledge is the power. The more aware you can become of your own process of “spiralling” through the process of change, the more conscious and intentional you can be about choosing change, choosing growth, and choosing to become a Sales Superstar.

The Key to Why Your Customers Buy From You?

I want to end the week by looking at buyer motivation, because all meaningful actions are performed for some reason or purpose – this is commonly called motivation.

Success in selling requires an understanding of these basics of motivation:
a) Your motivation, both as a person and as a salesperson
b) The other person’s motivation, both as a person and as a buyer

The most important fact to remember in influencing the behaviour and decisions of others is that people do things for their reasons – not ours…

Every successful sale then is made, not so much because of the excellence of your product or of your sales pitch, but because consciously or unconsciously, you have found the human reason why your prospect should buy. You have found the door to their motivation and have opened it. The more you understand the function of human motivation, the more successfully you will sell.

In its simplest form, motivation emerges as a cycle. It starts with a want or need – expressed or hidden. Inherent in this is a problem – a problem that must be overcome in order to satisfy the want, which must be solved. Once solved, the want can be satisfied and the cycle is completed.

In terms of personal development, there are several levels of needs.

You will no doubt be familiar with Maslow’s pyramid of needs. These needs are basic to everyone you sell to, live with, or encounter.

At the bottom of the pyramid are the Physiological Needs – they include food, shelter, warmth, sex and sleep. They are instinctive needs common to all living creatures. Until these needs are satisfied, the higher needs are purely academic.

Then comes safety, which is almost as basic (security is another word for this need ) – Security in one’s job, in one’s place in society, safety from unknown dangers, freedom from pain.

Love is a more sophisticated, but no less essential need. Every human being wants others to care about them, to receive affection. They want to have the approval of others, to be understood/accepted/respected, to belong. And equally important, they have a need to be involved, to care about and give affection to others – the two are inseparable.

Self-esteem is equally essential. Every human being needs to feel that they are important in some sphere of life ; that their presence on earth has meaning and significance. The mature person knows that this begins with self-respect. This need provides a tremendous motivational force.

Self-actualization is the highest need – for personal growth and achievement, for self-fulfilment, the best use of one’s capabilities, the fullest possible realization of potential within an honest understanding, both of the limitations and scope of that potential.

People, of course, are different. Their needs will vary in degree, in shape, and in the nature of their answers – but they are common to all. As you are alert to them, as you understand them, so will your success with others be measured.

How do people seek to satisfy their needs? Thorndike’s Law of Effect supplies the answer – “People tend to behave in a way to gain rewards and avoid punishment.”

Again, this varies with different people. Generally, people can be classified into three dominant types:
The Achiever
The Seeker of Social Recognition
The Security-Minded
(But no one is likely to be a pure type)

The Achiever is most likely to be oriented toward gaining rewards.
The Security-Minded is likely to be dominated by the desire to avoid punishment.
The Social Type stands somewhere between the two.

These are the dominating factors, but in varying degrees, each has a little of the other two in them.

In terms of selling, whatever the dominant drive of your prospect, they are above all buying benefits. Benefits are best defined in this context as the results of the product, which enable them to gain rewards and/or avoid punishment.

In making their decision, the buyer uses the Minimax principle: “To minimise their losses – to maximize their gains.”

This is true, whatever the personality orientation. The emphasis depends again on their individual motivational drive.

The Law of Effect then “depending on specific motivation“ relates directly to the Pyramid of Human Needs, and expands in this manner:

The benefits you have to offer are both negative and positive. The right emphasis, directed in the right way, offering both to determine preference, is your shortest way to your objective.

In summary, according to Russell: “The essence of motivation is finding meaning in what we are doing. Motivation is an inner control of the individual.”  In other words, only you can really motivate yourself.

All these concepts apply to you – in all phases of your life and your work – as well as they apply to others.

Finding the right meaning in what you do will be the great motivator for a more effective you.

Understanding the nature of what motivates each person you deal with will enable you to help them make a decision, which is favourable to both of you.

Have a great w/e !

Four Secret Negotiating Behaviours You Need To Understand

As I have said often enough here on this blog, I enjoy negotiating very much. I have worked hard to learn and perfect my skills over many years, and practiced in a variety of circumstances. So allow me to share just four secrets with you today…

A skilled negotiator will create high levels of rapport and be sensitive and empathetic to the people they are negotiating with, yet can still be hard on the issues. The ability to separate the people from the issues, and recognize that negotiations are often fraught with emotional intensity, can help sharpen the focus on the interests of the other party to better balance perceptions.

