Words Do Matter!

Everyone is scrambling to find new ways to help them sell more effectively. Products are updated. Materials are redesigned. Sales processes are changed. Any or all of these strategies may in fact increase business. However, there is one very inexpensive area for improvement that is overlooked by most salespeople – language. Improve your word power and you will increase your selling power!

Language and Business

In this culture, the concept of words as serious sales tools (or weapons, depending on your metaphor of choice) may seem silly. However, I would argue that it is precisely because of our cultural trends that the people who use language with precision, creativity and thoughtfulness will have a distinct competitive advantage and triumph at the end of the sales day, with or without pretty new support materials.

There is a golden opportunity awaiting the articulate salesperson in a culture where the art of language has deteriorated.

Think of the many times you have heard versions of “We provide unparalleled customer service, innovative solutions and strong follow-up to help you grow your business.” Just once, I would love to hear someone say, “We provide lousy customer service, vanilla solutions, and haphazard follow-up”,  just to see how the client will react…!

Are Words Really That Important?

What words do you use to describe what you do, how you do it, and what the benefits are to your clients?

  1. What words do you use to earn an appointment or a call-back? For example, do you say you want to discuss advertising, software (or whatever it is you sell), OR do you say you want to discuss some ideas to help this prospect solve a particular problem, increase sales, or another benefit relevant to his business? When was the last time you taped yourself to rate the effectiveness of the individual words you typically choose to use?
  2. When you open a business discussion, is every word designed to engage?
  3. Do you articulate presentations in the most appealing way or are they filled with clichés and bland language? For example, do you say you have every effective tools that are easy to use or that you have proven powerful tools that unleash the selling power of a team?
  4. Are your questions crafted to elicit the best information while at the same time creating a comfortable, conversational environment for your client?
  5. Are your responses to objections strategically phrased so that your client isn’t put on the defensive?
  6. When you move to the next step, do you use non-pressuring language?

He who speaks well fights well.” – Proverb

Words matter. Put some thought and care into them. It won’t cost you anything, except a little thinking time. The result can mean the difference between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’.

Finally, let me share with you my five magic words that I sprinkle liberally into my conversations with clients and prospects, particularly when I am engaging in dialogue in the C-Lounge. They are: Save, Gain, Reduce, Increase and Improve. When used at the appropriate time, they are incredibly powerful – but only if you can back them up with hard evidence.

Be assured, words matter!

Why Do Buyers Buy?

Every successful sale 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 that 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, and we all 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 results – please forget features and benefits – which enable them to gain rewards and/or avoid punishment.

In making their decision, the buyer uses the “Minimax” principle – To minimize their losses, to maximize their gains. This is true whatever the personality orientation. The emphasis depends again on their individual motivational drive.

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.” Only you can 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 favorable to both of you.

The most important fact to remember in influencing the behavior and decisions of others is that people do things for their reasons, not ours!

Post Mortems Are Not the End, But Rather the Beginning

“We hope you are not going to be discussing dead bodies on this fine, bright spring day JF” I hear you all mutter, barely audibly, but almost in unison: “Relax” I say, with a well-practiced calming reassurance.

What I am going to be discussing is what should happen every time you lose a bid/potential order/piece of significant business and even more importantly what should happen when you win a bid/potential order etc.

So let’s begin by considering what happens when you lose – or should I say you fail to win: The most common “excuse” I hear is that it was down to price, and when there is a very flat playing field where solutions and costings are identical, and there has been no opportunity to prove incremental value, this is indeed the case. The only other differentiators in these circumstances is the quality of your selling skills, and your ability to think “out of the box”

But in most scenarios, when I dig below the surface I discover a whole host of far more complex – although obvious – reasons.

These can include:

Failure to cover all the bases within the DMU (Decision making unit) and simply concentrating on one or two perceived strong allies – only to be outwitted by a competitor who has been far more active politically.

Or even being hood- winked into believing that the main contact has far more power and influence, simply because that was suggested from their business card. That’s a bit like dealing with the Vice-President of the United States – the title sounds impressive, but not too much power or influence.

