Selling on Top of the World

As you can imagine, I am often asked by sales leaders anxious to recruit the best salespeople they can afford, just what is it that makes a consistently top performer; what are their characteristics, where are their strengths, and what differentiates them?

Over the past twenty-five years I have trained and developed more than one hundred thousand sales professionals from foundation right up to “master craftsman” level and this has given me the opportunity to formulate an accurate profile of a Top 5% Achiever.

So What Is It That Top 5% Players Do?


  •  Position themselves with the real decision-makers and avoid those without ‘approval power’. They are able to first identify and then access the formal decision making unit.
  •  Not only get the order but a satisfied customer, repeat sales, enthusiastic reference sites and constantly increase sales penetration within their accounts.
  • Know how to minimise the uncertainties of a cold call on a new account, by careful planning and rigorous opportunity assessment.
  • Recognise when to treat an old account as a new prospect and keep the relationship fresh, alive and maintain profitability
  • Never entertain business they do not want because they recognise that it takes just as long to work an unprofitable opportunity through the sales funnel, only to lose it at the death, as it does a profitable one. They trust their own judgement but also rely heavily on objective assessment.
  • Readily identify and know how to deal with the four different buying influences present in every sale.
  • Understand how to prevent sales from being sabotaged by an internal enemy. They insulate themselves by developing strong allies within.
  • Are able to recognise fail-safe signals that indicate when a sale is in jeopardy. This comes from experience but also information supplied by their allies.
  • Are rigorous in tracking account progress and are able to accurately forecast future sales because they use proven methodology, which allows them to weight every opportunity in the pipeline.
  • Avoid ‘dry-months’ by allocating time wisely to their critical selling tasks i.e. Prospecting for new business, covering the bases with existing opportunities and finally closing the best few.

In summary, the very best sales performers do not achieve that status overnight. They work tirelessly to develop and hone their skills-sets, insist on regular top-up coaching, and seek out those who are outperforming them, so that they may learn and improve still further. They have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of their industry and sector.

Finally, they concentrate on eliminating any weaknesses and are anxious to be assessed and receive feedback on a regular basis.

They are selling quite literally on top of the world!

I deliberately highlighted the “coaching” element, because it is my view that around 80% of sales managers/leaders around the globe lack the necessary skills and experience to coach their teams effectively. It isn’t their fault they have never been taught this fundamental pre-requisite of successful management, but the smart ones are waking up, recognising that vague caffeine-related aroma, and seeking out appropriate guidance. The good news for them – and you? – is that on Wednesday both you and them have the opportunity to attend a FREE 45 minute masterclass with one of the world’s leading sales management experts, Dave Kurlan, Founder & CEO of Kurlan & Associates, and Objective Management Group. I will be hosting the event, so do please join us for this second session in the 2014/2015 Top Sales Academy series – please register HERE

Gone Fishin’

What do you do when you need time to reflect; to ponder; to plan; to renew the saw? Yes, me too. It’s time to hang out the “Gone Fishin” sign for a month.

I hope you will use this time wisely, and get yourselves across to Top Sales World as often as you are able. This sales hypermarket has shelves stacked with every conceivable resource you can imagine plus a superb weekly magazine – and it is all free.

I’ll be sure to send you a postcard …..

What Makes a Highly Successful Sales Team?

I am often asked just what it is that makes a highly successful and effective sales team – what differentiates them from an average one?

Actually, the answer is simpler than you might imagine – all roads lead back to the leader!

The role of a sales leader is to translate the organisation’s vision, mission and values into a meaningful context that sales teams can relate to and feel excited by. If this is achieved then the sales leader will have created a sales team with a shared mental model. This transforms an ordinary sales team into a high performing one.

For clarity, here is a brief description of the following terms:

An organization’s vision is a guiding image of success formed in terms of a huge goal. It is a description in words that conjures up a picture of the organization’s destination. A compelling vision will stretch expectations, aspirations, and performance. Without that powerful, attractive, valuable vision, why bother?