If the negotiation doesn’t appear to be going anywhere and your prospect is behaving like a bully, you might feel angry and frustrated. You may already have considered simply agreeing to their demands. In difficult negotiations, there are four vital behaviours that can increase your resourcefulness and, consequently, your opportunities for getting to “Win-Win.”

1. Manage your emotional state
Build rapport by matching the other person’s style – pace and approach until you have achieved a connection. Personalize the negotiation by using “I” rather than your organization’s name – this demonstrates your belief in your proposal and highlights your credibility.

In the face of feelings like anger, disappointment, frustration, confusion and resentment, we often react without thinking. In such a situation, mentally detach yourself and think about it before you respond. It helps to reframe attacks and tactical manoeuvres as feedback that the other person’s interests have not been fully acknowledged. Stay focused on your goal of reaching an agreement.

2. Look for quick mutual wins to build the belief “We can agree”
The more abstract your communication, the more likely you are to reach an agreement. Therefore, seek to gain agreement at an abstract level first and then get into the detail.

For example, if two people wanted what appears to be very different things, such as a) nuclear disarmament and b) more resources spent on defense. If you looked at finding out both sides’ highest intention, you may discover that peace was the desired outcome for both people. Therefore, at this abstract level, they have found agreement. So the negotiation can continue by gradually getting more detailed.

Questions that chunk up your prospect into the bigger picture include:
- For what purpose?
- What’s your intention behind (negotiating point)?

Seek to address the easiest/quickest areas of agreement first, to help ensure that the process of agreement is simple and straightforward. If you discover an area where agreement may not be reached quickly, then agree to leave it until later. If some points become contentious, it can help discussions if you both move your body, because the mind and body are connected; Physical movement helps to create mental movement. That’s why a walk can work wonders during tough negotiations… Provide regular summaries of what you have both accomplished, to install the belief that the negotiation is making progress.

Some sales people write out all the points to be negotiated on separate sheets of paper. Then, as each point is agreed, they move the paper to a different place, so that the buyer can physically see the progress being made, which serves to motivate the entire process.

3. Use active listening skills and ask questions to give you a greater understanding of the other person’s viewpoint
Giving good attention to people makes them more intelligent. Poor attention makes them stumble over their words and appear stupid. You are best positioned to change someone’s mind after you have listened to that person. People tend to close down and stick to their position until they feel heard. The goal of active listening is for you to hear and understand other people – their words, thoughts, and feelings – and to let them know you’ve heard and understood them.

Acknowledge their motivations, feelings and point of view – even when you don’t agree with what they are saying. Your goal is to understand the message, not judge the validity of what they say.

4. Build trust by negotiating fairly
Demonstrations of power erode trust. If you are on the receiving end of this type of behaviour, describe your observations and the consequences of continuing the current process. For example: “You know you’ve named what seems to me a low price, and so now I’ll name a higher price, and then we’ll each insist on our position until one of us gives in. I don’t find my best negotiations work like this.”

Then propose a different way to proceed, for example: “It would help me to understand the criteria of a fair offer if we could take a look at some of the relevant standards in this industry.” Before beginning the negotiation, it can help to agree the ground rules and stick to them. Act with integrity and hold a healthy respect for the intentions of the individual you are negotiating with.

There is always a reason why a point of negotiation is important to the buyer and, if we can appreciate more about their underlying reasons, this knowledge can be used and acted upon.

Strong negotiation skills are absolutely fundamental to becoming a top 5% sales player. So my advice is: Do work hard to hone your skills.

Top Sales World Publish “Top 50 Best Summer Reads”

Here is an extract from the introduction …

“When a man (or woman) is tired of reading, he/she is tired of life.”

With apologies to the great Samuel Johnson – (1709-1784) – one of the most quoted men of the 18th century.

Here then are our – as in the Top Sales World’s editorial team’s – favorite 50 books for your edification and delight.

Are they the best 50 sales and marketing related books ever written? We cannot claim that, but certainly many of them would be right at home if such a list existed.

TSW’s contributing team is the largest group of sales experts  ever gathered in one location, and they share their pearls of wisdom daily – for free.