But actually, by far the most common failing is not being rigorous enough at the front-end: What I mean by that is that insufficient time has been invested into asking all of the right questions of all the right people to fully understand the requirement, and consequently making some assumptions – often wrong ones. From that point on, everything that is proposed is a bit “suck it and see” and relies on hope and luck. That means the odds for winning are 50% at best from the beginning

A final word on post-mortems after a loss: Be brutally honest – OK, that was three words, but you get my drift. Don’t allow anything or anyone to escape microscopic scrutiny, because this is not a finger pointing exercise, but it is a fantastic opportunity to roll back the carpet and expose the cracks. Your ultimate objective is to ensure (try to) that you don’t make the same mistakes again – and hence increase your odds of winning the next great opportunity that arrives.

But please do not think for one minute that post-mortems are just for understanding losses – I do so hate the word failure – they are just as important after you have won, whilst the scent of victory is still fresh in your nostrils.

Ensuring that you have a total understanding of what you did right, is absolutely vital if you want to replicate that success, and repeat that superior performance.

Do remember that everything – every aspect of the sales/buying cycle can always be improved; perfection is an imaginary target for us all, it doesn’t really exist, unless you are naive enough to believe it does.

You see, post-mortems are not the end; they are indeed the beginning … of your enlightenment!

Success Does NOT Permeate Upwards

During one of my senior management coaching sessions last week, I posed the question: “So just what is it that makes a company successful?”

I had the group whiteboard the exercise and brainstorm around it with some interesting results. For example:

Unsurprisingly, the finance orientated managers talked about healthy cash flow; strong financial foundations; low debtor days; controlled stock levels and robust management reporting systems.

On the other hand, sales and marketing people highlighted strong customer relationships; reliable products; good people who were fully developed and understood their place in the grand scheme of things. And so on …

All, however, highlighted strong leadership as being the most obvious commonality when identifying consistently successful companies, and of course, they are right.

Success permeates downwards and whatever happens in the boardroom affects every single employee: As leaders we have to accept the huge responsibility that we have for our people because they have given us their trust; their loyalty; their commitment.

I believe that there are in fact five main drivers that determine our success, but first let’s consider some other fundamental facts:

Change is continuous and will become more rapid as we move forward over time. Senior management must be capable of reacting to those changes and be prepared to take advantage of them and yet stay within the overall framework and agreed strategy.

The role of strategy is fundamental if the people within an organization are to be enabled to make the level of contribution of which they are capable. Strategy, based on a good grasp of the core competencies of a business, is an essential precursor to achieving optimal shareholder value.

The world’s leading organizations continuously seek to improve their performance. There may be unlimited potential for achieving accelerated improvement but if this potential is not being realised, good change agents must line up and mobilise all the forces (or drivers) for improvement.

So what are the five main drivers for improvement in organizations? They are quite simply:


Lean operations

Balanced culture

Customer responsiveness


Strategy sets direction, and gives focus to improvement. It must however be deployed throughout the organization to be effective.

Processes need to be mapped and analyzed in a methodical way; projects must be managed; problem symptoms traced to root causes; data must be collected before decisions are taken; trends in customer preferences detached and fed back; improvement activity of any kind reported on and coordinated; improvement action measured. Just about everything should be done to a discipline.

A balanced culture means effective, creative management of people. Customers are served by people, processes are managed by people. Only people can deliver quality improvement. For them to work well they must be empowered, given direction, measured, and reviewed and success recognised.

Customer responsiveness keeps the organization focused on customer needs, reactions and changing requirements.

Finally, leadership ensures that everyone is enthused and supported to work on the strategy, improve processes, served customers and active team players.

How do your leaders shape up?

Who said: “Selling is THE Key Factor in the Total Marketing Process?” I Did!

Eight years ago I wrote this article ….

Far too many companies have devalued selling for far too long and some business leaders have even convinced themselves that they would do better if they did not employ salespeople – after all good products sell themselves, don’t they?

As a consequence, until very recently, salespeople have done everything possible to avoid calling themselves “ Salesman or a Saleswoman” They have developed a series of euphemisms such as: “Sales Engineer” “Account Executive”Technical Sales Consultant”Business Development Associate” etc. But nowadays we accept that we all sell, everyday – doctors, lawyers, estate agents, architects and politicians.

It therefore follows that the quality and success of our salespeople will ultimately determine the success of our companies. Certainly the world has become more competitive and in order to survive and stay in business we need to continually expand and develop the skill sets of our sales team.