A mission statement communicates the essence of an organisation to its stakeholders and customers, and failure to clearly state and communicate an organisation’s mission can have harmful consequences around its purpose.

As Lewis Carroll, through the words of the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Guiding principles are the consequence of a mission statement that are intended to inform or shape all subsequent decision-making, which also provides normative criteria allowing policy-makers to accept, reject or modify policy interventions and activities. They are a guiding set of ideas that are articulated, understood and supported by the organization’s workforce.

Values are beliefs which the organization’s workforce hold in common and endeavour to put into practice. The values guide their performance and the decisions that are taken. Ideally, an individual’s personal values will align with the spoken and unspoken values of the organization. By developing a written statement of the values of the organization, individuals have a chance to contribute to the articulation of these values, as well as to evaluate how well their personal values and motivation match those of the organization.

The “Human Capital Development Model,” created by Krauthammer International, is a logical process that can take top management concepts, and translate them into a context that has real meaning for staff at all levels.

The key to bringing this model to life is to answer the following questions:

– Do my team understand the organization’s vision and how their role moves the organization closer to achieving it?

– How can my sales team translate the organization’s mission into one that is relevant to them?

– How do the organization’s guiding principles impact on the day-to-day responsibilities of sales people?

– Which of the organization’s values does my sales team relate to?

– How can we interpret these values so they become compelling for each sales person?

An effective sales team understands the big picture and the context of their team’s work to the greatest degree possible. That includes understanding the relevance of their job and how it impacts the effectiveness of others and the overall team effort.

Too often, sales people are asked to work on an activity without being told how their role contributes to organization’s vision, much less how their efforts are impacting the ability of others to do their work. Understanding the organization’s vision promotes collaboration, increases commitment and improves quality.

An effective team works collaboratively and with a keen awareness of interdependency.

Collaboration and a solid sense of interdependency in a team will defuse blaming behavior and stimulate opportunities for learning and improvement.

Without this sense of interdependency in responsibility and reward, blaming behaviors can occur which will quickly erode team effectiveness and morale.

Why Salespeople Fail

When I am asked to diagnose why an individual – or even an entire sales team – are not performing at optimum levels, I usually ask just four very straightforward questions:

Are they visiting/talking to enough clients/prospects? In other words are they pro-active and are their activity levels high? I call this CCT as a percentage of TWT (Customer Contact Time as a percentage of Total Working Time) BUT, we should never believe that activity alone will guarantee success; we can all be busy fools!

Are they talking to the right people within those client/prospect organizations? Are they able to first identify and then penetrate the formal DMU (Decision Making Unit) and reach the MAN? (The person or people with the Money, Authority and Need)

Are they saying/doing the right things? This really means how strong are their selling skills? How broad is their commercial bandwidth?

And finally, how is their attitude – that small thing that makes such a big difference. In fact attitude drives everything else!

From these four questions, I usually discover the answer but actually, it can sometimes be a little more complex and I refer to the “Eight Reasons Why Salespeople Fail”

1. Wrong or no selection process – The wrong person for the position.
2. Wrong or no training – Insufficiently developed.
3. Wrong or no planning – Expected to do all of their own planning.
4. Wrong or no supervision – Left without competent supervision.
5. Wrong or no motivation – Not properly motivated to meet objectives.
6. Wrong or no stimulation – Not stimulated by appropriate incentives.
7. Wrong or no evaluation – Not regularly appraised against a set of agreed objectives.
8. Wrong or no executive action – Not adequately supported by a competent manager.

If you are a sales manager, consider your part in this equation. According to these criteria, do you feel your current team is poised for success?

Hopefully you can say yes! If not, this list should draw your attention to how you can help your team exercise their potential.

The Essence of Effective Leadership

Last week, I led a leadership workshop for a group of senior executives, employed by one of the world’s largest airlines: During an open session on the second day, I was asked by one of the delegates – who is responsible for coaching the next wave of leaders – if I could encapsulate all of my advice in a few short paragraphs, what would I say?