If you have yet to discover the most popular and significant sales-related location on the planet, please join the orderly queue, and make your way there immediately. HERE 

I do hope you enjoy our selections, and when you find yourself at a loose-end, or in a state of involuntary ennui this summer, do refer back to this document, as often as you wish.

You will find all the details HERE 

Are You Getting the Wrong Customer Reaction?

Before looking outwards at our prospects and customers we need to look at ourselves, because each of us is a unique human being with our own desires, challenges and thoughts. To understand how we can communicate, and therefore sell more effectively, we need to understand the human communication process.

Every minute, our unconscious mind absorbs over two million pieces of information through our senses. We are” bombarded” with sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches. Yet, according to Professor George Miller from Harvard University, we can only process around seven chunks of information consciously at any given moment. That is an awful lot of information that our conscious mind chooses to ignore, or to be more accurate – delete! This means that every individual will process information based on what they are focusing on at that time.

The information that enters our unconscious mind goes through three filters to reach our conscious mind. We delete most of it, because there is no way that our conscious mind could cope with what is held in the unconscious mind. We distort the information, based on our current situation. For example, a child may interpret the ordinary sounds of a central heating system very differently if they are left alone in the house. This is why, sometimes people can completely misinterpret what we are saying to them, they are distorting the information because they are focusing on a different meaning to the one we wanted to convey.

We also generalize information. For example, once we have learned what a chair looks like, we can instantly identify other chairs – even though we haven’t seen every type of chair. We can generalize the way most doors are opened, how most cars are driven and even how to identify when a person is either male or female.

After the information has been filtered into our conscious mind, there are only four things we can do with it inside our head – we make pictures, sounds, we talk to ourselves or we have feelings. The combination of these things creates an emotion that has an effect on our physiology. For example – if we feel embarrassed, we might blush ; if we feel angry, we may tighten up our muscles. Every thought we have affects our body, and the way we move our body affects our thinking. Our mind and body are totally interconnected.

If you observe someone suffering from depression, they are often round shouldered, they look down a lot and many of them will be using a lot of negative self-talk – “Why does this always happen to me?” “I’m useless” “What’s the point?” etc.

Contrast this to a person who feels really confident – they stand upright, their shoulders are back and they use eye contact. Because every thought we have affects our body, this means that our emotional state also affects our behaviour, which consequently affects and influences the results we get.

Therefore, if we want to change aspects of our lives, including the way our prospects and customers react to us, first we have to change our own thinking - attitude is 80% of the success factor in frontline professional selling…

Has Empathy Become More Relevant in Professional Selling?

These are troubled times for workers – it seems that no one is guaranteed employment security anywhere any more. The creeping sense that no one’s job is safe, even as the companies they work for are thriving again, means the spread of fear, apprehension and confusion.

An attitude of self-interest is, understandably, growing more common for employees confronting downsizing and other changes that make them feel their organization is no longer loyal to them.

This sense of betrayal or distrust erodes allegiance and encourages cynicism. And once lost, trust – and the commitment that stems from it – is hard to rebuild. If employees are not treated fairly and respectfully, no organization will gain their emotional allegiance. Sensing others’ development needs and bolstering their abilities is emerging as second only to team leadership among superior managers.

For sales managers, developing others’ abilities is even more important – indeed, it’s the emotional competence most frequently found among those at the top of the field. This is a person-to-person art, and the effectiveness of counselling hinges on empathy and the ability to focus on our own feelings and share them.

Research suggests the best ‘coaches’ show a genuine personal interest in those they guide, and have empathy for and an understanding of their employees. Trust is crucial – when there is little trust in the coach, advice goes unheeded. This also happens when the coach is impersonal and cold, or the relationship seems too one-sided or self-serving. Coaches who show respect, trustworthiness and empathy are the best. One way to encourage people to perform better is to let others take the lead in setting their own goals rather than dictating the terms and manner of their development. This communicates the belief that employees have the capacity to be the pilot of their own destiny.

Another technique is to point to the problems without offering a solution: this implies the employees can find the solution themselves. And people hunger for feedback, yet too many managers, supervisors and executives are inept at giving it or are simply disinclined to provide any.

Virtually everyone who has a superior is part of at least one vertical ‘couple’ in the workplace; every boss forms such a bond with each subordinate. Such vertical couples are a basic unit of organisational life.