Sir John Harvey-Jones said in his book All Together Now, “Most companies fail not in their attempts to be innovative or creative. In this country most of them fail because they undervalue the importance of professional selling”

Our commercial functions, particularly the sales team, represent our forward line, (offense) and if they are not scoring regularly we cannot possibly achieve our overall commercial objectives – i.e. nothing happens until somebody sells something and all of that investment in costly accounting software, new office equipment, expensive IT systems, glossy magazines, high-tech office etc. will count for nothing.

We can therefore say with complete confidence, that selling really is THE key factor in the total marketing process. A company that is selling well is doing well!”

Then in an interview six years ago I was asked the question: “Will professional selling ever be the same again?”  I responded: “No, of course it won’t for all the reasons I have been highlighting for some time. It’s an old but accurate cliché – everything changes, nothing stays the same etc.

In my view, professional selling, and the key word there is professional, is about to take on a whole new image. All of the dead and inefficient wood is being removed, and what we are going to be left with will look a whole lot better.

As customers become smarter, more discerning, more knowledgeable and more self-sufficient, we will see a new breed of salesperson develop.

The order takers and glib talkers will no longer have a place in our sales world and in their stead will come intelligent strategic orchestrators and business advisors, looking to develop long term allies. They will have the “knowledge” and they will use leading edge technology. They will succeed because they expect to. There is no turning back now.”

So you can see a pattern emerging here: Eight years is not a long time in the general scheme of things is it? Where once I believed that an organization could not function without a successful “engine room” – a highly skilled sales team, performing at optimum levels – I can now see 80% of those same companies possibly performing without a sales team. I can envisage that within five years, as more and more products and solutions become “commoditized” the two most critical functions will be marketing and customer support.

The ramifications for the sales industry are going to be considerable, and the sales training industry in particular needs to prepare itself – and its customers/clients.

Where we once doubted the validity and practicality of functioning with purely inside sales teams, we must now consider the next natural successor – commoditization.

The clock is ticking …

You Are a “Generalist” – Unless of Course You Are a “Specialist?”

I have been thinking a lot about this recently – the differences between so called “specialists” and the alternative, which must logically be “generalists”

It is easy to imagine what a specialist is; someone who is perceived to be if not an expert, then certainly someone who is focused; has chosen to focus on one specific area, thing, sector, topic, subject … you see what I mean. Whereas a generalist is described thus: “One who has broad general knowledge and skills in several areas

Maybe generalists could also be labelled a “Jack (Jill) of all trades” which insinuates “master of none” but actually that is far from true. When I think about the sales space, and some of my acquaintances, colleagues and friends, it is very easy – well for me anyway – to categorize most of them: Linda Richardson, Dr. Tony Alessandra, Jim Cathcart, Jeffrey Gitomer, Dave Stein, Neil Rackham, Dave Kurlan – to name but a few – are definitely generalists, because they have such an all-round, in-depth knowledge of everything sales. Experience is part of that, but so is the depth and breadth of their interest in – and commitment to – the profession.

When I think of specialists, I think of Tamara Schenk (Salesenablement) Jill Konrath (Lead generation/new business development) Joanne Black (Referral selling) Barb Giamanco (Social Selling) Wendy Weiss (Cold calling) Trish Bertuzzi (Inside sales) Lori Richardson (SMB) Dan McDade (Lead generation) plus a whole host of sales management specialists and an entire stadium’s worth of social media experts … and so on (There is always a danger that I will offend someone by not including them on this list – please don’t be, it is late and I have a copy deadline to meet)

So who is better, the generalist or the specialist?

In that environment there isn’t a better: Some have chosen to concentrate on a particular aspect or area; others cannot be confined to one “discipline”

What’s the correlation with front-line selling? Well it is simply this: Commentators like me evangelise about the need – as a professional salesman or woman – to become an industry expert; to know everything there is to know about what is happening in your sector and in your market, so that you can have meaningful dialogue with your clients and prospects. I highlighted this point in a recent post, when I suggested that buyers today are only interested in having interactions that are “wholly relevant” But here there is a dichotomy …

What if you are selling into a variety of industries? What if you cannot select your customers, and you have to rely on them selecting you? What if you have no control of your typical buying/selling cycle? Then of course you are having a much more difficult time – you have, by the very nature of your role, to become a “jack of all industries” and logically you will probably be “master of none”

I have said it so many times before, all customers/prospects/clients are unique, and so are salespeople – and their development needs.