It is not possible to share my full response, but here is an extract …

Within every business, there are recognized criteria for people development, and I call these the “People Developers” They are, in no particular order ….

– Achievement

– Recognition

– Participation

– Growth

These four factors are inter-related and overlap. One factor may be more important to one individual than another and it is your job, as a leader, to ascertain what others require in their development.

Let’s look at these motivators as they relate to the development of your team and your leadership.


Satisfaction – a sense of personal accomplishment that a challenge has been met and the job has been well done. For most people, achievement is a reward in itself. It is the basic factor, which spurs people to go and do a better job.

How do you, as a leader, use achievement as a developer? If someone knows that they have achieved something, they must first know what is expected of them – a set goal – if they are to realize later they have achieved it or exceeded it. Thus, if you intend to use achievement as a developer, you must be sure you clearly outline goals for your people to strive for.


Closely related to achievement, it is meaningless unless earned. Recognition is an expression of approval – or appreciation – by others whose opinion and judgment is valued. Within the business world, you have many ways to show recognition.

Recognition and praise will show many unknown facets, like a diamond – recognition polishes it and allows latent talent to shine out.


People are more strongly motivated if they feel they have helped in the planning of their objectives, rather than being told. They should feel as part of not only their own work, but of the total group and Company.

Remember, inactivity is often caused by feelings of inadequacy. Participation can overcome this feeling of inadequacy.


The person who feels as if they are at a dead end, probably is. They must feel that there are the opportunities available for them to grow and that they are growing in experience, knowledge, skill and understanding. If we can help them to start growing, the person will, in fact, exert more effort. Even the rewarding of others can achieve motivation, because it shows that opportunity is available for growth.

Remember, confidence is built by achievement levels, set along the way to one’s goals.

Leadership development begins with you. Leadership development starts at the top.

Are You Really a “Stout Defender of Margin?”

I suppose I should consider myself quite fortunate that my first – and only – sales manager was such a strong disciplinarian. By “strong” I mean he was a tough, uncompromising, unsympathetic, no-nonsense type of guy. Unfortunately, he was also bigoted, racist, homo-phobic and chauvinistic. I hated him more than anyone I have ever hated before or since – and I am pretty certain he hated me too. Most of all he resented my privileged upbringing and my public school education – he called me “Silver Spoon” and he attempted to embarrass and belittle me at every possible opportunity, which only served to drive me on to succeed.

It was an intolerable situation, and inevitably one of us would become a casualty – suffice to say, it was never going to be me. The more he goaded me, the more successful I became, and the more successful I became, the more he hated me. I only had one ambition at that time, which was his job.

The reason that I share all this with you is because I actually learned two very valuable lessons from him: Firstly, I learned how not to manage a sales team, and I was able to build an identity-kit of the type of manager I wanted to become, simply by reversing out all of his characteristics. Secondly, the only positive thing to come out of our short relationship – I learned to defend margin.

For clarification, what I mean by defending margin is to fight for every single percentage point of profit, and give absolutely nothing away without getting something in return.

Selling on price is simply a cop out. You must value your expertise, your products and your services, and price accordingly.

The definition of negotiation that I use: “To arrange forms of business by means of discussion, conference or meetings, to transact business, to bargain, to exchange security for cash.”

You will note that it doesn’t mention giving anything away for less than its real value!

So here are a few quick, but extremely valuable tips I learned all those years ago:

Aim high - you will achieve more. Salespeople who think big, get big results, and never let your prospect lower your sights.
Don’t give it away - good negotiators defend their price
Never give away concessions - nothing should be given away free, so trade
Always negotiate the variables - know your variables
Constantly erode the value of the prospect’s concessions - reduce the buyer’s perception
Be alive to the danger of deadlines - deadlines weaken your position
Look at the “Big Picture”- always keep the whole deal in mind
Negotiate through deadlocks - patience is the key
Understand your weaknesses - negotiator know thyself!