Therein lays the blessing or the curse: This interdependence ties a subordinate and superior together in a way that can become highly charged. If both do well emotionally – if they form a relationship of trust and rapport, understanding and inspired effort – their performance will shine. But if things go emotionally awry, the relationship can become a nightmare and their performance a series of minor and major disasters. While vertical couples have the entire emotional overlay that power and compliance bring to a relationship, peer couples – our relationships with co-workers – have a parallel emotional component, something akin to the pleasures, jealousies and rivalries of siblings.

If there is anywhere emotional intelligence needs to enter an organization, it is at this most basic level.

Building collaborative and fruitful relationships begins with the couples we are a part of at work.

Bringing emotional intelligence to a working relationship can pitch it towards the evolving, creative, mutually engaging end of the continuum; failing to do so heightens the risk of a downward drift towards rigidity, stalemate and failure.

Does Your Company Excel at all THREE Selling Activities?

One of the most important aspects of selling, that we highlight at JFA, is the fact that there are actually three distinct activities that organizations should be focusing on – and they are all equally important.

However, you could be forgiven for thinking that the most critical function is new business identification – or as you may prefer to call it, lead generation. After all, a very high percentage of the articles we read these days are offering us advice on e-mail campaigns, or cold-calling, or lead nurturing, etc.

Professional coaches and trainers have a responsibility to ensure their clients understand the need to develop skills in all three of the critical selling phases, i.e.

Business Generation: This is lead generation, cold calling, email marketing, social media use, referral selling, prospect attraction, and all the skills that are needed to produce new opportunities to continually fill up that funnel. Here, we are developing suspects into qualified prospects.

The middle part of our sandwich is effectively “opportunity management” – but for the purpose of this post we will call it …

Business Management: Here we should be developing the sales skills necessary to convert a prospect into a client/customer. So, competitive profiling, qualification, presentation, proposal preparation (even major bid preparation) negotiation, closing skills, etc.

Business Development: Our final category is account management and development, which is where most companies are weakest. In their desperate pursuit and focus on generating new opportunities, 80% of organizations neglect their existing clients, despite the fact that there are so many incremental opportunities just waiting to be harvested. Here, we should be teaching “client retention” – strategic selling skills, key account management, upselling and cross-selling, political skills, etc.

And actually, it is this third area that I am writing about today, because a vitally important sales activity is that of managing existing customer accounts to consolidate and grow the relationship. Yet, unfortunately, when compared over time, the customer’s interest levels increase while salespeople’s interest levels tend to decrease. This creates a “relationship gap”and is due entirely to complacency.

Another major issue is that, too often, the salesperson fails to expand their “contact base”,as this next survey proves, which results in vulnerability and exposure to competitive activity.

Periodically, the Financial Times conducts a survey of British industry to establish how companies go about their purchasing. The survey is very comprehensive, broken down into many kinds of products and services.

Customer size (Number of employees): Less than 200
Average number of buying influencers: 3.43
Number of influencers visited by salespeople: 1.72

Customer size (Number of employees): 200 – 400
Average number of buying influencers: 4.85
Number of influencers visited by salespeople: 1.75

Customer size (Number of employees): 401 – 1000
Average number of buying influencers: 5.81
Number of influencers visited by salespeople: 1.90

Customer size (Number of employees): 1001 +
Average number of buying influencers: 6.50
Number of influencers visited by salespeople: 1.65 (No, I didn’t make a mistake, it really is only 1.65)

From a Sales Director’s perspective, these are very worrying statistics…

In essence, without a sustained approach to on-going servicing and support activities, customers that took months to win are ultimately lost, because there was a lack of interest from their supplier.

Today’s clients/customers are looking for vendors who can be business-partners, who are willing and able to share risks, and who are able to properly manage the entire sales process.

Fact: It now costs fifteen times as much to locate and sell to a new customer, as it does to an existing one.

Are you really making the most of your customer base…?

The Debate Continues – Coaching versus Traditional Training?

People may learn a great deal on development courses, but when they return to the workplace, they often have difficulty integrating what they have learnt into their day-to-day work. Quite often, what they may have learnt simply slips from their minds.

We believe that between 50% and 70% of an organization’s climate - and hence its effectiveness - can be traced to management style. Effective leaders create a favourable working environment that boosts performance. This is where coaching comes into its own.