Oh, and me? I am a specialist … and a generalist: I used to be indecisive, but now I am less certain.

The Ongoing Search for the “Sales Holy Grail”

Frequently, there are two main pitfalls that even experienced salespeople can fall into in terms of activities. First, they simply aren’t doing enough. What’s enough? Enough telephone calls to make appointments, enough face-to-face calls, enough calls that involve or influence the decision-makers. In general, the more focused sales activity salespeople generate, the greater the number of sales opportunities they can create.

But let’s be clear, we can all be busy fools; quality trumps quantity every day of the week.

Second, but equally important, salespeople often aren’t clear about how to identify the prospects most likely to have a genuine need for their product or service. Without an objective way to prioritize which prospects to contact first and/or an efficient strategy for contacting them, salespeople are doomed to waste a large percentage of their time.

Another huge dilemma for many salespeople is how to divide their time between servicing existing clients and generating new business from new prospects. Existing clients frequently make requests for service that could be dealt with by support staff. But salespeople, who lack a disciplined, future-orientated plan for generating new contacts and sales, often find themselves spending more time attending to “urgent” tasks for existing accounts instead.

A common approach among salespeople can be summarized in the saying “If you throw enough mud against the wall, some of it is bound to stick” This approach is exhausting, demoralizing, extremely unproductive, and very expensive in the long term.

Marketing now provides another interesting dimension to activity management. Apart from product or service knowledge, salespeople require knowledge about prospects, clients, and market trends. Therefore, if the information those salespeople require is not relayed in an efficient manner, their face-to-face selling activities are dramatically reduced.

In the book Emerson’s Essays, there is a section on “Law of Compensation” which 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?

The “Sales Holy Grail?” – Sustained sales growth achieved efficiently, reliably, consistently and by design.

Today, It’s Not Who You Know, But How Many You Know …

In practice, we can divide people who attempt to build networking relationships into four distinct types: the Loner (little or no networking), the Socializer, the User, and the Relationship Builder. Although a salesperson’s aim is to become the fourth option, the “Relationship Builder,” let’s briefly look at each of these types in turn.

Loners like to do most things by themselves. They may feel that they can do it faster or better, or perhaps they don’t want to bother or worry other people. They feel that their knowledge and skills are often superior to most people, and they ask for help only as a last resort (and when it may be too late). The Loner is an easily recognizable type, because there are times when we all believe that we will do better ourselves than if we ask others for help. The Loner will not usually want to bother anyone else, or necessarily see much point in doing so, believing that others will be slower and will set lower standards.

Unfortunately, the Loner attitude is a major obstacle to effective networking. We need to shift our thinking greatly in this area. We should be more willing to let others assist, and we should even ask for help more often.

Socializers try to make a friend of everyone they meet. They tend to know people’s names and faces, but not what they do. Socializers are not usually systematic or ordered about following up on a sales lead -– contact is random. Such a person may not listen too deeply and is quick to move on. Although the Socializer may have a wide circle of friends and contacts, he or she knows little of substance about personal skills and resources. As a result, Socializers do not often share their skills. The Socializer is also a random networker, following little or no formal contact system.

Users are likely to collect business cards, LinkedIn connections or Twitter followers without really connecting with people. They try to make “sales” or “pitches” on the first encounter. They talk about and focus on their own agenda rather than information about mutual needs. They often have superficial interactions, and keep score when giving favors. People of this type do network widely, but in a way that creates little benefit for themselves or others. Even worse, this kind of networker tends to create a bad impression, and therefore can give networking an image of being about selling, taking, bargaining and keeping score.

Relationship Builders have a “giving” disposition or abundance mentality. They are generally happy to ask others for help or guidance, and listen and learn about people carefully. Builders are regularly on the lookout for useful information for which others can also benefit. They have a well-ordered and organized networking system. This type of networker is what this post is all about -– an individual who takes a long-term perspective on relationships with others and thinks more about what he or she can give or offer than about the return. This type is out there for others, or on call to offer help whenever it is needed. If they cannot help in person, they usually know someone else who can.

So What Exactly Makes a Great Sales Coach?

For managers, developing others’ abilities is critical 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.