Anyone can give business away. Selling merely on price means we do not need sales people!

Just because we might be selling in tough economic times, doesn’t mean dropping your pants at every request to do so!

Let me leave you with a thought: Do you know the total value of the products/services/solutions you have sold so far this year? Add just one per cent of profit/gross margin to every deal and you will discover that  it’s a lot of $ that you have left on the table, isn’t it? Or rather, given away!

And never, ever be frightened to walk away – with your dignity intact.

In Search of 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 decision-makers. In general, the more focused sales activity salespeople generate, the greater the number of sales opportunities they can create.

Poor Quality Activity
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 priorities 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 urgenttasks 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.

Speed of Relaying Customer Information
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 isn’t relayed in an efficient manner, their face-to-faceselling activities are dramatically reduced.

Harder Rather Than Smarter
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?

Developing a Consultative Sales Process
From the Sales Director’s perspective, developing a consultative sales process means developing a comprehensive, formal, realistic and step-by-step outline of what salespeople are expected to do. This is just as appropriate for internal and totally reactive sales teams, as it is for external pro-active ones.

This outline includes the activity and calls they must make, the relationships they should establish with prospects, the documentation they should use in sales calls, the issues they must discuss and resolve with prospects and the tangible goals they must achieve in sequence along the path to each sale, in order to achieve maximum effectiveness.

It’s only when such an outline is in place that sales management can be in a position to:

– Monitor the sales force’s activity, progress and results

– Assess issues as they arise and take appropriate action

– Redirect individual sales representative’s efforts efficiently

Although many organizations appreciate the importance of being customer-focused and talk in vague terms about their “consultative sales process” surprisingly few sales leaders invest the time and energy required to develop a formal sales process – a process that is at once detailed and resilient enough to guide their salespeople and permit effective management of their efforts.

Overcoming Implementation Inertia
Even when a consultative sales process has been developed, understood by sales managers, written down and circulated, it’s often not enough. No matter how brilliant, a sales process will only be effective to the extent it is followed and used by frontline sales staff. And this is where most organizations fall down: overcoming inertia among managers and salespeople alike and implementing the process.

The hurdles that must be cleared, in order to get people throughout the organization to actually implement it, are enough to cause Sales Directors to tear their hair out!

But a select few, of the very best, have found some innovative strategies that have enabled them to achieve the Holy Grail: Sustained sales growth achieved efficiently, reliably and by design.

Listen, Excellent Customer Service is Going to Become THE Differentiator

Customer care is set to become one of the most important issues facing businesses in every market – fact!

Customer care programs come under a number of titles – customer services; customer satisfaction; customer focus; customer orientated etc. Their common theme is meeting the customer’s requirements and ensuring that all aspects of the business contribute to customer satisfaction. The intention is to build repeat business. If customers are satisfied with the product and the standards of service they receive, they will return again – and again.

However, the reality is that whilst “most”companies have become totally focused on identifying and then converting new opportunities, “most”companies are pretty awful at retaining – let alone developing , existing accounts/customers.

“Most”organizations have become totally commercially promiscuous, continually looking for that new exciting conquest, and that inevitably leads to …

Inconsistent Customer Care

Inconsistent customer care performance can have a negative effect on customer perceptions. Petrol companies, for example, know that every time a customer walks into one of their outlets, wherever they are in the country, they should expect to receive the same standards of service. Nation-wide consistency is essential when customers are likely to visit multiple outlets and one poor performance can threaten the customer’s perception of the entire brand.

What Is Customer Care?

Despite popular misconception, customer care is about addressing three sets of requirements:

– Customer

– Staff

– Organization

These requirements are inter-related – i.e. it is more difficult to deliver consistently high standards in customer care, if the needs of both the organization and the staff are not taken into account.