Leadership is a set of skills, competences and attitudes that individuals can develop through practice, and by reflecting on their own actions and the impact this can have on others.

Most leadership programs are too general to provide opportunities for such intensive personalized work.

Coaching, by contrast, enables individuals to gain insight into their own motives, interests and concerns, and this link explicitly to the challenges they face in their leadership or management roles.

Coaching can also help executives acquire a greater awareness of their own leadership style. This is crucial if they are to develop the variety of styles needed to manage and lead in different situations.

All too often, leaders rely on a command-and-control style, which has a negative impact on all but a crisis.

Coaching people on leadership styles produces positive results in most situations. It creates a supportive environment in which employees feel empowered to give their best, and find the solutions to problems.

Not unnaturally, some diehards still hold, with an old-fashioned view, that coaching can be used only for remedial purposes. But those organizations, that have embraced the concept fully, have discarded that level of thinking. Their approach concentrates on leadership and personal development as part of building a high-performance organization – they are committed to moving away from managing by a culture of process, to managing as leaders.

Typically, we find that our clients are not interested in adopting the style of coaching used by many companies to focus on simple issues – particularly, how to get on with fellow team members. They choose us, because they believe we offer a more challenging style that digs more deeply into behavior and personality. This leaves executives with something more permanent that they can take away from the coaching sessions and use during the rest of their careers – rather than just a one-off.

It is not always easy to convince executives that they should submit to a scrutiny of their personalities and behaviour… But in reality, those executives who balk at taking “the journey of self-development”could soon find themselves isolated and lesser leaders than many of their contemporaries.

Surging into Q3 – Some Actions to Make it Better than Q2!

Recently, I exposed the considerable “relationship-gap” that apparently exists between customer/client expectation, and what most selling companies believe is necessary to retain them.

That statement sounds terribly arrogant doesn’t it? “What most selling companies believe is necessary to retain them“… But isn’t that the point?

I think most frontline sales professionals believe that they are providing their existing clients with excellent service – but then they are only usually viewing the relationship one dimensionally from where they are standing.

The brutal reality is that customers and clients are rarely asked. Oh yes, they might be persuaded to occasionally complete an online satisfaction survey, consisting of carefully crafted questions designed by a third-party who has as much knowledge of your industry and sector as they do about the sexual shenanigans of a platypus! And have you noticed that we all celebrate and congratulate ourselves when we see the positive feedback, and yet convince ourselves that anything negative must have come from a terminal whiner?

We are all guilty of taking our customers and clients for granted – some of us regularly, all of us occasionally. We are all culpable when it comes to failing to continually strive to “earn the right” to their business. After all, if they want anything, they will call us, won’t they? Maybe once upon a time, when they had less choices and when they were less “educated”, but not anymore. Like those platypus, we are only as good as our last performance!

So, when you finally realize that it is now Q3, and the awful truth dawns on you – you are currently underachieving by more than 50% against quota - do not, under any circumstance, take any solace from the fact that so are more than 50% of the global sales population! There is nothing to celebrate in being a member of the “Loser’s Club” – unless you enjoy safety in numbers…

What I am suggesting you do, in the next few weeks, may well fly in the face of advice you will receive from your manager, who has possibly been conditioned to believe that harder is smarter… It isn’t. So you might want to tell him/her that in the book Emerson’s Essays, there is a section on “Law of Compensation”. It can be summarized simply as “give more, get more.”This is what most salespeople try to do, so they end up working harder when they could be working smarter. This begs the question: Are your sales activities deciding your strategy or is your strategy deciding your sales activities?

My advice is focus , just for a couple of weeks, on all your existing clients. Call them, go visit them. Even better, conduct a formal account review – give them some attention, and let them know that you really want their business this year. You will be amazed at the response. Why? Because it is not something your competitors will be doing – unless they read this post, or have been on one of my training workshops. And just hope that you don’t come up against one of my clients, because they will have completed this exercise last week!

The next time you drive out into the countryside, particularly this time of the year, take time to notice the crops in the fields: Notice the hedges around the fields, and how well maintained – or not – they are. I can assure you that the best maintained fields are yielding the best harvests. The work that those farmers put in during the Spring is now paying dividends – it hasn’t all happened magically!

The better you maintain your relationships with your best accounts, the higher your yield will be. And maybe, just maybe, you can make it into the “Winners Enclosure” come the end of December.

We always have choices, and this is your choice.