Let me elaborate …

Customer Requirements

– Excellent personal service – feels valued, listened to, treated as an individual

– Products/solutions that meet expectations

– Encouragement to express views and give feedback

– Effective relationship with the organization

– Problems and complaints are handled effectively

Staff Requirements

– Effective management style:

– Suitable working environment – pay and conditions / tools for the job

– Relevant training to develop skills

– Career potential

– Clarity of role / job description

– Performance standards and appraisal systems

– Sense of involvement / value

– Open communication

– Teamwork

– Appropriate rewards / Recognition

Organizational Requirements

– Mission statement

– Corporate structure

– Feedback and communication systems

– Profit

– Human and technical resources

– Demonstrated commitment

Only when we get all three elements right, can we consider that our organization is capable of delivering consistently high levels of customer service.

Customers are not like tissues, to be used and then discarded – any company that thinks like that, will soon find that the box is empty!


Have a wonderful weekend – wherever you are! JF

The Five Words Which Really Excite C-Lounge Residents

So, yesterday I boldly stated that in “reactive sales situations” if we are on top of our game, we should not anticipate objections, because after rigorous qualification, we simply give the customer what they need or want, and achieve an appropriate profit for ourselves – “win-win.” (If you missed yesterday’s post, you should read it first, and catch up, because it is wholly relevant to what I am about to say next)

Thinking about that last paragraph, there is one sub-statement that really stands out “give the customer what they need or want” But what if we are selling a product/solution/service that the suspect/prospect doesn’t know they need or want?

This is where we experience objections; this is the “pro-active sales situation” and it is here is where our real sales skills come in to play. 80% of the sales population can frame a solution for a willing customer, but creating a desire/demand is where the big boys and girls come into their own. It is what I refer to as “grown up’s time”

Sometime ago, one of “me learned colleagues” (who allegedly only operates in the Fortune 500 sector) suggested in a written response on a popular sales site that most salespeople never get anywhere near the C-Lounge. This of course is total nonsense: The reality is that 99% of all businesses in North America employ less than 100 people, which means they fit into the SMB to medium sized category. This also means that C-level personnel are very much involved with making decisions about significant spend, and we absolutely have to meet with them, unless we are going to rely on “recommenders” to sell our solution upwards – never a satisfactory option!

OK, what are the five words that tend to grab the attention of C-level personnel?

They are, in no particular order: Save, Gain, Reduce, Increase and Improve

Now, when you think about your solution/service/product offering, can you prove that it can achieve any of those five objectives?

If you can, then in a pro-active sales situation, you are far less likely to encounter an objection: Most companies, in most sectors, will find budget, if it means that the return on investment is worth it – if they are convinced that the savings/gains/reductions/increases/improvements are going to be worth the outlay.

The reason why the top ten per cent of sales professionals rarely spend time fending off objections is simply because they rarely encounter them!

In summary, I would say this: unless you are attempting to sell something to someone that they neither need nor want, you should not encounter objections. But I would add this caveat; in the pro-active sales situation, we must expect to encounter many companies/people who do not know what they don’t know, and we have a responsibility to educate them. This is where the very best sales professionals outshine the also-rans significantly.

Finally, yesterday I promised to share how years ago I adapted Neil Rackham’s brilliant S.P.I.N. sales theoryto meet my own needs. OK, it really is very simple, and I feel certain that many other salespeople have done very much the same: I simply added an “S”to the end, which gave me S.P.I.N.S, and I created: Situation, Problem, Implication, Need and “Solution”

Why is that so powerful? My prospects actually tell me that they need my solution; I don’t need to tell them. We arrive at the same place together, and the process begins immediately, as we co-create a significant program of improvement.

Do We Really Need to Keep Discussing Objection Handling?

The fairly short answer to this question is “Yes and no – it depends”

Depends on what? Well, it depends on whether we are discussing a reactive sales opportunity, or a pro-active one.

Allow me to explain: A “reactive sales opportunity”is when we are approached by a prospect or existing client, to provide a quotation/proposal/price. These days, that is called “inbound” They have pre-selected us as a potential supplier, because now, if it is true that these people are coming in much further up the “decision curve”they are already armed with most of the information they need to make a final decision.

This means they have, in all probability, researched our company; familiarized themselves with our product/solution offerings; checked out our track record; assessed us against their buying criteria, and reached the conclusion that we may – and it is only mayat this point – be a possible contender to become their preferred supplier.

The fact that they are approaching us makes this what I term a “reactionary sale”They have made the first move, and as such, have removed much of the need for us to sell ourselves to them – they have eliminated a considerable chunk of the foreplay stage, but we should not assume that they are prepared to go straight to the cigarette!

It would be easy – and understandable – to assume that they are merely now looking for the lowest price, but in most cases this is not true: They will most certainly be looking for the best value for money, and price performance, which could include a fairly complex criteria: That criteria will include specific and relevant strengths, such as demographics, and even psychographics; a successful track record with similar deals/installations; longevity in the market; financial stability; leadership in the sector, etc.

In this scenario, if we are able to satisfy all of their needs, it is highly unlikely we are going to encounter many objections, if any.

Let me illustrate my point …

Imagine that you are in the market for a new car: You decide that you would like to buy a second-hand Range Rover, and you go online to locate all the dealers close to your location. You call the first one on the list, Farrington Range Rovers R’ us and you get to speak to the owner, Jono Farrington.

The call would probably go like this:

You: “Good morning, I am thinking about buying a second-hand Range Rover, what do you have in stock?”

JF: “Good morning madam/sir (the Farrington family are renowned for their courtesy) may I ask you a few questions to determine your precise requirements?”

You: “Yes, of course” (you aren’t going to say) ”No, you have to guess”

JF: “To begin with, can I determine your budget i.e. how much do you want to pay?”Absolutely critical question, for obvious reasons

You: “I really don’t want to spend more than $50.000, and it would be good if I could spend less”

JF: “OK, that means we are looking at a two year model, with around 20.000 miles on the clock, is that acceptable?”

You: “Yes, that is what I was expecting, I have done some research”

JF: “Do you have a preference for color?”

You: “I really love the metallic silver”

JF: “OK, and transmission, manual or automatic?”

You: “Definitely auto, please”

JF: “What about upholstery, do you prefer leather?”

You: “Oh yes, definitely”

JF: “What about extras like tow-bars, CD player, satellite-navigation, etc.?”

You: “Well, music is a plus, but air-con is essential, please”

JF: “When are you looking to purchase/take delivery – what are your time scales?”

You: “If I find exactly what I am looking for, I have finance arranged, and can take delivery immediately”

JF: “Please leave it with me, and I’ll get back to you within 24 hours – is that OK?”

You: “That’s great, thank you”

Within 24 hours, I call you back as promised: “Good morning, this is Jono Farrington from Farrington Range Rovers R’ us, we spoke yesterday about your requirements for a Range Rover”

You: “Oh yes, good morning”

JF: “Can I confirm that your requirements are still exactly the same?”

You: “Yes, they are the same as we discussed yesterday”

JF: “OK, good. I have sourced a 2013 model, so it is just fifteen months old, with 14.000 miles on the clock. It is metallic silver with automatic transmission, air-conditioning, and a top of the range CD unit. It also has the latest satellite navigation system, which is a bonus. Oh, and it is just $42.000 -when would you like to come and collect it?”

What just happened in that scenario? Well, quite simply, I matched your requirements – in fact I exceeded them (to use another well-worn cliché) you were prepared to pay $50.000, so I saved you a considerable sum of money. You also would have accepted a vehicle with up to 20.000 miles, and of course, whilst not instantly obvious, that sat-nav will come in very useful.

This was a typical reactive sales opportunity, and after thorough qualification, I not only matched your needs, but also left you with no opportunity to raise an objection.

Ah, but what about “pro-active sales scenarios” I hear you all ask, almost in unison. I’ll discuss that tomorrow – and I’ll also share how I adopted Neil Rackham’s superb S.P.I.N sales program to suit my personal needs.